Respect the performer

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy photographing musicians playing. There are other forms of performance, though, and these can be as much fun and as much of a challenge to photograph.

Something that might not be immediately thought of as ‘performance’ is delivering a talk or lecture. And yet, to do this well requires similar skills to any musical or acting performance. Continue reading “Respect the performer”

Around town

I’ve mentioned before that I still like the discipline of shooting on film. It forces you to slow down and think about what you’re shooting, and there’s no preview, so you can’t indulging in ‘chimping – you have to trust yourself to have got the shot without checking.

I also still think that there’s a subtle difference in the look of film compared to digital (although that difference is diminishing as digital cameras improve).

Then there’s shooting on black and white film. Now, you have to ‘see’ in black and white – there’s no option to shoot in colour and try out various black and white looks in the comfort of Photoshop.

Here are some pictures taken around my home town, all shot in the knowledge that colour could not be a factor in the final image.

I should point out that I don’t view ‘chimping’ as a bad thing—it’s an advantage that digital gives us. However, it’s also not a bad thing to deny ourselves these advantages from time to time. It’s like having a calculator, but still being able to add up in your head.

It was a bit damp out there

Some pictures taken during a heavy rain shower:

I was particularly pleased with two images that show the falling raindrops. This is quite rare when photographing rain: the drops often fail to register because they are either too small or moving too fast. Usually, you have to rely on splashes, umbrellas and cowering people to suggest the conditions, as you can see in the other pictures (it was raining heavily in all but the first one).

Massive props, by the way, to the Altrincham choir who performed through the downpour without missing a beat and never losing their smiles.

For those interested in these things:

Olympus OM-D; Zuiko 17mm f/1.8; Zuiko 45mm f/1.8

… Or are we dancer?

I’ve neglected this blog for a couple of months—my excuse is that all my time has been taken up looking after a new puppy†. He’s now old enough to stay on his own for a while, so I can get back to taking photos and writing about it.

One thing I really enjoy is taking photos of bands on stage—it’s like the ultimate form of environmental photography, when your subject is totally engrossed in what they’re doing and they don’t see the camera, so their demeanour is not influenced by it. I’ve had a couple of opportunities recently; I’ll talk about the first one another time, but for now I want to mention the second because it gave me the opportunity to photograph something that I’d rarely photographed before: dancers. I had photographed some flamenco dancers the last time I was in Spain, but I can’t think of many other occasions.

A local music venue, the Cinnamon Club, was celebrating its 11th birthday and I’d been invited. I’ve photographed bands there before (thanks to the proprietor, Neil, who’s very accommodating of me), so I knew what the lighting conditions were like. That’s the thing about gig photography—it’s not that it’s dark (although a camera with low noise at high ISO does help), it’s the contrast: the dark bits are very dark and the highlights can be very bright. If your camera’s sensor doesn’t have the dynamic range to cope, then your pictures are always going to be disappointing.

Anyway, the band (52 Skidoo) were in their stride, and I was getting some nice shots, when further entertainment arrived: the dance troupe Swingvasion. Since I was up next to the stage, and the dancers were on the floor in front of it, I had to shoot them backlit (I couldn’t move without disturbing people). Backlighting can be very dramatic, so I saw this as a challenge and an opportunity: manual focus, because it was too dark for autofocus (and they were moving too quickly and erratically), widest aperture to get the fastest shutter speed, and liberal use of that most valuable of tools in a photographer’s armoury: anticipation. Under those conditions, you don’t have time to react to get the shot, you have to be proactive; you have to be able to see the picture a couple of seconds before it happens, so that you can press the shutter at the right time.

The other thing you have to consider with dancers is movement. Dance is all about movement, so a photograph has to reflect that if it’s not to be dull. There are two main ways that you can imply movement in a still photograph…

1) Motion blur. A slowish shutter speed and arms and legs move during the exposure, giving a feel for the movement of the subject. The difficulty with motion blur is that you can lose all definition in the subject and it just becomes a mess. Ideally what you want is for much of the subject to remain stationary with only some parts moving.



Expect a high failure rate.

2) Off-balance subject. A person standing (or sitting) in a balanced way is a stationary subject. Movement, whether walking running or dancing, is about being in a controlled state of constant off-balance. In the absence of motion blur, try for that stance that suggests the motion from one place to another…



..or that suggests the culmination of a movement, so the final dramatic flourish encourages us to fill in the movement that led up to it.


gd-20140321-cinnamon-club-8267Sometimes, you get to combine the two…


I chose to process the images this way because a) backlighting looks really good in black and white, and b) the whole night had a ’20s theme to it, so I wanted the pictures to reflect the photography of that age.

Technical stuff: Nikon D800 at ISO 6400; Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens.


† A Patterdale terrier, since you ask.

Do I look like a subversive to you?

I was out and about taking pictures, when I thought that it would be nice to get a few high-level shots of the town. Well, we’ve got a high-level car park that looks over the main shopping street, so I went up there to have a look.

It took about 5 minutes before two security guards approached me…

Continue reading “Do I look like a subversive to you?”

What happened?

I moved to Manchester 38 years ago to come to university. Eight years later, my wife and I settled in Altrincham, and we’ve been here ever since.

When we first moved here, Altrincham was definitely the ‘posh neighbour’ of the Greater Manchester area. The town centre was thriving: always busy. We had greengrocers, butchers, bakers – everything you could need, including a bustling 700-year-old market. Bookshops, clothes shops – we wanted for nothing. It was the place to be and the place to shop.

And then things started to change. Continue reading “What happened?”

A wet and miserable day

(Updated 10/11/12 – added new picture)

I was in town earlier: cold, damp; in a word… yuk. That sort of rain that isn’t heavy, but it goes on and on until everything’s sodden. That sort of cold that isn’t freezing but combines with the rain to lie heavy on the spirit.

The sort of weather that black and white photographs exist to record, basically.

Continue reading “A wet and miserable day”