Category Archives: advice

What to do with a Camera in Winter

pedestrians and traffic in the snow

tall trees under a blue winter sky

explore the structure of trees

What to do with a camera in winter is the question many photographers seem to ask themselves. The autumn is irresistible to most photographers. With the passing of the rutting season in the Royal Parks of London, the herds of stag-shooting photographers have retired to the warmth of their computers. Which is a pity because photography in winter offers some great opportunities to have fun and be creative.
ice on a pond

The patterns in ice and the reflections of the trees can make some fantastic patterns

For instance, with each gust of wind and flurry of leaves the trees are getting ever more naked. Look up at the shapes of their bare limbs, who knows what inspiration you may get! Nature’s putting on her drab winter coat, but there’s so much texture and pattern in the bark, or in the fallen foliage in ponds and streams. The mist and fog is a cloak of mystery that can utterly change a landscape.
I love the frost, especially when the sun comes and everything sparkles. In a proper freeze ice throws incredible designs across standing water and creates amazing sculptures around running and tumbling water. For those who care to look, it’s all there in the parks.
Winter is also a great time to photograph the built environment. The sun never gets high in the sky so when it does come out it casts huge, dramatic shadows. The sun creeps into the nooks and crannies of our townscape that never see it in the summer, illuminating surface textures and the rich colours of stone and brickwork. After sunset man-made lightshows fill the streets with twinkling jewels, particularly around the shops at Christmas. The open-air markets make vibrant subjects with their steaming food stalls, colourful products and characterful faces. Even the traffic going home has a romantic appeal as the stoplights of braking vehicles string rubies along the road.

freezing water in a woodland brook

it’s been freezing for days and the ice has grown like glassy fruits

I got very excited when it snowed and spent several days sliding around hoping not to fall on my camera. When it snows, everywhere is quieter, softer, somehow transformed. On its own, snow is a challenge for the camera to capture well. It takes good light to make snow into a good picture – light that can create or form a texture on what is potentially just a white sheet. But look at the people instead. The smiles and rosy cheeks of those enjoying the snow make marvelous pictures. Young children’s sheer wonderment, noses tipped with a dew-drop, laughing office workers snowballing in their suits. Photograph the brief lives of snowmen before they melt away, sledge pilots before they tumble into a drift and leaping dogs as they catch a snowball. But watch out for snowball fights lest you become a target!

 

These blogs have some ideas – winter photography ideas, winter photography projects. This one has tips on photographing ice.

Love the Autumn – Do Photography!

sunbeams in an autumn forest Trevor Aston PhotographySummer has holidays, winter has Christmas. Autumn, sandwiched in between has nothing but colour.  But, oh! What colour

moss and ivy-covered cottage in autumn Trevor Aston PhotographyAutumn’s the best. Yes, photography in spring is beautiful when everything bursting into life. Winter is wonderful in its sharpness and starkness. And of course, long, sultry, summer days are magnificent. But Autumn? Autumn is golden, it’s crunchy underfoot and smells of sweet wood smoke and musty damp leaves, it’s the sensual season. We should love autumn.

Autumn should be walked in, listened to, breathed and touched. Autumn is definitely a time for photography. In fact, producing half a dozen good pictures of rich, autumn colours should be compulsory for anyone with a camera.

The colours are fantastic – the oranges, reds, yellows and browns. All made more spectacular by the light from the sun shining low in the sky, streaming through the trees, punching out the colour. Unless, in the dark of the night, the chilling mist has risen to shroud the landscape in mystery.

Bloated spiders spin colossal webs, strung with tiny lenses made from morning dew, focusing sunbeams into lines of fairy lights. While birds come back to the gardens searching for treats to fatten them up for winter, squirrels scamper through branches and flower beds burying family-packs of conkers and acorns.

The camera might almost have been invented for autumn – a tool for saving splendours to savour in the grey of winter.

bench in Bushy Park Teddington Trevor Aston photography

Stag in Bushy Park Teddington Trevor Aston Photography

The Lords of London’s Bushy Park, the growling grouches, noses in the air, nostrils twitching, sniffing for rivals, strutting stags watching over their herd.



Six beautiful words to describe autumn

Can you identify these autumn leaves?

Find your nearest National Trust property to enjoy autumn colours

10 mindful walks to enjoy in the autumn


Who Decided Red Means Danger? Reflections on the Colour Red

If red colour was a dog, it would be a barking Alsatian. Red is the colour that people go both when they’re angry and when they’re in the throes of passion. It’s the colour of the boy racer’s throaty sports-car and the warning colour of the poisonous berry. ‘Roses are red’, so are shiny apples and plump tomatoes. But if noses are red, then the photographer needs Adobe Photoshop and the subject needs AA. Unless it’s Rudolf the Reindeer. Red is the colour of the sky at night that gives shepherds delight, but it spells danger if put in a light.

Red is a shouty colour, it makes its presence felt, you know it’s there. Eyes will snap to the red thing in a photograph like a compass needle finds north. Which is great if the red thing is also the subject of the picture, but a hopeless distraction if it’s not.

“Red protects itself. No colour is as territorial. It stakes a claim, is on the alert against the spectrum.” (Derek Jarman)

“A thimbleful of red is redder than a bucketful.” (Henri Matisse)

“Nothing attracts attention like a red dress.” (Laura Bush)

photographs containing the colour red

“Put on your red shoes, and dance the blues.” (David Bowie)




Colours can make a photograph

Photographer and writer Tony Northrup explains colour science. (Really well) (I understood it)

Jacob Oleson writes on the meaning of red.


Colours Can Make a Photograph

Colours – bright, vibrant, striking, resonating or complimentary, blending, gentle and pastel. Colours often provide the urge to pick up the camera and take a picture. Something in the photographer’s brain is forever on the lookout for that chance arrangement colour, texture and form that strikes a chord and tells us there’s a picture to be taken.

Sometimes I envy the painter because they can choose where to put colours, and what they’ll do in the picture. The way colour is rendered on the painter’s canvas can affect how the composition is perceived, bluer tones can help depict depth or distance, warmer colours might help objects to stand out. Colour helps the artist set a mood or atmosphere and manipulate emotion. The artist might choose to use colour naturalistically; grass is green, sky is blue. Or they may not, Henri Matisse said: “When I put down green it doesn’t mean grass, and when I put down blue it doesn’t mean sky.” The photographer looks at a scene, and at the moment they press the button, the colour they see is the colour they get in the photograph. (Ok, cameras differ and there’s a whole bunch of settings that can change the colours)

It is perfectly possible to train the eye, or rather the eye and the brain to look for elements in a scene that will make a photograph better. Here are a few…..

 

Photograph of an office block and orange lampposts. photography photographer

Rhythmic, or repeated colours
the repeating orange of the receding lampposts stand out, but the blue/grey in the building has rhythm

 

Photograph of waving child in daffodils. photography photographer

Dominant Colour
yellow is dominant to my eye, others might say that red will always dominate
 

abstract photograph orange tree against a painted wall. photography photographer

Economy of Colour
fewer colours can add strength to an image
 

T

The Campo Sienna photograph photographer photography

Complimentary Colours
The dark red and the yellow somehow enhance each other
 

Photograph showing clashing colours

Clashing Colours
A collection of colours that give the picture life and vigour

 

Photograph of a painting on the Berlin Wall. photography photographer

Colour is the picture.
Is the subject of the picture the cyclist or the painting?
(Eastside Gallery, Berlin. One of 105 paintings by artists from around the world on the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall)

Digital manipulation makes it very easy to change the colours in a photograph, and very tempting. (Save us from any more purple skies) There are many reasons why a photographer might want to alter colours, but the reason should come before the ‘doing’. Adjusting tone and hue, brightness and contrast can enhance a picture, but it can’t turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse. It really is possible to post a picture on Instagram without using filters. However, the colour can be distracting. In this picture, I felt the red barrel and the yellow signs were too dominant….

 

Don’t make all your pictures black and white for the sake of it – colour is good! But there are occasions when the colour is so insipid it contributes nothing, even weakens the picture, like here…

photograph of swans. photography photographer

A winter scene, in winter light. The weak colour adds nothing to the picture

photograph of swans. photographer photography

Taking out the colour has made the swan’s posture stronger, and the image has a rhythm; black-white-black

Using the Same Stock Pictures as Other Websites

Stock pictures of beautiful people sitting around a table smiling, beautiful people standing around a water cooler laughing, a beautiful person, usually female wearing a telephone headset, smiling. Web picture cliches we all recognise. They’re boring, and an opportunity wasted – a better chosen image could say so much more about the business. But look at these examples below, it’s actually the same stock picture on different websites. It’s not likely that anyone will spot these because the businesses are quite different. But Google will. The web search behemoth encourages original content, so using an unoriginal picture might count against your page ranking. At the very least using the same stock picture as other websites is a form of plagiarism which can’t be disguised.
Not every budget can stretch to bespoke photography, so the use of stock pictures is only going to increase. Designers shouldn’t pick the first suitable image they find, and some reverse image searches are a good idea, to see where else they appear.

I have some stock pictures on Alamy.com, and when I get around to it, there’ll be more. It’s just really boring searching for them, quality checking, uploading and key-wording. Ok, I’m a bit lazy.

 



My post on taking website pictures seriously.

Here are some more posts about using stock pictures on websites…

Why You Should Never Use Stock Photography

Pros and Cons of Stock Photography

Create Authentic Images


Practice Photography and Take Better Photos

practicing photography skills with Handmade WorkshopsPractice photography with me and Handmade Workshops at The Railway in Teddington.

We’re aiming to get more people taking better pictures, and it’s amazing how much you can learn in 3 hours. It’s intended for enthusiastic mobile phone camera users who want to move on to using a real camera. We cover the basics of what looks good in a picture, and how to get the camera to give us the picture we want! This is our ‘syllabus‘.

Best of all – we get cake! Plus tea or coffee and some time in lovely Bushy Park practicing photography.

Book here. 

Take Better Photos!

 

What’s so great about leading lines?

Edvard Munch, The Scream. Lithograph, 1895. CC BY 4 The Munch Museum.

Leading lines capture the gaze of the viewer and then lead them by the hand into your picture. They might be ruts in a road, ripples in the sand or tracks under a train. Almost any line, hard or soft can set a trail for the eye to follow. The lines might be more like a ‘zone’ – a transition between land and water, dark and light or one colour to another. Leading lines are the easiest of compositional tools – they give a picture depth you dive into, or take you irresistibly to the subject of the picture just as surely as Holmes follows the clues to the culprit. If artists like Munch use leading lines, mere photographers should too!

Bent is Best

The best leading lines to my eye are those with a curve, sensuously meandering this way, then that, roaming through the picture, unhurried but always certain in its eventual destination.



A good background can completely transform a portrait, the leading lines can emphasise or frame the subject, it can catch or sometimes contrast with personality that shines from the eyes.

If you’d like a portrait photograph, get in touch. More portrait photographs.

Photographing Your People at Work – 5 Reasons to Do It & 6 Ways to Make it Easier

Customers and clients love getting a glimpse behind the scenes, and pictures of your people at work is an easy way of providing it. Of course, allowing a photographer into the office could be disruptive if it’s not planned for. The factory floor or research lab presents health and safety and security challenges. Hardly worth it? Well yes it can be….

5 Reasons to Photograph People at Work

  1. Put a human face to a business
  2. Get customer/client engagement
  3. Tell the story
  4. Build the team spirit
  5. Makes the business look accessible and accountable 

6 Things to Make it Easier to Photograph People at Work

Having the photographer around the work place can be fun, but it can also be a stress point, so make preparations and keep the staff onside.

  1. Put together a comprehensive shot list to make sure you get everything
  2. Inform staff involved in the shots
  3. Allow them time to stage specific actions you want to see in the pictures, don’t rely on hit and miss machine-gun camera work
  4. Make allowances in work targets so staff aren’t stressed or resentful
  5. Strike a balance between 3-line whips to make staff co-operate, and a genuine aversion to being photographed 
  6. Pamper the staff by getting a hairdresser in for the day

Take Better Photos

Take Better Photos in Teddington - workshopper practicing what she'd learnedTeddington-based Handmade Workshops have asked me to run photography workshops for them. ‘Take Better Photos’ is a three hour workshop beginning with two hours in a room above a pub eating cake, drinking coffee, discussing leading lines and negative space. Then there’s an hour in Bushy Park putting some of the learning into practise.

It’s so rewarding to spend time with people who are keen to learn photography, and a lot of fun! This page shows the ground we cover in the workshop, so if you already know it, you don’t need to do the workshop! Otherwise click here to find out when the next one is.


The best camera is the one you have with you.Take Better Photos in Teddington - old bellows camera

Always carry a camera, most of us have one in our mobile phone – and they’re quite good. Never hesitate to take a picture because you don’t think the camera’s good enough. You could spend a fortune on a new camera, or find your nearest secondhand camera shop where they can give you informed advice. 

If your camera is in a case, take it out and turn it on

Having to take the camera out of its case is very a small barrier to taking a picture, but if you’re as lazy as me it’ll stop you bothering. 

Keep your mobile handy

If it’s the only camera you have with you, keep it in your hand. Put a shortcut to the camera app on the home screen.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - crowd taking photos with mobile phones

If you think you see a picture, stop and take it.

I’ll use any excuse not to take a picture – if I’m on the way somewhere, then I’ll tell myself I can’t afford the time, or, it’s a terrible shot that’s not worth the time. But take the shot! At the very least it’ll be good practise and help you learn the camera. And sometimes you might surprise yourself by taking an award-winning photograph!

Know your camera – what modes are available?

Find out what all the buttons are for and what all the positions on the dials mean. You might need to look at the instruction book, or at an online tutorial about your camera. Make sure that at least you know how to change the ‘modes’.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - tourists asking a policeman to take their pictureGood times to learn about you camera

On a rainy Sunday afternoon
In front of TV when you partner’s watching that you don’t like
On a long haul flight

Bad times to learn about you camera

At your daughter’s wedding

Keep the lens clean

Clean the lens of your phone every time you use it. Use a proper lens cloth or you might end up making it dirtier or scratching the lens. Mobile phone camera lenses are inevitably coated in handbag or pocket fluff and smeary finger prints.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - taking pictures at Tate ModernNever use digital zoom, move closer to the subject

Mobile phones will probably have digital zoom, but they don’t zoom they just crop the picture down. Cropping reduces the definition which makes the photo appear grainy, blurry, or pixelated.

Consider camera support

There are times when you want to use slower shutter speeds. It might allow you to use a smaller aperture to get more depth of field, or allow motion-blur within the picture. To keep the camera steady during a long exposure use a tripod or monopod. Or balance it on the head of a small child.


Take Better Photos – Light – It Makes the Picture!

Pay attention to lighting

The nature of the light illuminating your subject is one of the key factors in making a picture. If there’s time, look at the scene and try to understand where the lights coming from. If it’s artificial light, work out where the light sources are, and what sort of light is it? How hard, (sharp) are the shadows? Try moving the subject around the space, all the time watching how the light changes on the subject. Or move the camera around the subject, always watching how the light changes. When working outdoors consider the time of day, the direction of the sun and the weather!

Lovely, soft and flattering. Light from a window, without direct sunlight

Use window light

Natural light, but not direct sunlight coming through a window can be a wonderful light source creating beautiful soft lighting. It’s especially good for portraits and can also work well for food and products.

Avoid using flash indoors

Usually flash photographs look horrible. But flash doesn’t always result in harsh shadows and that obvious flash look. When shooting with flash in manual mode, you can match the flash to the ambient light in the scene to make subjects pop. Outdoors, in bright light, using a flash can fill in the dark shadows making a better picture.

Set the camera’s exposure manually

Both shutter speed and aperture are creative choices having great effect on how a picture turns out. If you can, set them yourself. Some mobile apps allow manual control. Letting the camera choose the ISO setting can let you, the photographer make the choice of shutter speed and aperture to create the effect you want. Be careful to make sure that the camera hasn’t ‘run out’ of adjustment leaving the picture under or over exposed.

The boy is the subject, bit I’ve allowed the camera to set the exposure, and it chosen the sky

Use spot metering

Spot metering is taking readings from a specific place in the frame. If you can, set the camera so you choose the point in the frame where your camera takes readings. Otherwise you can end up with silhouettes or burned-out faces.

Consider setting a specific white balance

The camera’s confused by the bright daylight coming through the window making the subjects orangey and under exposed. I should have told it to adjust for artificial light and expose for the graduands

Different light sources can have different colours. Sunshine, overcast, shadow, LED or fluorescent bulbs are all different. Getting good colour is about adjusting the camera so that white things are white in the picture. The camera will do a good job of it for you, but good colour is about more than just achieving good white balance.

Digital cameras will actually let you set a colour profile, which adjusts the tones in an image to your personal taste. Most cameras will have a number of pre-sets too, such as standard and vivid, as well as several customisation options.


Take Better Photos – Motion Blur and Focus

A little blur can make a picture

Camera shake causes blurry pictures and is usually a bad thing. When the subject itself is moving an amount of blur can make a picture more dynamic, more alive. Such as the tennis players serving arm and racket, the water in a fountain, leaves in the wind or stars in the firmament. Or you might follow the subject with the camera and blur the background – a galloping horse, hunting cheetah or racing car.

Use flash to freeze

When you want to freeze motion, try using the flash. It will have to be brighter than the ambient light to effectively freeze the motion.

Stop-action pictures can reveal things we don’t normally see, because they’re moving too fast.


Take Better Photos – Composition – Or How to Make a Picture

Use grid-lines to balance your shot

One of the easiest ways to improve your mobile photos is to turn on the camera’s grid-lines in the viewfinder. That superimposes a series of lines on the screen of your camera that are based on the “rule of thirds”. Then you can ask, ‘What are the points of interest in this shot? Where should I place them?’

Try using the rule of thirds

This is an artistic composition principle used the great masters of painting. It says an image should be broken down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you have nine parts in total.

According to this theory, if you place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines, your photo will be more balanced, level, and allow viewers to interact with it more naturally. Try it, and see what you think. 

Moving the subject off to one side in the frame leaves a lot of the fame ’empty’. This might seem like a waste, but no, it’s ‘negative space’.

Use negative space

“Negative space” refers to the areas around and between the subjects of an image. It can have a big effect on how the picture looks, and it’s useful if you want to put text on the image. It’s often a large expanse of open sky, water, an empty field, or a large wall. Including a lot of empty space in a photo can make the subject stand out more.

Is it the rule of thirds or the negative that makes the picture look better? They can be two sides of the same coin. 

Use leading lines

In some photos, there’s a line that draws the viewer’s eye toward a certain part of the frame. Those are called leading lines. They can be straight or circular/curved such as staircases, building facades, train tracks, roads, or even a path through the woods. Leading lines are great for creating a sense of depth in an image, and can make your photo look purposefully designed

Use focus to emphasise the subject of the picture.

A narrow the depth of field will through the other things out of focus, making your subject stand out.

Play with reflections.

Reflections usually make pictures better, they can offer a sort of semi-symmetry and hint at a repeating pattern. Both symmetry and patterns can enhance pictures. Windows and water can become mirrors, but so can almost any smooth surface if you get the camera up close.

Look for symmetry.

Pictures that contain symmetry can be very pleasing to the eye — it’s also one of the simplest and most compelling ways to compose a photo. Remember there are different forms of symmetry, such as horizontal, vertical and rotational.

St.Martins in the Puddle
St.Martins in the the Fields. London becomes an abstract

Create abstracts.

Abstract compositions can be found all around us. Shapes, patterns, textures and forms bounded by the frame of a photograph might be intriguing, compulsive or even revelatory.

Keep an eye out for repetitive patterns.

Repetitive patterns appear whenever strong, graphic elements are repeated over and over again, like lines, geometric shapes, forms, and colours. Patterns can make a strong visual impact. Once you start looking for patterns, you see them everywhere!

A nail sunk in an old, park bench.

Capture small details.

We don’t usually get to see the form of a small thing, or  the patterns or textures on a surface. But you can photograph them, revealing something hidden by scale. Many camera’s have a ‘macro’ or close-up mode, it’s well worth giving it a try. If you camera doesn’t have a macro setting consider buying a supplementary lens.

Be unconventional.

Don’t risk missing a picture by trying to find an unconventional angle, but once you’ve snapped one or two, get down low, get high up, put something in the frame, or in front of the lens. ry to find something that isn’t obvious.

Consider the whole frame

Just before you press the shutter release button to take the picture, look all around the frame for anything that shouldn’t be there or could be in a better place. Perhaps taking a step one way or another or pausing for a moment might correct the fault.

So you take better photos, what are you go to do with them now? Seven steps to getting more from your photos

Your most convenient subjects are your family, but they don’t always see it that way. How to get your family to love photography

The autumn colour colours make it a great time for photography. Love the autumn – do photography

There’s no need to stop taking pictures in the winter. What to do with a camera in winter

How to take a good portrait photograph

Get better family photos when you’re on holiday

Portraits can be great with a serious expression on the subject’s face. For a happy-snappy, a smile is best!

You don’t need a perfect family for a perfect family portrait.

 


Pics and their Pitfalls – Pictures on Websites Need to be Taken Seriously

Not a stock-shot of a woman on phone wearing headset with microphone I’d just taken some pictures of a client for her new website. She’s starting a health and lifestyle business. She told me she needed other website images too, but had seen some shots on Google Images she quite liked. I was curious about how she’d clear the copyright and surprised at her answer, “I don’t have to if they’re on Google Images. Do I?” I explained that the images belonged to someone who would probably expect some kind of payment, but I’m not sure she was convinced. With so much free stuff online, you can come to expect everything to be free. I use Google mail, calendar, contacts and of course, search. It’s staggering just how much Google gives for free, and perhaps understandable to think that Google images are free too. Well Google image search is free, but the images it finds aren’t. Actually Google isn’t really free, they collect a vast amount of data about my likes, dislikes, interests, whereabouts and goodness knows what else. I’ve always considered it to be a fair exchange, but I’m beginning to feel uneasy about it.

So how do you know whether or not you can safely use an image that pops up in a search result? Well that’s easy, if you don’t have the specific permission of the copyright holder to use it, you can’t use it. So, you might be thinking ‘isn’t the internet an un-policed jungle? If I do use it, who’ll know?’ Well, even if the photographer is on the other side of the world, it’s easy for them to search online for unlicensed use of their photographs. Using Google Image search of course. Just as a word or a sentence is a string of letters, a digital image is just a long string of 0s and 1s – the digits! This sequence is as near to being unique as the image you see. So it’s easy for a computer to compare your image’s string of 0s and 1s to the strings of every other image on the internet. Google Images has a facility to look for a specific picture by examining its digital footprint, Tineye Reverse Image Search is another free image search ap. So if the copyright owner chooses to look, eventually they will find. Under English law the copyright of an image resides with the photographer unless they sign it over to someone else. This means that if you use an image on a commercial website you owe someone some cash. A thank you would be nice too.

The good news is that are of lots of free website images available, some web hosts offer a library of free ‘stock’ website images. Web designers often hold large collections too. Whether they’ll have one that suits your exact needs is another very good question. For a relatively small fee you can buy royalty-free images from so-called microstock sites. That means you can pay pennies for a website image and owe nothing else. It’s the ‘pile high, sell cheap’ side of the stock photography industry. The fact that the pile is so high means that it is more difficult to find the right image for your purposes. If you’ve got bored with looking for that needle in a haystack, (there’s a stock photograph idea) you might decide to increase your budget and go to one of the big picture agencies like Corbis, iStock or Getty. They have picture researchers to do the donkey-work for you. (oo, another stock photography idea) There are many specialist image libraries too.

Here are two radical solutions –

1) take it yourself

2) commission a photographer

You don’t need an expensive camera for option 1) but you do need a little patience. That’s a whole other blog post. For option 2) you just need to do research. Look at some online portfolios and then be precise about your requirements and the limits of your budget. It’s up to the photographer to decide if the job’s worth taking on.

Obviously I think it’s essential to get good photography for a business website, it’s the best way to connect and engage, to tell your story. By good, I mean the right images that say the right thing about the business, the service and the ethos. Everything you put in front of a potential client should support the values and the message you are trying to convey. If it doesn’t support it, it’s doing damage. In a picture-rich environment like ours we learn to ‘read’ imagery very quickly – an obvious, ‘make-do’ stock shot says ‘can’t be bothered’ or ‘don’t care what you think’.

Remember, every picture tells a story, but make sure it’s the right story!
 

Rianbow over a Scottish loch

This image can be licences from alamy.com

Photographing Your People at Work – 5 Reasons to Do It & 6 Ways to Make it Easier

What Colour Should I Wear for a Photo Shoot?

Three Questions to Get a Better LinkedIn Profile Picture

Customer Facing Staff Need Good Portrait Photos

How to take a good portrait photograph