How to edit photographs in Instagram

#nofilter

This hashtag means, “This is straight out of camera. It looks great without any effects or editing. It’s all down to me.”

Well, even if they’re telling the truth (ahem), they’re sadly mistaken. The camera/phone has to process the shot to create a jpeg file. It applies sharpness, contrast, brightness, adds blacks, reduces noise and compresses the file, having already determined colour balance and exposure. That’s quite a lot of work.

Also - like it or not - pretty much every image can be improved - SHOULD be improved - with some further work. Editing is to an photographer what revision is to a writer, presentation is to a chef, or pruning is to a gardener. That’s why #nofilter doesn’t really impress. Depending on the image, I’d say the editing makes up between 20%-40% of the final impact.

Editing begins with correction, which gradually becomes improvement, which then runs into creation (which is at the opposite end of the scale to #nofilter). Everyone has different views to where the boundaries lie, how much to do or declare, and the context of the photo and its purpose will also largely determine this. Note that the ‘creation’ aspect is very limited in Instagram, but I’d certainly place the ‘filters’ in this camp.

So the first thing to say when editing is: ditch the filters. But not for the reason above. But instead, because they make an image look processed: all style over substance. And for anyone who cares about creating nice imagery, why put all that effort into taking a photograph, then leave the rest to an algorithm you don’t understand? I’ve found doing the editing myself informs my photography, and my photography influences the editing.

 Some of Instagram’s filters, which apply an instant ‘look’ to an image.

Some of Instagram’s filters, which apply an instant ‘look’ to an image.

Let’s think about what we’re trying to achieve.

The approach

For me, the rule is to make an image look as good as possible, without making it look like you’ve done much at all. And remember, edits are global. That is, the effect is applied to the entire image. So for instance if you wanted to darken something, then everything gets darker. Improvements will therefore have trade-offs: a good reason for a light touch.

OK - the ‘correction’ part' is easy - is it too dark, does it need cropping etc?

When it turns into improvement, it’s then about asking what the picture is about, and emphasising that aspect. So if it’s a picture of friends, your adjustments should mainly consider their faces, and so may involve Brightness, Saturation and Sharpness. If it’s a sunset silhouette, you’re looking at Contrast. If it’s a portrait of your grandmother, best to skip Structure. If the subject is centre-frame, you might be considering cropping, or the Vignette tool. And so on. With global edits, the trade-off means you have to let the rest of the frame fall where it may.

It is not about sliding every slider each way to see what looks nice. That’s time-consuming and results in an over-processed look ‘just because it looks good’. You’re not being sympathetic to the right treatment. Plus if you’re spending more than a minute editing, that’s too long.

We’ve dealt with the filters. Let’s look at the editing tools now, starting with the most essential one: the crop.

The editing tools

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Crop

This is on the very first page, and not immediately obvious as it sits near Boomerang and Layout. Instagram defaults your image to a square, and this function returns it to its original shape, if different. You can crop in/out by pinching/squeezing, or move the canvas around.

When to use

Always. It can be used as a trim to tidy up the frame. It can be used more severely to cut out unwanted elements. Or it can be used to radically recompose and change the meaning of the image.


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Lux

Also often missed, this appears at the top of the filter page. It’s the odd one out in that by clicking on it, it automatically adds 50%. It works on contrast, saturation and sharpness, and gives a bit of a ‘pop to flat images.

When to use

Nearly always, and roughly between 10-30. Never above 50. Be careful to press ‘Cancel’ - not ‘Done’ - if you don’t want it.


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Adjust

Since you can crop on the opening edit page, this is only useful for perspective correction.

When to use

Almost never. Occasionally you’ll have something large or small at the edge of an image which looks wrong, eg a face in a group photo. Otherwise, it’s only necessary if your image relies on exact angles, parallel lines etc.


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Brightness

I often return to this tool a couple of times during editing, as Highlights, Shadows and Contrast all affect overall brightness.

When to use

You should use this for almost every photo.


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Contrast

This is about how much ‘punch’ there is in your image; it’s the difference between the shadows and the highlights. Be aware this will affect the saturation of an image.

When to use

Most of the time: the majority of images need a little boost. However, with misty landscapes and images with a calmer mood you might want to go the other way, reducing contrast.


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Structure

Similar to the ‘clarity’ tool in professional editing programs, this tool lies somewhere between sharpness and contrast, and gives a crunchy, hi-definition feel to an image.

When to use

It pulls up texture, so definitely not to be used on a portrait of your grandmother as it would be unflattering. But for a photograph of her hands, it would be fantastic. I use it a lot for detail and abstract images.


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Warmth

This gives a red/orange hue sliding right into the positive; sliding to the left (negative) gives a blue/green hue.

When to use

I rarely use this except to give a bit of a ‘look’. Use sparingly - you never want to push this too far in either direction.


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Saturation

This determines how strong the colours appear in an image. Strictly, it’s about how much grey there is.

When to use

Naturally, images relying on (‘about’) colour may benefit from saturation. But you’d be surprised how effective a slight reduction can be, typically between -10 to -20, especially in more moody/soft-light portraiture.


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Colour

This tints the highlights, shadows, or both with a colour and to a degree of your choosing.

When to use

Rarely, if ever. And extremely sparingly. It gives the image a look (in the same way as the filters do). So as soon as it’s noticeable, you’ve gone too far.


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Fade

This reduces the blacks and colours. Again, it gives a very obvious look to an image.

When to use

Perhaps on a misty scene, but otherwise never: this belongs among the filters.


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Highlights

This deals with the brightest parts of an image. Sliding to the right can ramp them towards white, whereas to the left darkens them.

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Shadows

Like highlights, but covering the darker tones. Sliding to left pulls them towards black, while to the right lightens them, revealing shadow detail.

When to use

Nearly always, for both. While degree is a matter of taste, more contrast tends to be more desirable; pulling them apart achieves this, resulting in punchier and simpler results which work well on the platform, but at the risk of losing subtlety and detail. Bringing them together has a softening/fading effect, and can result in an HDR-type look.


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Vignette

This darkens the edges of the picture, drawing the viewer’s attention to the centre of the frame.

When to use

Use for anything where the corners are unimportant, but they must already be (slightly) dark. On a light background, vignetting looks horrible, or at least makes the image look overly processed eg sky.


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Tilt Shift

This is a naughty little cheat tool, blurring everything outside the target area. Blur can be radial, with both the size and location of the focus area set with pinching and moving. It can also be linear, where the width and angle can be changed. It’s a lot of fun and has immediate impact.

When to use

For snaps - if you use this, it’s very obvious and unnatural.


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Sharpen

This is an essential tool, even though the results can be hard to see at anything less than about 50%, especially on small screens. It gives that final little tweak. Our eyes are drawn to - among other things - anything sharp, so it’s an important part of the process.

When to use

Always.


Final tips

Left to right workflow

Work left to right, and go back if you need to. A dot will appear underneath the settings you’ve changed. Remember, you don’t need to use every tool.

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Touch and go

Keep checking the before and after. By holding your finger on an editing screen, you’ll see how the image would look without that adjustment. On the main screen, it shows how it would look without any adjustments applied. Touching and removing is a handy before/after view.

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Ease off

With that last point in mind, pull back on your effects, as they compound one another. 34 Saturation, 47 Contrast, 45 Highlights, -28 Shadows: all of a sudden you have a very heavily-processed image. 34 should be 20; perhaps bring 47 down to around 30, and so on.

I hope this is of use! Happy ‘gramming.

Out with the old

In my recent article about how we improve (“A little learning is a dangerous thing"), I talked about how my old work isn’t good enough now - can’t be good enough - as my skills / critical eye have developed. I wrote, “Hopefully, in the years to come I'll feel the same way about the pictures I have in my portfolio now. Because if not, I'm not improving.”

There’s this idea that anything not recent doesn’t represent us, is somehow false or misleading for being out of date. We’ve moved on - or regressed. But I’m now coming round to the conclusion this is erroneous. More on this later.

Regardless, in the meantime my website is bloated, and in need of a refresh: I’ve not done much to it in a while. This seems like a good opportunity to remove some of the dead wood. And besides, the more I’ve improved, the easier I should be able to cull old images. Right..?

Before finishing marking pictures for deletion - a troubling task - I ask for thoughts on a forum: how old is old? How do you feel about showing work you haven’t done in a long time? Does it still represent you?

I say troubling because it’s really not easy. It’a not like old food - I can’t just look at the date and bin it. Some of my old photos I still like. Do I really have to take them down? I don’t want to. Hmm. I’m not nearly as dispassionate as I should be in displaying my work. Or today, at least. It just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do in the name of a cleaner portfolio.

The hive-mind replies. The near-unanimous response - a slight surprise and a great relief - was that it’s completely fine to have old pictures, as long as they don’t look dated, and as long as you have new work, too.

So I’ve gone through again, looking only for the weaker pictures, with only half an eye on the date taken. That’s surely more important, how good an image is. But I don’t know which are good or bad. It’s an important skill and notoriously difficult. I’ve only ever culled a few images over the years, those which begin to stick out rather obviously after a time. But nowadays the quality and style is, I feel, fairly consistent throughout. I know better than to seek true objectivity from colleagues, as they will tear apart my keepers and praise the ones which need to go. And they’ll disagree with one another. As for deleting the weak ones myself, on the one hand I’m bored of nearly all my work, and on the other, I’m oddly attached to much of it.

But the ‘bored’ part - does this mean I’ve improved? Yes? Great…but if so, where’s the new, improved work to replace what’s to be removed? Ah. Well, I do have a few images which need putting up. But for now, mostly, it’s about culling.

So I ask myself these questions about each image:

  • Do I like it?

  • Does it represent the work I do, or would like to do? Or rather, will it appeal to the clients with whom I’d like to work?

  • Is it the best example among similar images in my portfolio? Is it different enough to justify existing?

    (while keeping in mind)

  • Has it been taken recently?

Devoid of context, the best images in a portfolio continue to shine. These images below - the ones I’m retiring - all suffer from the corollary: standing alone as they do, they don’t say much. There’s nothing wrong with them per se, but I don’t feel any of them quite spark an emotion or connection on their own. And I realise why - I’d included many of them as placeholders, representing a technique, style, or kept just because they were a little different.

Getting rid of a dozen images is not quite the grand cull I’d imagined, but it’s a start.

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 Broadcaster John Sergeant has made a recording for an 'audio bench' at the National Trust property, Petworth House, in Sussex.  Several other public figures have also made recordings for other locations.
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Recent work - October 2018

I cover a range of commissions outside portraiture. I enjoy the variety and the learning; challenges, ideas, approaches and techniques from one shoot usually come up again. Here’s a selection of recent(ish) work:

  University of London  networking evening.

University of London networking evening.

 A PR stunt for Epson to illustrate the loneliness felt by many UK freelancers. Vicki Psarias (aka blogger Honest Mum) worked for a day from inside a perspex box, situated near Covent Garden.

A PR stunt for Epson to illustrate the loneliness felt by many UK freelancers. Vicki Psarias (aka blogger Honest Mum) worked for a day from inside a perspex box, situated near Covent Garden.

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 Rehearsal images at the National Theatre for  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Rehearsal images at the National Theatre for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

 Patricia Hodge and David Suchet at a fundraising gala for  Mousetrap Theatre Projects.

Patricia Hodge and David Suchet at a fundraising gala for Mousetrap Theatre Projects.

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 (above) Also for  Mousetrap , their annual awards ceremony,  The Mousetraps .   (below)  All the following images are from various Mousetrap workshops, events and projects.

(above) Also for Mousetrap, their annual awards ceremony, The Mousetraps.

(below) All the following images are from various Mousetrap workshops, events and projects.

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A little learning is a dangerous thing

“Do you still improve as a photographer?” a friend asked recently. What an odd question - I’ve been doing it for nearly 15 years, and have only in the last few reached a point where I’m not constantly worrying and feeling like a fraud. All I ever strive for is improvement. It’s a strange idea that one day you just ‘get it’ and you’re done.

I realised three things.

One is that you don’t ‘just get’ anything. Everything can be improved. Even walking? Yes, I’m pretty good at that, but put me on a catwalk and I’d like some lessons first. What about drinking? Maybe, but ask the people who taste coffee, buy wines, and you’ll find there’s more to it.

Two is that any assumption - here, that photography is something you ‘get’ - is based, in part at least, on our being unable to see, judge or understand anything much outside our sphere of knowledge. On a recent weekend in Dublin, my Irish hosts were stunned I couldn’t hear the difference between their accents - Galway, Cork, Derry*. Why would I? But while not important to me, it is where it concerns one’s identity within a country. Or to take another example: I’ve barely touched my guitar in 20 years (and was only Oasis-round-the-campfire level then). Yet my kids think I’m a rock legend. Because they don’t know better, I’m up there with Slash and Jimmy Page.

Three is that improvements must become smaller. What I learn in the next few years will be far less than what I learned in my first years as a freelance. Or to put it another way, I need to work much harder now to to improve the same amount**.

Anyway, the following diagram - which I came across some years ago - describes the learning process from beginner to expert, and applies to any skill or ability - driving a car, playing the piano or, indeed, practising photography.



    Stage one is 'unconscious incompetence'. This is where you have a subject which you don't know about, and, moreover, you don't know what you don't know. This could be something like the stock market, interior design, or Bolivian basket-weaving. It applies to most things, for most people.

    The next stage is 'conscious incompetence'. You have a basic grasp of a subject, and realise there’s a lot more to learn. This applies to the well-read, the busy, the educated and the hobbyists, about most things.

    The third stage is 'conscious competence'. You are practised enough to do it, aware of how far you've come, and aware of what else there is to know and learn. The most basic techniques are perhaps second-nature, but the bulk of performing the activity is very much a conscious process. 

    Then, at stage four, we reach 'unconscious competence'. The knowledge acquired is now hardwired in the unconscious part of the brain through practice and/or study. Almost as if you're not aware of what you know - it's second-nature. Like riding a bike. Or, like speaking in our native tongue, we can produce and process complex sentences at will, taking into account grammar, vocabulary, intonation and body language. But most of us would be unable to analyse or explain the compound verbs, adjuncts, facial clues or speech patterns we use so readily.

There’s also "reflective competence", which is to do with a self-awareness and deep understanding of a subject, the kind required for teaching or writing. It might also suggest an ability to adapt and respond naturally to entirely new challenges.

Or, the arrow could lead back to stage one. Unconscious competence can lead to complacency and habit as one develops a personal style, set along certain ways of doing things, and self-belief becomes stronger. It can be hard to learn (or one might actively resist) new techniques or accept new ideas, and to do so requires starting again, at least in some way. I remember as a student the feeling of ‘unlearning’ what style I’d had as a keen amateur.

Competence and the Critical Eye

    Bringing it back to photography, as you improve and get the basics under your belt, you being to notice things previously hidden or ignored. Things which didn't bother you before - didn't even appear on your radar - now become issues to deal with. Your pictures get better through experience, but as this learning finds its way into your work, you become more critical of them. In learning what to 'look for', so you see those things when you judge the picture later. Messy backgrounds, dead space, and burnt-out highlights never bothered me when I started out. They simply didn't register. But looking now, these flaws would be the first thing I see and all I notice. Hopefully, in the years to come I'll feel the same way about the pictures I have in my portfolio now. Because if not, I'm not improving.

    For me, this is where doing photography and viewing photography overlap. Doing photography takes place in real time, with all the difficulties and problems that brings. The better you become, the 'higher' the concerns which you need to consciously think about, concerns which didn’t exist before. And with these newer concerns on your mind, when you view the pictures later, these are the things you may (or may not) have got right. Those are the new benchmarks by which you judge the success of the shoot.

Ars est celare artem

    And the higher up you go, the more theoretical they become. For the really good photographers, the 'rules' count for less and less. Some of the greatest pictures can look, at first glance, almost like amateur snapshots, in my opinion. They look easy, without any apparent art or style. The Latin quotation above (sometimes incorrectly attributed to Ovid) loosely translates as "Art is the concealment of art", or "Art hides itself". The idea is that the greatest art lacks overt ingenuity or self-conscious craftsmanship. It doesn't seem to present itself as art - until you look closer. It suggests that you need to be at a certain 'level' to really appreciate it. And one recognises that improvements are harder and harder to get: the final few metres are what separates the good from the great.


The Dunning-Kruger effect

Going back to the second idea (how little we really know, when we know very little), this is a symptom of unconscious incompetence. The model below describes the relationship between one’s ability and one’s confidence:

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After only a short time learning a new skill, we feel we know a great deal. Probably because even after a few lessons (in anything), we’re already ahead of 98% of people. But soon enough, our self-belief plummets (consciously incompetent), before we begin to build up our ability and confidence at a more equal ratio (consciously competent).

Alexander Pope described the behaviour in 1709:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:

there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

and drinking largely sobers us again.

I’d like to think “I’m kind of getting it now” with regards photography. And I’d point out that if we knew from the start how much there is to learn about something, we’d probably never bother to do anything. A little ignorance and a touch of unwarranted confidence is a helpful nudge to get things started.

*If I’m honest, I sometimes struggle hearing between Scottish and Irish.

**An analogy from Breaking Bad: Gale Boetticher’s meth reaches 96% purity, yet he is in awe of Walter’s 99.1%.

Recent work - August 2018

Some portraits from the past few months:

 Lizzy Watts, playing the lead in  Hedda Gabler  at the National Theatre.

Lizzy Watts, playing the lead in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre.

 Jacqueline Davies, Chair of the Board of Trustees at NSAFS.

Jacqueline Davies, Chair of the Board of Trustees at NSAFS.

 Azad Cola, owner of the Westbury Hotel, for  Forbes  magazine.

Azad Cola, owner of the Westbury Hotel, for Forbes magazine.

 Belmond CFO Martin O'Grady, photographed for  Economia  magazine (and below).

Belmond CFO Martin O'Grady, photographed for Economia magazine (and below).

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 Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey, joining the cast of  Company  at the Gielgud Theatre.

Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey, joining the cast of Company at the Gielgud Theatre.

 Corporate portraiture at Cohn & Wolfe (and below)

Corporate portraiture at Cohn & Wolfe (and below)

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 Facebook EMEA Head of News Partnerships, Nick Wrenn.

Facebook EMEA Head of News Partnerships, Nick Wrenn.

I don't follow you

Instagram again. I'm going to talk about those I don't / won't follow. Probably because it's cathartic to make a vague swipe at the misuse, self-indulgence and poor behaviour on the platform.

A little background: for me, IG is mostly a place for all my 'singles', images which I take outside of work and which don't belong in a portfolio. Usually patterns, shapes and abstracts, that sort of thing (here). I also put the odd 'proper' image in there to mix it up, with half an eye on the (potential) professional/portfolio aspect.

I spend between 5-20 minutes a day on IG, and have 1,453 followers (today), and follow 604.

So, accounts I tend to follow include: quality photography and art; picture editors and related; potential and existing clients; odd, interesting and similar accounts, and some friends.

Regrettably, like many, I also follow accounts upon which I border on indifference, but I'm whittling these down over time. And some accounts whose origins I can't remember. The rest are the remnants of the few days last year when I used a bot. I remove these as and when. 

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Anyway, here's who I don't follow:

  • People who list their kit. I just don't understand why anyone would do this. Nobody cares.
  • Anyone who uses more than one or two emojis in their profile.
  • Anyone following more than 500 people (I'm aware of the hypocrisy, but I'm trying). Seriously, though, some people follow a couple of thousand accounts. This is silly. They only care about themselves - they're not interested in you, or me, or anyone. Someone following over 10k people followed me the other day. Do the maths. Them spending, say, two seconds looking at one image per person per day equals... 5.5 hours per day on IG. So, do they want to see my work? No. It's clickbait, in order for me to follow back. Sometimes these people then unfollow. The cheek of it.
  • #catsofinstagram - I'd never get any work done. It's the pinnacle of human achievement.
  • People who post more than a couple of inspirational quotes. Just please stop.
  • Anyone with a disproportionately high following in relation to their number of posts. This is suspicious. Do your time and upload some content, don't use a bot.
  • Professional photographers whose target audience is those who they know personally, and worse, just those they know very well. Typically, you can spot them because their posts are insider-ish (to the exclusion of others) eg friends, BTS shots, holidays, in-jokes, family. You're not posting for me. That's fine - equally I'm not interested in you, I'm here to see your work.
  • People who describe themselves as an "influencer", "dreamer", "disrupter" or "thought leader". Or use hashtags like #lifegoals. It's not that I don't get it - I do. We're just very different people and we wouldn't be friends in the real world.
  • People who have too many selfies. 1 per 20 uploads is probably fine. More if you're a model, I guess.
  • Friends who didn't follow me back. Why do you hate me?

Finally, there are posts which raise an eyebrow, but aren't necessarily dealbreakers. The absolute worst are portraits taken of celebrities who've just died, sometimes within minutes of the news breaking. The caption talks about the time (six years previously) when they photographed them, how nice they were, how sad it is etc. followed by a sea of these hashtags: #death #sorrow #tragedy #death #celebrity #overdose #portraitphotographer #londonphotographer #rip #sad #commission #suicide. You are horrible people. But I like your style. 

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that actually I'll follow anyone, and am guilty of most of the offences listed.

Monks & Marbles

This set of pictures is from a long time ago, when I was in Nepal. Out walking one day, I came to Benchen Monastery in West Kathmandu and decided to take a look around. The novice monks were playing marbles:

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Netflix & Woof

I’m a cat person, and I watch Netflix.

I might binge from time to time, but in my defence I normally have one or both of my cats asleep on my lap, and I consider it a cruelty to move from the sofa.

According to a survey by Netflix, most people prefer to watch box sets with their pets. There’s no chance of spoilers - or, worse - cheating. 

The study also claims: “More than a third of respondents (37%) have moved where they were sitting so their pet would be more comfortable, 22% have bribed them with treats to watch longer, and some (12%) have even gone so far as turning off a show because their pet didn’t appear to like it.”

Anyway, to accompany the study, I was commissioned to photograph behind the scenes for a light-hearted video shoot - Netflix & Woof - at Dogs Trust, Basildon, with some very well-trained dogs.

(During the afternoon, the tiniest puppy ever was brought in to reception. Despite being a committed ailurophile, I did consider making space in my camera bag to bring it home. It was the size of a lens, and not even one of the large ones.)

I'm not at liberty to publish all the images, but here's a flavour.

Picture credits: Alex Rumford/Dogs Trust:

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Best of Instagram

My IG feed - @alexrumford - is diluted with my regular work and archive material. If you're anything like me, you tend not to view more than the most recent couple of dozen pictures on someone's feed, and early posts soon get buried in an ever-growing pile.

Secondly, I like to see posts from everyone, but following nearly 800 people would mean an hour a day just keeping up.  

With no way of filtering the 'best' images ('likes' are often largely irrelevant, at best a rough indication of quality) IG is then more about getting a sense of someone's work and interests rather than seeing their portfolio. Which is fine, but since my "out and about" shots - mostly minimalist and abstracts - are a world away from my commissioned work, I wanted to some of my favourites to date:

Corporate self-portraiture (two)

A new headshot is long overdue: my existing one is around seven years old. So, tethering to my laptop, with a remote trigger, a tripod and a couple of lights, I set to work. 

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I played around with colours in photoshop to make it look arty, but the issue is still that I look unhappy, and there's not a lot I can do about that in post. But forcing a smile alone made me feel a little insane. When I'm shooting corporate headshots, I don't know the people and so I can objectively work towards trying to make them look professional, friendly, trustworthy etc. There's no right way for each person: aside from everyone photographing differently, depending on age, role and level a softer look will suit some, a more assertive expression others.

The subjects, on the other hand, are usually concerned with looking their best. 95% claim not to be photogenic as they come into the room, and/or dislike their nose/ears/chin/hairline etc. We're often looking for different things from the process.

I knew I should adopt the objective approach, but it's very hard to do. And I don't think I've ever taken a real selfie. Sometimes, knowing what goes into something makes it all the more difficult to achieve.

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I had another go a couple of days later, with a different lighting setup and less post-production. The hint of a smile (as much as I can muster) is definitely better. The tilt of the head softens it somewhat, and the stronger catchlights in the eyes help bring some life into it.

On reflection, I'd prefer an environmental portrait over a headshot on a background next time. So whilst it will do for now, I'm still not thrilled with it, and will likely do a swap with another photographer at the next opportunity. 

Winter swimming

I photographed the lovely writer and swimmer Ella Foote in the river Thames, near Marlow. Ella swims outdoors regularly, and had recently completed "Dip a Day December" for charity, despite the cold and grey. 

 At 7.30am I was already cold, despite my four layers. 

At 7.30am I was already cold, despite my four layers. 

 Before the shoot, I had in my mind a bleak, peaceful solitude as the tone. Bare trees, mist and dark water. Although presence and solitude were very much the mood, Ella is a  much  smilier and relaxed person than these images convey.  

Before the shoot, I had in my mind a bleak, peaceful solitude as the tone. Bare trees, mist and dark water. Although presence and solitude were very much the mood, Ella is a much smilier and relaxed person than these images convey.  

 It would have taken me ten painful minutes to do this. Ella is so used to it; she might as well have been getting out of bed.

It would have taken me ten painful minutes to do this. Ella is so used to it; she might as well have been getting out of bed.

 Portrait photographer, London photographer
 I'd been hoping for - counting on - mist, but this requires a greater difference between the air temperature and water. I thought I'd play around in photoshop how it might have looked with mist, and was surprised how realistic it looked, given I was working from nothing. I used a technique from the wonderful  Phlearn .

I'd been hoping for - counting on - mist, but this requires a greater difference between the air temperature and water. I thought I'd play around in photoshop how it might have looked with mist, and was surprised how realistic it looked, given I was working from nothing. I used a technique from the wonderful Phlearn.

 Portrait photographer, London photographer
 I wanted to shoot remotely, with my camera on a monopod over the water - there was no way I'd be going in. It didn't work from the off - I needed to see through the viewfinder. I could have shot tethered, but this might have slowed things down more, and it was so cold (for both of us!) there wasn't a lot of time for the shoot. 

I wanted to shoot remotely, with my camera on a monopod over the water - there was no way I'd be going in. It didn't work from the off - I needed to see through the viewfinder. I could have shot tethered, but this might have slowed things down more, and it was so cold (for both of us!) there wasn't a lot of time for the shoot. 

 Portrait photographer, London photographer
 Portrait photographer, London photographer
 Portrait photographer, London photographer
 The sunrise was beautiful, but shooting any later would have been too backlit and the trees would have burned out.

The sunrise was beautiful, but shooting any later would have been too backlit and the trees would have burned out.

 Portrait photographer, London photographer

2017 in pictures

Here are some of my favourite shots taken in 2017. As many have already appeared - one of the drawbacks of blogging regularly - I'm including some background this time around.

 I'll start with a shot which wasn't even taken last year, but was under embargo until then. Nor is it a shot which will change the direction of photography, but I've included it as it was one of those simple portraits where you go with what you have. One of a series shot for Pfizer to accompany a video, we had a small space, zero props, limited furniture - but then with a little expression, the photo works out. It sits better as part of the  series .

I'll start with a shot which wasn't even taken last year, but was under embargo until then. Nor is it a shot which will change the direction of photography, but I've included it as it was one of those simple portraits where you go with what you have. One of a series shot for Pfizer to accompany a video, we had a small space, zero props, limited furniture - but then with a little expression, the photo works out. It sits better as part of the series.

 One of a number of portraits for the Toyota Mobility Foundation, our original plan here was to shoot near here in Shad Thames, in that lovely narrow cobbled lane, with its walkways and sense of history. On arrival, however, we found the street swamped in bright, ugly barriers and garish signage for some ongoing and ghastly repairs. So we used the riverside, and although Tower Bridge was a bit obvious - I'd emphatically NOT wanted to use it - for our purposes it (grudgingly) photographed ok.  I'd recently bought a ~30cm circular mini-diffuser (a disc, basically, which fits over the flash) which I used here for the first time. I wanted something quick and portable, yet not susceptible to pulling down stands - as umbrellas are wont to do - in the slightest of breezes. The disc gives a fairly soft light for the tradeoff, although it is a bit of a faff to attach securely. Anyway, it helps a very flat lighting situation. I had it close, just out of shot, which softened it further and meant I could keep an eye (and a foot, for security) on the stand.

One of a number of portraits for the Toyota Mobility Foundation, our original plan here was to shoot near here in Shad Thames, in that lovely narrow cobbled lane, with its walkways and sense of history. On arrival, however, we found the street swamped in bright, ugly barriers and garish signage for some ongoing and ghastly repairs. So we used the riverside, and although Tower Bridge was a bit obvious - I'd emphatically NOT wanted to use it - for our purposes it (grudgingly) photographed ok.

I'd recently bought a ~30cm circular mini-diffuser (a disc, basically, which fits over the flash) which I used here for the first time. I wanted something quick and portable, yet not susceptible to pulling down stands - as umbrellas are wont to do - in the slightest of breezes. The disc gives a fairly soft light for the tradeoff, although it is a bit of a faff to attach securely. Anyway, it helps a very flat lighting situation. I had it close, just out of shot, which softened it further and meant I could keep an eye (and a foot, for security) on the stand.

 Technically this is a few years old but appeared in my blog this year. I love shooting top-end performance, where costumes and lighting complement the extreme skill and dedication of the dancers to make great images. The slightest imperfections really show with this kind of photography, and so when everything is exactly as it should be and everyone is perfectly in time, it makes all the difference in the world. 

Technically this is a few years old but appeared in my blog this year. I love shooting top-end performance, where costumes and lighting complement the extreme skill and dedication of the dancers to make great images. The slightest imperfections really show with this kind of photography, and so when everything is exactly as it should be and everyone is perfectly in time, it makes all the difference in the world. 

 This was a simple campaign portrait, which I've included only because I was pleased at how well the colours of clothing & hair worked together, despite there being no guidance.

This was a simple campaign portrait, which I've included only because I was pleased at how well the colours of clothing & hair worked together, despite there being no guidance.

 Jewellery, Cutlery and Glass make up the unholy trinity of really difficult things to photograph, and I have always avoided them when they've come up in the product photography requests which I get from time to time. These bottle shots, however, were a small part of a wider lifestyle series, much more up my street.    This kind of work is first and foremost science, requiring precision, patience, some logic, common sense and attention to detail. None of which are my strong points. Glass is mainly about lighting - specifically,  not  lighting the glass - and while the physics of light is quite simple in theory, it's quite the infuriating opposite in practice. With this kind of work, you really have to know what you're doing and understand the approach and its principles. But with a lot of reading up, watching YouTube tutorials and practising beforehand and, later, work in PS, I managed to do a reasonable job on these.  I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that while these are decent product photographs, they are probably dreadful Product Photographs (and I'm ok with that). 

Jewellery, Cutlery and Glass make up the unholy trinity of really difficult things to photograph, and I have always avoided them when they've come up in the product photography requests which I get from time to time. These bottle shots, however, were a small part of a wider lifestyle series, much more up my street.  

This kind of work is first and foremost science, requiring precision, patience, some logic, common sense and attention to detail. None of which are my strong points. Glass is mainly about lighting - specifically, not lighting the glass - and while the physics of light is quite simple in theory, it's quite the infuriating opposite in practice. With this kind of work, you really have to know what you're doing and understand the approach and its principles. But with a lot of reading up, watching YouTube tutorials and practising beforehand and, later, work in PS, I managed to do a reasonable job on these.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that while these are decent product photographs, they are probably dreadful Product Photographs (and I'm ok with that). 

 You know you're struggling for locations when you find yourself on the roof..! I'd made the fatal mistake of browsing what others had done around the National Theatre with it's lovely concrete and soft shadows (hard and graphic on bright days), and had utterly failed to use the environment satisfactorily for my own efforts, so we kept moving. Finally we ended up here, in front of the Fly Tower at the top of the NT. As in, if this doesn't work then there's nowhere else to go.   Actually, it's one I think could work and I'd like to shoot again, but on a longer lens and further back, so the subject is framed more tightly by the grey facade behind. Or maybe try harder to make the most out of the indoor options. Or not as hard. I don't know.

You know you're struggling for locations when you find yourself on the roof..! I'd made the fatal mistake of browsing what others had done around the National Theatre with it's lovely concrete and soft shadows (hard and graphic on bright days), and had utterly failed to use the environment satisfactorily for my own efforts, so we kept moving. Finally we ended up here, in front of the Fly Tower at the top of the NT. As in, if this doesn't work then there's nowhere else to go. 

Actually, it's one I think could work and I'd like to shoot again, but on a longer lens and further back, so the subject is framed more tightly by the grey facade behind. Or maybe try harder to make the most out of the indoor options. Or not as hard. I don't know.

 A product image for Fruitflow, included here only because it was shot on my kitchen table. I don't know why this fact makes me happy. 

A product image for Fruitflow, included here only because it was shot on my kitchen table. I don't know why this fact makes me happy. 

 Photographed for the charity  Sense , who help people with complex communication needs, this was a workshop collaboration with  Wayne MacGregor Dance . 

Photographed for the charity Sense, who help people with complex communication needs, this was a workshop collaboration with Wayne MacGregor Dance

 Often, a corporate portrait means a headshot on a white background. Lighting tends to be conservative, so the focus is on getting the right expression and mood.   Environmental/location portraits are, of course, more interesting, and I liked this shot. Being further back normally helps the subject to relax, and although the arms could be read as defensive - rather than confident, which would negate this - it's a simple way to break up the picture. With her arms at her side you'd have a large part of the photo taken up by the dead space of her light, plain shirt, as well as having her hands right at the edge of frame. 

Often, a corporate portrait means a headshot on a white background. Lighting tends to be conservative, so the focus is on getting the right expression and mood. 

Environmental/location portraits are, of course, more interesting, and I liked this shot. Being further back normally helps the subject to relax, and although the arms could be read as defensive - rather than confident, which would negate this - it's a simple way to break up the picture. With her arms at her side you'd have a large part of the photo taken up by the dead space of her light, plain shirt, as well as having her hands right at the edge of frame. 

 I'd discussed the lighting and space issues with this at length in my blog, but have included it here on its merit regardless as a pretty successful group photo. It was hard to envisage how or even if ~40 people would fit into this shot without it becoming a mess. I can usually imagine up to ten fitting into a location, then it's all shrugs and crossed fingers.   My recurring photographer's dream - well, nightmare, really - is of a group photo that never quite gets taken, as various people wander off, cameras stop working, and endless interruptions and delays prevent what should otherwise be something straightforward happening, but gets worse and worse. A rising crescendo of stress and chaos, before waking.   It's pleasant, then, when in reality, a potentially tricky large group somehow comes together!   

I'd discussed the lighting and space issues with this at length in my blog, but have included it here on its merit regardless as a pretty successful group photo. It was hard to envisage how or even if ~40 people would fit into this shot without it becoming a mess. I can usually imagine up to ten fitting into a location, then it's all shrugs and crossed fingers. 

My recurring photographer's dream - well, nightmare, really - is of a group photo that never quite gets taken, as various people wander off, cameras stop working, and endless interruptions and delays prevent what should otherwise be something straightforward happening, but gets worse and worse. A rising crescendo of stress and chaos, before waking. 

It's pleasant, then, when in reality, a potentially tricky large group somehow comes together!   

 Your mind begins to wander when you're covering an event. Shortly after you've got all the 'safe shots', there's a moment when realise you haven't taken a photo in a few minutes. Some might call it creativity. To others, it's just messing around.  It usually results in (completely irrelevant) zoom bursts, shooting through bottles of water on the tables, looking for weird compositions and ultra-tight crops, even looking for reflections in attendees' glasses. Most of these shots get deleted straight away, but occasionally you get something that works, and that might be useful for the client.  Or perhaps the flash just failed to go off on this shot and the resulting silhouette was a happy accident - I can't remember. 

Your mind begins to wander when you're covering an event. Shortly after you've got all the 'safe shots', there's a moment when realise you haven't taken a photo in a few minutes. Some might call it creativity. To others, it's just messing around.

It usually results in (completely irrelevant) zoom bursts, shooting through bottles of water on the tables, looking for weird compositions and ultra-tight crops, even looking for reflections in attendees' glasses. Most of these shots get deleted straight away, but occasionally you get something that works, and that might be useful for the client.

Or perhaps the flash just failed to go off on this shot and the resulting silhouette was a happy accident - I can't remember. 

 I love her hair. Nothing more to say.

I love her hair. Nothing more to say.

 Retouching... I couldn't work out what needed to be done with this, let alone envisage where I'd further like to take it. So I just played around in PS but without any real goal in mind. So it feels unfinished, not quite there, and slightly fraudulent as it's outside my normal style anyway. I'm certain I'll come back to it at some point. 

Retouching... I couldn't work out what needed to be done with this, let alone envisage where I'd further like to take it. So I just played around in PS but without any real goal in mind. So it feels unfinished, not quite there, and slightly fraudulent as it's outside my normal style anyway. I'm certain I'll come back to it at some point. 

 Hindsight is 20/20, and in this case my immediate thought is that I'd have added another gelled rim light to the left for symmetry if I were to do it again, but that's not actually my main issue. For any shot which relies on perspective, I'm never sure if I've got the best one. Should I be closer to the subject for impact? Or have both of us move further back (behind me), using more of the tunnel? Should we be lower to the ground (crouching or similar) adding a vertical aspect to the shot? Or perhaps just have me shooting lower to emphasise dominance? Should he be further away - do I always have the subject too dominant in the frame?  Yes, it would have been possible to try these variations - and perhaps we did try a few - but at the cost of precious seconds or minutes spent on each. So you often go with your instinct and return to the one you think works best. Which could be the shot you feel is safest. This, then, becomes your style, as you reassure yourself each time it was the right one. But the problem with having a certain style is that it can be limiting. Is 'best' the same as 'safest'? How can you continue to work on a shot which makes you feel uncomfortable, knowing that a different approach - often the straightforward one - works?

Hindsight is 20/20, and in this case my immediate thought is that I'd have added another gelled rim light to the left for symmetry if I were to do it again, but that's not actually my main issue. For any shot which relies on perspective, I'm never sure if I've got the best one. Should I be closer to the subject for impact? Or have both of us move further back (behind me), using more of the tunnel? Should we be lower to the ground (crouching or similar) adding a vertical aspect to the shot? Or perhaps just have me shooting lower to emphasise dominance? Should he be further away - do I always have the subject too dominant in the frame?

Yes, it would have been possible to try these variations - and perhaps we did try a few - but at the cost of precious seconds or minutes spent on each. So you often go with your instinct and return to the one you think works best. Which could be the shot you feel is safest. This, then, becomes your style, as you reassure yourself each time it was the right one. But the problem with having a certain style is that it can be limiting. Is 'best' the same as 'safest'? How can you continue to work on a shot which makes you feel uncomfortable, knowing that a different approach - often the straightforward one - works?

 I didn't have much of a plan going into this parkour shot, other than I wanted to heavily light it, and darken the (busy) backgrounds both out of necessity and aiming for drama. But to get an action shot (at least, the ones I'd have liked to capture) would require more precise lighting than there was time for.   So it became something very static, rather defeating what the sport is about! When she posed, looking at camera, it just didn't work at all. We came up with the idea that she's readying herself - well, planning, at least, by her expression - to jump, and it turns out that potential energy isn't too bad a tradeoff for kinetic.

I didn't have much of a plan going into this parkour shot, other than I wanted to heavily light it, and darken the (busy) backgrounds both out of necessity and aiming for drama. But to get an action shot (at least, the ones I'd have liked to capture) would require more precise lighting than there was time for. 

So it became something very static, rather defeating what the sport is about! When she posed, looking at camera, it just didn't work at all. We came up with the idea that she's readying herself - well, planning, at least, by her expression - to jump, and it turns out that potential energy isn't too bad a tradeoff for kinetic.

 This was a straight portrait of another parkour practitioner taken shortly after - I just like the colours and basic setup after the (over?)complexity, stress and scrabbling around involved in the previous shot.

This was a straight portrait of another parkour practitioner taken shortly after - I just like the colours and basic setup after the (over?)complexity, stress and scrabbling around involved in the previous shot.

 War Horse was on tour, and this is your typical PR photo to announce his visit to Brighton. Bright and sunny, I stopped it right down to darken the sky, and if you can partly obscure the sun, you get the starburst effect. I then used two 600EX flashes from the right on full (or nearly full) power to light Joey (horse) and the person's face, with a third flash lighting Joey's body. There may have been a fourth filling in from the left, but it doesn't look like it's doing much.  A silhouette might have been another option, but it didn't work as it the shape was too busy. We also tried Joey rearing but this didn't work either as we lost his face, the eyeline connection with the person holding him, and it also looked rather messy with bodies etc.  Despite Joey being a model, you still look at his eye first, and that led the approach to the picture. 

War Horse was on tour, and this is your typical PR photo to announce his visit to Brighton. Bright and sunny, I stopped it right down to darken the sky, and if you can partly obscure the sun, you get the starburst effect. I then used two 600EX flashes from the right on full (or nearly full) power to light Joey (horse) and the person's face, with a third flash lighting Joey's body. There may have been a fourth filling in from the left, but it doesn't look like it's doing much.

A silhouette might have been another option, but it didn't work as it the shape was too busy. We also tried Joey rearing but this didn't work either as we lost his face, the eyeline connection with the person holding him, and it also looked rather messy with bodies etc.

Despite Joey being a model, you still look at his eye first, and that led the approach to the picture. 

 Lighting is key in dance, not only to emphasise motion and shape, but because there needs to be enough of it to freeze the action. Breakdance is fast and unpredictable, and getting  decent  shots of people spinning around on their heads are as much luck as judgement, in low light. Freezes and other gestures, as above, are much easier. In other words, I was being lazy.  As with the parkour image, a pause at the height, or moment of change in an action, can be enough. On his own, a shot of just the guy in centre really would be a bit lazy and missing real action, but the gesture of guy in the background just saves it.

Lighting is key in dance, not only to emphasise motion and shape, but because there needs to be enough of it to freeze the action. Breakdance is fast and unpredictable, and getting decent shots of people spinning around on their heads are as much luck as judgement, in low light. Freezes and other gestures, as above, are much easier. In other words, I was being lazy.

As with the parkour image, a pause at the height, or moment of change in an action, can be enough. On his own, a shot of just the guy in centre really would be a bit lazy and missing real action, but the gesture of guy in the background just saves it.

I hope that was of interest. See you next near!

Toyota Mobility Foundation

The Toyota Mobility Foundation has launched a $4 million dollar global challenge to change the lives of people with lower-limb paralysis, culminating in the unveiling of the winners in Tokyo in 2020.

The competition is is looking for teams around the world - including startups - to create game-changing technology that will help radically improve the mobility and independence of people with paralysis. The mobility solutions of the future could include anything from exoskeletons to artificial intelligence and machine learning, from cloud computing to batteries.

 Artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, photographed at his studio in Dalston. He is perhaps best known for his 1:30 scale model,  Nelson's Ship in a Bottle,  which occupied Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth for two years in 2010.

Artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, photographed at his studio in Dalston. He is perhaps best known for his 1:30 scale model, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, which occupied Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth for two years in 2010.

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To raise awareness of the competition, volunteers from around the world (including athletes, presenters, scientists and artists) with lower-limb paralysis acted as spokespeople. 

I was commissioned to source, commission and liaise with photographers from various countries and create a brief in order to produce a stylistically consistent set of portraits. I was also to photograph the two London representatives, Yinka Shonibare and Sophie Morgan.

 Head of Design and Research at Pinterest, August de los Reyes. Photographed at Pinterest head office in San Fransisco by Brooke Porter (www.brookeporterphotography.com)

Head of Design and Research at Pinterest, August de los Reyes. Photographed at Pinterest head office in San Fransisco by Brooke Porter (www.brookeporterphotography.com)

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Finding the photographers began with asking for recommendations and referrals, googling, searching agencies and skimming databases, and browsing scores of websites to find people with a roughly similar approach and portfolio. Narrowing them down based on their availability at short notice and, of course, budget, I presented these to the client for the final decision.

Dealing with my own, separate commissions alongside dealing with correspondence from various time zones meant late nights and early mornings, as well as lengthy, rather chaotic spreadsheets - something I've never had to deal with. And lots of coffee.

 Preethi Srinivasan (founder of Soulfree) photographed near Bangalore, India by Boban James (www.bobanjames.com).

Preethi Srinivasan (founder of Soulfree) photographed near Bangalore, India by Boban James (www.bobanjames.com).

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In a nutshell, the brief was to provide two portraits of each person: one full-length, wide shot to show their environment, locating them within their country or region, otherwise at a place which might suggest their profession or background; the other was to be a closer crop, with the emphasis on them and their expression (positive, challenging etc.) at, ideally, a different location. Lighting was to be simple, minimal to none where possible.

To maintain consistency, I did the basic retouch work on the selected RAW files myself which was extremely generous of the photographers to allow.

 Dr Rory Cooper Ph.D, photographed by Angelo Merendino (www.angelomerendino.com). Dr Cooper is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Chair and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Physical Med & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh .

Dr Rory Cooper Ph.D, photographed by Angelo Merendino (www.angelomerendino.com). Dr Cooper is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Chair and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Physical Med & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.

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In the end, and despite best intentions and plans - as is often the case - some of it came down to what the photographers could do on the ground, what they could use to tell the story in the (usually short) time available from whatever relevant/photogenic locations they had in the vicinity. Mostly the time and location were dictated by the busy schedules of the volunteers and photographers, rather than by the best light or ideal spot. But you wouldn't know! - I think they did a superb job, and the launch was a great success.

 Paralympian rower Sandra Khumalo at Victoria Lake Rowing Club in Germiston, Johannesburg. Photographed by Ilan Godfrey (www.ilangodfrey.com).

Paralympian rower Sandra Khumalo at Victoria Lake Rowing Club in Germiston, Johannesburg. Photographed by Ilan Godfrey (www.ilangodfrey.com).

 Paralympian - Sandra Khumalo - Ambassador

So, happy with the results (and slightly baffled as to how I got it done), I have now have on file fifty or so photographers around the world I could contact should this come up again - a pretty comprehensive spreadsheet. If only I could remember where I filed it...

 Presenter, reporter, artist and model Sophie Morgan, photographed near Tower Bridge, London.

Presenter, reporter, artist and model Sophie Morgan, photographed near Tower Bridge, London.

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Corporate work

Here's a selection of business portraits and similar. Yes, they're nearly all corporate headshots against a light or white background. I'd normally not post these kinds of pictures but the first one I shot yesterday and felt it had a bit of personality to it which I quite liked. One headshot not being enough to justify a post, I found myself browsing others from the past year or so which stood out, and here they are. 

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 Emily Dring
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 Paida Mutonono
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Recent work - October 2017

Here's another selection of images taken over the past few months. There's something about taking commissioned work out of context and with less explanation than with a typical blog post, and putting them into these 'mixed bag' posts. Especially those shots may have come from larger series, but which would have been picked here as being the most interesting, the most representative of the set etc. Without some blog-type explanation, they could be anything, so you can see them on their own merits rather than as the usual (and rather boring-sounding), "examples of commissioned work". 

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 Scott Lloyd
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