Should you be banned from photographing beauty spots?

Bergün/Bravuogn, a picturesque village in an Alpine valley

From PetaPixel comes an intriguing story: the council in the Swiss village of Bergün has banned photography of its buildings and the surrounding landscape, lest viewers on social media suffer from the ‘fear of missing out’. It reserves the right to levy a symbolic fine of five Swiss Francs (£4). It’s a good way to garner some publicity for a very picturesque part of Switzerland – the story would be perfect as an April Fool.

Yet there is a serious point here. In spending so much time looking for the next ‘photo opportunity’, it’s so easy to forget to pause, stand back and take in the scene ourselves, rather peering into a screen or down a viewfinder. I’m certainly guilty of doing this myself. So let’s put down the camera or phone once in a while and enjoy the moment.

I can think of a few other places and occasions where it would also be good to ban photography: Paris, Venice, wedddings, meals out. But only once I’ve taken my shots, of course…

Triangulate employer event

Triangulate logo projected onto large purple globe in Romsey Abbey

At the end of February, I was pleased to shoot an employment event organised by Triangulate, Romsey’s local mental health charity, whose website I manage. It was the final event in the Abbey to feature The Light, a four-metre illuminated globe designed by Richard McLester and suspended from the Abbey’s vaulting.

The trustees of Triangulate were delighted to attract an audience of over 100. It included Cllr John Parker, Mayor of Romsey, members of the Chamber of Commerce and respresentatives from a wide range of employers. Richard Frost, from Mindful Employer in Exeter, endorsed Triangulate’s messages in a short talk.

The Abbey’s AV team projected a  series of films onto the globe. They included filmed conversations with Triangulate Trustees. Ian Cox spoke about the support Mindful Employer can give an employer, and Bridget Brook focused on the need for employers to treat mental wellbeing in the same way as they would physical wellbeing. The Vicar of Romsey, the Revd Canon Tim Sledge expanded the theme to include support for the whole person.

Informal discussions with Trustees, Richard Frost and his colleagues concluded this very worthwhile event.

Film projected onto The Light in Romsey Abbey
Film projected onto The Light in Romsey Abbey
Triangulate trustee Bridget Brook addressing their employer event
Bridget Brook
Composer Richard McLester addressing the Triangulate employer event in February 2017
Richard McLester
Mindful Employer representative Richard Frost addressing the employer event
Richard Frost
Revd Canon Tim Sledge addressing the audience at Triangulate's employer event in February 2017
Tim Sledge

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper 2017

Choristers singing at the Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper

Earlier this month, it was my pleasure to photograph the Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper for social media and the Abbey’s parish magazine. I was chairman of the Friends for four years until 2016, and this is our annual fund-raiser.  Thanks to an outstandingly successful chorister recruitment campaign by our Director of Music, George Richford, we had outgrown our previous venue, the Abbey’s Church Rooms. The Vicar, the Revd Canon Tim Sledge, therefore kindly gave us permission to hold it in the Abbey itself for the first time.

The evening began with carols sung by the choir:

Choir singing at west end of Romsey Abbey beneath purple flood-lighting,, as the audience looks on

Candid moments at the dining tables:

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests (1)

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests (2)

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests (3)

Even Sita, the Verger’s lucky black cat, put in an appearance:

Musical items followed the meal, including a rendition of the the Twelve Days of Christmas with enthusiastic audience particpation:

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests in the Abbey nave

The Vicar spoke for everybody as he thanked the organisers at the end of the evening.

Canon Tim Sledge addressing guests at the Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper

Nearly 120 people served from the Church Rooms, separate from the Abbey – a real feat!

If you need a photographer for your event, please get in touch.

2016 in photos

Sunset over the mudflats of the Couesnon estuary by the Mont St. Michel

Woman in black dressThis year, armed with a new prime lens and a softbox, I took my photography in a new direction: portraiture. With Southampton-based model Helen Stephens I got great photos outside the city’s Guildhall. A month later, I worked with Gemma Wilks in Romsey, who subsequently cut a striking presence in red for me on a windy evening in the New Forest. Also in August, I got some lovely photos of two teenage sisters in Romsey’s Memorial Park.

Woman holding hands with little boy and girl, walking through sunlit New ForestBroadening the age range still further, my camera and I joined Gemma and her two young children on an autumn walk in the New Forest. The light was ideal for seasonal colour.

Wide-angle shot of Mont St. Michel as night approaches

Three travel experiences stand out in 2016. In September, my wife and I paid a 24-hour visit to Normandy. I was amply rewarded with ideal weather and a beautiful sunset and sunrise at the Mont St. Michel.

Three months earlier, I shot the sunrise in Clovelly. The north-facing coastal village only catches the full sun early in the morning near the summer solstice. Luckily for me, the clouds parted just after sunrise and, apart from a couple of fishermen, I had the harbour wall to myself. Read the story on Adobe Spark – a great platform for story-telling if you don’t have a website of your own.

The third one is the main holiday Rachel and I took to the Lake District in early October. We enjoyed great weather here, too, so my camera got lots of exercise. Unfortunately, higher priorities meant I haven’t yet had a chance to process and share my photos from Windermere, Ullswater and elsewhere. Maybe in the New Year…

Managing the Facebook accounts for Romsey Abbey and its choir is one of these major commitments. I post on Twitter, too, but that it’s format inhibits meaningful user engagement. I chronicle services and events throughout the year with photos; despite Facebook’s algorithm restricting exposure to page posts unless you pay to ‘boost’ them, they help my posts regularly reach many more people than actually follow the Abbey’s pages.

Large orchestra rehearsing in Romsey AbbeyAs well as services, I also shot a few concerts, including one by the largest orchestra the Abbey has ever hosted: the Charity Symphony Orchestra, specially enlarged to play the spectacular Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss. I hope to work with more musical ensembles in future; here are suggested shots that work well.

Instagram has been my focus in terms of social media activity this year. I have acquired just over 500 followers since joining late last year. My photos regularly get well over 100 likes. I think this follower/like ratio compares very well with other people with much larger followings. I was also invited to be an Instagrammer of the week for Ordnance Survey (my employer) in October and, earlier in the year, to be featured in the #swisbest 2017 calendar, which came out in November.

A couple of my photos were also used in the artwork for Adoration, a CD released earlier this month by the Choir of Romsey Abbey (I’m one of its tenors) It’s great to be getting recognition like this.

And so to 2017. My resolutions are to:

  • continue to develop my photographic style, particularly in terms of portraiture;
  • blog and network more effectively;
  • be the best person I can be.

I wish you a very happy New Year, and look forward to working with current friends and many people I have yet to meet.

10 must-have photos from your choir or orchestra concert

Charity Symphony Orchestra in Romsey Abbey, viewed from the rear of the nave

You put a lot of time and trouble into preparing your performances. High-quality photos give you a fitting visual record of the concert and all the hard work that went into it.They’re ideal for your next concert programme and, of course, your website and social media presence.

The pre-concert rehearsal is where a good photographer should start. Shooting without an audience allows a greater variety of camera angles.

1. Zoomed right out. This is a good way to set the scene. Taken from the west end of Romsey Abbey, this shot shows its size.

Charity Symphony Orchestra rehearsing in nave of Romsey Abbey

2. Wide angle close-up. During the rehearsal, your photographer can get up quite close and convey the size of the orchestra. Here, over 100 players were assembled for the epic Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss.

Large orchestra rehearsing in Romsey Abbey

3. The conductor and players. This composition puts the maestro centre-stage while showing surrounding players. Everybody is dressed casually but concentrating hard with the performance approaching.

Orchestra conductor

Now let’s look at shots of the performance itself.

4. Soloist close-ups. As freelancers, they need to build a public profile, not least via social media. Good-quality photos are help them build their following.

5. Orchestral climaxes. Sports photographers look to capture the ‘peak moment of action’. It’s the same idea with music.

Conductor with arms outspread in front of an orchestra

6. Sections of the orchestra. These help to tell the story of the concert. For example, the woodwind:

symphony-orchestra-woodwind-players

Here, a shaft of light illuminates a viola player:

symphony-orchestra-string-player

A shallow depth of field makes a flautist stand out:

Blonde clarinettist in the Charity Symphony Orchestra

And the brass section glitters under the lights, just as it cuts through the musical textures.

symphony-orchestra-brass-section

8. Behind the orchestra, if possible. This image conveys the size of the venue and puts the conductor centre-stage, albeit at a distance.

symphony-orchestra-musicians-view

9. Zoomed in on the conductor at the climaxes. Gestures from the podium convey the drama like nothing else.

symphony-orchestra-conductor-emotion

10. The curtain calls. These show most of the players, so they’re images they’ll want to see and share.

Conductor acknowledging applause at the end of concert

I’m grateful to the Charity Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, Craig Lawton, for permitting me to photograph their concert on behalf of Romsey Abbey.

If you’d like me to capture images like these of your concert, please get in touch.

Forest walk family photo shoot with Gemma Wilks

Woman holding hands with little girl and boy, walking through sunlit woodland in autumn

A couple of weeks ago, Gemma Wilks invited me to photograph her family on a Sunday morning walk. They live on the edge of the New Forest and this time of year is perfect for colourful shots in the woods.

Setting out from their village, we crunched over decade’s worth of dead leaves and beech mast.

Woman holding hands with little boy and girl, walking through sunlit New Forest

Their first stop was to look at some toadstools growing on a dead tree trunk.

Mother, daughter and son looking at toadstools on a tree trunk in the New Forest

It was also the occasion for hide-and-seek. I just love this expression from Gemma’s daughter!

Mother, son and excited daughter peering around a tree in the New Forest

She and her brother also loved my reflector:

Little blonde girl and her brother playing with a photograhic reflector in the New Forest

Little blonde girl in a pink coat looking up and smiling in the New Forest

A brief group shot on a log didn’t quite work in terms of getting the youngsters’ attention, but it was a nice moment nonetheless.

Woman with little boy and girl sitting on a log in the New Forest

Then it was on a rope swing, which both children enjoyed.

Young boy with glasses on rope swing with his mother

Young blonde girl in a pink coat on a rope swing in the New Forest being pushed by her mother

Their dog was clearly enjoying his run through the Forest, too!

Black and white dog wearing a red collar running through autumn leaves

The turning point in our walk was a road that Gemma suggested as a good backdrop. Here, the children are running towards me, clearly enjoying every moment.

Little boy and girl running through the New Forest on an autumn morning

A lull in traffic enabled us to get the shots Gemma envisaged:

Mother with her son, daughter and dog, smiling in a road in the New Forest

Then we turned back across the Forest to the road back to their village:

Mother with her son, daughter and dog, posing in a road in the New Forest

I got lucky as Gemma’s daughter skipped along…

Young girl with long blonde hair in pink coat skipping along a New Forest road

The children were keen to be photographed on the green. I was happy to oblige.

Young boy with glasses and young girl with blonde hair and pink coat running across a village green. Their mother is smiling in the background

It was a great morning out; I was pleased to spend time with Gemma and her children, not forgetting the dog.

If you’d like me to get some great shots of your family, please get in touch.

I’ve now created a Facebook page, where I share photos and articles that might be of interest to you. Please take a look and give it a Like!

Off the scale concert by OS Choir

Ladies singing in evening dress

Earlier this month, I shot a concert by my friends in the choir at Ordnance Survey, where I work. A lovely, friendly bunch, they’ve been going for four years now and call themselves Off the scale – a great play on words (map scale, musical scale, geddit?!).

An audience of over 100 people enjoyed the choir’s medley of songs, show numbers and sacred music, with mood lighting to match.

Choir singing in a concert
Off the Scale

 

Two women singing duet in evening dress
Gemma Harrison and Julia Maltby singing ‘I know him so well’

 

Blond man conducting with pianist in background
Sam Dando directing Off the Scale, Ordnance Survey’s choir

 

 

Woman in black singing next to blond pianist
Julia Maltby singng a solo

 

Choir singing in front of audience
Off the Scale concert from the rear of the hall at Ordnance Survey

 

If you’d like me to shoot your concert, please get in touch.

South West is Best 2017 calendar out now

Calendar cover

I’m delighted that one of my photos is featured in the South West is Best 2017 Calendar. It’s beautifully produced by Bowline Communications and features a range of landscapes and landmarks from across the region.

My photo of cows in a field is the lead image for September. It was taken at dawn one beautiful morning close to the Highgrove Estate, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire:

Who are you looking at?

The founders of the popular Instagram account @swisbest asked to use it after seeing it in their image feed earlier in the summer. You can read about the story behind the calendar in the Wiltshire Times. It’s possibly the first ever calendar of images sourced from Instagram users.

The calendar is available to order online for £9.99 plus post and packing. It’s an ideal Christmas present.

Buy yours now

Top tip: use Instagram hashtags

If you use Instagram and would like your photos seen by other users, use hashtags. By including the hashtag #swisbest – for example – in the description of an outdoor image you post, your photo will appear in results when somebody searches on Instagram using this hashtag. This makes your photo more visible and makes it more likely that your photo will get likes. The chances are that people who like several of your photos will then follow your account, so they’ll see – and like – more of your photos in future.

For a chance for your photo to be featured on @swisbest, you must follow this account. Your photo must also  have been shot somewhere in the region. There are many hubs like it on Instagram; they’re a great way to help raise your profile as a photographer.

10 tips for photographing the Mont St. Michel

Wide-angle photo of Mont St. Michel at dusk (blue hour) with a small boat in the foreground

Last weekend, my wife and I enjoyed a mini-break in France. My main objective was to photograph Mont St. Michel, having been inspired by stunning images by Serge Ramelli and Scott Kelby.

I was lucky with the weather, the tides and much else besides, meaning that I too came away with great images. It’s so beautiful there that it’s hard not to do so!

I hope my images will inspire you to do likewise. To improve your chances of success, here are my tips for making the most of your visit.

1. Shoot at sunset

It’s an oft-quoted adage that landscapes always look at their best at golden hour (sunrise and sunset) but nonetheless true. Here, the last rays of evening sunshine are illuminating the west side:

Mont St. Michel during golden hour with a rowing boat in the foreground

The estuary is also worth shooting while you’re there:

Sunset over the mudflats of the Couesnon estuary by the Mont St. Michel

And in the evening, there’s the added bonus that the Mont is floodlit between dusk and midnight, which makes the view even more special:

Wide-angle shot of Mont St. Michel as night approaches

If you arrive after 7pm, parking is free (use of the shuttle bus to the Mont is also free).

2. Come back before sunrise

At this time of day, because regular tourists are either still in bed or having breakfast, you’ll have the Mont largely to yourself. Unfortunately, on the day I visited (and probably on most days), several delivery vehicles were parked near the entrance:

Mont St. Michel at dawn with delivery vans parked outside

Quite a while with the clone stamp and other tools in Photoshop successfully removed them:

Mont St. Michel at dawn with a pretty pink sky

If you get a largely cloudless sky at sunrise, as I did, the rising sun will turn the buildings on the east side a lovely honey colour for half an hour or so:

Mont St. Michel glowing gold in the early morning sun

Parking first thing in the morning is €4.30 for two hours, versus €6.30 for two hours after 11.30am.

3. Aim for low tide

When the sea recedes miles away, you get a real sense of the size of the estuary and a wider choice of vantage points. At high tide, you’ll get great reflections of the Mont in the water around it, but you’ll be restricted to the bridge that replaced the old causeway and the concrete apron at the end of it.

4. Choose the right time of year

I’d say that March or September, around the spring and autumn equinoxes, are the best time of year to visit and get great photos. At the height of summer, the Mont is over-run with tourists during the day and sunrise is much earlier than 7.30, when the shuttle buses start running. Conversely, in winter, while there are fewer tourists overall, they will still be around at sunset during late afternoon. The weather is also likely to be worse, with fog and damp conditions in the estuary more likely.

5. Explore the Mont while you’re there

Even though the view of it is better than the view from it, most people do go there to do just that and it’s worth climbing at least part-way. Lack of time meant I didn’t climb all the way up to the Abbey, but here’s a shot of the main street:

The narrow, cobbled main street on the Mont St. Michel

Here’s a view from the ramparts:

The ramparts on Mont St. Michel in early-morning sunshine

And this is the post office just inside the main gate:

The post office on Mont St. Michel with beautiful timbered buildings opposite

6. Work the angles (a little)

If you’re wearing stout shoes, I found that it’s possible to walk out a few yards onto the mudflats on the west side of the bridge. Note that we’re talking about mud here – fine, grey, alluvial estuary mud – rather than coarse beach sand. It squelched a little bit for me, but my feet didn’t sink into it. And as luck would have it, there was a dinghy laid up on the mud, lending foreground interest to some of my shots:

Wide-angle photo of Mont St. Michel at dusk (blue hour) with a small boat in the foreground

7. Don’t take stupid risks

Elsewhere, the mud was deeper, wetter and more treacherous. Please heed local warnings and stay out of it. In particular, don’t be tempted to stride out into the estuary on the north side of the Mont. You don’t want to be that person the coastguard has to rescue!

8. Go wide

In terms of lens choice, this is an occasion when a wide angle is ideal. I’ve got Canon’s 17-40mm F4 L. Attached to my Canon 5D Mark ii, I found that this lens was wide enough to fit the whole of the Mont in the frame when shot from where the bridge meets the apron:

Wide-angle close up shot of the Mont St. Michel

From further back along the bridge, my 24-105mm F4 L worked fine:

Mont St. Michel at sunrise casts reflections in the estuary that surrounds it

9. When shooting at midday

Perhaps you’re on a coach tour and can’t choose when to visit. If so, my advice would be to bring a lightweight tripod, a timer and a ND filter to blur the sky (ND 4 or 10 in strength depending on the time of year), then go black-and-white with your images in post-production for the fine-art look:

Black and white image of the Mont St.Michel at dawn, with delivery trucks near its entrance

10. Stay at the Mercure

Perhaps my only regret was my choice of hotel. Having last visited the Mont nearly 20 years ago, I hadn’t realized just how much it has been redeveloped over the past few years. The old causeway, with its car park that stretched all the way into the estuary, has gone completely – replaced with a huge onshore car park from which you catch a free shuttle bus to the Mont:

A Mont St. Michel shuttle bus (navette) on the approach road to the Mont

There’s now a little holiday village, with hotels, restaurants and a gift shop or two, where you reached the coast. Whereas Rachel and I stayed at the Ibis near Avranches for £65, for another £10 or so, we could have stayed on-site. This would have saved me two eight-mile journeys.

Bonus tip: Time your visit to coincide with the wine fairs at major hypermarkets

Each Spring and Autumn, the likes of Auchan and E. Leclerc hold wine sales with some great offers. This for me is another good reason to visit at these times. Even with the fall in the value of sterling in the wake of the Brexit vote, their deals are still good value compared with the price of wine in English supermarkets.