Showborough House Sculpture Garden (2017)

Showborough House

Showborough House

It’s hard to believe that this is the fourth year I’ve visited the amazing Showborough House sculpture garden near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire (see 20162015 and 2014). This year I was able to capture a few portraits of some of the artists with their work including Andrew Roache who lives at Showborough and organises the event every year and is an accomplished sculptor himself.

Andrew Roach

Andrew Roach

Here’s a selection of the works that were on display in and around the gardens at Showborough this year. Click on an image for a larger version.

Some Thoughts on Being a Photographer

It’s not too hard to see that the role of the professional photographer is in something of a crisis. With the cost of photography equipment falling in real terms whilst at the same time becoming so technologically advanced it is becoming very hard indeed to take a ‘bad’ picture (i.e. one that is out of focus, exposed incorrectly or suffers from camera shake) the oft quoted phrase “we’re all photographers now” would never seem to be more true. You can even get intelligent camera assistants like Arsenal that will recommend the optimum settings for your camera or have your images ‘reviewed’ by artificial intelligence software like EveryPixel to tell you how awesome (or not) your photographs are. As you can see from the rating I got in this image from EveryPixel I still have some way to go!

EveryPixel Image Review

It’s no wonder then that everyone with a half decent camera (which applies to pretty much all cameras over a couple of hundred pounds these days) calls themselves a photographer and is quite happy to photograph your face, house, dog or even your wedding all for free or very nearly so (with maybe a slice of wedding cake and glass of prosecco thrown in as a payment)!

Photography seems to be one of the few professions that suffers from this phenomena. Most people who can put together a meal with some basic ingredients don’t call themselves a chef, people who can successfully put up a bookcase from Ikea don’t call themselves a joiner and those who can change the oil in their cars don’t call themselves a mechanic. A corollary to this is that ‘photographer’ seems to be one of the very few professions that sees the need to add the word ‘professional’ in front of it to distinguish itself, presumably, from the non-professional hordes of snappers. You rarely if ever see ‘professional chef’, ‘professional joiner’ or ‘professional mechanic’ rather it is taken as read these people are professionals*. Usually it is their good work alone that sets them apart and for which people are prepared to pay them money to allow them to devote their lives to practicing their particular craft. So why do photographers who practice their art for a living feel the need to distinguish themselves from the hordes of ‘happy snappers’ who just like to make great images, and maybe sometime sell or display their work along the way?

One argument has it that professional photographers themselves are their own worst enemies when it comes to protecting their profession. Rather than embracing the diversity that allows anyone with a smartphone to practice this art form (and instead focusing on the skills they need to differentiate themselves) they fall back on making snide remarks about these people and deriding anyone who has not come up through the ranks.

A recent example of this has been a number of posts from a blog I otherwise respect, United Nations of Photography run by commercial photographer and lecturer Grant Scott. One article poured derision over a book of photographs by Brooklyn Beckham  (son of David and Victoria) saying “he’s not very good and needs help”. This about a photographer who has an Instagram following of 10 million people and a commission from the luxury fashion brand Burberry already under his belt. Another post tells us of three photobooks we don’t need to buy (the implication being they are crap) without actually naming any of them and finally a Twitter tirade again the street photographer Eric Kim (the link to which I can no longer find) basically saying his work is less than good and questioning his photographic credentials.

All of this, in my humble opinion, makes for a less than satisfactory state of affairs. Surely the photography community is large enough and diverse enough to allow all of us to operate at what ever level we wish without having to resort to sniping and making uncomplimentary remarks about people practicing the art form? If this means that those who wish to make a living out of photography have to work that little bit harder then so be it. That’s the reality of the world we live in. For goodness sake, even Ansel Adams had to supplement his income from his photographs by teaching and lecturing!

Instead of bitching and whining about the awful state of photography photographers should concentrate on being the best they can regardless of whether they do it for money, for love or anything else. Being professional, in anything, should be about more than doing whatever is needed to be paid for the job but doing whatever it takes to get people coming back for more. If you are finding yourself losing out to some upstart student with little experience and a load of Instagram followers you will just have to face up to the fact their images are preferred to yours because the client knows her images will be more successful than yours in selling their brand. That’s the way it is so you’d best get over it.

Here are the four things that really matter when it comes to being ‘professional’ in your approach to photography and that will set you aside as a photographer. I call them my ‘four C’s of being a professional’. I reckon that if you do not try and adopt these as much as you can then you will fail as a photographer.

  • Creativity. Make no mistake without this you are dead. Coming up with new ideas and new ways of seeing, whether it be for a personal project or for a client, are really where it’s at and seeking out new ways to be creative is what all photographers should be trying to do all of the time. Indeed you should consider yourself a creative first and a photographer second. Creative juices not flowing? Don’t worry there is a tonne of advice out there, here are some links to a few of mine.
  • Consistency. It’s not enough to have the odd creative bit of inspiration; you need to do it again and again. Being consistent for every shoot you do so that the client will know they can rely on you to deliver their brief is absolutely essential.
  • Communication. One of the defining moments for me in making portraits was to realise that whilst it is important to know how to use your kit (see the next ‘C’) actually what is far, far more important is knowing how to communicate with your subject. Making them feel relaxed and at home is absolutely key if you want to capture something unique and personal.
  • Craftsmanship. So all that stuff they tell you about it not being about the kit, well it’s true HOWEVER… If you are not a master of the kit you do have you will also never be a great photographer. It doesn’t matter if its a ‘simple’ iPhone or a top of the range digital SLR costing thousands, the important thing is you know how to use that camera so that it doesn’t get in the way between you and your subject.

* The only exception to this would seem to be in sport where professional tennis player, golfer or athlete are descriptions that tend to be used.

Postscript: Just as I was about to hit publish on this post this news item hit my Twitter feed. Bowens, the well-known 94-year-old lighting equipment brand has officially confirmed that it has discontinued operations. One of the main factors cited for its demise was the rise of cheaper gear by Chinese manufacturers. It seems like its not only photographers that need to learn some hard lessons of competition!

Miss Zimbabwe UK 2017

This year, as well as working with the designer and fashion show organiser Dawn Ziyambe on her Zimbabwe Fashion Showcase, I have also been helping her with some publicity shots for Miss World Zimbabwe UK which was held at the Connaught Rooms in London on 1st July. Here are the headshots I created…

…as well as the composite used to publicise the event.

Miss Zimbabwe UK Group Shot

Miss Zimbabwe UK Group Shot

Billingham Hadley Large – The Ultimate Day Bag

Billingham Hadley Large in FibreNyte/Tan Leather

Billingham Hadley Large in FibreNyte/Tan Leather

People who follow my blog will know I’m a big fan of the M. Billingham & Co. bag company based in Cradley Heath in the West Midlands, UK. I own both a Hadley Pro as well as a Hadley Digital which have served me well, in the case of the former bag, for over 11 years.

These bags are so well made and resistant against the worst that the British weather can throw at them they are basically indestructible and I suspect last pretty much for ever (or at least will outlast me)! This being the case the reasons for buying a new Billingham are somewhat limited unless you just want to build up your own bag showroom!

That said, one of the things I have been looking for is a shoulder bag that will enable me to carry a small amount of camera gear (i.e. one body and a maximum of two or three lenses as well as a late 2016 13″ MacBook Pro) comfortably all day. Whilst I can fit all this gear into my Hadley Pro it is a tight squeeze especially if I want to include any additional accessories or essentials such cables (which you need lots of for the new MacBook Pro), chargers or even the odd bottle of water.

Whilst visiting The Photography Show at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham this year I was able to visit the Billingham stand where they were not only showing but also selling their bags. On show were all the existing Billingham bags plus three new ones introduced this year including the new Hadley One which does just what I needed i.e. has space for a 13″ laptop. Having looked at both the new Hadley as well as the existing bags however I opted to buy the Billingham Hadley Large (in FibreNyte, for a change, rather than Khaki Canvas).

The new Hadley has been on several outings already and here are my initial thoughts and observations (together with a few images).

  1. Size wise the Hadley Large is a bit taller and a bit wider than the Hadley Pro meaning a MacBook Pro comfortably fits between the inner compartment and back of the bag.
  2. As with the Hadley Pro there are two dividers plus a couple of flaps which allow you to sub-divide the compartments between the top and bottom allowing you to stack lenses. My preferred configuration is to divide the bag into three and place a couple of larger lenses at the bottom of two compartments with a couple of smaller ones above each and a camera body in the middle.
  3. There are two large pockets at the front allowing you to carry accessories and even a small camera (my Fujifilm X100F fits comfortable in one of these).
  4. Whilst all of this gear fits easily into the bag, for me that’s about as much as I’d want to carry for very long. The bag is fairly comfortable as long as you use a shoulder pad (which is extra) and carry the bag across your body rather than just over one shoulder.
  5. Unlike the Hadley Pro there is no carrying handle (not really a problem) or back pocket (which would have been nice).
  6. The fasteners on the Hadley’s are great. You can either use the buckle or just unclip the leather strap from the metal retainer for a quick release. Perfectly silent with no velcro in sight.
  7. For a day bag, when I am out and about and just want to carry the X100F and a laptop with a few cables etc, this is a great bag. It’s comfortable enough to wear all day and gives good protection for my gear. Bear in mind though that there is no padding between the laptop and the back of the bag which is fine as long as you are wearing the bag against you but you need to take care when putting the bag down or against hard surfaces not to drop or knock the bag over.

Overall the Hadley Large is another great bag from the Billingham stable and complements well, size wise, the Pro and Digital giving you a range of carrying options depending on how much and what type of kit you want to carry. Definitely worth checking this bag out if you are in the market for a reasonable sized shoulder bag that looks stylish, is comfortable to carry all day and weather resistant.

Macro Beauty

One of the talks I attended at The Photography Show this year was by the beauty and fashion photographer Tina Eisen. Inspired by her macro beauty work I decided to have a go at this sub-genre of beauty photography myself. You can see the results below.

The model for this shoot was Moe (AKA @thatbaldmodel) who, as you can see, has a very distinctive look. The makeup artist was Megan Hewitt and the studio SS Creative Photography in Birmingham. All images taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 (Mk I) and M.ZUIKO 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. Lighting is with an Elinchrom D-Lite RX 2 and 4 plus Rotalux Octagonal softbox.


Friday Foto 28 IV 17

Spring Colours

Spring Colours

It’s usually Autumn that has the riot of colours in woods and forests that makes creating images at that time of year such a rewarding time for photographers. However, if you get your timing right with the light and are lucky to be in the right place Spring too has the possibility to reveal some lovely subtle colours.

Today’s Friday Foto is of Spring colours taken as the sun sets over the River Dart in Devon.