Did Leonardo worry about Mona?

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with trips up and down Lincolnshire, and Derbyshire and Nottingham – plus a two days out in South Manchester.  I’ve spoken to a lot of photographers who have been to my talks, and it’s surprising what topics come up.  The same things seem to get rehashed over and over, but sometimes something surprising crops up.

We were talking about photo comparisons, and how people put images on Facebook, or Instagram, or what have you…. And ask which image is best – the black and white or the colour….. and I know we’ve chatted about this before on here, but it’s worth reiterating at this point, that the best image is the one the photographer likes best.

Someone mused to me that maybe Leonardo DaVinci might have asked his compatriots which smile the Mona Lisa should have – big beaming, no smile at all – or should I go for the enigmatic one?

Interesting to think though – did he decide on his own, or did he ask someone?  I willing to believe that by this time in his career, he made his own mind up…..

And so should we…. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we need to stop worrying about what other people think.  I know that we want to feel ‘accepted’, but we also need to be brave, and experiment – don’t let rules get in the way of your photographic life, and your vision.  Nothing these days is completely original, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.  To copy is to learn.

Decide what you love, and copy what you love.  Don’t be afraid, blend your ideas.

When asked which picture is your favourite….. the answer has to be “the one I will take tomorrow”..  because when you spend too much time trying to please everyone, in the end you will please no-one, not even yourself.


Today though, is cold and wet, the clouds are scudding by, and it’s a bit too cold for me out there. The dogs are damp and the sound of snoring (albeit gentle) comes from behind me. The girl dog snores, the other silent till a dreaming rabbit goes past……. We’re back from breakfast out with friends, and I think of things that I love..

Of course, breakfast with friends, clouds in the sky, dreaming dogs – twitching in their sleep – comfy beds, hot tea, chocolate straight from the fridge, improving weather and bike rides…… and the possibility of some photographs to come…….

Bring it on…………

Autumnal Thoughts

I may be wrong (and I usually am), but I reckon there are a huge number of people out there, who have never known life without the internet, or ‘smart’ (and I use the word advisedly) phones.

I remember, for example, when the news was only on a few times a day, and most information needed to be looked up in a real live book – with pages and everything…… some of us even had a set of encyclopaedias in the house…..

Now though, we have a 24 hour rolling news, which repeats itself every hour or so, with them looking frantically for new things to talk about all the time. No matter how trivial or banal.

Photography is going the same way. “Quick quick” they yell, get that image sorted NOW! Don’t wait and see how it works, just post it for the most ‘likes’….

Don’t hold anything back…

Oftentimes, I go out (and this mostly when I’m on my own), and I can spend a long time just looking, and this before I even get the camera out of the bag, never mind press the shutter button.

Whilst I was out at the beach the other day – I stood staring at the sky, the dunes, and the sea – the smell of salt air was all around, and the wind was lifting my hair. Clouds scudded across the sky, and I waited, breathed, and watched. Gulls wheeled about, and redshank skittered around the water as the tide receded.

Next to me, a lady wandered up. “What are you doing?” she asked…. “Nothing”, I said, “just watching”.

“Why?” she asked “Are you not taking any photographs?”. “I will, eventually” I said, and she wandered off, obviously confused, back to the car, after taking one quick shot with her phone.

Taking photographs, making music, writing – you have to be ‘in the zone’, and it may take time to get there. Once in though, it’s a delight – time goes past, and fast, and before you know it – it’s time to walk home for tea…..

I see this a lot, with folks not taking the time to really look, smell, taste, experience the when of where they are. They miss the sounds, and sensations beyond the narrow view of a car window. They can be in a place of amazing beauty without actually really being there. When we don’t pay attention to our surroundings, we may as well not go in the first place.

Autumn is well and truly underway now – the leaves are turning, and it’s time to get out and look at this new season. Who knows what the coming weeks will bring…..

New Beginnings

It’s Sunday, and it’s cold and wet, and already I’ve had one soaking whilst walking the dogs – but now I’m home and showered, and thinking about the week just past.

I met a friend I hadn’t seen for years yesterday, and we spent a couple of hours just walking about the promenade, and drinking tea.  It was one of those weird meetings really, when you find that over the years, you’ve changed – and they’ve changed.  I sat and watched as she uncomfortably snapped in half the wooden stirrers that came with the tea.  

“What’s the problem?” I said, “Why are you so nervous?”.  

“I was worried that we couldn’t connect any more” she said

Later, we both relax, and then the flow of chatter doesn’t stop.  Turns out that we haven’t changed that much really – we just didn’t know quite how to get started again.  Once into the flow, and it was like we hadn’t been apart.

In a couple of weeks time I’m doing two talks over three days, and they’ll be ‘in person’.  I’m not sure that I haven’t forgotten how to do it.  Pretty sure I’ll muddle through though, very much like meeting that friend we haven’t seen for a long time.

She gave me a kiss on the cheek as we parted, with promises to ‘do this again very soon’…… I really hope we do.

Starting Over


Forget your equipment and unleash your inner child. Take out your oldest camera – digital or otherwise, even if you know that it will shoot out of focus. Don’t be obsessed with sharpness and perfection (we can all get hung up on that one).

Set your camera on auto, and just shoot. Point and push.

Rediscover the joy of taking photos. Use your feet as your zoom, take all the ‘stuff’ out of your bag – go for a weightless walk. Rely on yourself and not technology. Use only one lens.

The more you relax about images, the better you will be. Choose to restrict yourself at least once a week, and just play out.

Remember what it was like when you first held a camera? – how exciting it was to go digital – to see the image you were taking on the screen as soon as you’d pressed the button. Where did that magic go?

Well, it’s still there, you just have to look for it a bit…..

Take away the stress, and go for a walk and have a good time……….


Then after that – get your ‘best’ camera out, and really appreciate what you have in your hand……

Nothing is Original

The problem is thinking you know enough to think you’re right, but not knowing enough to know that you’re wrong………

What does success look like to you?  Sometimes creativity is easy, and sometimes it’s not. I walk through the days trying to get past photographers block, and trying too hard just makes it worse.

Today is a good day, I’m feeling creative and inspired to get out and take some pictures, not for anyone else, but for me, and me alone.  Today I’m past the block and on a roll. How long will it last?  Who knows, and frankly I’m not worried, it’s about today.

Nettleton Woods

One of the things I’ve learned in the past 18 months or so of Covid, is that I can shoot what I want – not for a camera club, or exhibition, or competition – and there’s been a huge sense of freedom in that.  I realised that it was OK to put down the camera, and walk away for a week or two, to change my subjects and outlook – to get off the club treadmill which I hadn’t even realised I was on. To take a good break from social media.

I found that I am not ‘required’ to be a landscape photographer, or wildlife, or portrait, or creative for that matter – I took time to explore genres, to find out where I fit in with myself, and I’ve come out somewhat surprised.

I explored, went for walks, read art and photography books, remembered that the cameras we all have today (including those on our phones) are much better than the equipment photographers were using well into the 1990’s.  We are blessed with great cameras, lens, and software, and yet I still hear complaints about ‘gear’.  Hey guys, this lens at F1.4 is soooo much better than the same focal length at F2…

Photography is for ‘me’ now, not someone else (I did all that when working full time), and if that sounds selfish – so be it. It’s about feeding my own soul, and I’ve stopped worrying about what other people think of my work.

Running in the Sea

Online, I see images, one in colour, and one in black and white.  The photographer is asking which is better, I can’t decide, help me choose.  Is this the death knell of creativity – why are they letting other people choose for them?   Asking random strangers on the internet to vet your work is always going to be an issue.  About half the people asked liked the colour, and all the rest the mono….. so who was right…. one, the other, both?

Stand up for yourself, be brave and experimental, don’t let the ‘rules’ get in the way of your own vision.  Remember that nothing these days is original.

When I was younger I was a musician. I played in orchestra, military band, dance band, jazz band, and theatre pit.  I loved it.  I played other people’s work as I was learning and after, I was very good at sight reading, better at key transposition, and eventually improvisation.   I learnt the way most do though, I copied others, I read the scores for opera, and symphony, I learnt by rote.  I learnt scales and harmony. I learnt how to use and maintain my instrument.

As photographers we do the same thing – we copy, we learn the rules, and play scales, we learn how to use and maintain our gear, we eventually learn to deviate (or improvise) from the theme, we learn to read the light, to transpose our thoughts and eventually create our own self worth.

Don’t be scared – remember that by trying to please everyone, you ultimately please no-one, and average is born.

Stay away from internet negativity, and don’t worry about what other people think – find your own voice and stick with it…… 

Nettleton Woods

Publish and be Damned

Many years ago, I gave up a pretty good job in the insurance market to become a full time photographer.

Part of my job then was to organise events for the insurance industry in Manchester, and we employed photographers to cover events. At one event, I actually sacked the guy on the spot for being – shall we say – inappropriate with the ladies….. it gave me great pleasure to tell him where to stick his lens……

I digress….. after this, I started to shoot the local events myself, and from there, I expanded what I did, to shoot dinners, presentations, and other events around the area, eventually giving up insurance completely, and started photography freelancing as a job.

I was introduced to agency work, and was sent to all sorts of places to shoot people and ‘things’ – the idea then was to get the images back to the picture desk as quickly as I could for print. I didn’t edit, other than maybe a quick crop. Images for news editorials must not, and should not be altered.

Alfie Boe

The great thing was being able to meet so many people – but it was hard work. Some celebrity folks were wonderful and co-operative. Others not so much, but I enjoyed the challenge.

Standing in the rain, waiting for people (or things) to come and go – waiting in the dark (in the rain) – uploading images whilst sitting on the floor of a shopping centre, or in one case, whilst being driven home.


Would I have changed it? – not for one second. It was a job I loved, and cursed in equal measure….

Which brings me to the purpose of this post…. There’s a lot to be said for being freelance – there’s a lot of joy and excitement – being in the right place at the right time – getting involved in Britain’s Got Talent, and the X-Factor finals.

Lord Sebastian Coe KBE – signs his book “Running my Life”

What I do find frustrating is photographers who think that being freelance is an easy option.

It’s much harder these days to make good money. At one of the last dinners that I shot – one person told me candidly that he would just screenshot my website – and wasn’t bothered about a watermark.

Never mind – let’s let the matter rest, and move on…..

Photography is NOT an art……

Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings…. You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the galleries of today.

-Alfred Stieglitz-

Stieglitz was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his 50-year career in making photography an accepted art form – but I suspect we fail sometimes in our thinking of what art really is.

There have been a number of discussions on various forums over time, which usually seem to devolve into factions – some who believe one thing, and those another. The consensus on one forum though was that photography cannot, and never will be art…. I ask why not?

Which brings me nicely to the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring….. If you have been to my talk on the beginnings of creative photography, you will know that I talk about Henry Peach Robinson (Founder of the Birmingham Photographic Society). The Brotherhood was founded in 1892 and the idea behind it was “a means of bringing together those who are interested in the development of the highest form of Art of which Photography is capable.” Alfred Stieglitz was also a member.

In November 1893, Robinson created the Photographic Salon,  an annual exhibit event in England whose aim was to “exhibit images in which there is distinct evidence of personal feeling and execution.” As a result, interest grew in processes such as gum bi-chromate, oil pigment and transfer, and supported the trend in producing images not for reproduction, but works of high value, as well as creating interest in surface texture, papers, and colour of print. (Thanks Wikipedia)

There is much at stake these days, as photographers critique one another by saying that images have been ‘photoshopped’. All art involves manipulation of material in one way or another, to the pleasure and discretion of the ‘artist’. It is impossible to put together all aspects of photography, and not call any of them art.

Some images are a straightforward representation of the ‘thing’ the photographer was stood in front of – but the vast majority, have something of the creator in them.

At the dawn of the photographic age, photographs were seen as a projection, with no input from the operator, but as usual, the more adventurous amongst them started to experiment, and create things that were impossible in the ‘real’ world.

Take a look at the work of Peach Robinson – some of his images were the result of many different photographs, stacked together, much in the same way that we would use photoshop layers today. The skill of these masters I feel are remarkable given the level of technology that was at their disposal compared to what we have today.

At one talk I gave on ‘composites with negatives’ – a person said at the end, they didn’t know that composites could be done pre photoshop. I find this a sad state of affairs, that someone with a hobby, in which they profess great interest has never looked at the work produced by past masters of the subject, and the skills that they have in turn, passed down to us.

In short, we need to create our own work. Deal with images as we see fit, and use our artistic skills in any way we want. Images can be artistic, aesthetic and creative – they can even represent what was just in front of the camera if that’s what the photographer wants to do.

Let’s not choose to produce what everyone else does – lets get away from the ‘tripod holes’ at the usual places and create our own images, in our own way.

Begone to the nay-sayers………

I’m on my August break from social media – though I have had a quick look once or twice, and I think I’ve made a couple of comments, but not put anything on my own page apart from a link to this blog.

It’s funny though, the less I look at it, the less I’m inclined to – I think the addiction is starting to fade.

The image below is of windows at St Boltophs Church, Saltfleet – in camera multiple exposure, but edited in Photoshop !

Ice Cream at the World Peace Cafe

The other day, a friend and myself headed out – passports in hand – into the depths of South Yorkshire. We were heading for Kilnwick Percy Hall, home of the Madhyamaka Kadampa Meditation Centre. It’s not far from the Yorkshire Wolds Way, and has roughly 50 acres of gardens, woodlands, lake and parkland to explore.

It was incredibly hot. Too hot really for a comfortable walk, but the cafe is accessible, and serves great food and ice cream.

Lynn and I walked round the walled garden, then on to St Helen’s church – and from there along the lakeside under the dappled shade of trees.

It was good to spend time looking, with no pressure to produce anything.

St Helen’s Church, Kilnwick Percy


Sometimes I find that being out with another photographer, or group, can make me feel like I have to come back with ‘something’ – the need to ‘get that shot’ – this trip was nothing like that. I made very few pictures, and spent a lot of time in the quiet of the surroundings just ‘looking’. I felt no real need to socialise either (even though we spent the entire day together), and so, the few images I did make I think are better than the usual.

National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is famously quoted as saying “If you want to make more interesting pictures, stand in front of more interesting stuff”.. I think I spent time looking for what I thought was ‘interesting stuff’. It makes a difference.

My advice to photographers generally now is this: create for yourself, and not for others (when you can), and many books I have read state the same. The second piece of advice is: Slow down. We rush too much, we rush to upload all the images we took on a day. Take time to sleep on it, think about what you have achieved and if it means you format the card, and save nothing – well, there’s no shame in that.

I’m reading a book by photographer Guy Tal, and here’s a quote from his book that particularly resonated with me…

The greatest conquest is the conquest of fear
The greatest courage is the courage to start over

So maybe format that card, and start over…..

With thanks to Lynn Haith for driving, putting up with my avid ice cream eating, and getting us both home safe……

Shooting in the Round

Results from the Camversation Talk

After the talk with Sally and Glenys the other week, it’s been wonderful to see so many images that have been created by the people who came to the talk (and some from people who didn’t get there live, but have watched the recording.)

I’m now inordinately glad that I said yes to having my bit recorded.  No-one pushed me to say yes, but I’m so pleased that I did. 

The shots taken ‘in the round’ give of course, anything from a 180 degree to 360 degree of combined images which takes pictures to a whole new level.

These are things that have been photographed a million times before, but sometimes not in the way you expected.  Multi shot images create a whole new way of ‘seeing’ things, and the results are usually completely unexpected.

The thing is, that by changing the ‘where’ and the ‘how’, a whole new look and meaning can make themselves visible to you – it can be a revelation.

Dave Balcombe sent me the image below of the Market Cross in Wymondham, he said that he only used 13 individual shots, and didn’t follow any strict rules.   The only critique that I offered (at his request) was to reduce the number of text references to a ‘certain’ bank, that repeated throughout the final picture.  Other than that, the image was lovely.  

He tells me that this is his first attempt at this style of photography and was inspired by my talk though he has seen this style before and admired my RPS A panel, he tells me he will try again, now he has the idea.

With his kind permission – I show it here:- he says that this is not too far from where he lives and so will be able to return easily and shoot it again.

Market Cross, Wymondham by Dave Balcombe – used with his permission

What do we see?  Windows that have their own worlds inside, the patterns of the stonework in the foreground, the balance of the trees either side of the cross.  The whole image is transformed into almost a kaleidoscope of shapes, rather than a single cohesive one – and yet it works.  You can see exactly what the image is about – it’s a totally different take on a subject that I would think has been taken a million times before. 

Dave was open to seeing this, he didn’t look past it, he stayed sensitive to what was literally right in front of him.  

Thing is, he tried something different – and it worked……. remember that as you go about your daily photo life……

So next time you go out and shoot something that everyone else has photographed, make it your own. Find a new point of view, or choose a different time of day, or combine images, or all three. The more you look, the more shots you take, the luckier you will get – but whatever else you do…….

MAKE IT YOUR OWN