Monthly Archives: October 2012

What strikes me when I watch the X Factor, is not the quality of Ella Henderson’s voice, but that she is so ‘unaffected’. There were other girls of Ella’s age that made it through from the auditions. Granted, their voices were not in the same league as Ella’s. The other girls seemed to place more importance on their make up and image. Maybe they were trying to compensate for what they lacked in other areas, but they were still good singers. It is easy, these days, to become too self aware. A preoccupation with how you come across to others, can make you self conscience and inhibited. In the end it prevents contestants from being able to be themselves and let themselves and their voices go. This a one way road to mediocrity.

Ella naturally has an amazing voice, but what is it that enables her to transmit her voice with such purity, when so many other girls of her age struggle with this? It is one thing to have a natural talent, but another to be able to communicate and freely to express that talent.

What has this got to do with photography? As with all art forms, photography – like singing is a means of communication. To be able to communicate effectively, the channel of communication has to be clear. Stuff tends to get in the way. What will other people think? Feeling unconfident together with our insecurities clog up this means of communication. We can let ourselves down by trying too hard and trying to emulate others. All that has to go.

What’s important is:

– your engagement with your chosen subject,

– a good execution of that subject-even if this means reshooting until you get it right,

– being in the moment and being open to responding to the subject in front of you,

– not caring what other people think – making work that pleases yourself,

– being true to your initial ideas and practice, practice, practice,

– then having the confidence to put it out there.

If work is pure people will be interested. If it is not they will smell it a mile away.

Ella Henderson’s voice is a natural talent, but she has the confidence and self assurance to communicate her talent. That is why she is going to win the X Factor. How do you get to that position?  Ella is only sixteen and probably hasn’t had as many knocks and rejections as many of us. Her parents must have had a lot to do with it, and have nurtured their daughter and her incredible voice.

So how can I make my own work better and communicate more effectively?
For a start, I could turn off my TV set and do something less boring instead..

Back cover

Double page spread

Double page spread

Double page spread

Fold out poster

This week I started to edit the photographs from my Pop Up Portrait Studio, that I shot on the Fuji X-Pro1. I began by editing the 280 final portraits down to 47, which I printed out as 5X7s. I laid them out on my dining room table and took these photos to record of the layout.

The edit above is for a small book/flyer that I’m going to be sending out. The book is made from just one piece of paper that folds down to make a front cover, three double page spreads, back cover and then the whole thing cleverly folds out to reveal a poster in the middle. I have never seen this kind of fold before. It was shown to me by graphic designer and book binder Emma Hopton, who I hope will be making up some hand bound books for me.

My next task is to go back through the 5,000+ files, that I shot for the project. I need to check that I haven’t missed a gem. Now that there has been some time between taking the photographs and editing, different images might now appeal to me. I’ll then be doing an edit of around 20 images to make into a book.

The whole idea of this project was for me to be doing the same thing over and over again, in the hope that I could improve my technique. I realized in the editing process that all the shots above, are from the final 2 weeks of the project. In the larger edit there’s not a single image from week one, a few from week two, a lot from week three and the majority are from the forth week. Practice makes perfect? It certainly makes for better pictures.

I stumbled upon a photographer doing a very similar project to this. Check out Jason Wilde’s free portrait studio..

When I take a portrait of someone I’m generally looking for and trying to encourage, that moment they relax into the situation. Occasionally I end up with something else.
I know from bitter experience how difficult it is to stand in front of a camera, as if you’re not in front of a camera. I’m always so impressed by people who can just stand there and look straight down the lens back at me. For many people, myself included it’s not that easy.

When I worked as a photographer’s assistant years ago, one of my daily tasks was to stand in and have my photograph taken, to test and check the lighting. Moments later a model would take my place, that had just spent a good couple of hours in hair and make up. Devastating. This experience has made me aware of those small ticks we do when we are not at ease: the sideways glance, that stiff aquard stance, clenching the jaw, biting a lip, making fists. For me it was my foot that would give me away – I’d point my toes upwards with one foot, resting my weigh on my heel. I could manage to look kind of relaxed, until it came to my extremities. Knowing what to do with your hands and arms is the most difficult, so often it’s easier to photograph people sitting down. A lot of the time, I am photographing a complete stranger on a busy street – this adds to the feeling of unease, as people walk by and stare.

These photographs are examples of this, but where I think that the person’s unease makes the photograph. I like the shrug of the shoulders from the girl in the top picture. It looks like she is almost trying to remove herself from the situation. The girl in the middle just stood like this, her face is relaxed and she has a open expression, her arms are hanging easily by her side. The tell tale sign is when you look further down at her legs. I usually wait and see what a person does, how they stand and look. I’ll use that as my starting point, and direct them a little, if it’s not working. The final photograph is my favourite as he looks so tense. He’s biting his lip and looks like he’s about to click his fingers. You can almost see the tension running up his body from one hand to the other. His T-shirt adds something to this too.

These images are all from my Pop up Portrait Studio, which returns in November for 3 days only!
Follow on Twitter(@PopUp_Studio) for more details coming soon…