For relaxing times, make it Santa-ory time

Happy new year! It’s been a busy December, with work, life and babe – so a distinct lack of recent posts, I’m sorry to say. However I have more time now to get back into things, and I have a bunch of shiny lovely new equipment – so I’m all set to go.

I’m very excited to say that I’ve just upgraded to the Canon 550d, and I’ve loved shooting with it so far. Paired with a snazzy 50mm prime lens, I haven’t even needed to use a speedlite yet – that’s how powerful it is in comparison to the Nikon D40.

Anyhow, it’s about time I posted a new shot. But first, some background. I signed up for the Digital Photography School’s email newsletter, which is always packed with links to useful articles, guides and free tutorials. The Christmas lights bokeh article caught my eye, and seeing as we have a tree this year, I decided to have a go. (Bokeh, in case you need to know, is the blurry background that, if done correctly, highlights your subject and adds a pleasing aesthetic quality to your images. It is normally only achieved by playing around with your depth of field, so you need to be shooting in manual in order to control your aperture.)

The fella had just opened a fine bottle of whiskey he’d received as a present, and I loved how the light bounced around the glass and liquid. This was my best shot.

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Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get ma-a-a-rried

No, not me – (not yet anyhow) – this is a post about wedding photography. Part of my work-for-myself plan is to be a wedding photographer, and I’ve been very fortunate to get three weddings under my belt so far as an assistant/back up photographer thanks to the very lovely and talented photographer David Laslett. I’ve learned so much from him, and he has been incredibly supportive and more than happy to share his tricks of the trade. It took me quite a while to find someone who would let me tag along for work experience, and for that I will always be thankful. So thanks Dave! You’re a star.

This morning I came across a fantastic blog piece by Jacqui Bruniquel about what it’s really like being a wedding photographer.

So much of what she wrote rang true for me, even with my limited experience.

For starters, I definitely have no illusions that it is an “easy” way to make money. First of all it’s not easy physically. You’ll be running around all day, often at multiple locations, and there is barely time to take a breather, let alone eat. You definitely *need* to find time to eat though – you’re no use to anyone if you’re near collapse from hunger after a crazy day, as I found at the last wedding I worked on. You’ll probably be a bit hoarse by the end of the day from all the talking (shouting) and feel beat up from not only lugging around equipment (not just your camera, but tripods, ladders and all sorts!) and the creative positions you’ve had to get into to get the right shots.

And then there’s your time, especially regarding the post production. I’m sure after I shoot my first wedding solo, it will take me a couple of days to sort, process and prepare the shots. No doubt I’ll get faster as I learn, but doing a good job always takes time. There are also the meetings with the client to consider, and extras like engagement shoots.

So you have to think of the fee in terms of the total number of days it will take – it’s not just about the hours on the day of the event. A savvy bride will always be trying to get her budget down, and you don’t want to price yourself out of a job – but there’s no point working for too little either.

People skills are another key thing she mentions, and it’s so true – I found that my years of working as a manager, PA and event assistant really helped on the day. Weddings are on a tight schedule that’s often running late anyhow, but if it’s at a venue hosting multiple weddings, you won’t be the only professional wanting to make use of the grounds. Coupled with the fact that the meal is at “5:00 PM SHARP” (as the venue keeps reminding you) you often have just one hour between the ceremony and the meal to get in the long list of group shots the couple have provided you with. And during that time, people are starting to get tipsy. And then the groom’s mother disappears for 20 minutes. And then one of the kiddies goes into meltdown. And then people get distracted and start drifting off. I drew on my Polite But Firm Herding Skills to handle whatever came my way.

Overall though, I feel sure that this is something I will enjoy, and will do well. At each wedding I felt pretty honoured to be part of the couple’s event, and that’s the honest truth. And there were so many special moments that genuinely brought a tear to my eye. Like wishing the bride good luck just moments before she walked down the aisle. Or the moment the bride’s outfit and makeup is finally done, and she’s bursting with happiness as everyone coos at how lovely she looks. Or shooting the post-ceremony couple shots – it’s an intimate moment between just you and the couple, and they have such a glow of happiness that the shots come together easily.

I have so much yet to learn, but I’m getting there. I plan to offer to shoot a couple of weddings for free to build up my portfolio, launch a website and then hopefully start to get some bookings. I’m really excited about the year ahead!

(Thanks to Anna Hardy for posting the article – another fantastic wedding photographer whose work I really admire.)

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A very Amazing Thing

Today I was very, very (ISO) tired. Crazy shifts yesterday and today, plus pesky back pain and a baby who is still waking several times a night = zzzzzz.

But then I started to process my shots from the weekend and you know what? It always makes me feel a little bit better. I’m still knackered beyond belief, but it’s good for the soul to do a bit of what you love, especially right before your next shift.

So. At the weekend I was DJing at a night I’ve been part of for the past few years. I’d been on a break unsurprisingly – and this was my first time back on the decks since Baby E came along. It went very well, and I was buzzing from all the compliments and comments I got. I was also asked to be the official photographer, and I was quite happy to oblige. This night is always busy and full of house and hijinx, and the people who attend are not camera shy, so it’s a lot of fun to shoot.

Initially I wanted to just upload my images and post a couple after a quick mess about in Camera RAW, but I decided not to rush things. So I did what I could before work, and then tonight (after a deeeelish lamb steak dinner with a glass of red) I cracked open my Photoshop CS4 book to teach myself something new. (More on my book in another post – it’s fab.)

I settled on the High Contrast Portrait Effect, which is a great technique. My shots weren’t traditional portrait shots, but they were close enough for this technique to work. You play around with three layers, desaturate the middle one, then switch the blend mode of the top layer to one of your choice. (In this case: Overlay with a play around with the opacity.) In the first photo, I also added a layer mask on my friend’s pink bracelet to really make it pop. And finally, I added a Noise filter set to add interest, making sure it was set to Gaussian and Monochromatic so it wasn’t in colour.

So here are two of my favourite shots from the night, both with this technique applied. Enjoy!

My lovely friend C - ain't she pretty?

Glamming up any ladies loo near you!

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Saddleworth Moor

Don’t fall over, but here I am posting again. The next day. Wonders never cease!

I am lucky to live within driving distance of many places of outstanding natural beauty. (I’m also very lucky to have a boyfriend who is willing to drive us there!) This shot was taken recently on another gorgeous late autumn day in Saddleworth Moor, which is near Oldham and on the way to Huddersfield. If you’re in the area, check out Uppermill – it’s a sweet little town with lots of cafes, charity shops and that sort of thing. Or go for breakfast at Albion Farm, where they serve a delicious huge breakfast using produce and meat from the farm.

This was my favourite shot. I used my wide angle lens that I picked up on eBay for £12 – it really does work and allows me to take panoramic shots that aren’t possible with the standard 18-55 lens. Processing was kept to a minimum, with just a few tweaks in Camera RAW. Nary a crop nor a correction in sight either, which I was pleased about. A photography teacher once instructed me to try and shoot as you want the shot to look, and I try to apply this rule as much as possible.

Right – I’m off to work. We have an in store appearance with a rather big name celeb, it should be an interesting way to finish the week! You stay classy, San Diego.

All together now: awww, pretty!

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Got milk?

This is going to be a post created with lightning speed and efficiency – well, speed anyhow. I had plans to spend a few hours before my shift working on Photoshop tutorials but as always seems to be the way, instead I crammed in lots of mundane but quite necessary errands into a few precious child free hours before work. Still, I was determined to post – and I set myself the challenge of photographing, processing and blogging in 45 minutes. I had the subject in mind, and I knew I could apply my newly learned Camera Raw skills that I managed to work on at the weekend. (At least I think it was; my memory is not what it was PB – Pre Baby.)

And so here we are. As I mentioned in my About Me, I’m raising extra funds for my new camera by finding vintage bits and pieces and selling them on eBay. But as any flea market junkie will tell you, sometimes you find something that you just can’t bear to sell on. It’s probably not worth that much anyhow – but there’s something about this old milkman sign that captured my heart. It’s made of tin, it’s charming and it cost me all of £2 from a lovely lady at the market in Hebden Bridge.

I shot in RAW format with a slow shutter speed to get a 4.5 aperture to allow interesting depth of field, but used my YN560 speedlite for fill light, playing around with the angle of the flash. Then I simply tweaked in Camera RAW in Photoshop to my liking, applying the tutorials I practiced earlier. Hope you like them and enjoy!

Vintage British milkman sign

My lovely milkman sign from another angle

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Lighten Up and Shoot

Yet another blog post early in the morning while Baby E watches Postman Pat (I sense a posting trend here!) feeling a teensy bit fuzzy after a few glasses of cava last night (another posting trend, but to to be fair, we had a friend round to belatedly celebrate her 40th…)

I’ve just finished my first week at the new xmas temp job, and boy, was it jumpin’ jumpin’.* Our first taste of juggling childcare with both of us working was a tough one, and next week will be even tougher. But that said, it felt good to be out in adult land earning a crust, even if that crust was a meagre £6.08/hour.

Anyhooo. It feels like my most popular posts are when I post up my images, and that’s good to know. I had nearly 100 visitors for the Blackstone Edge photos, which was ace. So I’ve got some ideas for my next theme, and will get to work on that this weekend.

In the meantime, I thought I would mention an online resource that I’ve been enjoying. Becky from the excellent The Mothers photo blog mentioned it to me when she was here doing our shoot.

Lighten Up and Shoot is a refreshing site run by two professional photographers who are based in South America. In their own words, they wanted to bring some fun to the world of pro photography. For myself, I really enjoyed the friendly tone of their tutorials and the real sense that they are sharing their “secrets”. With the high cost of equipment, it’s great to find a resource that tells it like it is – where you need to spend your money, and where a cheaper alternative will do.

One of their great ideas is the Backpacker’s Studio – enough equipment for a professional location shoot that fits in one bag and is assembled in no time. Here’s the video:

After I get my new camera, this is definitely what I’ll be aiming for in terms of my next equipment investment.

(* Destiny’s Child reference, in case you were wondering.)

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Blackstone Edge

Good morning! I’ve been enjoying the last week of my maternity leave, so blogging went down my priority list for a few days. I missed it though, and that’s a good sign. As in I got off my tired, mildly hungover arse this morning and finished processing some shots I took the other week in Blackstone Edge. All whilst minding an energetic, porridge covered Baby E since 5:30 AM.

For those that don’t know, Blackstone Edge is an area of moorland on the Greater Manchester/Yorkshire border. And it is absolutely stunning, especially on a late autumn sunny day. So we hopped in the car to see what we could see.

My favourite moment was when I walked up a hill to take some shots from what looked like a mini power station with a bridge. I stopped for moment, taking in the sound of the wind in the long grass. It was a luxurious few minutes of peace and contentment.

Here are a few of my shots, with my new Photostop skillz applied. I have simply added two adjustment layers to each image. The first one was Brightness & Contrast and the second was Hue, Saturation & Lightness. It was simply a case of playing around with the levels until I liked what I saw, but taking into account the tutorials I’ve done. I had taken good shots with the correct shutter speed and f-stop, in that my light reading was balanced; it was just about jazzing up what was already there.

So without further ado – enjoy!

One of the many stunning vistas in Blackstone Edge

Taken after a muddy walk up to a power station

I'm not sure how much ice cream this van sold...

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Remember, remember the 5th of November…

Sunset, Bonfire Night 2011

I took this just now. What an awesome sunset!

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Join our club

Good morning! I’m feeling rather chirpy as Baby E decided to sleep through from 11:30 PM – 6:00 AM. Let’s hope it’s the start of a new sleep routine. (When I say chirpy, conscious is probably a better choice of word.)

This morning I decided to have another look into studio photography courses. Unfortunately, yet again I was disheartened by the hefty price tags or time commitments. Example: £400 for 5 hours of studio photography tuition. Or, thanks to the hike in university fees, around £6-8k per year for a BA,which I could never work around anyhow. Sadly that is beyond my means – realistically, if I had £400 I’d want to put it towards a new camera!

But then I stumbled across an old Flickr thread discussing courses in Manchester, where one person suggested looking into local camera clubs. Membership is cheap, they said; and they often have equipment that is available for practice use. Most also run various training events as well as competitions.

Hmm, I thought. I’d noticed a very dilapidated camera club sign on the front of my local memorial hall. But it was so ancient that I assumed it was something from days gone by. So I got googling. To my delight, I discovered that not only is my local camera club is alive and well, but they’re located a mere 10 minute walk from my house. They’re not in the building where the dilapidated sign is any longer though, but at another hall a few minutes away.

It’s been going since 1892 (!) and I can attend three meetings before committing to joining. Which is a whopping £25/year.

They’re meeting tonight as it happens, so once Baby E is tucked up in bed, I might see if I can check it out.

So there you go. Why not see if you have a camera club near you?

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Just one of those days

I wanted to study Photoshop today but it’s just turned into one of those days.

Baby E is teething something fierce and had a bad day herself. She just wouldn’t settle and believe me, it’s almost impossible to concentrate when you have a baby fussing in the background.

So instead, I’m trying to watch the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model with a fussing child on my knee. I’m covered in drool and remnants of her tea (swede puree and fruit pudding, if you’re interested.)

Ah well!

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