Simon Lewis

OCA Learning Log

Eugène Atget

French (1857–1927)
Eugène Atget

Mostly strew scenes. People a rarity. Documents place and life. Resulting images are a real recording of how life was experienced in rural and cosmopolitan France at that time.

The 'place images' are just as strong without people as those that include them, perhaps because of the detail which provides us with the opportunity to imagine the spaces populated. Even the shop windows tell us something of the inhabitants of the villages, towns and cities where these were shot.

Bert Tuenissen

Dutch photographer (1959)


Tuenissen's quote summarises his Domestic Landscape series: "I found that when local traditions disappear, most of their visible aspects are also lost. When a small farmer stops slaughtering, the open fireplace becomes redundant. Sausages and hams will be dried artificially and smoked in a factory losing their original flavour and appearance. And when a small farmer stops farming, the stables are converted into storage or living spaces, the stable doors are replaced by windows, the cement floor by parquet, the hayloft is altered into bedrooms, the kitchen moved to the former parlour, and slowly all rooms and spaces will have lost their original meaning and significance."

For all that Tuenissen is a master of composition and natural lighting. For me his series on domestic landscape really encapsulates the “People and Place" module. He's managed to show people at one with their surroundings in a way that adds equally to the sitter and environment. His use of light is masterful. One cannot tell how much retouching, if any, is applied to today's images but the sense one has when looking at Tuenissen's photography is that the light was captured as he saw it. Shadows and highlights become an integral part of the places he photographs. The light is as much part of the environment as the space and decor. The light is as much part of the environment as the sitter.

Tuenissen Has a more structured approach to composition than some of the other photographers reviewed here. That's possibly because we are now into the realms of photographing place than street photography. Yet he's managed to bring out the personality of individuals simply by having them look into the lens. We are not witnessing intimate moments (Goldin), capturing tiny fragments of life (Brown, Maier et al). But we are seeing people in the context of their lives. To us, their lives are richer for the inclusion of those backgrounds.

This work is far more pleasing to me than many of the other images reviewed so far in this section. Suffice to say Tuenissen has inspired me to work much harder on my “People and Place" work.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

American art photographer (1951)

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

These images seem to have far more of a structured format to them than Goldin's. Many appear posed–even staged. Composition is carefully thought out. Colours are beautiful and the overall effect is somewhat 'polished' or even cinematic.The lighting is often beautiful.

Again, these images illustrate a slice of life; a moment captured. But somehow these moments are perhaps distant observation, a remote comment on what is being seen.

Nan Goldin

American photographer (1953)

Nan Goldin

There are no shortage of Nan Goldin images on the Internet and many of these are self portraits. Goldin does not appear to spend much time composition, framing or the other 'niceties' of formal photography. She doesn't spend time on lighting using whatever is available to her but without modifying or shaping it. Instead she concentrates on recording personal, intimate and sometimes private moments, unmodified, as they happen. Most of these are interiors. Strangely her approach is not in a voyeuristic or intrusive way. Goldin observes in a way that allows her, and asked by extension, to participate in the moment. Interesting…

Vivien Maier

American amateur street photographer (1926 - 2009)
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- Just a small selection of images shown – these with faces hidden. Many others exist with faces in clear view.
– Despite the faces he being hidden, meaning in each image is apparent. Here the lack of facial detail adds to the story.
– Less emphasis on composition and framing, more on capturing the unique moment.

The image of the sleeping couple above made me think of a photo I took a few years ago of a sleeping businessman on a high-speed train in Japan

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Robert Doisneau

French photographer (1912 - 1994)
Robert Doisneau 5Dosineau2 Dosineau

There appear to be 2 key strands in Doisneau's work. The 1st is very strong composition as the 1st image above indicates. Strong triangular arrangements and leeding lines move our gaze around this image deliberately.

The 2nd strand is in capturing just the right moment. Like Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau was a master in knowing exactly when to press the trigger. The classroom scene above demonstrates this perfectly with a whole range of expressions caught all the boys' faces, particularly the boy in the foreground. In image 3 the photo is made by the almost startled expression of the passerby.

And the same is true of the kissing couple below. The strength of this image is not just the couple in the centre of the frame but the sense of how they are oblivious to life going on around them.


Saving Pets Through Photography

Seth Casteel
The Seth Casteel approach...

Through my charity work at the RSPCA animal centre near my home I had the opportunity of being invited on a Seth Casteel pet photography workshop recently. Seth exploded onto the scene earlier this year with his amazing images of underwater dogs. However his workshop at the RSPCA didn't involve throwing any animals into swimming pools. Somehow I don't think the animal centre would have appreciated that. What it did do was concentrate on his passion for re-homing pets through the use of good photography.

Seth's photographic background comes initially from the worlds of advertising and marketing. He knows how important it is to present pets in the most positive light (literally) in order to get them into new homes quickly. However he's discovered that many animal centres seem to hold the opposite view. They have a natural inclination to show an animal looking as dejected and miserable as possible, huddled in a cold concrete kennel in order to tug people's heartstrings. Whilst it's a good sentiment I actually think people are more likely to be put off by that sort of image because to me it says “don't come here, we mistreat our pets". Seth's point is that well cared for, cute, happy animals find homes quickly. All you have to do is photograph them looking that way.

The 'traditional' approach….

Around a dozen volunteers travelled from all over the UK to hear Seth speak. He quickly dispensed with the theory and took us outside to see him in action. His was a simple, no-nonsense approach will work just as well photographing people as it will with pets (excluding the collar, lead and treats. Maybe.)

He explained that placing the animal in the shade with its back to the light, against a simple backdrop of shrubbery was a simple and effective way of getting the best results from even the simplest compact cameras. See top image above. A wide aperture, high ISO and fast frame shooting will ensure capturing the pets' perfect expression with focus on the eyes, shallow depth of field and frozen action. This can be enhanced with the aid of a simple squeaker and chewy treat. Chewy, because that's what help makes a dog 'smile'.

The goal is to shoot as many animals as possible (photographically of course) in as short timeframe so we spent some of our time discussing workflow. One shooter, one 'holder' and as many kennel maids as possible is enough to photograph 30 to 40 animals in short order. Some of the centres where Seth volunteers can see several thousand dogs pass through their gates every month so fast shooting and quick uploading is vital.

There was plenty of time for Seth to answer questions and give tips and tricks on web marketing. All-in-all a very effective session.

Nellie Puppy
Some of my own pet images…


Harry Borden

American photographer (1965)

Harry Borden

A selection of images featuring Martin Freeman.


– All of the above studio based although Borden also shoot on location
– These are an interesting combination of images with and without props. Props, such as the cat, seem to give Freeman freedom to move. However Freeman always seems to need to play up for the camera.

The image below is from Borden's series on the Holocaust. What's special to me here is the vast area of blank space on the wall above the subject's head combined with the dust sheets over the sofa. It's as if the subject, Holocaust survivor Ruth Barnett, has decided to leave the physical presence of the world behind for an ephemeral void. She has a dreamy gaze but we know from her experience in the Holocaust that these were not good dreams. She's lost in thought, lost somewhere between her body at the window to her right. Somehow it's only the figurine on the windowsill that holds her spirit in the room. The figurine has something of a sardonic expression on its face which says as much to us as Barnett herself.

Her quote reads “our planet is as beautiful as the Garden of Eden, so why do we make weapons and slaughter each other instead of enjoying it?"


Henri Cartier-Bresson

French photographer (1908 - 2004)
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"To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which gave that event its proper expression." - Henri Cartier-Bresson.

I'm sure this is an often quoted sentiment from Cartier Bresson however it neatly sums up the requirements and skill needed by a street/social photographer. Take the 1st image above is example. Would it have worked quite so well had the struggling faces not been so legible? Probably not. Yet it is an image where there is little “obvious" composition. There is no depth, there is no careful framing.The faces and bodies are merged together And perhaps that's the entire point of the image–to show the people en masse rather than as individuals.

Yet composition and framing is paramount to the 2nd image where children are at play in the back streets of Seville. There's debris and dereliction all around, yet had this image been shot out in the open rather than through a broken wall we'd not have perceived quite the same sense of all encompassing damage and devastation as we do.

Image 3,
Henri Cartier-Bresson's street scene (Hyeres, France, 1932) shows his masterful composition in action. The stairs lead our eyes downward to the street just in time to see the cyclist go by.

And in image 4, (
Calle Cuauhtemoctzin, Mexico City) we see a wonderful sense of balance and symmetry matched equally with comparison and contrast (my notes superimposed below).


John Gay

British documentary photographer (1909 - 1999), born Hans Göhler in Germany
John Gay John Gay4

After attending college in Germany, John Gay moved to the UK in 1933 where he pursued his passion to social documentary photography. What I particularly like about the images above is how much information is conveyed by photographing people from behind. I've always been fairly disappointed with images I've shot showing people's backs but its gaze sense of location and context would really bring these pictures to life.

The 1949 image of the family paddling in the sea is clearly taken in Blackpool: the tower sets the scene. However it's the family itself which provides interest. Of course our ability to look back into history and compare hairstyles, dress codes with today's modern equivalents is always fascinating to do but it is the interaction of the family itself which I find enjoyable. The body language, the posture of the fact they are in such shallow water tells us so much–yet we don't see their faces.

The same is equally true with the lady and policeman. This appears to be a village fair of some sort, yet again the background is only relevant as a visual clue. The real interest comes in the form of the policeman and his posture. What is he saying, what is the conversation about? It's impossible to know and yet the image is all the more enjoyable for that.

In the mail room we clearly understand what is happening and although we don't see the face of the boy we understand what he's doing. Here in essence is a man (boy) at work. It is the environment, the ingredients and the product of his work which is so interesting here.

Jane Brown

Jane Brown CBE, British portrait photographer (1925 - )
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Cilla Black, David Hockney, John Lennon
- Posed portraits showing little more than the heads and faces of her subjects.
– Natural light.
- Non-descript background–usually plain or black. This puts the emphasis on the subject and his or her face.
– Natural light cast strongly across the subjects face. No artificial lighting.
– The image of Cilla is unusual. Her pose is all angles and joints.
– Brown's images are all about the subjects look or glance at the camera it's this and this item alone which makes the photo. Consider the image of Hockney and Lennon above. Their personalities and characters are perfectly captured. No external clues or context is required.

Willy Ronis

French post-war photographer (1910 - 2009)
“I have never separated form and content. The photo should have a meaning. But my photos are also more or less well constructed. If they had false notes, they stayed on the contact sheet.” - Willy Ronis

ronis.belleville ronis.evening

I picked out 2 images from the vast array I could find on Google which support this photographer's quote. In the 1st image, Belleville (1959), we're somehow drawn to the boys playing beneath the stairwell. Somehow they gain exposes the soft underbelly of this French street scene. The clutter and complication of the scene above ground–with its multidirectional staircases, railings, lamps, cars and buildings give way to a simple naiveté below. Here form and content combine beautifully.

In Nuit au Chalet (1935), Ronis has again worked form hand-in-hand with content. There is a pleasing graphic horizontal symmetry between the clutter on the table in the upper half of the image of the person in the lower portion. The top half is well lit, the bottom half deep in shadow. Yet the symmetry does not just extend to the physical content of the image. We have the impression in the upper section of a busy time or event which is counterpointed by the relaxed, contemplative tranquillity below.

Steve McCurry

American photojournalist (1950- )
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Although “Afghan girl" is perhaps Steve McCurry's most famous image, I selected the 3 above from my research into his work as I really like the rhythm, composition and framing. His backgrounds are often so full of context and local colour. McCurry clearly gets to some unusual places and has access to all sorts of interesting people so I wondered whether his work was produced as a result of the places he visits or something else. I found an interesting video (accessed on 17 September 2012) on the web link which follows. It's a short explanation by McCurry himself on how he tackles Street photography: essentially he takes his time to blend in and notice what is happening around him.

I enjoy McCurry's use of colour in his images and also note how many of his compositions could easily be cropped depending on the requirements of specific publications. For example, the image of Monks above could be cropped square or portrait if necessary without changing the message or sentiment. The same is also true of the other images.

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Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand American street/social photographer (1928-1984)
“I could say that I’m a student of photography, and I am, but really I’m a student of America.”

These are two of my favourite images by Winogrand. In the first, I like the way so many people with so many 'purposes' are crammed into one place. This image was taken at the Centennial Ball in New York (1969). There are clearly plenty of people here - but no one person is connected to or relates to any other. They are all in isolation of one another. Witness the dancing girl; her presence, posture and mood it totally disconnected from the men around here. Likewise the men are each disconnected from one another.

In the second image I like how this image initially appears to be about joy or laughter. On second glance though there could be far darker emotions taking place. Fury? Hunger? She looks like she's about to take a bite out of the man's neck! This fragmented moment has caused this woman to appear very scary...

Alexander Rodchenko

Russian artist, sculptor, photographer and graphic designer (1891-1956)

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Rodchenko often shot his subjects from odd angles - particularly low ones. In some cases the extreme angle adds an abstract feel to the image. My 'Stamp' picture in Assignment 2 is reminiscent of this style…

There's a great biography of his life and work at which I accessed on 12 Sep 2012.

Train Your Gaze

Angier, R (2007) Train your gaze. A practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photography. Switzerland: AVA Publishing


This book appeared on the reading list for my "People and Place course". At first I found it somewhat daunting inasmuch that there was a lot of 'artistic interpretation' of the images referenced. Frankly I wondered whether the author and those who referenced were looking for meaning that just wasn't there. Take for example Eugene Richards “nursing home resident", Dorchester, Massachusetts 1976 (below). As the text says:

“The frame with the image, particularly the top edge, which cuts off the top of the subjects head, grabs at the old woman in much the same way that she herself clutches at the edge of her dress–or, more precisely, the way she holds onto her own right hand as he clutches at the edge of her dress. It's a layered gesture."

All true. But consider the following text immediately afterwards. Is that also true or is the reading more into the image than just a badly composed frame?

“The act of photographic composition here is aggressive. The photographer's own gesture, his act of framing, literally marginalises his subject, implying thereby an opinion, certainly feeling, if not a judgement, about the nature and quality of her life as represented in this moment."

Richards, Eugene (1976) Nursing home resident from Dorchester Days, as referenced in Train Your Gaze.

However the book quickly moves on to illustrate how a photographer can and must use all of the elements available to him in order to bring meaning to his images. Framing, composition, light, dark, action/movement (or the opposite) all play a part. Each of these elements is discussed and analysed in various chapters throughout the book.

As early as page 36 Angier is at pains to illustrate how the photographer's relationship with his subject and composition play an integral role in the result, Citing Garry Winogrand's procedure to “pounce on the subject with a 28 mm wide-angle lens" in order to “quickly discover that close physical proximity is crucial for achieving a feeling of contact with their subjects". Angier explains that “Winogrand's rule of thumb seems to be that if his subject, can't reach out and actually touch him, he's not close enough." This is effectively an exercise taught in people in place where we are encouraged to get in as close as we can using just the wide angle setting on our zoom lenses.

There is further explanation on proximity elsewhere in the text using 2 images to illustrate how one image can be regarded as inclusive to the viewer whilst the other is exclusive.

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Ralph Gibson untitled from The Black Kiss (1972-76) (p65). Daniela Rossell, untitled from Ricas y Famosas (1994-2000) (p66)

In Ralph Gibson's black-and-white image from his book The Black Kiss (1972 to 1976) we see a tightly composed image. The content is intimate yet our participation is in itself just as intimate. Contrast this with Daniela Rossell's image from her 1994-200 book 'Ricas y Famosas' where our subject is literally and figuratively out of reach, and we see that both treatments were deliberately intentional by the two photographers.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 8 entitled “Out of focus: the disappearing subject". This section forces us to question conventional photographic wisdom. Should the subject of the photograph be in the foreground? Should it be sharply focused? And why must the background be assumed to be an area of no importance?

In essence this book is all about noticing established conventions whether they relate to technique or content. By noticing these conventions one can make a conscious decision about how to make use of them. In other words it's all about being deliberate in one's approach. And of course deliberation has the implied meaning of time and thought as well as intention. It's the realisation of this that will help me to see and react to the world and people around me far more consciously in my photography. At first glance perhaps the environment I'm in or the sitter in front of me is “ordinary". But with deliberation, with the ability to notice detail, understand - and sometimes break - convention I can choose to create something far more considered in my work.

Perhaps the whole essence of this book–and indeed the “People and Place" module is summed up in this quote on page 79: “The question of identity is central to the practice of portrait photography. Who am I looking at? Who is doing the looking?"

Food Styling

Custer, D. (2010) Food styling. New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons


This is a fascinating reference book and encyclopaedia for anyone interested in photographing food. I made good use of it for an assignment I carried out in “the Art of Photography”. In the assignment I decided to shoot the preparation of a meal and, with Custer’s help, was pretty happy with the results (see image below).


However Custer’s book not only reveals how complex it can be to photograph – and get it right - but also provides a very useful how to section. Need to know how to thicken a tomato sauce? Page 238 has the answer. Want to learn how to make the alphabet in my soup float? It’s all on page 211.

This is a very good reference book covering everything from ingredients to styling and props as well as a comprehensive section on how to make the food visually appealing in front of the camera. I’m looking forward to experimenting with some of her suggestions and techniques in the near future.

Light it Shoot it Retouch it

Kelby S. (2012) Light it shoot it retouch it. USA: New Riders


What I like about Kelby's book is that it is a straightforward no-nonsense approach to getting 1st rate results. Every aspect from lighting a portrait set up through to retouching it afterwards are summarised in short simple to follow steps.

I'd come across Scott Kelbiy before in relation to his excellent training videos on Photoshop. However the problem with Photoshop is that there are so many options, so many ways of achieving a particular result that it's often difficult to remember which option to follow.

This book takes away all the mystery and all the confusion with a series of simple guides and techniques. They can easily be copied to other images. So for example the method for brightening eyes or reddening lips applies no matter whether you are shooting an image from his book or one of your own.

This is an excellent reference book covering a variety of different types of studio shot where Kelby cleverly shows you the actual settings he uses for his lights and camera settings. Again all confusion and complication is removed, but for those, like myself, who can't resist tinkering the ability to experiment away from the Kelby's baseline is very easy.

Fundamentals of Creative Photography

Präkel, D. (2010) The fundamentals of creative photography. Lausanne: AVA Publishing


The Fundamentals of Creative Photography is a short, sharp walk through the world of imaging. I actually found the early sections of the book far more interesting than the latter. Präkel (p26) notes that:
Photography 101 is simply learning how to make a piece of well browned-toast. What you need is a source of controllable heat. Say you use an electric grill, you can choose to turn heat up high or leave the heat set low. To produce exactly the right degree brown toast, you need to leave the bread longer under the low grill than when it is set to high. It takes longer to reach the perfect brown under a low heat. Substitute light for heat and you have photography.

Whilst I doubt the author is trying to trivialise the techniques needed for good photography, I do think his quote and approach is a successful way to demystify what could otherwise be a hobby, art-form or indeed a profession muddled by complex technicalities.

As this book relates to people & Place, I struck gold a few pages further on where Präkel (p33) cites Andreas Feininger’s advice to photographers; ‘explore - isolate - organise’. His stance is quite simple; do your research for shooting. Study the space, examine the area, see how people interact with it and then–only then–decide how to photograph it. Since reading this chapter I’ve managed to put this idea into good practice, particularly in my People and Place work. A good example will be seen in assignment three where I discovered that having researched this as Feininger’s suggests, one simply has to wait for the right moment.

Meanwhile, in chapter 2 Präkel (p41) examines interpretation and narrative of images, referencing Duane Michael’s (1973) “Things are Queer” (gelatine silver print). Sidney Janis Gallery, New York. (accessed Sep. 2012). This relates to a fascinating series of images with each successive part of the narrative both adding information and context, whilst at the same time creating visual confusion and surprise. The short but puzzling journey taken by the viewer over these 9 images is mysterious, fascinating, contradictory and thoroughly enjoyable - all at the same time!
I found it fascinating how Michael even came up with the idea quite apart from the execution thereof. The series succinctly demonstrates how photography can do so much more than simply report on the world around us.

Golden Sections

The Parthenon in Athens. Subdivisions of a rectangle align perfectly with the major architectural features of the structure.

Seurat, Georges Pierre (1884) Bathers at Asnieres. [oil on canvas] National Gallery, London, UK Gallery Available from: [AccessedSep. 2012].
Seurat ‘Bathers at Asnieres’ has obvious golden subdivisions. Apparently he ‘attacked every canvas by the golden section’.

Anon, n.d., s.l. Digital Camera Magazine, 2011.
A nicely composed image borrowed from the pages of Digital Camera magazine.

Speedlight Mastery

Damien Lovegrove, DVD, 2011

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The day spent with Damien back in 2010 was thoroughly enjoyable but very full on. Damien's style is to work quickly yet effectively. That means there was plenty to take in and I was a little concerned that I left more knowledge on the train home from Birmingham after my course than I had perhaps managed to retain.

Sometime after his course I bought this DVD and served as a useful aide memoir on some of the more technical aspects of his approach. Camera and flash settings are covered as well as a simple follow to guide on how to replicate his shots should I wish. I'm pleased I bought the DVD as it means of the knowledge I learnt on my day out with Damien will not be lost.

Using Natural Light on Location

Damien Lovegrove, DVD, 2011

I like Damien's casual an informal approach to teaching. He keeps theory to an absolute minimum and put's the emphasis into shooting. In each case he has a clear vision of what he's trying to achieve and although history may not prove him to be one of the “greats", he manages to capture attractive and evocative images in a whole variety of situations.

In this DVD he concentrates purely on natural light and, from some of the portrait work of carried out in my “People and Place" module, this is an area I'd like to explore further.

People & Poses

American Photographer, (20th century) (1968). Pancho Villa played by Yul Brynner in the film "Villa Rides". BW photo. Private collection, America. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012]

Yul Brynner photographed from below. The hint of saddle and reins implies he’s on a horse which supports the up-tilted camera angle.) Strong shoulders, fierce eyes, bandolier and hand on gun all tell one story: a tough guy on a mission. The background is indistinct and irrelevant - the whole message here is about the character and personality. Light and shadow fall across his face to illuminate the strong features.

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Unknown, (20th century) (1927). Liselotte Billighemeir. BW photo. Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012]

Liselotte Billigheimer in portrait. Taken from above and tilted down, here is a composition where the subject is looking along the line of her shoulder out of frame. We do not know what she is looking at. Is that important? Not here as we have enough other information to help us interpret the image. Her gaze, her shoulder line and jaw all seem to converge off camera. I suggest that it’s these implied lines which help us accept unseen subject of her gaze. Notably it is only the subject’s head which is in focus. Everything else is fairly blurred. Billigheimer’s face is emphasised by the rounded jaw and this is echoed in her necklace and crossed arms below. The shape of her lower face is mirrored by her hairline above.

Hope BobHope
Unknown. A portrait of the actor Bob Hope. B&W image. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].

Bob Hope. This press image is full of implied triangles and diagonals. With his chin resting on his hands, strong lines are drawn up Hope’s arms. His face has the shape of an inverted triangle and this is emphasised by his arched eyebrows extending down either side of his nose. All combine to draw focus to the lower part of his face. This is all enhanced by a nondescript background and light jacket. All real detail in this image comes from skin tones.

Anon, n.d., s.l. s.l., n.k. B&W image
In this unknown model I first thought there is way too much shoulder. However thinking further I realised the shape of her shoulder matches her face to provide a nice line of symmetry along the horizontal mid-point of the frame. The background is nicely blurred adding emphasis to the model. A series of implied curves lead up the models back and neck leading towards her eyes and mouth. Even though the principal light source seems to come from camera left, there is enough detail to the right of her face (her left) for us to clearly see her full face. The deep shadow below her chin adds depth.

Ambient Light on Location

Jayce Clarke, London 2012

Having started “People and Place", and having enjoyed moderate success with the submission of my first assignment, I wanted to explore and understand how to make good use of ambient light in my photos. This one-day course by Jayce Clark at Calumet in London seem to be just the ticket.

The morning was spent on some fairly technical issues which, whilst important, were very heavy on theory. I'm not sure I understood all fundamentals discussed but did come away with a better understanding of the range and depth of ambient light (7 stops from white to black).

A model accompanied us on a trip to a local park in the afternoon and although most course participants got very busy shooting her every which way, I focused my time on Jayce's practical demonstration on softening light with a scrim and how to apply good light meter technique.

Both of these aspects were hugely informative and I feel I can at last use my light meter with some skill. An enjoyable day out.

My Jayce Clarke Image
Simon Lewis, shot during "Lighting on location - ambient light only"

Thoughts on illustration & narrative

Times Ass2
c. The Times newspaper

A story on NHS reform in The Times shows how a picture really can be worth 1000 words. Here we see a fascinating juxtaposition of movement and stillness in one image. Blurred nursing staff appear rushed off their feet with no time to stop - even to care for patients - yet the attending doctor seems statue like in comparison. The image here implies how the doctor will take all the time necessary for the patient even if the nurses cannot.

Colour Light & Composition

Bishop S. (2010) Colour light and composition. Lewes, East Sussex: Guild of Master Craftsmen Publications


I picked up this book last year on a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. This was at a time when I was midway through my “Art or Photography” course. Sue Bishop’s book is an excellent accompaniment to that course and I found very many useful sections to accompany the various projects and exercises in the OCA module.

What fascinates me most about Bishop’s work throughout the book is how many of her images have a soft pastel glow. Golden wall, Venice (p41) shown below is the perfect example as is “Stone bench with flowers, Tuscany” (p64).

Golden Wall, Venice Stone bench with flowers
Golden wall, Venice (p41), Stone bench with flowers (p64)

She doesn’t reference this technique in her book and unfortunately neither does her website ( so it’s hard to tell whether the glow is as a result of a slight soft focus at the time of capture, or whether it’s added digitally. Many of the images have been shot using traditional film (and Fuji Velvia seems to be a favourite) which means the inclusion of exposure information alongside the text is a rarity. Where her images include flowers, trees or landscape I can easily imagine a combination of gentle breezes and long exposures as the source of the glow. In other work I can only assume a Photoshop action.

But I’ve also discovered 2 really interesting things about Sue Bishop and her work: firstly her book contains a whole series of impressionistic images of trees and some of these reproduced on her website ( This excites me because I’ve also been experimenting in exactly the same way.

Screen Shot 2012-09-11 at 12.40.59 (accessed Sep 12)

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Simon Lewis. Woodman’s wood, Trees

Secondly it turns out Sue is a regular speaker at the Epson Print Academy whack is literally no more than 10 min from my home. I expect to be a regular visitor at their various seminars over the coming months…

As Bishop’s work relates to “People & Place” I found the image “Gateway, Venezuela” (p.122 & 123) fascinating. Not only is there a tremendous use of colour, composition and light but there’s also a fair degree of luck too.

Gateway, Venezuela (p123)

Bishop notes: "On the day I took these photographs I had my compact camera but no tripod with me. When I saw the gorgeous colours of the gate and the wall outside I knew I wanted a picture, but had to wait for quite sometime for a gap in the line of tourists going in and out before I could get a clear view. I liked the way the mirror on the left was reflecting the blue wall outside, so I decided to include that in the photograph too. I took the 1st of these pictures, but because I was handholding my camera, I wanted to have another go, so I waited again for the next lull. Just as my opportunity came, a lady walked into the gateway and looked out–I took one photograph, then she turned and saw me at the moment was over. By pure serendipity, she has provided the perfect balance to the photograph, providing a focal point and also a counterpoint to the mirror."

Bishop's paragraph really sums up the entire “People and Place" module. She has managed, in one image, to illustrate how several factors combine, indeed must combine, to bring meaning to spaces and meaning to images. Were we to take away the lady from this picture the composition would not be so strong. Neither with the meaning–would be left with a nice picture of a gateway. But the inclusion of the lady gives us the human context necessary to really bring out the image from the meaning and the meaning from the image. Change the lighting, change the colours, change the ladies clothing, change the composition and all will have an effect of some sort or other. As Bishop explains there is a fair degree of luck by waiting for just the right moment. And of course there are no guarantees.

The real question I ask myself is how can I notice these elements converging around me in order to make the most of them? Where are the spaces, were the shapes, where is the light, were as human element? How does Bishop use her eyes and her observation to see an image coming together? Did she start with a light, was at the composition, how important was the colour and would she have even bothered to capture this image without the subject lady present?

How do I train my gaze to recognise these photographic opportunities which must exist all around me?

Light-Science & Magic

Hunter, Biver, Fuqua (2007) Light-science & magic, an introduction to photographic lighting (3rd edition). Burlington, MA: Elsevier


At first I was put off by the fairly technical nature of this book; initially there's quite a lot to take in. I'd left my physics education firmly back in the 1980s and it was something the struggle to re-familiarise myself with the basic concepts in “What is light?" (p14). Luckily I have sons in their GCSE years meaning I had access to plenty of current schoolbooks to help me with the theory.

Yet the authors quickly move on to discuss brightness and colour with reference to photographic lighting. The book really started come alive for me in the section on contrast (p19) were only a few sentences were needed to convince me how much variation can be made between hard and soft lighting. And, as I've learned, the closer the light source is to the object the softer is the result. My reading coincided with the section on lighting in the "Art of Photography" course where there was discussion on how cloudy days or shaded areas can often provide the most interesting and subtle light. And no sooner had this sunk in did I find myself on a course run by Jayce Clark entitled “Lighting on Location – Ambient Light Only". This course will be reviewed elsewhere in my learning log but suffice to say we spent much of day shooting in shadow as the image below indicates.

My Jayce Clarke Image
Simon Lewis, shot during "Lighting on location - ambient light only"

Light–science and magic contains plenty more theory: the inverse square law and the family of angles are 2 such examples. But you know what? I discovered these were 2 vital pieces of the lighting jigsaw. Just a rudimentary knowledge of these principles (plus hard versus soft light) have completely transformed my ability to light images. With the family of angles alone, knowing where reflections will or won't fall has made an enormous difference to me. Okay so one could argue it's just common sense, and indeed it is, but there's nothing quite like seeing some examples on the page where judicious use of lighting demonstrates both positive and negative effects on the subject.

Science and theory take up approximately one quarter of the book with the following section a study on how lighting could and should be modified to bring out the best features or indeed hide the worst features in any given situation. Yet I found chapter 5, revealing shape and control, to be one of the most helpful. Again, this starts with some theory but by this point I had enough of a grasp of the issues to not only understand why this was important but to also begin to pre-visualise the initial problem and the lighting solution. A simple example on page 83 (image 5.4) of a chessboard shows how simple lighting can present the object in three dimensions.

Chessboard 1

I particularly enjoyed the section on dark field lighting (P156) And indeed the whole section on lighting glass in such way that either the shape of the classes defined or is removed altogether to just reveal the contents. Fascinating.

The book contains helpful section on lighting for portraits and this has already been put to good use in my “People & Place" images.

20th Century Portraits - Dmitri Kasterine

mw193130 JBPriestly
Dmitri Kasterine (1977) JB Priestly. [photo] n.k. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].
Kasterine really seems to engage with his portrait subjects. Strong eye contact often locks the viewer in to create a silent but nevertheless direct dialogue with the viewer. One image I particularly liked was of JB Priestley, above. At first glance a central rule appears to have been broken: notice how Priestley’s head is ‘skewered’ horizontally and vertically by the wooden frames window frames behind. This is something we are taught to try and avoid. But notice how these frames match the horizontal eyeline and are vertically aligned with Priestley’s left eye. Then add an imaginary line along the length of his walking stick to meet at exactly the same point. Coincidence? Unlikely...

An Englishman in New York - Jason Bell

Jason Bell (2006) Phil & Dennis Roach, commercial divers, [photo] n.k. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].
I enjoyed this exhibition. What I liked most was how each image was accompanied by it’s own photographic style and identity. In many cases the style matched the subject - such as with the image above where the tilted angle reflects the instability and unpredictability of the divers’ world. In all cases the images were evocative and had an atmosphere all their own.

Camille Silvy - National Portrait Gallery


Camille Silvy (1858) River Scene [albumen print] Private collection. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].
Camille Silvy (1859) Studies on light [albumen print] Private collection. Available from: [Accessed Sep. 2012].

I visited the Camille Silvy exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on my birthday. It was absolutely fascinating! In today’s modern world of DSLRs and Photoshop it’s easy to forget the real pioneers who were able to achieve similar results with nothing more than sunlight and chemicals! Studies on Light: Twilight, for example, was produced using an early equivalent of HDR - 4 images, shot at different exposures, combined into one image. In River Scene, Silvy replaced the sky with one shot on a separate occasion. (The oval crop hides mistakes made on the photographic plate). Silvy had over 40 employees churning out carte de visites in their thousands during the height of his popularity in the mid 1800’s.

Aside from the technical achievements, I really enjoyed studying the exhibition and looking at how Silvy framed and posed his subjects. Some - particularly the aristocrats - were rigid and formal, but others - such as the theatrical series - less so. Among over 100 exhibits, I did not see a single smile on the sitters faces! There must have been an element of social grace to be taken into account at that time: sitting for photos must have been a very formal affair. This was no doubt emphasised because many photographers of the period were asked to photography deceased infants as lasting keepsakes for the bereaved family. Silvy’s use of natural light to illuminate his images as well as mirrors to frame using reflections are just two further examples of how he really was a remarkable pioneer of his art.

Speedlight Mastery

Damien Lovegrove, Birmingham, 2010

DSC_8035 - Version 2 (1)

I booked myself on this course in order to understand a little bit more about how my flash system worked and how I could make the most of portable lighting in a variety of situations. Damien has been running a series of small workshops in many categories for a variety of years and his laid-back approach to getting fast and impressive results is what initially appealed to me.

The day spent with Damien and his other course participants on the streets around the canals of Birmingham was a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyable. Damien skill is in finding images absolutely everywhere. A covered doorway, the underside of a flyover and even a broken door covered in bird droppings were places where Damien taught us how to create impressive images with very little to work with. Up until this point I had been searching high and low for the perfect setting for photo shoots, but Damien proved how great pictures can be found virtually anywhere provided you get the lighting right.

Technology and theory was kept to a minimum and the emphasis was very much on getting good results with minimal fuss. The skill I learnt most on this course was to take the flash off my camera. Using the Nikon's wireless communication system it was easy to reposition the flash and indeed add additional lights in order to create simple but very effective setups. We also learnt how to use Wizard radio triggers and control light with both the flash zoom settings and the cameras aperture.

Damien claimed that his one-day course would be filled with what he calls “portfolio builders". I can honestly say he was absolutely right and I look forward to participating on another of his courses at some stage in the near future.