Week 4: Postcode Gallery and Random Photography Tips

Learning objectives: 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 1.4.

We kicked off the last photography class with a few random photography tips that I’ll now pass on randomly to you:

Don’t always shoot from standing height.
Get level with the subject.
Get lower than the subject.
Go in tight on a long lens to shorten and flatten the background (say 400mm from 1 meter).

There are some interesting examples of how angles can change everything (well, angles and a bit of photoshop, to be perfectly frank) here https://www.boredpanda.com/10-photos-showing-what-most-people-see-and-what-a-photographer-sees/

The weekend before last I nipped up to the Royal Festival Hall to hear Annie Leibovitz talk about her career and her new book: Portraits 2005 – 2016. An intriguing, candid  and way too quick dip into the world of a photographer at the top of her game; three things she said stuck in my head:

  • Study other photographers: Diane Arbus; Henri Cartier-Bresson; Irving Penn etc. Explore other styles. Find those that resonate with you.
  • Constantly revisit your old work: you will see things differently; notice things that had escaped you before.
  • And – best of all – IF YOU’RE NOT CLOSE ENOUGH, GET CLOSER.


Yesterday, my brother gave me a Canon 50mm prime lens for my birthday, so Annie’s tip to get up and move was well-timed. I’ve only used a prime lens once before, and very briefly at that. This one seems a versatile, sweet piece of kit. I’ve only had a few hours to explore it, but it has a clarity that is missing from my 18-55mm kit lens. Plus, with an aperture range of F1.8 – F22, it ticks all my DOF obsession boxes.

It worked beautifully for close-ups with a small depth of field and seems to capture colours far better than my kit lens.

The Evening Standard van shots aren’t exactly works of art, but they helped to give me some idea of the lens quality.

It wasn’t that bad for panning, either (especially given this was my second attempt at panning. so they’re still atrocious) although I couldn’t stand far back enough to get complete vehicles into shot. The cyclist shot is totally out of focus, but I like the effect that having a car pass on the opposite lane gives, so may experiment a bit more with that idea.

I used the new lens down by the Thames as the sun went down, experimenting with slow-shutter speeds etc. Would have whacked an ND filter on as well but didn’t have a step-up ring to fit it, so used my 18-55MM as well.

Going back to random tips… Zig, our tutor, advised us to set focus first using auto; then switch to manual to hold focus, then put on ND filter. While I can see the theoretical wisdom in this, in practice to me this only works if a) you are going to take loads of shots without changing the focus etc and b) you are nimble enough to get an ND filter on without inadvertently changing the manual focus. If you are also using an ND filter in decreasing light levels, things get even more complicated as it becomes bloody impossible to see what you are doing. That said, I should probably have remembered this advice while taking these shots. My version is to get the ND filter on, put it to as low a level as possible, autofocus, switch to manual and then change the ND filter level to what I think I am after. Frankly, I’m still getting my head around ND filters and how much to increase or decrease the filter level by and how best to go about setting everything up, especially when shooting in dying light. I would be lying if I said there is any technical thought to do with numbers that goes through my head at this point: my way of working is way more suck it and see. But therein lies the problem: Seeing. As I am becoming more and more dependent on my glasses (which I hate using when photographing), working using manual focus – especially in low-light – is very hit and miss. I will let you be the judge of my strike ratio. Reckon it needs work. Lots of work.

In the edit I used targetted adjustments at times to compensate for my errors or softness of shots. I experimented with clarity – sometimes it worked better to just go with the soft nature of the shot and bring the clarity right down. Other images worked better when I boosted it right up. I need to think how I can improve on using manual focus when I can’t really see. Any tips, please chuck them my way.

Health & safety protocol – as discussed previously – was observed at all times. While I was shooting in low-light, I was in a secure, safe space and did not need to use a high visibility jacket as I was not a danger to others or myself.

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