Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Mentoring session with Clare Barker Wells

I felt I'd been stuck in a rut with my photography lately and wanted to improve but didn't know how.  One of a few photographers whom really inspire me, Clare Barker Wells is high up there and I noticed she was running some courses in KL.  Sadly they didn't coincide with my trip to visit my parents so I got in touch to ask about her one-to-one mentoring sessions.  Luckily she was available during our trip and very kindly gave me her friends & family discount and we planned to do her online mentoring session but with a face to face meeting since we wanted to catch up anyway while I was in town.

Since having the twins, I've been much more focused on portraits and lifestyle photography but was tending to lean towards the "easy" shot in soft light and ended up with lots of lovely portraits but was struggling in trickier light to make more interesting images and capture real moments.

I am SO glad I booked a session with Clare.  Even though I don't plan to make a business out of my photography, I found it really useful for so many reasons.  Initially she sends out a questionnaire to gauge exactly what you want to get out of the session and asks for what you consider your "portfolio" - 20 images as well as your 10 "heart-bursting" images and 10 inspiration images from other photographers.

One of my major issues with photography is the number of photos I take (making editing take AGES) and the culling!  I am useless at choosing the best photos and always struggle to minimise the final edits.  I ended up sending 26 portfolio images and 26 "heart-burtsting" ones!  Oops!


25 of the 26 images I chose as my "portfolio"

Culling is something Clare tried to help with and I'm still working on it but seem to be getting there.  What really helped with my overall confidence was hearing from Clare that she liked some of my photos.  To hear that from a photographer I respect, and not just my family for example, along with reasons why, is very motivating.  We also looked at a couple of sessions I'd taken and she pointed out which ones she might pick as the best which in some cases were different to my choices and after discussing them, I could see why which will help me so much in future culling.

Clare was brilliant at pointing out several things I'd failed to see in my own photography.  Not just critiquing but pointing out where I had a good shot that could maybe be edited a bit differently to achieve what I was really after.  Photos I had discarded were suddenly the type of images I wanted to be taking, simply because I didn't see the potential or was fixated on the twins' faces having to be in the picture.  As you can see above, I only chose 6 out of 26 which didn't have faces in.

I was also scared of shadows, I always tried to get faces looking into the light and avoid high contrast.  I now realise that this can actually be the most interesting light and am no longer afraid to have shadows on faces in the right places.


I previously discarded this one as the water was in front of her face and the light was a bit harsh.
I now love it with the light toned down to focus on the light on her hand.

I had so many realisations about my own images when listening to Clare's comments.  It seems I like centre composed images for example.  Although I'm very aware of the rule of thirds and how composition can make a picture go from basic to amazing, but I am not scared to break these rules, I just didn't realise how many with this particular composition I had chosen as my "best" images.  I also need to be less emotional when looking at my pictures.  There were a few I could easily admit were chosen because of the memories I have attached to them which in retrospect aren't necessarily amazing photographs.

I edit differently now, thinking about the light more and realising that I don't have to have bright, light-filled shots for them to be good.  The one of K running away has since been re-edited and I much prefer the result!  (Although I still wish I'd managed to get more space around him to show off his shadow better.)  It's a huge difference with the one on the right mostly underexposed focusing on the light just hitting his right hand side from the window.  I do wish he had a little back lighting though so his dark hair didn't blend into the dark background in the new version.  It gives me something to think about for the next time I am faced with similar lighting.



I would also include more of my detail shots in my portfolio in future.  I do take these types of images, from different angles or getting in closer, I just didn't consider them good enough for a portfolio.  I will post another example of my new portfolio soon with the images I would choose next time, since my chat with Clare.



I also think differently when taking photos too of course and have adjusted my metering mode as well as using manual mode much more frequently, rather than aperture priority.  I'm much more confident now than I was before and am getting better at remembering I'm on manual and remembering to adjust my settings when the light changes!  I've also finally switched back to shooting in RAW which I'd stopped since my landscape days due to the sheer number of twin photos I've been taking!

We also discussed the advantages of going "Full Frame"!  I would LOVE to upgrade my camera (my last upgrade was in 2010 and my current Nikon D300s is rather falling apart, it is well loved shall we say) and having been researching online since my session, I've decided I'd love a D750 so I've asked my friends and family to help me save up for that instead of any Christmas or Birthday presents this December.

There were so many handy hints and tips from Clare, both regarding photographing people and editing my images, all tailored towards my personal style, issues and goals.  I can't wait to put them all into practice and hopefully end up with some pretty amazing shots of my own.  She was so encouraging and inspired me to look back at so many of my old photos as well as to think differently when taking them.  Basically exactly what I needed.  Thank you Clare!

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