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

Objectivity – a lesson learning.

I have recently met a most wonderful photographer by the name of Emily Fairweather. She specialises in rustic Children’s portraits – natural, outdoors, a little ethereal at times, simple and always, gorgeous. You can check out Emily’s images here: http://www.emilyfairweatherphotography.co.uk/

She contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing some work with her, which of course I was/am. Having chatted, I recently went and helped her out with going through her images from a few weddings she has been doing, and getting them down from too many to just about enough! As with all digital photographers I suspect, she overshoots. I do that too, because I would hate to think that the shot I wanted most was not actually the shot I got and of course, shooting digital means you can do what you like – take as many or as few photographs as you want. The problem of course comes when you have to go through them and delete all the rubbish ones and find the ones you love, because sometimes there are simply too many good ones, but no one wants the same/similar photo twice.

When I do this for myself I can’t look at the images from a wedding until a few days later or I run the risk of deleting the lot! I have to give it just enough time for the adrenaline of the day to settle before I actually dare look at them, and even then, I am uber critical of them at first, but from a very subjective point of view.

Having helped Emily with hers, I have notice that actually when I look at my own images now, I am starting to look at them in a much more objective way, almost as if through someone else’s eyes; the eyes of the person in them, or the people or person who I am doing them for. So, for example, when I went through and rejected some recent studio shots, I thought mostly about what sort of photo Sarah would like to see of herself, then I thought about what makes the photo a good photo and then about what I thought I could do to make that photo better – not necessarily for all the photos individually. It was a big change as before I had found myself mostly thinking about whether it was an image I would like and that represented me as a photographer, as well as whether it was an image they would like. I am not sure I am explaining this terribly well, but I what I think I am trying to say is that there are many different reasons for keeping a photo or deleting a photo, but that the sole reason cannot be simply whether I like it or not. It has to be more than that, and that is why being objective and not always following your heart is one of the hardest and yet most valuable things to be able to do.

I really felt that having done this exercise for someone else, I am beginning to learn to not be so overly critical of myself, which is a very valuable lesson to learn. I have in other instances learnt not to take so many photos as well, whilst shooting next to someone shooting film, and that in itself has been an invaluable experience.

Claire Tom Wedding lores jpgs (10 of 251)The great thing about getting to know other photographers so much better is the amount of knowledge sharing you can do. All the people I have met recently have been incredibly kind, helpful, and communicative, not to mention, totally up for collaborating. I do really believe in the power of collaboration and that as there are so many photographers out there vying for business it is essential that we start to communicate and we begin to think about the prices we charge, so that we don’t undercut anyone else. Obviously there are different levels of pricing, but it really is essential that we become more aware of our impact on ourselves and those around us!
Tyntesfield lores (55 of 62)So, I am loving my new found friends with similar interests. In the last few months I have met and got to know a lovely group of photographers, who I think would all get on really well. I think it will be one of my missions to get us all together, even if it is simply to chat about fstops, the beauty of film, wedding traumas, memory cards and exposure settings – all over a drink or two. Well – it would be rude not to!

Love and fstops to you all, – mine’s a 1.8 barman!

Christina

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Clavelshay Barn Photography Workshop

I have been a bit remiss in my blogging over the past few weeks, but that does not mean I that I have been sitting on my laurels – no siree! I have plenty to say, but just not a lot of time to say it. A few weeks ago I shot the wedding of my year for Abby and Ben and absolutely loved it. However, there is a lot to say about the ins and outs of wedding photography and my experiences thereof, so that is a blog that is currently in-formation… in my head… and will soon be put on to paper, erm on ‘line’. In the meantime, let me introduce you to a little piece of heaven, hidden in the Somerset countryside, just outside Taunton. Let me introduce you to Clavelshay Barn. 

Spring in the woods at Clavelshay - f1.8

Spring in the woods at Clavelshay – f1.8

On Saturday I had the immense pleasure of going to a photography workshop at Clavelshay. A workshop, I hear you say? Well, yes, it was a basic, introductory digital camera workshop, a ‘how to work out what your camera can do for you’ type workshop and boy was it good! Now, I know I already ‘should’ know what I can do with my camera, and I do already know, but what was really great about doing this workshop was that I had a whole day to myself, to play! No washing to be done, no child to be fed, just me and a bunch of like-minded lovely people, walking around a farm, learning and experiencing all that is photography. The workshop was lead by the quite brilliant Justin Orwin from http://www.orwinstudio.com/.

Workshop weekend lores (30 of 104)

Nothing like a good nut and bolt combo!!

He has an incredibly welcoming style and approach to photography and to leading a workshop. He was very knowledgeable and answered all questions succinctly and gently – there was definitely no such thing as a silly question. It was such an enjoyable day. At first we spent a while talking about the technical side of our cameras and of photography. There were people of different levels in the group and the workshop was pitched perfectly for all. For me it was incredibly helpful to hear all the things I knew already, as well as being able to spend the time challenging myself to use Manual rather than AV and to use Manual Focus, and spend the whole time using my 50mm. It was a challenge, but I loved it! Throughout the day, Jan and I were both heard on countless occasions saying ‘oh god I’m in Manual’ as we were half way through a shot before we realised that we had forgotten either our exposure, fstop or manual focus setting! It was very funny! For me, it is all too easy to use my zoom lens all the time, and taking it back to using my 50mm did mean I had to move around a lot more, but it was worth it – and think of the calories I burned! Double whammy!

Really love the grunge aspect of this image!

Really love the grunge aspect of this image!

Once we had covered the technical aspects whilst sitting upstairs in the restaurant having our morning coffee (which I have to say was a treat in itself; the light shining through the windows was astoundingly beautiful, the solid oak tables and chairs stood tickled in sunlight and the daffodils danced happily as they too revelled in the first warm day of spring) we were then let lose on their working farm, and spent a lot of time taking photos and talking to the cows – talking to the cows was something I noticed myself and Jan do…it was very funny! Cows are actually incredibly difficult to take photos of, as I realised once I went through the photos the day after I got home. I did not end up with as many good shots as I had hoped, in fact, there were a lot deleted! I can put some of that down to using my camera in Manual and Manually focusing as well, but not all… I think I was thinking a lot about the technical aspects and I forgot about the composition really, but it was worth it! Workshop weekend lores (51 of 104)We took shots of farm machinery, the stalls, the cows, the garden, weeds, nothing was left out! It was definitely a no mercy approach to photography! I realised that although I love shallow depth of field, I don’t always need to keep my fstop as high as 1.8. There are times that call for less! An interesting bit of learning! I also learnt that I like my images slightly overexposed with lots of light, a sort of lifestyle/country homes look – very clean and crisp and ‘light’, and that has definitely come across in my images from the day. The wonderful thing about that is that I didn’t have to do that to them in Lightroom afterwards, I did it on the day as I was really thinking about how I was shooting as I was walking around. It was such a luxury to have time to think!

Great patterns made by the cow stalls

Great patterns made by the cow stalls

After a busy morning we came back in for lunch downstairs in the restaurant. The lunch was quite simply perfectly delicious! Homemade quiche, salad (with a sneaky bit of fennel in, which really took me by surprise and was utterly refreshing) and beautifully baked bread. I am not eating wheat or gluten so Sue made me my own beautiful little quiche with gluten free flour and some gluten free rolls. It was perfect! We even had a glass of wine too! Dessert however was an even bigger treat… gluten free brownie (and cream… shhh)! I really wish that I had taken some photos, but I was just too busy eating and enjoying the conversations around the table.

The afternoon was spent around the pond and in the woods, followed by a trip to the horses.

Rachel having cuddles...

Rachel having cuddles…

One of the things that I most loved about the day was the lovely people that were on the workshop. I really feel that I have made some lovely new friends and look forward to seeing them again! We discussed at length with Justin, the need for some more workshops, and I really hope that we will be able to do a portrait workshop there soon. I know that Justin is planning a SLR film workshop at his studio in Martock as well which I will definitely go on. I really just need to earn a bit more cash to be able to afford all these workshops!!

Jan talking to and shooting the cows

Jan talking to and shooting the cows

For me, the day ended perfectly with a lovely chat, sitting in the garden with Nadine and Sue, talking marketing, photography, music festivals and social media. The sun was shining and although there were preparations to be made for the evening service we all just seemed to stay there, soaking up the sun and enjoying the bubbles. It was also Sue’s birthday! It was all so beautifully perfect and wonderful and I for one felt so refreshed, enlivened and upbeat from this amazing day! I am very grateful to have met so many lovely people, especially (but not exclusively) Jan, Peter, Rachel, Nadine and Sue of course –  all in one day! I know I am gushing a bit here, but honestly, I could ride on these happy vibes for a long time – at least until the next workshop!

A massive thank you to Sue and Nadine for organising the workshop and a huge thank you to Justin for being a great teacher!

Justin Orwin... sadly my manual focus was focusing on the table and not Justin - it would have been a lovely photo if I had focused on the right bit!!

Justin Orwin… sadly my manual focus was focusing on the table and not Justin – it would have been a lovely photo if I had focused on the right bit!!

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

To edit or not to edit photographs – a post about photography in Somerset and the landscape of the lake district

So, we didn’t end up going to the zoo – what a shame as my friend’s daughter was poorly with a high temperature. Instead we stayed in and watched 5 films in one day! My daughter was over-ecstatic – she loves watching films. I am hoping that this will mean she will one day be a film director or something, it has to be good for something! We really enjoyed ourselves and didn’t leave the house at all. It also gave me a really good chance to sit and edit some photos that I had been meaning to do. The next day we all desperately needed to get out and get some fresh air, so we went to the woods to see Louise and later went on to the hills to have a picnic. We are very lucky – we live only twenty minutes from the Quantock Hills – walked by wordswith and lived in/on by Coleridge – I believe, so we are well and truly walking in the footsteps of the greats. It is not quite the lake district, but it is still very beautiful and we can see for miles and miles when we get up to the top.That reminds me of a funny story. last year my daughter and I went to the lake district and of course I took my camera and was snap happy photographer extraordinaire. I kept exclaiming how wonderful it was, the hills, the greenery, the fences, the walls (I know… mad!) and I couldn’t understand why my daughter wasn’t saying anything. When I probed her about it later on she merely answered ‘well, its just like home, isn’t it?’ In my head, London was still my home after all these years in the countryside, and I just kept thinking how lucky we were to be on holiday! Just goes to show how I am really on holiday every day in Somerset. 

I digress. We went to the woods and I took some photos of the girls. I was quite pleased with some of them, but I felt they needed more than I was giving them, so I decided that since they were for no one but myself I would start playing around with them in Photoshop and Lightroom4, to get some of the filters on them and start making my own filter settings. This was a really good idea on my behalf (perhaps not) as it meant that I didn’t get to sleep until about 2 am for the next 2 days. I love editing the photos and even more now that I have the quick and easy Lightroom4, do I love it. I have however always been in two minds about post production and how much is acceptable and how much isn’t. I used to work in reprographics, so I am no stranger to what people do to make photographs look great, but until I started to take the photographs I used to think that it was best to leave them as natural as possible. What I realise now of course, especially as I take RAW photos, is that if you didn’t edit them, if you didn’t increase the contrast or sharpen them, lighten them, add some more colour or take some away, they simply wouldn’t come out looking good at all. This has resulted in me giving myself a Carte Blanche to play around with my photographs as much as I like…and I like it a lot! It would be great to know how a good value, hard working photographer in Somerset, could get some more sleep though. First it was baby lack of sleep, now it is photography. Whatever next! 

ImageImageImage