Bye for now

I began this series of blogs a month or so ago and committed to one blog post a day to give you all something to read to partially fill your day during the Covid-19 isolation. Well after 33 daily posts it’s the 30th April and the restrictions in NSW are beginning to be lifted. This will be my last post for a while.

I hope that a few of you who have read some of these pieces have gotten something out of them. It’s time for me to put my time into a couple of big projects that I have started.

We all need to push on to bigger and better things. I hope that you all can use this unusual period in our lives to think outside your square. I saw a quote yesterday on social media that said “You were born an individual, don’t die a copy”.

We will soon be opening our photography teaching again to one-on-one lessons and will begin working towards opening classes at the start of next month (all being safe and legal).

Thanks for listening.

Bye for now

Warren Marshall (Newcastle Photography College)

Record shot?

How many times have you reminisced with family and friends about what things were like when you were younger? How many times have you been looking through your old photo albums and remembered something from your past that no longer exists?

I remember as a child the old Speers Point post office in the same wooden building as a pool hall on the corner opposite the Speers Point (now Pippiā€™s) hotel. Later, a service station was built on the site and now a block of units occupies the space.

On our way to soccer practice in the late 1960’s we used to stop at Billy Melluish’s Speers Point garage for some lollies. It is still around but decaying by the day. These images are not mine.



As photographers, I believe that it is our responsibility to record our local environment for future generations to enjoy. It may seem mundane to us now but in 10 or 20 years it may provide a valuable resource and much interest for our grandchildren.





A classic example is the wonderful resource left to the people of the Hunter region by the amateur photographer Ralph Snowball. Ralph spent many years recording people and places around this region on photographic glass plates with amazing detail. It is now an invaluable resource for historians, students and people of the hunter showing what the life and landscape was like in the late 19th and early 20th century.




The glass plate collection has been scanned and uploaded to Flickr in fine detail by the university of Newcastle. Find it here:



Or just search: Ralph Snowball collection.

Surely these images are all you need to realise the value of photographing your local area and people for the benefit of future generations.



Of course glass photographic plates are far more archivally stable than digital files so make sure that your storage medium is as long lasting as possible.

Why not get together with some friends and create a project. A self published photo book perhaps? You may even get some help from your local council.

The Five Stages of a Photo Shoot

As photographers we should all realise the benefits of “personal projects”. Whether we are full-time, part-time or enthusiast, a personal project now and then can freshen up our work. It can also push us into areas that are unfamiliar and help us to grow as artists. Thirdly it can give us the confidence to include new techniques in our repertoire.

I do about 20-30 personal projects each year. They are not all “world changing”, but many of them are “me changing”.

The bottom line is that I love photography. I need to shoot. I need to learn. And I need to get the buzz from creating new work.

Many of my project shoots are “ad lib”. I organise to meet a model at a location and just decide on the spot what to do. But many are also carefully orchestrated and these are the ones I would like to write about today.

I find that there are five distinct stages involved in these shoots:



Finding an image or an idea that impresses you. It’s not that you want to copy the shot. It just gives you something to aim at or to work around. This was my inspo image for a shoot I organised through Hunter Creative last year.




Working out the technical needs of the shoot. Things like lighting angles, camera position, poses, composition, location needs, time of day, variations on the theme, etc. What to do if things go wrong.





Finding a suitable model. Locking in a location. Sourcing suitable props. Preparing equipment (lights, modifiers, camera gear, accessories, wardrobe). Spare gear, batteries, drinking water, changing facilities, make up and hair styling. In this case our HMUA was Kayla Crowe and our model was Krysta Heath.





If the first three steps have been done properly then this step is the fun part. In this case our shoot was postponed three times because our bike owners pulled out. Luckily we had a friend stepped in at the last minute with a bike that we could use. Here is a shot straight out of camera.





A shoot such as this tends to evolve as it goes on. Lighting of subject and background, camera angles and poses are changed and refined as it goes. When you are happy with the shot then you can try some variations, keeping in mind that (if they are not being paid) the model and HMUA need to be getting shots that will suit their needs as well.

Here are a few variations we tried.






Post Production

Ansel Adams once said of film photography that “The negative is the score of the music but the print is the performance”. To me (relating to digital photography) this means that the camera exposure captures the detail of the scene, but it is the processing that brings out the photographer’s interpretation of the image. This step is just as important as any of the previous four. There may be a few different interpretations produced from the same file. It is up to you as the creator.

Here is a shot out of camera and the finalised image.




Krysta was lit by two strip boxes from 70 degrees camera left and right. The background was lit by a single speedlight from high right parallel to the brick wall to emphasise the shadows of the metal structure.

Here is the “Behind the Scenes” video of this shoot:

Where There’s Smoke

When it comes to adding some interest and impact to an image, smoke is one of the best options. Being a people photographer, I am relating this to modelling or glamour photography but smoke can be used in any other genre to good effect.

There are numerous ways to generate smoke for your images. I have used smoke machines, smoke bombs and even setting fire to gum leaves in a drum. Each method has it’s place depending on the effect required.

A smoke machine is able to produce high volumes of smoke but can be difficult to control if you want a more subtle effect. They also sometimes set off fire detectors if used inside and can attract fire engines if used outside. Contacting your local fire station beforehand can save the embarrassment.




The smoke bombs available in Australia tend to emit a disappointingly small volume of smoke which can be suitable for small areas but insignificant in larger spaces. The advantage of them is that they are more controllable and come in a range of colours. Of course wind (or even a slight breeze) can make things very difficult when dealing with smoke so try to choose a calm day or a sheltered location.





Smoke tends to be best lit from behind and different coloured gells can be used with flash to colour the smoke if required. A blue gelled flash was used behind the car to colour the smoke in these two images.





After a while there will be quite a bit of residual smoke if you are working indoors which may help to create some light beams from windows etc. These can be used to good effect but be careful of having any smoke between the camera and your subject or a loss of contrast will result.





Smoke bombs can be a burn hazard if not treated with respect. Check the safety information on the site or the pack and, if hand holding, use a proper smoke bomb holder.

Here is a video of a smoke bomb shoot that we did at Hexham with Lauren Beatty:

Blowing Bubbles

In our photography courses we try to teach techniques that are useful, relevant and interesting but some of the classes are just pure fun. The bubble shoot is one of these. Some of these images are from our students.


Bubbles are fascinating and fun, no matter what your age and photographing them with a model adds another layer of enjoyment. The studio is always loud with laughter and noise when we do one of these shoots.


Shooting bubbles can be quite frustrating. They float in the wrong direction. They’re either too big or too small. And they burst just before you push the shutter. Sometimes you just can’t coax any bubbles at all from your bubble solution.


Having researched extensively and become a world expert in bubble theory, I can pass on some tips to those of you who aspire to great bubble photography.

Firstly, not all bubble solutions are equal. You may need to try a few brands until you find a good one (my favorite is “Gazillion Bubbles”). Alternatively you can find a plethora of home made solutions on the net. many of them have ingredients only available in the US but you may find one that you can try.


Secondly, bubbles perform better in humid conditions. Dry air will make them pop prematurely which is not good. Wet down the floor or have some bowls of water around to moisten the air.


Thirdly, you need to wet down all of your bubble rings because a dry surface will not hold the solution for long.


A range of bubble rings from big to small will be useful. For smaller bubbles you will be best to buy a child’s bubble machine or bubble gun. It will save you hyperventilating. To make the photography easier, have a designated bubble person so you can concentrate on your focus and timing.DSC_6712s

Lighting wise, I like to fight with flash so I can get a clean sharp image of the bubbles. Flash also seems to enhance the rainbow reflections from the bubble surface. A dark background (and even some backlighting) will help the bubbles to stand out.


Every now and again you may even get a shot of a bubble bursting.




Photographing bubbles will be fun. Give it a go and see what you can come up with.



Flash Duration

As photographers we learn that slower shutter speeds can blur our subject either through subject movement or camera shake. A flash however is thought to be almost instantaneous so any movement is frozen in the image.

Even the very fast burst of light from a flash has a finite time frame. Different flash types have different flash durations. Also using a flash at various power settings can change the flash duration. Generally setting your flash to a very low power (eg. 1/64th power) will result in a shorter flash duration and less movement in the image. This is not always the case however.

If we analyse the output of a particular flash we may find that the initial burst of flash is fast but there is some residual light emitted as the flash tube extinguishes. We are talking in 1/1000ths of a second here but it is obvious in this shot of Emma under a shower taken with two Elinchrom D-lite 2 flashes.




You can see how the flash tapering produces comet like drops of water.

This next shot of Maxcine under a shower is lit from the front with an N-Flash at half power and a Yong nuo YN560 speedlight at half power from the back. You can clearly see the shorter flash durations produce round droplets with no tail.





Similarly this water drop shot using two Godox DS 300’s shows some blurring of the water droplets.




Whereas this shot, again with the N-flash freezes the water even at full power.




Whenever I use my Elinchrom studio flashes I would often get a “ghosting” or double image that made the image appear unsharp. Now I know that it is caused by the longer flash duration.

So next time you are purchasing a flash, be aware of all of its characteristics but also take notice of the flash duration.



Go Wide

I’ve never been a believer in the theory that says that portraits should be taken with a “portrait” lens. A “portrait lens” being a telephoto with a large maximum aperture.

Sure, these lenses tend to give a flattering perspective and the blurry background will concentrate attention on the subject, but this is only one technique that the portrait photographer has in his/her arsenal.

I love shooting wide angle portraits. I love the drama of a wide shot. I love including great locations that enhance the portrait. Most of all I love big skies that give a kind of power to the people I shoot. Also it’s not something that many photographers attempt so it makes the shot a little bit different.


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Of course there are a few things you need to consider when you go wide. Distortion can be a problem if your subject strays too close to the edge of the frame. Sometimes this can add to the uniqueness of the technique.





You also need to consider that your subject may need to be closer to your camera than you expect. Otherwise they may appear too small in the frame to command “main subject” status.

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Perspective will be exaggerated when using your wide angle lens. legs can look long and heads can be small because of their relative distances from the camera.







Wide angle lenses are more difficult to control when it comes to simplifying your compositions. That is why I often tend to shoot from low down to eliminate too much background and include the sky.





Shooting wide angle should be a part of every photographers repertoir. They take some time to get used to but it’s well worth the effort.









Many of the images from other photographers that impress me the most are those with simple compositions. I’m not saying that complex images can’t be successful. I just mean that, often, you can communicate more by showing less in your images.

“Keeping it simple” can be achieved in a number of different ways. If you shoot people in a studio, you have the option of choosing a plain background to concentrate attention on your subject.



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You can simplify by using light that isolates your subject.




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You can choose an angle of view that will simplify the shot. See these two shots below.





You can shoot high key with soft light against a bright background.


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You can shoot low key against a dark background.






You can move in close to fill the frame.









Silhouettes can be really effective.DSC_2446aass


Shadow shots.




I love shooting against the sky because it simplifies my shot.




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Frames can be used to simplify images.






Even in the very busy environment of a city simple compositions can be found.


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Look for beauty in the simple isolation of the elements in your photographs.

You will be surprised.













These images are copies of black and white prints that I produced in 1995. Shot on a home made camera on 8″ x 10″ sheet film (T-max 400). The copies are not great but the originals show amazing detail.

My idea for this shoot was to show the transition from a calm relaxed mood into an angry one. I wanted to portray the period in time rather than the instant as we normally do as photographers. Hence the movement blur from one face to the other. This needed to be captured in one exposure because photoshop was not an option for me back then.

Steven was an actor and the brother of one of my ballroom dancing partners. he turned out to be the perfect subject for this project. He understood exactly what the idea was and didn’t think that I was weird.

My lighting equipment was fairly limited back then. For these shots I used a battery powered flash unit bounced into an old washing machine lid held by my dad.

The exposure was ISO 400, F108 @ 3 seconds. I was firing the flash manually by a PC cable with a push button switch I had mounted at the end.

For the exposure, I asked Steven to do a calm, relaxed expression (I fired the first flash), then to transition slowly moving his face to his left to an angry face (I fired the second flash). As you can see, I altered the lighting between these two flashes. The first flash was left of camera and slightly higher than his face to give a conventional (normal) feel to his face. Then the flash was moved to lower down on camera right to give the angry face more dramatic scary feel. This took a few rehearsals I should tell you.




We then tried a variation on the theme with a triple exposure (ie. three flashes on the one sheet of film) with Steven holding his hands on his face. I liked the results. We did quite a few shots during this session. Even though each shot cost me around $5.00 for the sheet film and quite a lot of time in the darkroom. These are just the one I have copied onto digital.




Here is another idea that we tried.




Technically these shots may leave a little space for improvement but I believe that there are far more important factors in a good photograph than technical perfection.


Natural light portraits

Those who know me know that i love the control and “punch” that flash can give to a portrait but I also love to use natural light when it is a better option. I believe that to be an accomplished people photographer I need to be comfortable using all types of light depending on the circumstances at the time.

Available (natural) light is great when it is available with the right quality, direction, intensity and colour because our brains are accustomed to seeing natural light as being “normal”. It also has the advantage of needing less equipment, less set up time and is easier to visualise through the view finder.

A major consideration when shooting with natural light outdoors is to make sure the light is illuminating the subject’s eyes. Early morning, late afternoon or open shade will accomplish this.







Utilising the sun to backlight your subject can add a “kick” to the shot.





Looking for those unusual lighting opportunities can also reap rewards.





Indoors, the light can be provided by windows or doorways. The softness of these light sources are directly proportional to their size in relation to the subject. Skylight is generally preferred in this situation although hard light from the direct sun can produce acceptable results as in these next few images.






Softlight through windows or doorways is the most popular way to shoot indoor natural light portraits. Choosing the right direction to shoot gives the photographer more creative input to the shot as well as choosing what to include and exclude from the composition.




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A comprehensive understanding of light is the most useful tool in the photographer’s tool kit.