Stripping it bare, taking it back, making it work.

The power that comes from knowing when something isn’t working, stopping, breathing, changing it, and making it work.

This week my blog is all about what happens when something isn’t going the way I want it to, and what I have to do to make it work – in my photography life… though the lesson is well learnt everywhere else too!

Last week I had a friend of mine’s wife come in for a shoot. We had met for about an hour the week before, just to get to know each other. I immediately felt incredibly comfortable with her and actually felt like I had known her for years. I really value meeting people before a shoot, as I totally believe that the way I photograph people and perhaps women in particular, is about getting to know them first. I very often meet my clients in advance of the shoot so that we can chat over coffee about what they might like, what their reservations are and what sort of things inspire them. I often send them away with a Pinterest link – if they don’t have one already – and ask them to start building a mood board or inspiration board and to share it with me, so that I will have an idea of who they are and what they like, before we get into the studio.

This particular lady (Kate) opted for a make-over so it was really important to get the mood board going. There were some amazing photos on there, very colourful, lots of crazy make-up and hair, women with long, gorgeous dreads, punks etc, and her creative and artistic side really shone through the choice of these pics, so by the time we got into the studio, both Michelle (from Bie Hair/makeover) and I were super excited. We knew we could go all out there both in terms of make-up and photography.

As Michelle started to apply the make-up (bright, crazy, pink, orange and green) it became apparent that we could go a little bit further, and the further we went, the more punky it got. Kate had the most amazing hair, which Michelle curled and then put up in a sort of fake Mohican. It looked incredible. Kate has quite a few piercings and tattoos as well as a totally unique style – it all went really well together. Then it was time for the shoot.

We started shooting – firstly with a few standard portrait shots. I always like to simply shoot and see what my lights are doing first, before moving them (and/or my subject) around to see what different effects I can get. I don’t tend to build the picture first, but instead, take lots of pictures and try lots of different things. I know some photographers work differently, placing their subjects, moving them slightly, waiting for the right shot before shooting. I am just not comfortable working this way, as I feel that the subject gets bored too easily and the energy of the room becomes less vibrant, less ‘energetic’.

What quickly became apparent to me was that even though the make-up looked awesome, it was making Kate look too harsh under the lights.

Kate is not harsh – she is soft, vibrant, open, friendly, calm, beautiful, womanly, funny and quirky, but somehow we had created a look that made her quite hard – almost impenetrable. For me that wasn’t Kate. I love this photo (left) as you know how I feel about the dark, but it is not really Kate and I wanted Kate to shine… I also think that we were not actually as comfortable with her in make-up as we thought we would be – I say we, because it really is a 2-way thing!

I asked her to take her hair down, and magically straight away, we both began to relax. The shots were definitely getting better and the result was that Kate was more ‘Kate’ (I now sound like that ad for hair colour – apologies). But still, it wasn’t quite right. That’s when I decided to turn it around 360. I asked Kate to go and remove the punk make-up whilst I breathed deeply for a few minutes, telling myself I was doing the right thing. I was right. This time, it really worked. The session completely changed from being something that seemed a little difficult – a little put on, affected even – to something that was easy, natural and fun. We both commented on how much more relaxing it became.

It was a bit of a milestone for me as I am not always good at knowing when to change something, even though it is not working, but thankfully I listened to my inner voice and realised that if we were going to get the shots we wanted, it was important to go back to the beginning, strip it all back and start again. I am so glad I did. I learnt a powerful lesson that day – in fact I learnt a few. The first is that if something is not working, change it. The other is that if we want to push the boundaries, we should do so half way through the session, when everyone is into it and have become relaxed and happy, not at the beginning when we are finding our feet. It has to be something that grows, not something that is forced. The third? – my intuition is usually right.

I am really grateful to Kate for being such an amazingly good sport, for being great company and for following my lead, without doubting me, throughout the whole thing. I have asked her to come and sit with me and go through the images with her artistic eye (not with a self-critical one) so that I can learn some more. Hopefully she will have a look at some of my other images too. I really value her opinion and I think a bit of positive criticism is really important when you are trying to grow as an artist (of any kind). I should just end by saying that Kate did love some of the images, even some of the beginning shots, but that we both preferred the natural ones, where she was simply Kate; with Kate’s essence shining through, and that of course is whole point of the Essence of Woman Project.

If you would like to know more about the Essence of Woman project you can find lots of information on my website by following the link. If you would like to chat with me about having a shoot, then feel free to give me a call on 07882 534 115 or email me christina@christina-dithmar-photography.co.uk. Thanks for reading! xx

35mm – Trials and Tribs

agfa

My first ever camera – one I hardly used as a teenager – what a shame!! Making up for lost time now though…

I recently started to get interested in shooting film, rather than digital, at least for street photography. My lovely friend Col, an incredibly talented film street photographer, and I have had big long chats about shooting film and he totally awakened in me the need to go and do just that! Having never shot film before – well not really, only on cameras I took on holiday with me, before the advent of digital technology, I really had no idea how this was going to play out, what I was going to feel and whether I was going to like it or not – there is strange symmetry in this with the rest of my life currently – doing something just because it is fun and it doesn’t matter necessarily what the result is. Anyway – as usual, I digress!

Knightshayes Court Tiverton

This was one of the first colour images I took on the AGFA.

I decided to dig out my great aunt’s old Agfa Silette 35mm camera and see if it actually worked. At the same time, I came across a bric a brac shop that was selling all types of old cameras, and I just happened to buy 4 of them, for £20! A Minolta, a Beirette, a Ricoh, a vintage kodak and later I bought a Praktica from an antique shop! Well, you know me, can’t do anything by halves!!

The first film I shot was on the AGFA, it was a black and white Ilford 200. It was ok until the wind-on button stopped winding the film on but photos were still being snapped – oh no, that wasn’t the worst bit, it was the fact that I could hear that there was something wrong with the film, as it kept crunching and there was nothing for it but to… open the camera!!! Yes… that is one thing to remember when shooting film… don’t open the camera unless you have either managed to run the film back or you are in a very dark place, like a black binliner! I did have the excuse that I had to open it in order to get a new film in, but on reflection it might have been better if I had simply left it. Obviously, I had to wait until the film was developed to really ascertain the damage… I ended up having to pay £8 for a totally exposed film with no images on it what-so-ever… we live and learn.

Taunton Street Crew

Taken on the Agfa

The next film I popped in was an AGFA film which I bought 20 of in Poundland. I popped that into the camera and it worked like a dream. I actually had no real idea how to use the camera and was using it before I went on a film workshop, but somehow I managed to get it mostly right. The images were gorgeous… or rather, the colour was gorgeous.

Taunton Street Crew in the air

Taken on the Agfa

The images were OK… pretty average really… but because of the colour they just look super vintage and beautiful – even more so than any Instagram filter could ever do.  I also took some shots of the street dance boys in Taunton and I was utterly amazed at what I came out with. I didn’t think I would have really been able to capture them in mid air as I didn’t know the speed of my fingers or the camera, but it actually worked.

The mouse at Knightshayes Court

The mouse at Knightshayes Court, shot on the Agfa

Taken on the RICOH 500 - wingmirror - 35mm AGFA colour film

Taken on the RICOH 500 – wingmirror – 35mm AGFA colour film

My favourite camera that I took out had to be the Minolta, A zone focus camera, but it kept jamming. Little did I know that it was because the battery wasn’t working. I changed the battery and lo and behold it stopped – or rather, the lovely men in the London Camera Exchange sorted it for me. It still jams every now and then, but not to the same extent. I love the zone focus because it is so easy to use and I think that if I was going to go and do some London street photography, it would be my camera of choice. I haven’t seen the results from the Minolta yet so I suppose I could change my mind! I love the ease of it! Saying that though, the Ricoh 500 is a great little camera too – and although I have a major light leak problem with it, it is just a real beauty. I love the results from the Ricoh! I do need to stop the light from leaking, however awesome it might look! I took it out for the day in Bristol and shot a lot of benches it seems!! There are an awful lot of empty benches in Clevedon. I also used it for a shot I took of my wingmirror. I personally love this shot. It’s not innovative or edgy, but its just a gorgeous colour!

Sadly the Beirette doesn’t work and although the Praktica did work it now seems to have lost all function of its lightmeter – I however just love the fact that I even know what the light meter is on an SLR and that I know what it should be doing! Apparently this could be because of the battery. However, I changed the battery… and still nothing… so it looks like I will have another excuse to visit the LCE again… not that I really ever need an excuse.

Ricoh 500

Taken on the Ricoh – with the light leak!

All in all, I have shot about 10 films and have still got two that need developing. I was doing a really good job of labelling the films at first, but now it seems I have been a little remiss and I haven’t a clue which is which. Hopefully the images will remind me of which camera I had with me on that day…

As well as shooting film, I also went on an excellent 35mm film workshop run by Justin Orwin in his fabulous studio in Martock. It was myself and my friend Jan, who quite frankly behaved like school girls most of the day! Saying that though, we did learn an awful lot! We were supposed to shoot some film too, but there was so much to take in, so much to learn and rather a lot of laughing and chattering that there was simply not time. I am glad in a way, as it was so good getting down to the nitty gritty technical aspect of film and camera work.I already knew a lot, but this was uber helpful! I learnt more about speed than I had done before -my complete downfall as I never ever shoot in TV and if I shoot in Manual it is always the depth of field I am paying attention to… It was great knowing that I know so much more than I thought, and it was equally as great learning about the film speeds and exposure and which films to use when, about lenses and filters, as well as light temperature and more about white balance. There was such an awful lot to take in that I simply don’t know if it will all stick!

Vivary park

35mm agfa film on the AGFA camera

I have to mention that Justin was incredibly patient with us and I mustn’t forget that he also gave me some medium format film for my vintage Kodak, which I have only used a few times. I am so looking forward to taking it out on my next street photography outing or perhaps even to my next portrait shoot in a couple of days!

I have really enjoyed shooting film, I love the fact that I can’t see the result straight away, though that is more of a love/hate relationship. I do love the excitement of going back into the developers and seeing what is on my pictures. I am getting used to the disappointment too, as many of them don’t come out, but the worst thing about film? The expense! It might only be a couple of pounds for the film itself, but the developing is sooo expensive – I guess in a way that THAT is what makes us so much more careful about when we press the button. I noticed on a recent shoot with Justin that I was more careful pressing the button on my digital camera than before, as he was slower, shooting film. I rather like to remember that now when I shoot. We should treat our digital shots in much the same way, with the same care and attention as we give to our film shots. For me, it was a revelation to come away with so many decent shots, just because I slowed down a bit!

Will I ever shoot just film? No. No! I am definitely not brave enough for that, but I will take some film cameras with me to weddings and other shoots and see what comes of them, and I will gladly shoot film for street! It’s been an amazing exercise, and I am so grateful to Col for releasing this love of film in me that I simply didn’t know I had. Long may it last.

Lyme Bay Bridal Shoot

French Lieutenant’s woman meets gone with the wind meets…

A few weeks ago I managed to get Abby back in her wedding dress. I say I managed – it was not exactly a hardship and I think she might even bite my hand off to do the same again. Justin Orwin and I decided we wanted to have some fun and shoot some bridal portraits by the sea and luckily Abby was a willing victim. Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (48 of 48)Justin Orwin is an experienced wedding photographer who I did an introductory workshop with at Clavelshay Barn not long ago. I went on the workshop to find out really how much or how little I already knew, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I decided to challenge myself all day and shot in manual focus as well as On Manual. I learnt a lot and you can read all about that in one of my previous posts! However, I digress (as usual).

So – A wednesday evening, at Lyme Regis, Monmouth Bay, and the weather was very kind to us! The light was utterly stunning and the backdrop was quite magnificent.

Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (21 of 48)Justin had a very definite idea of what he wanted to achieve, whereas although I had an idea, I wanted to just see where it would go and simply let the evening, the dress and Abby guide me. That is something I found quite interesting. I think it is very much my style of photography. I don’t think that at the moment I am a ‘Director’… I have no problem asking someone to sit down or stand up or throw her head back laughing, but these are not things I plan… I actually like to see what the environment gives me before I know where to go with the shots.I didn’t find directing Abby difficult, but I also didn’t do it as much as Justin, preferring the candid shots that I got of her, for that very same reason. It is also the difference between shooting film and digital.Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (10 of 48)

Justin was shooting film, and I was shooting digital. So, I was much more able to take snap away, whilst he had to be much more concentrated, waiting, to get that perfect shot. I like the idea of shooting film, but I would never want to do a whole wedding on film only. I have the utmost respect for photographers like Justin who only used to do wedding photographs shooting film – I cannot imagine ever having the courage to do that myself. I love the differences between us. I find it fascinating!

Abby Shoot Col lores (128 of 150)Another thing I found quite interesting was that when I got home, I realised that I had spent an awful lot of time  on the full image – which is different to the way I normally shoot. I am normally much more concerned with portraiture and headshots. Yet, the dress for me, trailing along the sand, or the shapes that the dress was making, suddenly became really important to me. I also found that the images I really liked were the full body, colour images – probably because of the light, the blue of the sea and the dark blue of the cliffs, the white of the dress, the bluey white of the sand and the stones and the overall soft pink light that blanketed every shot giving it a warm glow… I really love these images. That is not to say that the portraits aren’t also my favourites, but they were found later in post processing as I cropped in on some of the images. During the evening itself I concentrated much more on full body shots and the dress. I find it fascinating how I notice these little things about myself and about my photography. How changes occur all the time.

Abby Shoot Portrait BW lores (17 of 48)I shot mainly using my Canon 50mm. This was unusual as I would normally like to use my 18-200mm for safety but actually I really loved just using the 50mm. I changed towards the end to my Tamron 90mm which is a superb portrait lens for very little money. I love that lens and I was delighted with the results. The 50mm is a 1.8 and the Tamron is 2.4 (I think) – so both lens let in a lot of light, and creates a beautifully shallow depth of field. I love how the backgrounds are just blurred out, helping to fix on the subject itself.
I am currently scouting for more models – I have a few up my sleeve and just have to get them together and get them out there! I even bought a couple of wedding dresses – cheap ones that were being sold off – so that we have some should they be needed. I cannot wait to see who is going to get in them!

Abby Shoot Col lores (44 of 150)I have grand ideas about doing a wedding fashion shoot with 3+ models on the beach… I also have a vision of something a bit more edgy, a bit supermodel avant garde alternative! I will definitely need to get my Director’s head on for that, but I think I will be OK – putting the vision into action will be a huge challenge, but I can see it before me… surely that is half the battle won already!

I have to say a huge thank you to Abby for being a star and of course a mega thanks to Justin for suggesting we go play on the beach with wedding dresses and models, in the first place! I hope there will be many more play dates in the future! You can see Justin’s photographs and read more about him here… http://www.justinorwin.co.uk/ – and if anyone is reading this and fancies getting into their wedding dress again and having some amazing images created, then please feel free to contact me for a quote.  xx

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London Street Photography… my first foray into the unknown

It’s not really supposed to be blog day today, but I can’t help myself. I had such an interesting day on Thursday, being in London and indulging in a bit of street photography. It is not an easy task and one that I personally find incredibly difficult. I think it is the fact that I feel a bit rude taking photos of people when they don’t know that I am doing it. I also find it pretty scary asking people if I can take their photos.

The other day I read an article about taking photos in the ghetto… well, photos of people who were starving or poor or homeless, or indeed, all of the above! It gave some great tips on what to do: ‘don’t ever go alone!’ was one of them… For me it is not this part that I find scary or fearful, it is the fact that I would like to ask people if they mind if I take their photograph, but then what happens if they say no? It is just called being a little bit shy about it, as I feel like I am intruding in their lives.

Anyway, it was my first foray into street photography and I found an excellent way to get around it, I simply started by taking photos of people who were already taking photographs themselves- mostly of Big Ben and the houses of Parliament, the London eye and Tower bridge…there also seemed to be an awful lot of people in St James’ Park taking photos of squirrels… a lot of Italians  I wonder why… surely Italy has squirrels. In fact, I then a few days later found myself taking photographs of a squirrel, though not a London one, and realised that I have man y times in the past taken photos of squirrels and been quite animated about it afterwards… anyway, I digress… where was I? Yes – taking photos of people taking photos of other people or things… it is a GREAT way of facing the dear and doing it anyway, because people quite simply don’t notice you and if you are anything like me, then not being noticed or being invisible behind a camera is where you feel most comfortable. Funnily enough, I never used to be this way… but then I never used to have a camera to hide behind. I guess the psychological make-up of photographers and their motivation has to be a subject for another day.

As the day went on, I became braver and braver. I started taking photos of people without their cameras, of a demonstration against the drug Khat being held by a gathering of Somalians  largely women, and later of a male couple (I presumed they were a couple) sitting on a bench chatting. Sadly it did not come out well as the railings were in focus and not the chaps… it was worth a try and I felt quite the voyeur .. and I rather liked it!

So, do I have any advice? As with all things that you fear, I would say, just do it anyway. Ease yourself into it. Go somewhere where there are lots of people with cameras already so that you don’t stand out, and don’t worry, it seems that most people don’t actually notice you at all. As for talking to people? Well, someone gave me some great advice, find a person who is quite obviously an exhibitionist and ask them. Do this as a starting point each time, because they will love having their photo taken and you will get all the practice you need in doing the asking without being turned down.

I love how a day in London can teach me so much. I only went to get my passport renewed and came back with a fondness for street photography – who would have thunk it!

Cxx

Here are a few of the street photography photos I took… I also have  afew others that I will share in another blog, they are of my mother and daughter… when they weren’t looking… (also good practice!)

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A learning journey

I have recently been asked to do a few more adult portraits. I don’t have a studio, so if someone asks me, it is because they know we will be outside, come rain or shine, walking through woods, struggling through mud or fighting with the incoming tide. It takes a certain person to agree to this! For children it is of course great fun to run around the park, the beach, the trees etc, but not always for adults. However, i love it! And, I believe that you get some very natural shots when you are outside. It is as if, not being confined to a certain space, or have glaring lights in your eyes, eases you more readily into a feeling of comfort and security, helping you to trust your photographer.

It was a few weeks ago now that I was asked to take some photos of Paul, and at the same time, we decided to invite his stepson to come and take part and have his photos done too. It was such an enjoyable shoot. It was easy, fun and relaxing – at least for me! We went on a long walk through Hestercombe gardens, through the gardens themselves, into the woods, up and along the pathway. We sat in the old cubby holes and leant on posts, pillars and trees, and the results were pretty darn good. It is not difficult to take photos though when the subjects are as willing and as malleable as these two. My job was almost done for me, before we even started.

The brief was to take some shots of Paul for his profile photos. We wanted to bring out the creative side of him, the eco friendly side as well as the successful business man. I think and really hope, that we achieved this.

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As for Patrick… well, I haven’t really done any teen shots before, so I wanted to see how that would go. I thought it would be much harder than it actually was, but it really helped that Patrick was so easy going and handsome young chap, to boot. The shots were done at the same time as Paul’s shots, using the same trees and areas of Hestercombe as with Paul. Patrick is a musician, plays guitar really well, and I wanted to convey a sense of the teen idol, in his photos. Hopefully next time I will get to photograph him WITH his guitar.

One of the things I am learning so much about is seeing with my eyes, what my camera sees and how a shot will actually look when I get home. There is one particular shot of Patrick that I have included in the slideshow where his jumper is all ruffled and at the time, I didn’t actually see that. It is such a shame when you get a lovely shot and something like this changes the whole look and feel of it. I wish I had noticed and had him straighten his jumper before I started shooting. The great thing however is that we live and learn ! The other thing I learnt a lot about was light. the sun was glaring down at us for most of the day, and some of the shots were far too bright. I later learnt that I could have used my flash to deflect the light from the sun, but actually, a walk in the woods, the leaves, the trees and the shade they created, added to a much more atmospheric feel in some cases. That’s what I love about natural light photography. We use what the universe brings us.

It was a wonderful day, and I learn so much every time I go and turn on my camera. It is a great journey to be on and how amazing to have so many wonderful people come along for the ride.

xxx