5 non-photography videos that will help your photography

Youtube is packed full of content aimed at either informing or selling information (and/or products) to photographers at various stages of their journey. Much of these are nothing more than the low hanging fruit of subjects that have been covered to death or they are paid product endorsements that are well disguised lies, or at best part-truths, with an aim to do nothing more than generate dollars from misplaced trust.

Much of the really useful content that is available for photographers can be found at sites such as Creative Live or RGGEDU though these do come with a (justifiably) high price tag. 

But here are 5 videos that, whilst not intended for photographers, still offer some valuable information, fresh perspectives & universally applicable advice.

So here are...

5 non-photography videos that will help your photography

1. "Composition In Storytelling" - Channel Criswell

The first but not the last time we will visit this channel for some incredibly articulate and thought provoking theories on the subject of visual art. Now whilst this is aimed of DoP's and Directors looking to develop stronger storytelling skills, anyone hoping to engage their audience and immerse them in a visual scene (still or otherwise) can learn so much about the psychological effects you can create with simple yet effective techniques.

2. "Sparkles & Wine" - Nacho Guzman

Just watch and be amazed by how light can augment a persons appearance...

3. "David Fincher - And The Other Way Is Wrong" - Every Frame A Painting

Just a fascinating video about my favourite movie director and his philosophy on how inform an audience of what is important. A thoroughly entertaining dissection of a great artists work and this channel is flooded with great videos on all things cinematic.

4. "Colour In Storytelling" - Channel Criswell

Back to Criswell and possibly my favourite video on youtube. Covering the psychological impact colour has on everyone. How to create dominance or to pacify. How to single something out or how to create a wall of complimentary tones. Just watch! 

5. "'The Revenant' Cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki - Variety Artisans" - Variety

OK, so you could take most any still frame of the multi-oscar winning movie "The Revenant" and it would be a stronger, more engaging image than 99.99999% of photos that have been taken in the history of still imaging! There I said it, and if you disagree you are wrong.

Even if you don't like the movie itself, the visuals are unreal and this short video which speaks to several cinematographers and the films colourist gives so many glimpses into the genius that is Chivo Lubezki! So what can you take away from this video? If you watch this and aren't inspired, awe-struck and terrified, I have some bad news for you! 

Thanks for reading and watching!


5 ways to break through a creative block

I've been there so many times I should get my post forwarded there! We've all been there and I would take a pretty safe punt that some of you are there right now. That place where it just isn't working, we just aren't liking our own work and are creatively clueless as to what is going wrong. We get trapped by our own standards and/or ambition & don't know how to get back on track.

Sometimes there isn't an escape. Sometimes the issue is more psychological and less photographical. But I thought I would write a handful of ways I actively attack a creative block and move on from hating any and all of my previous work! 

Not saying these will work for you, but hopefully it helps some of you, so here is...

5 ways to break through a creative block

  1. Simplify your ideas: I have a handful of catchphrases that I repeat on workshops and personal tuitions. Advice and opinions I reiterate so much even I am sick of hearing them. One of the main ones that comes up when I am asked the vague question of "how do I get better?" is that the majority of beginner and intermediate photographers have a portfolio that resembles an iPod on shuffle. Spreading yourself creatively so thin can only leave your inspiration tired and lacking. Focus yourself as an artist down to two or three shooting scenarios, making sure that they have a common bond, and work within those restrictions. Artists don't always benefit from running with any idea that comes to mind, confining yourself to set parameters will not only define your portfolio much better, but it will also ensure that you improve on key areas much faster. And with that in mind...

  2. Create a series: Have a set, a theme that you return to every time you have a face in front of your camera. Some of my favourites are gorgeously raw low-key mono headshot (Agata Serge), makeup-free, ringlite beauty shots (Chris Conway) and coffee shop portraits (Marc Hayden). These photographers may or may not have these as a "series", but they are a very common theme through their portfolios and something they return to time and time again. It becomes their "thing" and means not only are they building their skills within the series, but they are building a look for their work that will become more and more recognisable.

  3. Chaos theory: One of my absolute favourite things to do with a camera is to infuse an element of the unknown into an already well-versed formula. It can be as simple as creating a set of images restricted to one lens that you normally wouldn't use, or using a prism or toy lens to create a look that, whilst potentially easy to recreate in photoshop, will drive your creative eye to chase a look in camera and may force you into trying something you would normally overlook. When I photograph weddings, I will almost outright refuse to visit the venue before the date of the actual ceremony. I want the location to be the chaos theory I introduce on the day. I don't want to google what other people have done and poison my mind of all originality. I was to walk into the scene and see what my eye wants to do with it. I also often use wine glasses, fractal filters and all kinds of daft paraphernalia as gobo's and foreground interest to see what the situation throws at you.

  4. Restrict your gear: I can say, hand on heart, that having more gear has caused me to become more lazy and less creative than when I am restricted. I am not even someone who has an abundance of gear compared to some, but I definitely find myself being less creative compositionally and with regards to the feel and expression of an image when I am constantly thinking about which piece of gear to use next. To such an extent in fact, that I am currently on a bit of a pilgrimage to get back to what I was doing in my first 18 months of being a photographer, where I only had one camera and my beloved 135mm lens. I have even had periods in time where I would only shot with a 50mm, mostly due to the fact that I really don't get on with that focal length and it forced me to be observant and work harder to find the shot. This is also why I don't own any zoom lenses (as well as my interpretation of prime lenses image quality).

  5. The imitation game: Now, whilst plagiarism & generally ripping people off REALLY irritates me, approaching the work of your biggest influences and working to recreate the aesthetic or feel of your favourite images of theirs could potentially open up your compositional eye, teach you a new technique or at the very least reignite your passion by focussing your energy on the very work that gets you excited! How do we negotiate the line between influence and imitation? Well if you're intention when you start is to recreate the image that influenced you, then go for it, but don't post the results for the public to see. Use it as an exercise and a learning scenario. Not everything you photograph needs to be posted on Facebook for it to have any value to you!

10 Portrait Photographers You Should Be Following

Well we've already covered 10 of my favourite Fashion Photographers, now it is the turn of their Portraiture comrades! The following 10 photographers have all found unique and captivating ways to capture the essence of their subject and convey mood and emotion (seemingly) effortlessly.

  1. Joanna Kustra: Polish-born, Spain based Joanna has created and constantly built upon a stunning portfolio of bold and colourful portraits. Whilst it is actually easy to argue that Joanna could make a similar list for many other genre's of photography (especially fashion and beauty), it is within portraiture that Ms Kustra demonstrates serious style and inspiration. www.joannakustra.com
  2. Lods Franck: There are a few photographers on this list that are so influential on me that they changed the way I looked at my entire working practice and portfolio. Lods is one of these guys! Extremely detailed, cinematic, beautifully colour-graded images that demonstrate not only a technical gift but also a real emotional connection to the subject. www.fl-photostudio.fr
  3. Agatha Serge: If I could be any another photographer, inherit their talent and portfolio, Agata Serge would be that photographer. You will never find someone more adept with freckles, a 35mm lens and monochrome, ever! Go follow her work, you're welcome! www.agataserge.com
  4. Alessio Albi: Refined, dappled and dark. Alessio Albi's style may be very commonly seen in other portfolios. But no-one has come even close to creating such a consistent yet varied body of work. Wonderful colour and control of natural light in all its glory. www.alessioalbiphotography.com
  5. Ryan Muirhead: Now, I first found Ryan on Youtube, on a series called film. The series was incredibly difficult to watch because for every moment where a true artist like Ryan was pouring his heart out about his process of the details of his own personal experiences, there were two other hosts constantly vying for airtime by being as loud and faux-random as possible. I would strongly recommend watching the series and obviously following Ryan's work. On a technical level, I truly believe Ryan is the most complete photographer I have ever seen and the fact he can combine this with amazing such delicate expression and passion is truly a very rare gift. He is the Jimi Hendrix of portraiture! www.ryanmuirhead.com
  6. Irene Rudnyk: You can find Irene on youtube with a whole bunch of great BTS and tutorial videos. Rather than harp on and on, I will just say that Ms Rudnyk has a set of images in her portfolio that I think are the best images that have ever been created in that style. I'll leave you to hunt them down. www.irenerudnykphotography.com
  7. Georgy Chernyardyev: There is an argument to be made that almost all popular portrait shooters are simply trying to replicate the work of this Moscow master. It could also be argued that there isn't another photographer so capable of harnessing just about every type of lighting and creating something anywhere near to this standard. If you photograph people, you should be a follower. www.imwarrior.ru
  8. Lukas Wawrzinek: Because of course there is a German! Lukas' work reminds me so much of the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki. I am not sure if anyone is able to hold my attention with a single frame as long as either of those men. Mind blowing artists! Find their work over at 500px.com
  9. Anja Schonitz: Another German! Anja's work is a masterclass in negative space, compositional headroom and colour theory. The literal definition of environmental portraiture! www.kettenkarussell-photography.de
  10. Olesya Gulyaeva: If I am ever considering giving up photography, this is the portfolio that brings me back in. Finding beauty in just about any location, Olesya is in my top 5 photographers of any genre. Incredible work! Find their work over at 500px.com

They are mine, who are yours? Tell me in the comments! 

Thanks for reading.

Dear Photographers, From Models

So, this should be interesting.

It staggers me how little the input of a great model can be valued. It's even more bewildering when this negligence comes from new and/or improving photographers! I will say with no doubt that the biggest influence on me having any clue what I am doing with my camera and myself on a photoshoot comes almost entirely from working with amazing, and just as importantly, honest models. 

I am not sure if the issue is insecurity or ignorance or something else for that matter, but who better to discuss the subject of how to get the most from your shoot with a model, than the models themselves! This was definitely an eye-opening experience!

So I asked several very prolific and experienced models from differing genres and who work within different markets for their opinions on what photographers of all abilities can do to improve themselves and their work. What are they most commonly doing wrong and how is it hindering their own, or the models ability to produce the best work.

I will not be naming these models for more than obvious reasons and I would like to state that all of the forthcoming advice and opinions have been offered up by models (both male and female) asked one simple question; 

What is the most common mistake made by photographers you have worked with?

So let's dive into these answers...

  • Fatigue & freeze: 

    Holy shit did this one come up a lot. All varying degrees of the same complaint. The photographer is cosily working away in is warmest duck-down coat with a thermos of coffee whilst expecting the model to work uninterrupted for vast periods of time in the freezing cold, usually wearing nothing close to what is appropriate. Even when the temperature is a little more model friendly, it may be worth keeping in mind that models do tend to be human and could occasionally do with being fed and watered (or at least be allowed time feed and water themselves). Some things that would help with this are; 
    1. Getting to know your gear, so you aren't faffing whilst they are freezing!
    2. Maybe not wrapping up so warm whilst expecting the model to suffer in next to nothing. I make sure I am always experiencing the elements as much as the model, it makes me work faster and builds a sense of togetherness and compassion!
    3. Save the summer shoots for the 3 days of summer that we actually get in the UK!
  • Rush hour:

    Adopt the considered approach. Rather than machine-gunning 3k+ frames of as many lighting setups and styling changes as you can fit in just to get "value for money", try making every shot count. Every model that brought this up gave me a sense that they just get so demotivated and down about a creative experience becoming nothing more than a numbers game! A disinterested or demotivated model will show in the images and as one model put it; "I can't understand wanting tons of average or worse images over a few vastly better images"!  So what can be done?
    1. Have a rough idea of what you want to achieve before the shoot starts and try to communicate this as best you can with the model! (More on this later!)
    2. Don't panic! Easier said than done, yes, but it's actually really simple to learn this behaviour. Take a moment before, during and after each set to look through and discuss the ideas and images with the model. Not only will this slow you down, but you'll get wonderful amounts of input into how the shots could be improved!
  • Secret secrets help no-one:

    Sounds a strange one but stay with me on this. Almost every model talked in some part about the photographer either having no idea what they wanted to achieve or (and possibly worse) expecting the model to telepathically learn the mood, theme, expectations and framing of everything without so much as a disgruntled disapproving shrug from their apparent colleague. In addition to this, there were MANY(!!!) complaints that expectations of levels were either purposefully or ignorantly withheld until the eleventh hour as it were. What to do? Well, let's start;
    1. Informing the model of as much information as we can. Working levels, expectations for posing, styling, expression and so on.
    2. Show them the back of the bloody camera. Don't expect them to know the frame they are within or how the lighting looks. Work together for goodness sake!
  • Objection:

    This just sucks to even have to discuss, but it applies to everyone from new, amateur photographers all the way up the food chain. It's 2017 and it is really depressing to read so many people talking about being spoken to like an idiot or like they are a piece of property. IT'S 2017 FOR FUCKS SAKE!
    1. Manners cost nothing. They usually also result in better working relationships, shockingly.
    2. The more someone resents you, the less they will be willing to give any effort or understanding and that will effect the main reason for anyone being there, the image!
  • Inappropriate language:

    I cannot even begin to understand how this is still an issue for some people to understand. Did I mention it's 2017...

    When speaking about parts of the body, there are words that work substantially better than others to not only communicate your point, but also allow the model some dignity. Why that option wouldn't be taken is beyond me, but hey, it apparently is demonstrably not the way for some. So, in short;
    1. Yes: Shoulders/hips/chin/eyes/legs etc.
    2. No: tits/arse/pussy/fanny/fat etc.
    3. This applies to social media and photo comments, don't make others uncomfortable and yourself look like a joke!
  • Silence is the enemy:

    I am a quiet photographer! I don't shut up most of the rest of the time, but when my camera is to my face, I am very quiet. Silence can be very off-putting and create a sense of things not going well. Being in front of a camera takes a tremendous amount of confidence even for a veteran model. When shooting, have some music playing. Loud enough help instil the mood, but not too loud that direction goes unheard. 
    1. Play music that matches the mood of the shoot, i.e. uptempo music for edgier fashion, soft music for more sultry or thoughtful expression. 
    2. Keep the positivity flowing by assuring the model as you go.
  • Inadvertent insult:

    So this one is actually really an important one to bear in mind. A few of the models I have heard from have pointed out that on several occasions a photographer will be chatting nonchalantly about another model or a even a celebrity and make disparaging remarks. The interesting thing is, often the photographers comments will accidentally but directly insult the model they are talking too. Either insulting their looks, their previous work or, in one case, their lack of accomplishments.

    Here's one story...

    "I was shooting with a really lovely photographer for the second or third time, we'd never had a previous issue of any sort. Half way through he started taking about how any model who isn't with an agency is just an "Instagram whore" and too lazy to get a real job. I informed him I wasn't agency signed and actually work really hard at what I do. We haven't shot together since."  


    I am just going to leave this quote here...

    "...touching the model without asking, most professional models won’t mind when it’s a hair or a piece of clothing etc. ,We know not everyone is a pervert and it’s all about the shoot but generally we don’t like it and big no when your nude modelling. I once had a ‘photographer’ put his hands on me to try and pose me while I was semi-nude on the floor without asking, If you can’t commutate what you want, sit and have a chat with the model to discuss, show her some images of poses you do want etc., don’t physically touch her especially when she is nude. You’re a stranger; she doesn’t know you and touching her could be seen as sexual/creepy."

  • No means no-confidence:

    Nothing can be more demanding on the model than to be working hard to get the images the photographer wants, only to be shot down with a disrespectful "no" or "thats not good, do something else" or one I've heard on far too many workshops, "thats not working, can you just...". Yes it is vital to communicate how you want things to go and your expectations generally, but when a model is doing her level best only to have her confidence knocked by ill-mannered disapproval, that sucks! Here's how that can be avoided;
    1. Don't use negative language, shoot off a couple of frames, and steer the model in the right direction.
    2. Say something like, "ok cool, how about we try it with your hair down" or "alright these look great, can we try it like this...". Simple enough to get around and doesn't require anyones feelings to get hurt or confidence to be knocked!
  • Space-invaders:

    Give the model a space to call her own. Don't go in the dressing room unless asked, its just poor form. Obviously this applies tenfold when you both know full well he/she's changing! Interrupting someones personal space is rude, creepy and often down right threatening! I'll just leave another quote here...

    "I once had a ‘photographer’ ask me why I am changing behind the screen when he has already seen me naked….creepy.
  • Control freak:

    I can totally understand that everyone will have their own style and personality when it comes to directing the model. As previously stated, I am a very quiet shooter. I use small phrases or express basic moods to get my point across. For others a more detailed directional approach may work best. But a common theme with the advice I was offered from models for this was an issue with micro managing a models posing and expression. Many said that the more they were controlled down to the last detail, the less the shots worked and the more enthusiasm the model lost for the set. Now i know that the inevitable comment will come from you that, if the model is less experienced, they will need the help. OK, but would I have asked less experienced models to advise photographers on something they are still finding their feet in? Nope. 

    Here's one of many quotes I could have posted here...

    "I'd say overdirecting and overcontrolling the poses. I really feel that when I have the freedom to pose and get into a flow then that helps when creating great images. If the photographer spends too long forcing you into a particular pose and micro managing then it can become stale and can end up feeling restrained"

And here are a few honourable mentions...

  • Models talk to each other, a bad reputation is nothing to be proud of!
  • Booking a model for a genre that they don't suit i.e. a fashion model for a glamour shoot etc.
  • Making politically, racially or generally discriminative comments.
  • ver complimenting to the point of it becoming uncomfortable and personal.
  • Thinking that owning a lot of gear makes the photographer any better/more impressive. 
  • Bashing other photographers work. (This was common and the definitely didn't seem to impress those that mentioned it.)
  • Persisting on a request for something the model wasn't comfortable doing.
  • Having a mismatched portfolio/no consistency in their work meant that the model would be less inclined to want to work with them.
  • Obsessing over followers, likes, online awards, comments.

I just want to say a massive thank you to all of the models who gave up time to offer advice. It may seem some of these are difficult to swallow or even wrong. But I would urge any and all photographers to take these points on board and think about how they can be utilised to improve your work and your working methods! 

What do you think? Do you have any that could be added to the list? Let me know in the comments.

I will be writing a blog in response to this, asking photographers their thoughts and advice for models, should be interesting...