Street Photography Workshop in Brighton

The next Street Photography course on Saturday 17th January 2015 has sold out, but I have another on 7th March 2015 (would make a great Christmas present). I’ve created a voucher that can be given as a gift.

I’ve been taking pictures on the streets of Brighton for years. People are my thing, whether candid or street portraits, although sometimes just colours, lines or strong compositions are enough to catch my eye. I have a reputation for coming back with something a bit different whatever the event and I’ll be talking about that.

I take inspiration from many photographers, some contemporary street photographers like Matt Stewart and David Gibson, some photographers who just take simply stunning black and white images like Alain Laboile. I also have my old favorites like Elliott ErwittSergio Larraín and Bruce Gilden. The list is too long to mention here, I’ll leave that for another post.

Bournemouth Oceanarium

Bournemouth Oceanarium – click to purchase image

The day will begin at Silicon Beach Training just minutes from Brighton railway station, where we’ll look at some images, and discuss what makes them great. I’ll talk about the kinds of things to look for. Great images are everywhere. We’ll start thinking about the relationships between people. things and the environment around them. Tricks for creating dynamic compositions and interesting viewpoints. I’ll keep it brief and to the point, I want to inspire you but having been in the training business for 15 years, and been on so many workshops I’ve lost count, I know that the best way to learn is by doing, so not too long, we have all day to chat, I want you to feel energised and to have fun.

We’ll have lunch together in Brighton, it’ll be somewhere nice but simple (you will need to pay for your own lunch but I’ll book the tables and see if I can negotiate a good rate).

If you need advice of where to stay we know all the best places.

Arles Photo Booth

Arles Photo Booth – click to buy image


More shooting after lunch and then back to Silicon Beach Training to review your work. We have enough computers here for everyone with Photoshop and Lightroom, although I almost exclusively use Lightroom for my images now. If you have a laptop and wish to download your images on that ready to take home that’s OK too. I will show you all some of my killer black and white conversion techniques to get really punchy images, as well as some colour tricks I’ve picked up. The rooms are secure so you can leave any kit you don’t want to carry around with you.

Exhibition at the Archbishop's Palace les rencontres des arles

Exhibition at the Archbishop’s Palace les rencontres des arles – click to purchase image

I‘m only going to take on a maximum of 8 people, because I want time to talk to you all during the day. I’ve only just mentioned this workshop on social media so far and have taken bookings in the first few hours, so if you are really interested get back to me quickly. I will, though, be running more of these in the future.

So fill out the contact form if you would like to book and I’ll send you more details, the day is £125.

The workshop is suitable for all abilities and ages. I won’t cover how to use the settings on your camera in the morning brief because many of you will already know. However I will be available to answer any question all day. Any camera will do, I get some of my best shots on my compact. I still go on workshops for fun and I’ve been taking images for decades!


Brighton Pride in Black and White

This post  is a bit random. I’ve been trying out lots of different social networks and portfolio sites. Some of them provide a beautiful interface to display your work. I set up a Behance account not long ago. I haven’t really worked out how to use it to market my work yet, although I admit I haven’t given it much time. My first project “Brighton Pride in Black and White” displays quite beautifully as a stream of images.

One thing this illustrates is the importance of creating themes and sets, organising your images where ever you post them. This is something I have been quite poor at so far, so I’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do, better to remember to do it as you go along. Collections of well selected images on a theme look much better than stand alone images.

I’ve taken a screen shot and I’ll post it on Pinterest where long images look great (see my photography board). Fist I needed an excuse to post it on the website so I have somewhere to pin it from! So here it is.

Brighton Pride in Black and White

Trey Ratcliff, Miss Aniela, Paris and the seduction of surrealism

Just over two weeks ago I visited Château de Champlâtreux, just outside Paris, an imposing example of French architecture built around 1750. An appropriately dramatic setting for the Midnight Workshop with Miss Aniela and Trey Ratcliff.

Much of the building is unoccupied and left to collect the dust and cobwebs that veil a chaotic heap of antique relics, chairs, taxidermy, sculptures and paintings. Silk curtains ripped, tattered and draped over tall windows, throwing soft light over the debris. A photographer’s paradise.

Down in the Dungeons

Two Models were organised by Miss Aniela and partner Matthew Lennard, styled in fashions of the period like Madam Pomodour. There were dungeons, damp and dark with glimpses of daylight through the bars. An impossible challenge for any sensor, lens or camera. Having tried HDR for the first time the previous evening on Trey’s Paris Photowalk, now was the chance to use it.


The challenge was to retain detail in the walls and the window

Some HDR processes can flatten an image, losing the drama of light against dark which often defines an image and strengthens composition. Here was a situation where I wanted detail in the dark, the damp moss, cobwebs, and texture, but I didn’t want to completely blow out the window. The window and the model are important, they need to balance each other, both are pushed to the corners of the frame. Confined to the corner, she looks small and the stone prison engulfs her.

Whilst I’m not particularly creating a totally natural look, sometimes light just needs to be light so I’ve brightened the window back up a little. The danger is that it becomes so bright it is too distracting from the model. The only black in the final image is the arched doorway behind the model which gives the image depth. I bracketed my exposure and used a tripod to get 5 different exposures. The model is then re-added choosing the best exposure and pose from the 5 frames. I have used a really high ISO which is good on the 5D because I needed a fast enough shutter speed to get the model reasonably in focus in one of the frames.

The second day was spent processing. I had Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS5 with me.

If you are shooting in RAW it is probably best to export these as jpgs first and use these for your HDR image as the RAW files can be a bit big to process. I selected all five exposures in Lightroom and chose:

Photo> Edit In> Merge to HDRpro in Photoshop

Wait for your Mac or PC to chug through them and then you can play with the sliders until you get the effect you are after. In My case I wanted to keep the dark walls dark and imposing in contrast to the window lit model.

Once happy with the background I then found the clearest exposure of the model from my original RAW files and pasted the image over my HDR version. Add a layer mask and mask out all of the background.

Where the model has moved slightly so that you can still see bits of the HRD version behind the RAW version but I can tidy up behind the model with the clone tool.

I took this image in a landscape orientation with the square crop in my head. I use a square crop a lot of the time now. Somehow you can be more adventurous with a square. We don’t expect things to be composed in a certain way when presented with a square.


Constructing reality


Victorian postcard

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about constructing and manipulating reality in my work, so seeing how Trey and Miss Aniela work was great timing.

One thing that intrigues me about Miss Aniela is her capacity to see the possibilities for an image as she works. She takes images on the tripod either side of the model horizontally and vertically in case she gets a idea later on that would need a different composition.

She may merge these images later after she has decided what space to let the model occupy in the frame. There may be other elements she can add to the image, for example stock images taken for the purpose of creating surreal manipulations at a later date.

She showed us how to warp scenes using the warp tool in Photoshop instead of vertical and horizontal perspective shifts. You keep more of the composition in the frame this way because you are not forced to crop the image. Top Tip.

Tom Anderson (yes THE Tom Anderson of MySpace was at the workshop), remarked at our farewell dinner that he was interested in the way Natalie created and stage managed a set using props. Whilst the images she creates are unique and original the concept of creating a stage for a person is not a new one. The Victorians used to paint backgrounds, use props and literally cut and paste!

I had to include this image, I love  everything about this image, this is Warsaw 1946, unknown photographer. More images like this on my Pinterest “about life” board.

Warsaw 1946

Warsaw 1946


A developing fascination with the surreal

If you are familiar with my images you are going to see a change. I want to go back to a place of total creative freedom, building up images from different sources, using my camera, props, taking new stock and using archived images, putting them together in a way that tells a story.

Back in 1992, on a Graphic Design BA, I created a photo montage photographed it, changed it a little and photographed it, again and again in the same place, letting small flowers die, taking things out of the image and adding objects in. I photographed it with an angle poise lamp so that I could replicate the movement of the sun over time. The raised parts of the montage cast shadows like sundials.

I found the negatives of these a few weeks ago although some are damaged. I took these with a Canon EOS, a film camera I still have, they called it a digital camera because it had electronic buttons to change your aperture and speed and an LED display, mega modern in those days, may publish them soon.

I want to get into changing the meaning of things by using more than one image in an interesting way. My current board for montage inspiration is here.

Sometimes in deliberate and transparent ways like John Stezaker. (Deutsche Börse photography prizewinner 2012). I can’t get enough of his images at the moment.

Mask XXXV by John Stezaker


I’m also looking at ways to create subtle combinations of images in ways that look surreal, constructed to look like reality or nearly real.

Not being prepared with suitable stock for the midnight workshop, I needed another idea to create something different. What I loved most about the Chateau was the dust and cobwebs, the dramatic contrast between a once glittering example of all that was lavish and the careless abandonment, the greyness and quiet. I considered how to enhance these qualities  While Natalie, the other model and delegates were busy in one room, I took the opportunity of setting up in an opposite room. I cleared a space for the model in the heaps of chairs as I wanted her to be central. She looks more imposing here and her direct gaze is unnerving. I took 5 exposures, when merged to HDR the furniture looked flat and grey, a look you’d often try and avoid, but in this instance, perfect. Again I took the best exposure of the model and put her back in the picture using a layer and mask.

great expectations

great expectations

I thought about how I might make dust and cobwebs, so did a search for brushes, many cobweb and dust brush downloads later and I had the tools I needed. I sampled colours from the image then made them lighter and greyer and painted dust and cobwebs in layer, referencing images of real dust and cobwebs to see how they picked up the light, and dusted the edges of things. I drew them on layers varying opacity, colour and brushes. I then masked out any area that I didn’t like. Her eyes looked dull so I added some light and clarity to the eyes. This looks great printed big, I’ve just prepared one for a performance photography exhibition at the Dome from December 6 in the Founders Room. You can order prints there or order online from Redbubble.

What’s next?

I think I’ve been shy of obvious manipulation in the past, too sensitive to the online hammering I sometimes get from street photography purists.

I will always do street though, there will just be more variety. When in the streets surrounded by noise and people, I see that angle and I move fast enough to catch it just as real life all falls into place for a split second, I actually get an adrenalin rush. It’s magic and nothing can beat it. Why would I ever want to give that up?

I don’t want to just break the rules though, I want total freedom to influence and create at every step of the way from conception, the creation of a set, the photography, all the way through to the processing. I may do more self portraits. I built this set from seed in March this year and spent several months growing it inside my Victorian conservatory. I made the dress out of the leaves, with the help of my niece Amber.

self portait

self portait

This is one of my favourite self portraits by Mary Britton Clouse – Self Portrait, 2005, surreal, constructed and natural – an amazing image.

Mary Britton Clouse – Self Portrait, 2005

Mary Britton Clouse – Self Portrait, 2005

I’m not sure quite how it’s going to go but expect my work to be more varied for a while.

The thing that intrigued me about Miss Aniela is her capacity to see the possibilities for an image as she works.

She takes images on the tripod either side of the model horizontally and vertically in case she gets a idea later on that would need a different composition.

She may merge these images later after she has decided what space to let the model occupy in the frame.

There may be other elements she can add to the image, for example stock images taken for the purpose of creating surreal manipulations at a later date.

She showed us how to warp scenes using the warp tool in Photoshop instead of vertical and horizontal perspective shifts. You keep more of the composition in the frame this way because you are not forced to crop the image.

Whilst I’m not going to go all HDR, I’m really interested in using as a technique to get images that no sensor, camera or lens is currently capable of.

I’ll aim to keep things fairly natural looking in terms of light and colour, anything else is game as long as it adds to the image in some way.

Taking pictures of Lewes Bonfire Night

I recently resurrected a post on Lewes bonfire night photography. One of my photo friends pointed out that the Lightroom info was out of date. When I reread the post I realised that my hit rate for nights such as these has improved since then! So I’m updating this post to include extra bits and pieces that you may find useful on the night. Of course using a tripod is the usual advice for night time low light conditions, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. On top of that your subjects are usually moving which makes it even harder to get a reasonable sharp shot. I think you need to accept a little softness and focus on capturing the light and drama of the night.

Lewes Bonfire Night Photograph

It is one of the most challenging of lighting conditions. There is very little light, except in small areas of the torches where it is burning bright, your camera simply cannot record detail in all of the areas of the image, it will burn out the fire and/or block in areas of dark. So what can you do?

First up the ISO

When you up the ISO (choose the biggest ISO numbers on your camera) there is a loss of quality, your image will become noisy. The extent of the noise at  a high ISO will depend on your camera. The latest high end SLRs do a great job of minimising noise, cheaper cameras will struggle. Either end of the scale you need to edit the noise out later using Photoshop or Lightroom.

The sliders in Lightroom are really easy to use (find them in the ‘Detail’ drop-down of the development menu) and you can experiment with colour and luminance sliders and the detail and contrast sliders until you think you have an acceptable amount of noise and an acceptable amount of detail. The clarity slider can help too, found in the ‘Basic’ drop-down to balance the softening effect that reducing noise can have.

When I am converting to Black and White, sometimes I reduce noise only a fraction and add grain. It can give the effect of a film grained silver print and the little grain disguises the noise.

Lewes Bonfire Night

What Aperture should I use?

In low light most photographers recommend a really fast lens. That means a lens that allows you to use the widest of apertures 1.8 for example. On bonfire night, when everything is moving I find it impossible to get the right bit in focus with an aperture this wide. If you manage to get someone standing still, waiting or preparing for something, and you have enough light to focus of the eyes of a person, you would probably get a great shot. On the whole though I find this aperture gives me such a small plane of focus in the image that most of my images end up not sharp in the right place. F4 is easier to handle, though you are loosing a lot of light and this will effect your shutter speed (making it slower and creating more motion blur). Another trick to help you here is to set your camera to underexpose, again the better the camera the more detail you will be able to recover in photoshop or lightroom later, and the less noise in your dark areas. It’s also worth noting that bonfire night images look better on the darker side, it’s dark and you are capturing the way the street and the people are catching the light so don’t be afraid to underexpose a little.

It’s a balancing act, you cant have the ideal ISO, aperture and shutter speed for the best quality image in these lighting conditions, there are going to have to be sacrifices.

Lewes Bonfire Night

What shutter speed should I use?

Your shutter is going to need to be open for longer to record the limited light here. With a super wide angle lens I can get away with 30th second sometimes, but I need to be close with a wide angle and this can be tricky as the crowds are quite thick and fierce. Try and find yourself on the outskirts of the action at times, sometimes, early on,  you can catch people preparing to march, an ideal opportunity to get in close and try shooting with a shutter speed of 60th or even 30th of a second.  With a longer lens you will probably need a faster speed of at least 60th of a sec and usually  more. If your camera or lens has image stabilisation, turn it on.

Lewes Bonfire Night

Bonfire night tips and tricks

  • Use RAW. Make sure you have your camera set to RAW before you go. With detail being lost because of the extremem lighting condition you need the best quality image your camera is capable of getting. It’s going to help when you are trying to recover detail later.
  • As mentioned before the outskirts of the action can provide better opportunities for people dressed up. It can be really difficult to get near enough for good people shots on the night.
  • Remember it’s light that we are short of here, so give yourself an advantage and choose a spot under a bright street lamp, or brightly lit shop window.
  • Try some shots from the ground if you can using the road or pavement to steady your camera, or find a street sign or bin or bollard to stabilise your camera.
  • When taking pictures of people on the move so try motor drive and shoot the movement. It is a bit hit and miss but you might come out with an ace.
  • You are unlikely to be able to retain the detail of the flames in every shot and get a reasonable enough exposure on the face, expose for the face and worry about the highlights later. You could fake a little fire detail later using a piece of fire from another frame, and place it on a layer above the burned out flame, reduce the opacity so that it’s barely there, nobody will notice!
  • Notice moments when a torch is lighting up a face, watch out for people lighting flares, chase the light and notice when a face is catching it, these will become the most effective portraits with the best detail and focus on the face.
  • Learn where all the buttons are on your camera that I’ve talked about above then practise adjusting them with your eyes closed. You’ll soo be able to play your camera in the dark. Alternatively take a little torch!

Brighton Zombie Walk – Beach of the Dead Photography

The Beach of the Dead is approaching. An event that creates infinite opportunities for fun, colourful and eye popping images.

I’m best known for my event photography and each time I write a post after the event I always think that it would be more useful to post advice BEFORE the event. I remembered this time. Here’s my “getting the best out of Brighton Zombie Walk” post for photographers. It’s on Saturday 20th October and the walk begins at the West Pier at 3pm.

The easiest times to get the shots you want are before and after the actual event.

Arrive an hour before kick off and you’ll have plenty of time to mill around an ask characters to move or pose for you.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people, they are usually excited and pleased to be of interest. I really enjoy this part of the day, chatting and laughing, finding creative angles and working with people to achieve them. It’s a good idea to show them the really good images afterwards, if you get an interesting shot they’ll be even more keen to help you get more.

This lady was happy to pose. I explained what I needed to do to get the image, I had to practically rest the camera on her ample bosom, she was happy to oblige. I could never get this kind of shot if I didn’t engage with my subjects.


Talk to your subjects, get their trust and make them laugh

Think about different angles, looking up, looking down, finding symmetry and strong diagonals. Choose your backgrounds carfully, consider turning the camera for a diagonal portait.

Beach of the Dead Brighton

Try tilting the camera for a different angle – taken with my fisheye

A lot of my images are shot from a low vantage point. This started as a way of getting clean blue sky backgrounds and became a style, I often take these without looking through the lens.

With a wide angle lens like mine, 16-35mm full frame, this means getting very close to your subject’s face. Another good reason to understand your lens. An ultra wide can include too much background if you are not close enough. Whilst you can use this to your advantage when the background is great, sometimes you want to cut it out of the frame.

Beach of the Dead Brighton-2

looking up adds an interesting perspective and keeps the background cleaner

With practise, you can learn how close you need to be and what angle to hold the camera so that you can keep talking to the subject. Holding the camera about chest height, get in close while distracting your subject with chat.

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Capture the Colour

This Competition caught my eye – Capture the Colour. At first it seemed like hard work to enter. You have to write a blog post with your 5 colour themed entries in. You need to  nominate and link to 5 photographers whom you think might like to participate, and there has to be a link to the competition on your post. Finally you have to tweet or FB message the sponsors – travelsupermarket to let them know you have entered.

I thought about the images that sprang to mind for each colour and decided to have a go, after all it’s good to keep you blog fresh.

The process made me think about what a good example of social marketing this competition is. You do not have to mention travelsupermarket to enter, just link to their competition – it’s subtle, it’s engaging at the same time as encouraging participants to share. In terms of SEO these are good gains – lots of links, engagement and lots of shares. Note to self: will have to start working on something similar!

For those who don’t know me, I’ve been using SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing for Silicon Beach Training for well over a decade, as well as being a photographer, and soon I’m going to put all of it together in a book on marketing for photographers so keep posted. I don’t keep my photography blog up to date nearly as often as I should, but I do check my Social Media accounts regularly.


Mick, Shoreditch, London. Yellow

When I put this up on Flickr and Facebook I was surprised at how many people mentioned that they knew him or had taken his picture. His name is Mick and apparently he is quite well known around the Brick Lane area, London.

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Using Fill Flash for Portraits and Events

There are many tutorials on this subject, I know, I have read most of them! Still I have always found it tricky fiddling with the camera and flash settings at events like the Brighton Zombie Walk, when all I’m interested in is capturing all of those split second moments or getting people to pose for a second and not wait while I fiddle!


Brighton Zombie Walk 2010

For all the expert  advice I have received I seem to have a virtually fool proof way of getting results like this:



and this:

 zombie walk Brighton 2010

Holy Smoke – zombie walk Brighton 2010 – click to buy this image

  1. I just keep the flash in automatic “E-TTL” setting. You see the beauty of fill-in flash with a modern SLR is that the camera adjusts background exposure and flash exposure automatically, with little input required from the user. That’s how I like it. I know we should be in control blah blah blah and well done anyone who can do all of this in a flash while running around like a maniac like I do at these events.
  2. I set my camera to capture RAW images – important for making sure your highlights don’t blow so much you can’t get them back
  3. I also put set my ISO to 400 when it’s not really bright and sunny, I know another rule break! that way I find the flash is less obvious. I also underexpose my images in camera by 1/2 stop and sometimes 2/3 of a stop as I find it really brings out the sky (I’m holding my breath here waiting for the onslaught of comments telling me why I shouldn’t do this but it really works for me!).
  4. …..And… wait for it…. I leave my camera on P mode.

That’s it, people ask me all the time how I get such great colours in the sky when using my flash and there you have it, breaking all the rules. If you know the real and proper “how to do it” then feel free to let everyone know what I’m doing wrong in my comments section. There is a minimal amount of Photoshoppery to learn more about Photoshop come down to Brighton for a Photoshop  Training Course. We also offer Business Training and Prince2 Training as well as SEO Training and Social Media

Using Back Lighting Creatively in Photography

Back lighting can be tricky to master, but when you think about it logically and decide what you want to use it for and what the possibilities are you can get some beautiful or moody effects using back lighting.


back-lit portrait – click to buy this image

Well when all the light is behind and therefore around the image (this is usually a very large area of the image) the camera will decide on the exposure taking all of this very bright light from the background into consideration. It will do its best to get everything exposed perfectly, but the chances are that this will be impossible for your camera. So what happens? We’ve all seen them – the background has some detail or is exposed reasonably well, but your subject in-front of the light is dark.

This can work really well for silhouettes.

However if you want detail in your subject you are going to have to:

Blow out the background (let it overexpose) some photographer love this effect.
try and overexpose your shot so that you get some detail in the face
try it with or without a lens hood as without will give you more flare (light fog) this is sometimes a lovely effect


Use flash – using flash set on ETTL (evaluative through the lens metering) will give you a good exposure on both background and subject – underexposing a touch can give you depth of colour in a background here.

So what can you achieve with back lighting?

Back lighting can enhance the finer details of an object (such as the tiny hairs on a stem or a bug) or a scenes more delicate features such as the dust particles or drops of rain.

As usual try out lots of thing and experiment, remember they don’t have to all turn out great just have a good time and enjoy the ones that do.