One of those eureka moments

Don’t you just love it when you have one of those ‘eureka’ moments? That split second when a cracking idea springs into your mind and you think, “Aha!”.  I had one recently, while driving home from the supermarket, although, luckily for the world, unlike Archimedes it didn’t involve jumping out the bath and running down the street starkers!

Since I stopped putting pressure on myself to take and share a new photo every day I’ve been considering ways to give my photography more focus. Doing a 365 project (be it a single one, or ten on the trot as I did) you’re always grateful for those spontaneous shots that just appear unexpectedly. Days like that mean you don’t consciously have to seek out something to photograph and they’re always a bonus. They’re great opportunities, but they rarely result in meaningful, artistic images.

So how to stretch myself and give me more focus?

Well, I think it’s a matter of specialising.


In recent years I’ve found an unexpected interest in architecture, especially historic buildings. Since 2014 I’ve been working my way around all the churches within the Square Mile of the City of London. I’ve really enjoyed documenting them, capturing the beautiful lines and telling their history through my photos. Throw in the huge number of historic places I’ve visited with my camera since I started working for the National Trust and that adds up to a fairly sizeable architectural portfolio.

Beautiful light in the library at Anglesey Abbey

Beautiful light in the library at Anglesey Abbey

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate modern architecture - it’s just that I encounter more historic buildings on my travels. I’ve recently read Tom Dyckhoff’s wonderful book The Age of Spectacle, all about iconic modern architecture and that’s got me itching to photograph more of it. Living within easy reach of London, that shouldn’t be too hard to achieve!

I’d already decided to try and develop my architectural photography, now I can take a more deliberate approach and plan my photo shoots with greater care. I spent some time before Christmas experimenting with using off-camera flash to add extra drama and illumination to a disused church near to home and I want to do more of that, as the results excited me.

Using off-camera flash in Chickney Church

Another area I’ve explored is using tilt-shift photography, to capture architecture as I want it to appear in-camera. Faced with a large building, the photographer’s first instinct is to grab a wide angle lens to fit it all in, and capture the drama. A logical choice, but one that almost always means you have to aim the camera upwards, to a greater or lesser degree. That results in vertical lines which converge, often giving the impression the building is about to fall over. It’s an interesting look, but not the impression the architect intended!

For the uninitiated, a tilt-shift lens employs a complicated mechanism of sliding and tilting elements, which allow you to line everything up in-camera. I won’t explain it in detail here - when I tried to enlighten my other half his eyes glazed over and he lost the will to live! If you have a desire to understand the physics, you can find a useful article here.

Unfortunately, the engineering in a tilt-shift lens makes them very expensive and certainly out of my budget. I hired one inexpensively over Christmas, but it was always going to be a short term love affair. Thankfully, I’ve found a less expensive solution, which allows me almost all of the performance at less than a quarter of the price - result!

The Lady Chapel at St. Albans Cathedral, shot using my budget shift lens

OK, so that gives me lots to be working on, but I can’t just photograph buildings....

Street photography

I’ve dabbled with street photography since attending a workshop with Richard Cannon in 2010. There’s nothing quite like engaging in a spot of people watching, with the added challenge of capturing what Henri Cartier-Bressan would have described as the ‘decisive moment’.

My early efforts were all about trying to catch that magic moment, or a particular expression. Since attending other workshops on the subject with Damien Demolder I’ve developed a taste for a more graphic look, using light and architecture to add drama to my images. Damien also encouraged me to get closer to the people I’m photographing, which takes nerve. It also gives me a huge thrill when I get that killer shot though!

(Click on any of the images below to see them larger)

My plan this year is to spend more time developing my street photography. I know the look I’m seeking, but it’s hard to achieve when you’re just snapping a few frames en-route to somewhere else. When the weather (strong sunshine or pouring rain are my favourites for this genre!) and time allows I intend to get out and shoot for whole days to really improve my street portfolio.

Back in January I spent a morning at Speakers’ Corner in London. This was wonderfully liberating. You’ve got lots of extrovert individuals who want to be seen and heard, and who generally don’t care whether you take their photo. Add in casual observers and the folks who actively engage with the speakers and you’ve got a heady mix for any street photographer!

How to focus my specialisms?

This was the eureka moment I had in the car, driving home from the supermarket.

I’ve been a member of our local camera club for nearly six years now, regularly participating in the many competitions. I’ve had some successes, but many failures too. Photography is such a subjective thing that one judge will love an image, and give it 20/20, while the next will hate it. Ultimately I’ve learnt that you have to enter images you enjoy and take the rough with the smooth.

Over the years I’ve entered everything in club competitions, from wildlife to motorsport, architecture to abstract. My plan for the coming year is to be more specialist, focusing on my favourite two genres - architecture and street photography. Who knows if it’ll be a successful strategy in terms of prizes, but at least it’ll enable me to get more feedback on the images I love.

Getting off to a good start

I employed my new strategy last month in our end of year exhibition competition, entering a mix of architecture and street images. Then I held my breath and hoped for the best! To my astonishment, my chosen pictures performed better than I’d expected and I won prizes with the three shown below. I doubt my luck will hold for the whole year, but I enjoyed focusing my selections in the two areas

So there’s my strategy for the coming year. Will it work? I’m hoping it will at least help me improve my skills in these two photographic genres. Creating new images every single day for ten years gave me a fantastic grounding, and taught me a lot. Now it’s time for me to hone my skills in a more deliberate way.

What next?

Well, I’m already planning a new project, which I’ll talk about in another post. I’ve also booked to attend a workshop with Astrid McGechan and Charlie Waite in Liverpool next month. The chance to learn from two photographers whose work I love, shooting architecture in a city I’ve always wanted to visit was too good an opportunity to pass up!

In the meantime, I’ll continue trying to produce ever better images and will do my best to care less about whether a competition judge likes them or not!

To follow my progress, please do subscribe to my blog, where I post new pictures regularly.

Looking back

It’s now three months since I completed my ten year long photo-a-day project, over on Photoblog. Since then I’ve unashamedly taken some time off, although it was a little while before I could do so without feeling guilty! I’m still taking plenty of photos, but it’s very liberating to know that if I have a particularly hectic day, or I’m simply running low on energy, I don’t have to find something to shoot.

Having had a little time to take stock, I’ve enjoyed the process of looking back through a decade of daily photos to see what I’ve learnt. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to share a selection of my favourite photos from the last ten years.


I shared a mere 429 images during 2008 - just a fifth of the number I’ve published in 2018. Of course, I didn’t actually begin shooting something fresh every day until November 2008, but I thought I’d pick a selection from the whole year in any case.


2009 saw me properly into the swing of shooting and posting every day. I’d shoot anything and everything, although wildlife and motorsport were already definite favourites.

So, what’s changed in a decade?

One thing that struck me was the change in the cameras I use. When I started my blog I shot with a Canon EOS 400D - an entry level DSLR. It did what I required of it then, but over the years I gradually upgraded, through faster, more powerful, DSLRs, culminating in a full frame Canon 5DIII in 2013.

Early in 2015 I bought my first mirrorless camera, a Panasonic GX7, and I quickly learned that bigger wasn’t always better. The smaller form factor was liberating and I gradually found myself using the smaller camera more than the bulky DSLR. As of early 2018 I’d ditched all my Canon gear and I now shoot with a duo of Panasonic cameras. They do different things well, so I choose my camera according to what I’ll be shooting on a given day.

Looking through my photos, I suspect most people would be hard pressed to tell which camera was used when - and that’s as it should be. After all photography should always primarily be about the photographer, not the gear used. However, there are photographic genres which demand a particular type of gear and I find the cameras I use now are the best tools for me.

Of course, the biggest change in ten years has been the quality of my pictures. Practising every day has had a very beneficial effect on my skills and eye. Yes, there’s plenty more still to learn, but I would like to think there’s been a distinct improvement in the quality of my pictures. 


This was the year where I began to challenge myself a little more. In August I went on a course, with photographer Richard Cannon, focusing on people photography - something I’d always shied away from. Even today I don’t count myself as a portrait photographer, but I do a lot more candid people photography, some of which still stems from that course.

I also made my first forays into airborne action photography, be it aircraft or birds. Both hold their difficulties, but I still feel that birds in flight are one of the greatest technical challenges for any photographer.


2011 saw me take my first real steps in street photography, a genre I enjoy more and more as the years go by. I love people watching and it’s a wonderful challenge to try and capture that extraordinary moment in an ordinary scene. Looking back I can see I still had a lot to learn about candid people photography but I’d made a start!


By 2012 I’m beginning to see more architecture creeping into my output, alongside a whole host of other genres. In the summer I went to two events at the London Paralympics, including the track and field events at the Olympic Stadium, and I loved being able to capture some of the action.

A change of scenery

2013 brought a big change in my working life, as we relocated from Sussex to Essex. Losing most of my school teaching gave me time to explore, and for a long while it felt like one big holiday! Over the years since our big move I’ve gradually built up my freelance work, so I now travel around the country much more than I used to. This has proved very beneficial to my photography as I’m fortunate enough to have a never ending supply of new places to photograph.



This was something of a eureka year for me. I attended a workshop with wildlife photographer Andy Rouse at the British Wildlife Centre, where the main focus of the day was our autofocus skills. As a result of that day I changed my technique, which I feel has had a long term beneficial effect on my work. I also came away from the day with one of my all time favourite images - Frodo the fox giving me a very knowing look!

Personal projects

I also started a new personal project in 2014, which continues to this day. A friend shared some photos of a church in the City of London and this spurred me to do some reading. I learnt that there used to be as many as 75 churches within the square mile of the City of London, although many were destroyed or damaged during both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. Even so, over fifty remain today and I decided to photograph all of them. It’s been a fascinating experience and I still have a dozen or so to photograph before I complete my project. I hope to create a self-published book once I’ve finished, so watch this space for more information when I get that far!


2015 was the year where I started to downsize my gear - mostly thanks to the National Trust! In 2014 I started a new job with the National Trust at Hatfield Forest. Having free access to all the National Trust’s beautiful places offered lots of photographic inspiration, resulting in many photos. Late that year I won the NT Staff and Volunteers photo competition, with prizes supplied by Panasonic. This led to me shooting with a Panasonic GX7 mirrorless camera, particularly when travelling, and I got hooked on the ‘less is more’ ethos of mirrorless cameras. Yes, a large DSLR camera will offer the ultimate image quality, but having the option of using a smaller, lighter camera made me more likely to be ready for unexpected photo opportunities and this is very liberating.


Architectural beginnings

By 2017 I’d been working for the National Trust for three years, alongside my freelance music work. During my travels I’ve visited dozens of NT properties, from nature reserves to stately homes, taking photos along the way. I’ve gradually come to love the challenge of telling the story of places I visit through the pictures I take, and 2017 saw a big increase in the quantity of architecture in my annual output.



This was the year when I finally ditched my Canon DSLRs entirely. January saw the release of the Panasonic G9. I could see this was the camera I’d been waiting for, which would allow me to shoot action - previously the Canon DSLR I’d kept alongside my mirrorless camera had had the edge when it came to speed.

Once I’d bought a G9, there was no need to run two different systems, so my old Canon 7DII went to a new home - with my Dad! I now shoot with a brace of Panasonic bodies (the G9 and a smaller GX8), both of which use the same lenses. This smaller set up is perfect for when I’m travelling and I swap between them, depending on the subject I’m photographing.

Where next?

Since finishing my prolonged 365 project, I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in Amateur Photographer magazine, which was a wonderful way to start the new year!

I’m still taking photos regularly, although the pace has slowed considerably since the start of 2019. Rather than pressuring myself to take photos every day, I aim to have at least one day a week when I take some high quality images. I’ve been focusing more on architecture photography and have plenty of plans for the coming months.

Would I do it again?

Never say never! However, I’m quite happy concentrating on quality rather than quantity for the moment. I think the slower pace has already resulted in an improvement in my photography and I hope this will continue. There are days when I miss using my camera so much, but it’s still always in my bag so there will continue to be unexpected photo opportunities that I grab spontaneously! Here’s to the next ten years….

The art of self-criticism

My very first photoblog image, from December 2007

Many of you will be aware that back in 2007 I started a photoblog.  I posted intermittently for a while then, towards the end of 2008, I decided the time had come to make a commitment and I determined to post at least one new photo each day for a year.  It didn't matter what I posted but the photo(s) had to have been taken that day and, wherever possible, shared on the day they were created.  Inevitably there were times when it wasn't possible, for instance when I was away from home and without an Internet connection, but I stuck to my plan and religiously photographed something new each day.

As a professional musician I am used to the discipline of practising one's skills regularly in order to prepare for performances so getting into the habit of practising my photography every day wasn't so difficult.  My peripatetic lifestyle, with music-related work throughout the UK, helped too as I was always visiting new places and finding fresh photographic inspiration.  Who knows if I would have coped so well if I'd had a nine to five job in the same place every day?!

A year later I completed my self imposed mission to shoot and post every day and considered where I should go from there.  Despite the challenges, I'd enjoyed myself and learnt a lot along the way.  I knew deep down that I'd miss it if I stopped shooting so regularly so I made a decision to continue for as long as I enjoyed it.  Fast forward to almost six years later and I'm still going!  I know some of my friends think I'm crackers and others can't understand why I put myself under this pressure.  No doubt some think I could/should be spending my time doing other 'more important' things!

Even every day objects can have their photographic uses!

However, the truth is it often doesn't take me long to seek out and take my daily photograph.  As the years have gone by I've become better at sniffing out subjects and learning the best way to tackle them. I always have a camera with me, no matter where I go, so if I see something I just have to photograph on the spur of the moment I can do so. When I can I use my digital SLR but if I have too much else to carry I take my little Panasonic 'point and squirt' camera with me instead.  If all else fails, I have been known to even use the camera on my iPhone.  There are regretful occasions (thankfully infrequent) when I reach the end of the day without having shot a single photo and in that situation I've become more creative at making images from the most unlikely of subjects - for instance, an arty, abstract shot of a kitchen fork!  Alternatively, I have a 'bits and pieces' tin, filled with interesting objects I've picked up over the years for just such rainy days.  


Lucy can be a reluctant model but she has moments when she does me proud!

One thing that has struck me through the years though is the pressure I put on myself to create really worthwhile, beautiful images.  When I started this project I was often grateful just to find something that 'will do' for days when I've been busy.  However, as the years have gone by I've become much more self-critical about my work and less willing to make do with a substandard image.  Of course there are still days when I resort to photographing our cat, Lucy, because she's sitting there looking photogenic and I've had no chance to photograph anything else that day.  But even then I'll do my best to make it an artistically worthwhile photo rather than just a grab shot. 


One of my earliest aircraft shots, from 2008

The times I'm particularly aware of my increasing self-criticism are when I'm tackling a type of photography I once found really difficult.  I went through this process when I first started photographing things that move.  I began with cars on a motor racing circuit.  Yes, they move quickly but, in general, they take a fairly predictable line on each lap which is moderately easy to track.  From there I attempted shooting aircraft in flight.  Still a pretty large subject, but moving much more erratically and in three dimensions too. When I first attempted this at the Goodwood Racing Revival in 2008 I found it inordinately difficult and wondered if I'd ever get the hang of it.  Practice paid off though and, in time, I began to hone my technique.  The next step was to photograph birds in flight.  Immediately aircraft felt like a piece of cake to shoot by comparison - at least you have a larger target to aim at!  Once again, I've practised hard and, while I don't profess to have the technique complete nailed, I get a lot more hits than misses these days.

A photo I took in June this year of a Red Kite at Gigrin Farm in Wales

You'd think I'd be happy at this stage, wouldn't you?  You'd be wrong...  

It didn't take me too long to become reasonably proficient at the technical stuff.  I've always had a rather mathematical brain so f-stops and the like weren't too hard to get to grips with.  However, I never had a particular aptitude for art at school and had no real understanding of the concept of using light to create artistic effects.  When I first got into photography I was happy just to get things in focus and composed in a moderately satisfying way.  Light wasn't necessarily something I particularly considered, aside from the matter of whether there was enough of the stuff to take my shot!  As the years have gone by I've grown to notice the sculptural effect light has on things and the way it can change the photos I make from ordinary to extraordinary.  I now find myself noticing the way light falls on buildings, illuminates trees and shapes everyday objects as I go about my travels, often thinking about how I might photograph the scene, even if I can't stop at the time.  I also notice the way scenes are lit in TV shows and movies now and the way this can direct the viewer's eye.  While I think this newly found awareness of light has had a positive impact on my images the down side the fact that I've become much more picky about the way my photographs look.  


I've spent the last couple of days at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, photographing their autumn air show.  Whereas a few years ago I would have been content to take a photo of an aircraft in flight that was in the frame and sharply in focus I find myself now looking for that added element of the light.  A plane shot against a bright sky can appear as a graphic silhouette if the angle of the wings is right.  However, more often than not it just looks underexposed and dull.  If the light catches the underside of the wings at the right angle though it can have a magical effect, sculpting the carefully drawn lines its designer created.  This weekend the light was far from kind, with never ending pale grey, cloudy skies and very little sun to speak of.  A deep blue sky and some sunshine would have made my life easier.  A dark, foreboding, stormy sky would have been even more dramatic, especially if we could have persuaded the sun to break through to illuminate the aircraft.  

Sometimes light is everything - I think that glimpse of sunshine reflecting off the Vulcan's wings makes this image

Sadly, for ninety percent of the time this was not to be.  Instead I found myself tracking the planes across the sky with my finger poised on the shutter button, waiting for them to cross the one dark piece of sky or to pass through that single elusive ray of sunshine, at which point I would let rip at full speed!  There were eureka moments though when the weather gods were kind and I found myself faced with the perfect combination of light and shade, not least of all when the last remaining airworthy Vulcan bomber took to the skies.  It's moments like these that make you want to leap in the air, shouting, "Yes!"

There may be no blue skies or sunshine but that little bit of light under the body of the two Lancasters makes such a difference, sculpting their shape and making them seem so much more three dimensional


So, do I feel I have improved as a photographer?  Undoubtedly, yes.  When I look back through the photos I took in the early days of my photoblog there are a few little gems that I'm still proud of but they're few and far between.  However, I do think my more recent work is better, both technically and artistically.  I am, of course, my own worst critic and there are occasions when friends say to me how fabulous a particular image is and I think to myself, "If you think this is good you should see the work of photographer xxx - that's so much better!"  I guess this is a very healthy frame of mind though, as seeing the inspiring work of others undoubtedly spurs me on to keep improving my own skills and vision.  It'll certainly be interesting to see where the next leg of my photoblog journey takes me....