Last Orders at The Fantastic Tavern (#TFTLondon)

About a year ago, I wrote about a fantastic concept called The Fantastic Tavern (TFT), started by Matt Bagwell (@mattbagwell) of EMC Consulting (ex-Conchango – where I also have some history). Since then I’ve been to a few more TFTs (and written about them here) and they’ve got bigger, and bigger. What was a few people in a pub is now a major logistical challenge and Matt’s decided to call it a day. But boy did it go out with a bang?!

Last night’s TFT was at Ravensbourne (@RavensbourneUK) – a fantastic mixture of education and business innovation hub on London’s Greenwich peninsula. I was blown away by what Chris Thompson and the team at Ravensbourne have achieved, so I’ll write about that another day. Suffice to say, I wish my university had worked like that…

Last night’s topic was 2012 trends. Personally, I thought the Top Gear-style cool wall (“sooo last year, tepid, cool, sub-zero”) was way off the mark (in terms of placing the trends) but that doesn’t really matter – there were some great pitches from the Ravensbourne students and other invited speakers – more than I can do justice to in a single blog post so I’ll come back and edit this later as the presentations go online (assuming that they will!)

The evening was introduced by Mike Short, VP of Innovation and R&D at O2/Telefonica who also sits on the board of governors at Ravensbourne and so is intimately involved in taking an institution with its rooms in Bromley College of Art (of David Bowie fame) from Chiselhurst to provide art, design, fashion, Internet and multimedia education on Greenwich Peninsular, next to the most visited entertainment venue in the world (The O2 – or North Greenwich Arena). Mike spoke about O2’s plans for an new business incubator project that O2 is bringing to London in the next 3 months as O2 looks at taking the world’s 6bn mobile device subscribers (not just phones, but broadband, payment systems, etc.) to connect education, healthcare, transport and more. In an industry that’s barely 25 years old, by the end of the year there will be more devices than people (the UK passed this point in 2006) and the market is expected to grow to more than 20bn customers by 2020.

Matt then spoke about the omni-channel world in which we live (beyond multi-channel) – simultaneously interacting on all channels and fuelling a desire “to do things faster”.

Moving on to the 2012 trends, we saw:

  • A. Craddock talking about smart tags – RFID and NFC tokens that can interact with our mobile devices and change their behaviour (e.g. switch to/from silent mode).  These can be used to simplify our daily routine to simply enable/disable functionality, share information, make payments, etc. but we also need to consider privacy (location tracking, etc. – opt in/out), openness (may be a benefit for some), ecology (printable tags using biodegradable materials) and device functionality (i.e. will they work with all phones – or just a subset of smartphones).
  • Riccie Audrie-Janus (@_riccie) talking about how, in order to make good use of technology, we need to look at the people element first.  I was unconvinced – successful technology implementation is about people, process and technology and I don’t think it matters that kids don’t understand the significance of a floppy disk icon when saving a document – but she had some interesting points to make about our need to adapt to ever-more-rapidly developing technology as we progress towards an ever-more complex world where computing and biology combine.
  • @asenasen speaking about using DIY healthcare to help focus resources and address issues of population growth, economics and cost. Technology can’t replace surgeons but it can help people make better healthcare decisions with examples including: WebMD for self-diagnosis; PatientsLikeMe providing a social network; apps to interact with our environment and translate into health benefits (e.g. Daily Burn); peripheral devices like FitBit [Nike+, etc.] that interact with apps and present challenges. It’s not just in the consumer space either with Airstrip Technologies creating apps for healthcare professionals. Meanwhile, in the developing world SMS can be used (ChildCount), whilst in Japan new toilets are being developed that can, erhum, analyse our “output”.  Technology has the potential to transform personal health and enable the smart distribution of healthcare.
  • Matt Fox (@mattrfox) talked about 2012 becoming the year of the artist-entrepreneur, citing Louis CK as an example, talking about dangerous legislation like SOPA, YCombinator’s plans to “Kill Hollywood”, Megabox (foiled by the MegaUpload takedown) and Pirate Bay’s evolution of file sharing to include rapid prototype designs. Matt’s final point was that industry is curtaining innovation – and we need to innovate past this problem.
  • Chris Hall (@chrisrhall) spoke about “Grannies being the future” – using examples of early retirement leaving pensioners with money and an opportunity to become entrepreneurs (given life expectancy of 81 years for a man in the UK, and citing Trevor Baylis as an example). I think hit onto something here – we need to embrace experience to create new opportunities for the young, but I’m not sure how many more people will enjoy early retirement, or that there will be much money sloshing around from property as we increasingly find it necessary to have 35 year and even multi-generation mortgages.
  • James Greenaway (@jvgreenaway) talked about social accreditation – taking qualifications online, alongside our social personas. We gain achievements on our games consoles, casual games (Farmville), social media (Foursquare), crowdsourcing (Stack Overflow) etc. – so why not integrate that with education (P2PU, eHow and iTunes U) and open all of our achievements to the web. James showed more examples to help with reputation management (spider  graphs showing what we’re good at [maybe combined with a future of results-oriented working?]) and really sees a future for new ways of assessing and proving skills becoming accepted.
  • Ashley Pollak from ETIO spoke about the return of craft, as we turn off and tune out. Having only listened to Radio 4’s adaptation of Susan Maushart’s Winter of Our Disconnect the same day, I could relate to the need to step back from the always connected world and find a more relevant, less consuming experience. And as I struggle to balance work and this blog post this morning I see advantages in reducing the frequency of social media conversations but increasing the quality!
  • Ravensbourne’s Chris Thompson spoke about virtual innovation – how Cisco is creating a British Innovation Gateway to connect incubators and research centres of excellence – and how incubation projects can now be based in the cloud and are no longer predicated on where a university is located, but where ideas start and end.
  • The next pitch was about new perspectives – as traditional photography dies (er… not on my watch) in favour of new visual experiences. More than just 3D but plenoptic (or light field) cameras, time of flight cameras, depth sensors, LIDAR and 3D scanning and printing. There are certainly some exciting things happening (like Tesco Augmented Reality) – and the London 2012 Olympics will e filmed in 3D and presented in interactive 360 format.
  • Augment and Mix was a quick talk about how RSA Animate talks use a technique called scribing to take content that is great, but maybe not that well presented, and make it entertaining by re-interpreting/illustrating. Scribing may be “sooo last year” but there are other examples too – such as “Shakespeare in 90 seconds” and “Potted Potter”.
  • Lee Morgenroth’s (@leemailme‘s) pitch was for Leemail – a system that allows private addresses to be used for web sign-ups (one per site) and then turned on/off at will. My more-technically minded friends say “I’ve been doing that for years with different aliases” – personally I just use a single address and a decent spam filter (actually, not quite as good since switching from GMail to Office 365) – but I think Lee may be on to something for non-geeks… let’s see!
  • Finally, we saw a film from LS:N profiling some key trends from the last 10 years, as predicted and in reality (actually, I missed most of that for a tour of Ravensbourne!)

There were some amazing talks and some great ideas – I certainly took a lot away from last night in terms of inspiration so thank you to all the speakers. Thanks also to Matt, Michelle (@michelleflynn) and everyone else involved in making last night’s TFT (and all the previous events) happen. It’s been a blast – and I look forward to seeing what happens next…

[I rushed this post out this morning but fully intend to come back and add more links, videos, presentations, etc. later – so please check back next week!]

The future of mobile telecommunications (@jonin60seconds at #digitalsurrey)

I’ve written before about Digital Surrey but I don’t think I’ve ever said what it is so, as Abigail Harrison (@abigailh) explained in her introduction to tonight’s event, Digital Surrey is a free community; a network to meet up, learn, share and to generate opportunities, whether that’s from the information found, someone you met, or something else.

What never ceases to amaze me is how the Digital Surrey organisers come up with a constant stream of great speakers and tonight was no exception, with PayPal UK’s Jon Bishop (@jonin60seconds) entertaining us all as he talked about the future (in fact, the now) of mobile communications – generating plenty of discussion in the process.

I’ve tried to capture the key points from Jon’s talk in this post, together with a few comments of my own in [ ]. Once the video/slides are available, I’ll come back and add some links to them too:

  • If you want to visit the future of mobile today, go to Africa:
    • South Africa has 6m Internet users, but only 750,000 are on fixed-line connections and 57% never use the “desktop” Internet.
    • Africa also has the most engaged social network in the world: MXit was launched in 2003 and has 22bn messages sent each month (compared with 8bn on Twitter), with 45 hours of average monthly usage (compared with 15 on Facebook).
    • Imagine paying for concert tickets, food, or a taxi in the UK using SMS – no chance! But it’s happening in Kenya using a system called M-Pesa (Swahili for mobile money) and, Vodafone subsidiary, Safaricom is now the biggest bank in east Africa. Half of the population uses it with no need for a bank accounts (only 20% of people have a bank account, whereas 60% have access to a mobile phone).
    • This sort of activity is a necessity in Africa because of underinvested wired networks, expensive broadband, a rural population, large informal sector (traders, etc.), low bank account penetration and high mobile penetration. On top of this, using a mobile is safer than carrying cash around!
    • Not only is Africa transforming mobile communications, but mobile is transforming Africa. According to Nokia, each 10% increase in mobile penetration corresponds to a 0.8% increase in GDP.
  • Attempting to push aside some misconceptions about mobile, Jon highlighted that:
    • Blackberry has younger users than the Apple iPhone (which is too expensive and doesn’t have Blackberry Messenger functionality).
    • Google Android beats iOS as the top selling mobile platform worldwide, although the Apple iPad is currently unrivaled in the tablet marketplace. Whilst [Apple] iOS and [Google] Android are the major players today, keep an eye on Amazon, Samsung, HTC, and [Microsoft/Nokia] Windows Phone.
    • Are mobile carriers profit generating machines? Apparently not on current models: the time will come when profitability will dissipate as the cost per GB transferred is going down but the volumes of data use are increasing. As those lines converge, mobile operators have a problem.
    • Is it true that mobile ads don’t work? Actually they do! They account for $3.3bn in advertising spend, with $1bn going to Google; 56% of executives click on mobile ads and they can deliver better value than web ads.
  • Using the example of his friend “Shane” (a 15 year-old), Jon highlighted that none of Shane’s friends have iPhones – almost all use Blackberrys. Some have Android as a second phone (for games like Farmville) but, without BBM (Blackberry Messenger), today’s teenagers are out of the loop. They don’t talk any more: the only person who calls Shane is his mum; and he only makes a call “ when I’m in shit mate, innit” (i.e. in trouble). This prompts some questions as to what happens when young people enter the business world – if they talk in front of their friends but not their teachers – what about their colleagues? Teenagers wake up with a phone in their hand [so does this 39- year-old]; they use them to organise everything (via BBM [, Facebook, etc.]). And they like phones with buttons (to type quickly).
  • Jon moved on to look at how online and mobile communications have changed communities:
    • We still have geographic communities but people come together to share a common interest, whether that’s the Ford RS Owners Club, Knitting, or whatever [Digital people in Surrey?]. The speed and level of interaction is fuelled by mobile, on the go, access although, of course, this depends on the capability of the platform and access to wireless communications.
    • Jon suggested that last month’s riots in London and elsewhere were interest based, not geographic as, in a few hours they jumped north to south London before spreading more widely across the city. Perhaps the common interest was that they don’t like the Police, or perhaps it was just that they wanted free stuff from JD Sports! After the first few hours media coverage fuelled the interest, so it’s difficult to say whether the mobile networks had any influence.
    • We’ve had social networks for years but now they are mobile. What does this mean for policing? Well, one senior Police Officer in the audience suggested that it means they need to be quicker!
  • Another area changed by mobile is photography. The social web has made the picture the beginning of the journey, not the end.
    • We used to take a roll of film, develop it, and put the pictures in an album, or a shoe box.
    • With digital we took the pictures, used the memory card to get them onto a computer and then share them/interact with them.
    • Mobile means we can skip the computer and gain instant gratification.
    • 150m images were shared on Instagram in a year [it may make bad pictures look deliberate, butAndy Piper commented it’s the 5th most valuable startup on the planet right now – and it’s not even on Android yet] and the Hudson River plane crash is often cited as an example of where news broke first on social networks.
    • Now we also know who took the picture, where it was taken (GPS), using what camera and what settings (EXIF), who’s in it (tagging), as well as the time and date.
  • Mobiles have also changed how we interact with the world, using a multitude of data points:
    • Compare jogging in the 80s with jogging in 2011. Whereas once we may have had a Sony Walkman and a Casio watch with an illuminated screen to track time, today we can track our steps, average speed, route, effort (calories burned), top speed, distance and time. We have become mobile data points. Phones can track sleep patterns too [and Runkeeper has established a health graph of interconnected services].
  • Mobile is not the future, it is now. Not quite as now as in Africa but it is mainstream:
    • According to Morgan Stanley, Last year there were 670m 3G subscriptions (up 37% year on year).
    • More mobile devices are connected to Wi-Fi than PCs.
    • Smartphones will outsell PCs in 2012 – we are approaching an inflection point.
    • There will be more mobile Internet than wired by 2015.
    • And if you want a signal as to the way in which things are heading, the world’s biggest PC maker may stop selling PCs.
    • When we look at mobile payments PayPal is processing $10m in transactions each day, with $3bn from mobile this year (globally) – and they expect that to double next year. Customers spent $1bn at Amazon using their mobiles in the past year (and that’s pre-Kindle Fire).
  • The question of “what is mobile?” generated some discussion. Jon suggested it’s phones and tablets; not laptops; and that the operating system is a good indicator. Other suggestions were that it should be anything with a SIM; to do with where you use it, not what it is; of that it’s about whether the device fits in a pocket.
  • Moving on to QR codes, Jon highlighted shopping in the Korean subway and interaction with posters [I saw an example where rail passengers could scan for the appropriate timetable for their route]. Whilst it’s true that the application is a barrier to entry,14m Americans scanned a barcode in July 2011.
  • Mobile is changing B2C marketing with multi-tasking users using a smartphone whilst they are doing something else (72%) including listing to music (44%), watching TV (33%), using the Internet (29%) or playing games (27%). After searching for a business on the phone, 77% call or visit and 44% purchase in store or online. So what does this mean?
    • We are always on, always accessible.
    • We multi-task – so include a mobile call to action in advertisements.
    • We’re in a hurry – so sort out the mobile flow (ensure websites are optimised for mobile devices – 76% are not)!
    • We are ready to take action – so make it easy for us to do so!
    • Think about entry (search results, barcode, email banner link); landing (results, mobile pages and search ads) and call to action (call, click, download, access map or directions).
  • On the B2B front, executives use up to 4 devices (laptop, company Blackberry, iPad, personal smartphone):
    • 55% use their mobile as a primary device with 80% preferring to access work email on the go.
    • We are ready to take action, to download and run B2B apps, click mobile ads, and to make purchases.
    • 200m people watch mobile videos on YouTube each day and 75% of executives watch work related videos and share.
  • So, how is the world of mobile changing? Whilst we can’t predict 10 years ahead, Jon highlighted some technologies that are already here but not mainstream:
    • Near Field Communications (NFC): for data sharing, payments, device pairing, advertising. Providing a communications platform with a simple tap, NFC is not as clumsy as a QR code and the chips are cheap so we’re Likely to see NFC widely adopted. Paypal have a video demonstrating the use of NFC for sending money.
    • HTML 5 arguably makes the web what it should be:
      • Application quality improves in a browser.
      • No more plugins (Flash, Silverlight, etc.).
      • More freedom and independence for publishers/developers.
      • 30% faster than Flash.
      • Improved profitability for publishers.
      • Easier compatibility, so quicker releases.
    • The cloud [which shouldn’t be marketed to consumers – it’s a B2B concept!] is changing our views on ownership of media [e.g. Spotify]. Storage is less important, connectivity more. Ordinary items can connect using the same technology.
    • Whilst it’s a bit early to be making predictions about its success, or otherwise, the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire looks like it will bring the first real competitor to Apple’s iPad ecosystem and Apple, Amazon and Google all have investments made (with more to make, potentially) in their content networks.

As ever, thanks to all at Digital Surrey for allowing me to attend – it always seems cheeky for a guy from the Buckinghamshire/Northamptonshire borders to visit a networking group for business people in Surrey but you make me so welcome! Thanks also to Jon, for letting me blog about his presentation contents. The next couple of events sound great too – watch the Digital Surrey website for details.

[Updated 3 October 2011:  to include Jon’s slides and link to his post]
[Updated 5 December 2011: to include the video of Jon’s talk]

From snapshots to social media – the changing picture of photography (@davidfrohlich at #digitalsurrey)

My visits to Surrey seem to be getting more frequent… earlier tonight I was in Reigate, at Canon‘s UK headquarters for another great Digital Surrey talk.

The guest speaker was Professor David Frohlich (@davidfrohlich) from the University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre, who spoke about the changing picture of photography and the relationship between snapshots and social media, three eras of domestic photography, the birth and death of the album and lessons for social media innovation.

I often comment that I have little time for photography these days and all I do is “take snapshots of the kids” but my wife disagrees – she’s far less critical of my work and says I take some good pictures. It was interesting to see a definition of a snapshot though, with it’s origins in 1860’s hunting and “shooting from the hip” (without careful aim!). Later it became “an amateur photograph” so I guess yes, I do mainly take snapshots of the kids!

Professor Frohlich spoke of three values of snapshots (from research by Richard Chalfen in 1987 and Christopher Musello in 1979):

  • Identity.
  • Memory (triggers – not necessarily of when the photograph was taken but of events around that time).
  • Communication.

He then looked at a definition of social media (i.e. it’s a media for social interaction) and suggested that photographs were an early form of social media (since integrated into newer forms)!

Another element to consider is that of innovation and, using Philip Anderson and Michael L Tushman’s 1990 theory as an example, he described how old technological paths hit disruption, there’s then an era of fermentation (i.e. discontinuous development) before a dominant design appears and things stabilise again.  In Geoff Mulgan’s 2007 Process of Social Innovation it’s simply described as new ideas that work, or changing practice (i.e. everyday behaviour).

This led to the discussion of three eras of domestic photography. Following the invention of photography (1830-1840) we saw:

  1. The portrait path [plate images] (1839-1888) including cartes-de-visite (1854-1870)
  2. The Kodak path [roll film] (1888-1990) from the Kodak No. 1 camera in 1888, through the first Polaroid camera (1947), colour film cartridges (1963) which was disrupted with the birth of electronic still video photography (1980-1990)
  3. The digital path (from 1990)

What we find is that the three values of snapshots overlay this perfectly (although the digital era also has elements of identity it is mainly about communication):

Whilst the inventor of the photograph is known (actually Fox-Talbot’s Calotype/Talbottype and Daguerre’s Daguerrotype were both patented in 1839), it’s less well-known who invented the album.

Professor Frohlich explained that the album came into being after people swapped cartes-de-visite (just like today’s photographic business cards!) which became popular around 1850 as a standard portrait sized at 2.5″ x 4″.  These cards could be of individuals, or even famous people (Abraham Lincoln, or Queen Victoria) and in 1854, Disderi’s camera allowed mass production of images with several on a single sheet of paper.  By 1860 albums had been created to store these cards – a development from an earlier past-time of collecting autographs and these albums were effectively filled with images of family, people who visited and famous people – just as Facebook is today!

The Kodak era commenced after George Eastman‘s patent was awarded on 4 September 1888 for a personalised camera which was more accessible, less complex than portrait cameras, and marketed to women around the concept of the Kodak family album.  Filled with images of “high days and holidays” – achievements, celebrations and vacations – these were the albums that most of us know (some of us still maintain) and the concept lasted for the next century (arguably it’s still in existence today, although increasingly marginalised).

Whilst there were some threats (like Polaroid images) they never quite changed the dominant path of photography. Later, as people became more affluent, there were more prints and people built up private archives with many albums and loose photographs (stored in cupboards – just as my many of my family’s are in our loft!).

As photography met ICT infrastructure, the things that we could do with photography expanded but things also became more complex, with a complex mesh involving PCs, printers and digital camera. Whilst some manufacturers cut out the requirement for a computer (with cameras communicating directly to printers), there were two inventions that really changed things: the camera phone and the Internet:

  • Camera phones were already communications-centric (from the phone element), creating a new type of content, that was more about communications than storing memories. In 2002, Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen, Ilpo Koskinen and Esko Kurvine studied the use of mobile digital pictures, not as images for an album but images to say “look where I am”. Whilst technologies such as MMS were not used as much as companies like Nokia expected [largely due to transmission costs imposed by networks] we did see an explosion in online sharing of images.
  • Now we have semi-public sharing, with our friends on Facebook (Google+, etc.) and even wider distribution on Flickr. In addition, photographs have become multimedia objects and Professor Frohlich experimented with adding several types of audio to still images in 2004 as digital story telling.

By 2008, Abigail Durrant was researching photographic displays and intergenerational relationships at home. She looked at a variety of display devices but, critically, found that there was a requirement for some kind of agreement as to what could be displayed where (some kind of meta rules for display).

Looking to the future there are many developments taking place that move beyond the album and on to the archive. Nowadays we have home media collections – could we end up browsing beautiful ePaper books that access our libraries?Could we even see the day where photographic images have a “birthday” and prompt us to remember things (e.g. do you remember when this image was taken, 3 years ago today?)

Professor Frohlich finished up with some lessons for social media innovation:

  • Innovation results from the interaction of four factors: practice; technology; business; and design.
  • Business positioning and social shaping are as important to innovation as technology and it’s design.
  • Social media evolve over long periods of time (so don’t give up if something doesn’t happen quickly).
  • Features change faster than practices and values (social networking is a partial return to identity – e.g. tagging oneself – and not just about communications).
  • Some ideas come around again (like the stereograph developing into 3D cinema).
  • Infrastructure and standards are increasingly key to success (for example, a standard image size).

I do admit to being in admiration of the Digital Surrey team for organising these events – in my three visits I’ve seen some great speakers. Hopefully, I’ve covered the main points from this event but Andy Piper (@andypiper) sums it up for me in a single tweet:

 

Photographing the night sky

Last Saturday saw a “supermoon” – where the Earth’s moon is both full and in perigeesyzygy and so appears larger than usual.  I went out to try and shoot some images of the moon over the river but it was too high in the sky for the effect I was really after and it slipped behind some clouds.  Later on, the sky cleared and I got out my longest lens to take a picture of the moon (albeit without anything to put its size into context) and this was the result:

Supermoon 2

I was pretty pleased with this – especially when I compared it with one taken from the International Space Station! – although  some of the other shots in the press showed an aeroplane silhouetted agains the moon, or the moon appearing more “yellow” as it rose.  It’s just a straight shot from my DSLR with a 500mm lens, tripod mounted, at a mid-aperture (f11) and slow-ish 1/125″ shutter speed, with ISO set to 200, and with exposure compensation set at -5 EV (to stop the moon from “bleaching out”). Other than a crop and saving it as a JPG, that’s about all it’s had done to it.

But taking photos of the night sky is not usually so straightforward and, previously, my best results had been using a similar setup, but shooting in daylight.  The image below was taken a couple of summers ago, whilst on holiday in France:

La Lune

For this shot, I used an entirely different technique – it was actually taken with a clear blue sky, in the evening, converted to black and white and then the black clipping was increased to make sure the blacks really were black.

Anyway, back to the supermoon – nice though it is, anyone can take pictures of the moon – but what about planets in our solar system? Without a telescope?

SaturnJoe Baguley tipped me off that Saturn was just down and to the left of the moon at that time and sent me a link to his shot, in which Saturn is just 12 pixels wide but its rings are clearly visible. My response: “Wow!”. I went back outside with my gear and tried to replicate it but it seems that, on this occasion, his Canon 5D Mk2’s pixel density beat my Nikon D700’s – 12 pixels wide at 400mm equates to 15 pixels at 500mm, but with 2,400,000 pixels per cm2 on the 5D vs. 1.4 on the D700. That meant I was looking at something just 9px wide and that sky was very, very dark… maybe I need to go out and buy a telescope (for my sons of course!).

(Thanks to Benjamin Ellis, who inspired me to go and take pictures of the moon on Saturday evening, to Joe Baguley for permission to use his picture of Saturn, and to Andy Sinclair, who suggested I should write this post. The two images of the moon used in this post are © 2009-2011 Mark Wilson, all rights reserved. The image of Saturn is © 2011 Joe Baguley, all rights reserved. All three images are therefore excluded from the Creative Commons license used for the rest of this site.)

How to take stunning pictures: Holidays

Continuing the series of posts based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series, this one looks at photographing scenes on holiday (previous posts have covered portraiture, celebrations, landscapes, sport and animals). The expert photographer in this episode was Martin Parr and, whilst Channel 5′s website has some tips to go with each programme, they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the sixth episode:

Pictures of people can tell a lot about their characters, their stories and their relationship with the world. When you know you’re onto something, explore the scene fully and try work out how to best capture it. Use people and places together to tell a story: decide what the picture is about and then how you compose it will tell the viewer what you’re trying to say.

  • Take a fresh look – find out what people are thinking, saying and doing.
  • Take lots of pictures – take the bad ones to get the good ones – experiment and shoot lots – they can succeed or fail and success is great!
  • Try to avoid clichés – often people photograph timeless things on holiday – sometimes it’s good to pull away and think about what is being photographed and why. The relationship between people and places forms the basis of this type of photographic work.
  • Engage with subjects – observe the quirks, observe the people and it suddenly becomes more interesting. Engagement is a key element to drive photography forward so keep the dialogue going – even if everything is all right, say this is great, look at me, don’t smile – let the subject know that you’re still interested in them. When get that engagement, you can bring your work alive.
  • Be bold to really get the moment you are after – get in close, look for surreal moments – collect stories about the world and try to distill them into a few pictures.

“I guess, as a photographer, one of the things you hope to do is to create an iconic picture but of course you can never quite predict how and when it’s going to happen. In the end it often comes down to luck but the thing about luck is that it is always earnt so you need that perseverance and suddenly things will happen, it will flow in front of you and you’ve got your moment.

[…]

I think what we can see here is that by concentrating on one thing, coming in closer, exploring it better, making sure it’s something you can identify with – that’s when you can really reap the benefits of going to a place and trying to take away photographs that tell you something about your relationship to that place.”

[Martin Parr]

This was the final programme in the series and I have mixed feelings. In the comments on the first post, I defended the programme but, even though I went on to write up the key points from all six episodes, on reflection, some of them have been a bit lightweight. Even so, with a 22 minute programme, there is only so much information that the producers can put across and, for purely commercial reasons, it is pitched for a broad appeal. I’ve probably learned something in each one – and hopefully you have too!

How to take stunning pictures: Animals

Continuing the series of posts based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series, this one looks at photographing animals (previous posts have covered portraiture, celebrations, landscapes and sport).  The expert photographer in this episode was Tim Flach and, whilst Channel 5′s website has some tips to go with each programme,  they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the fifth episode:

  • Know your animal – be interested in your subject and try and find out a little more through a journey of enquiry, researching the subject, including people closest to the animal (e.g. a farmer).
  • Develop your idea – what’s the purpose of the image – i.e. what are you setting out to do and what do you want to explore? Think about what is special about the animal and use that to consider how to communicate its character through pictures.
  • Use details and textures – get in tight and explore details and texture in animals – you can even create new meanings by leaving details out… (e.g. a part of one animal may look like something else entirely, when viewed out of context). The closer you get in, the more dramatic an image will look.
  • Be sensitive to the animal’s needs and be prepared to adapt your ideas. Have a plan/strategy but be able to see other things that develop as it may be chaotic and nothing is ultimately controlled.  It’s important to observe and let go if what you thought was gong to happen if it didn’t and be ready to capture something else if it reveals itself ! You never know how large (or small) a window of possibility will be.

How to take stunning pictures: Sports

Continuing the series of posts based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series, this one looks at sports photography (previous posts have covered portraiture, celebrations and landscapes).  Probably the most disappointing episode so far, Bob Martin was a little light on tips (indeed, he commented that they had only skimmed the surface of sports photography) but it’s worth publishing what he did come up with.

Channel 5′s website has some tips to go with each programme, but they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the fourth episode:

  • Watch the action – it’s really important to understand the sport that you will photograph. Look at it, think about it, and pick the moment that will give the most interesting photograph. Sports photography is about action – you mustn’t miss the key events.
  • Frame the action – pick your position based on how the light falls on the subject and what’s in the background. The picture must be well-composed and, if possible it should be quite graphic. A few inches either way makes the difference, so when choosing spot to shoot from, pick the one that really works.
  • Freeze the action – this is particularly important in sports photography and is all about shutter speeds. Head on may only need to be 1/640th but sideways wide angle may need 1/2000th second to capture all the details.
  • Light the action – use the light in the most dramatic way to give your shot impact – if you’re looking to shoot a silhouette, expose for the sky to stop the camera from trying to produce a neutral shot.

How to take stunning pictures: Landscapes

I’ve written a couple of posts recently based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series. The first two episodes covered portraiture and celebrations – plenty for me to take on board there – but I found the landscapes episode was less useful. Even though it featured Charlie Waite, a photographer whose work I admire – I found it a bit of a let down, possibly because landscapes are a genre I’ve invested a lot of time in learning over the years (including attending two of Charlie’s talks) and so there was less for me to learn in this programme.

Even so, it’s worth publishing some tips – Channel 5′s website has some to go with each programme, but they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the third episode:

  • Choose the right location and read the landscape: landscape photography needs to be well constructed and thought about. Think what is it about a scene that is emotionally enjoyable and enriching. Read the landscape: start at the top, at the sky, and follow down, asking what’s really worthwhile. Don’t think that the first place you’ve arrived and set up at is the best. Sometimes even a few inches to the right or left can make a radical difference to a photograph.
  • Take care in composition: consider the frame carefully – use compositional aids if necessary to see if the image that your are planning to make will work. Before even taking the camera out of the bag, consider: Is there an image to be made here? Do I like the shapes? Is the balance right? Is there enough geometry? How much sky can I have in? See where you want the crop to be – try and imagine your picture before you take it (I’m sure that Charlie would talk about one’s mind’s eye). Take your eye around the perimeter of the viewfinder. Think what to keep in, and what to keep out – “omit the redundant”. In the words of Charlie Waite, “The key to good photography is to settle down and to think bout what is going to appear in that viewfinder and not think that the camera is going to do all the work. As you look through the viewfinder, ask yourself if you can see the frame on the wall… previsualise to define the objective”.
  • Control the light to get the correct exposure: use a filter to produce an image that equates with what we see in the eye (there was no mention of what filter this would be in the programme, but typically this would be a grey grad to balance areas of high and low brightness). Often when we look at a landscape we can see beautiful subtle nuances in the sky and also detail in the land but when we take the image, camera sensors/film find that very difficult to reproduce.
  • Don’t just look for bright, sunny days – it’s possible to get great images on the cusp of bad weather leaving and good weather arriving when there are often some fantastic moments. If it’s really raining and the forecast is changeable, hang on and wait and you see dark clouds being replaced by bright skies in a very exciting moment on the transitional point. Look over your shoulder, see what kind of sky is coming, wait for it, and if it does arrive, think about whether it relates satisfactorily – just waiting a few minutes can really help.
  • Draw the viewer in: Think about how to invite the viewer into the image? For example, using a path as a lead in, beckons the viewer and encourages them to travel along the path. Landscape photography is about shape, harmony, balance and design – looking for the optimum moment when you press the shutter.

“I often think of that rare fulfilling joy when I am in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events.

Where the light, the colour, the shapes and the balance all interlock so beautifully that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it.”

[Charlie Waite]

How to take stunning pictures: Celebrations

Last week I wrote about Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series, including a few tips from the first program on portraiture.  That post provoked some comments suggesting that the programme was encouraging a simple, point-and-shoot approach to photography and missing much of what is required in order to create truly artistic images. Whilst that may be true, for many people a camera is just a tool, and all they want is to produce better results without getting hung up in technical intricacies. And, even though I’ve been wielding a camera for something like 30 years, I’ve still learned something from the programmes that have focused on subjects I would normally shy away from.

The second programme in the series concentrated on celebrations, with tips from wedding photographer Emily Quinton.  Channel 5′s website has some tips to go with each programme, but they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the second episode:

  • Be prepared: if you’re prepared and you know what doing, you’ll get a better picture… and the artistic side of photography can be used to good effect at a wedding.
  • Let the guests relax: stay back and let the bride and groom have time to themselves; move around, look for special moments in the day’s events, use wide shots for atmosphere, and zoom in for a more intimate shot; avoid using flash to stay unnoticed – and natural light photos can look really special.
  • Watch out for special moments: of course there will be classic bride and groom shots but It’s really easy to be so involved in the wedding that you miss the images that capture the atmosphere of the day. Always look to see what else is going on (that’s why many wedding photographers work with an assistant) and watch to see what’s Grandma doing? Is Mum crying? What’s the flowergirl up to (mischief in the aisles?). Listen too – it can help to identify special moments – for example, if someone is being funny, a punchline will usually come, followed by laughter.
  • Include the venue: capture the place and the context as well as the people – and it tells a nice story in the album
  • Be fast and fun: group shots can be tricky – so work quickly to set up the shots, make people laugh and try and take pressure away from the wedding party and their guests by using no more than 3 minutes for each group, with 1 or 2 ideas for settings. Think wide and zoom in too.
  • Make sure you get the definitive shot – often one picture defines the wedding (usually a portrait of the bride and groom) and it can help to take the bride and groom away from crowds of guests in order to capture these shots. One technique is to take pictures as they are walking along - this tends to provoke natural reactions – but consider other approaches too – shoot through flowers for a different angle, or frame the bride and groom with flowers around the edge of the scene – always using different angles to vary shots.

How to take stunning pictures: Portraiture

Here in the UK, Channel 5 Broadcasting is currently running a series entitled “How to take stunning pictures”.  I’ve been really impressed with the two episodes I’ve watched so far as it manages to strike a balance between simplicity for those who are new to photography and providing useful advice for more experienced ‘togs.

Channel 5’s website has some tips to go with each programme, but they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the first episode on taking portraits, featuring professional photographer Harry Borden:

  • Choose the right location: make sure that the subject feels comfortable in the environment so that they may express themselves and relax.
  • Use available light: avoid using on camera flash if possible and position the subject in a place where they are nicely lit.
  • Expose for the brightest part of the image for a natural looking and atmospheric shot.
  • Try to compose when taking the shot, not with post-porcessing crops – look for something different/unexpected
  • Be yourself: relax, create an authentic connection with the subject and build rapport.
  • Take multiple shots: not only does this break the tension but it tells people you like what you see (they don’t know if you haven’t got it) – it’s called hosing people down! Take loads of pictures, learn more, grab a moment!  Don’t be afraid to keep snapping until get the shot you’re happy with.
  • Keep it simple and be aware of every element: calm down; look through the viewfinder and go through the frame asking yourself whether each individual element adds to or subtracts from the result.  If you keep it simple and are aware of everything that’s in the frame, you’re more likely to achieve stunning pictures

More tips can be found on the Channel 5 website.