Analogue Love/Hate

There’s been a resurgence of Arty/Retro/Hipster Love of film recently.  Starting I guess with the Lomo guys and I most recently found a more and more of this kind of stuff around the place.  I got the tour of Sample Studios recently and they even have a dark room (remember those?).

Now, I still own far more film cameras then I’m ever likely to use and every now and then hanker to pick them up, fire the shutter and even tempted to fire off some of my few remaining film rolls.

If only I had the time.

But recently the reality of my film days was brought back to me with a bump.

I recently started leafing through my archive of neagtives looking for a nostagic picture of Mrs Lamb in order to make her Birthday card.  Lots of really lovely old stuff in there and I took more time than I had available to look through those photos.

Amongst them I found a couple of images from my Student Days that I’d had half a mind to scan up so having dusted off the film scanner I ran them through.

Lovely shots (OK I might do more with the location now) but holy cow just how much crap is on that negative!!!

We’re talking, scratches, damaged emulation, dust, drying marks – plus substaintial grain issues.  All that nostaglia about the details of the baths: the signage, the tiling, the scoreboards is now masked with crap.   Now this was probably a home-cooked negative so much of the responsibility is mine.  But I had no better luck with most labs.

Going digital was the first time I got full control over my end-to-end workflow.  Aside from the ability to chimp, the flexibility and speed of digital.  I finally got the quality of finish I was looking for.

Here’s the final, cleaned up image (there’s probably more that could be done with this).   For anyone interested in the original scan it’s available here.

The Loughborough Colleges 25yd Pool, circa 1991
The Loughborough Colleges 25yd Pool, circa 1991

Springing Back

After what has proven to be a number of false-dawns, I’m back on the blog and determined (this time) to generate some interesting and useful content.

A Promise of New Growth

Many people have commented on seeing my work in a particular local press publication (and an associated magazine).  Although that gig was fun while it lasted, that relationship has run its course and I’m now able to focus my efforts back to my core business.

It was a good experience on a number of fronts:

  • I had the pleasure of shooting profile pictures of a wide variety of interesting and entertaining people – photographing ‘normal’ adults for profiles is quite a different experience to chasing kids around a park and you just can’t do enough of it.  Especially when you have limited time and resources and have to think on your feet.  You learn something about them, about yourself and about they way you work every time.
  • I was reminded of why I went to work for myself and the good and the bad of doing so.
  • It also served to remind me of my core values in business and how they separate me from others.  I firmly believe that a business differenitates itself by how it behaves much more than what it produces and the key to success is to do the right thing by people and walk the talk.

So I need to make a public apology to everyone who didn’t get as much of my time and attention over the last six months due to the distraction of The Press.  I vow to re-focus my efforts on doing that I do best: looking after people and their memories.

Christmas Cards 2014

We’re pleased to announce a special deal for Christmas Cards for 2014:

For a special price of €95 you can get a studio family photo and 30 christmas cards.

Cards are printed in-house so we can turn them around quite quickly but call now to get your session and cards done in time to catch the post.

Shooting Nana Part 2: Instant Gratification

While I wait for the 120 and 35mm films to be processed I have the digital files to look at.

Digital has changed pretty much everything about photography apart from the fundamentals of a good picture.  There’s good and bad in there though.

I set Nana up in the window light and had the Lowel available of fill or a hair light.  I used the D700 to check the exposure and the level of fill before running off on the Hasselblad. Then I shot a few more before running though the film and a couple more at the end, playing with the light.

She was pretty cool throughout but definitely got more relaxed as the session went on.

The main challenge for the digital part of the job was to work with it on the tripod, come out from behind and shoot with the cable release while more actively engaging with my subject.  Just like the old days.

The problem is that I like my portraits – especially like this one shot on location – with soft backgrounds.  In fact I like everything soft apart from the eyes.  The eyes are the window to the soul.

I went through the ‘everything tack sharp’ phase but I released that I have always been drawn to shallow-focus images.  Before I started looking into it critically I was always ‘wowed’ when I got one right (usually out of necessity cos it was dark).

They work because your brain automatically draws your attention to the sharpest thing in the shot – the eyes.  All that creamy soft background adds context but automatically isolates what’s most important about your subject. 

Then thanks to David A Williams, I released that portraiture isn’t about tack-sharp detail, it’s about emotional connection with the subject.  The fact is that most ordinary people don’t want to be able to see every pore, they want you to capture their nature.

So anyway.  I like shallow focus, that means that I have to go to great lengths to make sure focus is extremely accurate.  This is hard enough when you’re looking through the finder in complete control of the camera.  But how do you do it when you standing next to it with a release in your hand.

There are a couple of ways I can think of:

  • Tell them not to move.  OK for this subject.  Most of the time.  Not so for others.  And what if she does something spontaneous that’s nice like leaning forward (did happen).
  • Stop it down to increase your depth of field so if you’re a bit off with focus then they’ll still be sharp – OK but now you’ve lost that creamy shallow focus look and of course you need more light (or more ISO) to work with.
  • Use the camera’s AF to track the subject. Tried this one previously and it worked reasonably well.  It did track but a significant number were still soft (critically so).  I think I also discovered this ‘thing’ using AF-C wide open that was giving me some additional misses.  Good but not 100% happy.
  • Use Live View – on this generation of camera Live View has a significant lag to shoot the frame and the focus is less acurate.
  • Use ‘intelligent AF’.  Most pros tend to turn ‘intelligent’ features off because they are hard to predict – so in any given circumstance you may not know what they’re going to do.  Others just don’t trust technology just because they know what they can do without it and don’t bother to explore the limits of the tech.  So you get the ‘Manual Only’ photographer who still says he’s quicker than the tech.  Personally I think if you pay all that money for the latest technology you should use it.  But you need to know how it works and when to either turn it off or otherwise help it out.  So I use AF with a single point on subject, AP with compensation, Auto ISO with limits (and turn it off when it’s not helping), AWB (but shoot RAW).

I wanted to see how the Inteligent AF worked – in the case auto area AF-S.

Well guess what?  It worked very well.  Those Nikon guys have been working out!  There is a slight lag in focus compared to the single area focus I normally use but I don’t think I missed anything.

I helped it a bit by stopping down to f2 for most of the images (even f4 on the 85mm) but even the few I took at f1.4 seem pretty good.  Now she wasn’t moving that much and I tended to lock and watch and re-lock if I thought she’d moved.

I’m not a fan of techology for it’s own sake but this stuff really works – the combination of fast, accurate AF that is biasses towards skin tone and works in low-light, great low-light performance (so you can shoot at f4 in someone’s living room) and great, fast lenses make this work very well.

And I really enjoyed being able to forget about the camera.  Just chat away, watch my subject and fire when something interesting happened. Particularly with someone like this, who wasn’t ever going to pose for me.

Of course there’s a tendacy to look at me and not down the lens but you can always ask to look into the camera and you can always go back to the viewfinder.  But you’re much more able to see what you’re subject is doing out from behind.

A lot of good photography is about watching.  Watching and reading, trying to predict and stimulating a reaction.  It’s much easier with both eyes.

So I think I might bring this into more of my formal sittings and continue to work on it.

Processing-wise I chose a black and white conversion in Lightroom 4. Upped the orange filter for better skintone, adjusted contrast, blacks, whites, clarity and shadow.  A small bit of healing on the skin here and there and that’s it.  Not big photoshop on this one.


Great Chefs and Good Coffee

Commercial Portrait Photography

I came across this really nice behind the scenes video on F-Stoppers today.  The main set-up shots are a bit conceptual for me but I like the ideal of taking what you know (and can discover) about an individual and creating a portrait that uses that in both setting, lighting, styling and the emotion of the subject.

But at the end Schoeller does a more simple thing with the chefs and a coffee cup – well who’d have thought of that?

I’ve worked with Brendan Cashman since Augustines moved to the Clarion. About the time that that relationship was ending he came to me for a set of profile images.  Unusually he specifically wanted them shot in Studio rather than the more environmental portraits we’d done as part of the publicity for Augustines.

So we shot a range of images and had a lot of fun.  Apart from a truely gifted chef, what’s struck me about Brendan is that he understands how he wants to use images to promote himself and his work.  He’s also very comfortable in front of the camera.

Whenever we’ve worked together before there’s always been coffee and a cigar involved during the ‘briefing’ (we drink, he smokes) so I wanted to include those two elements in some of the shots: they were an essential part of the I considered the Brendan Cashman experience.

For me, Portraiture is about capturing a glimpse of someone character in an image way more than it’s about capturing someone’s physical likeness.  Getting that to appear for you, knowing it when you see it and getting it into the shot are the skills of a good Portrait Photographer.

Halloween Dress Up: Thank You

Thanks to everyone who came in for the Halloween Dress up this year.

So far we’ve raised over €700 for our Children’s Charities.

If anyone still needs to collect prints then just contact me and arrange to call in sometime soon.

We’re also giving prints to anyone photographed at the Ballinlough Spook Parade

Summer at Last

I’ll be in Limerick all weekend from Friday with the swim team so anyone looking for prints before the end of the school hols needs to give me a buzz tomorrow. I’ll be back next week (once I get the chlorine out of my system!).

Also from next week I’ll be moving to summer hours which means office hours will move to 10-12am and I’ll be arranging appointments around those times where possible. As usual, if I’m not out at an appointment I’ll probably be in the gallery at other times during the day but it’s best to phone or text to check first – 087 683 8511.

What to do about First Communion Photographs?

In order to help you plan your child’s First Holy Communion I’ve put together a couple of pages of info on the blog:

First Holy Communion Photographs for 2014 gives details of the services we offer on the day of the Communion: Studio Sessions, Home Sessions and Pictures at the Church

First Holy Communion Packages 2014  has information about the print packages we’ve put together for First Communion Photographs.  These are available to all sessions that we shoot for First Communions and Confirmations.

We generally offer the same range of services to Confirmation Services – please call to check our availability on your date.

Hopefully these are useful but if you need any more information please do not hesitate to call – 021 4293714 or email

Normal Opening Hours

Family Photographer Cork
The Boys are Back

With the kids back to school we’re returning to our normal office hours at the Gallery.

The Gallery is open 9-10am Mon-Thur and 2-3pm Mon-Fri.

Generally there is someone here during the most of the day but inevitably I have to leave to office to go to appointments and meetings during the day.  I try to arrange my work so that I’m always here during the times above so that if you need to find me I’ll be here.  It’s quite likely I’ll be here at other times during the day – it’s sometimes worth giving me a quick call if you’re thinking of calling outside those times.

But if you’re passing anytime and the door is open then feel free to call in.