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!