I have been quite successful in FIAP international exhibitions recently, with around 30 gold medals in the last 18 months from 40 salons, and so quite naturally a number of other photographers quiz me, at my camera club talks and online, trying to learn the secrets of my success. I quite happily answer their questions as honestly as I can, but unfortunately I do think that many of them are disappointed that there are no magic answers, that my methods of working are rather amateurish and haphazard, and that I don't have the best and most expensive equipment going!
One of the most popular questions is "Where do you get your ideas from?". To my knowledge I have only ever gone into a shoot with a specific idea on one occasion. The idea wasn't even for that specific shoot, it had been jangling around my brain for some time, and popped to the forefront of my mind on a shoot with the wonderful Kayleigh Lush.
Sometime before I'd had a shoot with the lovely Ella Rose , and we produced this image, which was an early attempt at HDR, and is still one of my favourite images. I liked the anonymity and also the shape of the bottom half of her body.
|Ella Rose - The Bather|
It's wasn't particularly successful, probably because of the over-processing, but a stray neuron fired in my brain one day, and I somehow thought it would look nice upside-down with a TuTu on. The idea then sat in my brain for quite a time until I was in the studio with Kayleigh and a TuTu, and my sole idea resurfaced.
Another popular question is "How much direction do you give the model regarding poses?". The answer is mostly very little. When I get to a location I will then have some general ideas regarding moods, shapes etc, and I will sometimes do sample suggested poses myself at particular spots, much to the models amusement! Models know more than anybody else how best to make their bodies look good, and more importantly what does not look so good. So I will then take a few test shots to show the model what will be in the image and off they go.
In the case of my sole pre-prepared idea I was obviously providing direction to the model and I had some difficulty describing the pose to Kayleigh, and I was certainly not going to do it myself, so I drew it. I think we can all see why I took up photography and not drawing :)
|En Pointe - The Concept Drawing :)|
Kayleigh is such an amazing talent that after looking at my remarkably life-like drawing (!) she did it first-time around. She asked whether she should do it again, I checked the back of the camera for exposure and focus, told here no as I thought we had nailed it, and we moved on to doing a back view version of it. I do get asked regularly whether she is doing a headstand or handstand, and I honestly haven't got a clue. Only she would know, if she even remembers!
|En Pointe - Kayleigh Lush|
And it is currently my most successful image as you can see from a previous blog post. So in summary I don't really have pre-prepared ideas, or direct the model that much, but maybe I should!
However, hot on its heels in the success stakes is an image of the amazingly versatile Ivory Flame, which in the last few months has picked up gold medals in Cork, Exposed, Smethwick, Donji Milanovac, Zagubica, and just this week won a FIAP gold medal in the prestigious Southampton International as a monochrome print.
This image, and its success, gave me the idea for this blog post, as well as it's title. As you can see from this blog I mainly produce images in colour, and this image had picked up a few acceptances as a colour image but was probably never going to win awards.
I was short of monochrome images to enter into an exhibition, so I just quite randomly clicked on images in LightRoom, converting them to black and white, and seeing how they looked. While I am not an experienced monochrome worker even I could see that the whole emphasis of the image had changed for the better with this image. Needless to say I examine images much more carefully now to consider whether they may be better in black and white.
|Circle Of Beauty - Ivory Flame|
The other popular question is "Where do you find your locations?". While my idea generation is a bit ad-hoc, and my selection of monochrome images currently often relies more on luck than judgement, I will admit that location finding is something that I put a significant amount of effort into.
I use Google and Goole Maps extensively to scout around the areas I am visiting, I also use the websites of National Trust, English Heritage, Scottish Heritage, their Welsh Equivalent CADW, and other similar websites extensively. I also network with other photographers, both online and in person. These are not just other photographers of models but landscape photographers, urban explorers, and anybody - photographer or not - who may have access to an interesting location.
So to give some idea of where I get my locations I'll go through some of my other acceptances at Southampton. The first three images also won awards there.
To get access to the first one I found out about a castle that is being refurbished through an urban explorer friend, I then sent an email to the owner out of the blue, and they let us shoot there. I have also emailed many other owners of buildings, and the answer is most often a polite no, so you have to be persistent and may have to try lots of different places before you get a positive response.
|The Staircase- Ivory Flame|
My knowledge of studio lighting is rather poor, and there are not many good natural light studios near where I live. However in Wolverhampton the studio of John Barone is excellent, and this is taken in the 'world famous art nude corner', which is basically a plastered wall that makes an excellent backdrop.
|Penitence - Anita De Bauch|
This is from a National Trust property, and thankfully they changed their rules recently to be more receptive to photographers, as long as the images are for non-commercial use.
|Gothic Lady - Ivory Flame|
This was from a public location near to a good friend of mine and fellow photographer Francisca Da Silva
|Out of The Earth - Ivory Flame|
This was from a working warehouse. Somebody came up to me at the end of one of my camera club talks and suggested that they knew a location which they thought would be ideal for my type of photography, I think they were right :)
|The Blue Door - Katy|
A friend had access to an empty office space that we were allowed to use. Quite an old image, but never entered before.
|Red Socks - Raphaella|
|Fredau - Pensive|
And finally another property from one of the organisations listed earlier. There were a few people about, but by being prepared, waiting for the right opportunity, working quickly, and having an experienced model, you can get the image and nobody sees anything or has any idea of what is going on.
|Rock Nude - Casse Jade|
Sadly one of the the most common questions I get asked is "Do you use Canon or Nikon?". I will answer them, and they are usually surprised by the answer, but I explain to them that my images can be taken with every DSLR on the market, so the kit they already have is probably fine, and their images are more likely to improve by taking more pictures and spending money on good models rather than swapping camera systems.
So there you have it, my thoughts on why I have become so successful in competitions, taking lots of images, working with the best models, spending a huge amount of time online looking for locations, and having that little bit of luck, such as when I converted Circle Of Beauty to monochrome. Everybody's route to success will be different, but if you do want to be successful then unless you have a huge amount of natural talent it does take a lot of effort.
And the most important thing, have fun and enjoy your photography, otherwise all those shiny things and letters after your name don't mean anything.
As usual a big thanks to all the models :)