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3 rules for better portrait photography (and when to break them)

9 Feb

Portrait photography tips

Last weekend I headed north with a group of friends to explore the Scottish Borders. We might not have experienced weather as relentless as that which has been battering Bethan down in Somerset, but we had our fair share of extreme precipitation! I was hoping I might be able to share some dramatic landscape photos with you, but as the snow closed in we were struggling to see more than a couple of meters in front of us it became quickly apparent that it wouldn’t be a weekend of magnificent vistas!

Portrait photography tips

Photography is all about capturing light, and sometimes to get the best out of a session you need to adapt to the conditions you are presented with. Often it’s bright sunshine which makes for a dramatic picture with shadows creating texture and definition, but when you’re taking pictures of people it can create shadows on the face which can be unflattering. So when you’re faced with overcast weather, it’s a great opportunity to look for people to use as your subjects as the clouds will effectively act as an oversized light diffuser. On Saturday we battled through eye-stinging blizzards to return back to base and I thought it worthy of taking my camera out to grab a few snaps.

Portrait photography tips

Rules to follow:

  • Get closer: the mantra of “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” is certainly one which is overused in photography, but it does have its merit when capturing photos of people. Getting closer to the subject will also increase background blur which pulls the focus of the image to the subject.
  • Use the right lens: The difficulty with getting close is that you will need a lens with a longer focal length. If you are buying a lens for an SLR camera then this is one with a larger mm number. Compact cameras will normally boast a wide angle lens which is great for taking expansive panoramas, but will give close up photos a “fish-eye” effect which you want to avoid when taking portraits. This doesn’t mean shelling a lot of money. I bought a manual focusing 50mm lens for my Nikon for under £85.
  • Spot Focus: if you set your camera to portrait mode it will probably do this for you, if not change your camera from area auto focus to spot focus. This will allow you to focus on the eyes of your subject using a single point (usually the centre) of you camera. Left on auto mode, your camera will usually focus on the nearest point: the nose!

Portrait photography tips

Rules to break!

Sometimes if you want your photos to stand out, you need to do something a little differently. A perfect, smiling portrait shot might be perfect for a school photo or holiday album, but in my opinion a great portrait is one that captures the essence of the subject or situation.

  • Portraits don’t have to be portrait: this might seem a controversial tip, but there’s no reason to take a portrait photograph in portrait orientation. The pictures here were taken in portrait before I cropped them into a square, or experiment with landscape images with the subject off-centre.
  • Get even closer: To take this a step further, get so close that you crop the top and/or bottom of the face. This will really focus in on the eyes and can make for an intriguing composition.
  • Stop smiling: It’s almost an in-built instinct to smile when a camera is pointed at you, and there’s nothing wrong with this. However, you can add some intrigue to a photo if your subject relaxes their face and mouth to a neutral position.

scotland photography

{all photographs by Joe John for Decorator’s Notebook}

Nature Table: red

26 Sep

Everywhere I look now, vibrant autumnal reds are catching my eye…

We've been photographing lots of our products for the new shop on a slate backdrop. It's a bit different to the usual white background you see in most online interiors shops... and it does something lovely to colour.

Red apple Decorator's Notebook blog

red leaves Decorator's Notebook blog

rosehips Decorator's Notebook blog

rowan berries Decorator's Notebook blog

{all Decorator’s Notebook Blog}

We’ve been photographing a lot of our products for the Decorator’s Notebook Shop against this slate background… it does something wonderful to colours and gives quite a different mood to the bright white backdrops you often see in online interiors shops.

What autumn shades have been catching your eye?

Down to earth drawing by artist Natasha Clutterbuck

23 Sep

While at Yeo Valley this summer I picked up a leaflet advertisting workshops run by Somerset artist Natasha Clutterbuck, who uses charcoal, mud, rocks and tea to create fantastically expressive drawings of just-picked vegetables. I loved the idea of trying my hand at a natural pigment drawing of my own but was sadly too slow off the mark to snag a place on the course. I put the leaflet to one side, hoping there might be another chance next year.

Anyway, last week I was looking for something completely different when I stumbled across Natasha once again, this time the beautiful photographs Andrew Montgomery took in her studio for Gardens Illustrated. It reminded me of the raw, natural quality I’d loved about her work and it was a real treat to see inside her workspace.

Natasha Clutterbuck studio by Andrew Montgomery{Andrew Montgomery}

Natasha Clutterbuck artist by Andrew Montgomery{Andrew Montgomery}

beetroot by Natasha Clutterbuck artist{Natasha Clutterbuck}

Vegetables Andrew Montgomery{Andrew Montgomery}

charcoal Natasha Clutterbuck studio by Andrew Montgomery{Andrew Montgomery}

shallots and bay by Natasha Clutterbuck artist{Natasha Clutterbuck}

vegetables drawn by Natasha Clutterbuck Andrew Montgomery{Andrew Montgomery}

artist Natasha Clutterbuck by Andrew Montgomery{Andrew Montgomery}

squash drawn by Natasha Clutterbuck artist

{Natasha Clutterbuck}

I love discovering new local artists and Andrew’s photographs really bring Natasha’s work to life… he really is one of the most fantastic photographers around in my eyes. I’m embracing the natural beauty of autumn right now and these drawings perfectly capture the colourful bounty we should be enjoying and preserving for when the nights draw in!

If you like what you see here, click to see more of Andrew Montgomery‘s stunning portfolio and more of Natasha Clutterbuck‘s drawings.

Mood of the moment… last days of summer

30 Aug

late summer moodboard by Decorator's Notebook blog

Fairytale Lullaby Bombay Bicycle Club

{LIVE / EAT / WEAR / ESCAPE}

{LISTEN Bombay Bicycle Fairytale Lullaby}

Pictures curated by Bethan, music selected by Joe. We hope you enjoy our picks and they set the mood for a relaxed weekend… soak up these last days of watery summer sunshine.

Mood of the moment… drift away

2 Aug

drift away summer moodboard Decorator's Notebook

Lissie: Little Lovin'

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{LISTEN Lissie Little Lovin’}

Pictures curated by Bethan, music selected by Joe. We hope you enjoy our picks and they set the mood for a relaxed weekend… here’s to breakfasts in bed and glittering sunsets!

Golden hour

15 Jul

In the 13 years our parents have owned this house the field behind has always been for sheep, but for some reason this year it’s been planted with wheat. Last night I took an evening stroll through in the still-wilting heat with my camera in the hope of capturing the golden hour.

wheat field in summer

trees edging wheat field

hands holding wheat

furrow in wheat field

wheat

wheat field

wheat close up{all Decorator’s Notebook}

The light was a gift. It was still so warm the wheat smelled grassy-sweet in the sunshine and the red Wiveliscombe earth was baked red beneath my feet. I couldn’t resist lying down in a furrow made by the tractor’s wheels, looking up to the blue sky and breathing the scent of a British summer all around me.

Mood of the moment… Midsummer daydream

12 Jul

midsummer photo collage decorators notebook

decorators notebook listen

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{LISTEN First Aid Kit King of the World}

Pictures curated by Bethan, music selected by Joe. We hope you enjoy it and it gets you in the mood for a sunny weekend x

About time too…

18 Jun

Decorators Notebook on Instagram DecoratorsNotes

Please follow us on Instagram at DecoratorsNotes and leave your username in the comments so we can follow you!

PS – we registered the username DecoratorsNotebook last week but will be using DecoratorsNotes for consistency with Twitter and Pinterest. If you’re an early bird who followed the original account please switch to see our snaps!

Mood of the moment… Kerala calling

14 Jun

Kerala Calling moodboard by Decorator's Notebook

Kerala Calling moodboard by Decorator's Notebook

{LIVE / EAT / WEAR / ESCAPE}

{LISTEN 6 Day Riot We Want You}

Welcome to our new blog series. Pictures curated by Bethan, music selected by Joe. We hope you enjoy it and it gets you in the mood for a beautiful weekend x

5 ways to make your holiday photos more creative

16 May

DSCF0247 (500x333)

I’ve just got back from a week away in Moscow and Bethan asked if I’d share some tips for getting more out of photographing new places. Next time you’re on holiday, try out these simple tricks to break the habit of seeking out the classic postcard shot and come home with something a little more more exciting on your memory card!

1. THINK OF A THEME

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I’m a big fan of setting myself photo projects as it helps to focus my mind and hone my eyes as I explore unfamiliar places. A theme can be anything from trying to get as many pictures of one thing, like street vendors or transport hubs, or concentrating on the medium of your photography like black and white, tilt-shift ‘miniatures’ or shooting on film. This Photography Monthly article has some great ideas.

For my trip I thought about what Moscow meant to me. Having been previously, I was aware that whilst Russia has become a very different place over the last 30 years, the footprint of the Soviet regime in Moscow remains overwhelmingly apparent. I wanted to try and capture the city with in a way that would reflect photography from that era, so bought myself a plastic Holga lens to fit onto my DSLR for about £15. Effectively a pinhole lens, it’s small and lightweight and great fun to attempt to use.

2. MOVE YOUR FEET!

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The Robert Capa quote: “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” has become a bit of a cliché in photography, but it’s something we can all learn from. I prefer the notion of zooming with my feet and only took a lightweight prime lens alongside my plastic Holga. Using your body to move your camera, forces you into new and dynamic positions and gives a fresh new perspective on the well-known sights. Standing in the middle of Red Square I could see hundreds of people with their cameras trained directly at St Basil’s looking for that famous picture above. My view is that if you want a postcard photo, then buy a postcard! Instead I captured something different by getting down on the ground and looking for interesting people or objects in the crowd which other people might discard as in the way.

3. NEVER LET GO OF YOUR CAMERA

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Thinking about photography every minute is hard, especially when you’re on holiday. I find that having my camera in your hand, rather than around my neck can make a big difference. Just loop the neck strap around your wrist and you’ve got your camera at hand for all of those blink-and-you’ll-miss moments. This also has the advantage of making you look less like a tourist, which can be less intimidating for local inhabitants.

4. LOOK BEHIND YOU!

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It’s so easy when walking from one destination to another to stride forward and never look back. In short, you’re missing 50% of everything there is to see!

5. SMILE AND TALK TO PEOPLE

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This is probably the hardest one and can be even harder somewhere like Russia where smiling often rouses suspicion! But I think the best photos you can get when travelling are of people rather than things. Unlike a monument which is photographed hundreds of times a day, photographs of people are both rarer and more interesting.

It’s essential to be culturally aware of local customs and always best to ask permission, but no photograph will capture the feeling of a place quite like one of someone who lives there. A good tactic I picked up in Bali is to speak to people who are selling things, close the deal, then casually ask for a photo before you leave. If you negotiate a price that’s good for them, you might get a priceless smile for your extra pound!

DSCF0247 (738x750){all Decorator’s Notebook}

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