“and all the pieces matter”*

I’ve written recently about trying to get a greater level of luminosity into some of my pictures, to create images that are soft and beautiful, and finally I’ve cracked it.

Not without help I must add, but nevertheless I shot some pictures yesterday that I’m really happy with.

I’ve had a friend called Zara on Facebook for quite some time now, and I have no idea how, as we’d never met each other before yesterday.  She’s a model, so I guess one us befriended the other as a result of a shoot involving a mutual acquaintance.  She’s a regular poster, both of her pictures and, at times, her frustrations but in amongst the chatter, she posted details of a workshop that she was running at her home.

This appealed for a number of reasons; I’d finally get to meet and work with Zara and find out if she was just as vivacious in reality as she is online (yes she was), her home is a converted Wesleyan Chapel so had the potential to provide something a little different as a location, and finally the workshop was being run by Andrew Appleton.  I’d not met Andrew previously but had seen a few of his beautiful shots in the portfolios of other models, so I was well aware of him.  Most notably my favourite images in Cassie Jade’s portfolio that I referred to recently were shot by Andrew.

Interestingly for the first couple of hours we didn’t even pick up our cameras.  Zara and Andrew, plus me and two other attendees, Ian and Peter, chatted, enjoyed the coffee and cookies that Zara’s boyfriend David provided regularly, and discussed some images and ideas to define what we expected from boudoir photography.

Another challenge for me was I shot the entire workshop using a single 85mm prime lens, which for non-photographers means no zoom facility, but in this case a greater ability to deal with the lighting conditions.  Beginning in Zara’s main bedroom, a huge space which encompasses the whole footprint of the building we shot her against a window, deliberately blowing out the backlight to pure white, and creating a wrap around glow which would slim down most subjects.  (Unnecessary in Zara’s case as you can see)

Then, same location, but with a faster shutter speed and the addition of a single light diffused in a large soft box, you get a different result.  The blown out background becomes visible too, whilst Zara is more defined.  APW_6746-EditEven when the flash didn’t fire, the change of shutter speed produced a useful outcome.APW_6735

The a change of lighting once more.  The strobe was replaced with a continuous, focusable light.  A change of ISO and now the background, despite the ambient light from that huge window fades to black.

APW_6863-EditIncredibly we still haven’t exhausted the possibilities of the room.  This time we photographers squeeze into the window space and shoot Zara illuminated purely by natural light once more. APW_6803-EditAPW_6824-Edit This had the advantage of really lighting up Zara’s eyes, and though I chose not to show that in these two images, you’ll see what I mean soon enough.

Time for a different look now, so we descended a floor to the guest room.  No light pouring in from the skylights above, just a single window, a change of lingerie, the addition of a book as a prop, and most of all the benefits of Zara’s choice of decor.  The colours in the room worked brilliantly with the daylight colour and now was the moment to unleash Zara’s eyes at their most brilliant.

I love the tones and the soft light in these pictures.  They are closer to the Sue Bryce look than I’ve ever managed to achieve before and are shot almost entirely in natural light.  I say almost because Andrew produced a fantastic piece of kit at his point.  The Ice Light is a bit like a sawn-off light sabre, yet it was enough to provide some subtle hair lighting.

We were not done yet though still time to see what we could come up with in the bathroom without Andrew’s guidance.  A change of clothes, a mirror, bags of natural light, (and a little jedi magic) and we were done.

One model, one house, a couple of lights, but for the most part good old daylight.  And the guidance of Andrew Appleton of course.

A great day and I saved my favourite ’til last; I think it has a bit of a Gillian Anderson look to it!  Thanks Zara – I’m glad we made friends!

Zara Jo
Zara Jo


* Detective Lester Freamon – The Wire, Series 1, episode 6



Ironically for a photographer, I’ve lacked focus this week.  Nothing inspired me to go and point a lens at it.

This may have been because I’ve been working in a location that I’m very familiar with, and where I’ve been out to shoot the things that interest me already, but I have to question my motivation.

This isn't my bike btw!
This isn’t my bike btw!

I did take some pictures while out cycling last weekend, as I further explored my new home in Durham, but I managed to time this with the only few hours in days where the skies were overcast.  Perhaps that contributed to my torpor.

Shincliffe was my destination.  I’d been there the previous day to drop my friend Elaine off at the garden centre.  It is a village that consists largely of two perpendicular roads that both join a more major route that forms the hypotenuse of a small triangle.  Consequently, with no through traffic other than the green-fingered and its own residents, Shincliffe is a quiet spot that seems almost timeless.  This sense was compounded by the fact that due to the spending restrictions that local authorities are imposing the verges of the village high street have not been cut, leading to an almost meadow-like quality.

Shincliffe High Street
Shincliffe High Street

The effect is noticeable in many locations around the county, but here in Shincliffe it seems almost appropriate and creates a scene that may go back to when this chapel was built and earlier.

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Shincliffe
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Shincliffe

The village certainly has a history – the bridge over the Wear here may be built on Roman origins, though it was properly established in the middle ages, flourished briefly following the industrial revolution due the nearby collieries and then declined one again as they closed.

I’ve always associated the history of this area with the majesty of the Norman buildings on Durham’s Palace Green, but there is so much more scattered around here.  The remains of the most northerly villa in all of the Roman Empire were found nearby.

On my way home I passed through Sherburn House, a tiny cluster of houses on one side of the road and an imposing gatehouse on the other.  These old stones now form part of a residential home for the elderly, but in their time they were part of a medieval hospital established in the 12th century providing care to a large group of lepers.APW_3910

And yet for all of this opportunity to shoot something historic, it was a more modern image that provided my favourite.  This was regatta weekend in Durham, the Wear thronged with racing rowers and their supporters.  It might have been a great place to take pictures, but the cycle path I would have needed to get there has been swept away by heavy rain in recent months.  Nevertheless the boat houses, which populate the river banks face no such restrictions.  The picture I got isn’t high quality, because I needed to crop away most of it to get to the detail that caught my eye.  A simple study in straight lines.  The purple blades just give it a little oomph!APW_3884