St Pancras Pianos

Between December 14 and the end of January 15 I was walking through St Pancras Station every day. I noticed people playing the three pianos that are along the walkway towards the tube station and after a few days I realised I needed to be taking pictures of them.

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Before my car boot sale pictures I had never worked on a project that had and start and finish, my work was ongoing and I always assumed it would be, but the benefits of a project with a finite life are much clearer to me now. A change of scenery and a different approach is a breath of fresh air after being stuck down those tube tunnels for so long.

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If you Google for them you get hundreds of pictures of people’s backs so I decided to get parallel alongside them to capture them in portrait, it also means they sometimes see me and look over. It’s an interesting angle for shooting these pianists as you also capture the bags and personal items they bring with them, the people watching them and the other commuters walking past; it makes for an great picture.

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It also works quite well for a square format and perfect for an Instagram project. I’ve been experimenting with growing my audience by trying to come up with separate projects for Flickr, Instagram, Google + and soon Pinterest with only Twitter and Facebook the aggregators, so only subscribers to those social networks get to see them all. I’m not sure it’s going to work but personally it annoys me when I get a Facebook post, Tweet and Google + update which all contain the same content, so I’m trying to get away from that.

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So while these pictures are processed in Instagram they are not taken on a phone camera, but on my Sony A6000 and wifi’d over to my phone for processing. This means that I have the original raw files and plan to give them a second life in much higher quality and processed differently in the form of submissions to magazines, exhibitions or a book.

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But back to the pictures themselves, I’ve had an amazing response to them I think because there is a story in each one that leaves the viewer wondering what made this person sit down in the middle of a crowded train station and start to play the piano. Where did they learn, can they play well or just a few notes and where are the going? It’s an extraordinary public place to play the piano and while they might shy away from performing in front of an audience normally maybe they feel like no one is listening, although people do.

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Some of the same people crop up again and again and some people bring sheet music or play off an iPad so they clearly came to play there while many others just simply sat down while they were waiting to get on their train, it’s a fascinating slice of human life.

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I no longer commuter through there so whenever I go into London I have to make sure I grab a few shots as I still feel there are legs in this project and it’s ongoing and shall continue. I hope you like it.

A new me

So as of the start of February 2015 I’m going freelance, I’ve done this before but for different reasons, this time I’m doing it because I want to readdress the balance in my life and buy back some time.

I’ve been a Digital Designer for nearly 20 years, in that time I’ve launched a Print Design company, a Digital Agency, a music dot com, I’ve also worked in e-learning, live music, publishing, finance and, just recently, communication companies. I’ve also been freelance a few times before. But this time it’s different.

Ever since I left my job at Immediate Media a year ago there has been something nagging at me and photography has been a massive part of that. I’ve always thought I was a pretty good designer but never great and I’m ok with that. I’ve never strived to better myself in any extraordinary way, just what was needed at the time and situation I was in. However, when I re-discovered photography that all changed. Suddenly I had found an art form that I was fully comfortable with, I can hear my voice finally, something I never have been able to do with design. When I joined Immediate Media after a month I very nearly left the company because I didn’t feel like I was doing very well and I also watched this video:

Now I don’t want to make massive wet plate photographs, although that would be cool, but I want to commit myself to my art like this guy is committed to his. I will always have a backup because I can go back to work, what I do is actually very much in demand at the moment and I’m good enough to get a job at reasonably short notice but in many ways I don’t want that, I want no backup, I want it to be this or die.

It’s taken my recent experience with my last job, where the whole company has to hot desk, the equipment is poor and the tech support even poorer, the whole organisation is a mess and no one really cares to make me realise, life is too short for this.

I don’t know why I take the pictures I do, I don’t know what pictures I could take if I had a lot more time to devote to it and that is much more important to me than earning enough money to buy a house. I need to get to the bottom of why I’m so drawn to the images I make and the only thing I really want is to find out how great I could be at making pictures, where that could take me and how much better my life could be as a result.

To do this I’m thinking of doing an MA in Photography, the project needs to represent a further understanding into my process but also look at another aspect of my work and I’m not sure what that could be yet, but I’m working on it. I’m also going to travel and shoot in different places, interested to see the difference in responses and reactions to my style and my approach. It’s going to take a lot of networking, something I really find hard.

The ultimate goal is to find a way through my passion to a satisfactory result. The best thing about that is I have no idea what that result will be, it’s also scary but there is nothing I love more than a clean sheet to start again and make something new. A new me.

Four edits

There are only a few common pieces of advice I take stock in when it comes to Street Photography. With so many photographers out there trying to come up with regular blog posts you often get bombarded with do’s and don’ts that are just nonsense. But one of them will absolutely improve your photography, edit your work like a beast.

I have a process, it’s very simple and it removes a lot of the hand wringing you get when trying to whittle down your work. I call it the four edit process.

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Stage 1. Import

In the import screen don’t just import everything. I used to do that and would carefully go through each image looking for something that I could use in each one. But some shots are not even worth importing and your hard drive will thank you for getting rid of them right at the start. Make the thumbnail size large enough to weed out the missed, out of focus and just plain rubbish shots.

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Stage 2. Process.

Now go through your images and decide which ones to process. If you’ve done stage one really well you should be processing most of the ones you’ve imported because you’ve deemed them worthy to live on your hard drive. The ones you thought might be ok but when looking at them large won’t cut it should be deleted completely.

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Stage 3. Export.

Now of the processed images decide which you will export to jpg and at this stage in Lightroom you could probably lose a couple. Once they are in your folder on your drive open them in your image viewer and go and weed out the ones that aren’t as good as the rest. Be vicious, you’ve got this far so be really strict with yourself and even if you think a picture has potential, if it doesn’t stack up to the others in the folder, leave it behind (but don’t delete it).

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Stage 4. Publish.

My online platform is Flickr, it’s where I put everything and see how it performs. I upload the images to my account but set the visibility to just me. This gives you another opportunity to view them in context with your other images in your photostream and every morning I set a new image to public and post it on my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter streams. The result of this is that some images never get published, they stay in my photostream unseen because I shot something better the next day.

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The result is you publish the very best of your work but you get to contextualise it with the stuff that nearly makes it but not quite, which I think is sometimes the most valuable comparison.

Check out my Flickr page

My photography in 2014

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A year of new projects, new cameras and new focal lengths.

During December 2013 and the early part of 2014 I was looking for a new job so my photography took a back seat. I’d also just bought a Fuji X100 and was struggling to get anything other than out of focus rubbish.

I found a role in Edinburgh and moved up there in February and during my first weekend Enna took me to an underground car park in the city centre. We walked down the stairs to level -4 and when we went through the doors I knew I’d found my new project. Taking place, far underground, was a car boot sale.

When I think about my photography it’s all based around people standing and waiting on platforms, perfectly lit by spotlights with loads of texture and depth around them. I pull people out of the crowd and freeze them; constantly fascinated by interesting and unusual faces. With my Nikon I’d been getting closer and closer to my subjects on the London Underground but when I bought my Fuji it’s focal length was 24mm and the autofocus was much slower. As it turned out the underground car park was perfect for the new camera, I was stepping back and observing so a lightning fast autofocus wasn’t always needed, also the wider lens actually brought more to the scene. Each bay was lit by a spotlight and also down the centre of each corridor, this meant that everyone was steeped in light and shadow which made for some excellent shots.

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I went back to the car boot sale every Sunday morning for four months, I played with using my Fuji on numerous settings, took the Nikon a couple of times and eventually bought a Sony A6000 but the best shots were taken on the Fuji on almost auto settings. It brought back my days at Borough Market but enhanced by the months and months on the London Underground building up the nerve to shoot people who were looking straight down the lens of the camera.

After 4 months I felt the project was finished, I’m not sure why but it had come to a close. I used a website called The Newspaper Club to create a newsprint tabloid of the project and had 10 copies made, I sent them to various magazines and in early 2015 my shots will appear in Amateur Photographer.

The Sony did allow me to get back into close up work on Princes Street in Edinburgh, my Lunchtagram project was a combination of the new super fast autofocus on the Sony, it’s Wifi function to send a shot directly to my phone and Instagram. I had wanted to get back into using Instagram for a while but never saw much point because the camera on my phone was just not easy to use. When I got the Sony suddenly I could go out at lunchtime and have a shot up on Instagram as soon as I got back to my desk at work in the afternoon.

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During my time at FreeAgent Roan Lavery asked me to take some pictures for him as an Australian magazine called Offscreen was doing a piece on him. They gave us reasonably strict style guides and we shot lots of pictures around the office, in coffee shops and the back streets of Edinburgh. The resulting article and shots looked fantastic. It’s also reignited my curiosity in taking portraits.

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Coming back to London in the Autumn ment back on the Tube! I had missed it so much and now my commute involves going through two major stations, St Pancras and Paddington, and using a very busy tube line. Using the 35mm lens on the Sony means my shots have been wider and much more like the car boot shots. I’m hoping to build another portfolio of tube shots that are less portrait and much more about the life of the commute and find some interesting scenes. I’m also looking for another project, something like the car boot sale that I can regularly go to and build up over time.

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So overall this year has been excellent, I feel I’ve grown and expanded my work while still maintaining the overall themes and style.

Car boot sale newspaper

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I’ve been going to the Edinburgh Omni-centre Car Boot Sale every Sunday for about 5 months, in that time I think I must have taken hundreds of pictures but at the start of August I felt that I had come to a natural and logical close to the project.

I’ve been looking around for different types of ways to present my work and for a while I’ve wanted to experiment with a tabloid newspaper format. A company called The Newspaper Club digitally print onto newsprint and in this case I felt the subject matter suited the newspaper format perfectly.

The results are great, naturally the newsprint sucks some of the depth out of the images and I don’t think this is something I’d do on a large scale but as a promotional item to send to magazines and galleries it works perfectly.

Strictly limited to 10 copies, signed and numbered a copy is available for £9.99. If you would like one drop me a line on the contact page.

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