Spring family photo session at Dunham Massey National Trust Property in Cheshire

I spent a lovely afternoon last week at the National Trust property, Dunham Massey National Trust Property in Cheshire with Sarah, Chris and Evelyn for a spring family photo session.

Sarah and Chris were keen for pictures of Evelyn at this stage of her life as well as for some pictures of them all together interacting and doing what they do. A perfect brief – I love capturing natural expressions and I especially love the spontaneity of children.

We had a wander around the gardens together and saw some lovely bluebells, tulips and a very tame squirrel… and after Evelyn trusted me to carry her bag, we all got along very well indeed! The weather was dry and bright and the sun wasn’t too harsh – ideal conditions for the session.

They have so much love for each other which I hope comes through in the pictures.   They make me smile a lot anyways.  Here are a few of my favourites.

Rainy day photoshoot

Carys (www.photographyunknown.com) very kindly organised a photo shoot for us last weekend. The idea was that we could have an un-time-constrained opportunity to try out some more creative posing and lighting ideas. During a “real wedding”, time is short for being experimental so this was a good opportunity to play around a bit more and come up with some recipes to use at future weddings. I invited Denis along as well so there were three of us photographers.

Unfortunately the weather didn’t really play ball for us – in fact, it couldn’t have been much worse really. There was very heavy rain and wind on and off throughout the shoot. We started off down by the docks with our gorgeous models Lynn and William. They were very obliging by standing in the rain and cold and always looking pretty happy about any situation we put them in. Good effort indeed.

After taking a few shots down by the Liver buildings we made our way up through the city streets making a few stops along the way and eventually ending up at the Hard Days Night Hotel.

We all agreed that it was a really useful opportunity to test ourselves and our cameras and that it would definitely be useful to do something similar again in the future – although perhaps in a studio if the weather was playing like it was this time!

Thanks for organising us, Carys! Here a couple of my favourite pictures from the day.

Retrospect

noun

a survey or review of a past course of events or period of time. “a full retrospect of the battle”

And Retrospect is also the name of a Bury based band which I had the pleasure of photographing last week. Retrospect plays a mix of covers and have a really cool ska sound. (You can hear them here: https://soundcloud.com/retrospectbury) The introduction to the band was again through Emily (thank-you) who is friends with Mark, the trumpeter.

Mark had said he wanted some promotional photography of the group (as opposed to pictures of them playing at a gig).  I did a bit of research on band photography and had a few ideas of what I thought might work.  I headed across to their practice studio last Friday and set myself up while listening to the band practice for a performance the following night. I found some roller shutter doors outside which I thought might work well as a background and I also thought I could do something with the stairs up to the practice room. I used the practice area itself as my mini mobile studio with its long dark curtains as the backdrop. I took some shots with instruments and some without, some where everyone was smiling and some where they were not. As an experiment I tried some shots with the lights flashing off behind the band to try to get them as silhouettes. I wasn’t quite sure how they were going to work out but the band was very accommodating in letting me “play”. I think these pictures actually ended up being the ones I like best from the shoot.

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I always like to reflect on what I learned during these shoots as I like to feel like I’m progressing and moving forward with my photography. So here we go…

  • I learned that posing a group of adults is entirely different from posing a family with children. Balloons and bubbles as props are not really appropriate here!
  • My experiment worked with the silhouettes! Lesson being it is good to experiment and take risks – perhaps after getting some “safe shots” in the bag. And really – what’s the worst that can happen?
  • Having three different spots to take pictures in one shoot (one outside, one inside using natural lights and one inside using studio lights) forced some quick thought about camera settings to adjust to each of these very different levels of light.
  • Going prepared with ideas of poses is proving to be a good tool for my bag.
  • I need to be clear and specific when giving directions on what I want from my subjects including body positioning and facial expressions.
  • Post processing always seems to take longer than I think! I try to do a high level review of the files at first removing the ones that are really obviously weird in some way (exposure wrong, eye’s shut or whatever) and then follow that up with a more refined pass over them. Coming back to the pictures over a couple of nights works better for me than trying to do them all in one night. If I’ve been working on them for a while and then leave them and come back to them with fresh eyes, I often discover I’ve pushed things a bit far with the processing and have to bring it back to a more natural look…
  • Black and white seems to work best for these type of shots.

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I am having a little break from portrait photography for now (other than snapping shots of Paul and Stella, of course!) as we’re heading off on our holidays to the Yorkshire Moors at the end of next week. Fingers crossed for some stunning landscape pictures instead!? When we get back, I’ll be thinking about Emily’s BBQ and plans for taking pictures there – including getting some shots of the above mentioned Mark, his wife and their quickly growing bump! 🙂

A morning in Sefton Park

I headed to Sefton Park in Liverpool on Sunday morning to meet Suzanne, Matt, Milo and Bethany Wong for their family photo shoot.  Emily volunteered to come along too to act as principal bag carrier.  She most definitely earned her money!

I went to the park early to try to finalise the plan for the shoot.  I had been before the previous weekend but the lighting each day can be so different.  It was a beautiful (if not slightly windy and cold for June) day – and although it’s not something I worry about too often, I was worried about it being too sunny and all the pictures turning out with strange shadows cast across people’s faces.  Thankfully, we got a bit of cloud cover and all was o.k.

Suzanne and Matt were lovely and didn’t seem to mind me advising them on different poses.  Bethany was a bit tentative at first but then got into things – with the help of her brother Milo I think!  I think I got some good shots and in the process  I discovered which of my ideas worked better than others…  This is good as it’s all part of the learning process and I should be able to refine my technique for next time!

These are my favourite shots from the day:

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Afterwards we all went for lunch on Lark Lane at a great place called the Milo Lounge.  That was really nice to catch up with Emily and get to know the Wong family a bit better.  I am also quite excited that it is dog friendly and have advised Paul that we should go to Sefton Park one Sunday for a walk with Stella and then go there for brunch afterwards. Sounds like a plan to me.  Yum yum.

In terms of the lessons that I am taking away from Sunday, I think the main ones are:

  1. Small people move fast.  Quick shutter speed required to capture the non-posing, in-between moments!
  2. Having ideas of lots of different poses helps to keep attention when little ones are involved.  This also gave me the confidence to direct poses and be a little (but hopefully not too) bossy!
  3. The Milo Lounge on Lark Lane is dog friendly.  This is reason in itself to arrange a subsequent visit with Paul and Stella.  The fact that the food was nice helps too.
  4. Having Emily there was very helpful as she to not only carried some of props but also to come up with some cute suggested poses that I hadn’t thought of… I do definitely recommend an assistant on a photo shoot like this.  Thanks Emily.
  5. Drafting a plan for the day by visiting the location ahead of time (ideally at a similar time of day and in similar weather… yes, I know. Tricky!) was really, really helpful.

Next on the list is a session I’ve arranged with a band called Retrospect.  This is completely different from taking pictures of a family group so time to start thinking about and planning for that!

Emily and Simon’s Engagement Photo Shoot

So in my efforts to be more professional in my approach to photography, I lined up my first a “proper” outdoor photo shoot. So no need for Paul and Stella to worry about me pointing the camera at them (again) this time. My subjects were keen volunteers and friends Emily and Simon and I have called it their engagement shoot because they are engaged and soon to be married (yeah!). But in actual fact, it really wasn’t as official as that.

We met at Salford Quays on Bank Holiday Monday. I had suggested that we meet for dinner ahead of the “golden hour”. I thought even if I came away with a bunch of crap on my memory card (through all fault of my own!), at least we would have had a good catch up and a nice meal out! I arrived a couple of hours before dinner in order to identify some potential picture spots… It’s not a location I am very familiar with so I’d done a bit of research ahead of time as well. Turns out its not that big a place and I managed to get a good feel for it in the time I had.

We started the shoot just after dinner at 8pm with the sun making a bit of an appearance from behind the clouds as it got quite low in the sky. I hope I managed to capture the fact that Emily and Simon are relaxed in front of the camera and obviously enjoy each others company. I knew this to be the case ahead of time but I don’t suppose there is anything wrong with trying to make it easy for myself… 😉

So here’s a bit of a list of my top five photographic learnings from this experience:

1. Pre-planning is a good thing. Having an idea of the area and some of the shots I wanted really helped. But I had to be flexible about the plan as well to compensate for light levels and the body temperature of my subjects!  That wind was a bit cold as the light faded!

2. Having photogenic subjects is very, very helpful!

3. The heart shaped helium balloons as props worked to a limited extent – the strong wind made it difficult to catch them with the camera in good positions.

4. When using a long lens in the wind, I need to be very conscious of shutter speeds and focusing points. I had too many blurred shots to go through for my liking.

5. Light can change quickly – especially at that time of day. I shot in aperture priority mode and therefore had to pay really close attention to make sure my shutter speed wasn’t dropping too much.

So I learned a lot, took some pictures that (in my humble opinion) could pass as engagement photos and I think I can say we all enjoyed ourselves – laughing and smiling a lot.

My next “professional” outing is scheduled for the 7th of June. This time the plan is for a family shoot at Sefton Park – and I’ve never met my subjects! Wish me luck. 🙂

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