Why I Love This Shot – A Happy Lass

This is not the first time this lovely family have made it to my “Why I Love This Shot” series. This is partly because I’ve had the pleasure of working with them more than once and partly because their home is a photographer’s dream and but mostly, it’s because their girls are so much fun to be around! I’m pretty much in a position where I’d never say no to photographing them!

Here is one of my favourite shots from our most recent photo experience. This little lass was feeling really quite unwell during our shoot but in this moment, you’d never know. Even though she was feeling miserable, she still managed a cheeky grin in my direction and I’m so glad I captured the moment. What a little trooper!

Always such a privilege to work with these guys. x

Why I Love This Shot – The Eyes of Skye

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged in this series but I’m back! And here’s my latest “Why I Love This Shot” for you.

This is Skye, from a much more recent shoot than my other images so far. He’s a rescue border collie who I had the privilege of photographing earlier this month.  Skye really spoke to me not only because of my love of all things canine, but because of his story.

A rescue from a pitiful life chained to the back of a van, Skye arrived with his new family shut down and robotic. His previous life had taught him that the best way to survive was to block out the world. Shut down. Empty eyed. So thin you could wrap your hands around his waist and then some.

When I met him, Skye had been at his new home with owner Lorraine for just under a year. If I didn’t know his story, I wouldn’t have guessed. He is fit, healthy and his beautiful eyes sparkled. His connection with his new guardian was clear. She was constantly in his sight and she was his protector when anything made him feel unsure.

Rescues always speak to me. I have so much room in my heart for people who look after these animals and give them a second chance. Skye’s beautiful eyes are hypnotic. Look at how they sparkle! Just as they should…

Keeping it Low-Key

 Well, you might have figured out that low-key photography is pretty much the opposite of high-key photography. Instead of bright and cheerful, it’s dark and moody.

Low-Key Portrait: Ross

 The good news is, it’s relatively easy to achieve with just one light source. By controlling the source and angle light you can add drama to your image very quickly. The light can come from a small opening in the curtains, a lamp, a studio light or even a candle. Anything really! As long as it lights up your subject and is controlled so it doesn’t brighten the scene so much so that the background is lit up. Your low-key image should be full of dark tones and shadow. It doesn’t have to be in black and white but this does help highlight the contrast between the dark and the light.

One way to think about low-key photography is that it’s about trying to capture darkness in your shot to tell your story. But to capture darkness effectively, you’ll also need a bit of light.

Low-Key Ewan

Moody Musician

To take a low-key shot, the best thing to remember is to experiment… play with the direction and angle of your light source.  Try different shutter speeds and aperture settings. Remember if the shutter speed is low then you’ll need a tripod to get the best from your camera. Keep your ISO low to avoid noise as this can end up being a bit distracting. Underexpose your shot as much as you can without losing detail.

Medusa: A well directed flashlight can be enough add more drama to the shot.


Leading the Way with Leading Lines

(c) Jo Foo 2017

Leading lines.

One of my favourite ways to compose a shot to give it a little ooomph. And, from my experience, one of the composition techniques my students find most satisfying during my classes.

Many of them naturally compose shots with strong leading lines because the end result is very pleasing. Any lines in an image can act as “leading lines” and they pretty much do as described, they lead the viewer into the shot. Combine this with other composition rules like the Rule of Thirds, patterns, colours or symmetry (plus many others!) and you’ll have a pretty strong image.

(c) Jo Foo 2016

The lines work best if they grab your attention at the bottom corner of the image and take you on a journey through it. This is a useful technique to remember if you can’t quite find the angle you want for your shot. The lines should add depth by guiding the viewer into the image.

(c) Jo Foo 2016

The lines can be straight or curved, symmetrical or one-sided…

(c) Jo Foo 2013

As long as they are a strong feature, they should work as an impressive way to capture your viewer’s attention. They can even make a seemingly “plain” sign tell a story…

(c) Jo Foo 2016

Mei Photo Challenge: Week 2 Favourites

Well, as expected, week 2 of the #MeiPhotoChallenge has been significantly quieter! Well done to everyone who has managed to hang in there and a big welcome to a couple of new faces.  You’re doing better than me as I’ve still not edited and uploaded my shots since Monday.

Here are my favourite images from this week:

Day 8: Books


Day 9: Happy


Day 10: High-Key


Day 11: Rainbow


Day 12: New


Day 13: Sky


Day 14: Shadow

How to High Key

High Key photography is a technique or style of photography where light is used to remove most of the harsh shadows from an image.  It sends a cheerful, bright message and is great for beautiful portraits and high quality product photography. High Key photographs usually have a bright background and make the viewer feel happy and positive.

a photo of a woman in black and white on a bright white background. she is wearing red lipstick - this is the only part in colour

High Key Me

To create a High Key image, you need a bright environment, either indoors with three or four studio lights on a white background or outdoors with bright sunshine. It’s great fun to experiment with and see how eliminating some dark tones from your image can instantly make your image feel more upbeat.

Mother & Son

Real Women, Real Beauty

This is a simplified version of High Key photography (for more tips check out Digital Photography School). It can take patience and practice to get the lighting right but for the #MeiPhotoChallenge, just think white background, bright and cheerful to get your photo of the day! x


Mei Photo Challenge: Week 1 Favourites

Week One of the #MeiPhotoChallenge has gone by and your photos have been making me smile! Here are some of my favourites…

Day 1: Something Blue


Day 2: Leaves


Day 3: A Face


Day 4 : Love


Day 5: Upside Down


Day 6: Bokeh


Day 7: Black & White

Some cracking shots from week 1 everyone! Nice work!

Looking forward to week two! x

Baffled by Bokeh?

Bokeh? What is it? How do you even say it? And why is everyone talking about it?

Well, bokeh, pronounced bo-kay (at least that’s how I say it!), refers to the quality of blur in your photos. And by blur, I mean something a bit different to background blur (from a shallow depth of field or small f-stop value) and a lot different to motion blur (from a slow shutter speed or fast movement). And by quality, I mean the subjective feeling that this particular blur gives and onlooker and is open to interpretation and discussion. And by everyone, I mean photographers.

The word itself comes from Japanese language and literally translates as “blur”. For photographs, the simplest way to think of it is out-of-focus light. The light can be from a variety of sources, fairy lights, candle lights, street lights, lamps in the background, natural light and even reflected light in your image. Most often, it is shown as little discs or circles in the area of your shot that is blurred. In some cases the shapes are different (for various reasons) but you’ll see a cluster of similar shapes where the light is blurred and rendered by your lens.

It’s a great way of making the out-of-focus part of your photo more interesting and more pleasing to the eye. I like to think of it as adding a little sparkle to your shot and adding a bit more of a story to your image.

Abstract image of a fortune cookie, red bracelets and out of focus fairy lights (bokeh) in the background to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Fortune Favours the Brave

In the image above, the round circles of light are the bokeh. You can get this effect in a number of ways. I used fairy lights in the distance so when I took this shot I was close to my subjects (the cookie and the bangles) and I used a wide aperture (low f-number). Since my lens has a circular aperture (curved aperture blades), the bokeh is circular. Some older lenses have straight blades and the bokeh ends up heptagonal shapes.

Some of you will have noticed that towards the front of the image, on the bangles, there’s a bit of bokeh there too. That’s from reflected light in the shot. Looking for light reflecting back to your lens in the out-of-focus area of the shot is another way to get bokeh in your image.

New leaves on a plant with lots of out-of-focus leaves which are reflecting light back to the lens and causing circular bokeh in the background

Day 2: Leaves #MeiPhotoChallenge

For some people, all bokeh is good bokeh. For others, it can be distracting. In the above image, while I was enjoying playing with the reflections on the leaves, the discs are quite sharp and bright which might not be pleasing for some people. It may appear too harsh to be considered “good bokeh” by some, but again, like with most creative things, it’s subjective and depends on the onlooker.

Bokeh comes from the lens and not the camera. This means that some lenses will give “better” bokeh than others. From my experience and the overwhelming opinion of most photographers, fixed portrait lenses (e.g. 50mm) and telephoto lenses give the best bokeh. But you don’t need to worry about that right now. You’ll still be able to get this effect from your kit lens if you remember to keep a wide aperture, or simply what I mentioned before, bokeh is out-of-focus light.

Hundreds of circles of light in different colours and different sizes

Rainbow Sparkles: In this image the bokeh is created by taking a photo of sequins and playing with the focus to get a pleasing pattern of circles as the sunlight is reflected back into the camera.

So, now you know what it is, it’s your turn to give it a try. Fear not! I’m not leaving you just yet. Here’s how to get started…

(*** For those of you using camera phones or compacts, all is not lost, you can still get bokeh shots… hang in there til the end!***)

First off, you need a large aperture (low f-number), a short focal distance and lights in the background, i.e. your subject close to the lens (in focus!) and a light source in the background (the out-of-focus area).  Remember this can be something you’ve positioned there like fairy lights of candles or it could be something that happens to be in the background like streetlights or light filtering through the trees. The large aperture and short focal distance is what gives you a nice shallow depth of field allowing you to focus your subject and blur those background lights.

A champagne glass with rose wine and a christmas tree in the background. The christmas tree is out of focus so the fairy lights show as large round circles of light (bokeh).

Christmas Drink: Christmas tree lights make bokeh a lot of fun!

When you line up your shot, it’s helpful to be on the same level as your subject. Position yourself so the light source you’re intending to be out of focus is behind it, at least 4 feet away. The further the distance between the subject and the light, the bigger the bokeh shapes will be.  In the image above, there’s at least 6 metres between the glass and the Christmas tree. In the image below, the ornament and the fairy lights are on the same chair with only ~1ft space in between.

A silhouette of a fairy ornament with coloured lights out-of-focus behind it on a dark background.

Bokeh Fairy: In this image my fairy lights aren’t far enough away from my subject. The result means I get some bokeh but you can almost make out the lights themselves.

It’s good to start this in Aperture Priority if you can. This way your camera will work out the shutter speed to get the correct exposure. Remember if you’re shooting a dark shot (like the image above), you’ll need something to rest your camera on as the shutter speed will be slow so the exposure is correct. If you’re shooting in manual, low ISO numbers are best, otherwise the noise (grain) will distract from the bokeh.

***But what if I’m using a camera phone or compact camera??***

Well, the sad truth is that the “quality” of the bokeh will be better with an SLR or mirrorless camera. This is purely because the bokeh is to do with the lens and not the camera body.

However, you can still play with this technique by following steps similar to the ones above – set your light source for the bokeh in the distance and place a subject close to your camera (5-10cm away). Focus on the subject by tapping on it on the screen (on a phone) and, provided you have something newer than an iPhone 3G or equivalent Samsung/Android phone model, you should be able to take a shot with the lights out of focus and the blur will cause bokeh. Some newer smartphones and compacts allow you to change your aperture priority or allow “selective focus” which means you’ll have more control over this effect. Remember if you move the phone, your phone will refocus and might bring the lights back into focus. The easiest way around this is to use a mini tripod and have a subject that won’t move!

Alternatively, you can get some really beautiful creative shots by putting the whole image out of focus, like this one by my cousin!

A bright image of a barn wedding with chairs and people and the fairy lights out of focus to get bright warm white circles of light across the image.

Beautiful Bokeh by my super talented cousin @amazingrachael – check her out on Instagram!

Time for you to play! I love bokeh shots so I can’t wait to see how you get on. And maybe next month I’ll show you how to do bokeh shapes!

Here are some props you might find helpful for bokeh shots:

  • Fairy lights (Christmas is a perfect time for bokeh shots!)
  • Candles (lots of them!)
  • Sequins and sunlight
  • Streetlights
  • Reflective surfaces in your shot (usually they need to be textured to get the small discs of light – a smooth surface won’t yield much bokeh!)
  • Natural light being filtered by trees etc

Once you get good at it, you can start using bokeh to help you tell your story, or even create whimsical images…

A ceramic mug with a plum blossom tree branch on it, and blue discs of light rising out of it.

Cuppa Plum Bokeh

Have fun! x

A Fresh Start in Frankfurt

As some of you are aware, we’re on the move again soon and will be packing up and heading to Frankfurt in just a few weeks (all things going well).

It will be our third move to a foreign country since January 2014. My fifth apartment in the same space of time.

For the past two years I’ve split my time between our home under the blue skies of Madrid and various homes in Bonnie Scotland. It’s been both hectic and brilliant, both tiring and rewarding.

Image of a sunrise out of a plane window with "Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone" quote

However, it hasn’t helped me keep my business goals clear, as the playing-field, never mind the goalposts, keeps moving.

In Madrid, I jumped in head-first and not fully prepared for what was coming. I got caught up in trying to “make it work” and took on projects that were nothing to do with my original business plan. Some successful, some not. A degree of flexibility is a huge asset to working abroad, especially if you’re self-employed, but I was bending over backwards trying to find my feet in this new place.

It was an attempt to make it feel like home.

Every few weeks I was also flying back to the UK and running parts of my business from there. The first few years of being self-employed are difficult to navigate at the best of times, never mind when they involve a fractured set-up from two different countries. It’s a constant rollercoaster and that old foe “self-doubt” regularly comes out of the shadows for a visit. I wasn’t doing things as well as I wanted to and I’d fallen into the trap of being busy but not productive.

As our move to Frankfurt edges closer, I’ve been feeling somewhat apprehensive. The idea of starting all over again and learning how to run my business as a stranger to yet another city makes me understandably nauseated. Being a soloprenuer and small business owner is not for the faint-hearted. It takes drive and determination. Dedication and confidence in not only your product but also yourself.

Feeling like a stranger is enough to make anyone feel lost and unsure. It took its toll on me these past couple of years and has had big implications for my business. Don’t get me wrong, the last couple of years were by no means a failure, but right a that point where most small businesses face a time of reflection and reassessment, I’m faced with starting over. Again.

It took a conversation with a friend (who really should consider a career as a life-coach) to recognise what deep down I really knew. Our move to Frankfurt is one full of opportunity and new beginnings. A chance to take a step back and “pivot” so my business can evolve into something I’m happy with. A time to refocus and adjust as necessary.

But to do this properly I actually need to take a step back. To take the time to get to know my new city and find out what works there. Decide the best way to continue working with the wonderful colleagues I now have in Scotland, England, Norway and Spain. Make sure what I’m doing has the impact I aim for and stays relevant in a industry known for changing at a fast pace.

As other small business owners will know, the whole reason you started can sometimes fade behind the growing expenses and realisation you’re working for less than a few pounds an hour.

So for the next few months I’ve decided to take a little bit of a break to allow myself to remember why I’m doing this. With the exception of the bookings I’ve already got in the diary (and a handful of people I’m working out dates with), I won’t be taking on any more clients until later this year.

Instead, I’ll be rewriting my business plan, taking some classes, learning about Search Engine Optimisation, updating my website(s) and practising my craft. I’ll keep in touch through blogging, eNewsletters and my #MeiPhotoChallenge so I won’t disappear altogether. It’s just time for new chapter in both my business and personal life.

And I’ve got some German to learn too…

April – 30 Day Photo Challenge

I had a lot of fun last weekend with my “Develop Your Photography” class for intermediate photography students. I really enjoy teaching and informal education and Saturday was no different. I always learn more about myself with every class I teach.

The class participants are keeping in touch and I’ve set them a Photo-A-Day Challenge for April.  I thought it might be fun to see who else wants to get involved. Check it out! Post your photos on my Mei Photography page or share them on Instagram using #MeiPhotoChallenge. Can’t wait to see what you come up with! x