Thoughts and behind the scenes on creating compelling photography and video.
Author: Gary John Norman
An experienced image professional Gary has worked worldwide creating authentic people & lifestyle imagery that captures authentic moments and emotions. Creating imagery with both photography and video the creative process involves image concept, beautiful lighting and people direction.
Educated to Masters Degree in Digital Arts and a qualified educator he has taught worldwide and received awards from PDN and a Gold Addy, his work has been exhibited in London, Dubai, Miami & New York.
Continuing the theme of photographing genuine craftspeople in their work environments I took the opportunity to visit Paul, a skilled craftsman, a Cabinetmaker, working from his garden workshop in the small village of Thurne in the English County of Norfolk, UK.
It was a very frosty morning in December when I arrived at Paul’s historic home. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky but it was very chilly! The visit had been planned but I hadn’t seen the space Paul works from, for all I knew it could be cluttered or untidy, cramped or dark or full of power tools. These situations can be tricky to photograph aesthetically.
We chatted over a warming cup of coffee before venturing around the back of the house into the workshop. I was in for a treat, as I stepped into the space the sunlight filtered through the window behind Paul’s uncluttered, tidy workbench. The ambience of the space was more than I could have wished for.
Positioning Paul between me and the light coming from the window ensured I got the soft, backlight I love to work with. As a skilled cabinetmaker Paul uses vintage hand tools in his craft. As he worked on the wood with these tools I captured moments as the particles of sawdust almost glittered as they floated into the air.
To avoid dark corners in some shots I used strobe light directed into them and kicked a little reflector behind the subject. I also tried to counterbalance the window light by experimenting with the added glow of an electric heater almost out of the frame.
For more small business, craftspeople images see here.
We are always endeavouring to keep up with the trends in marketing. To ensure our library of images are up to date and relevant to the issues of today we turned our minds to organic marketing and set out to create a set of images with kids engaging in organic play.
For clarity organic play refers to the surroundings, activities and materials the kids immerse themselves in.
Why did we chose the subject of organic play?
The awareness of the hazards of environmental waste means more businesses than ever are turning to green practices. They strive to become environmentally responsible and they want to advertise this with organic marketing. Therefore they need the visual images both still and motion, to engage their audiences.
Alongside this we thought about how kids play these days. With parents full schedules less time is being spent in outdoor unstructured activities.
Research shows that children are spending record amounts of time watching television and engaging in other media devices.
HSBC use kids aspirational role play using organic materials and imagination.
How we produced and styled this shoot.
We abandoned the plastic, commercially produced toys and left the technology indoors and headed outside with organic materials, recycled materials, and repurposed items.
Cardboard boxes were rescued from the recycling bin and paper plates and lids from store cupboards became wheels and lights. Scarves, goggles and hats gathered from a rummage in a store of accumulated props. The kids wore their own clothes and ‘dressed up’ as pilots, racing drivers and superheroes using the props provided.
We took them to a great outdoor space available to everyone, the park, and let them race, run and fly!
Next year we are offering Photo Tours in Andalucia, Southern Spain when we will be dipping our toes into the city of Seville, Spain’s sun dappled, fiesta loving, passionate land with the scent of orange blossom and the sounds of the flamenco guitar. Also on the agenda is living like a local in Genalguacil, an Andalusian mountain village seemingly sprinkled into the mountain and home to modern artists living and working alongside octogenarians who have lived here all their lives. Art works are displayed at every twist and turn of this stunning white village. Our tours will include a stay in Granada, with it’s medieval, moorish Albaicin area and the impressive Alhambra Palace.
We travelled with Air Portugal from Miami to Malaga with a change in Lisbon. The flight out gave us 15 hours to explore a corner of Lisbon. Having never visited before we found it a pleasure, enjoying walking in the Jardims gardens, a coffee at one of the typical coffee kiosks and some satisfying warm Autumn sunshine.
From Malaga we rented a car for a week to travel from place to place on our location scout. The first adventure was a drive into the mountains, an hours drive north from the coastal town of Estepona. The road winds up and down with spectacular views into the Genal valley, past olive groves, cork trees and sweet chestnuts. We met the occasional goat in the road who were not startled but merely peered at us as if to say ” I belong here not you” before hopping out of the way amongst the rocks.
In the village of Genalguacil we met Miguel, he is the Mayor of the village and a personal friend. Over a beer or 2 perched on rustic chairs outside the local Rural Hotel , where we were staying for the night – we casually discussed our plans to bring a group of photographers to his village. Miguel is very keen and proactive at bringing Artists into the village and offered ways to help including a studio for tutoring classes and an exhibition of final work to be printed in a brochure. The next morning we woke early to meet Salvadore, a friend of Miguel’s who was taking us to see some local chestnut harvesting. A great opportunity for Gary to get some authentic images of people / small business/ farming.
After a typical late lunch with the locals consisting ofegg and meat soup, followed by tortilla we set out down the mountain for the city of Seville.
Almost 3 hours drive away Seville has been a favourite get away location for a while. Having always arrived by taxi we soon learnt how difficult it is to park a car! It took an hour to find a place, fortunately it wasn’t far from our Airbnb location. Once in Seville there is no need for a car. Everywhere is accessible by foot, the narrow winding streets have a surprise for you at every twist and turn with a cafe, plaza, decorative Spanish tiling, a church or monument. Photo opportunities abundant in the architecture, colour and lifestyle of this enchanting city. We particularly enjoy finding our way to the oldest tapas bar in town, El Rinconcillo established in 1670, not only for the great wine and tapas but also to people watch and shoot some street photography.
Our 2 hour drive from Seville to Granada saw the scenery change again, expanses of dry arid desert land with layers of mountains as it’s backdrop. In the Spring the mountain peaks are snow capped and it possible to combine a day of sunny city exploring with a snowy Alps like hike.
We chose to explore the Albaicin, the old Moorish quarter of the city late in the afternoon. With its medieval maze like cobbled streets to meander, climbing high in the town we got the perfect view over the terracotta rooftops. It is a neighbourhood where you can experience the atmosphere of its bars and terraces, and watch a red sunset over the Alhambra. whilst listening to the sounds of Flamenco coming from the caves.
With the curiosity to explore the coast between Granada and Malaga we spent our last night in Almuñécar a resort town on the beach. Not blessed with beauty by day we discovered a gem at night. At this time of year the town has few tourists, there are many beach front restaurants to chose from for dinner. On our to-do list was to sample some Espetas de Sardinas, freshly skewered and smoked in a wood fire laid in a boat on the sand. Carefully selecting a restaurant with tables almost on the sand we chose a table at the front, ordered our sardines and watched them being cooked. They were fresh and delicious and cost only €6. Sitting back with a good wine in a good glass, the sun had gone down, the night was warm, we toasted our successful treasure hunt.
The drive back to Malaga took us on the coast road through regenerated old fishing villages, some of which still retained charm with tastefully renovated fisherman’s huts, tidy promenades with typical pavement cafes and bars.
In the city of Malaga where we have visited a number of times we always discover something new to us. The Cathedral, The Gibralfo castle, The Glass Museum, The Picasso Museum to name a few. This time we only had time to say hello to Picasso ( a statue of the artist sits in Plaza de la Merced) and sit with a coffee watching the people go by. Picasso was born in Malaga in 1881 in a house in this square and spent a part of his life here before leaving to study art in Madrid, Barcelona then Paris.
Now we have an itinerary for our photo tours in Andalucia but will be researching transport options using the train to travel between Seville and Granada.
The circle of care in Indian families embraces all the generations as I discovered during a visit to a friend.
I first met Vinod Ravi when he became my lodger. I had moved back to UK, bought a house and decided to rent out a room. Originally from Hydrabad in India, Vin left his home and family to study and make a career in IT in the UK. We got on very well. He introduced me to the customs and cultures of Indian families and likewise I educated him in the British life-roast beef and yorkshire puddings, local beers and gigs with local bands.
Fast forward eight years and in that time I have been to his wedding in India and met his charming Indian family, Sravanthi and son Dhruvan. They have both worked tirelessly in their jobs and managed to have time to bring up their son now three years old. Their determination and work ethic paid off, they now live in a spacious modern house in a town on the outskirts of London. A remarkable progression from a humble room in my terraced house in Suffolk.
Despite their busy lives this family hold Indian family values and traditions very seriously. Although they have become westernised they have not let go of their culture and traditions. Like many Indian families they wear traditional Indian dress for celebrating festivals and blessings and extended family come to visit from India to give a helping and supporting role to the young family and to celebrate new experiences with them.
On a recent trip to UK I stopped off to visit Vin and his family at their new home. Here I discovered the whole family, both sets of parents were visiting from India. Both mothers were wearing colourful Saris and welcomed my wife and I warmly with a feast of traditional home cooked Indian food. Dhruvan instantly called my wife Auntie which won her over! My mind was full of the images I could see in front of me. The family, the extended family, the bonding, the traditions, the colour, the lifestyle. Alas, I had to be on a plane to return to the US.
Back home I couldn’t let it go. I called Vin to see if there was the possibility to do a photoshoot with the whole family if I could get back there in time before the parents left. They would be delighted to, he said. I searched for available flights, expecting to find prices way to high to accommodate my last minute whim. Then I found it…a very reasonable flight and I would be flying back to London to following weekend.
Landing in London on Sunday at 9 am local time I took the train to Vin’s home. By 2.30 that afternoon I was photographing the family. My focus was family lifestyle, centred around the child. The interaction of care, love, learning, teaching and togetherness with his family were the concepts I wanted to capture. The ethnicity of this family added another dimension to my usual family ensembles. Here, we can see a different ethnicity and culture living in a western society, embracing and sharing the lifestyle .
That evening, the photoshoot over, once again I was well nourished with the delicacies of Vin’s mother’s Indian dishes. I was given a bed for the night and slept very soundly. Early the next morning I was back at the airport for a flight back to the US.
36 hours flying, 3 hours photography and 24 hours in the UK. Was it worth it? With my belly full and my thirst for compelling images quenched I would say, yes!
Link here to view more childhood imagery with adventure and play as the theme.
Beautiful landscapes, some sun and an open road in the Basque region of Spain. The perfect excuse for letting your hair down and going wild with a VW campervan.
Leaving the humid climate of Florida is always a good idea in August if you can get away therefore we chose to head to the Basque region of Spain. With it’s green vegetation and fertile land, mountain peaks as well as rocky coves travelling is curious yet pleasantly rewarding with a surprise around every corner. Add to this the decision not to use any organised campsites, instead we would seek out natural spots in forests, by the beach or somewhere wild for an overnight stop with the VW campervan. Of course this meant ensuring we left the spot undisturbed, removing any rubbish and choosing a location which was unlikely to bother any local residents – including animals! If in doubt we were always prepared to ask permission to park overnight.
Joined by friends in a classic 1965 VW campervan we had no plans and an open road. I wanted to capture the freedom and escapism we experienced on this road trip. Although using the technology of GPS systems to help us to an end destination was useful, we also found the old fashioned paper map invaluable to navigate our way through small towns and villages. It added to the charm of this get away from it all vacation.
Carefree moments are captured in the camera from the wind blowing our hair on the open road, baguettes and camembert cheese eaten by the road side and the sausages cooking on a gas stove for breakfast in the pine forests. Getting lost, really getting lost, adds to the scenarios with the paper map saving the day.
Nothing beats the evenings. Our skin tingles from the sun after a few hours on the beach and we have the wonderful feeling of healthy tiredness from a day of fresh air. We sit in our camping chairs with a citronella candle sipping chilled rose wine and looking forward to the next day’s adventures.
Going wild with a VW campervan in Europe may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing vacation. But there are ways to incorporate it into a a few days away with the comfort of a proper bed and bathroom. Book a hotel on route or even better stay in a rental accomodation eg. Airbnb for a couple of days. This way you will keep refreshed while exploring and you will be meeting the locals who are always ready to share their knowledge of the area.
Our next Spanish journey is to the coastline and white mountain villages of Andalucia in Southern Spain. We are putting together our photography workshops for 2017.
This month we packed our bags and the cameras and took a road trip to South Carolina to photograph and video some summer fun.
Here we caught up with a great family who were enjoying their school vacation in the great outdoors. The beautiful natural environment with big trees and expanses of water are the ideal playground for adventurous, brave, energetic kids to explore and learn just by being themselves.
Summer fun would not be complete without friends, brothers and sisters to share it with. This family of four took us to their grandparents home where they love to be. A tree swing, a big grass area to run around and a wooden boat dock jutting over the river was the perfect location for our photography.
We took along some props for the kids to have fun with. Some bubbles, water bombs and juicy watermelon were introduced intermittently. By doing this the kids response was real. Laughter, expressions and spontaneity where there to capture in the camera.
The really wonderful thing about these kids is their desire to be outdoors. They are not afraid to run barefoot, get dirty feet, swim in the lake and climb trees.
During a location scout we found a friendly neighbour who had a fallen tree in her backyard. It stretched across a muddy dyke where pieces of wood had been placed making precarious bridges. Having made sure it was safe ( Gary’s excuse for crossing the bridges and climbing on the tree trunk) we brought the kids to the tree and let them loose. Their pleasure at discovering a new adventure was exciting. Off came the flip flops and bare footed they explored their capabilities.
Back at the dock they amazed us once again by fearlessly jumping into the river, climbing higher as they gained confidence. It was refreshing to watch their support and encouragement of each other as their held hands and leapt to the count of three.
Of course Mum was at hand for these moments and no one was pressured out of their comfort zone.
Due to the great light in the early morning we were able to use minimal equipment. For stills a Canon 5dmk3 with a bit of handheld strobe light to kick light into shadows and for film a Canon 1dc shooting 4K and a hand held reflector.
Regardless of how much attention we paid to photographic equipment, propping and styling the best ingredient for this shoot was undoubtedly the kids themselves.
For a few months I have been working on a personal project to document skilled craftspeople at work.
The location is a boat yard in Stuart, Florida which carries out refurbishments and repairs on yachts. Among the workforce are skilled craftspeople who repair, rebuild, repaint, varnish and finish the luxury crafts.
Within the boatyard are boat sheds, woodwork and metalwork workshops. With lots of activity going on inside or outside among the boats on the dock. Not wanting to disturb the workforce I began by visiting on different days, hanging around and observing the action as the day unfolded. By doing this the workmen got used to seeing me and my camera and very soon I built good relationships with them and was able to photograph the action as it happened.
In each area a different photographic technique was required. I shot close up in the woodwork shop to get detailed shots of the craftsman’s hands using tools. The protective clothing in the metalwork shop made for a great wide portraiture shot taking in the real location. The open doors in the boat shed let the morning light flood in. I used this as backlight in wide shots. Then I filmed the actions of the detailed, precise, preparation of the boats for varnishing.
When a large boat was being prepared for painting I was excited to photograph the action. A tent of plastic was shrouded over the vessel with ventilation panels. The only opening was through a zip in one side where everyone entered or exited together. It was critical not to let any dust in, or any paint particles out. Going into the space required me to take safety precautions too. It took lots of careful preparation to protect myself and my equipment from the paint and the fumes. I was going to be in the tent with Jose and Jerry, two skilled boat painters while my assistant worked the lights outside the tent.
With full protective gear on it was difficult to communicate so we invented hand signals for adjusting lights, I controlled them from my camera.
It was the hottest, most humid day in Florida, covered in plastic from head to toe under a plastic tent – certainly not ideal but a rare opportunity and a challenge which enabled me to complete my project with a collection of images showing the skills of the local people.
True luxury travel is a great experience but t is not necessarily defined by the thread count or star rating.
Today every bodies idea of a luxury vacation is different. For some people it will always include comfort and high standards of accommodation, food and service. For others it’s getting away from it all in a cosy, hideaway cabin or starting the day with the perfect cappuccino in a local cafe.
We are working on a project to show luxury travel in pictures. Our first scenario describes the high end resort hotel experience. A sophisticated woman enjoying the luxurious amenities and services in the resort. To complete this story we also photographed her at the start of her travel boarding a private plane and again gazing out of the window.
For this photo production to be successful we were organised and prepared.
A genuine location and delicate styling were important to capture that sumptuous realism of a luxury experience. It was not to be too lavish. The audience should believe this experience could be within their reach. For this shoot the location was in a luxury resort where we had all the amenities on hand. A scout the day before enabled us to pinpoint exact locations for each shot and secured towels and covers for the sun loungers. Styling was soft and natural, using quality products both model’s own and from our wardrobe supplies.
We started outside early in the morning for two reasons, first to capture the beautiful soft light of the morning sunrise and second to avoid too much people traffic. We moved indoors to a hotel suite – space was important for a wider shot and also room for crew to set up equipment. The images capture the woman with an air of freedom and nature, engaging with the experience and building happy memories.
Ask how we can dazzle your clients with a teaser sizzle reel for social media and advertising requirements. We will be happy to help you, say email@example.com
Developing concepts and ideas for a stock shoot pays off when you see the published work.
For us stock photography is producing and creating a curated collection of innovative still images and motion clips which are fresh, dynamic, compelling unbranded and released. The content is distributed by our agents to fulfil the needs of creatives who are looking for immediate images. This post explains a bit about stock photography and how we make it work.
OK, so we know what stock photography is but how is the content created, what is in demand, where do you shoot, who do you photograph and when do the photos get selected by licensed stock agencies?
Also stock video clips are making a huge impact on the market these days. Look closely at TV advertisements, how many can you spot which are mainly a bunch of video clips strung together as opposed to a full production? Thus we shoot video clips too.
The journey of a still or motion clip is basically the same from ideas to production to revenue in the bank and this is how we do it.
Research. We research topics, keep up to date with latest trends, seek and meet interesting people (old, young, in between, active, individuality) seek advice on photo requirements from creative advisers and take note of interesting and suitable locations. It’s important to think of a concept for the shoot beforehand then build the storyboard around that.
Planning. Sometimes a shoot is planned in fine detail with a production plan, models, crew, travel and budgeting but sometimes it is a walk on the beach with the camera, yet even this simple pastime has been given some thought, for example, the time of day, the location, what to wear and whether we need props.
Production. Getting the right shot takes many, many captures and much patience from all involved. The lighting, camera exposures, props and talent adjusted and tweaked. Then the talent, be it a friend, relative, new talent starting out or a pro has to sign a model release…otherwise the pictures will be worthless. This needs to be agreed beforehand. Even dogs, cats, homes, offices, boats require a property release.
Editing. Back in the office the photos are edited with a fine tooth comb leaving the best to be distributed to the agency for their selection.
Key wording. Generally about half of the edit will be selected, these then get cleaned up in photoshop, removing logos and a little colour adjustment, uploaded to the stock agency portal where the metadata and description is completed using those conceptual keywords and phrases, these have to be good to get the images found, selected and sold.
Selling. Images are now live and ‘for sale’
Revenue. It could be 3 months before we see any revenue..it could be as little as a dollar or enough to book a plane ticket to a nice location for the next production.
That is stock photography and how we make it work for us.
Companies are asking us to produce in house libraries of content for their social media and advertising requirements. If this interests you contact us with your needs, we will be happy to help you. firstname.lastname@example.org
I was honoured to meet a young girl who welcomed me into her home to shoot a day in her life at her school. She is homeschooled, a difficult decision for her parents but one that is paying off. I just photographed what I saw, no tidying, propping or styling, just the camera and one light followed her moves. In her bedroom at her desk she twirled around on the swivel chair. She used the laptop for research, scribbling notes and listening to music as she worked. In a quiet snug in the playroom she curled up on soft cushions to read a book. Occasionally her loyal dog joined her, only distracted for a moment to stroke his silky ears. Whenever she wanted to she headed outdoors to explore her natural environment, climbing trees and building dens. At the weekend she met a friend to explore the nature in the woods, again I tagged along capturing the friendship and trust between the young girls.
The structure of public school is not for everyone and the popularity of homeschooling is rising with studies showing that students who are homeschooled are scoring higher than public school students in standardised tests, they seem to be smarter and more mature earlier and become self directed learners as adults.
The educational, physical and emotional freedom means students are learning what they want when they want, they can pace themselves to learn when they are ready and live in a world unencumbered with peer pressure, adolescent trends and dangerous experimentation. They can learn in their outdoor environment, exploring and being inquisitive and adventurous. Of course, advances in technology together with the availability of resources over the internet make homeschooling easier and more effective today.
Reflecting on the shoot I learnt two things. First I had to scale down the production to limited equipment, using available lighting and one strobe enabled me to capture moments as they happened. Secondly I saw how being homeschooled can be good wholesome fun, promoting moral well-being, independence and a positive approach to learning.