Getting Back Into Shooting

24/11/2019


This was going to be my year; 12 months where I take my photography to new heights. The reality has actually been quite the opposite in that I have actually done very little shooting in comparison to previous years.

Despite all the work I have been doing on the business side of my photography, this gap in shooting has actually had a seriously negative effect on my motivation to go out and take some shots. Sure, I have had projects to work on with our trip to the Balkans and the Lord Mayors Show, but going out and doing random stuff to keep myself sharp has been a struggle. 

But I am pleased to say that over the last couple of months things have turned around, and by taking my camera with me when out and about, I have been able to switch back on my creativity and start capturing again. It all started with a trip back to the Natural History Museum in late October...

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Having not seen my sister and bro-inlaw for a while, we decided to do something on a Sunday afternoon, and with the weather looking pretty lousy decided to hit the museum. Keen followers of my blog will remember that I had another brief encounter shooting at the museum back in the summer (check it out here), and despite my wanting to visit and shoot the museum properly, this was going to be just another casual visit. 

There wasn't going to be the time to stop and take in serious compositions and long exposures, so I settled for catching details that caught my eye as we meandered through. The light this time wasn't quite as impressive as our last visit, but the natural shadows created bu the artificial lighting made for great moody shooting. 

This was nice, it was nice to be out with family and to have my camera back in my hand again. I was relaxed, under no pressure and just enjoying my time wandering around the museum, not focused at all on capturing anything in particular, just whatever caught my eye. And then we stumbled upon something totally unexpected, and awesome. 

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We turned into the Jerwood Gallery where a traveling art exhibit is erected. Called 'Museum of the Moon', the gallery is dominated by a 6-meter diameter replication of our orbiting pet rock in the sky, suspended amidst ambient lighting and a calming soundscape. Artist Luke Jerram created the piece from images of the lunar surface produced by NASA, culminating in a stunning replica of that mysterious sphere in the night's sky. 

The only downside was that the room was packed with kids running around and groups of visitors taking time out in the otherwise calming atmosphere. I instantly was drawn to the setting and got into thinking about how I could make the most of it. Calling on the assistance of my brother in law P, who has a very smart and distinct appearance, I started positioning him in front of the glowing sphere to catch his silhouette in the glow of the installation.  

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Entering the museum I had no thoughts of capturing anything in particular, but came away glowing with having caught this incredible silhouetted portrait. Of course, it's not the real moon, but the image holds something special for me. Thanks, P, hope you liked the shot.  


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Just a week later, we were back out in town again. The holiday season is underway, and there was plenty on over the weekend in London. We were hoping to catch the 'Day of the Dead' parade in Camden on the first Saturday of November, but the weather was lousy, so we gave it a miss. The forecast looked better on Sunday, so we ventured out to Trafalgar Square to check out the Diwali celebrations happening there. 


Hoping the forecast would stay true to its promise of a dry afternoon, we hit the buzzing crowd around the fountains of the world-famous square and was blasted full bore in the face with music dancing and an array of colors that was truly sensational.

Still, in my awkward phase of photography, I started shooting from the edge of the crowd with an extended focal length, picking out characters that caught my eye, attempting to isolate them from the busy action. This proved to be much more difficult than I expected as the dancing was so quick and enthusiastic, that as soon as I had got my focus locked, the dancer would swirl away from me. Still, the atmosphere was pretty amazing, and I loved it. The joy in the air was intoxicating and easily pulled in the most casual of bystanders. 

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Eventually, I couldn't help but get stuck into the crowd and get closer to the action. In just a matter of minutes from stepping in front of the crowd, the sky began to weep and started to dampen the crowd. You wouldn't have thought it was raining watching the spectacle of the dancers, who didn't even break their stride as the drops grew heavier. I, on the other hand, had put my faith in the forecast, and so didn't bring my camera rain cover, and was now frantically searching for cover.

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Walking away from such a great experience and photographic opportunity was immensely frustrating, but this was quickly forgotten as we settled in for a glass of wine at the mysterious Gordons Wine Bar, right by Embankment Tube. I have walked past this place hundreds of times and always thought it was an abandoned building. This was Claire's suggestion as it had featured in one of her many ventures around town. 

The bar is in the bunkers beneath the road down to the tube station and appears to be frozen in time. The decor appears unchanged for decades and features political portraits and caricatures amidst framed newspaper articles of big royal and political events. The small wooden table and chairs are squeezed into the dimly lit vault-like areas; the candlelight from the table making a cozy warm experience in contrast from the cold wet weather outside. 

A glass of wine and plate of cheese later, it was out and onward to see what else London had to offer. The rain had now thankfully subsided, and we found ourselves venturing down to the South Bank. I made some attempts at some street photography, but nothing was really working for me until we hit the skate park. 

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Initially, I was a little apprehensive shooting the skaters, but the more I watched the more I couldn't help but try to capture the figures leaping from the concrete ramps.

The lighting was dreadful. A dreary grey sky, and poor fluorescent lighting, so I opted for black and white processing to avoid the harsh noise and dodgy color temperatures. Riding the ISO high so as to capture the action, noise was unavoidable. 

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When editing the shots, I did something a little different; moving away from high contrast processing, I opted for the black and white filter that has a low contrast hazy appearance. For these shots, I felt the added atmosphere and a somewhat vintage appearance added something to the appearance of these shots. 

Continuing our wanderings in the direction of Blackfriars, with a view to head to Elephant and Castle to get something to eat, we stumbled upon something that at first appearance was quite mundane, and uninteresting. On closer inspection, it became a perfect photographic opportunity. 

For no perceivable reason, there was a container located on the river bank with windows cut out overlooking the river. The container seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever, and can easily be walked around if desired, but being the inquisitive type I ventured through. At first, I strolled through without pause, and it wasn't until I had cleared the steel enclosure by a dozen or so meters that I realized that I had missed out on a golden opportunity. 

Rushing back, I set myself up to capture the shot that I had just walked by and was about to ignore completely. The steelwork of the container was perfectly framing the City of London. To think, I nearly let this shot pass me by!

Now, I was without my tripod, and this was forced to make do with what I had. And, hunger was settling in, so I had to fire off a few shots and hope for the best. Like with the lunar shot from the museum only the week before, this shot which was an unplanned and chance encounter made the day for me and turned out to be a prized shot. 

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That brought an end to another days shooting, but it wasn't long before we were out again. Only a few days later, it was Claire's birthday and we had a day out planned at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew. 


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I know what your thinking, Kew Gardens in November, perhaps not the best time to visit. It was a tough decision as to where to go for a birthday day out that didn't take us too far out the way because we were due to go to Hackney in the evening to see a gig. Claire had never been before, and I had visited since I was at school, so this seemed like something different for us to explore. 

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Despite the changing of the seasons, the gardens were quite sparse in places which made for pretty lousy shooting. One tree would be full golden or pink bloom, whilst its neighbor was naked. If I tried really hard I could have found something to shoot, but I wasn't going to force the issue to find a shot. 

Venturing into the Palm House where the exotic plant species are kept, I was filled with the promise of some great photography, but as soon as we walked in, my glasses instantly fogged to the point of obscurity. Having spent time in exotic regions, I should have expected this, but still, it took me a little by surprise. There was absolutely no point whatsoever in pulling out my camera as all my lenses would experience the exact same thing. 

Still, it was a great experience walking around the ancient greenhouse which was better than I remember exploring as a child. So, moving onwards we ventured back outside, welcoming the crisp day as some respite from the humidity of the Palm House, and restoring my vision once again. 

Next, we moved onto the Princess of Wals Conservatory, home to a variety of plants, cacti and carnivorous plants across ten different climatic zones. With the temperature and humidity at a far more sensible level, I was able to get my camera out and start taking some pictures. 

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Plantlife is not exactly a subject I flock to, but I don't like to pass up an opportunity to test myself. This was especially the case within the dessert area of the conservatory where many species of cacti were growing. Here were great installations of the spikey plants of all shapes and sizes, but I didn't want to just shoot the whole plants, or beds, as this would be fairly basic and uninteresting. Instead, I focused on the lines and shapes being formed by the thick stalks and really focused on my use of depth of field. 

Abstract photography does fascinate me. Taking tight detailed shots that tell a small part of a bigger story is difficult to master, and takes a long time to perfect. The cacti were a perfect opportunity to shift my focus towards abstract, and I spent time slowly scanning the plants through my viewfinder looking for compositions that held visual appeal. 

Fortunately, the cacti were well lit by ambient light, but the zones beyond were far denser in foliage, making handheld shooting much more difficult, so I didn't bother too much. Back out in the gardens, we took our wandering round to the Orangery for a coffee and some cake, then back on through the holly bushes to the Temperate House. With closing time approaching, this was going to be my last chance at some abstract shots. 

As I walked from section to section, nothing much caught my eye. Not that was wasn't plenty to shoot, just nothing that I considered interesting enough. That was until I saw this colored leaf, which would otherwise have not been considered, but at this moment was glowing with the late afternoon sun. The glow was interrupted with a curl of leaf providing some foreground interest. 

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Before we got thrown out by the stewards, we head onward in the direction of Richmond Station. This route took us past the famous pagoda, and my final opportunity to shoot before we headed out for the evening's entertainment. As much of the day had been, the sky was bright but flat and grey, not the most attractive and picturesque. This did give me the idea of blowing out the sky and shooting the symmetrical structure in high contrast black and white.

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This was not exactly a shot that excited me too much, so I looked for details that told part of the story in a more interesting way. I observed the straight line of dragons that adorn the corners of the pagoda on all sides and could see the same processing technique would create an interesting composition, one that challenges the viewer.

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After many months of very little activity, it has been a busy month of photography and it feels like my hiatus has come to an end. The relaxed nature of these outings meant that I could really enjoy the process, rather than heaping stress upon myself to capture something 'special'. I had seriously feared that I had entered into a creative block that might stifle my enthusiasm, but looking back at the work produced in a relatively short space of time, I am pleased to say that this is not the case. 

Creative block is common and experienced by just about every artist the world over. They do say that the best way to get over this is to take a break and come back fresh, which I feel has been the case here. Now as we enter the Christmas period, I am likely to go into another period of hibernation, as my social calendar becomes full. We are heading back to Scotland for Christmas, so I can now look forward with confidence to this trip and hope to share with you some great images from the Highlands in the new year. 

If you are a photographer or artist who struggles with creative block, I'd love to hear how you overcome this. What are your tips and techniques to overcome the chasm between inspiration and dought? Any thoughts and feedback on these shots is also welcome, drop me a comment below and let me know what you think! 


Until next time guys, 


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