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

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Kingston Dragon Boat Race – Event Photography

Kingston Dragon Boat Race event photographyI really wanted to be in a boat to photograph the great spectacle that is the Dragon Boat Race on the River Thames. But, all event photography really should be done from the sidelines – the photographer’s job at an event is to document; capture it for the interest and amusement of the participants but also for the record. Moving into the middle of a drinks reception isn’t going to alter the event in any way, and can get you some good pictures.  But I couldn’t paddle out to the middle of the river to shoot the dragon boats, so I was on the tow path between Teddington and Kingston with a long telephoto lens.

Once the racing was over a I got to ride in the safety boat, and was childishly excited. It was fast!

I photographed the Dragon Boat Race event for the organisers, Kingston upon Thames Rotary Club.

Writing this I wondered whether it should be Dragonboat or Dragon Boat. So I ask Google, and discovered I wasn’t the first perso to pose the question.

 

Wonderful Faces

I can’t bring myself to delete these wonderful faces. I’ve been having a hard-drive clear-out, but they remind me of why I love taking photographs of people – because of their wonderful faces.

To begin with, in a shoot, the face is a mask behind which we hide our discomfort. But our face turns out to be an unreliable agent as soon the veil begins to slip away, revealing what’s concealed. Bit by bit. Shot by shot.

I don’t know who most of these people are now, but I want them as my friends. They look fascinating, intelligent, lively, curious, loving, fun. You can see it all in their faces.  

The wonderful faces were photographed at a number of business and corporate headshot or profile shoots. To get your team photographed get in touch or call me on 020 8977 2529.

Deck the Walls of Teddington

Some of the local artists displaying this week in ‘1 of 1’ on Teddington High Street. As the poster says, affordable art perfect for Christmas presents.

 

Care Home Editorial photography

care home editorial photographyDoing editorial photography in a care home that isn’t yet open could be a challenge. After all, it’s the residents that need to be photographed. Of course there would be real protection issues to tackle if we were photographing real residents.

Care home Caddington Grove in Dunstable was virtually ready to go and fully staffed. While the last touches were being added to the accommodation, training was being completed the marketing materials were being prepared.  Graphic designer Les Copland was looking for editorial photography to illustrate brochures and for the home’s website. The owners agreed a budget for a couple of models to populate the spaces for the photo shoot, and we asked the staff to invite their older family members to volunteer as well. Not too big an ask really – sit around and chat, drink tea, eat biscuits and enjoy a set lunch. On the day we had eight people. Everyone was really nice and very willing, and I was careful not to push it too far!

Bramble Partners Networking at Gray’s Inn – Event Photography

Photography at an event in Gray’s Inn, or any of London’s prestigious venues is a small perk of the job. Bramble Hub connects public sector organisations with best of breed private sector suppliers through government procurement frameworks. They run regular partner events, some simply social, others opportunities to learn from peers, but they’re usually somewhere really nice. The latest one was in the hall at Gray’s Inn. The building was badly damaged in 1941, a brief history can be read here.

Exhibition and Event Photography

Conference Video

ICT Business Networking Event

The Limbcare Garden Video Story

Video of a Hampton Court Flower Show Garden

The story that the Limbcare Garden video tells has more emotion at it’s core than most business video. That’s because the Limbcare Garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show was inspired by the emotional response of the garden’s designer, Edward Mairis. He learned of Ray Edwards MBE, the UK’s Longest surviving quad amputee and his dream to build the Limbcare Well-Being Centre to support amputees and the limb-impaired.  Edward’s garden was intended to help the fund-raising and eventually enrich the experience of the centre. Edward’s first show garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show, ‘Journey of Lifetime’ was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Royal Horticultural Association. This year the RHA gave Limbcare Garden a Silver Medal.

 
designer Edward Mairis says:

 

“The judges recognised the Limbcare Garden as outstanding because it brings a message of hope to amputees and their families who have the huge challenge of accepting a dramatically changed life. The garden symbolises how the charity gives hope and security. Within this calming space, the amputee can face up to what has happened to them and then learn to think differently about what’s important in life. The garden offers a sense of hope in the healing process, the verve of nature showing great resilience, growth and adaptability to the amputee.

“It was important to us to involve amputees in the creation of the garden. This has been another example of the way that Ray inspires and motivates other amputees, and I am delighted to have had the support of so many people Limbcare has supported over the years.”

Filming with Ray and the other limb-impaired volunteers was a joy and an inspiration.
 
 

The Clairvoyant and her Biographer

Steve and Janet came round to take some portraits for the cover of their forthcoming book. Janet is a clairvoyant and Steve is writing her story.


7 Steps to Getting More from Your Photographs

man and woman with drink problems photography southwest LondonI propose a new figure of speech – ‘It’s like finding a jpeg on a hard-drive’ instead of the outmoded ‘needle in a haystack’.  The idea comes from the difficulty I’ve encountered when looking for a particular image on a computer.  I know it’s in there somewhere but……

Just imagine if you could open a hard-drive like a desk draw. It would be like entering a cavern jam-packed with vaguely labeled piles of boxes filled with imprecisely labeled folders stuffed with ambiguously labeled documents. Maybe you’re in luck – you find the box of photographs – every photograph you’ve taken. The good, the bad the indifferent, the white frames, the black frames, the blurry frames, the pictures of your feet and pictures of the sky. Somewhere in there is that lovely shot of your sister you took the day before the aliens abducted her to the mothership.

In reality the situation is probably worse with pictures in several places. Some left to moulder for years on the camera’s memory card, some on your phone, others on the tablet and a few attached to emails from friends.

Falkirk containers

Digital Jugglers

I’ve just described the chaos that is my ‘library’ of roughly 60,000 images. Most are in folders named according to the job.  Since I deserted the proper path of film and sold my soul to the digital devil that’s been good enough. But there are dozens of folders now, it’s getting to be un-manageable and can be impossible to find a specific image if I don’t remember where I put it.

Delete the Duds

A  former work colleague told me that he saved every image he took because the failed pictures say as much, in their own way as the successful shots. He might have a point as an artist; I’m more of a photo-tart. I’d rather let go of the letdowns to save the card and drive space, not to mention the time transferring data between the two.  I suggest that when you take a break from the grinding hard work that is photography, you flick through your shots and dump the failures. That might just mean technical failures such as out-of-focus, burred or incorrectly exposed. You could also exercise some editorial judgment and get rid of the shots that don’t live up to you expectations as well, but I prefer to leave that till I’ve seen them on a computer screen and then do a big cull.

something unknown in the ancient woodland

Tag, Tag, and Tag again

It doesn’t actually matter where the files are physically stored on the hard-drive if they are well tagged, you’ll always be able to find them quickly using the tagged terms and the file data such as the date and even time. The best time to tag them is when they are transferred from memory card to computer. Generic terms can be added automatically to each picture, like ‘California holiday’ ‘Christmas’ ‘Christening’. There are many image management tools that enable you to do it, I use Adobe Lightroom, which is fantastic or there’s iPhoto or Picasa. These will become the software you use most often not just for managing a collection but for post-production too. Again I have give Adobe Lightroom a plug, it’s effective, easy and economic.

black and white abstract photograph of plastic bottles

Good Habits Save Time, Money and avoid visits to the doctor

Most of my pictures are utter rubbish, but I want to keep them. Just in case. Now if I can get into a better digital habits by fine-tuning my image management workflow, then the occasional good photograph I take is less likely to get lost under all that digital dross!

late for class

  1. Decide on a folder and subfolder structure.
  2. When the clocks change remember to reset the clock on the camera. It’s another useful search parameter.
  3. Use image management software to tag images as you transfer them from memory card to computer.
  4. Back up your library on two other drives, one of which is in another building.
  5. Enjoy flicking through your folders from time to time, and while you’re there add more tags and delete more crap.
  6. Share your pictures more – make greetings cards, have a print on the wall, compile an album etc. Otherwise what’s the point?
  7. Be less lazy.

Trevor Aston works in Richmond, Southwest London and Surrey as a portrait, event and editorial photographer.