Monkey Business

Before we kick off – watch this:-

It’s only a minute or two, and most of it is obvious…. but watch carefully, and to the very end…..

What I hope you realise by now is that we are not as perceptive as we think we are.. I spotted one of the things, but not the rest. Whilst we concentrate on the thing we are asked to work on, we fail to see what else is going on around us… our brains simply can’t deal with so much visual stimulation.

This is why, when a group of photographers go out together, to the same location, they all come back with different images.

Sometimes we’ve seen things and decided not to photograph them, but someone else did, and then we wonder why we didn’t. Other times we won’t even remember seeing some things AT ALL……

For photographers, some of the blocks are the fixed ideas we have about how to shoot something. We rush to places to get the right light, or the right composition, and leave our minds closed to the alternatives, the places we pass on our way to that ‘fixed’ location may have the gems we have missed.

Don’t forget next time you’re on your way to somewhere, that most times, there is an opportunity to stop and stare……… and SEE…

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Leisure
by
William Henry Davies (1871 – 1940)

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…………

It’s Tuesday, and it’s raining

It’s Tuesday, and it’s morning, and it’s dark, dismal and wet.  I have to go out, and I don’t want to, and I’m not inspired, and I think of things I don’t like.

Irresponsible people, flat batteries, being rained on, burnt toast, the stringy bits on bananas, flat grey relentless skies, and being uninspired.

I know I’ll move on through this, and things will get back to whatever the ‘new normal’ really is.  I’ll get my camera out later and make some pictures to go into my new project, which at times seems really exciting, and at others tedious…… and I’ve only just begun…..

The thing about trying too hard… it’s true.  You try and try, and the ideas don’t come.  You try harder still, and it just gets worse.  I need to step back a bit, and not worry so much – I realise there are things I have no control over, and never will.  I must not let things get on top of me…… repeat ad infinitum.

The good news is that there are some wonderful people about who are amazingly supportive, and I’m sure the ideas will come, together with ways to tackle the problems.  It’s not insurmountable.

I remember to stop worrying about what other people think of my photography, and wonder if Leonardo Da Vinci worried about what smile he would put on the Mona Lisa – Did he ask his painter friends?, and if he did, what did they say to him?  Did he think it might be better in black and white?  (Dark humour!)

I know it’s scary to do ‘your own thing’, but I also remember that I mustn’t let rules get in the way of my vision – it’s my story, and my photography.

I feel better now…. And think of things that I love…. 

People that help without being asked to, charged batteries, windy but sunny days, bananas without the stringy bits, and finally being inspired.

Turnstone on the beach

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……

Exploratory Photography..


We were talking about projects the other day, and whilst I don’t tend to plan my photographs – I think that at any given time I do have projects in my mind. Some will come to fruition, and others just won’t ..

The projects I think about usually involve something I’ve seen or read about, and sometimes just looking through my Lightroom catalogue, and using collections, I can see themes starting to peek through.

I’m happily working on in camera movement (ICM) in woodlands, and am pretty content with some images I’ve made. Will it end in a full set of images? I actually don’t know at this time.

What we have to remember is that it doesn’t actually matter any more (well not for me anyway). The reality is that I can take as long as I please, and the set / panel / project will be done, when I say it’s done – and not before.

For me, the most important aspect of creating groups of photographs is to be physically doing it. Plus, some groups might fail, and you’ll never see them.

I’ll end this post with a quote from Robert Adams

‘When photographers get beyond copying the achievements of others, or just repeating their own accidental successes, they learn that they do not know where in the world they will find pictures. Nobody does. Each photograph that works is a revelation to its supposed creator’

I leap from revelation to revelation…….

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…..