How I Made That Image

IN THE BEGINNING…

When I started in this incredible industry over 10 years ago, I hunted for inspiration. I really had to go out of my way to find images that made me say “Wow! How the hell did they do that?”

In 2020, we are bombarded by information and image overload, whether we search for it or not, with all of the exponential growth of social media, Google and AI. All we have to do is mention something to someone in passing and our smart devices will be listening, only to freak us out at the first opportunity with its findings in the form of posts, pop-ups and adverts the moment we look at our screens.


HOPELESSNESS IS IRRELEVANT

How is this relevant to the topic of this article you may ask? Today we face an onslaught of outstanding and awe inspiring images on social media that can leave many photographers feeling paralyzed with fear that they’re not capable or good enough to compete in a marketplace that has never been more competitive or fierce.

That said, there really is no need to worry; help is at hand! Particularly with amazing resources like Scott Kelby’s blog, its vast reservoir of knowledge and experience; there’s really no reason to feel like you have to go it alone, or indeed feel alone period.


PROVENANCE

In this feature I want to share how some of my award-winning images were created by breaking down my thought processes on the shoot, technical settings, and lighting setups to try and provoke thought and inspire ideas for you. The key here is to understand my thought process; after all, camera settings and lighting setups replicated in isolation are as good as knowing nothing about the image at all if you don’t understand what triggered certain ideas or decisions under the pressure of the situation.

This is the essence of authenticity, of provenance; using your vision, experience, expertise and ability to cope under pressure… basically you’re extracting the best of your personality and ability as a professional and as an artist and imbuing the image with something truly unique.

This is my approach with each of these images – I use what I know about my clients, their story, my equipment and my understanding and belief in my own tastes; I know what appeals to me and what doesn’t to create a solid start point.


‘FROM LONDON WITH LOVE’

Canon 1DS Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8, 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO 50, 24mm, 3x Profoto Strobes

For example, this image was from the couple’s engagement shoot in London’s Hyde Park. They wanted an image that embodied their love, their cool relaxed demeanour, their style as a couple and their lifestyle which was achieved through the way I posed them alongside his car (which in this case says a lot about him) in an area of London in which they live. The emotion in this image is embodied in their pose, connection and expressions and enhanced with dramatic lighting.

I only had moments to set this image up because of the extremely tight security in London. Despite this, I used 3 lights to create this image because the impact of the concept demanded it. I used one gridded flash to camera left in front of the car set low down to illuminate the front of the Aston Martin and to provide a rim light for the bride. I used one unmodified bare bulb flash to camera right at a high angle to light the rear of the car and provide a rim-light to the groom. The third light had a quarter CTO gelled light on the couple to give them a soft, warm, comforting tone. I had to slightly underexpose for the failing light of the sky by stopping down to f/11 and setting the shutter to the cameras’ sync speed at the lowest possible ISO. The small aperture had the added effect of creating the star bursts from the light reflecting off the car in camera.

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Of all the visual arts, photography has historically been most prized for capturing reality. Snapshots that preserve the truth of the way life was. Black and white impressions of caissons wheeling bodies off the field of battle during the American Civil War gave mute but powerful testimony to the horrors of battle. From unsmiling tintypes to migrant mothers and now ubiquitous sunset family portraits, we instinctively see these images as depictions of reality.

But, of course, they’re not.

Almost since the inception of photography, people have been trying to capture the world not as it is, but how they saw it. From the “decisive moment” to staged poses and careful post production manipulation, photographers have always aimed to create visuals that represent their own ideas. Certainly there is truth involved, but of a much more complex sort that is, more often than not, exaggerated in some way.

Rather than being a form of falsehood or “cheating,” this ability to infuse photography with some level of the fantastical reveals truths about the photographer, who they are, and how they see both their subjects, and the world. How they choose to frame an image, what they shoot, where the focus is, all these things give the viewer clues about the creator of the work.

Now that photographers have more powerful post-production tools at their disposal than ever before, this ability to reveal truths through fantasy is in the beginning of a golden age. And for those of us who focus on the fantasy genre, it is a particular blessing.

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9 Top Tips From For Taking Better Photos in 2021

Hi from England, and I hope that you are safe, well and warm wherever you are.

I don’t seem to have taken many photos in 2020. The global pandemic has not helped but doing other stuff has also restricted my opportunities in what has been an incredibly difficult year for all of us.

Time to look forward to better days I say. I have decided that 2021 is the year that I get back to taking more photos, both for my clients, my business and also for myself. And with that thought in mind I am going to be making a concerted effort to take better photos as well. And this leads me seamlessly into this post (blimey – it almost sounds like I know what I am doing here), which I am delighted to be writing for Scott’s website.

These are my own words, thoughts, and opinions based on well over 30 years of photographic experience.

Ok let’s get in to all this good stuff.


1. Get Out and Take Photos

Yep, this is my number one tip. The number one way for you and I to improve our photography is to get off our collective backsides, get off the sofa, computer, tablet, phone, TV or games thing and get out there and take photos.

And it is so good for our physical and mental wellbeing to get out and about. Sure, there are restrictions that are in place now, but they will be gone hopefully and in 2021 we can all get back to normal life.

I still love doing this.

I find this one thing exciting even now, after well over 30 years of practising and enjoying my photography – I still get a buzz from packing my (small – see later) camera bag knowing that I am off to explore somewhere new.

And fresh air is good for us of course.

It is all good.

There is no negative to going out taking photos, unless you spend all your time doing this and neglect your nearest and dearest that is. And I am not advocating that of course!

Or if you still use film which is not cheap these days!

You will feel better for getting out and about, refreshed and invigorated, and you never know you might have some great photos to enjoy forever and a day.

So, get out and take some great photos with me in 2021. Well not actually with me but you know what I mean.

Talking of which, this is me photographing the wonderful Durdle Door.

There is only one thing that I can guarantee though – if you do not get out and take photos you will not get any great new images.


2. Stop Looking at New Gear

I spent years doing this. I would buy some shiny new gear and use it and then be on the lookout for something else.

I even bought gear that I never actually used.

And do you know what – I spent more time looking at gear than I did taking photos.

And where did that get me?

Poorer and with cupboards full of stuff that I did not need. And my photography at a standstill.

Yep I did this for years. And then the penny dropped.

I was looking for something specific, and in looking for it I had to go plough through a whole heap of gear that I had either hardly used or not used at all.

The One-Year Rule

I put all this gear in a box (or three) and put that lot in the garage and invented the one-year rule.

And one year later the stuff was still there unused. I sold it all.

And unusually for me I learned from this lesson, and now only buy something if I specifically need it, or if I see something that will help me take better photos.

Ongoing Gear Lust

OK I’m not perfect – I have bought the odd thing that I did not need. But the real takeaway from this is that I do not look for gear any more – what I do is look for gear to fix a problem when a problem arises.

This is where I prove myself.

I am still using a Canon 6D Mk 1 – it took great photos in 2014 when I bought it and it still takes great photos in 2020. And will do so in 2021.

Which takes me nicely on to the next point…

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The Surreal World of Long Exposure

Imagine…

How do you shoot something that hasn’t quite happened yet… or convey a sense of motion through your photography? Is it possible to capture a sense of time passing? How do you move past the snapshot into the realm of the surreal?

These are all things close to my heart and are questions I like to answer through my photography. I love to demonstrate what happens over time, whether it is a fraction of a second or several minutes or more. Yes, you guessed it, this is one of my favorite approaches to taking pictures! I visualize what may happen, most often I’m on target, and sometimes not quite, but the pursuit of what I imagine is exciting to me. 

About 45 minutes before sunrise, a 5 minute long exposure softly blurs clouds and water. Although pitch dark, the lifeguard stand is illuminated over time.

Through experience, I generally know what will happen when I shoot Atlantic Coast seascapes if I begin to shoot about an hour before sunrise. I may be lucky enough to capture a few stars, smooth the waves of the ocean, and stretch the clouds across the sky. It’s a familiar approach for me. I’ll often reach for the same camera, lens, and settings, varying my ISO to suit the composition.

I’m always surprised at how different each composition looks. Depending on cloud cover, weather, surf conditions, and moon phase, every shot is unique! Starting early gives me the opportunity to see what conditions may be like at sunrise and I truly enjoy being the first person on the beach.

If I’m shooting a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge dawn shot, I will be the first person there, waiting for the first hint light while the rest of the city wakes up. The best light often occurs 45 minutes before sunrise. I love what happens with an exposure of 30 seconds or more. Watery reflections are smoothed out, and become almost magical, and clouds appear painted across the sky. 

A San Francisco dawn light up with vibrant color well before sunrise.

During sunrise, the light can be powerful and dramatic! It can also be a challenge to work with. At this point, I may reach the limits of my camera and lens, and I may need to use a graduated neutral density filter to help control the light. I love these creative controls. They’re like a paintbrush for the artist.

As I place a reverse graduated neutral density filter on the lens of my camera, the light is tamed, balanced, and the composition becomes more of what I envisioned. Taking the next step, I will use a solid neutral density filter to extend shutter speed. This takes my photography to next level, beyond the snapshot, into the surreal work of art.

Sunrise over a rocky beach in South Florida. My goal is to convey a sense of motion with the wave action.

The harsh light of mid-day gives me the opportunity and challenge to extend exposures in the 4-6 minute range. This makes for fascinating work in the world of long exposures. I use a 15-stop neutral density filter to create a shutter speed that will illustrate what transpires over time. With patience and practice, clouds can appear to be feather painted through the sky, water is blurred, and a surreal and unique photograph can be created.

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