I’ve seen a lot of posts from photographers recently titled ‘A year in review’ or ‘2012 in pictures’. Whilst it’s great to see their best work, none of them told me very much about either themselves or the images. I’m not going to give you every shot I consider to be good advertising. Instead here’s a few of my favourite shots from last year and the stories behind them. I hope this tells you a little more about me and my process than just looking at 12 months of photographs.
So, my top 10… though in no particular order
1) Charlotte & Michael at Fountains Abbey
There are so many reasons I like this shot, I love the perspective and depth of the receding arches and I find the repeat of white from the windows and the dress really pleasing. This particular shot stands out in my mind as a reminder of how co-operative and kind people are to brides on their wedding day. There were hundreds of people visiting the Abbey as the weather was glorious and we had wandered away from the reception to get our key shots. Here we walked through admiring crowds, some of whom stood guard to make sure we wouldn’t get strangers walking through the back of the shot. I lit this with a single off camera umbrella top left and knew as soon as I’d pressed the shutter that the couple would love it, and so do I.
2) Wro there Santa!
Meet the crew from ‘the Wro’, a bar and restaurant in the same town as my studio. They paid a visit at Christmas as part of the West Kirby santa dash for the answer to a riddle, some mulled wine and a mince pie. I had the lights setup from a previous shoot and invited them to pose for a quick snap. I clicked once and it was too serious for santa. ‘Sillier’, I suggested. One more click and this is the result. I love the colour and the spontaneity of this shot, but for me it’s the grumpy pup that makes it a winner, Christmas collar and all.
3) Baby Bella’s birthday
This is my Neice Isabella, a beautiful happy little girl who cares far more about helium balloons than expensive presents. When I was growing up my father was a photographer, but everything was on film and I have a very limited set of photographs from my formative years. As I lay on the floor to get this low angle, snapping away and laughing with my family I knew that it would be a different story for Isabella. Each year I make a photo book for my brother and I feel proud that one day Bella might show them to her kids…or their kids. I love my Nikon for the magic way it nails the focus with it’s 3D tracking. Kids can be difficult to photograph and having equipment that gets out of my way and lets me focus on shooting is great. This may be my favourite shot of her so far. The look of amazement when things go up instead of down is priceless.
4) 91 years young
This one is about more than just the image. A previous model of mine asked me if I could take a portrait of her grandmother. The brief was that it’s her 91st birthday and they would love a photo with three generations of the family plus dog. I wasn’t expecting the emotional recall I had when I setup and took this shot. I didn’t get into photography early enough to be able to have a lasting image like this of my own grandmother and it was a real honour to be able to provide this for someone else. I used a small soft box to give the image texture, whilst dropping out the background to give a greater sense of depth to the small room we were in. I really like this image, but it’s in this list because of how important it is to someone else and to be a part of that is a privilege.
5) Marine Lake Peir
I took my original version of this shot years ago with my first DSLR, a Nikon D70 with 18-55mm kit lens. To everyone else it was a consumer grade 6.1MP crop camera, to me it was the future of technology and the key to suddenly getting professional images. Now of course I know better. It wasn’t the camera preventing me from getting results like this, it was the photographer.
When I shot the first version of this I thought it was a masterpiece by my own standards. It was shot at f22 so had horrible diffraction blur, had nothing interesting in the sky and was processed to within an inch of it’s life. As winter drew in this year I decided to have a go at recreating this shot and headed out with the superb 11-16mm Tokina 2.8, D300 and a much sturdier tripod. Though you can’t see it the weather was violent that day, the water is almost never this high and waves were crashing around me. This time the sky was dynamic and the 11mm focal length on DX has significantly changed the look of the pier. A lot has changed for me since the D70. My technique is better as are my camera lenses and equipment. This time I knew it would make a dramatic canvas so I’ve deliberately pushed the contrast and brought out the highlights on the wooden slats to balance the sky. I look forward to seeing what I do with this when I retake it in years to come.
6) Lucy & James at Thornton Manor
As I write this I’m realising how much I love my ultra wide lens. This shot is deceptive and that’s why I like it so much. Despite the dramatic look of this image the weather was dull and overcast but still very bright in the early afternoon. By under exposing to darken the background and lighting Lucy and James with off camera flash (on this occasion assisted by the brilliant Christopher Ian) we turn day into dusk and get this impressive key shot for the album. I wanted to really make the couple stand out and get rid of any distracting details from the building, By not altering the colour of the flash for the shot, editing to bring out the skin tones gives the blue cast to the sky, I love the fade into false colour from fore to background and this shot is currently framed on the studio wall.
7) Sophia’s tattoo
There are studios everywhere that offer a well lit portrait photo against a white background. I always try to give my images an edge that stands out as my work while staying sensitive to the needs of my clients. Sophia wanted a boudoir styled shoot, but the intention was to show her tattoos with a fashion rather than glamour look. There’s a fine line between beauty and glamour in photography and Sophia did a great job of underplaying her role here. She looks great but because she’s not acting sexy or posing, this shot is about her expression and the detail of her tattoo rather than becoming a pin up shot. This was virtually straight from camera with very little processing involved, the harder light and strong shadows helps the fashion look and with careful positioning, is still flattering.
8) Katie & Neil at the Isla Gladstone
This shot is here because it was done in seconds and worked out perfectly. I knew I wanted this shot as I was not staying late enough to be with the couple for their first dance. This was taken a the guests were sitting down to dinner and we rushed out tripod in hand for a half second exposure as the light was failing. The Isla gladstone provides an incredible backdrop to this candid styled shot. No flash was used here, just a sturdy tripod, a quick calculation and a prayer. I used to worry about every image being sharp. If you do that you miss some great opportunities. This is another that I love so much I have an enlargement on the wall of the studio.
9) Running at flying
This shot may be the exception to the rule that your camera doesn’t matter. I wanted a shot of these birds taking off as a group but wanted to capture all the detail so staying far away and waiting with a telephoto lens wouldn’t give me the depth of field I was looking for. D700 to the rescue! In the end this shot was achieved by running full speed whilst tying to keep my camera level and shooting at 9 frames per second, giving the birds a cue for take-off and giving me plenty of shots to choose from. I love the variety of shapes in this shot from take off to full flight, plus just one calm bird in the water just watching it all go by.
10) Stars… In their multitudes
And finally this, a true labour of love for me. It isn’t technically perfect but this is exactly why i first picked up a camera, recording the kind of things you otherwise might never see and showing your own version of the world around you. This shot was taken, or rather produced from over 250 thirty second exposures. Most star trail shots you see will be taken at a medium focal length, say 28-50mm. This means there are fewer stars but they appear to move more through the frame. Star trails are tough anywhere in England due to the light pollution. This shot is so wide that ‘directly above’ is about 1/5 of the way down the image. This was shot at 11mm on DX (17.5mm FX) so each 30 second shot produces an image with virtually no movement. A single mistake in timing, or a slight move of the camera and it’s ruined. You can see a tiny gap at about 80% of the rotation where a quick battery change was needed but even with this i find this shot very satisfying. When you’ve been out shooting 250+ frames for one image and you see it finally realised, it’s quite a feeling.
When I was deciding on my top 10 i realised that there can be a big difference between your best and your favourite images. I expected to include more wedding shots. I’ve been to some amazing venues with some incredible people, and I’m proud of all of my work, but creating special shots for other people is my job. Creating images that are special to me is a little different. Sometimes the two cross over and sometimes they don’t. I hope you liked the images and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.