Category Archives: Tutorials

Covering various topics on photography, some technical, some artistic.

Coaching A Couple

I’ve been doing some one-to-one and one-to-two photographic coaching and this morning I had the pleasure of a session with Simon and his lovely wife Alicia, who were both keen to hone their compositional skills and seeing eye.

Blue-Haired  Boy
Blue-Haired Boy

We met up at the British Museum in London for a hour’s chat about the basics (the sort of subjects covered in my Taking Better Pictures tutorials). Then we spent some time talking about some of their photographs – what worked, what didn’t, what they liked and how they could be improved.

Having got the theory out of the way, we then spent another couple of hours roaming about inside and outside the Museum making pictures from what we could see in the covered courtyard and gardens out the front. Gerald and Gerald Jr also came along to help model and demonstrate the effects of side lighting and shadows for portraiture.

Alicia And Simon In Action
Alicia And Simon In Action

Both Simon and Alicia seemed to get a lot out of the session and have vowed to follow up with another one on the more technical aspects of photography, when time with their young family allows.

I will also be giving them some feedback on the pictures which they made during the day. It’s a very satisfying feeling when people have learned from you and have gone away with renewed enthusiasm for their photography. I look forward to coaching them again (and other people) in the future. Here are a few more images I made during the session:

Gerald & Junior Pose
Gerald & Junior Pose

Time For Atonement

OK, I’ll come straight out and admit that the title is a blatant pun, please forgive me!

Last Sunday I took a picture of a rather nice coat of arms on a lovely old Victorian bridge in Leeds. It was taken on a grey overcast morning, with little light or vibrancy about it. So when I got it to the computer, I had the urge to do some tweaking. First, here’s the original shot:

Original shot, straight out of camera
Original shot, straight out of camera

The colours were a little worn and faded. I wonder what would happen if I tried to beef them up a bit? So I used the original colour layer in my Photoshop document, duplicated it and changed the blending mode of the top layer to be 100% Soft Light instead of Normal. I often play about with duplicate layers and alternative blending modes as I find this can give some very pleasing results:

Soft Light Blending Mode
Soft Light Blending Mode

I liked this better, but still wasn’t happy. Then I had the idea of presenting the image with a more olde-worlde feel. I thought I could make it appear like an old sepia postcard which had a little bit of hand colouring applied. So I tried the Nik Silver Efex Pro “Antique Plate I” filter, which gave me the following base sepia layer:

Antique Plate sepia treatment
Antique Plate sepia treatment

This sepia layer sits between my original layer and the Soft Light version to give me the final result – which achieved exactly the effect I was aiming for:

Final Hand-Coloured effect
Final Hand-Coloured effect

This seemed to go rather well with the subject matter, and I’m pleased it worked out for Day #1161‘s image.


In the good old days of film, black and white negatives, colour negatives and transparency films all had particular processing techniques which used specific chemicals and methods to produce the image. Popular colour negative process was called C41, and trannies from E6 were also common.

But what happened if you accidentally put a film needing C41 chemicals through the E6 process, or vice versa? The answer: weird things. Colours would shift and give an eery effect.

Of course, in the days of digital, nobody needs to do this any more, but plenty of people like to – by faking the same colour shifts as before, but this time in the digital darkroom.

I was fiddling about with some Cross Process Actions for Photoshop and decided to give my picture for Day #1099 a bit of treatment:

Original Image
1. Original Image looks quite flat and desaturated anyway

There were several different options to try, so this is what I compared:

2. CMYK Conversion - I was not too keen on the green tinge
Curves - Hue-Saturation
3. I tried out the Curves - Hue-Saturation action but did not like the pink sky
4. The E6-C41 action was nice, I nearly went with this one
5. Eventually chose the C41-E6 action for my final image

Actions are a powerful way to get Photoshop to do some pretty whacky things – and in a reproducible manner. This kind of effect won’t suit every picture, and I find using it sparingly is the best way. Otherwise, your images can end up looking very similar. But if you want to produce a series of pictures all with the same look, Actions are a very reliable way of doing so.

How To Take… Water Splashes

I’ve often seen other people’s photos of water splashing into a surface and thought I should have a go at it myself. With the My Year In Pictures project, I’ve kept a list of subjects I should try, to give some inspiration on days when it’s not nice outdoors or I just can’t think what to take.

Today, I had a go at some macro shots of water splashes. It’s harder than it looks! You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, and a small aperture to give you maximum depth of field. Both of which mean you will have to use a high ISO setting and/or flood the image with light.

Some photographers use a high-speed stroboscopic flash to do the job for them – it recharges in a fraction of a second and allows several shots to be taken in one burst. But I don’t have one, so I dug out an old 1000W video lamp from the back of a cupboard and tried that:

[Setup in my kitchen – bowl of water on stripey wrapping paper; camera turned vertically on tripod on left; the 1000W video light on second tripod to the right]

[Closer view of the camera and bowl with water bottle cap just seen at the top]

I was using my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens, fitted with a 12mm extension tube which allowed much closer focussing and greater magnification.

After much trial and error with the placement of the bowl, focus, position of the light and camera settings, I came up with the following as a reasonable set-up:

  • ISO speed: 500
  • Shutter speed: 1/1250th
  • Aperture: f/6.3

I had tried using 1/1000th and f/4.0 but they weren’t as sharp as I’d have liked – so I moved the light closer to the subject and got a better exposure.

The trick then is to drop a broken stream of water from the nozzle of a drinking water bottle with a sports cap. I had pre-focussed on a fork poked into the surface of the water (to get a proper focus point, otherwise you are focussed on the wrapping paper below which is no good for the splashes).

Then you have to try and aim the water drops into the same place as the fork was, whilst holding down the shutter button – I had the camera on high-speed motor drive. Take tens of shots and find the best half dozen!

[Splash! The water surface breaks up nicely when the first drops hit]

[Gravity Well – I like the way the falling stream makes a hole in the surface]

[Bubble Group – taking shots after the disturbances have died down can be equally rewarding]

The last picture here and my Pic of the Day for Day #29 show that you don’t always have to photograph the turbulence to get some good pictures – handy if you don’t have high speed motor drive.

I’ll certainly be having another go at this sort of picture, perhaps with some different backgrounds and lighting. Why not give it a shot too?

How To Take… Kids Portraits

I’m not a great proponent of formal portrait for adults, let alone kids. They rarely sit still and pose how you’d like, and I find the pictures usually end up looking stilted and a bit false. I admire photographers who can get good results from the studio, but I prefer a more candid approach.

Here are a selection of pictures I’ve taken of friends’ kiddies.

[Alexander in front of a window, natural light. His mum was behind me]

[Lizzie getting very sticky when we were out having a cake. The table was in a covered courtyard with a great skylight above]

[Alexander gets a push from Dad. Overcast day, so I got rid of as much sky as possible from the composition. At the playground can be a great place for action shots.]

[Conor & Meghan posing in an old wing chair. Natural daylight from a patio door, and a tight crop to get rid of any background intrusions]

[William – was playing with his mum’s hat, as we were about to go out. A bit of fill-in flash gave catchlights in the eyes, without being too harsh on his face]

It’s best to get the children in question doing something – perhaps playing with their toys or dressing up. Or, if you’re lucky, “caught in the act” of getting sticky, etc.

Of course, if the children aren’t yours, you should always get their parents’ permission before taking their picture.