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…..

Blackberry (Rambles)…

It’s Wednesday again, and it’s raining, and it’s September – plus it’s cold, and for the first time in what seems like months, I’ve headed for the jumper drawer and donned something warmer than usual…   The weather people said something about an Indian summer, but so far, it’s not happened.

The last couple of weeks though have been fruitful, and I use the term how it should be used…. Blackberry picking (or bramble picking as they say in Lincolnshire).  The berries have benefitted from the long sunny days we had, and then been swollen in full fruitfulness with the onset of the rain….. and whilst picking them, amongst the nettles that seem to enjoy the mix, I got stung, and pricked with the thorns….  and it was so worth it.

The woods are looking good too, with hints of autumn in there, and as I said in my last post, I’m looking forward to the golden colours which I feel sure will happen very soon.

I’m busy looking up places to visit when the schools go back, places that hopefully will have few people in them, so that I can enjoy the solitude, and take my time to get more photographs… the internet research has been ‘fruitful’ too.

So now I’m sitting here in the warm, dogs at my feet. One snoring, and one constantly nutting me for attention.  I pause to give a scratch, loving the feel of warm dry fur under my fingers.  


They’re content, fed, and sleepy….. which reminds me that it’s lunchtime……

The camera club gets back to ‘live’ meetings next week, and I’m looking forward to seeing people that I’ve not seen in the ‘flesh’ for many months.  It’s a hybrid, so for those who don’t feel they can’t meet people yet, there will be zoom… internet has been installed, with an ultra sophisticated air conditioning system – all done whilst we were out….  There’s even been a full deep clean of the building to help us start off again…. (Thank you to all those folks who have worked so hard to make the room as safe as it can be…. you know who you are..)

Today though, I manage not only a haircut, but a longer walk out, to see if I could see the fox again…. It’s late in the day, but I spot him (or her), and this time I don’t have the dogs, but I do have a longer lens on the camera…..


The nettles are long on the edge of the field, but the grass is short now it’s been cut, and still green.  The weeds are hiding the mesh fence, so it all looks much more natural….. I’ve steadied the lens on the gate, and I wait for him to look back at me.  One quick glance and he’s gone – (is this a true foxtrot I wonder….).

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen fox out in the daylight – I did see another one some weeks ago running across a ploughed field… much darker in colour than this, blending in nicely with the ruts…

There’s been a weekend away too – to visit a friend on the opposite coast – heading for Liverpool was a treat……  and the weather was perfect.


I’ll end with things that I love:-

Friendship, fellowship and shared meals. Snoring dogs, fox in a field, and managing to get a picture I like. Lamb Tagine (that I’ve just learned how to make), and cups of hot tea….. 

Woods, weather and a fox..

I woke up early today – and stood looking out of the window at the field that was cut only yesterday – the farmer must have thought the rain wouldn’t come, but it has, and it’s that fine drizzle the soaks you through without you even noticing it’s happening.  The trees are starting to drop their leaves, and though it doesn’t seem five minutes since I was sweltering in the heat, today, I’m wearing a thicker jumper.   

There is a whiff of autumn in the air, and I can’t wait really for the leaves to start to turn a golden hue so I can catch the new season as it happens.

The dog walk today took longer than usual, as there are so many fresh smells left over from the night before – a dog fox trotted across the field in front of us, and nose dived into the cut grass after a vole.  We had to watch.  The dogs fascinated, but unable (fortunately) to get in the field.  The fox, red and confident, possibly knowing it was safe from us, seemed to linger, munching on whatever it had caught.

I think I was spotted…..

Earlier this week, I went for a walk in the woods with a friend of mine – we admired the tipi tents of wooden branches that were scattered about, and wondered if these had been used at all, or if they were just practice ‘things’ – who knows…… actually, let me know if you do …..


I continue to play with ICM (Intentional camera movement) because although lots of folks are playing with this – I never have. What I really enjoy here is the fact that even if I continued to stand in exactly the same place taking pictures, using exactly the same technique, they would all come out completely different.

There’s been talk recently on a forum I lurk on about photographers intent. I’m sure that all photographers have an intent each time they press the shutter, or create something in photoshop later; and I know that some leave it to the viewer to determine their own impressions.

I hope that with some of my more abstract work I’ve managed to convey some motivation by use of visual elements, and hopefully careful composition.

I’ll continue to play, to study, contemplate and enjoy many genres and styles of photography. As far as I’m concerned, the more the better. I shall seek inspiration in the works of others, and hopefully I can inspire others with my own work.

This is the way, and how it should always be……..

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 !