The BJC Blog; Something that Matters

Me again.

Here’s another piece of advice for you; get out there and cover something important.

It’s easy to get lost in the art of your work; composition, colour, texture, commentary and so on. The problem with exploring what you have to say is that it’s insular, and can lead to a creative slump. The best way out of such a slump?

Last month I had the opportunity to cover Big Voice London’s recent weekend event. BVL is an organisation that focuses on bringing education and discourse on the legal system and the law itself to young people who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to engage with it. Taking groups of students through project-oriented learning, the process brings legal professionals together with eager young people and gives them the chance to look into law as a career, education or even just a solid addition to their social knowledge.

Having spent a day following a number of the seminars, I can honestly say that I learned a lot – not just about the law, but about the problems these young people face and how little the legal world engages with students. It was shocking to hear some of the conversations being had.

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Now, the shots I took on the day weren’t impacted by my experience; it was a fairly standard palette of event coverage photos. The change has come since then. It’s important to engage with the world around you, and find new perspectives to see your environment through, because that will inform how you communicate your ideas and beliefs to others, and it will help you understand the ideas and beliefs of others.

As such, I’m working on a couple of personal projects at the moment, projects I’m only doing because my comfortable position has been challenged, and now I’m looking to explore some more themes with my work.

What should you do? Find a local charity that is holding an event, or open day, and offer to shoot it for free. You’ll be helping them, adding to your portfolio and it will help you see more of the world, things you likely wouldn’t see within your own circles of professional and personal work.

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If you want to find out more about the incredible work Big Voice London does, click the link here

The BJC Blog; I Love Snow!

I love snow.

Growing up here in the South of the UK, we see surprisingly little of it. This, of course, may be a good thing for many as whenever a couple of inches touch down in London, the city grinds to a halt and the media collectively lose their shit.

That said, snow is one of the greatest gifts to a photographer. It changes the shape and texture of the landscape. It allows for higher contrast images, like a natural black-and-white setting. It acts as a massive reflector, adding a native glow to the ground and making night shoots easier. Best of all, it scares 90% of the population indoors and out of the way!

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As such, when it snows I grab my gear and head out straight away. Earlier this year, I decided to walk my way to Milton Keynes city centre, leaving at around 0500 and reaching my destination about 0900. In that time, I got to track the rising sun and the effect it had on the landscape with so much snow around to bounce the light. Funnily enough, most of my favourite images I took from my phone and so didn’t actually need to haul my kit bag out in the cold (more on this later).

There’s no grand lesson to be had here; just that I like snow, and here are some pictures of snow. Next time it does snow though, try heading out yourself. You might be surprised how a familiar area looks after a brief dusting of the white stuff.

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The BJC Blog; Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Unfortunately, I started the new year with a pretty nasty bug, which knocked me off of my feet for a while (also why I may have missed a blog post or two). Fortunately, it gave me time to catch up on some reading and perfecting some Photoshop composition skills.

Unfortunately it means my graphics tablet and I are no longer speaking.

So, after the turkey and cider but before the quarantine tent, the wife and I visited my family back in the village I grew up in; Upper Bucklebury. And yes, that is a real place name.

Growing up in the area I would spend inordinate amounts of time in the nearby woodland, a huge body of forest that curves along the top of the valley above Thatcham. Walking the dog, riding my bike, a poorly-conceived snowball fight amongst pretty thick undergrowth; it was great, and a big inspiration on how I take in the world around me.

Where the cycle path cuts through the top towards Thatcham, the trees are pretty small and far between, allowing for the larger birds of prey to weave their way through, but as you head downwards you find the trees, ever fighting for the sunlight they need to survive, have grown to massive heights, with dark green leaves on thick branches that leave the pathways below in darkness.

It’s a very peaceful place, quiet save for the creaking of the trees and the occasional brush of a herd of deer bounding away. In fact, at night it’s completely terrifying, but that’s a story for another day.

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To say nothing of the panther that a friend and I were actually convinced we had seen. 

So, while I was down there I figured I would head out for a walk and take the camera with me. I was not expecting what I saw as I entered the Common.

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A huge swath of forest, about the first ten/fifteen minutes of the walk, has been stripped away and fenced off. The path on either side has been left untouched, but the naked curves of the land are painfully clear where once there was thick growth.

Needless to say, I was a little taken aback. It’s a very stark change, and certainly a shocking one to see out of the blue. I won’t pretend there was a drop-to-the-knees-“Nooo!” moment, but I was a little upset. You see, for all the time I had spent in the Common, all those weekends and evenings, I had taken virtually no pictures. In fact, the only ones I could find were some 35mm prints that I had taken putting a new camera through its paces.

And a good chunk of those seem to be gates. 

Now, I’m not writing this to incite mass rebellion against those that stole our trees. In fact, in the images above you can clearly see that new trees have been planted. This post isn’t designed to highlight the issues of Bucklebury Common, as there may well have been a very good reason for what has happened, and only a part of the area has been stripped back. Instead, I just want to illustrate that something I took for granted is gone, and even once it has regrown, but it won’t be the Common that I grew up in.

I don’t have any pictures to reminisce over, nor any photographs to show my future kids when I tell them about that panther whichistotallystillouttherebytheway.

The point I am trying to get at is those places, and even people, that you associate with your life might not always be there, and you won’t necessarily get a forewarning to prepare you for it. If there is a place that is important to you, go out and photograph it now. Take it in one more time.

Now, I’m not saying that your memories aren’t a tangible thing without photographic evidence to qualify it, but if you are like me and enjoy plotting those moments of your life in images, take the time to go out and capture those memories now.

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The BJC Blog; A Chance to Show Off

Recently, Greenleys and Wolverton Council published their 100th issue of their magazine. The cover featured covers from the past 24 months, including two showcasing photographs by yours truly.

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There’s no grand point here; I am just showing off. Although it has not been the last time, the Paws for Thought dog show shoot last year was the first time I saw one of my event images in print, and it felt great. Following that there was the ‘It’s in the Square’ concert and show, the Wolverton Festival and the Lantern Festival in the winter.

Obviously, it’s easier to take great pictures when the acts you are shooting are great; from epics bands like Silver Tongued Bandoliers and Shred Belly, to performance groups like Rashiqa Dance, Kundalini Fire and Concrete Circus, to the superb training on display from the Crossroads Flyball Team. I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the chance to work with these incredibly talented people (and even more I’ve not mentioned).

Here’s to more excellent events in the future!

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The BJC Blog; A Matter of Perspective

It won’t be the first time I’ve said it, but I really like this picture.

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Creepy.

I could go on about colour and composition, and knowing me I probably will, but the thing I love most about this picture is the shift in perspective. As someone growing up in the UK, where we don’t have the big gnarly spiders of warmer climes, I’m used to seeing these things as a shuffling ball of legs with no real body or face. In spite of how scared of these guys I am, I find them fascinating. It is believed that you are never more than 10 feet away from a spider at any time.

In fact, there’s one directly above me right now. Hmm.

For those of you who aren’t read up on your UK weather patterns, this summer was a warm one, and those spiders which are usually only little and small got pretty freaking big. After a shoot at a local park, I was walking back and passed by a thick gorse-like bush covered in thick webs. On closer inspection I saw that each little patch of web had a not-so-little-spider tucked away, and in some cases I could make out some really interesting features and colours with my own eyes, let alone looking through the zoom lens. I decided to return the next day at around 10am, to get some clearer sunlight overhead.

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It’s not me, is it? That thing is clearly looking right back at me.

Luckily, by the time I arrived the rain had long since cleared and the spiders were, for the most part, out in the centre of their webs. From that point on it was a case of remaining quiet so as not to spook them and dropping down to their level. Shooting at f5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/1600 without a tripod, the key challenge was re-framing as the subjects kept shifting about and rapidly darting across their webs.

The reason that I loved this project, and especially that first image, is that readjustment in perspective, taking these creatures which are so small and largely ignored in this country and placing them above the viewer, bigger than the viewer. It is easy to imagine how freaking terrifying it would be to be insect-sized and have these guys as a natural predator; the dark eyes, the strangely-balanced bulk, the patient and eerie intelligence. To imagine standing before the spider in that top picture as it approaches…

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<shudder>

To me a good picture tells a story, and that’s so dependent on composition. Most cameras have onboard processes that can alter settings to optimise the image quality, but there is nothing on there that can help you compose the picture to get the best narrative out of it. Perspective is one of the most subjective elements of reading an image, but there are norms that we take as a given (i.e; people are bigger than spiders). Taking one of those general rules of thumb and subverting them through camera placement or perspective manipulation can lead to some great pictures, with some great stories in them.

I’m going to go now, because that spider above my head is no longer above my head and I’m starting to worry.

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The BJC Blog: An Introduction

Ok, so for those of you who may not know, I used to write for my own videogames review site (link here), but gave up due to a combination of time commitments and general apathy towards the current-gen releases of the time (although things are looking a lot rosier now than this time last year!)

Back on topic, I recently realised that I missed typing up my periodic ramblings and publishing the few that aren’t complete gibberish. As such, I’ve created the BJC Blog (or #BJCBlog for those of you who speak Twit), as a space for some of those picture-themed ramblings to find the light of day. I’ll update when I can, and if you all like and share the posts, I’ll at least try to keep them photography-focused.

For now, here’s a seagull with a Santa hat to get you all in the Christmas mood.

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PS It’s not a real Santa hat, but it is a real seagull.