Home Schooling

Since coronageddon kicked off, and my usual photography bookings became rarer than truths from a government adviser, I’ve been filling my time with lots of online tutorials, walks, trying new recipes, and roughly 40% of the time, looking after my 13 year-old daughter – which largely involves making sure she gets on with her allotted schoolwork and regularly shovelling food to within arm’s reach. In addition, it’s been nice (for us both) to introduce her to some new creative activities such as music recording, digital art and editing photographs using Lightroom.

I confess there may be a longer term dream that she’ll one day take over the editing side of my photography business (when she’s not at university or becoming a massive success in whatever “proper” career direction she chooses) while I do the bit I enjoy most – taking pictures. Editing, to me, is a means to an end. Unlike many other photographers, I really don’t enjoy the editing process. However, predictably, my daughter has taken to Lightroom like a duck to water and within an hour of my initial guidance, was using functions that I rarely if ever use myself.

And so here are a few of my photographs as edited on Lightroom by “my young apprentice”. She chose to work on these images from a “Urban Ballet” themed shoot at my Strangetown Studio featuring the wonderful Emilie Walt. Not necessarily how I’d have done them – but that’s the whole point. I’m rather chuffed with her results…

 

When A Flattened Curve Becomes A Downward Spiral

Like many other self-employed peeps, the enforced lockdown has had a humungous and devastating effect on my photography business. For one reason or another, I was one of the many who “fell between the cracks” of the various governmental aid packages for the self-employed and small businesses and so with nothing coming in and still home/studio rent to pay, it’s been a pretty stressful time.

I tell you this not because I am about to announce a link to my JustBegging page or would like you to send me toilet roll and tins of baked beans at your earliest opportunity, but because there have been some actual positives to the time spent here alone. Here are a few…

  • Professional Development: I have spent time reading a wide range of material and watching hours of tutorials (some good, many very bad) to consolidate – or learn for the first time – methods and techniques to improve the  standard and range of my photographic understanding.
  • Equipment: I have begun using my Holga (120) and Olympus Trip (35mm) to record some of my activities during lockdown on film, cameras that I haven’t taken out of my bag for a year or two. I’ve also had time to investigate potential new equipment purchases for when the work situation improves.
  •  Time Apart: Not HAVING to use my camera on a regular basis has meant that I’m now itching to get back to using it as soon as possible. The same could be said about my studio – I’m regularly buzzing with ideas about new shoots I’d like to realise.
  • Worth: Seeing more and more work by my contemporaries, going through old images, remembering difficult shoots/clients has (without wishing to beat around a bush while blowing my own trumpet) made me realise that I am good at what I do and that my experience and skills should come at an appropriate price. I have sometimes accepted difficult jobs and put up with rude, unrealistic, unappreciative, and goalpost-shifting clients, sometimes for lower rates than I should accept and then had to expend a lot of time and effort to chase even those payments. A year or so ago I started saying “no” to clients who had taken advantage of my good nature (yes, it is generally good) consistently, whether through brief-stretching, late/non-payment, unreliability, dropping me for a cheaper photographer only to return when they didn’t get what they needed etc, and it’s been very cathartic. Lockdown has made me even more determined to continue this ethos – if it feels like it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth, it usually is.
  • Appreciation: This a lonely old trade sometimes, even moreso since I stopped teaching, but over the years I have made some true friends through photography. Whether other pro photographers, models, clients, former students, club members or studio residents, I am very fortunate to know some wonderful people. It’s worth mentioning here that several of my current studio residents offered to continue paying rent (or at least some of it) to help me continue to pay my landlord during lockdown. I declined but the offer meant a lot to me.
  • Futureproofing: The only thing that is certain as we start to emerge from these dark days of lockdown is that nothing is certain. I personally doubt the industry will ever be quite the same – it has changed so much in recent years and I suspect the post-virus recession will prompt some recently redundant enthusiasts to join the ranks of us shutter-monkeys-for-hire (I know people who are doing this) as we scramble for fewer scraps of work for lower reward. But this is a constantly evolving business and twas ever thus. As some areas of photography become obsolete, others spring up. Photographers have always been adaptable or they weren’t photographers for very long. Some aspects of my business will continue to provide revenue, I’m sure, while others will need to be replaced. As someone who accepted his first professional commission 35 years ago, I am not particularly concerned with having to adapt. However, I increasingy recognise the necessity to consider an additional form of income as many of my colleagues have done.

As lockdown restrictions are gradually relaxed, Strangetown Studio is now able to be used again and I’m happy to say my first couple of shoot enquiries have trickled in. Here’s to a rapid and continued return to normality, whatever that is.

Anyway, enough of that serious stuff, here’s a nice photo of the ever-wonderful Cally…

 

Ivory Flame: Gypsy Caravan (Part 2)

I’m actually embarrassed at how long it’s taken me to finish and publish these images of Ivory Flame‘s gypsy caravan-themed shoot (we’re talking YEARS). In my defence, I’d already worked my way through editing the 700 or so images from this very inspiring and productive shoot when my laptop conked out and all of my Lightroom work-in-progress was lost.

And then, predictably, I got absorbed in other, current work and never got around to starting again with this shoot. It’s taken a global pandemic, social isolation and the disappearance of all work engagements to give me the opportunity to dip back into these images and start again on the editing. Silver linings, eh?

In a way, I’m rather glad to be attacking these images now because I’ve been developing a collection of painterly Lightroom presets that I think work beautifully with Ivory Flame’s wonderfully ephemeral and Pre-Raphaelite style.

As if Ivory Flame, an amazing authentic gypsy caravan, and a ruined cottage wasn’t enough to inspire heaps of photographs, Gillian’s horses came over to get in on the action…

And here’s a final selection from the hundreds of shots (that I’d be more than happy to share if there were time).

I’ll no doubt be raiding my dusty hard drives for more previously unpublished stuff during the zombie apocalypse. But for now, huge thanks again to the stunning Holly (Ivory Flame), Gillian (for the caravan and wonderful hospitality) and my little group of togs who made the whole thing feasible.

Ivory Flame: Gypsy Caravan (Part 1)

One advantage of the enforced isolation we now find ourselves in is having time to do things we’ve perhaps been meaning to do for a long time. For example, I’ve been able to delve into my deepest darkest archives and find whole shoots that for one reason or another, I never got around to editing.

What I’m going to share today, are images from a shoot I organised FOUR years ago featuring the truly unique Ivory Flame and with a “gypsy” theme (that she does so well).

The other star of this shoot, and the inspiration for the whole idea, is a genuine antique “gypsy caravan” that is owned by my good friend, Gillian, an award-winning designer. When Gillian showed me the caravan, which is at the bottom of her beautiful country garden, the idea for the shoot (including choice of model) instantly popped into my head.

What may not be immediately apparent from the images is that this was early spring and was blimming freezing! It was also spotting with rain and a cold spring wind was blowing through the garden, but Ivory Flame is a consummate professional and soldiered on regardless.

That’s all for now. I’ll post a few more soon.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

There is, apparently, a nasty virus going around. It’s separating loved ones, frightening people of all ages, preventing and changing “normal” life, making people ill, ruining businesses, stalling education and careers, and even killing thousands.

Given that perspective, the cancellation of a few photography courses and workshops is pretty small beer really. Inevitably, under these extraordinary circumstances, I’ve postponed all of my training events until it’s safe and sensible to reschedule. Everyone affected has been contacted and have been wonderfully understanding (this is no surprise – my training clients are lovely folks). Whatever happens, and however long it takes, these bookings will be honoured.

I, like many other photographers, and many other freelance/self-employed people (including the models I work with), have a very uncertain future because of Covid-19. I noticed a fairly sudden drop-off in my usual PR and commercial work 4-6 weeks ago but hoped we’d escape the worst of it and could begin to recoup the lost earnings. It’s now apparent this is unlikely to happen any time soon and with studio and house rent to pay, I’m unsure how my business will weather this enforced period of inactivity. I went into self-isolation almost a week ago because I was showing symptoms of what I believe to be (but can’t be certain was) a cold and cough. I have no work whatseoever in the diary until September which is when the school photography contracts should begin – but of course, there’s a chance these may not materialise. Freelance photographers sadly cannot work from home.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. I am in generally good health, have food in my cupboards and freezer, have a little garden I can sit in for fresh air when needed – and most importantly, my family are safe, well and taking the necessary precautions to avoid infection. If my business doesn’t survive this, I’m sure I’ll adapt and eventually find alternative work.

My real sympathy is with those already infected or lost to this virus and their families.

And my eternal gratitude to the wonderful NHS and other keyworkers keeping this country battling through despite the best efforts of the moronic hordes of panic-buying, stockpiling, advice-ignoring, virus-spreading dimwits who see no reason to make any adjustment whatsoever to their own selfish routines in order to save the lives of innocent people. To those people, I wish a swift and painful death.

In an attempt to end on a lighter, photographic note (this is a photography page after all), I leave you with this image of lovely Laura (actually two shots, taken, edited, composited on an iphone) proving that there really is light at the end of the tunnel…

This Other England: Model Ellie At Strangetown Studio

Modelling for this week’s “Getting Started In The Studio: Flash“workshop was the lovely Kidderminster-based model Ellie England. It so happens that Ellie’s dad is one of my oldest and best friends so I’ve know Ellie since she was a baby – way before she was one of the country’s brightest new athletics hopefuls, much less an up-and-coming model. Sadly, a period of ill health meant that Ellie is no longer competing in athletics but thankfully, she is back to modelling.

Before Monday’s workshop began, we were able to get a few minutes to grab some studio shots, some of which Ellie needed for an agency application. Ellie is such a wonderfully bubbly personality with a very professional outlook. She is on Instagram and some of the modelling sites (click here for her Purpleport profile).

These were very hurried shots but I hope to bring Ellie back into the studio soon.

Forthcoming Workshops At Strangetown Studio

I recently announced 3 new workshops and 2 model shoots to be held at (my) Strangetown Studio in Birmingham. There is still at least 2 spaces left on each of the workshops, one of the model shoots (the first to be announced) is now full but there are two spaces left on the second one. Here’s the flyer…

The model shoot features the stunning Alex, who is no stranger to my studio and always a joy to photograph. You won’t need any studio experience to join our friendly little group for this session, just a camera that is able to connect to our studio flash (contact me if you’re unsure).

The remaining workshops are as follows…

GETTING STARTED IN THE STUDIO: FLASH

Monday 9th March 7-10pm. Venue: Strangetown Studio

A one-off mostly-practical introduction to studio flash using various lighting modifiers and techniques. A real model (or models) will be used to demonstrate principles so bring along your camera to learn-as-you-shoot.

Aim: Confidently use electronic studio flash, whether in an established studio or setting up you own.

Price: £45.   Maximum Group Size: 5

 

PHOTOSHOP FOR THE BAFFLED

Wednesday 25th March 7-10pm.  Venue: Strangetown Studio

Bring along your own laptop or just watch and make notes as I take you through the most useful Photoshop functions. This one-off workshop is suitable for beginners and ideally you’ll have a recent version of Photoshop pre-installed. Please contact me before booking to clarify which PS version you’re using or for tips on buying PS for the first time. Bring your own photos to work on or I will supply samples for you to play with.

Aim: Take your first steps in using the industry standard photo-editing suite on your own images in a relaxed and supportive environment.

Price: £40.  Maximum Group Size: 6

 

PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE

Sunday 26th April 10am-1:30pm.  Venue: Strangetown Studio

Historically this has been an extremely successful workshop. Learn about the technical, creative, lighting, posing, gender and psychological considerations involved when photographing people. Unsurprisingly, this is a partly practical workshop using real models so bring your camera.

Aim: Understand what makes a good portrait and how to produce one.

Price: £55.  Maximum Group Size: 6

Get in touch for enquiries and booking.

Holly In The Summertime

I can’t believe I’ve just got around to editing the images from this shoot with the wonderful Holly Alexander at Strangetown Studio from August 2019!  But editing images from late summer, with some lovely afternoon sunshine, is exactly what’s needed on a day when my home town is facing yet more floods.

This was a really enjoyable grouo shoot in which we were able to utilise not only the studio (and its lighting) but also the corridors and lifts within the studio building and the streets nearby.

And here’s our merry little group on the day (excluding me, as I’m taking the photograph)…

 

James: Headshots

I enjoy shooting “headshots”, especially when the subject is a performer or someone who understands the importance of image presentation. And it’s also more fun if it’s someone I’ve known for many years and have worked with before.

James is an actor and musician that I first photographed around 14 years ago when I was putting together my final project for my Photography degree. We originally met via a mutual interest in a band. James is definitely less affected by those years than I am.

I know I’ve said it before but the best thing about my studio (Strangetown Studio) is that apart from my cosy and well-equipped studio space, there’s the rest of this huge 1930s industrial building to use as backdrops for my portraiture and quite a few of the corridors and stairwells have rather nice natural light.

Back To School?

If you’ve known me for a while, or have been reading this here page for a year or two, you’ll probably know that until the beginning of 2018, a sizeable chunk of my business over the years was in teaching photography at a variety of locations including MAC (Midlands Arts Centre), Stratford College, my own studio (obviously) – and Birmingham Botanical Gardens (for around 14 years).

I stopped the teaching side of things, and even the successful photography club I ran, to concentrate on the practical side of photography at a time when it seemed everyone (including people who had little more experience than one of my own courses) were teaching courses of their own.

When I finished teaching at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, my courses were taken over by my friend and former student, David Tunney who has clearly been doing a great job for them. Sadly, David became ill in 2019 and I was asked to return to the BBG to cover his Autumn Term classes until he was well enough to return. I agreed to do this and quickly remembered how much I enjoyed delivering these courses. As David wasn’t quite well enough to return for the Spring Term, I agreed to stay on to cover those classes too.

And so I am now not only looking forward to what should be my “definitely final” term at the BBG, but I’ve also decided to continue to run a few one-off workshops at my studio (Strangetown Studio). Until now these have been available mainly to my former FOTO-CLUB members via our closed Facebook group but I will be posting some additional events on the Strangetown website and Facebook page by this weekend.

If you’d like to be added to my brand new mailing list, please get in touch! (Events so far have often sold out within a couple of days).

A recent group shoot at Strangetown Studio with the wonderful Rose Beaman.