Irish travellers Black and White

What Makes Me Click by a Brighton Photographer

I love making images.

Sometimes the process of photography starts with a concept or idea which I plan and create. Though the sweetest moments for me are those when real life presents a moment when everything falls into place.

nun and dog in rome

Sweet Moment in Rome – the best moments are when everything falls into place – click to purchase image

I LOVE wide angle photography and the way it distorts reality.

I get in really close necessitating the need to communicate with my subjects. A wide angle lens adds drama to an image, sometimes it creates caricatures of people, and sometimes it allows you to portray a piece of everyday life as if it were happening on a stage.

Crawford Market Mumbai

SHOOT WIDE – Crawford Market- Mumbai – click to purchase image

The equipment you use will have a huge bearing on the outcome. You’ve heard it said before that good photography is not about equipment, most people now have the technology to get a great image in their pockets – on their smart phone. It’s also true to say though, that some images (or looks/styles) are reliant on the type of equipment you are using.

I use my canon 16-35mm on a full frame camera most of the time. On a full frame camera that’s a really wide lens. Favourite situations are Brighton events, where everybody is dressed up, happy willing to chat, laugh and have their photograph taken. It’s like Christmas for a photographer like me.

Brighton Pride 2012

Brighton Pride 2012 – Don’t be afraid to ask people to pose for something you can visualise – click to purchase image

Often people show me their images, they say “I tried to take pictures like you, but it came out like this, what am I doing wrong?  The answer is often the same. Your lens is not wide enough, you were not close enough, you were not low enough (I have a penchant for images taken from a low viewpoint).

Kevin and Tracey

Try pointing your camera upwards – creates a clean background, adds drama, and f22 may give you a little star-burst if positioned at the edge of something – click to purchase image

Often the images look flat; they ask me how I get my subjects to pop out of the frame. I’m not ashamed to say (and neither is Martin Parr BTW) that I use P mode for most of my event photography and I always have a speed light on my camera set on auto. Fill flash is perfect for enhancing colour, saturation and avoiding underexposed subjects and dark shadows on the face. Even if you intend to process the image in black and white, the subject can still pop out of the frame with a bit of flash.

Biker Girls Brighton Pride

Brighton Pride 2011 – Flash can make your subjects pop, underexposing your background can help too – – click to purchase image

Couldn’t I just put the camera on Manual, select an exposure for the background, set an exposure for the flash, show some understanding of balancing light?

Well I can, but if any of you have seen me at an event like this, they will appreciate that I run around like a headless chicken, shooting from above, shooting from below shooting into the sun or my back to the sun. All I want to do is capture that moment that I see happening, or in some instances just about to happen, in an interesting way. For me it’s about seizing opportunities and quick thinking. Photographer friends of mine have given up trying to talk to me at events, because I’m so focused and excited about seeing and getting the shots, that nothing else exists for me in that moment.

I can quickly dial down the exposure using exposure compensation on the camera, it will add drama to a sky (darkening it), or will subdue a bright or distracting background, but my subject is correctly exposed with ETTL flash switched on . This is particularly useful when it’s really bright and you are close to your subject with a wide lens, you want your subject to be the main focus of the image but you may require a small aperture to avoid overexposing. Everything will be in focus but the views eye is drawn to the brightest part of the image – your subject.

If I want a star burst effect shooting in to the sun but want light on my subject I can dial my aperture down to f22 with my finger, without even looking at the camera.

So even when I choose P mode to enable me to capture each moment I see as an interesting opportunity, I don’t always let my camera decide everything. I may choose to turn the flash off if my image is about a shadow or reflection, I can underexpose the background, and I can change the aperture for individual images without even looking at the camera.

Other advice I’d give to those wishing to get similar images to mine:

Be bold and talk to people, most will be happy for you to take their picture, start with big events where most people expect to get their picture taken, then build up courage to talk to people in the street. If you take picture like me with a wide angle lens you are rarely going to be able to take pictures incognito.

Brighton Naked Bike Ride 2014

Chat to people and get as close as you dare – click to purchase image

Take loads of pictures, be quick on your feet and chase that image. There is a very small window of opportunity for many images.

The more familiar you get with your equipment the better and faster you will become. For example some of my better known images are taken from very low or high vantage points. I am not looking through my lens; I would have to be a double jointed super hero to get these types of images of moving subjects.

I know my lens so well that I have a good idea of how low to hold the camera and at what angle I need to hold it. I still need to check the screen occasionally and chase people for an action replay if I have chopped off an essential head or foot!

Practise, practise and have fun, the more you do it the better your hit rate. See you at the Beach of the Dead event – Brighton Zombie Walk.

1 reply
  1. Jonathan Merage
    Jonathan Merage says:

    Awesome post! I enjoyed your blog and your photographic experience that you have shared here. Your photography is really very good. My passion is documenting nature’s incredible lightning displays and tornadoes.

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