father and daughter at a london weddingThis week’s image is of a father and his baby daughter at a Winter wedding in London. I’ve never really seen this image as a wedding photograph as such. To me it’s a moment between dad and daughter which, in many years time and possibly on her own wedding day, she will be able to look back on and see just how much she means to her dad. It just happens that this moment took place at a wedding.

The guests had just alighted from a London bus just outside of the venue and were walking through the building on the way to the back terrace for the drinks reception. There were a lot of people quickly moving through the venue and because of the strong Winter sunlight and busy backgrounds there was little opportunity to get good pictures in this situation. In cases like this, which happen quite a lot at weddings, I will often seek out pictures away from the main action. If the light or backgrounds aren’t conducive to getting good images I will look for places where I can photograph. Simply snapping away without thought isn’t an option. Our pictures have to be of a certain standard. That is really important to us.

The man in the picture is a guest at the wedding. He was helping his daughter to walk through the building and the interaction between them caught my eye. She was getting a little distressed at all of the people around them and he picked her up. There was my picture. I wanted to show the intimacy between these two and so shot the image back through a mirrored panel that was part of a large piece of furniture I was standing next to. The abstract patterns of light were caused by the edges of the mirror catching the sunlight. These reflections helped to isolate the two of them from everything else while adding a dream like quality to the image. I also think the picture has quite a voyeuristic feel to it.

The light on the two of them came from several large windows which opened out onto the terrace. It was a soft rim light with the baby’s dress acting as a kicker pushing light into her father’s face. Flash would have absolutely killed this image and it would have also made them aware they were being photographed. For me it is important that they were totally unaware of my presence so that I could explore the interaction between them. Compositionally it works best as a vertical image; the lines are all running top to bottom, and because the mirrored panel was a vertical rectangle we are seeing what the mirror saw.

This image for me shows the images that can be found just by observing, being patient and not being drawn into the mindset of recording everything that moves.

Click on the image for a bigger version.

~ Jeff

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  • Roberto - Lovely image Jeff! Always admired your style and thoughtfulness regarding image making, and love your black and white conversions as the final piece in the puzzle. I always struggled with stepping back from the main action in fear of missing a key moment there. I wonder how you deal with situation where the bride, groom and there immediate family are situated mainly in areas that have the poorest light conditions. Do you end up with a bulk of images taken around the periphery or do you sacrifice the quality and shoot in those poorer lighting conditions, in order to deliver sufficient images of the actual couple whose day it actually is and whose personal interactions with their guests and each other, that they will want to look back on? Great work as ever and always an inspiration going forward, even though I shot my last wedding two weeks ago.ReplyCancel

  • Henry - Love it when you go through the thoughts and intent of your shots. Thanks for sharing and the inspiration Jeff! ReplyCancel

  • Peter - This is a great picture and moment..i really like your pictures…have a nice day 🙂ReplyCancel

wedding photo in a marquee

 

I’ve often spoken in the past about my work and how it isn’t really wedding photography. Obviously it is. My career and business has been pretty much dedicated to photographing weddings, but what I mean is I’ve never really seen the pictures that myself and Sarah provide as being wedding photography in the accepted sense of the term. One of my street photography friends described our approach as being like a couple of National Geographic photographers capturing a ‘day in the life’ story of a couple of families on a wedding day. I can live with that. In fact it describes what we do very well. Although I’m not sure Nat Geo would be happy with the amount of black and white pictures we shoot!!

This picture is from a wedding. It was taken by me during the drinks reception. It doesn’t show a bride or groom. It doesn’t show a bridesmaid, or anyone in the bridal party. It doesn’t show any flowers or shoes. All of the things wedding photographs are supposed to show. These small and often overlooked moments are always constructed carefully and with consideration to the composition and light. They aren’t random snaps. We don’t do those.

The picture was taken towards the end of the reception. Most of the guests were outside with only a handful remaining inside. The lack of people forced me to look for something different in terms of picture. Something simple and interesting. The lines and shapes of the glass and aluminium structure of the bar caught my eye, along with the young man’s proximity to it. I felt there was a picture here if I was patient. The light was pretty flat because of the location of the bar within the marquee, so to make the picture interesting it would need some careful framing and good composition. The young man leaned against the bar with a canapé in his hand just as someone reached for their glass. I took the shot. This is the result. For me it’s what Cartier-Bresson referred to as a decisive moment; all the elements are in play within the frame and have all come together geometrically. It’s a simple shot but to my eye at least, it works. Take any of the elements out of the frame and the picture doesn’t work; the boy’s hand, the glass, the hand reaching for the glass. Even the people in the background work within the frame with the guy mimicking the boy. The dark suit contrasting with the hand to allow it to stand out, and the white bottle making sure the black sleeve also stands out.

A wedding photo with golden swirl showing composition
If we look at the composition, we can see it works within the theory of the Golden Ratio, the Golden Spiral, or whatever you wish to call it. It also works well within the rule of thirds. I don’t consciously think about any of this when shooting, I just know what I want my pictures to look like within the camera. My photographic brain loves geometry and lines, and the placement of elements within a frame. Sometimes my images may need cropping slightly, but that’s absolutely fine, I can’t always be in total control over camera to subject distance at something like a wedding. The hands and glass became the main elements within the frame, and yet it was the boy and the bar that initially took my attention. In my mind I went from watching a potential scenario to reacting to a change and putting together a different picture very quickly. This is a picture that does appeal to my eye. Whether or not it’s a wedding photography. I’ll let you decide 😉

~ Jeff

 

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One of the things I wanted to do with this blog is share some of the books that I have on my bookshelf and the importance they have in my photographic life. In this kindle/ipad dominated world it is very easy to dismiss books as something from another time, but when it comes to photography books nothing matches the experience of holding a book, opening its pages and looking at photographs with which you have an emotional connection. Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. I remember my daughter coming home from her first day at Arts College and mentioning that some of the photography students were grumpy and not happy. Their tutor had given them some old photography books to study when all they wanted to do was mess about with cameras.

The famous cover by Matisse with the omission of the hyphen between ‘Cartier’ and ‘Bresson’

At this year’s Photography Show in Birmingham, Sarah wanted to get her old and worn copy of Cuba by David Alan Harvey signed. We attended his talk at the show and afterwards she asked him if he would sign it for her. David asked her if she would like a personal message or just a signature because the solo signature would make the book more valuable. She told him that a personal message was more important to her and he kindly obliged. After David signed her book, a guy behind Sarah took out a carefully wrapped and completely immaculate example of the same book. He had even left the dust jacket at home because of the fear of creasing it. He handed it to David and insisted on having just a signature. After it was signed he carefully wrapped it back up and I imagined him never opening it again.

Damage to the dust jacket is just a consequence of having books which are looked at regularly

We have nearly 300 photography books at home. Most of them sit on bookshelves in our dining room. Some have become rare and increased in value while others you can find for a few quid on eBay. We don’t hide the valuable ones away and we don’t worry about creased dust jackets or yellowing pages. At any time you can take a book from our shelf, turn the pages, and enjoy the pictures. It doesn’t matter if it’s a signed first edition by Salgado, or a £20 Steve McCurry book from a bargain store. We can’t take them with us when we finally fall off our perch, so why not enjoy them while we are here?

I have a lot of books by Henri Cartier-Bresson. At the last count it was 15 including a pretty beat up signed edition. My love affair with his work started when I was a 21 year old photography student at college. My tutor was a big fan of Bresson and would spend entire lessons talking about the way Bresson used geometry and composition in his work. I was mesmerised by the idea of how a random snapshot could be so complex in terms of the way it was constructed. My youthful ignorance bothered me and I worked hard at understanding composition often turning my images upside down, as Bresson used to do, in order to concentrate on form and the visual interplay of lines and shapes. Understanding composition and the use of a 50mm lens became an obsession to me in those early years, but that obsession became the foundation for my photographic style, and many years later I am still visually excited by amazing composition.

A lot of the Bresson images I saw in those early days were photocopies from his book, The Decisive Moment, which belonged to my tutor. As students we never actually saw the book in its original format as it was too valuable to bring into college, but even those crude photocopies spoke to me visually and over the years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to get a decent original copy of the book without paying a small fortune. Several years ago, and in a moment of madness, I actually considered dropping £3K on an original used copy, but sanity prevailed and I was finally able to get my hands on a copy when Steidl re-released the book towards the end of 2014.

The Decisive Moment is quite a large book compared to other titles by Henri Cartier-Bresson

It was Christmas morning and Sarah had bought me the book for my birthday. I kind of knew I was getting it but that didn’t prevent the emotional impact of actually seeing this book for the first time. I carefully removed the wrapping paper and slipped the book out of its hard sleeve. The beautiful Matisse cover was opened and then it happened; a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. This is the book I had coveted for my entire career, and even though this was a facsimile of the original, in my eyes it was an object of beauty in its own right. I actually have no issue with buying modern editions of old books. Often the print and build quality are superior in the later editions and that is the most important thing to me. Steidl have done an incredible job with the print quality in this book and it is quite unlike any other photo book I own. If you have this book you will know exactly what I mean. Big, beautifully printed images on heavyweight paper. They are more like prints than book pages – that’s the only way I can describe them.

The quality of the printing is impossible to show via the internet but it is quite spectacular

This was the first book Bresson published. There are lots of stories about its conception, but away from the romanticism and internet chatter, it is a very well designed book considering it was first published nearly 70 years ago. My understanding is that Bresson wanted to have a vehicle to show his work as he intended (rather than in a magazine) and was responsible for the layout of the photographs. His words at the beginning of the book on technique are like finding gold. Many will think they belong to another time, and that’s ok, but to me they just make so much sense. However, design and words aside, the book’s real importance lies within the photographs. Bresson’s compositional skills are quite remarkable especially given the cameras he was using at the time. His images connect with me in a way that no other photographer seems to do. These are the pictures from my past that continue to shape my future; each one a master class in composition and geometry, rhythm and timing. To be able to see these pictures as Bresson wanted them to be seen is why this book is so important to me. Yes, some of the images are soft by today’s standards, and others obviously could have benefitted from a little more exposure or development, but to get caught up on the technical side of his pictures completely misses the point of his work. He was the world’s most important photographer and this was his greatest work.

So in a marketplace littered with countless Henri Cartier-Bresson titles, my advice would be to save your money and buy this one book. It really is all you need.

~ Jeff

 

 

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  • willie - Hi Jeff,

    Greetings from Australia. I agree wholeheartedly.I too waited decades to get my copy – the same reprint as yours. It is one of the books that are almost compulsory. It is simply a masterclass in genius.RegardsWilieReplyCancel

It has been several years since I last blogged on my photographic life. Things change in life and Facebook took over my online writing but my Dad always wanted me to write a book about my life as a photographer. I used to think it was a daft idea but as I’ve got older I think the time is right to at least start to put some of my experiences from the past three decades down somewhere. Not in the pages of a book but in an online journal so that wherever you are in the world you can hopefully find something interesting or amusing to read. Sadly my dad won’t be able to read what I write, but I believe he is in some way standing over my shoulder telling me that my sentence construction isn’t quite right or that my use of punctuation is a bit ropey. I know I can’t ask him to read it for me and correct it, so we will just have to go with it.

So here we are. My first couple of posts. Kind of like a new chapter in my photographic and personal life. The title of my blog is Walk Like Alice. It’s from a famous quote by one of the greatest social documentary photographers of the 20th century, Tony Ray-Jones. It resonates with both myself and Sarah as photographers.

Thanks for stopping by to read my ramblings and hope you enjoy the blog….

~ Jeff

“Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think it is possible to walk, like Alice, through a looking glass and find another kind of world with the camera.”
Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)

 

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It is often said that things in life come around in cycles and I guess if you live long enough you see many such cycles.  I regularly see my 18 year old daughter wearing similar clothes to her mother when she was 18, ok they aren’t exactly the same (heaven forbid) but there is a definitely a nod to the late 1980’s in what she wears. Her latest acquisition is a ‘Guns N Roses’ T-shirt from the ‘Appetite for Destruction’ tour. It’s cool. It’s retro. It’s a fashion statement (her words). My daughter also tells me that it’s hip to buy vinyl records now. Remember those? I smile whenever anyone mentions vinyl because I couldn’t wait to get rid of it!! When CD came in it was as if all of my musical prayers had been answered – no pops, no noise, no worrying about scratched and warped records – just pure sound. It was gorgeous. Today it is Spotify Premium that has everything I need and to my tinnitus battered ears it sounds just fine. I like the convenience of having an entire music library on hand which I can stream to my office music system. It’s fantastic. The purists and audiophiles will disagree about the sound quality compared to vinyl and I accept that, but I’ve always been a lover of new technology, or so I thought.

Photography has been my life for nearly 30 years and at no point did I ever expect to see a cycle in terms of image capture. Technology has constantly made the picture taking process easier. What was there to go back to? Manual focus? Light meters? Film? That became obsolete with the viability of digital capture around 2003 when many professional photographers jumped on the digital bandwagon. Me included. That bandwagon has seen me use in the region of a dozen different digital cameras for my professional work over a fourteen year period. That seems ridiculous to me now. Did I really have new camera every 18 months? Admittedly I did have a couple of different bodies at certain times, but the fact that I’ve gone through so many different cameras has made me realise that while digital is an amazing technology, the obsolescence of the medium is pretty brutal. The Holy Grail of speed, quality, and reliability always seemed a little out of reach until the next model was announced. I don’t actually think the latest upgrade ever made me a better photographer, but my skills in Photoshop always seemed to improve. My obsession with making digital files look like film caused me to work harder with Photoshop as larger, cleaner digital files were presented to me. Hmmm…wait a second, did I just say,“My obsession with making digital files look like film”?

At home I have a man cave. Ok it’s not really a cave, it’s the box room at the top of the stairs. In it there are a couple of Playstations, some guitars, amplifiers, a guitar pedalboard, a two year old absolutely mint condition exercise bike, a TV, a bunch of books on photography and music, and four Leica M6TTL film bodies. I will openly admit that every so often I would pick one of the Leicas up, press the shutter, listen to its soft mechanical click, and wind it on. That small act always seemed to hit a nostalgic nerve in my body, a bit like vinyl does for some people and old 80’s rock band t-shirts do for my daughter. My heart would say, “Remember those days? Weren’t they great?”  Then my head would remind me that at the weekend I needed to have evaluative metering, blisteringly fast AF, 12800 ISO and a 64GB card. The Leica would go back on the shelf and I would convince myself that film is for those who try too hard to be cool and I can get pretty good film-like results from my digital cameras anyway. It was always a PITA to deal with and very expensive. Digital is so much better. It must be as I’ve used a dozen digital cameras in fourteen years, I can shoot in virtual darkness, I don’t have to focus or take a meter reading, it doesn’t cost a fortune to shoot a million frames…

I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I think it was my friend and uber talented social documentary photographer, Jim Mortram, that triggered something in my brain. Jim had started to shoot on film, scanning the negs on an old Nikon scanner, and printing them digitally on fine-art papers. I knew I had an old Nikon scanner in the loft and I had been printing my own work on a large format printer for years, so he got me thinking. Maybe I could shoot a roll of film again, just for old times sake? Nothing more than that. On a practical level I knew I would have to get it developed by a third party as my darkroom was long gone, and I needed something that would scan easily. During the final months of 2003, chromogenic C41 process black and white emulsions were my films of choice as I was too busy to dev traditional film myself and I knew that my local pro lab’s C41 line was meticulously looked after. Chromogenic film was the obvious way to go but my old favourite Kodak film was no longer available. After a quick Google search I found that Ilford still made XP2, and as it was a film I had some past experience with I decided to get a couple of rolls.

You know that feeling when your head says, “This is stupid, it makes no sense”, and yet your heart says, “This is the best experience ever”?  I was in the pouring rain at the end of the North Pier in Blackpool with a Leica M6TTL shooting FILM again. Fourteen years since my last frame and it was as though I had been shooting it all my life.

I shot two rolls over a week. Just 72 exposures. With digital that would have been just an hour of shooting. I sent them off to Ilford to process and a week later I received a package containing two sleeves of purply-grey negatives. I carefully took a strip of negatives, popped them into my film scanner and waited. Nothing. Damn. It didn’t work. Then I realised I didn’t have any software to run the old scanner properly. So after purchasing the excellent VueScan software, my scanner fired into life and a somewhat familiar, almost aggressive whirring noise kicked in as it sucked in the negative and did its thing. It really did sound like something that belonged to another decade. After a few minutes of whirring a picture appeared on my screen and wow. Just. WOW!! Grain. Lots of lovely grain. Deep shadows. WOW. I brought the file into Photoshop and looked at it in detail. A quick curve adjustment and my heart shouted from the rooftops, “This was what we have been waiting for!!”

Then my head stopped me again – that scan took ages to do. It’s impractical. It’s not as sharp as a digital file. So I thought to myself maybe it would be possible to get a digital file to look like this film scan? So I shot some pictures with my Leica M9-P alongside the M6TTL and an afternoon was spent going through the process of trying to make the digital image look like a film scan. As you can see from the results below, and given the limitations of the internet, I got it pretty close. It’s very, very close in print, and I doubt anyone but the most hardened and experienced film photographer would be able to tell which image was shot on film. I have to say though that after playing with lots of other camera files, it was the M9 file that was the closest to an authentic film scan. I can get close with a Canon file but it’s not quite there. So, given I could make my digital files look like film (at least with an M9), my head was saying “See? I told you so.” But my heart was saying, “it’s not the destination, it’s how you got there that’s important.”

You know what? My heart was right.

So even after all of the trials and tribulations, the expense, the eternity to see my pictures, and the awful noise of the scanner, I’m shooting film. Not for my wedding work, that really would be silly, but for my street and landscape photographs I’m enjoying the experience very much. Even though I can make digital images that look like film, it’s the simple fact that I have film in my camera that makes me slow down. It forces a sense of worth on each shutter press. I no longer feel a need to hose an image as I did with digital, preferring to watch a picture come together and deciding on the right moment to press the shutter. This is how I used to shoot before digital. Out of the 72 images on those first two rolls of film, I had more keepers than if I had shot 200 digital images. The combination of shooting and scanning is working for me at the moment. Maybe a working professional darkroom will eventually become an itch I can’t resist scratching, but for now the process of shooting film is fulfilling, refreshing and what I need at this stage in my career.

It is often said that things in life come around in cycles and I am glad I’m old enough to have witnessed this one.

~ Jeff

Onto the pictures and the inevitable limitations of the internet. For me, the only way I am able to truly judge the quality of a file is when it is printed. The film shot of the beach huts is printed on Permajet FB Paper and it looks lovely. It sits in our wall alongside Leica and Canon images. It has a glow to it. Something quite intangible, but you know it is there. Click on the pictures for a larger version.

A Leica M9-P digital image converted to black and white using Photoshop CC. Shot on a 28mm Summicron-M ASPH. It’s pretty close to the film scan below in terms of feel and tone.

An Ilford XP2 Super film image shot on a Leica M6TTL with a 35mm Summilux-M ASPH. Scanned with an old Nikon Coolscan IV ED. Dust spots (and there were a few of them!!) retouched in Photoshop CC. A slight curves adjustment was added to the sky and foreground to balance the exposure.

An overexposed Ilford XP2 Super image. Shot on a Leica M6TTL with a 28mm Summicron-M ASPH. The grain has increased with the over exposure in the high tonal areas. This is something completely different to working with a digital file.

Blackpool’s North Pier in the rain. Shot on Ilford XP2 Super with a Leica M6TTL and a 28mm Summicron-M ASPH

Tourists braving the evening rain in Blackpool. Ilford XP2 Super shot on a Leica M6TTL with a 28mm Summicron-M ASPH

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  • Jamie Roberts - I miss my M9, and my M6 🙂 The M9 does colour nicely too, with the right converter–though so do the recent digital Canons. Hope you’re well! ReplyCancel

  • Jim Grey - These are brilliant! Especially the shot of the beach with the pier.  I love the range of tones you got.ReplyCancel

  • Eric Brushett - It never hit me until just now that one of the major differences between film and digital is what happens to the highlights when the image is overexposed. Your photo of the pier on the XP2 with the 28 is stunning. That’s what my digital files are missing.
    This was a lovely read. Thanks for posting.
    PS: I did a one on one with you 5 years ago and it changed my approach to weddings top to bottom. I will be forever grateful for your advice. Cheers!ReplyCancel

  • Gilbert Aldous - A great blog, written by someone who obviously loves what they do for a living! Your enthusiasm shines through the whole piece. You remind me of that saying “Do something you love and you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life”. A fantastic read Jeff! I confused the top images, having shot film myself many years ago, I was sure that the first image of beach huts would be the film one. But I was wrong. Looking forward to the next instalment! To say the images are stunning too, would be an understatement. I would be happy with a fraction of your talent.ReplyCancel

  • Phil Bamber - A great read, and something which mirrors my own recent thinking. In fact, I’ve also been out shooting a few frames of black and white film in Lytham recently. ReplyCancel

  • Rob - Loved this, really well written and on point. I hope you keep up the blog, I’m sure you’ll find an enthusiastic audience for it.ReplyCancel

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