The beauty of the beast; Customs, hotrods and classics. Photographing cars and the people that love them

Personal photography project on cars and their owners

I have finally published a project about cars and their owners that I started some 3 years ago!

To be honest I doubt it will ever be truly finished, but you’ve got to release these things at some point otherwise they will never see the light of day.

‘The beauty of the beast’ combines my deep love of details and of the beauty in everyday things, and my joy in connecting with and photographing people – really it’s been such a thrill to work on.  My only regret is that I don’t know who all the featured vehicles belong to, having gathered the images at local and national car shows.  So if one of these is yours please get in touch!

The beauty of the beast

 

Designing the perfect photo Christmas card

It’s much more common in the US than it is in the UK to send a personal Christmas card to friends and family.  In fact it’s something of a US institution for families to don their Christmas sweaters for a professionally shot Christmas portrait to adorn their family card.  Here in the UK we’re naturally less forward (or more lazy!?) about these things so it’s unusual to receive a non shop bought card.  As photographers, and particularly as working professionals I feel we should put in the effort to create our own card, but unless you’ve got a particularly photogenic and willing family (will is rather lacking in our house) perhaps not a family portrait one!

I love doing my card. It’s a chance to get creative but also a great way to market my work to existing and potential clients while also giving them the gift of something pretty.  This year I was inspired by the Nutcracker and combined a technique I’ve used before with mirrors and directional lights, along with a borrowed pair of ballet shoes to create the design I eventually had printed on A5 size, fine art cards.

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The fun thing about this shoot is that I actually created a whole bunch of images, so I had plenty to choose from and use for various purposes.  I chose this one for the printed card because I wanted something different to the normal Christmassy looking things so that my card would stand out among the huge number that most individuals and business will receive.  I wanted something with plenty of texture (I used a burnt paper texture overlay in Photoshop to enhance the patina on the shoes) and something with a vintage feel as this is a look I go for a lot in my work.

However, while this works brilliantly for a paper card, I also used another variant with montage techniques and my favourite crumpled tin foil for Instagram as I wanted something more jolly and bright there and I really love the twinkly bokeh this effect creates.

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This third version I’m less sure about but I think there’s something here for the future.It’s a little too space age for what I wanted this time around but I’ll hang on to it for the future as I do like the effect.

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Of course you’ve always got the option to sell your card design to make a few extra pennies, but I tried this last year and the profits were minimal so I’d rather keep my designs exclusive to me and make people feel their special to receive.

So Merry Christmas to all of you, I wish you a wonderful 2017!

http://www.siantphoto.com

Review – Lighting, posing and retouching with Hannah Couzens

Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Hannah Couzens, portrait photographer extraordinaire.  I went on her Basics of Studio Lighting course earlier in the year and had a great time as well as learning a lot of lighting stuff that I’ve been using ever since.  So this next level course was a great way to follow up on that with some more complex lighting techniques as well as learning more about working with and posing models and some very useful tips on portrait retouching.

Hannah ran two classes on back to back days in November and luckily for me the one I was on was all ladies and one of them was also on the previous course with me, so there was a great feeling of cohortiness (yes I’m making up words now) and the atmosphere was relaxed but the participants were also highly motivated and asking lots of useful questions – just what you want in a small group course like this (there were 4 of us in case you were wondering).

We started the day with corporate headshots of our male model.  This is a really practical thing to have up your sleeve as there’s money to be made with corporate headshots if you’re good at it – so I’ll definitely be looking for some opportunities to practice this.  Hannah builds up all the lighting set ups from one light first and then adding lights in and all the while we talking about the posing, how to get a friendlier looking image and coping with common challenges like double chins, glasses and scowling finance directors.  Probably my top tip from this section was about separating the dark suit from a dark background with a back/hair/rim light.

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Corporate headshot with separation lighting from the back

 

Next up was a more fitness style set up, also with our male model.  This started off simple, building up to 3 lights plus a back light with a gel and a smoke machine.  Great fun and, while this is not a set up I can easily replicate on location or in my tiny studio, the posing in particular will be really helpful.  Again, fitness style portraits are a growth area and posing them right is tricky. You want edgy for fitness shots so the lighting needs to be really precise.

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Fitness style shot set up – lights included!

 

After lunch we met Lucy our professional fashion and beauty model for the afternoon.  We began with a Q&A session during which Lucy talked about her experiences working with different photographers, including a few horror stories about over re-touching, overstepping boundaries and uncomfortable situations.  In particular it was interesting to hear that even professional models like Lucy appreciate some direction and encouragement that they’re giving you what you want in terms of looks and poses.  Given this, I now feel a bit more confident giving direction as I was always worried about coming across as too bossy during shoots, whether with models or regular people – I’m a lot less worried about that now and I think I’m getting better images as a result.

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Shooting Lucy for a soft and pretty look as well as a more classic beauty shot was an absolute pleasure.  We had a lot of fun playing with both the lights and the poses and I particularly enjoyed some shots lit for black and white as this is a big part of my work.  I’m getting myself a second speedlight for Christmas so that I can give some of these a go in the new year!

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My new posing and retouching skills at work here – although it’s pretty easy to make it look awesome with a great model like Lucy!

 

As with the previous course, Hannah really packed in the content so there wasn’t as much time on the retouching section as was intended (I think!) as we were having too much fun shooting.  To be honest I think my brain was both fried and buzzing at this time so any more would probably not have gone in well.  Hannah covered frequency separation retouching for skin, which I’ve since been reading more about and having this basic grounding has been useful in exploring the technique further.  For more on this I went to my Kelby One video training subscription and Kristina Sherk – definitely worth getting the free trial to access her course High End Portrait Retouching for a more detailed look at retouching.  But honestly I wouldn’t have known where to start without Hannah’s introduction.

Once again Hannah hit it out of the park with this course, such a relaxed but energetic atmosphere and jam packed with content and some excellent opportunities to practice and get great images.  I made some friends too so that’s a bonus!  Hannah is genuinely supportive as well and there’s a great sense of being part of a club.  She’s always happy to answer questions both during the course and afterwards and she shares a lot of really useful lighting techniques online for free – she’s just a really nice person which counts for a lot in my book.  It’s not a cheap course but it’s a full-on day and a very small group so you get a lot for your money and I think if you’re looking to take your portrait photography to the next level, maybe start charging or start charging more, this course is a good investment in your photographic future.

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One of my favourite shots from the day – lots of fun in post processing!

 

 

 

Lighting, posing and retouching with Hannah Couzens – News you can use!

Aspect Star Rating (out of 5*)
Ease of booking *****
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Personalisation and 1:1 attention ****
Information and Learning *****
Approachability *****
Location *****
Cost *** £250
Image review and feedback ***
Post-event feedback and follow-up ***

 

The autumn dream shoot -not what I planned, but not to worry!

I don’t normally blog about particular shoots I do, because I try and keep my blogs useful and the internet is full of pretty pictures afterall.  However, firstly I’m just so pleased with how this came out, and secondly it is kind of useful to talk about what happened.

This shoot was LONG in the planning.  I’d had an idea to do something around autumn in the forest, something that used a fashion look with a sort of Shakespearian twist.  I’d identified some great autumn colour in local woodlands, gone on extensive recces, planned the whole thing shot by shot, got my models lined up and…..

Well of course it rained! This is the UK in November afterall.  As my models were lined up and ready to go, and they are busy people and getting another day would have been virtually impossible – I had to make ‘lemonade’ so to speak, and move the whole thing indoors.

Now I don’t have a studio.  I have the box room at home that is full of cupboards, musical instruments and bookcases and which most of the time is the room I use to dry laundry in.  It’s just about 2 metres wide, but really it’s 1.3 metres wide because of the furniture on the walls.  Despite this my lovely husband has fitted a rail at one end so I can hang a back cloth and the walls are white and there’s a nice big window that lets in plenty of light.

Of course I couldn’t shoot the planned shots, many of which relied heavily on wide aspects taking in the landscape and picking up the colours. Making the models look small against the wide wilderness, a sense of getting lost and finding something unexpected.  Instead I decided to pick up on another idea I’ve been playing with, traditional portraits with aspects of fantasy.  I had to keep the images quite tight due to the space restrictions and the fact that my backdrop was neither wide enough nor long enough (it’s just a bit of brown velvet fabric I originally bought for doing still life).  However, that meant I could focus more on implementing some of the lighting and posing tips from my last class with Hannah Couzens and on getting the technique just right.

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I’m really pleased with how these images came out, they are a lot more intimate than the shots I originally planned, and my mother and daughter models love the connection they capture by being shot in such close quarters.  It really helps when you have beautiful friends you can call on to model and next year I reckon we’ll try again for the outdoor shots with the story I had planned, but maybe earlier in October when the weather might hold for us!

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Thank you so much Nic and Annabelle and Juliette who once again shone with the flower crowns.

www.siantphoto.com

 

What a good ‘About Us’ section with awesome photos adds to your small business website

In helping out some friends and photography clients with their websites recently, I’ve been thinking about the obligatory ‘About Us’ section and how that’s developed over time and how it can make a big difference to the feel and appeal of a site.  In the early days of the business website, and still on many long running and large corporate sites, the ‘About Us’ section is a turgid, often buried page required by web designers but neglected by site owners.  The section typically states when your business started, where it’s based and necessary but dull information such as opening times and service statements.  In today’s social internet however, there is an opportunity to use this section to engage with potential customers and really sell what makes your business the place they should go.  Particularly for small business owners, it’s a place to build your brand and sell your personality, tell people about why you’re special and what you can do for them.

Of course you need to have the practical information on your site, where you are, what you do and when you’re open but I’d suggest labelling those pages clearly with what it is “opening hours” “how to find us” and so on.  It’ll make it easier for people (and search engines) to find those details when they want them.

Here are my suggestions for things you might try with your About Us section to make it work harder for your business.

1. Use images of yourself and your staff

If people are coming to you for a personal service (particularly if they’re inviting you into their home or it involves their body or wellbeing) they want to know who to expect and may feel more confident if they can ‘make eye contact’ before they meet you.  In the same way as a good, open, friendly profile picture can make or break your online dating profile, so it can with your business.  If people feel they’re coming to a real person, not a faceless corporation they will be more likely to engage and build long term brand loyalty.  I see a lot of websites with images of the store, or generic stock images representing the service – but I just don’t think they are as engaging as those with pictures of the real people you’ll meet if you go there.

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2. Sell yourselves as well as your product

There’s quite a movement out there now supporting the use of smaller, local businesses so don’t be afraid to get personal and talk about who you are and why you’re running this business.  People want to know that you’re passionate about what you do, what your vision is and why you’re the best option for them.  Talk about your training, ongoing professional development and interests as well as about the services you offer. Don’t be afraid to say you’re a small, local business – it can work in your favour if people feel they’re going to get a more personal service, someone they can ring up and talk to and someone who has an interest in making sure they’re really satisfied with the service or product.

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3. Use images that fit your brand

Having professional images made for use on your website is often seen as a luxury, but it is money well spent.  If the images of your staff are just holiday snaps you’ve got them to submit, or worse  – passport style mugshots –  it shows!  Your images should be in keeping with your brand, fitting with your brand colour scheme, style and the profession you’re working in.  Action shots are great, show yourself and/or your staff at work doing their thing, but make sure these images are well lit, consistent and good quality or it will look a mess.  Combine this with some great headshots of the people you work with and you’ve got a comprehensive image library showing your business at its best.

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4. Create an inspiring statement

I’ve found that small business are often reluctant to shout about themselves on their website.  They’re wary of overstating how good they are for fear that they won’t live up to expectations.  However, there’s a balance here.  Obviously you need to be totally truthful about your business, but in the same way as a good CV focuses on the positive and achievements, so your About Us description should sing about what you can do.  Your description of your business needs to reflect your passion for it, your vision for the business and the persona you want people to see.  Keep it short, but use emotive language to draw people in.  For example here are 2 descriptions I found in the about us section on  two different sites for plumbers (anonymised of course)

X Plumbers is a local company headed by Joe Bloggs, an award winning engineer with over 20 years’ experience. Quality workmanship and customer satisfaction are paramount to our ethos”

“We offer domestic plumbing and heating services of all aspects in Timbuktu and the surrounding areas. We specialise in central heating systems, boiler servicing and gas safety checks, energy efficient controls and solar water heating systems”

The first one is what I’d like to see, it’s warmer and more personal.  The second one is factual, and there’s a place for that information on the website – but not in the About Us section!

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5. Think about navigation

Now that you’ve invested time and effort in your About Us section make sure that people can find it.  Make the link prominent on your site so that people will click it, again use of a gorgeous image will help here.  Many pre-made website templates put the link to this section just at the footer of the homepage but very few people are going to look for it there.

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Find out more about me at www.siantphoto.com

 

 

Getting creative with children’s portraits – babes in the wood!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how to vamp up the traditional children’s portrait and create something unique that’s fun for the kids but also fun to shoot.  I spotted that a local florist had posted some snaps of flower crowns she was making for a wedding and decided to create something around these beautiful pieces. Luckily for me, the lovely florist Juliette was up for doing the crowns for me free of charge in exchange for access to the images and so all that remained was to style the rest of the shoot around them.

I began by creating a mood board, gathering ideas about colours and locations as well as the overall feel I wanted.  I’m fortunate to live within spitting distance of the Surrey Hills so finding a lovely open space with good light and plenty of green was straightforward and I’ve used this particular spot before for family shoots and love the graphical nature of the dead tree.  It’s great for kids because its a very short level walk from the car park and the tree makes a fun climbing frame for use even when we’re not shooting.

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My wonderful models are the children of my local friends and I owe their parents much of the success of this shoot because they did an amazing job of sorting the girls out with outfits that met what I was after.  I wanted two different looks from the shoot, one more of a rock chick look with denim and black, as a contrast to the softness of the flowers and to reflect the personalities of these girls – who are not really girly girls at all.

 

And then one more dreamy but not too ‘bridal’ looking, to make a sort of modern take on a sixties/seventies look, flower power and the summer of love.

 

The important thing here was to make sure the girls were having fun!  The whole shoot took around 90 minutes and we had plenty of breaks for them to just hang out while we were doing wardrobe changes and sorting out gear.  Any longer than that and I think they would have got fed up.  As it was we got a great selection of beautiful images and a really good mix of serious and smiley faces which is something I want from every shoot.

You can never be sure how kids will respond to this kind of modelling and I really think that the key is never to push for a shot that just isn’t happening – the more you push the more they will push back – it’s just what kids do.  You have to go with the flow and take advantage when a good shot presents itself.  Some direction helps but you have to take what they give you and it can be golden.  The shot above centre is a case in point.  The only instruction I gave her was put your hand on the log and look at me – that foot point we can only think comes from watching a lot of Strictly Come Dancing!

When working with kids I also find that having a lot of gear is a problem – they seem to react negatively to having lights or even reflectors in their face.  So all these images were shot on moderately high iso with only the available light.  Fortunately this is an area with really good even light and it was an overcast day so shadows were minimised.  However, this did mean they took longer than usual to process, as more sharpening and smoothing was needed due to the higher iso and the need to shoot fairly wide to get enough light in. However, it’s worth it to get the shots with happy mini-models in natural daylight.

A massive thank you to my mini-models and their two Mums (and one Grandma) who were just wonderful on the shoot.  A shout out too to Juliette Phipps who did the flowers and who I hope to work with again soon – you can find her work at https://www.facebook.com/FlowersByJuliette

 

For more of my work visit www.siantphoto.com

 

Documentary of family life – Monkey See, Monkey Do

Some of my favourite images are more documentary in style. These are quieter, more intimate images of the family as it is naturally, when there is no photographer watching.

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When I was little, it was de rigeur for Mum to drag us all down to the local photography studio (anyone else remember Olan Mills?) for an annual photo session. These images are hilarious now, the funky mottled backgrounds, everyone in their best clothes, the cheesy smiles and retro hair do’s – I love them but they are certainly of a time.  Mum would consider any image that didn’t have us all looking at the camera and smiling as a failure and woe betide you if you were the one not playing ball that day (my siblings will be laughing out loud at this point – sorry Mum!).

Now I have my own kid, I still love the smiling images, and when I work for clients I’ll do my best to get that shot – preferably with genuine smiles all round.  But some of my favourite images are more documentary in style.  These are quieter, more intimate images of the family as it is naturally, when there is no photographer watching.

In this personal project, I wanted to look at the relationship between my young son Isaac and his dad.  I wanted to capture this strange space they’ve built (complete with rather odd signs) and look at how they work there together.  I confess I don’t entirely understand their relationship.  It is often fractious, always intense and so full of a strange love that I think is something quite different to my own relationship with either of them.  It is beautiful, although many don’t agree that these images are very beautiful. However, I think in the long run they are a more true representation of family life.

Enjoy!

Www.siantphoto.com