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A dialogue with photography

Last month I mentioned about possibly doing an Art degree and I was printing out the relevant info.

Info printed, studied and absorbed. Although not taken in as well as it should have been. As they used to say at college ‘Make sure you read the brief.’

I thought I had, but after reading so much more info I’d actually forgotten what it said and instead of re-reading, ploughed on.

The problem was simple there were 2 courses I was interested in.

Painting and Creative Arts.

Painting is self explanatory.

Creative Arts was a course I could have taken at Derby when I left college but decided not to take the placement. This involved art, photography and creative writing.

I have been working for a fair few years so I decided to apply for an Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL). In simple terms try to get credits for what I already know. Therefore bypassing year one of photography and painting, leaving me one unit of year one to complete (drawing) before going on to year 2 of a 3 year course. SIMPLE

So I wrote out what I thought was a reasonable APEL.

Re-read the brief and realised I had 3 times too many images and I had written for Digital Photographic Practice, which is a unit in Creative Arts. Instead of The Art of Photography which is the unit I need for the Painting degree DOH !

So rather than waste all the work I did you now have the pleasure.

APEL for ………… another day

Photography Experience

Worked under the pseudonym of Kris Mercer, at Photography 1st.

I have for many years contributed to photo agencies, most now defunct.

Still contribute and sell through Alamy.

Worked part-time for a jeweller for approx 8 months in 2005 photographing stock and getting it ready to go on a website.

I was a member of the Royal Photographic Society around the same time.

Photographed card stock and crafts for inclusion on a website.

Part-time work for Photo-remote, photographing pylons and electricity sub stations.

In October 2008 I took a course in West Hollywood, L.A. with Lauren Rinder learning lighting, photographing models and air brushing.

Living with a camera

I was given my first SLR at the age of 13, mainly I suspect because I didn’t have the necessary equipment to develop roll film and my Mother would prefer I no longer spilt chemicals on her sheets. Up to that point my passion had been for a tin can with a hole punched in one end and a small square of photo paper held in place at the other.

Quickly developed after exposure in my Mother’s airing cupboard. Hence the upgrade.

I started photographing insects around the garden, and although at that time it was only black and white, interspersed with many shades of grey, I was hooked.

I had more pressing issues through my teens and then family commitments took over, so although I was still taking snapshots and sending the odd photo to an agency I never took it up seriously again until I started a BTEC art course in my 30’s.

The few film cameras I still have, ranging from an old SLR Pentax, through brownies and an instamatic, to a box camera, are all now retired to the attic.

The mirror less rangefinder was the last to be withdrawn from active service. This small manual compact camera was a constant companion for many years as the size and weight meant it could be taken anywhere.


My first venture into digital came with the 3.3mp Epson PhotoPC 3100z. This little point and shoot could be fully automatic or manual. Experimentation was now possible without the expense of developing and printing. When I realised I could shoot ‘macro’ and blow the photo up to A3+ I was a convert. Especially when this one photo alone almost paid for the camera.

SLR’s and dedicated lenses followed.

Having progressed from b/w through colour and from film to digital, I now process my ‘film’, in the guise of an sd card or compact flash, on the computer. Not only can I organise all my photographs into a library as I upload, but all the shooting information is to hand.

Using Adobe Lightroom I can also add keywords and captions at the time of uploading. Other information being typed in later and stored. Quick fixes to exposure, temperature balance and cropping are also done in this programme, leaving such things as correcting converging verticals or manipulation to be done in Photoshop. One of the greatest benefits of the digital darkroom is you are completely in control of the outcome.

I have built up a large library of images ranging through animal, vegetable and mineral. So although my main interest over the years has been insects and macro I have not been exclusive. In fact most of the photographs I have sold have not been of this genre. I stick to shooting stock photos which covers all ranges and types of image and I have sold images of the mundane, in the shape of a concrete car park.

to the slightly more exotic, Montzah palace.

I have many photos I will probably never have a use for but if something catches my eye I will photograph it.

It seems on the camera and lens issue I have come full circle.

I eventually gave up my digital SLR and lenses at the beginning of this year as the sheer weight stopped me from taking them out.

I have gone back to a mirror less in the shape of a Micro 4/3, due again to weight and size.

But this time it is digital and with a range of lenses, the only drawback so far is the viewfinder.

I am yet to be convinced that an electronic one can ever replace a large optical one.

There are a number of features I will miss on the SLR which the mirror less cameras have yet to match up to. One being the fast mid zoom lens. A must for speed and wildlife.

eurasion eagle owl in flight
Eurasion eagle owl

This photo of an Eurasian Eagle Owl was taken at a Birds of Prey Centre in Northumberland.

I, still a few years after the shot was taken, class this as one of my best wildlife shots straight out of the camera. The focusing and framing were good as this was taken hand held without the aid of a tripod or monopod.

Western lowland gorilla

This is also a favourite as the use of thirds was used in the composition. The background spoils this a little as more blur would have focused the eye more on the baby gorilla. Post processing could be used to sort out this problem.

A fast wide angle lenses was used to take this photo on an SLR but as it is not an ultra wide angle lens, nor at maximum aperture, this shot could also have been taken with a zoom lens on almost any sort of camera.

La Corbierre lighthousewith the tide in, Jersey, CI
La Corbierre lighthouse, Jersey, CI

Wide angle lenses if used to take photos of buildings must be used with care if the need for extensive post processing is to be avoided. Used incorrectly they can distort a scene and you can be left with the problem of converging verticals. As seen in the photo below.

Another problem is if people are in the shot, it can also distort their proportions. The two girls in the shot are identical twins, of identical shape, but the curvature of the lens has given the girl to the far left the look that you would usually find in a fairground hall of mirrors.

My last lens that I have yet to equal on a mirror less camera is a dedicated macro lens.

Although there is a macro setting on many a point and shoot camera, true macro can only be achieved with a 1/1 lens. The micro 4/3 cameras do have macro lenses and extension tubes but focusing can be a problem.

I have tried to do a comparison and although adequate not quite on par with a good SLR.

The focusing is extremely difficult.

I find a fast 105mm macro lens is also a good all round lens for keeping on the camera if you only have the option of buying one or taking one out and about. The 60mm is an equivalent on th 4/3rds system. That is of course because I like to do a fair amount of close up work, it would not necessarily be everyones choice.

Getting the focus right is of course a priority when doing close-up work, but sometimes not getting a scene totally in focus can aid the visual impact.

If this scene was in sharp focus I think it would lose impact. You wouldn’t feel so aware of the rain pelting down.

Similarly motion blur gives the feeling of movement, but in this instance the structures have to stay in focus, only the people are blurred and out of focus. This is realised with an exposure of 0.4 sec at f/13. I would usually prefer to use a tripod to take this sort of shot but that would attract attention and I had already been asked to leave another shopping centre because I was taking photographs.

Shapes and patterns

This is an semi abandoned wasps nest that I found, of which I took a number of shots. This was a great find for a number of different reasons.

1. Good natural light in the form of cloudy afternoon sunlight, therefore I could shoot handheld, with a reasonable depth of field, without the use of flash.

2. Patterns of hexagons, circles and tubes.

3. Texture in the wood pulp sides of the comb and the tops being covered with a fibre reminiscent of candy floss

4. Differing stages of growth of the wasp eggs and larva.

Shapes and patterns can be found anywhere as demonstrated in the thumbnails above.

Image 1.Lines and circles in nature in the form of a tendril, growing vertically until it finds something, in this case a piece of old rope, to coil around.

Images 2 and 5 The architecture in buildings. In this instance the Pacific Design Centre. (see below for more info)

Images 3 and 4 On a trip to Beaulieu National Motor Museum I took close-up photos of the shapes on the car bodies as opposed to taking shots of the whole car.

Image 5 Shapes can also be made with light trails. These were taken on a London street.

This is a stunning building, not only architecturally but visually too. The colours and shapes intertwine, the interplay of straight lines versus curved lines and angles juxtaposed with oblongs and circles. This was taken early morning with the intention of catching a soft warm light, giving a calm, peaceful mood to image. Unfortunately a fire raging in San Antonio caused a blanket of ash to form over L.A.. The overcast light had a much cooler appearance than I was looking for.

Colour and light

Colour and light play a big part in the way we perceive an image. Some photos can look flat especially if the photo is taken outside at midday because colour saturation is typically lower,

and the downward shadows don’t make subjects appear as three-dimensional. This can also be true for interior shots where the light source used is available artificial light or even natural light coming from the wrong direction.

Sometimes due to lack of equipment (off camera flash) coupled with restraints on where a subject can be photographed from, a little lateral thinking can still bring in a reasonable shot.

This can be seen in the shots above. Not enough light in the first shot, whereby moving around a little brought in the light but the source was a distraction, going up to the next level brought in the right amount of light from the window coupled with fill in flash. It is the light and shadow in a composition that make your subjects stand out from the background.

The camera can also play tricks on us. Our brains are trained to turn most artificial lights into neutral light. The camera cannot do this so flourescent lights will add a green glow, household bulbs an orange cast. This can be seen most clearly in these two shots taken on a cloudy night. Light pollution from low pressure sodium street lights and tungsten lighting reflect back from the cloud covering turning the sky orangey/brown.

This can be remedied by changing the white balance with the press of a button on a computer.

Sometimes b & w can be used to dramatise an image.

This derelict cottage although looking sad and neglected with broken windows, has an air of life about it with the green ivy growing up and around the property.

In stark contrast, the b & w photo gives the property a desolate feel.

This sort of strategy has been used in home magazines dealing with interior design, renovations and extensions.

A piece on an actual home improvement usually has before and after shots.

The before shot may be depicted in b & w and after a makeover in colour, to give the effect that the makeover now has a warmer homely feel.

I actually like flat even lighting and for most of the work I do now it works just right.

For the following shot I experimented with a number of different coloured backdrops.

The blue background colour was chosen as the nearest to a complementary that would work so the orange would stand out. It also gave an idea of an orange against sky, fresh from the tree.

White was too insipid and didn’t show the droplet, the same for a neutral grey.

Black was too harsh and there was no relation to the item.

The orange merged into the red background.

The droplet proved to be problematic. The juice from the fruit was not orange.

When photographed it looked like water.

I used a drop of red and yellow acrylic mixed with water and squeezed orange juice to get the right colour and consistency. A lot of oranges were used as during the shoot as after a few shots the paint mix would leave traces on the orange fruit, which meant it became increasingly obvious that the juice was not what it seemed.

Getting the drip right was difficult. Having 2 people on the job would have helped. I had a remote for the shutter but having to syringe juice into the orange and press the remote was not easy.

Soft boxes were used as the light source as can be seen in the droplet. The image was also cropped to a portrait format as this worked better.

Although cropping and framing can be done post processing it is always better to try to think ahead when taking a shot. How will it be used and what is the eye focusing on.

Illustration and Narrative

I am happy in the knowledge I have to use a digital camera, whether it be an SLR, mirror less or point and shoot, and can use any adequately for the images I want to produce.

I am proficient, up to this point in time, in using photo-editing tools and digital imaging software. This is an area that I need to keep on the ball with as technology changes and improves.

I like to set myself projects and goals.

The plight of the bees caught my attention.

I took many shots and then merged 5 together.

This gives the idea that there isn’t a problem and shows how easy it is to manipulate a subject to give the wrong impression.

I got the idea from a war photo that had been manipulated to show something that actually never happened.

This past few years I have been photographing the villages close to where I live. An offshoot from this has been pit heads and headstocks. One a working pit, one a museum run by volunteers and the headstocks of the 3rd photo have their fate still in the balance.

Clipstone Colliery. Grade II listed

A Pair of headstocks and linking powerhouse. Built 1950-51 for the Bolsover Colliery Co. Steel, brick and concrete. Two tall steel framed headstocks with diagonal supports linked to central powerhouse. Each headstock has two wheels one above the other with steel hoods to protect the cables. Central brick powerhouse and operating room brick with flat concrete roofs, has steel framed windows at eaves level. Brick square towers at either end with stepped central section with strips of windows. These headstocks are an early example of the ‘keope’ winding system for raising and lowering access cages. Vandalised with the surrounding land being eaten up for housing the fate of these headstocks hangs in the balance.

The village where they stand does not have the funds to manage the upkeep and although listed an application for permission for demolition has been sought.

I am inclined to go back to Thoresby Colliery and take a series of shots depicting the seasons. This is since seeing the recent Hockney exhibition at Salts Mill, Bradford. In particular the large piece entitled The Twenty five Big Trees between Bridlington School and Morrisons Supermarket on Bessingby Road in the Semi-Egyptian Style.

So there you have it.

I am hoping that having already written this I might be able to write ‘The Art of Photography’. That though will be for the eyes of the accreditation team only.