After asking you what you’d like me to do more of, one thing that stood out from you all was writing something in-depth about a shoot.
So I’ve decided to give you a detailed view of my recent androgyny set and talk through how it was pulled together, from the first idea to the final edit. I’d welcome any questions or comments below, or through instagram.
This was a joint concept, born from an idea Sarah Catherine and I had in 2018 and wanted to create. We wanted to bring together androgyny with a fashion concept, highlighting the non-conformity of gender-specific clothing. Our aim wasn’t to make a point here or fill the production with narrative, we just wanted to create something that stripped back gender and explored something new.
As momentum built to pull something together, I started mapping out my approach. I knew I wanted an editorial feel and to use a studio set so I could pull forward the subjects and strip everything back - backgrounds and environments included. I wanted to let the models and the styling do the talking, deciding to do more of a creative make-up style on a final portion of the shoot to add an additional content set.
With all this in mind, I started looking at the team, kit and studio I’d need; at this point, I dived into Pinterest as I always do and put together an initial moodboard - these are great for inspiring a crew and setting a vision, making sure everyone’s on-board and working mutually towards something.
On hindsight, an assistant would’ve been helpful on this shoot but I was conscious how busy it would be in the space and thought I could do without one.
I wanted a good space with a bigger clear background with decent kit and spaces for the MUA and stylist to work, so I chose StreetStar studios just outside of Stockport.
As I headed off to the studio to shoot, there’s a few things I was keeping at the front of my mind:-
This was the first time both models worked together, so I could expect an elongated time for them to warm up - practically this meant I left my favourite outset set until later on when we’d get the best shots
I was an MUA down, so I needed to rearrange the schedule to get the most of our time
I was shooting two subjects at various distances, so I needed to be super conscious of DOF and close down those apertures
This is a big subject and is one of the top things I get asked about my work, particularly anything I do in a studio. It was important that this set let the people do the talking, I wanted the subjects to stand out and be the focus, not complicate it with creative lighting.
I went for a simple two light setup - both strobes with diffusers. My key light was a tall diffuser about two metres from the guys, slightly to the right. I then used a honeycombed wider diffused light on the left but pulled the power right down just so it helped kill off some shadows, but let the key do the work. In some later shots, I killed the left light altogether.
It’s worth noting too that I was shooting in a white cove which curved round to my right, so the bounce from the right curved wall was helping with any shadows on that side.
For the technical, I shot at a 1/160 shutter, f5.6 aperture and 100 ISO.
Laura Hardman, a fashion stylist in Manchester was in charge of the outfits and she presented some spot-on options ahead of the shoot. Sourcing items from charity shops, Next and Primark, she put together options for five sets, three of which we chose to shoot on the day.
Working with the constraint of one make-up artist, once the first model (Natalie) was ready, we began shooting the first solos in the first outfit, then adding Sarah to the mix when she had finished in makeup. Once the first duo was complete, Sarah was on for her solo as Natalie returned to make-up and went into the next outfit - we ran this way throughout to ensure everything was covered and we minimalised downtime.
I’ll expand about my way of working with models in another post at another time, and in my tuition work - but I’ll touch on this subject now to say connection and being comfortable is the absolute crucial part of this shoot.
Going from models who had spoken, but not worked together before, I worked hard to build that connection not just between myself and the models (which is crucial to my work), but to one another too. Conscious of a timely schedule, I started out quite directional, setting the mood and style I wanted to get across and placing in some initial poses.
Alot of photographers consider this 75% of the photography process, but I’ve always kept it the other way round, holding a philosophy that the shot gets created in the moment, not in post. I do minimal editing, avoiding retouching almost entirely.
I wanted to keep to the original approach of the shoot, keeping things simple and stripping it all back. I found a good colour to work the background to (pulling my highlights down and letting the white go to a warm grey), then bringing through the colours and culling carefully to get a good range of shots.
Another shoot in the bag
Super pleased with how this set turned out, produced by a great team that worked hard to stick to the vision and bring something to life. Absolutely love the style of this and the connection of the two models, and furthermore their connection to the camera.
Let me know what you think and if you have any questions in the comments, would love to talk about this shoot more. Hope you love the work as much as we all do.
The back of the winter was finally beginning to break and the long dark nights were starting to ease up, paving way for spring light which drew me to shoot a summer vibe set. Fern and I had been wanting to work together a little while so we came together to create a warm, relaxed seaside shoot.
Welcome to Southport
Having come from Essex originally, I find seasides in the North a really different affair. The beaches always feel so different, their charm from hardened treelines and grand structures built around the best spots - Southport and Blackpool being two of them.
Southport was the perfect choice, giving us a whole playground of places to shoot to get those different vibes and despite the biting temperatures, we explored it all with bravery (where bravery, read coffee and donuts).
New Kit, Same Approach
This was my first proper outing with my new kit - a Sony A7Rii and my trusty Sigma 35mm f1.4 - and I’m so happy with how it performed. The adapter I was using to make the Canon-mount lens fit struggled on occasion, but the colour profiling, focus and image detail of the Sony was incredible.
As always, I kept the shoot nice and relaxed, wandering around, eating and drinking everything possible and exploring what the beachfront had to offer. Fern was superb, always willing to entertain whatever random idea I had and putting up with the harsh wind and temperature.
Since I first picked up a camera I vowed that I’d never stop learning and evolving what I do, and I’m a firm believer that as soon as you feel like you really know your stuff, it’s time to turn it on its head again.
The photography industry can be toxic, full of comparison and kit talk with a constant demand on producing and showing work, so it’s important we all take a healthy approach to developing. I’ve worked hard to evolve my work in a way that gains important experience, builds a strong portfolio and have a healthy connection with the community.
As I take on more tutoring and I’m fortunate enough for people to ask my opinion on various aspects of photography, I thought I’d put together a few broad pointers. By no means a definitive list, but a start.
1. Let go of the numbers
I won’t dwell on this because it’s a saturated subject, but it goes without saying that tying your happiness, your inspiration or validation to the numbers is a car crash waiting to happen. I’m talking about follower counts, engagement rates, income, sales - any of this stuff. It’s not easy, but try to remember your objectives should be around developing, telling stories, finding new angles and carving out your own way of doing things, it’s not about how popular you are perceived to be.
Networks like Instagram are the worst for this - they’re designed specifically to draw you in, focus on numbers and keep you on the platform. There’s nothing wrong with building your channels, but don’t attach your worth or your happiness to them. To these algorithms, you will never do enough, so put your energy into creating.
There’s two things I want to remind you of here:-
The very best photographers in the world who have work in The Tate have less followers than the average Manchester blogger. They don’t care about the numbers, nor should you
People around you will buy followers, use pods and engagement groups and beyond - numbers are easily faked, so don’t compare yourself to smoke and mirrors
Numbers like follower count and likes don’t validate you - and having hundreds of thousands of followers doesn’t mean you’ll be better, or happier
2. Do crap things
As you learn and develop and your work evolves, what you’re producing should consist of, quite frankly, crap. Lots of crap. If you’re shooting and there’s not a good element of stuff which doesn’t make your stomach turn and your toes curl, then you’re not doing it right. Simply put, do things which push you into the unknown.
If you think you’re really developing well in Portrait, you’ll naturally start to shoot more Portrait, so it’s time to get out and do some landscapes, or start shooting products, or gigs in pitch-black venues. Whatever you’re doing, do something different. Do that which is scary, which is hard and which you know very, very little about.
By pushing your boundaries and constantly moving forward, you’ll remain humble and help yourself learn in the quickest, most authentic way possible.
3. Have some faith in yourself
It’s natural for us creatives to tie ourselves into our work - after all, our work is as much us as it is our subjects - but remember the entire thing is [cliché warning], a journey.
The entire creative landscape is subjective so don’t get bogged down in impressing people, doing what’s on trend or getting you attention, do what’s true to you, what’s right and have some faith in that process. If you’re like me, you’ll never find perfection in your work, but that’s fine, just don’t hate it.
Recognising your growth is vital. Look back on where you were two years ago, a year ago, six months ago, last month, last week, and see how far you’ve come. Know that you’re moving forward and, importantly, celebrate the victories. It could be something tiny, or it could be something major, but celebrate it anyway. The likelihood is you’re already too hard on yourself so give yourself a break and devote the time to understanding how you’ve moved along. But of course, stay humble, be kind.
5. Say something
Story is king. No matter what you’re doing, think of what you’re saying. It could be a simple studio portrait, but what your subject is wearing, their expression, the lighting, the edit, everything pulls together to say something. It doesn’t have to be something profound, you don’t have to try and change the world, but say something.
6. Photography is never, ever, about kit
Of all the toxicity in our community, gear leer is one of the worst. You do not need expensive gear to take good photos, this has never been the case and it will never be the case. There are demands upon us, of course, to take shots which meet certain technical demands or allow us to get certain types of shots, but don’t allow those in the community obsessed with gear to convince you you’re not as talented or unable to achieve something brilliant.
Get new kit when you need it, and love every centimeter of it, but know that is just a tool. What you create depends on your head, not on your kit.
By way of an example, when we reflect on photos like these, do you think the message is lost because they were shot on a Canon 5d Mkii instead of a Canon 5d Mkiii? C’mon, the shot is the shot, find kit that does what you need to do how you need to do it, don’t blow your life savings on kit that distracts from what you’re really doing.
6. Compare yourself kindly
It’d be silly to say, don’t compare yourself to others. We’re creatives and the liklihood is (according to my analytics), you’re living in western culture, so of course we’re going to compare - but try to change that relationship from one of comparison and wanting to be equal or better, to stepping back and analysing what you like about someone’s work. With that, figure out why you like it, and how you can incorporate it, use it as a trigger to do something different or something new.
When you start to see other creatives’ work in this way, it stops being a barrier and starts being a springboard to creating new things. It you can get to a place where you don’t compare yourself, tell me how.
7. Grow Together
As photographers, we can be quite isolated in our work, often all aware of one another through Instagram and the like but not pulling together. There’s animosity too - the kit freaks who want to check the serial number of your kit to see if there’s is newer, the social devils that scream about their likes and sit in engagement pods and, of course, keyboard warriors, ready to tell you what aperture to use and what you really need to buy next.
Regardless of who you come across, of all these people wanting to put their oar in, be kind and grow together. Find people who you can help and help you, and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses with one another. Help out on shoots, on finding locations, or lending kit to the right people, on passing on work.
We have enough going on with our industry without the need to in-fight, so be kind, do nice things where you can and put the effort in where possible. If you like someone’s work, drop them a message and tell them, if someone needs help, lend a hand.
Everyone is different
You might find that the above doesn’t work from you, that you need different approaches and to exist in different spaces, and that’s totally fine too - but drop me a line and let me know how you get on, I’d love to know what has and hasn’t worked for you.
Susie was sat in the window against the flowery backdrop of Leaf and upon seeing me walking in, she shot me a beaming smile that lit up the lobby. And this, should you not know her, epitomises Susie.
We'd met a couple of times and her reputation proceeded her on each occasion; she was a well-known, much respected and liked interiors and lifestyle blogger in Manchester. After she applied to a collaboration opportunity I opened up in the Manchester blogging community, I picked her amongst those that applied because I felt she really valued the creative process and the energy committed to shooting.
Now, after a successful period of crafting an engaged following that she lovingly nurtured and enjoyed, Susie was turning her hand to writing. She was no stranger to putting words down but now she had annexed a new channel of her work - writing a fiction novel.
We sat and had coffee, catching up on my latest exhibition and her new project, running through a brief plotline and some important elements. As soon as she started talking, I knew what I wanted to create. I wanted to present her to the world, to show that creative, passionate and capable feeling I got in my stomach. I had this real hankering to bring nature into things, using flora to both take over and pull-in her environment - this was important not only to her novel but I felt to Susie, seemingly to love plants as much I do (but being much more successful in keeping them alive).
Some five weeks later I was squatting down on her driveway connected to my MacBook shooting a slightly nervous Susie on the stairs of her hallway. I'd dreamt of this shot - ivy, florals and vines pouring down her staircase with her presented amongst it.
We'd planned for four sets; one in her hallway, another in her dining room and the remaining two in the garden. I'd already scouted the locations - firstly through videos Susie had kindly sent me (a bit of a walking tour, complete with commentary) and then finally when I'd arrived on the day of the shoot, sniffing around the place like a dormouse, discovering the right spots to shoot from.
With the first stairway shot complete, we move to the dining room and get some at the table there along with some in the high-backed chair that sits in the corner. I really love how the chair shots come out, they feel authentic for an author. Once we've got shots there and thoroughly discussed Eurovision, we move into the garden (taking the chair with us) and create a scene at the back of her garden. There's lots of adjustments here but we get what we need and move to the front of the garden, picking a corner seat and going for some more relaxed vibes. I shoot at a wider depth of field here to pull in the backgrounds and the sun provides a challenge in post-production as I get the levels corrected throughout the shot.
I was passionate about this shoot. I had a vision in my mind of what I wanted to achieve and there in lies a problem; the perfectionist in me can mean I've never wholly satisfied with how shots come out but I can report that wasn't the case here. I'm not by any means saying I don't look at them and see adjustments - I don't think that'd ever go away - but it felt like there was a true connection between what I'd first imagined and the end result. I felt like something had been achieved.
Karen, a friend of Susie's and an interior design blogger (who I've already shot with) joined us for a brew and to help out. She was on hand to jump in and restyle shots (one of the benefits of shooting tethered), bringing in or removing plants, nudging me when something didn't look quite right.
Working with Susie was superb and what really came through was her professionalism, authenticity and utter appreciation of my time and efforts. It's crucial to me to retain my value even in collaborations and working with Susie was absolutely the right choice, knowing she was putting in the same blood, sweat and tears to pull everything together.
You can find Susie's blog here and her instagram here.
Thanks go to Susie, Karen and The Plant Shop in Stockport for their help with the flora.
I'm driving down a windy country road and peering out of the window at the gloomy weather. It's raining and there's big grey clouds rolling over the landscape. This was not a perfect day for my first time in a little plane.
I arrive at the airfield and I'm definitely feeling nervous - but I love an adventure and I'm enjoying the nerves a little. David is part of the family and dropped me a line when he knew I was heading down to Essex for the weekend. I find him in the main building finishing a flight with a trainee pilot and we catch up before he introduces me to the basics of how a plane works and hands me some headphones.
I tell him I'm a bit nervous and he reassures me before we head out onto the tarmac. I point at a reasonable sized plane and ask if that's ours, he points to a much smaller one beyond it. This is a big step from the Airbus I just got back from New Zealand in.
David walks around the plane, occasionally grabbing a bit of the bulkhead and giving it a wiggle, going through his external checks. I stand still taking it all in and letting the nerves settle and he finishes walking round; "Yeah, that should be alright." - I tell him that's very reassuring and he gives me a wry grin.
We jump in, he explains all the instruments, what to touch, what not to touch, what definitely not to touch and it's immediate how connected you feel to the machine. You're tucked in, arms and legs against the cockpit, sealed in by a harness.
"There are no parachutes, right?" I say, just to doublecheck I haven't forgotten it;"No, we land with the plane. One way or the other." Another smile that erodes the nervousness and gives you a glimpse at what an experienced instructor David is.
There's more checks and before long, the engine starts and we begin to taxi, checking functions as we go before reaching the end of the runaway (no wider than a slither of tarmac) and gunning the engine until we liftoff and begin to climb. I come to learn rather quickly it's bumpy at low altitudes and we're thrown around a little - I'm happy to admit that at this moment I realise it's all a bit scary and it might not be for me, but then I remember I can't get out and quickly embrace the feeling.
We take a flight across the Essex and Suffolk countryside, David showing me how to climb, dive and turn - it's incredible flying this thing. It's so connected and I quickly see how addictive it can become - you get a whole new perspective on things a thousand feet from the ground, an entirely new context of the land.
Throughout, David is exactly what you'd expect from an experienced instructor - patient, funny and enjoying the explanation of how it all works. He's pointing out the familiar landmarks as we approach them and gives me control so I can really get into it. His patience comes through again as I ask if I can shout 'May Day' over the radio, which he denies me.
Before long we're heading back to the airfield and he guides us in to a soft landing - I compliment him and he berates himself; his context is the hundreds of technical landings he's committed, mine is reaching the ground in the right way (not on fire, etc).
The last time I saw Gemma was eight years ago and before that, a further ten years. Today was about a rediscovery, joining the dots between these points.
Gemma and I had been to school together and stayed in touch since, swapping Alan Partridge quotes every few months or being way too over-excited on Facebook when the new films or series were released.
Recently, I’d posted on Insta and asked for models and she stepped forward.A few weeks later we found ourselves in a quiet little café in Manningtree, sheltering from the rain and getting reacquainted. We sat at a small table by the window overlooking an old wooden building being battered by the wind; the café was small, aged and perfect. Full of mismatched chairs, wobbly tables and earthy staff that beamed with nostalgic English warmth.
After the cursory discussion about travel and the weather, I asked how life was since I’d seen her. I tell her I want to present a true version of her today so ask for a raw account; Gemma was now married and mother to two children; “Life has ups and has downs. Right now, it’s tough.”
“Being a mother is hard. It’s a struggle to have your own identity when you always have someone clambering over you or attached to you. They barely sleep and it’s exhausting, they take all time and all energy.”
As her story unfolds, I’m disheartened to learn Gemma not only endured Post-Natal Depression but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the birth of her youngest; “I’ve found things really difficult and today is a respite, a chance to show another part of me.”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I’m experienced at working with people in difficult situations, but it’d be foolhardy to not feel the pressure of giving someone a positive experience during a tough period. We all heal in different ways and it felt like today was important, a chance for Gemma to breathe and surface sides she didn’t often see in daily life.
As we navigated our way across the Suffolk countryside, it was clear the weather wasn't going to play ball as the wind and rain lashed the windscreen. We took shelter indoors and made a brew, creating some alternative plans and starting by using the light coming through the windows to get some soft interior shots, moving around and exploring new positions and outfits.
The rain lets up a little and we decide to brave it - hoping in the car and discovering the fields nearby, finding the right spot and getting some shots off; Gemma is in a t-shirt, I'm in a big winter coat with an umbrella - it's for the camera, I swear. These are my favourite of Gemma - raw, sexy, full of nature and weather. This is what I wanted to get from today, I wanted to show that hot side that you have less time to expose being a busy mother.
We continue to catch up and challenge one another throughout the shoot and I discover a new found respect for Gemma and her partner Sam. With their children having difficulties with sleep, Gemma and Sam face bouts of sleep deprivation and a level of compromise I cannot even begin to imagine; but, throughout it all, through the painful times and holding on to the parts of them, they've remained committed to being present and giving their all.
Whilst we take shelter again and break between shooting, Gemma swirls the drink in her glass and elaborates on her PTSD; "I still have flashbacks from the birth. I couldn't function for months, then I couldn't drive. It was so traumatic." I don't dig on this, it feels too sensitive. "There were points where I felt like leaving, but I didn't, and that's something." - and that, I think, is everything. There's enough pressure on us all and this ramps up a gear when you become a parent, throughout everything, Gemma is there. She's standing her ground, weathering the storm, gritting her teeth and doing what needs to be done and there's a huge amount to be said about that.
Before I close, I should assure you this shoot isn't about sadness, it's about courage and strength, to not only to go through hell and come out the other side, but to be able to talk about it in the hope it'll help others.
In this set, I present Gemma. Fierce, strong, committed and absolutely, without doubt, present.
You can find help for Post-Natal Depression and indeed any mental health challenges from Mind and, in a crisis, the Samaritans.
Although I’m a Manchester photographer, I’ve spent my year around the world shooting some incredible people and amazing places.
As the year draws to a close, seeing the end to some very difficult times and a year of personal development, I wanted to have a very quick refection of 2018 and pick up some of my favourite pieces of work. There’s too many great experiences to note here, but here’s some highlights (in no particular order).
5. Grace for Nemesis
6. New Zealand
7. Nancy for SoCity London
8. Shauna (Video)
So off I went, full of vigour and excitement and thinking the three weeks I’d spend in New Zealand would allow me to document the people of the country and return with a bursting portfolio of faces and stories. I couldn’t wait to talk about all the different people, their experiences and their timelines to when I’d met them.
I wanted to return with countless tales to recount to you all complete with meaningful, raw photos which completed the picture I was painting in word.
But this didn’t happen. As time rolled on, commitments to the adventure meant I didn’t get the time to source and shoot people, and the spontaneous times I found faces I thought would fit the bill, I decided against it last minute. At first, I found myself frustrated at this, annoyed that I wanted to return with a complete project to show the world and was lacking momentum. But then I realised something – New Zealand was giving me something much more important with a much longer half-life.
I had the space and the time to reconnect to everything around me but especially with nature (this isn’t an Eat Prey Love story, so hear me out); I’ve always felt re-energised after spending time in the thick of it, at coastlines and forests, on the side of mountains or on a lake somewhere and reflecting on my work, I really see this come through in my creative projects. The more I’ve looked at this, the more I’ve realised that perhaps I’ve been trying to tell myself something, to drive home the message that I need those times in natural environments to recharge and to create something meaningful.
And maybe, this is a bigger story I need to tell. Maybe it’s about everyone’s connection to our environments, the way we draw on them to tell our own stories and build our own unique concepts. They're as much our fingerprint as the way we look and how we act.
As the trip went on, I worked hard on refocusing and letting go of any frustration, instead giving myself the permission to explore New Zealand in a different way, to document life beyond the missed everyday and bring something to the fore, to bring something much greater home with me when I returned.
Long trips in countries that love their environments as much as New Zealand does has a way of rubbing off on you, it forces you to feel and to the connect. The people have this unique way of building a culture that cushions and empowers you at the same time, allowing you to explore in your own way. And that’s not to say I visited and found myself - I haven’t felt lost - but it did help me reconnect to that which is important and start to recognise and embrace how I use natural environments in my work.
I write this at 32,000 ft, flying home and with a brain full of concepts I want to realise with some special people this year.
This was a unique weekend, a chance to retreat from the everyday and find a nook to stow myself in the Peak District. My diary did, however, converge against me and I ended up not just staying somewhere particularly wholesome, but with a schedule full of shoots.
One such shoot was with a model I’d been planning a shoot with for a few months - Karolina, a French creative who got in touch to update her portfolio. After some convincing that the cold, wet and windy Peak District would be a great location, we set off on a cloudy Saturday to shoot a few different looks.
Our adventure took us first to Torside Reservoir, a place full of autumnal Northern charm, covered in fallen leaves and trees shedding their coats. I wanted that raw French fashion vibe, something reminiscent of a stripped-back Elle feature, so after agreeing on winter-chic outfit we shot against the water, the trees and the bare landscape - ultimately choosing a shot on an expanse of the reservoir where the water had retreated to small streams that cut through the ground.
Finishing this set, we moved onto my bolthole and shot an indoor one, using a new gel filter I’d acquired that week to add a new shade onto the scene. The environment trod along a thin line of being vintage and creepy, so I made sure we gave things a warm feel. Faded halloween shoots aren’t my thing.
Look, I’m not going to lie to you and say I don’t miss the weather of the south, but my god the landscapes in the north are incredible. They change with the seasons so dramatically, constantly giving you their all, never a lack of lustre - just sheer force, whatever the time of year. They can be harsh, cold and muted, but that’s exactly the charm.
There’s the variation too - in one direction, the Peak District gives you this incredible area full of different styles, then another you find yourself on a tourist beach, and another you find stunning lake scenes straight out of British Columbia. There’s something immensely pulling about this place, something that makes you want to brace up against the weather and explore.