Archive for September, 2014

Russet Landscapes

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Tuesday night I was at the opening of WE ARE THE LANDSCAPE at The Russet in Hackney, and it seemed to be well-appreciated by those present. The Russet describes itself as a ‘restaurant, cafe and creative space‘ which ‘ is part of the Hackney Downs Studios family: a centre for creativity and collaboration in East London.’

Certainly the cakes on sale there looked delicious (but probably quite unsuitable for diabetics).  The site was converted from an old print works, and the venue still has something of the feeling of an old industrial interior, though with some comfortable seating rather like a loft apartment furnished from the better stuff people’s parents were throwing out. If you are into local, fresh, seasonal, artisanal and artistic this is a place for you. Here are the details:

THE RUSSET 07733444421 17 Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT

10 Sep – 05 Nov Mon-Sun 9am-10pm

Paul Walsh – Kajsa Johansson – Dominik Gigler – Arnau Oriol – Susan Andrews – David Boulogne – Alessandra Chilà – Chris Dorley-Brown – Peter Marshall – Mike Seaborne – David George

The show is a part of

photomonth – The East London photography festival

For obvious reasons being one of those involved I’m not going to write a review of the show, which was curated by David Boulogne and Tendai Thomas Davies. But I was pleased to read this, posted by David on the show’s Facebook page this morning:

First review “Well curated and executed exhibition. The work on itself is a proof of a clear vision, commitment and passion. The result , a compelling piece of art-filled with cultural, socio-economic and historical weight – 10/10

You can also read some short texts about the eleven photographers who have work in the show on the 2012pics blog. I’d not met Tendai who organises the gallery space at The Russet before, but I find we share a taste in music, and I’m listening to some Archie Shepp he linked to as I write.

But what I can do is to post the five pictures of mine in this show here. They are already on-line along with many others on my London Photos site, which is now two books out of date, and they come from London Dérives, a series of almost two hundred images on-line and are among the 73 pictures from this included in the book/PDF available from Blurb.

All five pictures were taken in 1979, and all at locations within a fairly short walk of The Russet.

In the book description on Blurb is the following – including a quotation from the French situationist Guy Debord, best known for his ‘Society of the Spectacle‘, influential on many of us involved (if peripherally in Manchester rather than Paris) in the student protests of the sixties, though this comes from another work, and is a fresh translation for my book.  The single short passage there – longer than this below, but still only a couple of hundred words – took several days of agonising and consultation with French speakers as well as the expert services of the ‘in house’ translator I married back in those times. Here it is:

London Dérives
ISBN 978-1-909363-08-3

People well know that there are gloomy quarters and others that are pleasant. But they generally convince themselves that the smart streets give a sense of pleasure and that the poor streets depress, without any nuance. In fact, the the variety of possible combinations of ambiances, like the solution of chemical substances into an infinite number of mixtures leads to feelings as different and as complex as arise from any other form of spectacle.

Pictures from numerous walks “without goal” through London in the mid 1970s and early 1980s which aimed to capture some of the nuances of that city.


Rotherhithe & Surrey Docks

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Surrey Docks entrance, Rotherhithe St, 1984

It’s always exciting when I get the first copy of a printed book of my photographs delivered, and I ripped open the parcel and was pleased to find that as usual Blurb had made a decent job of ‘Rotherhithe & Surrey Docks: 1975-85‘, the fourth in my series on London Docklands.

Of course I’d seen it all before, when I’d spent days scanning and retouching the images, and then selecting and putting them in some kind of order (not an easy task) and designing and preparing the book using InDesign. Being the fourth in the series, much of the design had already been done for the previous volumes, though there are some minor tweaks. And, no matter how many times you check, there are always some minor errors that you miss., though in this case nothing that I feel really needs a reprint to correct.

The printing of the black and white images is as usual good, though not perfect, and certainly not as good as with the PDF version, which I recommend. As with my other recent works, this book is published as a digital version, ISBN 978-1-909363-12-0, downloadable from Blurb, with the print version available for those who would like a convenient hard-copy of the PDF. You can also view the whole book in the preview on the Blurb page.  The PDF costs £4.99 and a printed copy will currently cost £31 plus postage. Incidentally buying the PDF also gives you a licence to print out a single copy of any (or all!) of the 90 or so pages of the book, though to print the whole book at comparable quality to the print version on my home printer would cost me around £70.

The scans for the book were mainly made with a Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro scanner – one of the best film scanners ever made, particularly when fitted with a purpose made light diffuser and specially machined holders to ensure flatness across the whole negative. Some of the scans needed considerable retouching in Photoshop, mainly because of some insect infestation of the negatives, but also in some cases because of uneven development. The scans were converted to high-quality CMYK files using Photoshop, and saved with the Blurb supplied ICC profile. Black and white images tend to be printed slightly off-neutral and the images were given a slightly warm tone which I’ve always preferred for my work.

The printed copy I have is a good match to my originals (and the PDF), though prints are always a little duller, but seem very close to neutral. But as this is ‘print on demand’ there can be small copy to copy differences. I use Blurb’s premium lustre paper which prints black and white better than the standard, and the print quality is quite acceptable. Of course it doesn’t match the superb quality of the duotones and tritones of some photographic books, but is generally good enough.

When I first cycled through the area in 1976 I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but then you could walk down the ventilation shafts to go under the river in the Rotherhithe tunnel. By the time I took the photograph at the top of this post in 1984 they were locked, presumably to discourage people using the crossing, though you can still walk or cycle through the tunnel from the vehicle entrances although at some risk to your health.

Later I went back on foot, walking over the footbridge across the entrance to South Dock, next to which was then the Surrey Docks Farm, one of several ‘city farms’ across London. I took several pictures of a young girl on a bicycle as she went across the lock gates to the farm. Some years later on another visit to the area I was mystified, as both the farm and the footbridge had moved to different locations in the area.

In 1984 I spent a couple of days wandering the area and taking pictures, including a little to my surprise a wharf still handling timber, which used to be the main business in the Surrey Docks, where there were once large ponds in which it was stored, as well as huge open timber sheds, some of which were still around, standing empty. Some of the timber would then be taken on barges up Bow Creek to timber yards on the Lea Navigation to be sawn up.

The redevelopment of the area had been started by the London Borough of Southwark and the Greater London Council, but progress had been slow, partly because they were kept short of money. The Conservatives once Mrs Thatcher had come to power saw docklands as a great opportunity for developers (and many Conservatives were developers or invested in them) to make money and set up the London Docklands Development Corporation 1n 1981 to speed up the regeneration and pour public subsidies into private pockets.

While the results have not been entirely disastrous for the area, the developments have not served the people who were living in the area as well as they might.


Fair Pay Now!

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

It’s always hard to estimate the numbers taking part in large marches, and this was certainly a large march, with perhaps around 15,000 being a reasonable estimate. At the start, as people gathered outside Broadcasting House – fast becoming a popular starting point for protests as more and more groups get tired of the way that the BBC ignores or marginalises most UK protests, it was certainly very difficult to move around for the crowd in the road and to find the space needed between camera and subject. Most of the pictures from before the start of the march were taken around the edges of the packed crowd, and as usual I was looking for things that would tell the story, as well as meeting people that I knew.

Sometimes the two things came together, as in the picture of Jasmin Stone and her daughter and others from Focus E15 Mums in front of Broadcasting House – and there are other faces in some other pictures that regular visitors to My London Diary will recognise.

Another view of Broadcasting House, where reporters were careful not to really notice what was happening outside

But there were many here who are not regular protesters – and some told me this was their first protest march, and others that they seldom take part in such things. A number of trade unions had called a one day strike, and groups like the teachers are so fed up with being ‘Goved’ that they had turned out in force for the march, though I was surprised that only the NUT were supporting it.

‘Education – cuts never heal’ – ‘Guck Fove’

I always find  the large balloons that some unions like to take on their marches are a problem to photograph,so high that they are difficult to connect with the people on the ground. Designed to be visible from a distance, they aren’t ideal for photographers like me who like to work close, where even with a wide-angle they are hard to include. The NUT Scissors with their message ‘Education – cuts never heal’ are rather more interesting,and I was pleased to be able to combine them with a strong message about Mr Gove, who shortly afterwards lost his job, not because of the havoc he has wreaked destroying what system there is in our education, but because of his silly squabbles with Teresa May.

There was just so much to photograph while the march was forming up, and it was so crowded that although I’d been keeping an eye on my watch, I actually just missed the start of the march, which I’d intended to photograph with Broadcasting House in the background. But by the time I made it back to the start, they had started very  punctually and already moved a couple of hundred yards down the road. It isn’t a great picture, but it does show the flags (and balloons) of some of the main unions involved, GMB (just), NUT, Unite, PCS and Unison. There is also what seems to be a Portuguese flag (and I think I know who would have been carrying it) but more important to me in framing the picture, on top of Broadcasting House, the Union Jack.

This was a fairly short march, only a little over a mile to Trafalgar Square, but marches usually go fairly slowly. I waited until the end had gone past me close to Oxford Circus, around a quarter mile from the start (it took 50 minutes), then rushed along the route to the end, only stopping a couple of times to take more pictures and arriving before most of the marchers more or less as the rally was starting.

Workers from the Ritzy cinema in Brixton who are striking for the London living wage

As well as photographing the speakers, there were also people in the crowd to photograph, including those responding to the speeches in the picture at the top of this post. I managed to photograph the Ritzy strikers in front of one of the lions just before too many other photographers arrived and started walking in front of them.

The London Fire Brigade Union banner, standing against the plinth of Nelson’s column to one side behind the speakers made a splendid backdrop for the FBU leader Matt Wrack, although it was perhaps less appropriate for some of the other speakers. I was also careful to frame so as to get the message on his FBU t-shirt ‘We rescue people, not banks – Stop the cuts‘, the first part of which is a quotation from Spanish fire-fighters when asked to assist in the eviction of people unable to keep up with their mortgage payments.

I was also pleased to see and photograph Mark Serwotka of PCS who I knew had been ill, but was certainly in fiery form at this event. It wasn’t until almost two months later that we all heard how great his health problems are, and how remarkable he has been in coping with them.

More pictures from the march and rally at Public Service Workers Strike for Fair Pay.

Save Our Surgeries

Monday, September 8th, 2014

I left the ‘Housing for All‘ march at East Ham station and took the District Line to Aldgate East, in the neighbouring borough of Tower Hamlets. Like Newham, this also has a directly elected mayor, but a very different character. For a couple of years Lutfur Rahman was the leader of the Labour council here, but was replaced by the party when he became controversial over media allegations about his links to the Islamic Forum of Europe, a group with an important place in the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets. IFE supporters say it works actively to oppose extremist groups, while the right-wing press accuses it of extremism.

After much infighting among various groups in the Labour party Rahman was finally elected by Tower Hamlets Labour Party as their candidate for the first elected mayoral elections by a large majority. But the Labour National Executive Committee removed him, replacing him by the man who got the least votes of the three candidates, a decision that, along with the published account of what actually happened in the meeting, puts the party in a very bad light.

Rahman considered legal action to get reinstated, but then decided to stand as an independent candidate instead and got elected – and this year elected again for a second term. But his ‘Tower Hamlets First‘ party are a minority on the council, with around half of all councillors still being Labour. A great deal of ill-feeling still appears to exist between at least some of the Labour group and the Mayor, with non-cooperation and allegations of malpractice being fed liberally to the media, most of which have been only too pleased to report and distort it.

To an outsider, Rahman appears despite the problems to have done a very good job as mayor and to be very open to the people of Tower Hamlets – and indeed to put them first. He has turned up at several events I’ve photographed (and sent along others with his apologies and a message of support when unable to come personally) and seems to have supported projects across the many communities in the borough. I’ve not known another mayor who is as visible and accessible to local people and wish other mayors were more like him at least in this respect.

Like most people in Tower Hamlets the Mayor is greatly concerned to the threat to the surgeries in the area (and in other deprived areas) of the withdrawal of the support they currently get because of the extra needs of the area. They fear these will be unable to continue, and will be replaced by cut-price services run by large health companies and providing only a low level of health care. The date chosen for the Save our Surgeries rally and march was the 66th anniversary of the founding of the NHS.

Of course the Mayor was just one of a number of speakers, including the local Labour MP, Rushanara Ali as well as doctors and other health professionals and a patient. I tried to photograph them all, but it mainly their audience that attracted me, very much a reflection of one of London’s multicultural boroughs. The placard too is one of the more decorative I’ve photographed, though rather less graphic than most, and reflects something of the diversity of the area, with its small island of business wealth at Canary Wharf, old buildings and the recent mosque, though it does rather lack the bustle of its streets.

It is perhaps a reminder that when taking photographs we too need to be aware we are creating representations, and we need to be aware of the message that our pictures convey, not just of who or what we see as the subject of our photograph. At the end of the march as it went past the old Royal London Hospital building were an elderly couple, walking slowly and with some obvious difficulty. I took several pictures, including the one above, including some showing their faces, taking care not to disturb them, but this is the one I chose to use. At first I wondered why I had deliberately chosen to include that disturbing red light which to me looks like a distorted mouth sliming its way across the rear of the car so prominently in the frame. But now I’ve grown to rather like it, though I’m not entirely sure why.

Housing for All March

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Focus E15 Mums began almost a year ago as a campaign by a group of young mothers living in a hostel in Stratford to fight eviction when Newham Council cut the hostel’s funding. They started a weekly protest stall and made their fight to stay in the area a very public one, asking questions at meetings and staging protests, some of which have featured here before.

Their campaign has meant that so far they have managed to stay in London, close to families, support services and jobs, when Newham was trying to move them out to Birmingham or Hastings or anywhere rather than Newham.  It isn’t that there is no housing available in Newham, at the centre of one of the largest areas of regeneration in the country, with new blocks of flats appearing every time I go there and of course huge developments on the former Olympic site.  Not to mention the many vacant properties on the Carpenters Estate close to the centre of Stratford. More that these young women are not the right kind of people for Newham’s new vision; to put it simply they just are not rich enough.

Newham is of course a Labour-run council. Entirely. All of the 60 councillors now in office are from the Labour party. Unusually it also has a directly elected mayor, Robin Wales, Leader of Newham Council from 1995 to 2002 and Mayor since then, elected for a fourth term in May this year. You might think that this should mean a council that cares for the poor and the disadvantaged in the community, but it appears you might be sadly wrong.

One of the placards being carried in the protest had a picture of Sir Robin on it, along with the text  ‘Olympic Legacy = Evictions and Social Cleansing – Robin the Poor – Robin Wales Mayor of Newham’.  His policies are built around the ideas of ‘resilience’, which seems to mean helping those who help themselves, rather than any care or concern for those who are weak or who face problems they are unable to deal with. To me they seem to have abandoned the key ideas of the Labour movement, and would readily fit with those of the Chamber of Commerce and the Conservative Party.

I was disappointed not to get a better picture with that placard, and it wasn’t for want of trying. Perhaps I was mistaken, but just occasionally at protests there do seem to be people who go to considerable effort to evade the camera.

Four members of the Counihan family came with the Brent Housing Action banner

Of course there were many people at the protest who were happy – if not keen –  to be photographed and many that I knew from other events. I’ve photographed the Counihan family who started a campaign about their own housing problem with the London Borough of Brent – and who like the Focus Mums have gone on to campaign over housing on behalf of others in their own ‘Housing for All’ campaign, Brent Housing Action.

It was also good to see another friend I’ve photographed on various occasions, Tamsin Omond, who was handing out leaflets for a protest against the expansion of London City Airport, also in east London as well as carrying a placard in the protest. Some of the events I photographed her and the other Climate Rush activists at 5 years ago were against the building of a third runway at Heathrow  – and it now looks increasingly as if we will be protesting there again before too long.

Climate Rushers and local residents lead the ‘NO THIRD RUNWAY’ procession at the Heathrow perimeter fence
I had to leave the ‘Housing for All’ march as it passed East Ham Station as I wanted to photograph another event. You can read my report on the march and see more pictures at Focus E15 March for Decent Housing.


25 Years of Drik

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Hard to believe it, but there are still people with an interest in photography who haven’t heard of Drik, the innovated photo agency set up by Shahidul Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh 25 years ago. As he puts it in his blog, “Tired of being pitied for our poverty, and do-gooder attempts to ‘save’ us, we had decided to become our own storytellers.”

Shahidul Alam talking in London in 2011

It has been a difficult journey, starting on shoestring resources, and for which they also had to create much of the infrastructure, including setting up Bangladesh’s first email network using Fidonet. The government did their worst to close them because of their support for human rights, sending police to shut down some of their shows, and they were “stabbed in the street, arrested, and generally persecuted.”

The photographic school set up by Alam and those working with him, Pathshala, the South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka is now widely recognised as one of the leading schools of photojournalism in the world, and many photographers who have studied there have become well-known, and its former students increasingly feature in the major international photojournalism competitions.

On my table downstairs, until now unopened, is the September issue of ‘New Internationalist‘ magazine – which I’ve subscribed to since its inception (and before it became ‘New’ in 1973, when it was the magazine of ‘Third World First, a student group now known as ‘People and Planet’) though I don’t always get around to reading every word – and I’m still reading the previous issue. It’s essential reading if you want to know what is really happening around the world – and why – and not just what Murdoch and his like want you to know. Over the years they have published a number of articles by Alam, including The Majority World looks back in 2007, as well as making use of images from Drik and Majority World, another of his initiatives.

The latest issue of the magazine has a double-page spread, ‘Telling our own stories‘, celebrating 25 years of Drik, which you can see and download from Alam’s post. I’m pleased to add my small voice to the congratulations.


Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014


Photograph © Dominik Gigler

Press Release

The East is being redefined. The Olympic fever has put an outcast on the map. The mainstream is now investing the once despised. It is not the first time the East has been given a facelift. The continuous migrations, the war and previous rejuvenations turned this landscape into something both identifiable and adaptable. The East End was and remains a land of experiments where the individual shapes his surroundings. 11 artist photographers familiar with its background and morphing captured its idiosyncrasy through various methodologies. Still the East End cannot be defined and the proud inhabitants are its essence. The East is not a landmark to contemplate but a hub to be lived and inspired from.

Curated by Tendai Davies and David Boulogne

Artist photographers are Paul Walsh, Kajsa Johansson, Dominik Gigler, Arnau Oriol, Susan Andrews, David Boulogne, Alessandra Chíla, Chris Dorley-Brown, Peter Marshall, Mike Seaborne, David George

Opening night Tuesday 9th September from 6.30pm, public from 10th Sep – 5th Nov
The Russet, 17 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT Open daily 9am – 11pm

Train: Dalston Kingsland, Rectory Road, Hackney Downs, Hackney Central
Bus: 67, 76, 488, 149, 236, 243

General enquiries contact David Boulogne 07949033085
Sales contact Tendai Davies 07733444421

Visit for more details

As you can see, I have work in this show which opens next week in Hackney. I’ve made my 5 prints, just need to frame them and get them there. I’ll write more about my work for the show, which comes from my book ‘London dérives 1975-1983‘ (ISBN 978-1-909363-08-3) later. Hope to see some of you at the opening – please RSVP to David Boulogne if you can come.

Duckrabbit, Ethics & Sheep

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Most days when I’m not out taking pictures I spend at least a few minutes (more often about an hour) before I start on my own work for the day looking through Facebook posts and a number of blogs and web sites on my newsfeed, stopping to read those that really catch my interest. One blog that often does this is duckrabbit, and I’ve often shared posts from there on this blog.

There are a couple of things in the past few weeks that have interested me there, and the latest is a post by John Macpherson The thin blue line reflecting on two posts about Ferguson, one by a black police officer and the second an Al Jazeera Opinion piece by Malcolm Harris: ‘Unethical journalism can make Ferguson more dangerous’. It’s this second post that is particularly pertinent for photographers who cover events – as I occasionally do – where some of those involved may be breaking laws, where Harris suggests that “publishing images with identifiable faces” in situations like this is a “violation of accepted practice“.

Macpherson makes some very sensible comments about this and while there are situations where anonymity should be respected, journalists are not there to decide on who is breaking the law, but to report “the situation as it unfolds, and recording it with professional objectivity.”

Of course there are situations that call for anonymity, and times where journalists can only work on that basis or when we chose to do so by the careful choice of camera angle and framing, but this isn’t something we should do without careful consideration, and not something that would generally apply on protests on the streets. I’m careful at times not to include “innocent bystanders” in my pictures, and have been known to advise people wearing masks to protect their identity to actually cover their faces with them. But I think those acting openly on the street can have little complaint if their actions are reported openly.

There have been a few occasions when I have decided not to take pictures, on the grounds that a particular image would misrepresent the event I was covering. I’m not sure in most cases my decision was right, and it would have been better to take the pictures and decide later whether or not to use them. But for most journalists now there isn’t a ‘later’, with publications and agencies demanding images almost before they are taken, rather than the several hours that allow me to consider and edit my work.

My photographs have never been used in court, but I have on several occasions provided copies to protesters to help in the preparation of their defence (I think as so often the charges were dropped in all these cases) where the pictures showed police acting in an aggressive manner.

Photographs, and particularly still photographs, are in any case rather curious evidence, seldom providing reliable evidence on their own. They need captions, explanations, supporting testimony. Even with information now embedded in digital images they are often not entirely reliable about when and where they were taken, and, as we photographers certainly know, an image taken a fraction before or after, or from a slightly different viewpoint may provide a quite different impression of what was taking place.

The second duckrabbit piece, ‘Cut out the crap‘ is a short link to a blog post by Bartosz Nowicki to the work of a little-known photographer from Wales. Peter Jones grew up in Abwerystwyth and after various night classes studied photography “at Manchester College of Art and Design ’66-’69 where I was influenced by the work of Edward Weston and Tony Ray Jones. Went to London to look for work and found a job as John Thornton’s first assistant.” But then he came home to Wales to visit his sick mother,  got drawn in to the family farm and never touched a camera for 30 years, only becoming involved in photography again when his sister entered him into a Millennium project where people were given disposable cameras and free processing. When ill health forced his retirement from farming he started taking pictures again, buying a Leica M6 and a 35mm and 50mm lenses. The images on the blog are from a project “Welsh Farming Community” which he says “will come to it’s conclusion when my shutter stops blinking.” It’s an interesting story with some fine images and I think should at some point make a fine book.

Good/Bad Light

Monday, September 1st, 2014

I’ve written at times about my own rather coarse flash techniques using high ISO, and it was interesting to come across an article by a photographer working in a very different area,  Kristian Dowling, on PetaPixel a few weeks ago. Obviously the ideas and solutions that Dowling presents in  What Photographers are NOT Considering When Using High ISO work well for him – as you can see from the example images – but I’m not sure they are suitable solutions in my own practice, where situations tend to be fairly fast-moving and often rather crowded with both protesters and other photographers.

Like Dowling I have experimented with using LED lights, though not the Westcott Ice Light mentioned in the feature, and have not been too impressed with the results, though I’ve often piggy-backed on the video lights of others at events (though at other times they have been an annoyance.) At $500 the Ice-light seems a little on the expensive side (and there are ‘Accessories Galore’ to add to the expense), but perhaps it does do a better job than the £15 ‘160 LED Video Light Lamp Panel’ you can find on E-Bay. This seems to claim a similar light output, but is perhaps a more suitable rectangular shape than the long, thin, Ice Light sabre. But the cheap units I’ve tried have been a little disappointing in terms of light output for photographic use, though good for other purposes. More powerful units are available for around £100, but I’ve yet to try these.

Similarly while fashion work may make the Phottix Odin wireless TTL flash triggers seem a snip at $329 or $399 for the twin pack with second receiver, for those who work for the poverty fees now paid by newspapers and magazines (or more often 50% or less of them) may find the Yongnuo RF 603-II which offers a manual Wireless Flash Trigger and 2 Transceivers for around £20 of more interest (or if you want iTTl the Yongnuo YN-622N is around £60). At these kinds of price I’m tempted to try one out myself.

But I think what is important is to understand the difference between good and bad light, and there are things in the article by Dowling that I find confusing, either because they are confused or because I got to bed to late last night. Here’s how I think about lighting.

Quantity & fall-off

Light intensity is perhaps the most obvious feature. And for most artificial light sources we need to think in terms of the inverse square law – twice as far away means a quarter of the intensity etc. (Theoretically only for point sources but even with large soft boxes or bounce the light falls off, just not quite so dramatically.)


The angle from the light source over which you get relatively even light distribution. Can be increased by diffusers over the light source


The size of the light source viewed from the subject (where the sun is a small light source but the light from a small flash tube bounced off a large white wall is large.) This mainly effects the hardness/softness of the shadows. Despite what many photographers seem to think, putting a diffuser in front of a flash hardly effects this unless the diffuser is considerably larger than the flash reflector, at least where there are no large reflectors around – it does work in rooms with low white ceilings. But using it outdoors simply cuts down the range of the flash and increases recycle time.


Pretty obvious, but mainly important in avoiding mixing light of different colour temperature. Filters come in handy at times, though I seldom bother to filter my flash, there are times when it would help to do so. The LED panels usually come with both a simple diffuser and an amber one to use with tungsten lighting, but little outdoor lighting is 3200K.

Direction & Position

The horizontal angle between the light, the subject and the camera, and the angling of the light down (usually) on the subject

Main Light and Ambient/Fill

Although we can have very complex lighting situations, it is useful to think in terms of the main light – which gives the subject its ‘volume’, the ambient which illuminates the whole of the scene and the fill, light used to soften lighting contrast by putting light into the shadow areas.

In Practice

The main light is always better away from the camera, whereas fill is best from close to the lens. So flash on camera is great for fill, but rather lacking as a main light. With camera systems like Nikon, flash in bright sun for fill is simple, and handled very well by the TTL BL mode with a flash in the hot shoe. With some lenses you can alternatively use the built-in flash on some bodies, but physically large lenses such as the 16-35 cast an ugly shadow in the frame.

At night, working in fairly brightly lit areas, you can still use flash for fill, (though not in P mode) by working at high ISO, setting up the camera with appropriate underexposure to give some feeling of night, and then adding a touch of flash to illuminate close subjects. Often I’ll combine the flash – of short duration – with relatively slow shutter speeds such as 1/15s to retain information in relatively dimly lit areas of the background.

When the light falls so low as to make flash the only possible main light source, again I usually like to use as high an ISO as practicable so as to pick up what little I can from ambient in the background. Here it would be good to have the light source off camera, but it isn’t always practical to do so. Probably the easiest method for my sort of work would be a long flash cable enabling me to hold the flash in my left hand, arm outstretched and above head height, but I think a wireless flash trigger would give more control and get in the way rather less, so I’m considering that option.

Even with flash on camera, there are things you can do to make life easier and your pictures better, at least with units like the SB800 I like, where the head will swivel both left and right and up and down. If you are able to have close foreground on only one side of the frame (often the case) you can get some help from the flash fall-off by angling the head away from the closer parts of the subject. Just occasionally I see the chance to bounce the flash from a suitable white wall or even a white coat or other white object rather than use direct flash, almost always an advantage.

And then of course there is post-processing, burning in closer parts of the subject and brightening the more distant. And just occasionally a little burning in parts of the face can help add the volume that the flash wiped out. Getty might not approve, but it is getting back towards how I saw the subject – without the distortions introduced by the flash.