A photographic story…..

I’ve got to admit, I am terrible at capturing my own special life events on camera. However this is a conscious decision and I’ve always been the same, I want to LIVE IT, not photograph it. Being a photographer this is a constant conflict in my mind, because I’d love to have the photographic artifact to hold and keep forever, and sometimes I beat myself up over it, but when it comes down to it my desire to be ‘in the moment’ wins every time.

For me there is a time and a place for pointing a camera, a gig isn’t one of them, neither is a romantic moment, nor is it when you are laughing and playing with your children on the beach….EXPERIENCE IT!!!! But when it comes to the observation of other people I’m there!! Camera at the ready! Here is one special moment that I managed to capture for my sister, the birth of her son George….it was a bit of a complicated labour, but it had a wonderful happy ending….

GeorgeGeorge-2George-8Goerge skin touch upGeorge-11George-17Annie&George!George-24George-31

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Film….learn about it. Try it!! You won’t regret it.

There are many benefits of trying film for digital image makers.

Just by picking up a film camera, one thing happens, YOU SLOW DOWN. Something that we are not used to doing in our fast paced, now now now existence, the realisation dawns on you that you can’t click the button relentlessly until you have the shot you want. You have to take time, consider your shots, the composition, the exposure, framing, the exact perfect expression or pose from your subject to achieve the desired ‘feel’ from your image. You only have limited shots. And therefore, by default you will find yourself honing your skills.

Film creates a different aesthetic to digital images, the most obvious difference being the grain created by film, not to be confused with noise from digital files. Grain is beautiful, it gives a texture and depth to an image. As we are now in a digital age, it brings with it a nostalgia, with all of the connotations of recent decades gone by.

In the past I have used this grain for creative effect, the higher the ISO (film speed) the more grain. One example I can think of is when I photographed surfers, they were surfing in the middle of winter, it was grey and overcast. The textures of the beach, the sand, stones, the grass in the dunes, the weather, the ‘feel’ of the day were all complimented by the grain of the film. 

The defined aesthetic of film also comes from the different tonal ranges found in the varying types of film. You can buy both colour and black and white film, depending on that type you buy depends on the tonal range achieved. I love working with black and white film, I think by simplifying the visual stimuli you focus attention on other areas such as the shape and form of your subject. But I suppose it depends on who I’m photographing, and what I am trying to create as a narrative or emotive response.

Last week I did a shoot on some expired film I had sitting on my office desk for years, expiry 2004! I took the risk and it paid off!! (The results will be coming soon to my Facebook and Instagram accounts.) The thing about old film is that you never quite know what you are going to get, it’s unpredictable, it’s exciting! As the three layers of emulsion degrade at different rates you may get some strange effects happening with the colour. On this occasion the only effect was a change in the tonal range of colour achieved, but it worked perfectly for the location and subject.

Many of the images on my Facebook page and Instagram are shot on 35mm film. They are also unedited. It takes skill to work in this way, and it is a skill worth learning.

https://www.facebook.com/hilarywoodportraits/ 

@hilarywoodportraits

Connect.

You may be all alone with your camera but photography gives you the opportunity to connect. Connect to the environment around you if you photograph landscapes,  experience the time and space, the place. When shooting portraits you get the opportunity to take time with the people that you photograph, this is why I love what I do, I love people!! People of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, the rich and the poor, everybody has their story and experiences that make them who they are and that is what fascinates me. And of course, finally, photography gives you the ability to connect with your audience. That beautiful silent communication that you get from an image. It can be so powerful. Much more so than words.

So much can be told by body language, the look of an eye, or even the angles used on a landscape to portray the mood of the place. 

The image at the top of my blog is one that I took as a student at University, I like to look back at it as it reminds me of why I love photography. That moment when everything aligns perfectly to illustrate the situation, the sounds, the emotions, the connections with the children. When you look at this image you can feel the mood of that moment. 

Cartier Bresson would call this the ‘decisive moment,’ that exact perfect moment to release the shutter. I do believe to some extent that this ‘descisive moment’ exists and this type of intuition of timing can make the difference between a good photographer and a great photographer. However, it’s not necessarily always an innate response, but also something that can be taught. Like anything, study it enough, understand the theory behind it and you can learn to identify the ‘decisive moment.’ We will talk more about how to do this later in my blog when exploring what makes a ‘good’ image? 

So what do you want to ‘connect’ with?!! Where will you start when you pick up your camera?! Well, the answer to that is easy. 

We tend not to explore the environment that we live in, or we take for granted the faces that we see every day. But these are what you know best, and therefore a great place to start. Almost always the best work comes from within, draw what you know, film what you know, write about what you know, and shoot (not literally!!) what you know. With this comes an integrity, and it will shine through your work.

You MUST have a passion for what you photograph, you MUST CONNECT with what you photograph. 

My lens is bigger than yours….

When working as a Lecturer there was one question that we always had a ‘cringe’ at when a visiting lecturer would open the floor to questions…….

“What camera do you use?”

You may be thinking to yourself, “what’s the problem?!”….The problem with this question is, IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!!!! The skill comes in the way you use light, compose the image, work with your subject, consider the narrative, the context, etc etc etc etc. Yes, obviously there are some lenses/cameras that will enable a better image quality, but this is not the difference between a good and a bad photograph. 

In terms of cameras what you need to understand is what their limitations are at each level. Very very briefly, compact ‘snap-shot’ cameras are easy to carry and easy to use, but the function buttons aren’t great and you have little creative control. However, most of them have video functions that work well for something so compact. I have a compact camera, it has its uses, especially on a family outing when the thought of carrying a big camera around isn’t the most convenient. Semi professional cameras give you more options, menus, and some have the ability to change lenses. You can get some really great semi-professional cameras on the market now, and their automatic functions work pretty well. However, in general, if you have an interest in photography and want to have independent creative control over your shots, you need to invest in an SLR camera. 

SLR, means ‘Single Lens Reflex’, DSLR has the addition of ‘Digital’. This name is almost descriptive to the way the camera works, there is a mirror inside the camera, when the shutter is released (button pressed!) the mirror flips out of the way to allow the light to either fall on the digital sensor or on the film. (In later posts I will explain about camera functions in more detail and how they work together for creative control.)

Buying an SLR doesn’t need to be a costly investment, you can pick up a second hand SLR camera on eBay for very little. It doesn’t even need to be a top of the range Canon or Nikon, just as long as it’s an SLR (film or digital) it’ll do the job. When I opened my studio in Liverpool I was using a Fuji S5 Pro because they are good at capturing a range of skin tones. However, you are unlikely to notice these subtle differences until you start to gain A LOT of experience in using varying photographic equipment so don’t worry about which one you get at this stage. Any will be fine. 

What you need to concern yourself with is understanding the fundamentals of using an SLR camera, as a good foundation in this will open the door to a greater understanding of photography in general. 
There are of course many many other types of cameras that you can enjoy, such as medium format cameras, instant cameras (Polaroid/Instax), fun cameras such as the Diana, pin hole cameras, wet plate cameras, the list goes on. But an SLR is easily accessible, affordable, and will give you all you need to gain a good grounding of this wonderful subject. It’s a great place to start!

Regardless of all the gear others may have compared to you, always but always remember this ….the word ‘photography’ roughly means (from its historical origins) ‘drawing with light’… And THAT is what it’s all about! Don’t become a ‘kit w*@nker’!!

Learn to see….

Before you learn to take a good photograph you have to learn to see. This may sound a bit ‘new age’ but bear with me.

When teaching at Birmingham City University, I decided to take the Visual Design students on a walking trip around the city centre of which they were so familiar, to teach them to see it in a new way. If you live or work in a city you most likely spend most of your time staring at the pavement, LOOK UP!!!! There is sooo much to see!!! I see photographs in EVERYTHING.

We had a great day walking around the city, one of the exercises that we did was the students were encouraged to stand still and be ‘present’ in the moment, inhibiting at least one of their other senses (sound works well) and allow the visual stimuli to dominate. Making a conscious effort to see. It was incredible to see how such a simple exercise brought new visual awareness to so many of the students….and many members of the public that had tagged onto our tour!! 

The human brain is designed to filter out most of the visual information that our eyes see, this process is known as selective filtering or selective attention. Meaning what our conscious and unconscious brain ‘sees’ is very different. Anybody who is a fan of @DerrenBrown will know about how he manipulates the subconscious brain in his work, emphasising particular visual signs seen by the subconscious brain (but not logged by the conscious) to ‘plant’ messages or ideas. The key to helping yourself become a more ‘conscious creative’ is to harness this yourself. People who are more ‘naturally’ creative, have this ability ‘built-in’, they see more! The way the light falls on a chimney breast or on a face, they see the texture of the brick wall that they walk past, where perhaps these details would normally be bypassed by others. This does not mean that you are at a disadvantage because you are not a ‘natural,’ creative. You can learn to see differently. 

The term #mindfulness is used a lot at the moment. It is now recognised as a technique to improve mental health by the NHS, but I’ve been teaching this technique for years in my lectures!!

The NHS says “mindfulness” is ‘paying more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you, to improve your mental wellbeing.’

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says you should notice the ‘everyday’, “Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk. All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage day to day…..”

Overcoming this ‘autopilot’ will allow you to improve your visual awareness.

See beauty in the way colours compliment each other or contrast in an environment to create emphasis, see the tonal range within one leaf, see the humour or irony in a social situation in the same way as Elliot Erwitt, see the quirky nature of human condition like Martin Parr, see the sensual nature of the shape and form of everyday objects like Guy Bourdin…..SEE!! 

Image credit: Elliott Erwitt


 

This is me…..

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a photographer, or even a Lecturer, in actual fact I grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot in the RAF. Much to the disgust of the careers lady at my school who spent most of her time trying to convince me to be a teacher. At the time I hated her, but looking back I’m really quite glad the old bat was so persistent.

Photography was introduced to me at University (a module within my degree course) by the coolest and most inspirational teacher I’d met, Ian. Ian drank too much and swore A LOT, I loved him!!! Ian had a sidekick, Julian, he was very quiet, covered in tattoos and had a very sarcastic sense of humour. They lived in the basement in the bottom of one of the high rises on our campus, a quiet darkroom that stank of chemicals and always had great tunes on, that darkroom soon became my corner of the Earth. My happy place. 

Photography came naturally to me, we had a lesson on basic camera skills (this was in the days of film cameras), and the mechanics of the camera. It all just seemed to make sense. From the first project we were given I was producing work that was of a much higher level than my peers, when I handed in my second project Ian’s feedback was “stop pissing all over my projects.” I was doing well.

By the end of my first year at Uni I was employed as the Photography Technicain, which involved many late nights and early mornings in the darkroom developing films, and looking after equipment. My shift usually started lying on my back on the floor of Julian’s office (not like that!!!), I was usually on the  office floor at the start of my shift because I’d dragged myself out of bed with a mind-bending hangover. I worked hard and played hard, I never did anything by halves. One of the reasons I ended my Media and Communciations degree with a First Class with honours. 

One day, whilst in the darkroom, Ian confided in me that he was dying, with only about 6 months to live. It was so sad, he had two very young children. I was expecting him to follow this up with, “and so I’ll be leaving my job”, but he didn’t. When I asked him why he said “because teaching you bastards is one of the things that I enjoy the most.” Ian was the reason I love photography as much as I do, and I’ll never forget him and his enthusiasm. A few months later Ian passed away. Julian took over as Course Leader, and I was asked by the University to start teaching (the first year students) as well as continuing with my technicians job, and studying for my degree.

And that’s how it all began. My tragic love story with photography.

When I left Uni I did the usual, travel the world, worked in lots of mundane jobs…until one day, whilst working as the Fashions  Manager in a department store I found out that the photography studio based in our store was closing.

I saw my opportunity and went to see the man who owned the department store. This was a Friday, he told me to put a business plan together and come back to see him Monday. I did. He liked it. I handed my notice in (of my extremely well paid and secure job might I add) and became the proud owner of the photography studio.

Business went well, with an established customer base, and being based in Liverpool city centre it was an great place to work. I mainly did portraiture but got asked to do commercial work from time to time.

During this time I was asked back to Birmingham City University to lecture part time on my old course. This soon turned into lecturing in photography on another degree course, then doing the odd bits on the Master in Commercial Photography. Oh, and I then got asked to take over teaching on a Visual Design module. I loved it though, so accepted anything that came my way. 

When the amount of lecturing I was doing increased, the department store I was based in went into administration and I decided that it was time to call it a day with the studio.

From there I moved to Norwich to Lecture full time at Norwich Univeristy of the Arts on the BA Photography. Where I was from August 2011, until recently handing in my notice after having my second baby. 

Now my first baby is off to school I’m going back to my practice, and I’m very excited to get back to taking photographs….

Hello and welcome….

Hello!! Welcome to my blog. My name is Hilary and I’m here to talk to you about everything Photography!!

I’ve been working in photography for 18 years, as a University Lecturer, commercial photographer, and studio owner. I’ve taught at undergraduate and postgraduate level, although mainly in Photography I’ve also taught Art History, and Visual Design.
I specialise in Portraiture myself but love all Photography; actually I love all Visual Arts!!

My aim is to bring quality advice to those interested in photography, to improve their knowledge and skills.

I’ll be talking generally about photography, posting video and written tutorials, showing examples of my work, introducing you to some amazing photographers, reviewing products, and linking you to interesting photography events. I will also be offering critiques (crits) of your images through my other social media platforms!!

I can’t wait to share my knowledge, and connect with you all….

If you know anybody that wants to learn about photography or improve their photographic skills then please share!