About the author: Jane Burkinshaw is a professional photographer and passionate about all things photography related. Jane specialises in portrait photography and runs photography courses.

Say cheese! Capturing the close partnership between a Yorkshire dairy farm and an award winning cheesemonger

I recently had the opportunity to photograph a wonderful cheesemongers in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. The Courtyard Dairy is a specialist cheese shop and cafe, selling thirty varieties of cheese from the UK and continental Europe.

Kathy and Andy Swinscoe
The owners, Kathy and Andy Swinscoe, are passionate about promoting and supporting the few remaining independent farmhouse cheese makers in Yorkshire.

They have formed a strong partnership with Tom and Clare Noblet of Whin Yeats Dairy Farm, about ten miles away.

The photography brief was to convey the story of the two  businesses and to promote their locally made farmhouse cheese.

We visited Whin Yeats Dairy Farm and were warmly welcomed by Tom and Clare and their four children. The working day on a dairy farm is hard, with 5am starts and no real time off, but the couple were very laid back and their children delighted in their 'giant playground'. They take part in daily chores like feeding the lambs and know the names of the many cattle.

In the milking parlour
Life on the farm at Whin Yeats

Tom and Clare produce two varieties of unpasteurised, pressed, cloth bound cheeses that are both sold at the Courtyard Dairy. Whin Yeats is one of just two farms in Yorkshire that produce farmhouse cheeses.

Andy and Kathy are very passionate about the cheeses they stock in their shop and use in their cafe and it's fair to say that cheese is their life.


Family photo shoots for precious lasting memories

Gosh I really am late posting about this fantastic photo shoot aren't I?! You can probably tell from the thick carpet of leaves that this was shot in the Autumn (early November 2016 actually). 

I've been meaning to share the images for ages as all the elements came together to produce some gorgeous images; the sun was shining and gave us one of those crisp autumnal days that drives us out into the fresh air, seeking leaves to kick around. And the afternoon light was stunning, flattering and kind to faces and creating golden backgrounds.

This family of five are enjoying some of their last years as a unit dwelling under the same roof. Soon the eldest daughter will be off to university, followed in a few years by her younger siblings. It was the perfect moment to capture them all together and create some lasting memories.

To find out more or to book your family photo shoot contact me (Jane) for a chat.


Cheers! Raising a glass to my latest commercial photography assignment.

I do like a glass of wine... or two... so I was very excited to be approached by a Manchester-based wine grower and importer - Boutinot. I was doubly thrilled to learn that they wanted photographs that would tell their story as a company with a genuine "family culture." They embrace their staff, growers, suppliers, merchants, clients and wholesalers as part of the Boutinot family.

If you've been reading my blog lately you'll have realised that my favourite assignments involve using photography as a vehicle to tell a brand's story. It's not only about the product, but the people who are involved in creating it and the place(s) where they work. This kind of photography gets me really excited and is extremely rewarding. It allows me to be more creative and to get to know the brand and people inside out. The resulting images are more heartfelt, real and engaging.

The Boutinot offices immediately convey a sense of the culture as the above collages show. No stuffy corporate decor here and bottles of wine everywhere! These images were not part of my first assignment but I'm really glad I grabbed them quickly on my camera phone (the amazing Samsung Galaxy S7).

My actual brief was to photograph two of the year's most important events: 1) an evening reception for growers and producers from around the world, at the new Boutinot head office in Cheadle; and 2) the annual wine tasting event at the Lancashire Cricket Ground in Manchester.

The evening reception at Boutinot
The photography style was to be informal, candid and to reflect the Boutinot culture. With the wine flowing and corks popping at the evening event this was easy to achieve!

The annual wine tasting event the following day was an eye-opener for me... no one actually drank any of the wine! The corks still popped and gallons of wine were poured, but the tasting itself was a serious business. Noses were thrust into glasses, wine was swirled around and held up to the light. Finally it was rolled around in the mouth for several long moments and then a few paces to the spittoon to dispatch it. Notes were made in the wine tasters notebook and then it was on to the next one. Sniff, look, taste, spit, repeat.

Images from the annual wine tasting event at The Point, Manchester

I loved this assignment... and not just because it involved wine (and a tiny bit of sampling once I had clocked off!), but more because it jelled so well with the direction in which I am taking my business - the importance of story telling with images. People deal with people and want to trust the organisations they do business with, and ultimately enjoy it too. Photographs go a long way towards reflecting the ethos and culture of a business.

I am a commercial and portrait photographer based in Cheshire. I also run photography workshops and one to one lessons for private individuals and businesses. Get in touch to discuss any of your photography requirements.


Tell your brand story in pictures and stand out

I did a photoshoot for a client recently that gave me pause for thought and helped me to resolve a problem I'd been struggling with for a while. I knew I wanted to take my photography business in a slightly different direction but was finding it difficult to shape into a clear story.

In my head and, importantly, in my heart it's crystal clear. I want to work with people who are their brand - passionate individuals who have built up their businesses based on their love for what it is they do and out of values that guide them in their lives. I've made some progress already steering my business in this direction, working with artisan bakers, artists and florists, photographing not only their products but also their work place and them as the heart and soul behind the business. 

This is Emma, the driving force behind the Cheshire Flower School.

And this is Jenny of Parsley Pie Art Club Hale
(read more in my blog about this shoot)

These photographs can all be classed as commercial or business portraits but they are actually much more than that, incorporating clear signs of what the person does and also an insight into their personality.

When Naomi of Branching Out Online asked me to do a series of photographs of her that she could use throughout her marketing materials I was delighted. I know Naomi really well and am a big admirer of her ability to maximise businesses' online presence.

Naomi doesn't sell products that I could photograph beautifully for her, she sells her skill, knowledge, experience and passion for online marketing. She's certainly not alone in offering these services but she does stand out in how she "puts herself out there": she is her brand. She is bright, bubbly, friendly, open and insanely enthusiastic about what she does. That's her point of difference.

One of Naomi's trademarks is her use of vibrant colours and she put a lot of thought into how to make this come through in the photo shoot. All the way through we used props and colours that reinforced her branding and her vibrant personality.

Having a great online presence using apps like Snapchat, Facebook Live and Periscope.

Using appropriate props to allow you to get maximum use out of the images. This is how Naomi is using the images on social media.

Naomi also employs positive messages as a way to motivate and make images talk and I loved the props we used to convey this.

We were also very conscious of leaving space in the images to put marketing messages.

If I go back to the "light bulb" moment I had when I worked my way through these images, it was that I knew that I wanted to be more than a commercial photographer taking head shots for LinkedIn profiles... I want to tell people's story in pictures, capture what makes them and their business unique. Naomi knows the power of telling her story and uses it to build trust and loyalty, to make a powerful emotional connection with her target customer base.

She isn't afraid of sharing the low points as well as the highs and 2016 was a very tough year personally. We did some shots that reflected that and will allow her to share how she turned things around and has moved forward in a very positive way.

Have you thought about your brand story? It gives your brand a very powerful voice, makes it stand out, makes people want to connect with YOU. Why do you do what you do? If you can communicate this in words and then in pictures there'll be no stopping you!

If you are interested in booking your own photo shoot to tell your story get in touch


Commercial photography shoots ARE fun!!! by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Let's face it, most adults hate having their photos taken, especially as we get "older" and clients that come to me to have a commercial head shot or portrait done are usually dreading it. And I know where they are coming from, as I don't enjoy having my picture taken. Is that really me? Is that what I look like? I don't get how I can look so different from the woman I see in the mirror.

Of course I only see myself from one angle in the mirror and my face is in repose (or in my "mirror face" according to my husband!). At other times we are photographed from all angles and in mid sentence, mid frown, mid unflattering looking down - our faces and bodies frozen for  a split second in the most unforgiving light.

I needed some new shots of me recently and decided to invite some of my photography students to have a go. They loved it as an opportunity to learn and, surprise, surprise I really enjoyed it and was very pleased with the results. The secret was lots of laughs and jokes to make me relax and them knowing which poses and light and angles would work. There were some pretty dreadful shots of me where the light and my pose were wrong but we deleted them quickly and moved on.

Shots taken by my photography students
I use the same strategy of fun and laughs when I photograph clients - children or adults - and I love it when people tell me they are surprised that it was so much fun! Last weekend I met a lovely couple, Russ and Teresa, who wanted images for their businesses. Russ needed a very corporate shot and was dreading it! Teresa runs a successful garden design company and wanted pictures that reflected what she does. Fresh from the hairdressers she was also quite nervous before we began.

I always have a coffee and a chat with my clients before we begin and right from the outset I'm working to make them relax. Once the shoot starts I gauge how far I can go with being a bit cheeky, teasing and getting family members or colleagues to help make people laugh. On this occasion I had a great little assistant in 10 year old Ashley and then Russ and Teresa took it in turns. The sight of Russ wielding two enormous umbrellas and a pair of stepladders was enough to guarantee smiles.

Lots of laughs behind the scenes
Teresa's final images
I offer commercial photography services on an hourly, half day or full day basis. I can shoot in a purpose built natural light studio or on location. If you would like to have a chat about your photography requirements please get in touch.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Afternoon Tea with a Difference by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

I was delighted to be invited last week to be a guinea pig for a new concept for an afternoon tea at Sakana, a new Pan-Asian restaurant just off Deansgate in Manchester. The food was highly likely to be right up my street and I was also expecting something that would be interesting to photograph too.

As it turned out it wasn't just the food that was visually stunning (more on that shortly); the venue was spectacular too, with a giant steel Japanese maple as the focal point of the two tier restaurant.
The light up steel tree by local artist Sarah Gallagher, with my fellow guests Toni and Mark.
All the food is prepared in sight of the diners and it was great to see the chefs becoming excited about putting together this new Afternoon Tea menu.

Chefs preparing food at the sushi bar.
All the chefs gather round to see the Afternoon Tea presented on the platters. They were all taking photos of the new concept too!
Sue France of Scones, Jam & Cream was diligently making notes about our afternoon tea experience in her notebook (let's not mention the trapped notebook incident and diligent waiter crawling with his bum in the air to rescue it!).

Sue France, event organiser extraordinaire.
Back now to the main event, the Pan Asian afternoon tea of savoury and sweet sushi. When it was delivered to our table we must have spent at least ten minutes admiring and photographing it, as it was so beautifully and skilfully crafted. I'll let the photographs do the talking here.

3 tiers of deliciousness; 2 savoury and the top one sweet desserts.
Matcha Tiramasu on the top and Thai Vermicelli below.
From the top: Passionfruit Cheesecake, Duck, Pomegranate, Cucumber, Egg Roll, Futomaki Vegetable.
Not forgetting the stunning backdrop of the steel maple tree.
I can honestly say I loved all of it, but as I hadn't tasted many Asian desserts before (and having a bit of a sweet tooth), they were my favourite, especially the Coconut Macaroon and the Ginger Brûlée.

"Stop taking photos and let us start eating!"
What better way to round it all off then with a glass of Prosecco!

Afternoon tea at Sakana will be introduced soon at £15 per head including a selection of loose leaf tea. Prosecco is £5. We all agreed that it was well worth it as an afternoon tea with a real difference.
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Pampering, Posing and Prosecco by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Once the new studio was completed I wanted to organise a shoot that would be fun for friends and allow me to try out the space before I started using it for real. So two weeks ago I invited four friends over as guinea pigs and another friend, Sue, who sells a range of skincare and make up products (Arbonne - promised her a plug!). Our numbers grew when we decided to add a make up artist, Claire  and then Mhari with her gorgeous Stella and Dot jewellery (plugs all done for now!).

The girls - Debbie, Nicky, Kaarin and Lucy arrived with changes of clothes and nervous smiles. We gave them a bit of a pamper with some face cleansing and face pack products (always good for a funny photo!) and then they all had their make up done and jewellery chosen to complement their outfits.
Pampering and gossiping time!
Time to add the stunning bling.
We gave some advice on how to stand for a full length shot as no one ever knows how to do it and what to do with their hands! This pose, demonstrated by Sue, shows how it's much more flattering to stand at an angle, weight on the back leg, front leg forward. I call this the Cheshire Ladies pose as everyone always does it at weddings and events!
Cheshire Ladies pose. But make sure you're facing the light for best results. We turned Sue to face the other way for the actual shot.
I love Nicky's more casual take on this pose. Looks really natural and relaxed.
Everyone had a go at a full length pose, including Mr T - what a posasaurus!
As you can imagine when eight women get together it's very noisy and at times very silly. Nicky might not ever get a job as a reflector holder!

None of them normally enjoy having their photographs taken but all did extremely well, with lots of different poses - standing, seated, lying down. I still haven't had time to edit them all but here's my favourites of the four models.

Sue Cobb of Arbonne, modelling Stella & Dot jewellery.
Huge thanks to Sue Cobb and Claire Fulton of Arbonne and Mhari Oakes of Stella & Dot for giving their time and skills on the day. Thanks to the four models for their sense of humour and willingness to do something out of their comfort zone. Boudoir shoot next time, ladies?!

Thanks to Nic Burkinshaw and Abii Burkinshaw for the catering (a lovely spread of quiche, home made bread, salad and home made cookies, accompanied by Prosecco for a little extra sparkle!)

Almost forgot to mention the star of the show - Bella, Lucy's daughter and my great niece.

Make up (none), clothes and accessories all model's own!


Bring on 2015! By Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

When I was made redundant from a role in international marketing in 2007 I knew immediately what I wanted to do: set up my own business taking photographs and writing copy for small businesses, hence the name Picture It Big. Within a few weeks I was heading off in a completely different direction, photographing children at nurseries, after being given an opportunity at my own children's day nursery. Like many new starters I went wherever the business was, hungry to earn money, gain experience and build a portfolio.

A couple of years later I started running photography courses following lots of requests from photography clients. I discovered a new passion: sharing my knowledge with others. It was so rewarding and really enjoyable, although hard to gain enough exposure to fill the course places. I eventually hit on the idea of running workshops from home, thus eliminating the worry of booking and often cancelling venues.

In the meantime I had been reflecting on the photography services I was offering and realised that I needed to focus more on the more profitable areas and on the types of photography I really enjoyed. After all, what's the point of working for yourself, if you are doing stuff that doesn't make you want to leap out of bed in the morning?

As I end my sixth full year in business and look forward to 2015 (a big year in my mind as I turn 50!), I've got a clear business strategy and a wonderful new studio where it will all happen! Portrait and commercial photography will be my main photography focus, both in the studio and on location. I also have a full programme of courses taking place in the studio and interest and take up has so far been phenomenal. The business is being re-branded Jane Burkinshaw Natural Light Photography, to better reflect what I now do, with Love Your Lens as a sub-brand for the photography workshops.

When I look back on the last 6 years, I could kick myself for not having got to this point via a shorter route. If I'm honest I've made tons of mistakes, wasted money on the wrong types of promotion, not always been as focused and dedicated as I could have been. It was very difficult adjusting to a new life of working from home and not having to adhere to a 9 to 5. But if I'm a bit kinder to myself, I know I've learned an enormous amount, about photography and running a business. I've been around to take the kids to after school activities or even just into town to buy Christmas jumpers! I've managed to fit in being a parent governor and a trustee of a charity Gift Of A Wedding. Most importantly, as my husband reminds me, I am no longer the stressed out, slightly depressed person I was back in 2007, when office politics and an unbearable workload dominated my every waking thought.

Via local networking groups I've discovered a whole new community of fellow business owners, who are supportive, knowledgable and generous with their time and advice. Many people have become good friends, along with quite a few of my clients.

As I sit here typing this, I'm grateful that I'm able to be at home to care for a poorly daughter; I'm excited that the electrics are being finished in the studio and I'm looking forward to a Christmas lunch tomorrow, with a lovely crowd of ladies who all run their own businesses and have their own stories of successes and failures, challenges and triumphs.

I think I'd better finish now as I've just read that last sentence! Needless to say I'm really looking forward to 2015 with a new focus and brand spanking new studio (big reveal coming soon)! I need to make the final word a big THANK YOU and shout out to Nic, my husband, who is known as Poor Nic to everyone, for having the misfortune to be married to me. He has been a massive support to me in every way and  I would not have got to this point without him.

Capturing those precious moments by Cheshire Baby Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

I've had the very special experience of photographing two babies in recent weeks and both sets of parents have kindly agreed to let me share the photographs. (Click on any image to see a larger version).
This is 2 week old Emelie, a very precious first baby for her mummy and daddy. I encourage parents to let me take natural, unposed pictures of them bonding with the new baby, as these moments are so unique, personal and special and often go unrecorded.
It's so important to get all those tiny new details too - tiny fingers and toes, barely unfurled ears and swirls of hair on the crown of the head. Expressions unique to each baby, the positions they sleep in. I love Emelie's hands thrown up over her head!
Photographing baby's bath time is becoming a bit of a trademark of my newborn shoots, as it's perfect for relaxing a grizzly baby and for capturing some very special bonding moments. Baby's modesty is preserved by using a few bubbles in the bath water.
It's still important to get those slightly more posed photographs that will be displayed on the walls, but I'm a firm believer in keeping it simple and natural. A few simple props are all that's necessary as the baby is the star of the show.

If you can cope with some more cuteness, here's seven month old Callum with his older sister. Photographing very young siblings can be a challenge and my secret is to keep it fun and natural, encouraging play, making it fun and not directing them into difficult poses.
These photos were all taken around the family home, with no need for backdrops or studio lights. Simplicity and speed are the key. (Check out that gorgeous tuft of hair!)
Things don't always go to plan and babies get tired and fed up quite quickly. I keep shooting as this is the time when I can get some fantastic expressions that mum and dad will say: "That is so Callum!"

Callum has reached the end of his patience in this last image, but he looks so adorable and his sister's facial expression and eyes are beautiful!

If you're looking for simply beautiful photographs of your children get in touch. Full details are on the website. Shoots can also take place outdoors in favourite family locations. If you have any questions about how a shoot works and what to expect give me a call.


A taste of Spain in Cheshire (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Lamb stuffed aubergines with manchego cheese
Had a fab foodie and photography day yesterday in the Cheshire countryside. I've wanted to go on a cookery course for ages and the opportunity came out of the blue when I got the chance to bid for a ticket for the charity C.R.Y for Matthew via Redshift Radio founder, Liz Southall. Liz was also on the course along with Jamie, who is the "go to guy" if you have a problem with potholes! I bet he's kept busy!

Anyhow. we all had a fabulous day away from our normal day jobs (although Liz and I couldn't quite resist combining cooking with promoting and photographing respectively!). The course was held at Cheshire Cooks, Lakeside Barn close to Oulton Park. The venue is spectacular, purpose built for running cookery courses, as well as offering optional luxury accommodation with spa facilities.

Our course was "A Taste of Spain" and we cooked an astonishing 14 courses, including lots of tapas dishes, speciality bread, meringues and desserts. We were expertly guided by Philip Martin, who effortlessly had us kneading, rolling, chopping, stirring, mixing and laughing a lot! Lunch was, of course, delicious, as we ate some of what we had cooked so far, but there was far too much to scoff during the day so we left with very generous doggy bags (a crate full).

Few further words are required as I hope the photographs show what a fabulous time we all had.

Getting stuck in with bread making and baking

Learning lots of new skills

Reaping the rewards of our labours

Philip and James of Cheshire Cooks


A very special wedding album. By Cheshire Wedding Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Chris & Maria's Wedding 22.02.14
Remember when I did my Wonder Woman imitation and photographed a huge wedding (250 guests) with just half an hour's notice? Well, today I delivered the wedding album to Maria and Chris and thought you might like to see it.

Before I do the Big Reveal, I want to share with you a bit about its quite complicated gestation, as it was far from straight forward. My photography of the wedding started at the moment Maria arrived at the top of the aisle on her proud Spanish father's arm. I dashed along the side of the pews, caught my breath and grabbed my camera. From then on in, I captured all the key moments of their big day and really enjoyed watching it unfold. If, like me, you love weddings and didn't read my blog about their wedding you can read it here.

A few weeks later I met with Maria and showed her the photographs. She was thrilled with them and we started to discuss albums, a conversation I would usually have had months before the wedding. Maria and Chris wanted a traditional leather bound, matted album, which of course I was happy to create for them. The challenging nature of this album lay in the fact that I had not been present at all the events that unfolded prior to Maria getting to the church and, therefore, had no images.

We both wanted to have an album that told the full story of their wedding and set about sourcing images from guests. Do you know how many guests take photos at weddings these days? All of them! We were inundated with literally hundreds of pictures, in varying qualities, sizes and formats. Thus began a long job of sorting through them, getting to a short list and then editing them so that they would sit seamlessly alongside my images.

But there were still big gaps - no good shots of Maria getting ready at the hotel with her bridesmaids, none of Chris and the camaraderie between him, the best man and the ushers. Then we had a brainwave! Use stills from the video! We received some gorgeous shots but realised with a sinking heart that they were low resolution and couldn't be printed large. I contacted the album supplier and was advised to get some prints done. Phew! They were fine up to 5"X7" so we were OK.

To cut a long story short, we got there in the end, with a few more edits and reviews than normal, but this hadn't been a normal wedding for me or the bride and groom. From the outset I was determined that their day should not be affected in any way by the no-show of their booked photographer. As I showed Maria the finished product today, I knew that I had succeeded and that she loved the album. I'm quite proud of it myself as I know what hurdles we had to get over to create it.

So here it is, just a glimpse anyway. I like to imagine that Chris has just got in from work and is looking through it with Maria, with a glass of wine, laughing and remembering their wedding day. (Keep that wine away from it though!)

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

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Wow! Your baby is one! Celebrate with a photo shoot with a difference! By Cheshire baby photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Wow! Suddenly your baby is one year old! How did that happen? And what a year it's been, especially if this was your first baby! A speeding roller coaster of emotions,  a time of learning new skills without any instructions, sleepless nights, joy-filled days, exhausted evenings and magical moments of near disbelief that you created this amazing little person!

Can you tell that I've been there twice? My children are now 11 and 13 - now how did that happen?! Everyone says that the time will fly and you must treasure every moment and "make the most of it"! In reality that's very very difficult to do as you are swept along on an uncontrollable journey. There are no brakes and sometimes it feels as if there's not even a steering wheel and somehow you've reached a destination: in this case that enormous milestone of the First Birthday.

One of the best ways that you can mark this momentous occasion is with a photo shoot - I know, I would say that, wouldn't I?! But really, this is such a wonderful age. Your baby has a sense of humour and giggles and laughs uncontrollably, he expresses his affection in wide mouthed wet kisses and fierce hugs. He has favourite toys and he soon lets you know if he doesn't like what's on the menu at meal times!

I know how fast this time flies by and how these precious moments become memories. Photographs freeze those moments forever and let you look back at them and share them with others. I love to capture all the natural, unposed moments and the real expressions as your baby plays and concentrates fiercely, or looks up to give you a cheeky grin, or bangs his spoon demanding more.

If you'd like to celebrate your baby's first birthday with a photo shoot please get in touch for an informal chat to find out more. Take a look at the Picture It Big website to see my work and check me out a bit! To see a natural, lifestyle baby shoot take a look at Oscar's first five months on the blog.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too! Like Picture It Big on Facebook to see more of my photography.


A practical photography class in sunny Chester (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

f/2.8, 1/125, ISO 125
For one of my "pupils" it was time to put into practise what she'd learned during our previous two sessions and where better than in the beautiful city of Chester on a glorious Spring day. After a quick coffee and chat about how Ann had been getting on since we last met, we headed up into The Rows to do a re-cap on one of the most important camera functions for low light photography - ISO.

f/3.2, 1/40, ISO 500
If you want to capture the ambience of scenes like this you need to turn your flash off and increase your ISO. As the lights were a bit orange I converted it to black and white in Photoshop. It has also removed any colour distractions.

At this point Ann went straight to the top of the class as she asked how she could have more control over the exposure than the Av (Aperture) setting was giving her. She knew the principles of Manual Exposure but had never dared try it out. After a few goes she was flying and didn't move out of Manual Mode all day!

Chester's wattle and daub, black and white facades made for great shooting material and we talked about selecting the right buildings to photograph, where the light was best, and about cropping out unwanted distractions (lots of "To Let" hoardings).

f/5.6, 1/250, ISO 200
I applied an infrared effect to this shot to enhance the sky and clouds.

One of the day's biggest challenges was the sunny weather! You become very aware of the harsh quality of bright sunlight and the consequent deep shadows, especially in close ups. You also have to think about how bright the sky is and whether it will appear as blue with fluffy white clouds in your shot or as a bland bright white band.

f/8, 1/500, ISO 160
Looking left along the river the scene was idyllic, with people enjoying the warm sunshine and the sky is blue with cloud detail.

f/8, 1/400, ISO 160
Looking right along the riverbank it was a different story, with bright sunshine bleaching out details in the sky and on the water. So I opted to crop out the sky and go for an almost silhouetted look. This took a few attempts in Manual Mode, taking a few different exposures until I was happy.

As we made our way back into the city via the walls, we came upon a crowd of people pointing mobile phones and cameras at something happening in the street down below. An episode of Foyle's War was being filmed and we joined in the frenzy to capture some of the action. It was a tricky street scene with deep shadows and bright sunshine. Great fun to watch even though Michael Kitchen was nowhere in sight.

Last lesson of the day was looking at how a higher f/number (smaller aperture) gives focus throughout the scene (broad depth of field) and from under the famous clock tower we took a shot of the busy shopping street below. With such bright conditions shutter speed wasn't an issue, despite the small aperture.

f/9, 1/80, ISO 100
Ann felt that everything had clicked into place today with using the combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO to give her much more control over the images she takes. Once someone reaches this point I think their photography really starts to fly and they can concentrate on the creative side more.

These images were all taken by me but I know that Ann has some great pictures too and I've asked her to share them with me. She was over the moon with what she'd taken today and I was over the moon with her reaction!

If you'd like to take great photographs all the time, rather than occasionally just by accident (we've all done it!!), then get in touch to book a course or a one to one session via the website.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too! Like Picture It Big on Facebook to see more tips like this.


Using white card to fill in shadows in your product / still life photographs. By Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Taken by one of my photography students
Natural light photography is wonderful: it has a beautiful, soft quality about it and it's "free", as you don't have to invest in a studio and lighting equipment. This shot was set up on my dining table near a large window and using a couple of pieces of board with a grey wood grain printed on them. I had these made specifically for the purpose but you could use pieces of wood, card, slate etc that you might find around the house.

Dark shadows on the left side of the vegetable.

When we did the first shot we realised there was a lot of shadow on the left side of the vegetable - the side furthest away from the window. This might not be a problem for certain shots, as shadow can add mood and interest. For the purposes of what we were doing we wanted to reduce the intensity of the shadow. This is easily done by using a piece of white card to bounce the light from the window back onto the subject. You can easily see the change as you move the white card around. You need to ask someone to hold it for you or prop it up against something.

Sometimes you may need 2 or more pieces of card to fill in shadows, as was the case with this flower shoot.

The final edited shot

A few tips to finish off with:

  • Make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/60th of a second to avoid camera shake.
  • If it's too slow, increase your ISO or use a tripod.
  • If bright sunlight falls on your table top set up, move it away from the window until you're in even shade.
  • If you want a really soft blurry background set your f/number as low as it can go.
By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too! Like Picture It Big on Facebook to see more tips like this.


5 things you must do if you're asked to photograph a wedding at the last minute

Chris and Maria 
1.     Say "yes" and rearrange anything else you have on, I promise you it will be worth it. On Saturday I got a call at 12.30pm to see if I could stand in for a no-show photographer at a big wedding. After a moment's hesitation (we were just about to go out for the afternoon for my daughter's 13th birthday), I agreed to do it and asked "where" and "when?". "In Chester in half an hour!" 
      I think the bride and I set off for the church at the same time, the bride in a chauffeur driven vintage car and me in a husband-driven Subaru. The bride looking radiant in a stunning dress and veil, with beautifully styled hair and flawless make up; me with barely dry, un- straightened hair, no make up (!) and a top I had regretted buying but was clean and not creased. Not my usual wedding photographer "uniform".

2.     Be prepared! Every time you finish a job, put your batteries on charge and format your memory cards, just in case you ever need to be an emergency wedding photographer! This is now a new rule of mine as it would have saved me a lot of stress on Saturday! 

      Whilst I panicked over the state of batteries and cards in the car, my three companions made helpful comments to keep me calm; Sam: "you'll look like Mad Eye Moody running into the church late..." This is a character from Harry Potter, but you don't need to know that to get the idea! Nic: "you should always keep your batteries charged and cards formatted just in case…"

3.     Keep calm and do what you're good at. I've done enough weddings and events now to know what I'm doing, despite not having time to do any preparation, never mind not having even met the bride and groom. They were quite easy to spot, in front of the alter, quite spruced up, talking to a guy wearing white robes. As I started shooting, I was picking up information on the hoof: 
  • this was a wedding attended by a lot of people from Spain (the priest kept dropping in the odd Spanish word);
  • it was a Catholic wedding (we were still there after 20 minutes);
  • it was a very big wedding (both sides of the church were packed);
  • this was going to be a lively gig (lots of laughter and spontaneous dancing and singing after the service, especially Y Viva Espagna!). This meant it was a delight to photograph, with so much Latin emotion and expressiveness, unlike us reserved Brits.
"A lively gig" with lots of spontaneous dancing

4.     Don't be afraid to ask for help. At the first opportunity I had a quick word with the videographers (Tom & Tom from Silk Wedding Films) and sorted a lift to the hotel and got a quick view of the schedule for the day. TomTom were great all day, making sure I knew when things were happening, especially when we would get fed! 

      When we arrived at the hotel everything was happening so fast, the light was fading and I hadn't had chance to suss out how to pose the bride and groom in the car. So I asked the chauffeur for his advice. He was more than happy to help as he wanted his car to look great in the pictures.

Great pose in the car

5.     Put the bride and groom's needs first above everything else. It must have been awful for them to have the stress of the photographer not showing up, but I just assured them that they would still have amazing pictures by which to remember their wedding. I tried to find out if anyone had been taking pictures prior to the church service, as I knew that the happy couple would want a complete record of their big day in the album. I've now got a great selection of photos of the bride getting ready before the ceremony and I'm going to pick the best ones and give them a professional makeover so that they can be included.

Chris and Maria with Mark, the hotel General Manager - the man who made the call at 12.30pm

I really enjoyed being an emergency wedding photographer and would do it again in a flash. I didn't have any time to get nervous and it was really rewarding to be told umpteen times that I was a super hero and had "saved the day". I always knew those Wonder Woman pants would come in useful one day! I really can't wait to show the final photographs to Chris and Maria, as they were an amazing couple, so laid back, lots of fun and totally in love, of course.

By Jane Burkinshaw, Emergency Wedding Photographer

How to create a Facebook banner using Picasa (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Would you like to know how to create a banner like this one for the top of your Facebook page, without using Photoshop and without having to spend money on templates? You can create it easily in Picasa, free software from Google, that helps you to organise, edit and share your photos. Once you've downloaded it and told it which files you keep your pictures in, then you're good to go. It's very easy to use and always preserves your original image, regardless of the editing you perform.

To create a Facebook banner like this, select the photos that you would like to appear in the collage and click on "create collage". I've written a blog on how to create collages so if you're not sure how to do it then take a look at it first. 

You need to make your collage the right size so that it displays correctly on Facebook, so when you are creating it and are selecting the dimensions you need to scroll to the end of the size options and create a custom size. If you enter 30 X 11 as the dimensions and then name it as. Facebook banner, it will always be there for you to use.

Click on the image to see a larger version
You can shuffle the images around in your collage until it looks like you want it to. Just bear in mind that much of the bottom lefthand image will be concealed by your profile picture once you upload the banner to Facebook.

This is how it should look on Facebook once you've uploaded it
Once you've clicked on "Create Collage" and it's finished you will need to re-size it as it will probably be a bit big for Facebook. You need to use the "Export" option at the bottom of the Picasa screen. If you're not sure how to do this I've also written a blog on this(!) so take a look. Re-sizing images in Picasa. I'd re-size this banner to around 1000 pixels.

I love creating different banners for Facebook and keeping it fresh and topical. This one is to celebrate my son's 11th birthday this week.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Shoot to live or live to shoot? (By Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

As a professional photographer of course I have to shoot to live i.e. take photos and get paid for them in order to earn a living. I do this by taking portraits of people, occasionally animals, and of businesses, products and events. However, there is another way to earn a living with a camera that I haven't explored yet: shooting for stock, that is taking photographs and submitting them to image libraries, where, hopefully, they will be purchased by people. Stock photography is big business, with photographic images needed for newspapers, magazines, websites, brochures, greetings cards, calendars, point of sale material etc etc. and it can be seen as "easy" money; you post your pictures and wait for the cash to come rolling in.

I've sold one image from a stock library and that was more by accident than design. Before going professional I posted a few of my best images onto a library that was a bit like Flickr and promptly forgot all about them. Several years later a cheque for £75 dropped through the letter box; someone had bought an image of some masks that I'd taken in Venice. I was really chuffed and started to look into how to get images accepted onto the more well known galleries like Getty and Shutterstock. I quickly concluded that I hadn't got enough images of the type required and that I still needed to focus on building my portraiture and commercial business.

Cut to the the present day where I now have an extensive library of photographs of all sorts of subjects and every now and again someone tells me I should be selling via image libraries. I was browsing the internet a few weeks ago when a course on how to get into stock photography caught my eye. I realised it was being run by someone who sold a lot of flower and garden photographs and decided to sign up.

The course was yesterday and it was great, really informative and I came away with all the knowledge I need to start submitting to image libraries. But something's been bugging me since and I've been mulling it over and over. The course leader is a successful stock photographer, selling tens if not hundreds of images per month, some at less than 20 pence per image, others for £400. This is no mean accomplishment and it has taken her about four years to get to that stage. But what struck me was how cynical she was about the industry and how "un-passionate" she was about her trade. Photography for her was now only a means to earn money and she didn't shoot the things she enjoyed photographing, just the ones that she knew would sell. "If it won't sell, I don't shoot it."

Now that is just good commercial discipline and I get that. When I'm photographing a newborn I avoid unflattering poses and ugly angles as I know the parents won't like the image and it won't end up as a framed print, so why waste my valuable time. What I couldn't get my head around was that this photographer would shoot stuff that was mediocre, uninspiring and in her own words "not a great photograph" purely because she knew it would sell. She laughed about us not reacting to her images with "oo's" and "aa's" and didn't seem to mind that we weren't blown away by her work. I spoke to her at lunchtime and she said she couldn't remember the last time she'd picked her camera up for pleasure and just taken it out with her.

I couldn't do that, I love what I do and every picture I take has to be the best I can do or it doesn't make it into my galleries, in front of a client, or in the future, into an image library. I know who will make the most money from stock photography and it won't be me, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my  passion and enjoyment for the sake of earning more money. I've been trying to think of a comparison with other industries and I guess it could be a bit like a talented chef giving up working   in a top restaurant serving fine cuisine and instead setting up a fast food restaurant  because it would earn him more money.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Wintry walks with a compact camera (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

I've been desperate for some proper wintry weather, a hard hoar frost to transform everywhere into a glittery winter wonderland, or a decent covering of snow just for a few days, preferably over a weekend. Instead it's been mild, wild and wet for the most part, depriving us photographers of any typical winter landscapes to get excited about. If it weren't for Ferb, our Italian water dog (a lagotto  if you want his posh name) I would have stayed indoors waiting for more exciting and photogenic weather to arrive. Our energetic dog lives up to his name and needs his daily splash in filthy water, so we've been out anyway and along with lead, treats and poo bags, I always pick up a camera on the way out of the door.

Occasionally I have a photographic mission in mind and will take a SLR and specific lens along with me, my "nifty fifty" for arty, soft focus shots of forest and fauna, or "big boy" (my super fast Canon 70-200mm f/2.8) for action shots of Ferb haring along woodland paths chasing squirrels. Lately, due to an increasingly painful tennis elbow (or in my case photographer's elbow) I've had to opt for a much lighter load, so it's the Fujifilm X10 that's accompanied me. Not that I'm complaining as it's a wonderful little camera, with a maximum aperture of f/2.0-2.8, beautiful colours and great performance in low light. A whole load of other typically Fuji features make it a joy to use, much more than a point and shoot compact. The zoom is a bit limited at 28-112mm but for general shots of landscapes, close ups and portraits (usually my husband or the dog!) it's perfectly adequate. If you'd like to see more images taken with this lovely camera see my Pinterest Board.

All taken with the Fujifilm X10. I had some fun editing them too with actions in Photoshop Elements.
You might wonder what I've found to photograph on our muddy walks, but if you've got the clicking bug like me, then almost anything can be transformed into a picture if it catches the light in an interesting way, or if you can see a striking composition. I have a thing for trees at the moment, but haven't quite mastered how to shoot them when there's a lot of other trees around them creating clutter. Watch this space for a tree project one day. On our last few walks we've had a few sunny spells and the low winter sun has created slanting shadows through the trees.

Top tip for this time of year
  • Wintry light can be quite dull and if you are photographing anything that moves you need to watch that your shutter speed doesn't get too slow. It needs to be at least 1/250th of a second or your moving subject will be blurred.

  • Check your shutter speed as you take the picture. As you half press the shutter button it will be displayed on the LCD display or in the viewfinder.

  • Or after you take the image and are looking at it, if you press "Display" or "Info" (depending on your camera) then you can usually see what shutter speed you used.

  • If it's less than 1/250th then you need to increase it. If you're using the green fully automatic mode then you need to change to P (Program Mode) by turning the dial on the top of your camera. The camera still does the important stuff automatically for you but you can take charge a little.
  • Now look up how to change the ISO setting. This might be a button on the back of the camera or in the menus. Increase it to a higher number until your shutter speed is fast enough. You can check your shutter speed by half pressing the shutter down as you focus on your subject and checking what number it displays.

  • You can do all of this on any type of camera apart from the majority of camera phones.

Knowing my way around the camera, being aware of what the camera can and can't do on the Auto settings and knowing what to do if the light is tricky is second nature to me now and I can concentrate for the most part on "seeing the image". If something happens unexpectedly I am ready to catch those spontaneous moments (or some of them at least!). Photography is a constant learning process for me, and probably for everyone and that's one of the things that makes it so addictive and enjoyable.

If you'd like to get to grips with your camera then why not book a course or one to one lesson with me. This all becomes second nature very quickly when someone shows you how to do it and it will make a dramatic difference to your photography.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


In 2014 I resolve to… (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Is it too late to be talking about New Year's resolutions? It usually takes me a few weeks to work out which ones I'm serious about and therefore have a chance of actually keeping for a while. On New Year's Day I'm usually suffering a tad from the night before (if not from the effects of the whole of December) and I vow to cut down on wine consumption and with that goes losing a few pounds and getting fitter. Yeah well, I know in which direction those resolutions quickly go and it's not up! I have spent a few quid on a phone app that measures how far I walk with the dog and I'm cautiously optimistic that I will get a bit fitter that way.

Now that we've passed the mid January mark I've settled on some resolutions that I've had time to think about a bit more and - surprise, surprise - they are photography related all the way! I've made a few business ones and overall they are focused on making a living from the things I really enjoy about photography, but I'm keeping them under my hat for the moment! I can share with you the resolutions I've made regarding my personal photography:

To be in more photographs. I hate pictures of myself and delete most of them before they have a chance of being seen by anyone else. I do not exist in albums or sideshows and this is sad. I also realised that as time passes we become more forgiving and I now quite like pictures of me that I used to hate and see them for what they are. An image of me looking bloated and exhausted after giving birth to Abigail, is actually a lovely shot of me in the first moments of motherhood.

I hated this when it was taken in 2001. I love it now, especially the way Abigail is doing Phones 4 U with her fingers!
So I took my first selfie late last year and posted it on Facebook. No one wrote rude comments, not even my brother, in fact some people were quite complementary. 

My first (and to date only) selfie
I was even more daring when I included in a slideshow a picture of me slumped asleep on Christmas Day.

The only picture of me Christmas 2014… oh dear.
And again, the world didn't stop turning and I wasn't banned from Facebook for offending public decency. I love my family and I love remembering where we've been and the stupid things we've done together. But where are the shots of me hugging them, laughing with them and being hugged back? So watch this space and apologies if I'm not always airbrushed within an inch of my life! And of course there's a chance that knowing I'm going to be photographed more might drive my never quite achieved fitness and weight loss goals!

Get photographs off the computer and into photo books. I suspect we're all guilty of doing nothing with our digital images and I find it a bit frightening if I'm honest. When we are dead and buried will our children know where to find all our photographs in the Cloud or on our hard drives? They won't have heavy, battered albums with yellowed tissue paper separators to leaf through and reminisce about. So I'm resolved to create an annual photo book, no mean task as I went digital in 2001. But it will be well worth it, as I imagine our great grand kids looking through them and asking who is the blond lady who isn't in many pictures?! (Until 2014 that is, of course!)

I've created lots of photo books for clients and recommend Bobs Books for their quality and colour accuracy. The software is quite easy to use and layouts can be easily customised. Delivery is quick, rare problems are resolved quickly and without quibble. They are not the cheapest photo book supplier but that's because they're good. For everyday albums go for their standard quality but if it's for something a bit more special it's well worth paying that bit extra for "photographic quality" paper. Aside from superb print quality the pages lie completely flat so you don't lose part of the image in the book spine.

Photographic quality book from Bobs Books
I was sorely tempted to add a few more resolutions but instead think I'll store them under Projects I Hope To Do In 2014. I've more chance of sticking to a couple of resolutions rather than a long list. Feel free to challenge me and ask how I'm getting on. If I do well it should be obvious on Facebook. And I'd love to hear if you've set yourself any photography related resolutions.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Baby Harriett's first photo shoot (by Cheshire baby photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

I photographed Harriett back in October but couldn't share many of her pictures until now, as her parents were giving framed images as Christmas presents. The lucky grandparents had no idea that Harriett had even had a photo shoot and were bowled over by the pictures. I'm really happy to be able to share them now as she is a beautiful baby girl.

The name Harriett means "lord of the manor" and this was certainly true of this little lady in the first few weeks. She wasn't easy to settle, preferring to be held in her mum's arms all the time. And when she wanted something she knew how to shout for it! My daughter was exactly the same in the early months and I knew that we were going to have to be patient to get those angelic, sleeping images.

Whilst mum fed and settled Harriett I made cups of tea and photographed the sort of details that also make amazing memories. This is my favourite - the family's slippers lined up in a row!

Mum was also happy for me to take discreet pics of Harriett breastfeeding - I love the way she is soothing her daughter by stroking her temples.

When babies do take a while to settle, which is more often than not, I like to take pictures of mum and dad interacting with their baby, often catching very intimate and natural moments that reflect what it's like to be a new parent.

And when Harriett finally fell asleep the magic really started to happen. With the aid of a screen and fake flooring I'd created a simple backdrop with a lovely comfy bed for her in a vanity case and we'd got the heating set on tropical. Harriett's parents couldn't believe how it was possible to get such lovely images without them having to tidy up their lounge!

If you're expecting a baby and would like to enquire about a newborn shoot in the comfort of your own home, then please get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

So you've had a lovely new D-SLR camera for Christmas - what now? By Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Santa has been very generous and has given you your first digital SLR camera for Christmas. You've taken it out of its box, charged the battery, inserted a memory card and attached the strap - all pretty straight forward so far. You've even worked out how to set the time, date and language. Then you've turned to the next section in the manual and probably lost the will to live after about 5 minutes! Do the manufacturers not realise that manuals are mainly read by relative beginners who don't yet know their f-stops from their focal lengths?! The manual goes back in the box (with the CDs containing some software stuff that you don't think you need) and you switch the camera to the familiar green Auto setting. You take some pictures that seem to turn out all right - isn't it nice to have no delay when you take a photo and to be using something that feels like a proper camera.

However, after a little while you get frustrated. Some of your pictures are blurred and the flash fires when you don't always want it to. You had thought that by getting a decent camera you would be able to take much better pictures. You know that you're not using it to its full capability, settling instead for the "safe" Auto setting. You also think you might need another lens too, as the one you have doesn't zoom very far, but you don't know where to start and worry that you could make an expensive mistake.

Well, don't despair, as you are far from alone and help is at hand! The quickest way by far to get to grips with your new camera is to book on a course. You don't need to embark on a year long evening course, a half day or full day workshop will get you off to a great start and you can always book another at a later stage as you progress. There are lots of courses available now and you just need to shop around a bit to find one local to you, at the right level and concentrating on the right photographic subject.

If you live in the Northwest of England then look no further! I've got a full programme of courses for 2014, including courses for parents, bloggers, flower enthusiasts, as well as general beginners. I also offer bespoke sessions tailored to your skills level, camera type and preferred area of photography. I offer advice on what kit you need and what you don't! Although the magic is made in camera, you also need to know how to edit your pictures and I can share my expertise on that too.

You can also learn a great deal from reading books and browsing the internet. Personally I've found that this is only really useful once you've done a course to understand the basics, as many books and blogs assume you already understand apertures, shutter speeds, focal lengths etc.

In the meantime, whilst you decide what is best for you, here are my top tips on how to get started with your new camera:

  • Shoot in natural daylight as much as possible - it's much nicer than flash. If indoors, open blinds & curtains and sit people so they are facing the window light.
  • Use the P (Program setting) instead of fully automatic, as it still does all the important stuff for you, but won't fire the flash automatically.
  • Look up in the manual how to see how fast your shutter speed is. To avoid blurred pictures it should be at least 1/125th of a second.
  • If it's slower than this then all you need to do is increase the ISO number. Look up how to do this in the manual and then increase it until it gives you the shutter speed you need.
  • If you have to use your flash then make sure you are no closer than 1 metre to your subject and no further away than 3 metres. Don't use the red eye setting, fix it later in a free editing programme like Picasa.
  • Have your camera out and ready to use all the time so that you get in to the habit of taking lots of pictures. And do take lots at this stage, as you will learn from your mistakes.
  • Look at other people's photographs  - in books, magazines and on forums like Flickr and Pinterest. Don't be afraid to copy their ideas in order to learn.
Good luck with your new gadget - with a bit of practise it will soon become your new best friend!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

What sort of camera should I ask Santa for? (By Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

If you are thinking of asking for a camera for Christmas from Santa (aka a generous loved one), you may well be a bit confused about what exactly to ask for. I'm going to try and simplify it a little for you, based on my experience of buying cameras. I currently own 2 compact cameras, a bridge camera and 3 DSLRs, quite a few lenses and a mountain of camera bags (I seem to have an inexplicable weakness for these and can always justify buying a new one!). Running workshops has also given me insight into what people are typically concerned about and confused by.

Your choice of camera depends on what you want it for - nothing like stating the obvious - and it's very difficult to recommend one option. It may be your first camera, or an extra to be used alongside existing cameras or you could be considering trading up to a more sophisticated camera. Hopefully this summary of the options available will help you decide. I've recommended a few models based on my personal experience but always read independent reviews before you buy.

Compact camera or camera phone
Image borrowed from http://www.all-things-photography.com/digital-compact.html

Both these formats offer convenience and ease and use. We can carry them with us all the time and quickly take photographs on a variety of AUTO settings. Images can be quickly edited and enhanced - often in camera / phone - and quickly shared with friends and family. Beginners and professionals alike use them on a day to day basis but they do have their limitations - here are some:

  • Delay after pressing the shutter.
  • Poor performance in low light.
  • Poor in camera flash.
  • Can be difficult to get soft focus backgrounds.
  • Despite their positioning as "point and shoot" cameras they can have incredibly complex and hard to navigate menus.
Briefly this is how I get the best results from my compact camera or camera phone:
  • Shoot in good natural daylight.
  • Avoid photographing subjects in bright sunlight - too much contrast with harsh light and dark shadows.
  • Shoot without flash whenever possible - even at night. If you increase the ISO value you can get a faster shutter speed. 
  • Think about composition as this is one element you can control.
  • Use apps such as Instagram and Retro Camera to take funky, creative shots.

Taken with Instagram or Retro Camera on Android Phone

Why buy a compact camera when you can use the camera on your phone?

It's a great question with the latest camera phones giving good images. The main disadvantage of the camera on phones is that most don't offer optical zoom, so any images taken with zoom are poor quality as they use digital zoom (just magnifies the pixels). You'll notice I say most as at the time of writing several manufacturers now offer a zoom lens built into a camera phone. With this recent development some are predicting the death of the standard compact camera as all its functionality is captured within the camera phone, or soon will be. I certainly wouldn't be considering buying a new compact camera at present, but I will be reading with great interest reviews of new phone cameras with optical zooms.

Image borrowed from http://www.photographyblog.com/category/Camera%20Phones
 Enthusiast Compact Cameras

I didn't make this category up, it does officially exist and describes more sophisticated and more expensive compact cameras. I own a Fujifilm X10 that falls into this category and I absolutely love it. The image quality is superior to any compact cameras I've owned, it does superb close up shots, I can get great soft focus backgrounds and it performs well in a wide variety of light conditions, including low light. It's only downfall is lack of significant zoom - only 4X, but I accept that and take it into account when I use it. If I'm going to the zoo and want to photograph animals in enclosures I don't take the X10!
Taken with Fujifilm X10
This camera and others like it are ideal as a second camera (to their DSLR) for the enthusiast or professional who demands a bit more from their compact camera and isn't frightened of exploring all its settings and capabilities.

Image courtesy of http://www.kenrockwell.com/fuji/x10.htm
Bridge Camera, Compact System Camera or DSLR?

Typically if you are considering upgrading from a compact you will be faced with deciding between a bridge camera or a camera with interchangeable lenses (compact system camera or DSLR).

Let's look at bridge cameras first. These are so called because they bridge the gap between compact cameras and cameras with interchangeable lenses. A bridge camera offers more sophisticated performance than your average compact and usually has a very powerful zoom lens. It's ideal for people who don't want the inconvenience of carrying and changing lenses, not to mention the expense.

There are some excellent bridge cameras available, with image stabilised lenses and lots of the features and controls of SLR cameras. I always recommend Panasonic if asked as I've never had a bad experience but there are lots of options and as ever I suggest you read the reviews. Here are some of the limitations versus DSLRs (I'll come to Compact System Cameras in a moment).

  • Still a slight delay after pressing the shutter.
  • Such a long zoom range (sometimes up to 60X) cannot possibly produce the image quality of most DSLR lenses. Having said that they will be perfectly good enough for the amateur photographer.
  • Poor performance in low light vs DSLRs as the camera sensor is smaller.
Compact System Cameras

Image borrowed from http://www.photographyblog.com/category/compact_system_camera/P20
These are a similar size to compact cameras but with interchangeable lenses and similar performance to entry level DSLRs. If you want the convenience of a small camera but the creativity and flexibility offered by having different lenses then this could be the ideal option. I've never used one and can't really justify getting one but It looks like they could have their place based on size alone . As they are a relative newcomer the range of lenses may be limited in the short term. I have also read that their autofocus system is not as  sophisticated as that of DSLRs, meaning that they may struggle to focus on rapidly moving subjects.

Digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras

Image borrowed from http://www.slrhut.co.uk
In my opinion and experience the performance of a DSLR cannot be equaled or beaten by any other camera type and if you are serious about photography - a keen amateur or considering going professional - then it's a no brainer. Yes, you have to spend money on lenses (the kit lens that comes with your DSLR body will have a disappointing zoom) and you will have to be prepared to carry lenses around and change them "in the field". But this comes at a small price when you consider the advantages of a DSLR:
  • No delay on pressing the shutter.
  • Better performance in low light than compact or bridge cameras.
  • More sophisticated auto focus and metering systems
  • Wide variety of lenses and accessories, offering unparalleled image quality and creativity.
DSLRs aren't for everyone, they are less convenient to carry around and it can prove expensive investing in lenses and accessories. But for some the barrier to trading up from a compact or bridge camera is because they think they'll be difficult to use, when in actual fact entry level DSLRs offer several fully automatic modes similar to those on compact cameras, as well as the more manual options.

To reiterate what I said at the beginning it's a very personal choice and you have to go with what feels right for you. Where possible borrow cameras from friends and try them out before you buy. If you're buying online make sure you've had chance to check the camera out in a shop first and held it.

I hope Santa is good to you - I'm not expecting too much this year as I had a very large lens from him last year and he's already warned me to only submit a small list with a price ceiling this year! :-(

I hope this was useful. If you have any questions please let me know. If you live in or near Cheshire why not book onto one of my courses and learn lots more!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


How I got this shot (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Click on image to enlarge

I got some lovely comments about this pic that I took and posted on Facebook yesterday. Just thought I'd share with you that I took it with a  compact camera on an automatic setting. Often it's about keeping an eye out for a nice shot where there's something interesting going on with the light and having your camera handy.

I was careful to ensure that the light was just peeking between the leaves and I could see on the LCD that it was creating a nice sunburst effect as opposed to lens flare (lines or circles of light across your shot when too much light shines directly into the light).

I also used that very handy and simple to remember composition tip The Rule Of Thirds (where you divide your shot into thirds horizontally and vertically). I made sure that the burst of light was roughly on the intersection of two of the imaginary lines.

Heres the techie stuff from the camera too in case you're interested.

  • Fujifil X10 - brilliant little compact camera (doesn't zoom very far but otherwise very good).
  • Shot in Program Mode (Auto but gives you a bit more control over certain settings and stops your flash firing automatically).
  • The camera automatically set the shutter speed at 1/320 (my subject was nice and bright) and an aperture of f/3.6, which is why the background is soft focus.
  • Flash off - flash would have killed this shot.
  • ISO 250 - we'd been walking through woods and I'd increased the ISO a little bit to make sure my shutter speed stayed at 1/60 at least, to ensure a steady shot.
  • The only editing I did was to crop it square as it looked much stronger that way, so I chopped of a bit of the bottom and the top. Normally I mess about a bit in Photoshop but this really didn't need it.

I hope this was useful. If you have any questions please let me know. If you live in or near Cheshire why not book onto one of my courses and learn lots more!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Re-sizing images with Picasa (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Collage created in Picasa
I'm always singing the praises of Picasa to people who come on my photography courses for beginners. After all it's FREE for the full version and has no annoying ads. Just a reminder of what you can do:

  • Easily view your images in one place.
  • Perform simple edits including removing blemishes.
  • Easily apply creative effects.
  • Add text.
  • Create collages, slideshows, online albums.
And it's so easy and user friendly! To go to Picasa's web page click on the link http://picasa.google.com

I only have one gripe and hopefully they're working on it as I've seen it mentioned by other people - how on earth do you re-size images to make them suitable for using online?! Given that 300 million photographs are uploaded to Facebook daily (!) you'd think there'd be an obvious  "re-size image" button on any editing package wouldn't you?!

You can re-size images with Picasa and even add a copyright statement but it's not obvious how. You have to select your images and hold them in the bottom left tray and then press EXPORT. Don't ask me why!
Click on image to see larger version

This is the pop up window you will see when you click EXPORT.

Click on image to see a larger version

Click on "Resize to" and then select the appropriate size (see my guide below). The maximum size shown is 1600 pixels but you can enter your own value that is higher or lower if you wish. I usually leave the image quality on Automatic. You can also see that you can use a watermark by entering some text and ticking the option.

It's important to specify where you would like the images to be exported to so that you can find them. I usually send them to the Desktop and then periodically delete them to clean up the desktop. Remember that your original files will still be preserved unchanged in their original location.

I usually re-size as follows:

400-600 pixels => to display on mobile phones.
600 pixels => if I want someone to see the image but not be able to print a decent version of it.
800-1000 pixels => for Facebook.
1500-2000 pixels => for Pinterest
2500 pixels => to result in an image that is between 1-2MB and could be printed 4"X6" or 5"X7".

I always copyright my professional pictures with a watermark.

These are based on what works for me.

If I'm emailing images I usually use Picasa's EMAIL button which automatically re-sizes them. Sometimes I EXPORT them first to apply the watermark and then EMAIL the exported images.

I hope this was all clear. If you have any questions please let me know.

If you live in or near Cheshire why not book onto one of my courses and learn lots more!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


All the gear and no idea! Photography courses by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

All the gear and no idea!

This made me laugh out loud when Julie and Gill announced it as they turned up for their photography lesson! They are not alone in having made the step up from compact camera to SLR and only feeling confident enough to use it on the AUTO modes. Camera manuals don’t help as they are full of jargon and are unnecessarily complicated.

Your new SLR camera will take reasonable photos on the automatic settings and you’ll still be pleased that you upgraded, no doubt glad that there’s no delay when you press the shutter and it feels like a “proper camera”. However, a SLR is capable of so much more if you take charge rather than letting it be in control.

During yesterday’s two-hour lesson with Julie and Gill I walked them through some key information, settings and techniques that will make a significant difference to their photography and how they feel about their SLR cameras.

Lenses – they had both realized that although the kit lens that came with their camera gives them nice clear pictures it doesn’t zoom very far and they needed to buy a telephoto lens. After a quick explanation of the numbers on their lens (18-55mm) and talking about some of the lenses available, they both felt confident enough to start shopping around for a telephoto lens. They also wanted to know if they needed a macro lens to photograph things close up. I think they were pleasantly surprised to discover how close they could get with their existing kit lens.

A kit lens can get this close
Auto vs P – Gill was using her camera on the green AUTO mode, whereas Julie was using the P (program) mode and I explained why P is a better automatic alternative. I’m a firm believer that there’s no shame in using the automatic modes as long you know what to do if they don't give you the picture you wanted. It should be a choice to use them rather than the only option.

Soft focus backgrounds – wanting to know how to get that lovely blurred effect behind your subject is one of the main reasons people book photography lessons with me. They have often been baffled by talk of depth of field, apertures and f numbers. By the end of the two hour lesson Julie and Gill knew how to use their cameras on the Av setting to blur the background, whilst keeping an eye on the shutter speed and how the ISO setting can help when the light isn’t very good. Our mosaic frog was an obliging model!

Soft focus background using the Av setting
Composition – it’s amazing what a big difference a few simple composition tips can make to your photographs and I shared these with Gill and Julie. They were quick to pick up the technique of Focus Lock that allows you to put the subject of your photo anywhere in the frame and not always in the centre.

Using focus lock to put your subject off centre
With all that covered in just two hours there wasn't time to cover editing photographs – that’s a separate session – but I did point them in the direction of Picasa, a free programme from Google that allows you to perform basic edits and create some really good stuff.

From their enthusiastic comments I think Gill and Julie left brimming with confidence and keen to try out all the tips and methods we’d covered. I’m looking forward to seeing their photographs on a Facebook Group that all my “students” are invited to join. I hope they’ve ditched the phrase “All the gear and no idea” now!

If you feel that you have all the gear and no idea, take a look at the course programme for 2013/14 and if you can’t make any of the dates then why not book a bespoke session – share the cost between up to four people if you prefer. 

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 project #37/50 In the round (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 37. In the round.

50 days with a 50mm lens

Ok, confessions first. This project was originally about taking a photo every day with a 50mm lens for 50 consecutive days... major fail! This is probably day 75 so I've really fallen behind. But having got so far I don't want to abandon it so will carry on, on the premise that I will have taken 50 photos with a 50mm lens when I finish.

So, after a considerable gap here is photo number 37. This is a silver coloured globe in our pond and I love the reflections of our house (the white building at the top), the rather dominating gable end of our neighbour's house, our slightly trendy green sail, the umbrella, fountain and pond grasses. Oh, and me of course, hidden safely behind the camera.

Quite a tricky photo exposure wise, with dark areas of the pond and the very bright sky. The only way to capture the clouds and jet trails in the sky would have been to combine multiple exposures in Photoshop. You can see the image where I exposed for the sky below.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


50/50 project. #36/50 Cupcakes (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 36. Cupcakes
50 days with a 50mm lens

Bit of a foodie theme this weekend with cupcakes from a charity cake sale today. A 12 year old girl in our village is well on the way to raising £2000 for a charity that her nan has set up to help a school in Kenya. Can't help but admire her energy and resolve - and baking skills!

The Mary Wood Trust
If you'd like to know more about the charity get in touch and I can give you details.

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50/50 project. #35/50. Churros. Nom nom (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 35. Churros. Nom nom
50 days with a 50mm lens
It was foodie heaven at the Nantwich Food & Drink Festival this weekend and also a treat for me with lots of colourful food and people to photograph! Firm favourite with all four of us were the churros with warm chocolate dipping sauce, well worth the 20 minute wait in the queue.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 project. #33/50 Headline news (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 33. Headline news
50 days with a 50mm lens

This attention grabbing headline certainly worked on me!

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50/50 Project. #32/50. Summer stripes (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 32. Summer stripes
50 days with a 50mm lens

The best summer in years is drawing to a close and one of the things I'll miss about it the most is lying in dappled shade in my hammock, swaying gently whilst looking out over the garden, reading or snoozing.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 project #19-29 (Photography courses Cheshire with Picture It Big)

50 days with a 50mm lens

On our recent holiday in Pembrokeshire I had loads of opportunities to do the daily 50/50 shot and managed to keep it going throughout. Where I fell down was getting access to my laptop and precious WiFi - the kids won out each time so I hardly posted any of my shots. So here they all are - day 19 through to day 29, each with a brief commentary. It's been fun looking back on what we got up to - what would we do without photos to bring back those precious memories?

Day 19 Coastal Flora and fauna
The amazing colours, textures and smell of the heathers and ferns on the cliff tops and along the coastal paths remind me so much of childhood holidays in the UK.

Day 20 Walking (sitting) on water
We tried to balance days at the beach with more active days and all absolutely loved Heathertons Activity Park. They even let dogs in so Ferb got to watch us on the zip wire, go karts, golf, shooting, zorbing and more!

Day 21 Pebbles
What is it about pebbles on the beach? Sam and Nic loved skimming them across the surface of the waves and Ferb tried pointlessly to retrieve them (dumb dog!), whilst Abi and I hunted out special ones and built towers.

Day 22 Rusty mooring at Porth Clais 
A morning's kayaking instruction for the kids led to us discover a beautiful little harbour just outside St David's called Porth Clais. It was very sheltered, perfect for learning how to kayak and with a tiny National Trust cafe it was unspoilt and quiet. Whilst the children paddled off into the distance we watched families arriving to drop crab lines off the side of the slipway and read our books in the warm sunshine.

Day 23 Rusty railings in Solva
Solva is a lovely little port (best seen at high tide) with a clutch of shops and galleries and a very nice pub. A restaurant called the Old Pharmacy had closed down since we were last there and was on sale for £295k - we were tempted!

Day 24 Catching some rays in cool shades
We soon worked out that the boys got bored sunbathing whilst Abi and I were happy to sit for hours and people watch at the beach. My little girl is growing up fast.

Day 25 Early evening in Porth Clais
We headed up the coastal path to a rocky outcrop for a spot of early evening fishing but I feared for Ferb's life as he leapt across the rocks, so I took him down to safety of the harbour. This time the tide was out and we walked along the beach where boats were moored high and dry, waiting for the tide to turn.

Day 26 Meet Philippe Phlop
Family holidays are great for forcing you all to spend time together and I really enjoyed the banter and jokes. I can't even remember why we named my flip flops Philippe Phlop but it stuck and had us in hysterics (almost certainly one of those times when you had to be there for it to be even remotely funny!)

Day 27 In search of Dobby
Dobby the house elf was laid to rest in the dunes at Freshwater West so we went looking for his grave (as you do if you have Potterheads in the family). We expected at least a sign post or a gift shop with a few bits of Potter paraphernalia, but there was nothing apart from a spectacular windswept beach and a top beach deli.

Day 28 Surf's up at Whitesands Bay
Following a day of strong winds and driving rain (the only one in 14 days) the sky cleared in the late afternoon and we headed down to Whitesands for a walk. The high winds meant that the waves were big and the surfers were out in force. I could have sat for hours watching the waves with the sun and wind on my face.

Day 29 Doggy days
Taking a dog on holiday can be a bit restricting - many beaches don't allow dogs in the summer, you can't leave them in the car in warm weather, they can't be left in the caravan for hours on end and you have to sit outside pubs and restaurants with them. But Ferb went everywhere with us and looked as if he had an amazing holiday with his humans. He swam in the sea with the kids, dug holes on dog friendly beaches or just lay down to sleep next to us - Nic even used him as a pillow when he snoozed on one beach.

If you'd like to see more pics from our Pembrokeshire holiday watch out on the blog over the coming weeks as I'm putting a digital scrapbook together.

If you'd like to learn how to take great holiday pics get in touch to book a workshop or one to one class with me. Details are on the Picture It Big website.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

For the love of dogs (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

You’re either a dog person or you’re not - no halfway house nor sitting on the fence about whether you like them or would have one as a pet. If you’re in the “don’t like” camp, you probably see them as loud, dirty, smelly, messy, unruly, destructive, slobbery, hairy, a restriction on your freedom and possibly even downright scary and dangerous. Non dog lovers (I won’t go so far as to call them dog haters - they just don’t like them or “get” them) are usually more forgiving towards cute little puppies. That is until they leave puddles and steaming piles around the house and garden! I suppose if you look at all these negatives then it’s surprising that anyone even lets these nuisance canines into their houses, never mind on sofas and beds (53% of dog owners let their pet sleep on their beds*)!

But with approximately 23% of UK households owning at least one dog, and a UK dog population of around 8 million**, many of us must be willing to put up with their less pleasant attributes, feeling that they are outweighed by the benefits of sharing our homes and our lives with a dog.

We had a succession of pet dogs when I was a child - Copper, Jason, Muffin and Penny (two boxers, a springer spaniel and a golden retriever). I remember Copper being a bit fat and old, but very gentle, Jason farted for England, Muffin would bite your hand off if you went near her when she was eating and Penny shadowed you everywhere. Following a long period where I had to make do with visiting my parents’ and brother’s boxers - Chloe and Basil - we finally found ourselves in 2007 in a domestic and work situation which allowed us to have our very own dog at last! I felt I was immensely well prepared, having come from such good dog-owning stock and without hesitation we decided to choose a boxer - well it was in the family after all!

However, we were soon to learn that having a dog around the house to cuddle and occasionally play horsey on (as a child!) is very different to actually being responsible for all its needs and training! Boxers are notoriously boisterous and require a lot of hard work and time to train as we found out.

It’s easy to see why the campaign “Dogs are for life, not just for Christmas” is necessary. Puppies are simply irresistible and it’s so easy to fall head over heels in love with every single one. We fell  for Daisy from the moment we saw her aged just 4 weeks. She was like a little pot bellied pig with wrinkles of super soft skin everywhere. Her dad, Tom, put his front paws on my shoulders and peed on me - I assume he was giving his seal of approval for us to take one of his babies away. We couldn’t wait until she was old enough to come and live with us.

She came to us in August 2007 and immediately became a huge part of the family.

Apologies to Paul O'Grady and ITV for nicking their phrase but it's so apt.

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The RHS Tatton Flower Show - by Cheshire Photographer, Jane Burkinshaw

Take one look at my garden planted haphazardly with plants that are probably ill-suited to the soil type, aspect or location and you’ll know I’m not a skilled gardener. Those flowers that thrive do so in spite of my efforts. I don’t even particularly like gardening, limiting myself to bunging in some bedding plants, pulling up a few weeds and doing a bit of dead heading, whilst sipping a glass of wine on a summer’s evening. I do, however, love sitting out in the garden, admiring my efforts and am often found swinging gently in the hammock, enjoying a latte or aforementioned glass of wine, depending on how low the sun is in the sky!

Whilst gardening isn't a great passion of mine, photography is, particularly close ups of plants and flowers. I’ve visited many of Cheshire’s beautiful gardens and lost myself for several hours, engrossed in my favourite activity.

One of the many glorious show gardens - I love the quirky ones!

Going to the RHS Tatton Flower Show is an un-missable opportunity for me to indulge in my love for flower photography, enjoyment of other people’s hard work in creating beautiful outside spaces and, of course, some retail therapy. And did I mention drinking Pimms in the sunshine and nattering with Debbie, my sister-in-law? A day at Tatton isn’t always this idyllic – we’ve stood like drowned rats in the entrance to the floral marquee and fought vicious battles with pensioners over free tables and chairs in the sheltered eating areas.

But this year’s visit on Friday 26thJuly was absolutely perfect, with wall-to-wall sunshine guaranteed. The newly invented Ladies’ Day inspired us to switch jeans and crocs for sandals and frocks (neither of us do posh hats, we haven’t got the right kind of heads) and we set off on our grand day out in the Cheshire countryside.

Propping each other up!
Ladies day for young and old
One of the things I really love about our annual visit, aside from the awe inspiring gardens and floral displays, is that it is a wonderful place for endulging in people watching. I have a hypothesis that you can break down the visitors to Tatton into four main types (forgive me, these are a bit tongue in cheek):

The stalwart RHS members who take their gardening extremely seriously, as evidenced by their sensible walking shoes, rucksacks, picnic lunches, thermos flasks and those walking sticks that become little stools.

The Cheshire Set – posh summer frocks and big handbags, 3 course luncheon reservations in the formal dining room and jugs of Pimms in the afternoon. Ladies Day gave them the excuse for even posher frocks and big hats this year.

Weekend gardeners – that’s us! We’re there to enjoy a day out admiring the show gardens, pick up a few plants that are unlikely to see another season and buy some totally useless garden gadget. I’ve been known to arrive home with a rake that no one could use and a very expensive blender that is only ever employed to make smoothies these days.

And finally the photographers (me in spirit) who are focused (!) solely on capturing shots of the abundance of beautiful plants and gardens. Almost every visitor to Tatton has a camera in some guise but I’m talking about the true enthusiast or pro with cameras and bags hanging off both shoulders.

I would love to visit the flower show twice each year, once as a browser, shopper and sipper of Pimms and then again a second time armed only with my camera and a zoom lens. I’ve managed to combine both needs each year on one visit but I have to strike a compromise to ensure that Debbie wants to come along with me the following year!

This year I stood near the exit just before the show closed - in the lovely low slanting sunlight of early evening – and enjoyed watching people leave, dragging behind them trollies full of bobbing flowers, carrying long pieces of twisted metal trellis, occasionally smart designer carrier bags (the posh ones with string handles) and some just with a single plastic bag containing a few much sought after plant specimens. I think everyone leaves at the end of the day with a smile on their face (aching, possibly soggy feet aside), for there’s something very uplifting about being surrounded for a day by nature’s bounty. With bees buzzing around flower heads wherever you turn and butterflies flitting from one bloom to another it feels like a little bit of paradise, pure escapism for a day.

But not everyone loves Tatton!
This blog was  originally published on the Cheshire Life website. I've included more pics here.

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50/50 project #18/50 Simple fun (by Cheshire portrait photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 18. Simple fun

50 days with a 50mm lens
This little girl was playing in the shallows with a boat she had built using a piece of polystyrene and a stick, pulling it along on a piece of string. I watched her play for a while and then wandered back to the pub where my two would no doubt be fighting over who could play Doodle Jump next. I passed a family of four playing pooh sticks off the bridge and was tempted to advise them to make the most of it, as such simple fun wouldn't keep them occupied in years to come.

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50/50 project #17/50 Surfing (by Cheshire childrens photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 17. Surfing

50 days with a 50mm lens
The kids are old enough to play in the surf on their own now but I still feel the need to check on them periodically (at the end of a chapter in my Asa Larsson Swedish crime thriller). It's a challenge to pick out your own children out of all the silhouetted, wet suit clad kids throwing themselves fearlessly onto each wave. I cheered a boy in a black and red wetsuit as he caught a wave and rode towards me. As I gave him an exaggerated thumbs up I realised with some embarrassment that it wasn't Sam.

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50/50 project #16/50 ...and relax! (By Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day16. ...and relax

50 days with a 50mm lens
After a marathon 6 and a half hour drive down to Pembrokeshire dragging our shed (caravan) behind us, we finally got all set up and felt as if we were on holiday. The caravan site is beautiful, just one mile from the beach and we are looking forward to exploring after a good night's sleep. That might be interesting as there are about a hundred very noisy crows flying from tree to tree on the edge of the site and they are making an almighty racket! Still nice to listen to as the sun sets and I sip a cold beer.

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50/50 #15/50 Keep calm it's onesie time (by Cheshire children's photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 15. Keep calm it's onesie time

50 days with a 50mm lens

Abbie and I found this onesie today (bargain at £7.99!) and fell in love with it - pity they didn't do my size - or maybe a blessing? Still really want my own onesie before they've gone out of fashion!

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50/50 Project #14/50 Distressed denim (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 14. Distressed denim

:50 days with a 50mm lens

Technical stuff: Canon 350D, 1/800, f/2.5, ISO 100 Aperture Priority

After Sam's mud bath yesterday I rinsed his jeans off with the hose and left them to drip dry on the line. They are now as stiff as cardboard!

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50/50 Project #13/50 No more pictures! (by Cheshire children's photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 13. No more pictures!

50 days with a 50mm lens
This is what happens when I take pictures of my kids nowadays! They'll appreciate me one day. We were at Manley Mere adventure trail where it's a bit muddy after the recent rain...

(I think they were both doing victory V signs at me  but one of them got confused with doing it backwards!)

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50/50 project #12/50 New Converse! (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 12. New Converse!

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 5D, 1/160, f/2.2, ISO 100, manual exposure

Abii has been waiting an age for these to arrive - a very late birthday present. They are custom designed and say "POTTERHEAD" up the back, homage to her love of all things Harry Potter / Daniel Radcliffe related.

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50/50 project 11/50 Down by the lake (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 11. Down by the lake

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 5d, 1/2500, f/2.8, ISO 250 Aperture Priority

I had a totally indulgent day of shooting at Lake Coniston today. A "styled shoot" had been set up for a group of professional photographer so that we could practise our craft with models and props. The theme was Swallows and Amazons. I shot mainly with my 70-200 f/2.8 "big boy" lens but took some time out to make sure I grabbed a few shots with the 50mm too.

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50/50 Project 10/50 Bee on heuchera flower (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 10. Bee on a heuchera flower

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 5D, 1/1000, f/1.8, ISO 125, Aperture Priority

There are plenty of bumble bees in our garden at the moment, but they aren't very obliging when you try to photograph them, only settling for a few seconds at a time. It makes it very hard to photograph them at extremely low apertures as you have to be spot on with the focusing.

I took this from above (and many more very similar to it but with blurred bees) and love the contrast of the flowering spires of the heuchera with the dark soil below.

The 50mm lens survived being dropped and the front element falling out. It's very noisy on focusing and I'm still eyeing up the f/1.4 - need to save up though!

The sharp eyed amongst you will have noticed that I've switched to the Canon 5d. This has made quite a difference as it has a full frame sensor, meaning that the 50mm focal length is now actually 50mm, rather than the 80mm equivalent focal length that I was getting on the 350D which has a cropped sensor. I wasn't being too precious about this as I really liked the ease and convenience of carrying the much lighter and smaller 350D around everyday. But on the 5D the 50mm lens gives a considerably bigger / wider view and I know I'll get much better performance at lower ISOs. So from now on it's 5D all the way.

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50/50 project #9/50 A la Turka (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 9. A la Turka

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 350D, 1/1000, f/2.0, ISO 100, Aperture Priority

The bright early evening sunshine was streaming into this turkish restaurant in Stockton Heath and I wanted to see how the camera coped with the very contrasty scene. I love the way the menu and glassware are lit by the sun. A few minutes later sun had moved and the menu was in shadow.

By the way we had a cracking meal there with great service. Really delicious food - starter and main course £12.95 and kids menu £4.95. Their dessert was a piece of art - complete with cherries drawn with chocolate and red berry sauce.

The bad news is that a very excited dog greeted us at home wearing a neck cone and he knocked my handbag onto the hard stone tiles. My 350d and Canon 50mm f/1.8 were in it and sadly the lens has broken :-(. So this may be its last shot.

My husband suggests I check out the 50mm f/1.4...

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50/50 project #8/50 natural symmetry (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 8. Natural symmetry

50 days with a 50mm lens

Technical stuff: Canon 350D, 1/80, f/1.8, ISO 400 Manual exposure

I bought this plant in 2007 - it was about 2 foot tall. It now stands at least 7 feet high and has thrived in its sunny, south facing corner. I love its enormous symmetrical, waxy leaves, especially after a down pour.

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50/50 Project #7/50 The day after the flower show (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 7. The day after the flower show

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 350D, 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 100, Aperture Priority

Inspired by all those lovely gardens at Tatton I tackled mine. Unfortunately my lack of green fingers and any knowledge means that the plants survive in spite of my efforts and the end result is "eclectic" if I'm being kind.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 project #6/50 What friends are for (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 6. What are friends for

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 350d, 1/4000, f/1.8, ISO 100, Aperture Priority

This was taken at the Tatton Flower Show - Ladies' Day - and I wanted a shot that would really capture the spirit of the day. Friends on a grand day out, taking the opportunity to get dressed up and enjoying the beautiful weather. It was very busy and seats were scarce, as were walls or places to sit and lean against. These good friends (or sisters?) solved this problem by sitting back to back and leaning against each other!

For more pictures taken with the 50mm lens check out my Facebook page.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 Project #5/50 Blue wins! (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 5. Blue wins

50 days with a 50mm lens

Technical stuff: Canon 350d, 1/1250, f/2.0, ISO 100, manual exposure.

I wanted to take a shot today that embodied how good life is when the sun shines. The kids had been playing boules on the front lawn and left them out (!)  and I thought this might work. We only ever play boules a) on holiday and b) in the summer. Also our front lawn is particularly dried out and yellow - another sign of a long hot spell.

There was some dappled shade courtesy of an enormous pine tree, but I've blown the highlights on the distant red boule. Did a bit of warming up in Photoshop and was tempted to patch the chip on the blue boule but managed to suppress the urge! 


How to to take great summer photos - TIP 3 (Cheshire photography course with Picture It Big)

With all this gorgeous sunny weather this one will be very useful for you:


Lovely weather makes us all feel happy and we go to lots of events where people are enjoying themselves in the sunshine - the perfect time to take photos of friends and family. But actually the bright sunlight makes it difficult to get good shots. People's faces can be hidden in dark shadows or they are squinting into the sun.

Shade creates the perfect light conditions for photographs, so if you can, ask your subject to move fully into the shade and make sure there's no bright sunlit area in the background. The contrast between the shade and the brightness tricks the camera and can still make your subject too dark. So a fully shady area. Make sure your flash is switched off as you want to make the most of the lovely even light.

In this shot Abii is shaded by a covered seating area and the light is coming from the left
Sometimes you can't move people into the shade so if you want a shot without dark shadows on faces then switch your flash on. Use the "Forced flash on" setting which is the lightening symbol without the A for automatic next to it. This will light up the dark areas on your subject's face. The effect is not as nice as shade but much better than without flash.

When you use flash stand at least 1 metre away and no further than 3 metres away.

Watch out if people are wearing hats that shade their face. Flash can help but ideally push the hat back a bit or take it off. Also if they seem to be squinting because the sun is behind you, move so that they don't have to face the sun so directly.

Eve with hat shading her eyes

This is much better!
Simples! You can apply all of this to animal portraits too of course! These guys were very obliging when I asked them to take their hats off and move into the shade. Such posers!
By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


5 reasons why Pinterest is good for business (Cheshire photography course with Picture It Big)

I thought I came late to the Pinterest party (about four weeks ago!), especially when I read all the much publicised statistics, but when I mention it to people I meet through the course of the day, I feel very much like an early adopter. Before I know it I find myself doing a quick and impassioned sell, impressing upon them how it could work well for their particular business and urging them to go forth and pin immediately.

This blog is for the many people out there who aren't yet pinning and who have met people like me who seem to have found a new religion. What's all the fuss about and why should you be joining in? For all you seasoned pinners please either stop reading now as I'll be preaching to the converted or feel free to add lots of advice in the comments!

The basic premise of Pinterest is that if you find a picture of something that you like and you want to keep it for future reference, you pin it to a virtual board. You can browse other people's boards for things that take your fancy, re-pinning anything you want as you go along and they can do the same with yours. Just like Twitter you can follow people or boards that interest you and likewise be followed.

A snapshot of my Pinterest boards
But Pinterest isn't just for recipes, knitting patterns and holiday ideas - although it is great for any hobby or interest. Pinterest is being used by businesses big and small, local and global as an integral part of their marketing strategy and here's why:

  1. Pinterest drives traffic to your website. If someone pins an image from your website to one of their boards, they are also pinning the URL to it, so when someone else clicks on the image they are taken straight to the source - your web page! This is perhaps the single biggest benefit of Pinterest and why it is driving more sales than Facebook.
  2. Pinterest allows you to establish yourself as the "go to" place for your product or service. Create boards that give your clients information, ideas, tips that relate to your sector. For example, I have boards for photography tips, and picture display ideas alongside a board with top tips for new parents - first aid, cute costumes, father's day ideas. I want to show potential clients that I am an expert in photography and that I understand what it's like to be a parent of young children. I have so many ideas for boards of this nature that I have to rein myself in a bit! What to wear for a photo shoot, how to pose, make up tips, hairstyles, trends for prom dresses etc etc!  I have started creating mood boards prior to photo shoots and inviting clients to pin their ideas on there too.
  3.  Pinterest reinforces your brand values and its personality and indeed your's. Your boards do not have to be directly linked to your business. I have boards that reflect my hobbies and interests, allowing people to see the real me (or at least the side I want them to see!). Pinterest is, after all, another form of social media and we know that people like to buy from people they like or have something in common with. Companies often pin "behind the scenes" pictures to welcome clients into their world and draw them in - a kind of virtual access all areas.  But, it's wise to add a word of caution if you are using Pinterest for business - don't pin anything that could be damaging to your image - certain images from the office party would be a definite no no! 
  4. Pinterest is another way to showcase and sell your product or service. You can pin images of your products and their price and even pin testimonials from satisfied clients, but don't use Pinterest purely to sell, just as you wouldn't walk into a party and bore people rigid with a hard sell of your fabulous wares! You will lose followers and turn people off. It's important to strike the right balance.
  5. Pinterest is a gold mine of information -  on your competitors, your customers, the market place, social media. You can even find out everything you need to know about Pinterest on Pinterest! You can start to get really clever and imagine who your target client is and see what he or she is creating boards on. If I look for baby clothes images you can guarantee I will find women who are expecting and I can see what their aspirations are, what products and issues interest them. This helps me to refine my marketing strategy and target my activities.
Wow! And this is just the tip of the iceberg really! It's just going to get bigger and more exciting as far as I can see, in terms of opportunities for businesses. My advice if you're new to Pinterest - go and take a look at my Pinterest boards as a starting point http://pinterest.com/PictureItBig/ especially the board about Pinterest itself. Set yourself up an account and start pinning! I'm still a newbie and don't claim to know it all so you should read up on it a bit too - a friend recommended Beth Hayden's book "Pinfluence" and I became an overnight Pinterest addict!

Happy pinning!

Watch out for my next blog on how to optimise your images for Pinterest.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

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A newborn photo shoot with Isabella Rose (by Cheshire baby photographer Picture It Big)

Are you thinking about having a newborn photo shoot but are a bit apprehensive about what's involved? Perhaps you're worried about coping with all the needs of a brand new baby and at the same time inviting a stranger into what is usually a rather chaotic home? Hopefully I can put your mind at rest and give you an insight into what's involved.

I'm a mum of two so I've been there - so tired I can't remember which way is up, getting to grips with the complete mystery of a new baby - breast feeding, nappy changing, winding and settling. And fretting about the state of the house as it's besieged by visitors!

It was no different when I arrived at Lucy's house mid-morning on the day of the shoot. Isabella Rose was fast asleep upstairs so I had a cup of tea and a chat with Lucy about what she was looking for in terms of shots - would dad be around and did "moma" (gran) want to be in a few pictures too. I explained what equipment I'd got with me - I'd already sent Lucy an information sheet with handy tips on and she'd identified a great spot in front of the living room window and turned the heating up high to make sure it was lovely and warm for Isabella - we were soon sweating away! I then brought in my back drop and props and got everything set up. The crate I used is available as a toy box with wheels and a lid and can have baby's name and date of birth stencilled on the front. I offer it as part of a newborn photography package - it's a wonderful gift for new parents.
 I use natural daylight so we don't have hot studio lights and trailing wires around - the image shows the basic set up. We picked out some blankets I'd brought along and some of Lucy's and also some gorgeous little shoes that had been sent as a gift all the way from New Zealand from Lucy's brother. I like to photograph special details like this and also include them in shots with the baby.

Once everything was ready Lucy went to fetch Isabella and we started to get a few shots. I never expect to get the perfect newborn shots at the start of the shoot - everybody is getting used to each other and the camera. Isabella was awake and quite calm and we managed to get a few images of her surveying what was happening - I'd love to know what babies are thinking as we point strange black things in their faces whilst making funny noises and daft faces! 

She lay quite happily for a short while on the crate bed we'd prepared, but when she started to grizzle Lucy cuddled her and Isabella pulled some amazing frowning faces during this time, which had us all laughing. 

Newborn shoots are very different to others that I do as baby's needs come first at all times, so there's lots of downtime, when there's nothing for me to do but make cups of tea and wait until we're ready to go again. I love babies (and tea!) so this is no chore for me. There are lots of moments like this one whilst we try everything to settle a grouchy baby!Just after Isabella had had a feed Dad nipped in from work to get in on the action and we worked quickly to get some pictures of mum, dad and baby. 

Time for another feed and then Lucy's mum was keen to get a picture with Isabella so we did that next.

Isabella was zonked and the signs were there that she was going into a deep sleep - this was finally the time when I knew that the magic would happen! We had been gradually stripping her down over the last few hours - the room was a balmy 25 degrees by now! - and we settled her in her nappy onto the crate bed and I got on with capturing those blissful sleeping newborn shots. Lucy chose to have Isabella partly covered with a pink muslin, whereas some parents go for the bare baby's bottom look - it's a matter of personal preference and I will always respect that!

As ever, everything had come together in the last half an hour of the shoot - the rose petals were a last minute addition and really made the shots look stunning. Mission accomplished!

Read about Ella Rose's Newborn Shoot and see the beautiful images her parents have displayed on the walls in their home.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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NEW! Mini portrait sessions


These NEW mini portrait sessions are ideal if you want to try out a lifestyle photo shoot without the commitment and cost of a full session. It's the perfect opportunity to get family photographs shot in a beautiful location. Choose from shoots amongst the bluebells, in a garden bursting with Summer colours or against a backdrop of Autumn splendour. Dates and times are listed at the end of this blog.

A mini portrait session lasts for about 30 minutes and you book a specific time slot with me. The price of the session is £125. This includes:

  • A telephone consultation prior to the shoot to discuss your requirements and for advice on clothing etc.
  • 30 minute photo shoot
  • £75 credit towards the cost of a gallery canvas wrap, framed print or album. Prices for finished products start at £110.
  • Once you have selected your finished product you may also buy photographic prints. 
  • A private online gallery of the final images (usually around 20-30). The gallery will be live for 7 days to allow you to enjoy and select your images.
  • Guidance on the best way to display and share your favourite images, including visuals.
Mini portrait sessions are limited and places are booking fast so don't delay. Book now - send me an email to reserve your session

Dates of mini portrait sessions for 2013 are as follows:


10am, 11am & 12pm on Wed 24th April and Thurs 2nd May 2013

These take place in the bluebell woods at Bluebell Cottage Gardens, Dutton, Cheshire. This beautiful area of woodland is a blaze of blue and green in the springtime and is a magical place to photograph children. Bring along fairy wings and floaty skirts for that extra bit of woodland magic!


10am, 11am, 12pm on Wed 12th June and Wed 19th June 2013

These take place at Bluebell Cottage Gardens in the heart of the Cheshire countryside. Sue Beesley, owner and designer of the gardens, won a gold medal at RHS Tatton in 2011 and is a former BBC gardener of the year. Her garden is always bursting with colour at this time of year and provides a glorious backdrop for a family photo shoot. For little ones I can bring along bubbles and mini gardening tools for extra fun!


September dates tbc
Send an email if you would like to be informed when dates are confirmed

The grounds of this beautiful hotel offer many photographic backdrops, from the sunken garden, to the rose arbour and the avenue of trees looking over the lake.


October dates tbc
Send an email if you would like to be informed when dates are confirmed

This shot will take place at Marbury Park and take advantage of the many lovely locations and magnificent Autumn colours.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Introducing stunning fine art albums (by Cheshire family photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

You wouldn't believe how excited I was when this arrived earlier this week! It's the culmination of several days work putting together some of my favourite shoots from 2012 into a portfolio album that I can use as a sample. I've been looking for a supplier of fine art albums for some time and finally decided to go with Folio Albums as their attention to detail is unsurpassed by anything else I've seen.

The moment you remove the outer packaging you know you have a special product in your hands. Each album comes in a sturdy presentation box made from recycled board.

Inside the box the album is protected by a bag made from natural unbleached cotton. It's also possible to  have a lovely printed bag for a small surcharge.

There is a choice of cover and colour options - leather, silk, plain cotton or photo printed cotton. The cover can also be embossed with names etc. I really like the fact that the albums are printed and hand bound in the UK. I know this will be a quality product and that I can easily speak to real people to check on its progress.

I've ordered many high quality photo books but this fine art printing is in a league of its own.  The images have a vibrancy and clarity that traditional photographic prints cannot achieve. The 200gsm matte white art paper has a lovely soft texture.

Each double page spread opens out flat with an almost invisible crease so that each image is on full view. This also allows a single image to be spread across two pages without losing any of it in the binding.

These beautiful albums are available in 4 different sizes - all square -  6"x6", 8"x8", 10"x10" and 12"x12". The minimum number of pages is 30 (15 double page spreads).

I can't wait to start showing this album to clients. They are the perfect way for people to enjoy and share their images for years to come. Albums were once reserved just for weddings but as we move away from the traditional photographic prints and photo albums, fine art albums are becoming increasingly popular for all sorts of special occasions - to celebrate the birth of a baby, or baby's first year, a family photo shoot, a christening or special birthday or anniversary.

If you would like to find out more, see this beautiful sample album and arrange a shoot please get in touch for a no obligation chat. Call Jane on 07868 750505 or email jane@picture-it-big.co.uk

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Summer Wedding at Nunsmere Hall Hotel, Cheshire (by Cheshire wedding photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Click here to go to Picture It Big on Facebook

If you're taking the trouble to read my blog would you be kind enough to LIKE my Picture It Big Facebook page? Click here to go the page - there's a chance to win a free photography class until 8th March 2013!

Now, we've got that out of the way, back to Louise and Neil's wonderful indian summer wedding! Click on any image to see a larger version.

The venue was Nunsmere Hall Hotel and it couldn't have looked more beautiful on this sunny afternoon in early September.
Nunsmere Hall Hotel
The fair weather meant that the wedding party could mingle on the terrace and in the gardens and also that the ceremony could take place outside in the stunning grounds of the hotel. It was great to be able to take photographs in lovely natural light - any wedding photographer's dream!

The groom and best man were welcoming guests on the terrace and I took them away to the quiet of an avenue of trees to get some shots of all the men in their suits. This area overlooks the lake and is very shady and peaceful apart from the occasional motor boat! It's a favourite spot of mine for wedding images as the light is beautiful and the line of trees makes for an impressive back drop.

Meanwhile the bride had finished getting ready in the bridal suite upstairs and her extremely proud father accompanied her down the stairs, through the hotel and into the garden, where the guests and groom were eagerly awaiting her arrival! She looked stunning and I particularly like these shots in black and white as they look so classic and timeless.

If I were to ever get married again (don't tell my husband I said that!) I would want the ceremony to be outside - it was a beautiful setting with the late afternoon sunshine starting to cast long shadows across the lawn.

Drinks and canapes were served on the lawn afterwards and it was a great time to get relaxed, candid shots of everyone congratulating Louise and Neil and enjoying themselves.

I always feel guilty prising the bride and groom away from this post ceremony period but it's a good time to get some shots of them together before all the group shots and the wedding breakfast. And the newly wed couple are always very relaxed and super happy so it's easy to get candid, fun pictures of them - as shown by these of Louise and Neil.

The newly weds and their guests danced the night away but didn't require me to stay so I sneaked off to spend a lovely first weekend in our caravan. But I was itching to get to my computer to start editing the photos and start the all important album. They opted for a coffee table style photo book that could be left out and looked at, rather than being hidden away in a box. It's a really special moment when you first present the couple with their finished album and Louise and Neil both said it took them right back to that very special day. This is what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned, knowing that I've given them memories that they can re-visit and share time and again.

And so we come to the end of this blog about a picture perfect wedding in an idyllic setting, but at the considerable risk of sounding cheesy, this not the end but just the beginning of married life together for Louise and Neil!!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


How professional photography will make your business stand out from the crowd (by Cheshire commercial photographer Picture It Big)

Lexington soft furnishings for Arighi Bianci
Never was there a truer saying in this age of the internet and social media. Hopefully I'm preaching to the converted and you already know that having great imagery of your product or service has a major impact on how you are perceived by your target market.

But the accessibility of digital photography - snap an image on your phone and upload it in a matter of seconds - means that many people are still tempted to do their own. This can seem to be a sensible way of saving money - and we're all trying to do that at the moment - but unless they know what they're doing it's a false economy.

Why spend all that time, energy and passion creating a brand new product or  renovating new business premises, to simply present a second rate view on your virtual shop window i.e. your web site!

Many people are worried abut the cost of commissioning a professional photographer - even sounds expensive doesn't it?! But I work with a wide range of clients, with differing needs and budgets. From the outset I work with you to understand what you can afford to spend and what you would like to get out of the shoot. It's surprising how much can be done in a half day's shoot if we are organised and have planned out exactly what we are doing beforehand.

PR shot for the Managing Director of White Rabbit England
I have done several shoots for White Rabbit England, designers and producers of a range of very cute products for children - bone china animal shaped lamps, soft furnishings and lots more. Each time we have packed a lot into each day long shoot, including individual product shots, rooms and PR shots. It's important to know how the final image will be used, whether it's for a catalogue or product listing, a  piece of editorial or banners for an exhibition. I have to admit to getting a real thrill when I see the final images displayed on leaflets, web sites etc!

White Rabbit England home page
I was approached recently by a company called Kraamzorg, offering private postnatal care (I wish I'd had access to this!). Their shoot was a little more complicated as they required models - a baby, a mum and some slightly older siblings! Rather than go to the expense of using professional models we called on friends and acquaintances and accomplished everything in a half day shoot - you don't waste time when babies and young children are involved. The resulting images are lovely, communicating the caring professionalism of the Kraamzorg service.

Kraamzorg UK home page
For private dental care company Beyond Orthodontics it was extremely important to show prospective clients that their reception area was more like that of a spa than a dentist's waiting room! This shoot, including shots of "patients" in the treatment rooms, was accomplished in a two hour shoot.

Reception and client consultation area for Beyond Orthodontics
If you  require product shots on a frequent basis e.g. cupcake companies, some crafts etc, I can work with you to show you how to take better shots with your own camera. These shots shouldn't be the showcase images of your web sites or promotional materials, but will provide you with decent images to post onto Facebook and Twitter. Usually a couple of hours tuition is enough to teach you some easy tips and techniques.

For more information, for a no obligation chat about your photography requirements or to book a shoot contact me (Jane) on 07868 750505 or email jane@picture-it-big.co.uk. I cover Cheshire and the South Manchester area.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Why photographers say "No" to selling JPEG files

I often get asked by clients and prospects if I will sell them the JPEG files from their shoot - some people take it as given that I will do so and are shocked when I say I won't*. The assumption is that my refusal is purely financially driven - they think I am trying to make more money by encouraging them to buy framed products and canvases. I used to sell JPEG files when I first started out and actually my experience was that a client buying all the JPEGs from a shoot would spend roughly the same amount as one buying a printed canvas. The client buying the JPEGs might feel as if they had got a better deal - 30 or so images rather than just one. They take the CD to a high street photography shop and get some prints for framing, some prints for relatives and may be a canvas. And they are pretty happy with themselves.

So if the customer is happy, then so should I be. But in this instance, I'm not - actually I'm very unhappy. At the point that I handed over those JPEGs I lost all control over the quality of my photographs - this is a far greater concern to me than that of not being able to control how many times those images are printed. I know that a high street print in an IKEA frame does not do justice to my photography and, worse still, can actively damage my image and reputation.

I'm not just being precious and prima donna-ish here. To get great images for a client I draw on years of experience as a photographer during a shoot and then use creativity and skill to edit the photographs. And it doesn't end there - I've amassed a wealth of knowledge on photographic prints, inks and substrates - which will fade within a few years and which are guaranteed to last literally a lifetime. And the printed photograph is still not the end product - the finished format in which it is presented to the client. Choosing the frame colour and style or acrylic or canvas finish - this is all done with a view to creating a fantastic final product for a the client - an image that will stop them in their tracks every time  they pass it, make them smile, will cause people to admire it and ask who the photographer was.

Printed canvas
I could make lots of analogies here - would Rembrandt have handed over a masterpiece as a rolled up canvas and left the client to frame it - I know I'm not Rembrandt - but I am an artist. Just like a chef is an artist and will go to great lengths to ensure that his food presentation is first class. And would a hair stylist send you home with wet hair to finish off styling it yourself? No, of course not, because the final presentation is everything - image, quality, customer satisfaction.
Framed print in antique brushed wood with double mount

Framed print in black wooden frame with double mount (inner black & outer white)

At first I found it hard to say "No" to JPEGs - I was worried about offending or scaring off clients in those early days. It has actually proved to have had the opposite effect - I get more referrals from clients who have proudly shown off their framed photographs and canvases and the average order size has grown significantly.

Pair of wooden blocks, printed in vibrant non scratch finish, with mahogany look edge

Stunning single wooden block. When wall mounted this appears to float on the wall, with a pleasing drop shadow.
Just as a final point, I completely understand why people believe they want to buy JPEGs rather than finished products and thus keep to a reasonable budget. In recent years some large portrait photography companies have done a lot of damage to the image of the industry by luring clients in with low cost photo shoots and then seducing them into spending vast amounts of money on over sized and over priced products. This is not what many photographers are about. Most of us are absolutely passionate about photography and about giving the customer an amazing experience from start to finish, without the need for a second mortgage!

If you are interested in a lifestyle photo shoot please get in touch and I'll be very happy to give you clear pricing examples of framed and finished products - you'll be very pleasantly surprised that you can get fabulous quality to suit your budget. I charge £75 for the photo shoot (1-2 hours on location) - this includes a free 8X10 print of your choice. Framed products start from £50.

Contact me, Jane, at jane@picture-it-big.co.uk or call 07868 750505 and take a look at my website www.picture-it-big.co.uk

*Please note that this does not apply to commercial photography, where it is usual to supply JPEG files to the client.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


In the bleak mid winter

Click to enlarge

Well, not really but the black and white images kind of suited the title! In the last few days I've been walking Ferb at the "Flashes" as they're known locally. This is shortened from the Ashton's and Neumann's Flashes, an area of reclaimed land that was heavily mined in the 18th and 19th centuries leading to serious subsidence, forming craters and the creation of lakes where the River Weaver flowed into them. Today it's a rather unique site where some seaside plants thrive due to the high salt levels and it's rich with birdlife, butterflies and dragonflies. There are several circular walks that link to the wider Northwich Woodlands and it's easy to walk to Marbury Park and the Anderton Boat Lift. From most points you are reminded of the industrial heritage of Northwich by the dramatic factories on the horizon with  pipes and chimneys pumping out steam.

As you can imagine it's a great place to walk, with a multitude of circular routes to choose from and real variety of scenery - woodland, canals, lakes, meadows and rivers. And of course it presents tons of lovely photographic opportunities. During today's walk we met many other dog walkers but also lots of people out and about with their cameras attracted by fresh snowfall, clear blue skies and the threat of a thaw within 24 hours.

I didn't end up taking many photos, as I was simply enjoying the walk, watching Ferb's highly comical run - his back legs seem so much longer than the front ones and he lollops clumsily along but somehow at high speed. When I got back and looked at my shots I decided to have a go at thinking square again - admittedly I didn't shoot them with this intention but I'll allow it as another useful exercise. (If you don't know what on earth I'm talking about you need to look back at my last two posts).

I thought the images looked a bit flat and monotone so I experimented with some black and white conversion as well as the square cropping. I like the results but am not blown away. Looking forward to more walks over the coming weeks and more photo opportunities.

I've written about the Northwich Flashes before - I was shocked to see it was 4 years ago almost to the day. Click here to read what I thought back then - apologies that the pictures aren't there - I think Blogger ate them as I couldn't have deleted them as I wouldn't even know where they go I've posted them! I'm going to root out some photos I've taken in the last 4 years and post them.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Think like a square

First stage of Project Square: to look back at existing images and see if any of them work if they are re-cropped as square rather than rectangular. The aim of this exercise is to start to train my mind to think of composition in terms of a square. I didn't realise how firmly entrenched the rectangular format was until I looked back through my portfolio of 366 images for ones I could crop square. The majority of the shots would simply not work as a square - a critical element would be lost and the picture spoilt. I automatically fill the rectangular viewfinder when I take a picture. I was reassured to find that this means I am considering composition all the time, even though I'm not always aware of it.

I did find some shots that could be cropped with interesting results. Fans of the square image maintain that it focuses the attention more immediately on the subject, as the eye cannot stray away to the left or right, or to the top or bottom. In some cases it has changed the feel of the photograph, made it more immediate. Take a look and see what you think. Click on each set of images to enlarge.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

All squared up for 2013

After completing the 366 project in 2012 and deciding not to carry on this year I've been twiddling my thumbs a bit, itching to embark on something else, but it had to be less time consuming and a little more flexible, but still challenging.

I was catching up on some reading over the weekend, thawing out after a romp in the snow with the dog and came across an e-book I had downloaded over Christmas. It's called "Square" by a photographer and author Andrew Gibson and looks at images that are square as opposed to the more usual rectangular format. Aside from featuring some really beautiful photography this book looks into the increasing popularity of square images and gives some great pointers into what makes them work.

We are so used to the rectangular format that unless we have a camera (e.g. a medium format camera) or  an app (Instagram etc) that creates a square image, we forget to consider anything else. It's perhaps the amazing popularity of the Instagram type photo that has contributed to a re-appreciation of the square image.

I took a look back at my 366 images and could only find a handful that were square, excluding those that I had taken with a retro camera app on my phone - you can tell which these are as they feature a border. I didn't create any of the non-retro camera images with the intention of them being square - I decided to do that afterwards on the computer, so I wasn't really setting out to shoot and compose for square images.

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The square format has got me buzzing with excitement and now my thumbs are twitching rather than twiddling. During 2013 I am going to create a series of images that are square and intended to be square from the outset - I'll be specifically looking for subjects and compositions that work for the square format. I'm not setting any timescales or boundaries, other than I'll work on it throughout the year. As and when I take an image I am happy with I'll share it on this blog and ask for feedback.

You can download "Square" by Andrew Gibson (and other great e-books from him and other authors) at Craft and Vision. Each book costs around £2 to £4 and they often sell bundles together. I love the fact that I can download them to my tablet and read them wherever I am. I've not bought a bad one yet - they are highly readable, not too techie and the imagery is stunning. I've not been paid to say this, they don't even know I'm recommending them!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Top tips for a great business headshot (Corporate headshots Cheshire with Picture It Big)

In this digital age business portraits are very important. Even before you meet a client for the first time or go for an interview, you will have been checked out on LinkedIn or on your website and will have already made a first impression. A potential client surfing the net may have opted for the next listing below your's because they liked the look of the person more!

So you can't avoid it any longer, you need to get your head shot updated. That grainy old picture just doesn't communicate the right professional image and let's face it, was taken ten years ago. You've changed and fashions have moved on and it just won't do anymore. If you are like 90%+ of the population you dread having a formal picture taken as much or more than a trip to the dentist for a root canal filling! I would certainly prefer the latter and am infinitely more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.

I've photographed lots of different people over the years and have also had to face up to having my own portrait done and have amassed a number of hints and tricks to make the experience more pleasant and to ensure that you end up with a portrait you are pleased with.

What to wear (and what not to!)
  • A head shot usually means head and shoulders, usually to around chest level, so pay particular attention to what is worn in this area.
  • Think about the image you want to project. Usually for a business head shot this will be professional business clothes but it depends on the profession you are in. In this shot Maura has chosen a slightly softer but still smart look - she is a collaborative solicitor and wanted to appear approachable and professional but not stuffy so opted not to wear a business suit.
  • Wear something you feel good and comfortable in. Avoid tight fitting clothes and clothes that wrinkle and crease easily.
  • Avoid busy patterns, logos or overpowering bright colours. Reds, yellows and oranges can reflect a colour cast onto your skin and should be avoided. Pastel or nude / skin colours can make you look washed out. Colours that match your eyes are good.
  • Avoid fussy scarves and collars. Simple is usually better. Jewellery is OK as long as it is understated. Don't wear anything that will date your picture too quickly.
  • Go for 3/4 or full length sleeves rather than bare arms. Bare skin distracts attention away from your face and unless your arms are tanned and toned (and mine aren't!) then it doesn't look great.
  • V neck jumpers are generally quite flattering as they elongate the neck. Avoid polo or roll neck tops.
  • If you need a full length shot rather than a head shot, then wear tops and bottoms in the same colour. Avoid strongly contrasting colours i.e. white top and black bottoms, as this cuts you in half and makes you look shorter.
What about make up and hair?
  • If you know you look good then you'll feel good too and that will show at the photo shoot. There's no need to book a full makeover, especially as you might end up not looking and feeling like you! But this is a personal choice, some people feel better if they've had their hair and make up done and others are happy to do their own.
  • If you have long hair you could do some shots with your hair tied back and some with it down. 
  • Wear what make up you would normally wear for a evening out - and we're talking a meal out not a full on Christmas party! Avoid lip gloss and anything too shimmery.
"I feel really uncomfortable posing for my photo".

Don't we all! But any good photographer will know how to make you feel relaxed and how to pose you in ways that flatter you. Here are some tips to make sure your best side is captured:

  • We all feel uncomfortable just standing in front of the camera - how should we stand, what should we do with our hands? To avoid feeling so awkward lean against something if possible and you will feel much more relaxed.
  • Try not to stand full on to the camera, instead stand at an angle, with your hips and shoulders on a slight diagonal and turn your head towards the photographer. If it's for a full length shot, then put your weight on your back leg and bend your front leg slightly, toe pointed towards the photographer.
  • Where possible I get people to sit down on a chair as this is often much more relaxing for them. It also enables me to shoot from above, getting the model to look up slightly which is often more flattering.
  • Sitting "cowboy" style on a chair (astride it backwards) works well, giving you somewhere to rest your hands and getting you to lean forward.
Top Secret Tip
  • To avoid those double chins (we all have them especially when we smile!) then try this little tip: point your chin down and then jut it out forward - this tightens the jaw line.  The photographer is shooting you from face on, not from the side so although this feels unnatural it really works! Try it in front of the mirror.

The decision whether to go for a plain background or a natural one depends on you and sometimes on restrictions imposed on you. In the shot below a graduated grey background was required to match existing head shots of business colleagues on the company web site.

Where possible I prefer neutral, natural backgrounds that complement the image the client is looking for  - complimentary colours, nothing distracting in the background to draw the eye away from the face. In the image below I purposely included the urban background but made sure that it was out of focus so as not to be distracting.

In some cases you can hint at the working environment but always ensuring it isn't a distraction.

And in this next shot we styled it so that the client was lying down amid hundreds of toy white rabbits. It's still suitable as a head shot but has a much more informal feel and is suitable for PR purposes.

A little extra help...

I edit every shot in post production and make sure that the client looks at his or her very best. I remove blemishes and imperfections, reduce wrinkles, slightly brighten eyes and teeth and even slim faces a little. We're not talking L'Oreal airbrushing, my intention is that the client will look at the picture and say "Wow, that's a really nice shot of me!" but not be able to put their finger on exactly what I've done!

What happens after the shoot?

Everyone works slightly differently, but I usually select a number of final images, do an initial edit on them and then send them across as low resolution files to the client who will select two to three they wish to use. I then provide fully edited high resolution JPEG files.

Who owns the copyright to the final images? 

It's usual for the photographer to retain the copyright for the images but to grant you full business usage.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


A trip to Crosby Beach with Big Boy

After endless days of rain over Christmas we were desperate to get out somewhere - me particularly so as I had only been able to use my new Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens once since Christmas Day!

This is a real Big Boy of a lens - extremely sharp, focuses almost instantly and silently, is image stabilised and has a wide aperture of f/2.8 at every focal length. Basically it's great for making sure moving subjects are really sharp even when the light isn't great.

I first got my hands on one at a pet photography course in December and it went straight to the top of my list for Santa (I did help Santa out a bit with the cost!). I couldn't get this shot of a spaniel in flight with my best zoom lens - it just wouldn't focus fast enough nor let enough light in to achieve the amount of blurred background I wanted.

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On Christmas morning I barely had time to get one shot of our puppy, Ferb, before the holiday monsoon set in. It was well into the New Year before a free day and good weather came together at the same time. The beach seemed like a great idea, especially as Ferb hadn't been to the seaside before.

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Nic's wanted to see Antony  Gormley's "Another Place" art installation at Crosby Beach for a while (once he explained it was those naked statues of men staring out to see we were a bit more enthusiastic!).

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Conditions were perfect for an uplifting frolic across the sand and for getting used to Big Boy - bright, low sunshine, clear, flat light. At any other time of year the sun would have been too high and direct, causing harsh contrasts but it was perfect that day. The sun was at the right angle and bright enough to create silhouettes and I was able to get an amusing picture of Abi assessing one of the figures - we all know what she was looking at! Works well in black and white as it emphasises the contrast.

OK, so the naked statues weren't exactly going anywhere and I wanted some practice shooting moving subjects. The kids and puppy duly obliged by dashing around on the beach, somewhat complicated by the fact that Ferb was on a 30 metre long lead! To keep them in focus I used the AI Servo focusing mode, which I'll admit I've largely steered clear of, but it performed perfectly. You just have to remember to keep tracking your subject with the lens and it looks after the focusing. Takes a bit of practise but well worth it.

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It's not often we see Nic in full flight - he's renowned for falling over, so this is a rare sight indeed! I love Ferb in this one too!

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And freeze framing the kids kicking water around worked well too. (Spot the full frontal statue in the background!)

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Nic had made that fatal mistake of forgetting to put a memory card in his camera so we nipped into Crosby to buy one and to refuel. When we got back to the beach around 3pm the sun was lower in the sky, the light had changed significantly and the tide was in. I would have loved to have got a proper sunset shot of the statues being immersed in the sea but cold, bored kids and wet dog were clamouring to go home. So I made do with this shot instead and felt very jealous of the increasing numbers of people appearing with cameras and tripods.

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By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


New year, new look blog

It's been a while since my last confession post... I fell out of the blogging habit last year, largely because I spent most of my free time on a project to take and post a photograph every day during 2012. (Separate post on this is simmering away in my brain and will come to the boil soon).

I've really missed writing and have made it a resolution for 2013 to do more. I'm planning to combine all my blogs into one - it was getting confusing for me never mind anyone else. So top tips on photography and posts about recent shoots will all nestle here alongside tales of our exploits as a family.

I've given my blog a bit of a facelift - it took far longer than I expected to do a few simple changes to the background and header - but I'm pleased with the overall result. Feels a little friendlier than all that serious black and green I had before. And it seems more appropriate to feature my lovely children and dog in the header too!

Ferb, the dog, is a new addition to our family and he will no doubt be the star of the show for the foreseeable future - he's so darn cute and extremely photogenic. He even has his own Facebook page if you can't wait between posts to see his little hairy face.

Also set to feature a fair amount is our new (to us) caravan. With two successful outings under our belt (we won't mention the encounter between our gatepost and a caravan window!) we're planning holidays up and down the length of Britain this year.

I've already got a long list of ideas for blog posts and am itching to get started. With heavy snow supposedly heading our way I can forecast lots of photo opportunities and lots of time sitting in front of a roaring fire, blogging away. Hopefully they won't just languish unread in the ether somewhere - at least I know my other half reads them and points out where I've used apostrophe's (sic) in the wrong place and embellished the truth somewhat, in order to be more entertaining!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


A newborn photo shoot with Ella Rose (by Cheshire baby photographer Picture It Big)

I was delighted to be asked to photograph one week old Ella Rose - she is absolutely perfect and second time mum, Mindy, was totally chilled out, so this was the ideal newborn photo shoot.

Ella was having a feed when I arrived so having set up the first shot I put the kettle on and made us a nice cuppa. After a short while Ella fell asleep and we settled her onto a snuggly blanket and popped a matching hat on her head. I'm a bit of a knitter and take along a selection of things I've made for mum to choose from. This pink and purple blend really suited Ella's colouring.

As it turned out Ella didn't fancy a very long nap and I took the opportunity to set up the next shot whilst she had another feed and a quick nappy change. Mindy's family own the Hollies Farm Shop and we incorporated one of their branded apple boxes into the next shot, along with some beautiful sunflowers borrowed from the shop!

I decided to shoot this against a simple black background with Ella lying on super soft black velvet and I love the simplicity of the final shot. These apple boxes can be decorated with a baby's name or birth date, or simply "Made with love" etc, so watch this space as I intend to offer newborn packages incorporating the apple box, which can be used as a toy box or planter afterwards.

Mindy and Phil had been given a beautiful stripey blanket by some friends and wanted to use it in a shot, so we incorporated it into the next one with Ella's "big" brother, Ewan. Now this is where our relaxed morning shifted to a different pace, as I worked at the speed of light to capture this active toddler with his new sister! Mindy was thrilled to bits with the resulting pictures - it was very important to her to capture them both together and I like to have a happy client!

I then switched to a plain cream background. It's always nice to have a variety of shots with different props and colours. By this time Ella Rose was in a deep sleep and was very amenable to being posed.

The whole shoot took about two and a half hours and I think Mindy would agree that it was a very stress free experience, interspersed with several cups of tea, a delicious lunch brought across from the Hollies restaurant and quite a few curious visitors! I think our only complaint would have been about the heat! With baby Ella stripped naked for most of the time we had to keep the room nice and warm.

A couple of weeks later I returned to show Mindy and Phil the final photographs and to show them some options for displaying them on the walls. Mindy and I had already discussed before and during the shoot what she wanted to do and I also had some other ideas mocked up.

Mindy was a very well behaved client (!) coming back to me with her order within just a few days, so I was able to get everything turned around for her and delivered back nice and quickly. I love presenting clients with their finished, framed images - it's a magical moment, often with a few tears (of the happy variety!) and I realise all over again why I love this job!

They had chosen a number of different framed images - here are some of them.

I'm looking forward to going back to photograph Ella with her family during the next year and seeing how much she has changed.

If you'd like to see how I set up a newborn photoshoot in your home, check out A newborn photo shoot with Isabella Rose.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Magical Autumn Family Portraits in Cheshire

Autumn is my favourite season by far! Nights start to draw in, with a nip in the air there's an excuse to have a real fire and dig the scarves and hats out. True, this autumn has been a little strange so far with frosts few and far between. But the autumnal colours have been spectacular especially over the last week or so. And in just a few short days the trees and bushes could all be stripped bare of their fiery glory - it will only take one gusty day or a sharp downpour.

With the ephemeral nature of Autumn in mind I have packed several photo shoots into the last couple of weeks. Of course the backdrop of scarlet, gold and burnished yellow leaves is perfect for outdoor portrait sessions but so is the light at this time of year. The sun is lower in the sky, shadows are softer, the light is kinder and if you can work quickly in the magical hour between 2.30pm and 3.30pm you can maximise all of this, resulting in stunning images.

Beautiful light on the edge of the wood

My chosen location for these recent shoots has been Marbury Park but I imagine any park with decent stands of trees would be as good, as long as you've scouted out a few good spots first. Woodland can be tricky - if the canopy of leaves is too dense then it can be a tad too dark and flat but if you can find somewhere towards the edge of the wood the light can be wonderful.

The birdhides made an unexpectedly great place to take portraits, as the viewing slots allowed my subjects to be lit naturally from both sides and the green wood of the hide was a very complementary backdrop.

Kids love messing about in woods and no more so than when there's an ankle deep carpet of leaves on the ground. I adore the fun of the piggyback shot but just look at that light in the background!

The other thing I love about Autumn is that the colours all go together so perfectly - Mother Nature never makes mistakes with her seasonal palette! I particularly like the fact that in my last shot here the family dog also matches in so well!

So don't hang about - you've got about a week at the most (don't hold me to that!) to get out and about with your cameras. We will have the magic of that cold Winter light next but it's not quite so pleasant doing a shoot then and kids' noses have a nasty habit of turning red and a bit runny!

Thanks to the families who have allowed me to share some of their images - these kids were wonderful - very photogenic and really fun to work with!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Venice revisited and revamped

I found a gorgeous book on Venice and its food in a discount book store today ("Venezia - food & dreams" by Tessa Kiros). In all honesty it's doubtful that I'll cook any of the recipes in it but it brought a whole raft of memories tumbling back and I just had to have it. In 2007 Nic and I went to Venice to celebrate a landmark birthday (his not mine!) and our wedding anniversary. In some ways it wasn't the perfect time of year to go - mid January - but it did mean that it wasn't swamped with tourists and the damp cold weather was preferable to unrelenting heat and its accompanying eau de sewage. It was a truly magical weekend - if you've been you'll know exactly what I mean and if you haven't make sure you add it to your bucket list. There really is no where else like it on earth.

I was a keen amateur photographer back in those days and took oodles of very average pictures whilst we were in Venice. I was pleased with a handful of them (I've even sold one or two!) but had relegated the rest to a sub folder somewhere in the bowels of my computer hard drive. Today's book purchase inspired me to unearth and reappraise my Venice "snapshots", with the knowledge that these days I am more of a dab hand at editing images.

And I was very pleasantly surprised! With a little cropping, tweaking of exposure, levels and brightness I found I had around 20 very nice images. They're not of a professional standard and I'd hope that nowadays I'd produce much better, but I've been able to create a very attractive collage of memories that will eventually adorn the walls of our downstairs loo!

This is the final collage - I'm going to get it printed at around 30cm x 30cm. I've stolen the quotes from Tessa Kiros' book - I hope she doesn't mind as it's only for our loo - but they epitomise our weekend in Venice, especially the part about getting lost but it not being a problem. We set off from our lovely hotel each morning and just walked and walked. We stopped to eat when we were hungry, whiling away a few hours in cosy little bars serving prosecco and cicchetti (delicious bites!). We usually didn't have a clue where we were and only consulted a map when it was time to find our way back.

Just as a comparison I've created a collage of the images before any editing, to show just what a few simple tweaks can achieve. It makes an OK collage, but the final version (above) is much more vibrant and punchy, I like the occasional use of black and white and I love the addition of the quotes.

If you'd like to learn how to create very simple but really impactful and personal pictoral memories of special events in your life just get in touch. I run one to one tuition sessions at very reasonable prices. http://www.picture-it-big.co.uk/Onetoone.html. Even better get someone to treat you to it - I have gift vouchers too. All those photos should not be languishing hidden on your computer when they could be bringing back nice memories every day!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Should I buy an SLR camera?

I get asked this all the time when I’m teaching people with compact cameras, so I decided to try to write a blog that will help you make that decision before you part with your hard earned cash.

Firstly let’s take a quick look at the types of camera out there as it may be surprising to some that compact cameras and SLRs are not the only options available.

Compact camera: Often referred to as a “point and shoot” camera and is designed for ease of use and convenience. It does not offer interchangeable lenses, has a built in flash and has many automatic modes to make picture taking as simple as possible. Some do feature options for controlling aperture and shutter speed and there are some with extremely good lens or optic quality.

(I’ll do SLR next although really it should come last as you’ll see shortly).

SLR camera: stands for Single Lens Reflex but you don’t really need to know that! It uses a system of moving mirrors to allow the photographer to see exactly what they are going to capture (What You See Is What You Get – WYSIWYG). Non SLR cameras (the other three types discussed here) do not use this mirror system.  SLRs also allow you to use interchangeable lenses, have full control over aperture and shutter speed, use manual as well as auto focus and use additional filters and flashguns. Basically you get more control and can be much more creative than with a compact camera.

As I said earlier these are not the only two options and the alternatives are well worth taking into consideration.

Bridge Camera: bridges the gap between compact cameras and SLRs, hence the name. Bridge cameras are often a similar size to small or entry level SLRs and have common features. They do not have interchangeable lenses and usually have a lower ISO range (meaning that they won’t perform as well in low light). They have a fixed but very versatile lens which allows you to photograph close up and wide angle through to telephoto, with the zoom limit often being very high.

Compact System Camera: More recently manufacturers have brought out a fourth option designed to have interchangeable lenses and all of the flexibility of an SLR but in a much more compact body.

So now that you know about four options instead of just two, how on earth do you decide which is the right one for you?! I’ve used all except the newer compact system camera (if any of the manufacturers would like me to do a review of one, feel free to pop one in the post!) and they’ve all got their place in the market. It really comes down to what sort of photography you want to do,  how much money you want to spend and whether you like carrying and changing lenses or just prefer one that does it all.

Perhaps describing how I use my cameras will shed some light. I stick my compact camera in the bag whenever I’m going out with the kids and might want some quick snapshots. I know there’s quite a delay when I take pictures, I can’t get the nice soft focus background shots I love and I can’t capture close ups of faraway things. However, in good daylight conditions it delivers great quality snapshots. I have also done some really nice close ups with it. Shots taken with the flash aren’t great, but then I am used to using an SLR with external flash gun.

I use my bridge camera when I want to get better quality pictures than with my compact but don’t want to carry additional lenses. A good example of this was on a recent holiday to Cape Verde where I didn’t want to risk taking an SLR and all the lenses.  Sandy beaches and SLRs don’t mix well! My bridge camera has a 20X zoom so I knew I could get some good candid pictures of the kids playing in the pool and on the beach. It also does some great close ups with soft focus backgrounds and the image quality is better, sharper and crisper than the compact. It also has an optical viewfinder which I prefer to the LCD screen.

I bought this bridge camera as a natural step up from a compact, when I was still an amateur photographer stuck on AUTO.  I first started to see the limitations of it when I began an A Level evening course. I had my first play with an SLR and loved the quality both through the lens and in the final images. And of course there’s no delay when pressing the shutter (no more missed action shots!). Once I had tried a macro lens and an external flash gun I was hooked – there was no going back. However hard I tried I could not achieve the same quality of images or creative effects with my compact or bridge camera.

SLR cameras also allow you to shoot in RAW as well as JPEG. This gives you much more control when editing your pictures afterwards, a must for a professional photographer (some bridge cameras do offer this format as well).

If speed and image quality are important to you, if you’d like to enlarge your shots for display on the wall or enter them into competitions then you should probably go for an SLR. But only if you are prepared to spend money on additional lenses. The “kit” lens that usually comes with an SLR does not allow you to take real close up shots nor does it zoom very far, so you’ll soon find that you need at least one additional lens. You can buy lenses that have a similar wide range to bridge cameras (e.g. 18mm-200mm) but the quality is not as good as dedicated close up, wide angle or zoom lenses. I soon found that I needed a macro (close up) lens and a zoom lens. But then I’m selling my images. If I was an amateur photographer on a budget the one “Jack of all trades” lens is perfectly adequate, certainly when you first start out using an SLR. You can also save money by buying generic lenses such as Tamron or Sigma and by buying second hand.

For me, using an SLR feels like a “proper” camera – I can look through a view finder, it instantly takes the picture when I press the shutter button and has a real and satisfying feel, it’s fast and overall a more quality experience. If automatic modes fail to give the result I am looking for I can take control and make fine-tuned adjustments. A bridge camera can do this too but the quality is generally not as good, with more noise (speckled dark areas) on the final image and just not as crisp and punchy. I know that if I use a particular lens with my SLR I can achieve a particular result – it gives me much more control.

I can’t truly answer the question of SLR cameras versus the new compact system cameras as I’ve yet to use one and can only rely on the reviews I’ve read. They seem to have a place in the market, based predominantly on compact size and being light weight, but opinion seems to be that although very good, they don’t always perform as well as SLRs in the more challenging lighting conditions.
All my cameras have their place and role to play and I'm sure I could come up with an argument to add a new compact system camera to my kit bag! If I was forced to give them all up except one I would hang onto an SLR - and it would be my mighty Canon 5D - I'll blog on why it knocks the socks off my 350d and 40d another day!

Whatever you decide to do, make use of the internet and read lots of reviews. Stay away from manufacturers’ reviews initially as they will be biased and stick to web sites that offer independent reviews e.g. http://www.cameras.co.uk/ but there are many others

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


A digital photography class for beginners at Davenports Farm Shop, Cheshire

I ran another course for beginners in digital photography today and had such a great day. It really doesn't feel like work - sharing something I love with other people who go away so enthusiastic and excited about what you've told them. Today I trained a former colleague, Catherine, who last knew me as the foot expert rather than the photographer - although she remembers me jumping up and down in excitement about buying a new camera lens too. And flogging flower photography calendars up and down the office! Talk about moonlighting - the writing was probably on the wall way before I was made redundant.

So, anyway, there I was today teaching her and her two friends how to take better photographs with their new SLR cameras. They were typical of the people I teach - they know how they want their pictures to look but get frustrated as they don't know how to achieve it. They consider their good pictures to be lucky snapshots. As ever, they are hard on themselves and have usually got a good eye for a nice image. Husbands and dads have tried to explain about apertures and shutter speeds but somehow the penny has never dropped and the camera has stayed on the fully AUTO mode (little green square).

By the end of my training sessions people usually tell me that I have cut through all the jargon and made it all make sense. Catherine commented today that she hadn't known what anything on the screen on the back of the camera had meant and that she was going away able to interpret it all and say what ISO setting she was on and why and what shutter speed and aperture she / the camera had used. Things like Auto White Balance and Exposure Compensation now made sense.

On week days I train at an amazing venue - Davenports Farm Shop at Bartington on the A49. The staff are very friendly and accommodating, giving over an entire room free of charge  in the Alice in Wonderland themed tea rooms to me. The choice of tea and coffee is dizzying but Belinda will guide you through and select the best one with you and all the food is locally sourced and freshly prepared by Belinda and her husband. The cakes are to die for - I drooled so much over the miniature cakes served to two ladies nearby that they donated the ones they couldn't quite manage to us!

I combine the classroom sessions with practical exercises outside and Davenports has oodles of interesting subjects. Today we concentrated on the outdoor chess set, practising using the Av mode to set different apertures to increasingly blur the background and also seeing how zooming in compresses perspective. On previous courses we've photographed the ostriches and alpachas, flowers, fruit and veg, old fencing - the opportunities are endless.

If you like the sound of it get in touch and we'll sort out a convenient date. I can tailor the courses to suit particular interests e.g. portraits / close up flowers etc. All in all I am always told that it's a great day out and very informative and practical.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

New Digital Photography Taster Courses for 2011

If you want to take great pictures you need a lot of expensive kit and you need to understand all the technical stuff - don't you?

No, not necessarily. Of course great quality cameras and lenses and an understanding of how to use all the settings can help you to produce fabulous images. But if you don't know some basic rules or tips then it doesn't matter how good your kit or technical knowledge is. Occasionally I leave all my SLRs, lenses etc at home and just take my Panasonic DMC-FS12 compact with me to remind myself of the basics. I also like to demonstrate that you can get some really good shots with a compact camera.

All these shots were taken with a compact camera

This led me to thinking about how easy it is really and how everyone can take good shots if they just have some simple tips and techniques.

That's what's inspired me to run some taster courses in 2011. I love running courses - so much so that I'd do it for free if I could, but I have bills to pay, cosmetics, shoes and clothes to buy!

The idea of these taster courses is to give people some completely non-techie knowledge that they can go out and put into practise straightaway and see an immediate improvement in their photographs.

If this sounds like it's for you please get in touch. I'm running two courses - one in June and one in July. Details are on my web site. The taster courses are just £20 per person for two hours.

If you're ready for for the next step - getting off the AUTO button and finding out what all the different settings do then take a look at the workshops and small group courses I offer.

To book or find out more contact me on 07868 750505 or via http://www.picture-it-big.co.uk/

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Slipping through my fingers...

Schoolbag in hand
She leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye
With an absent-minded smile
I watch her go
With a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that I'm losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I'm glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what's in her mind
Each time I think I'm close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

(Lyrics from by Siobhan McCarthy & featured in Mamma Mia).
I don't always know exactly where my daughter is sometimes and I don't like it one bit! She has been glued to my side (or her daddy's) or in the care of someone we've handed her over to ever since birth. How am I supposed to let her go her own way without worrying myself into a nervous breakdown?

To put this into perspective (I'm just clinging onto some) she is 10 years old and has started to call on friends and meet them in the local park. I know I can't stop her going and although I can warn her about stranger danger I can't terrify her with stories of kidnappings and worse. She came home half an hour late today - it wasn't really her fault, she ended up going to pick up her friend's brother with their mum. And I can't go ballistic at the mother who is much more laid back than me as she's been through it once already. I limited myself to two text messages and five bitten nails - I'm saving the other hand for tomorrow when she'll no doubt want to exercise her new right to freedom again.

But this isn't a blog about how to let your children go out on their own without worrying yourself sick (I have an inkling that will only happen when senility kicks in). It's more of a realisation that this time is so precious and so much of it has already slipped by so quickly.

I didn't find motherhood easy and I think I have only recently become completely comfortable in my role as mummy. I had postnatal depression and spent the first five months on a rollercoaster of emotion - "yay I'm a mother and my daughter is absolutely gorgeous"! Then five minutes later "oh my god what the hell have done, what was I thinking of?! I'm rubbish at this, everyone else is coping so well, they have lots of other mummy friends, I'm the only one on my own all the time". It all happened again when I had my son 2 years later and redundancy and stress related problems didn't help me settle into motherhood either.

I think the fact that I never knew my own mum (she died when I was a few weeks old) also had an impact. Lacking a role model must have had an impact on how I would adapt. I think I've done an OK job in the end, I'm never sure if I'm being fair, over-indulgent, too strict, too much in love with every hair, mole, smell, expression - but I don't think that makes me any different to any other mum. I have a feeling I seek approval more than I should and can't believe that she loves me and looks up to me as much as she does. It amazes me that she wants to copy how I apply my make up, do my hair - I'm not a girlie girl and did not do this with anyone when I was young. Through her I think I have come very late into girliness and am so enjoying going through this stage with her. I'm making the most of it as it will be shortlived - she already tells me when I look naff and, when I let her, she applies make up much more adeptly than I ever did.

And did I mention that she is hilarious and a great mimic? When she's in her comfort zone she has attitude in spades and will hold us all rapt with her performances. I can't understand why her teacher describes her as "quiet" - are you sure you have the right child?

I feel as if we are in a magical time at the moment - her  inbetween girlhood and adulthood and me finally completely content with being (1) mum and (2) photographer. I want to freeze this time and not let it slip through my fingers.

When I went to watch Mamma Mia for the first time I had never heard the song "Slipping through my fingers" before and I absolutely sobbed during the whole scene. I still think it was more than just a chick flick weep - more of a cathartic moment when a lot of stuff hit home. I love the lyrics and feel as if they were written for me and Abbie. She, however, thinks they're really dumb and has taken out an injunction against me playing the song at her wedding along with a slide show!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Easter eggs, tulips and...sunburn...?!

Easter was ages ago wasn’t it? It feels like it especially with wedding fever having dominated in the intervening period. But it was only less than a week ago on Easter Sunday that we went to Quarry Bank Mill http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-quarrybankmillandstyalestate for a picnic with my great nephew – that’s not my “fantastic” nephew (although he is), but my “great nephew”, as in I’m a Great Aunt (feeling old)! You’re always guaranteed a good day out with the National Trust – this isn’t a sponsored plug, just my honest view as a mum and garden lover. If you're a member it feels like a free day out too – there were six of us and we spent a grand total of £8.60 between us on ice creams, and as the photographs will evidence, we had a really great time.

After a picnic on the grass by the car park we headed down to the meadow where staff from a certain chocolate company were organising events for the kids. It was busy but not crazily so and our guys had a go at just about everything. I was majorly impressed with the face painting especially Sam’s slightly angry chicks and Abbie’s rainbow, which was done in one stroke with some great gadget. First photo lesson coming up – like any proud parent I wanted to photograph the face paints before they got smudged and the first picture I took of Abbie didn’t work because the sun was just way too bright – just look at the harsh shadows and contrasts on her face. There are two ways to get round this; one is to turn your flash on – the camera will fire what’s called a “fill in” flash, just enough to get rid of the shadows. It works but looks a bit false. The best solution is to get the person to move into a nice shady area and take the shot without flash – this looks much more natural. But of course your model might not always want to do as you ask! Luckily Abbie obliged after being blackmailed with ice cream (after the photo!).

Have I mentioned that it was a belter of a summer’s day (at the end of April!) and we couldn’t have been seeing the gardens at Quarry Bank Mill on a more beautiful day. But bright sunshine does create lots of challenges when you’re trying to take photographs of pretty much anything and you really have to think about what you’re doing if you want to get some nice shots. The camera can struggle to capture what you see with your eye and contrasts between shadows and sunlight will be much starker than with the naked eye. Case in point - just through the entrance of the garden is a path alongside a glade carpeted with bluebells and in the distance bright splashes of colour from the rhododendrons. This looked lovely but was impossible to photograph because the foreground was dark, a shaded glade, and the background was very brightly lit by the mid-day sun. Later or earlier in the day with the sun at a lower angle this might have been possible. Sometimes you just have to look for a different shot.

The garden at Quarry Bank is spread along a number of terraces up quite a steep bank (hence its name!) and at the lowest level by the river there is a path lined with the aforementioned rhododendrons (I’ve just recently found out that azaleas are a type of rhodendron so I can now stop fretting about which is which and just lump them all together!). With the sun filtered through trees and bushes to the left I was able to take a nicely lit shot of the pretty pathway. I cropped out as much of the sky as possible as it was so bright that it was white and wouldn’t have added to the shot. I also did some close ups of the rhododendron flowers as they were breathtaking, but I made sure to pick flowers in the shade or in soft, dappled light.

The deep purple tulips on the lower terraces were the real stars for me and I spent ages taking a variety of different shots, some wider angles and lots of close ups with the light shining through the petals. You can see in the collage the dramatic changes in colour caused by the light. The tulips in the shade were a blackish purple whereas those lit by the sun were a sparkling deep ruby. All were set off so perfectly by the green stalks and leaves and flashes of blue from the bluebells in between.

As you climb steeply up the terraces (or take the gentler zigzagging path) you are quickly rewarded with views across the garden to the mill in the background. I’ve photographed from this viewpoint in the autumn when the leaves have turned gold and red and it’s a lovely vista then too.

At the top of the garden there’s another area of bluebells and this time I could use the light to my advantage and get a sense of a shady glade that was a resting place for some people after the steep climb. Others chose to stop awhile under the magnificent handkerchief tree in the grassy meadow just beyond.

I stopped off one last time at the tulips before I left the garden - I felt as if I wasn't done with them yet. I did some more close ups, this time with my 60mm macro lens. I also collared Abbie into posing in front of them for me and this demonstrates nicely why a macro lens is often also called a portrait lens.

We didn't go into the mill this time - I've been twice on school trips as an accompanying mum - this trip is always popular as we have to go off to the restaurant for cake whilst the kids experience Victorian schooling at the Apprentice House! On a less gloriously sunny day the mill is well worth a visit - there's often some craft making activity and something to interest everyone.

So, another garden visited at this amazing time of year, when nature wakes up after the winter and announces it with fabulous displays of colour in the form of daffodils, then blossom, bluebells, tulips and azaleas. For the last few years at least we've had periods when the sun seems to shine for weeks on end and yet again I've been caught out and got a sunburned nose at Easter!

Technical Info: I used my Canon 350D and had two different lenses to choose from. Most shots were taken with the 17-40mm lens and usually in Program Mode. The close ups of the tulips and the final portrait of Abbie were taken with the 60mm prime lens on Aperture Priority. I used a feature called Exposure Compensation quite a lot as it's a quick and easy way to make shots brighter or darker. If your camera has this feature it's well worth checking out ... I feel another blog coming on for this!

This blog is also published on the Cheshire Life web site http://cheshire.greatbritishlife.co.uk/community/blogs/entries/jane-burkinshaw-photographing-cheshires-gardens/id/379/

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Where to start...

A perfect Friday afternoon in early Spring – warm sunshine, a light breeze and clear blue skies. Catch up on some emails or escape to a local garden, take a few pics and enjoy a cream tea? Before you could say “cheese” I had packed my camera bag, raided my husband’s wallet, left a reminder to pick the kids up from school and jumped in the car.

Arley Hall is just down the road and although I’ve been there several times I haven’t photographed its lovely formal gardens. Actually I was in for a bit of a surprise as it wasn’t the latter that held my attention on this visit, but rather an area that I was directed to by the lady behind the counter in the gift shop – the Grove and Woodland Walk. It’s easy to miss these unless you pay careful attention to the map or are tipped off as I was. Instead of following the signs to the gardens you have to head off to the left towards the Chapel – itself well worth a visit especially when it’s decked out with flowers.

As I approached the Grove I was struck by the usual dilemma of where to start taking photographs. Everything looked so beautiful, especially given the perfect weather conditions, and it’s tempting to just click away at everything. Experience has shown that it’s better to give it a little thought and have a plan of sorts – but nothing too rigid as you never know exactly what you’re going to come across. I find that trying to bear the following few points in mind will help to focus your attention and stop you from just “firing at will”.

Capture a sense of place... try to consider what makes this particular place memorable for you, which features and aspects. For me, at Arley Hall, it’s the clock tower first and foremost. It is pretty rather than imposing and it can be seen from almost everywhere in the gardens. The first view of the clock from the end of the Pleached Lime Avenue never fails to please visitors and it must surely be a very well photographed view. I particularly liked the criss-crossing shadows formed by the trees.

If you’re photographing flowers and plants in gardens that you go to, it’s inevitable that you will capture the season during which you visited, but by ensuring that you also make a concerted effort to capture a sense of place, you will avoid the feeling that those pictures of daffodils or cherry blossom could have been taken anywhere. I try to have a mix of close ups of particularly spectacular blooms and vistas that indicate where I was.

 The magnolias are the show stoppers at Arley at this time of year. They are so large and showy and seem to know that this is their time to shine, after the best of the blossoms and before the rhododendrons and azaleas burst onto centre stage. They are not the easiest of flowers to photograph as they tend to look better from a distance, like delicate coloured hankies attached to the branches but I found that by looking up I could put them against the deep blue of the sky.

Later on, as I wandered through the formal gardens I was on the hunt for a different view of the clock tower. I found it in the Kitchen Garden, with another magnificent magnolia tree in the foreground and the clock tower against the blue sky in the background.

I’m acutely aware that I’ve mentioned the deep blue sky several times now and that brings me to another key point on your mental checklist. Before you start shooting away, especially on a bright, sunny day, consider the position of the sun. In the direction of the sun, the sky will appear almost white (unless you’re lucky enough to be visiting the garden at sunrise or sunset) and will not add anything to your scenic pictures. Consider cropping the sky out altogether rather than having an expanse of white nothingness at the top of your shot. The sky will be at its most blue in the opposite direction to the sun and ideally you need to shoot in this direction.

Bright and sunny conditions are problematic when you are photographing flowers in the garden. What looks like a beautiful flower in bright sunshine may look very different in your final shot, with harsh bright areas and deeply contrasting shadows. It’s always better to photograph flowers in even, filtered light or sometimes in gently dappled light. I experimented with this in the Glade where there were some magnificent early rhododendrons in flower. Rather than the obvious shot of the sunlit flowers I crept around the back of the bush and photographed the blossoms in the shade. (I hope I didn’t startle too many other visitors as I popped out from behind bushes!).

If you would like to read more on the subject of the right light for photographing flowers see my blog post Photographing flowers.

 Go for variations of the obvious shots. Everywhere you visit has a view that everyone photographs, like the Taj Mahal with the long pool in front of it. Gardens are no exception and you’ll recognise them from the garden’s literature or by the amount of people jockeying for position in certain places. There are various aspects of the formal gardens at Arley that are probably photographed by every visitor – the view down through the Walled Garden, Ilex Avenue lined with its imposing columns and the Tea Cottage.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to photograph these beautiful places, but you’ll be more proud of your images if you manage to give them a slightly different twist. For example I included the branches of a magnolia tree in the foreground of my shot of the Tea Cottage. Ilex Avenue was more of a challenge as the sun was high in the sky and the columns cast very large black shadows. I did settle for a rather obvious shot in the end and found myself wishing for the first time that afternoon that I’d got my daughter with me to photograph on the steps leading up to the Avenue. I waited for a while for all the people to disappear out of view – folks do amble slowly when they’re garden gazing!

I hadn’t realised that Arley also has a rock garden tucked away in a far corner beyond the tennis courts. It was really peaceful and I could have sat for a long time listening to the water tinkling on the rocks, but I didn’t want to miss out on a cream tea on the Tea Lawn by the Tudor Barn! As I hurried towards the garden exit I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of two lambs snoozing under a tree with their mum. A reminder that Arley Hall is set within a larger working estate and a perfect closing shot for my visit!

As usual I am already planning a return visit – most likely in July or August when the Herbaceous Border will be at its best. I’m also going to be watching out for Arley opening its gardens for an evening event and being able to capture the gardens in a totally different light.

This blog is also published on the Cheshire Life website.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

How to take great pictures of babies

From the moment they explode into our lives babies are amazing! For something so small they have a massive impact on everything we do. Life as we know it ceases to be and the world revolves completely around them. We are totally governed by their every need and mesmerized by their very prescence. Go on, admit it, you've idled away many a moment just watching your precious new arrival sleeping and breathing. It's no surprise that we take literally hundreds of photographs, trying to capture every expression and moment. And it's not easy is it?! New babies sleep for England and when they're awake their eyes can't focus and can look a bit bozz eyed for the camera! Well, here's a few helpful hints to ensure that you make the most of this magical, albeit brief time.

Place baby on a sofa covered by a blanket to create a neutral background.
Location: Put your baby in a snuggly, safe and warm place in front of a window where the natural daylight from outside is falling onto them. Floor to ceiling windows are best. If the window is higher up then place baby safely on a sofa or bean bag. If you cover the sofa in a neutral blanket it creates an uncluttered background. Avoid areas of bright sunlight as it creates harsh shadows. Just move back away from the window a little. My children used to have a crib under the living room window and in the afternoon the light was wonderful. Hold your camera nice and steady, lean against a wall for extra support if possible.

Clothing: Personally I think new-born babies look amazing in the altogether - their skin is so precious. You have to be careful to arrange limbs and shoot from the right angles of course and sometimes I use blankets or muslin cloths to preserve baby's modesty! Knitted hats and bootees can look very cute, especially if they are special gifts.

Camera settings: Whatever type of camera you are using, make sure your flash is turned off! If you are using a point and shoot compact camera or phone just take pictures from lots of different angles and zoom in to capture close ups of feet, hands and faces. Try using the Macro / flower setting to get some real close ups.

If you are a little more adept with your camera then take into account the following too: ideally you need a shutter speed of 1/60 minimum - you should be able to see this displayed on your camera LCD or in the viewfinder. If it's less than 1/60 try increasing the ISO number. Using the Program mode will allow you to get some nice shots, especially if you zoom in on details, but try using the Av / A aperture setting and try different low apertures such as f/3.5 or lower and close up shots to focus on tiny details and blur the background. If you are using very low apertures you need to be very careful where you focus. If you have time to plan ahead a 50mm fixed lens will give some great results.

Photograph newborns when they're asleep... because it's easier and also because they look so cute! In the first two weeks a newborn baby will still tend to curl up its legs and arms when asleep and it's such a beautiful pose. The best time is when baby has been changed and fed and has gone into a deep sleep. I'm sure you've realised that nothing short of an explosion will wake them and it's surprisingly easy to move them into nice positions.

Having said that, it's lovely to get some pictures of eyes open and new babies have some extremely comical faces - even mid cry!

Photograph hands and feet... and include your own hands for a sense of scale and to create a picture full of emotional impact. And don't forget to photograph those all important little bootees and gifts, again putting them in natural daylight near a window.

For ideas and tips on how to photograph babies Pinterest is an amazing resource and I've collated quite a few boards full of gorgeous pictures and useful suggestions.

If you've enjoyed my blog please leave me a comment! If you're interested in photography lessons or know someone that would like a newborn shoot then please just get in touch with me!

Tel: 07868 750505

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Can you see the light?

(To view larger images simply click on them).

Sitting here with cold feet tucked up underneath me for warmth it seems remarkable that only yesterday I was strolling around the gardens at Dunham Massey, enjoying feeling the warm Spring sunshine on my face.

I thought I should visit the recently opened Winter Garden as soon as possible, given that the Spring Equinox has been and gone. I wasn't sure what to expect beyond daffodils and hellebores and was really surprised and delighted to see so much more. Like a child in a sweet shop I really didn't know where to start and was in danger of just clicking away at everything. With so many beautiful flowers on display it can be surprisingly difficult to take a good picture. So I made myself slow down and first simply follow the wide paths that meandered through the swathes of daffodils and hellebores. A great shot always starts with the light. Evenly filtered daylight or backlighting works well for flowers and plants and I was on the hunt for both.

A clump of daffodils might look nice as you stand admiring it but can end up looking pretty uninspiring as a photograph. A vista showing flowers carpeting the ground as far as the eye can see makes a good shot, especially if you can focus on flowers in the foreground and gradually blur the background. I also hunted around for a few daffodils that were backlit, got down low and zoomed in on them to isolate them from the background.

Later I came across a variety of snowdrops that have very tall stems, a delight to photograph as I didn't end up with my usual muddy knees. I used the same technique of going in close to isolate a few perfect flowerheads. The sun was filtered through a light haze most of the time so the plants were nice and evenly lit.
The gardens have so much of interest in them at the moment and some things are not as obvious and showy as the daffodils, snowdrops and hellebores. Twigs in bud, twisted branches, curly catkins and dead seed heads can all make very creative and striking images if you apply the simple rules of looking for good light and zooming in close. I used a macro / close up lens and also selected the AV mode to set a low f value, which blurs the background, but you can achieve a similar effect with a compact camera by using the close up setting (usually a flower symbol) and zooming in close.

The light was great yesterday for photographing flowers in close up as it was very hazy rather than direct sunlight. It did make it a little more difficult to shoot nice vistas as the haze reduced the contrasts between light and dark in the background, a bit like mist would, making scenes look flat. Every now and again the haze would clear and the difference was remarkable, a flat, lifeless view suddenly leapt into 3D relief, colours became intense and more saturated.

It really was a lovely day to be out in such beautiful surroundings, as evidenced by the number of people enjoying the gardens. I was again struck by the appeal of gardens to such a diverse group. Older couples strolled around and competed about who could identify the correct plant variety before the other, younger couples walked around hand in hand and mums pushed buggies and fed the ducks and geese with toddlers.
The ability to use the light to your advantage and to be able to see where it has created a subject or scene that will make a great photograph lies at the heart of all photography. Spend some time learning to see the light and you will see some great results.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Mad hatter

I’ve come up with a cunning plan to combine my two favourite hobbies and have even managed to dress it up as a strategic business development opportunity. Number one hobby / obsession has already been turned into a profession (although it will always be a work in progress). My second passion is knitting, especially knitting small things that can be completed over a few days. I used to start far more ambitious projects (note the use of the word “start”), but they usually proved to be costly mistakes. £25 of merino wool either transformed into some hideous garment that I would never wear, or simply didn’t get beyond the half a sleeve stage. Abigail was rummaging through one of my knitting baskets the other day and held up several half-finished and very un-loved projects, querying “What’s this mummy?”. One item was part of an apple green jumper for a seven year old. I could no longer remember which part and Abigail is now ten!

Anyway I digress. I am now knitting hats for newborn babies – devastatingly cute and ultra fast to complete. I can whip one out per night or per double episode of Waking the Dead. I am not diversifying into selling hats for babies (although if needs must...), but I do hope I’ve hit upon a way of breaking into a new photography market. Once upon a time newborn babies were only photographed in hospital, something I didn’t quite get. I wanted to be photographed with my precious new baby but I looked like I’d been attacked by the Michelin Man (a bit like being Tangoed but instead of being turned orange I had been inflated), not to mention the suitcases under my eyes. Many mums (me included) then waited for several months until baby could hold its head up and focus both eyes in the same direction before shelling out for a photo shoot. There’s a growing trend now for babies to be photographed within the first 10-14 days when they still have that newborn, curled up, scrunched up look. The photo shoots take place in the comfort of the home, at a relaxed pace and around the baby’s non-existent schedule. New babies sleep for England and capturing them curled up and oh so new to the world is absolutely magical. They lose that special “newness” within a few weeks, unfurling, filling out and growing at an unbelievable rate. Blink and you’ll miss it. I wish I had taken many more pictures of my children during this brief phase.

During an idle moment perusing knitting books I came across one full of the most outrageous hats for newborns and babies. The photography was gorgeous and I experienced one of those “Eureka” moments. Tiny new babies in super soft chunky hats hand knitted by yours truly. The chunkiness, texture and softness of the woollen hats give a sense of scale and a feeling of protection, as well as just being so darn cute!

Since that moment I've been a one woman knitting factory and have put together a nice little collection of natty hats. I've made very good friends with the lady at the knitting shop in Knutsford - she's probably just being nice because I'm such a good customer now! I've probably scared off a few heavily pregnant women with my eagerness to get a few models for my hats! Thanks to those mums who have let me into their homes to photograph their precious bundles.

My new venture looks as if it's going to reap rewards. I can't wait to photograph baby Ocean next week - suspect the azure blue hat will go down well. And I've had a lot of interest in the hats too. Perhaps I should offer them as a package...!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Make hay whilst the sun shines, but don't take close ups of flowers!

Here's a likely scenario. Sunday morning, you wake up, open the curtains and it's a lovely sunny day. There's a high chance that you'll then say, "let's go out somewhere and make the most of the nice weather". You might choose to go and visit a local garden, treat yourself to a cream tea and buy a new plant for your own slice of Eden. If you're more likely to go mountain biking or to the pub there's probably not much point reading on.

If you've opted for the garden then bear with me. Chances are you'll take your camera with you, hoping to get a half decent shot or two to remind you of your visit and perhaps show to some like minded gardeners / appreciators. What I'm about to tell you will significantly increase the odds of your photographs being more than half decent.

Let's discuss the weather first. The sun is beating down, there's not a cloud in the azure blue sky. Perfect conditions for strolling around admiring luscious lawns and beds bursting with flowers of every hue. Out comes the camera and you're clicking away. A close up of a cream rose with petals edged with a delicate pink, a bee burrowing into the centre of a foxglove. Perfect! You can't wait to look at the pictures and you might even use the one of the rose to make a birthday card for someone.

Unfortunately there's a good chance that you'll be somewhat disappointed when you load them onto your computer. The camera doesn't always see what we see. Our eyes are used to evening out the contrasts between light and shade but the camera records faithfully with the result that your picture is likely to have very dark shadows and be lacking lots of the lovely details you remembered seeing.

This happens if the flower is in direct sunlight. Ideally you should find one that is in the shade or use the shade of your own body. I tried a couple of options with the hellebore to demonstrate the difference.

Both the above shots are better than the original one, with less deep shadows and the intensity of the pink petals and green leaves works very well.

Let's look now at flowers photographed in shade - ones you might have overlooked at the time because they didn't seem as attractive as the ones lit by the sun. The light is much more even and the colours are more saturated and intense. Petal and stamen details are not hidden in shadow. Of course it's sods law that the most photogenic flowers in the whole garden were the ones in bright sunlight!
But I hope I've made my point. Direct sunlight is not great for photographing flowers in close up. But you'll be pleased it hear that it is good for photographing garden scenes - just make sure the sun is off to one side or behind you - not directly in front!
All these pictures were taken at Bluebell Cottage Gardens, which opens 30th March 2011.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

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Is AUTO only for beginners (and what the heck is"P")?

“Oh, I never take my camera off AUTO”. A very frequent comment when I talk to people about their photography. Usually said with an air of slight embarrassment as if it’s something to be ashamed about. They would be pleasantly surprised and reassured to hear that I often have my camera on an AUTO mode (although I use the P automatic mode – more on that later). I have lots of gadgets and machines in my home that offer a variety of settings and I only use one all the time – the dishwasher springs to mind. If I choose the ECO setting it does what I want it to and I feel good that I’ve done something slightly environmentally friendly. I know there are faster and hotter settings, salt rinses etc but I’ve never bothered to work out how to use them and I don’t really care as long as my dishes are sparkling. It’s like that with a camera – as long as AUTO allows you to take a good photo and get the result you want, you don’t need to go off piste and try the other settings. So it’s fine to set your camera to AUTO, but it's better that it’s a conscious decision rather than the only option.

Regular readers of my blogs (I fool myself into thinking there are a few!) will be familiar with my views on technological knowhow versus the role of opportunity and having a natural eye. You could know how to use every setting on your camera but still be unable to spot a good shot or perhaps not even have the camera with you when a great shot presents itself. Taking a good picture relies primarily on being in the right place at the right time, an ability to see that something before you has the making of a good image and having your camera at the ready. In many instances these elements will be sufficient and so will having the camera set to AUTO. However, there are situations where the automatic setting cannot get the best results and if you haven’t got other options then you won’t get the optimum shot. You may have already experienced the frustration of spotting a great photo opportunity, only to find that the shot is blurred or wrongly exposed, despite the fact that your camera has previously delivered great results for you.

LIGHT – or not enough of it may be the cause of the majority of your problems when using the camera on AUTO. The camera automatically sets the shutter speed to suit the available light. On a dull day or in deep shade it will use a slower shutter speed to let more light in. This can mean that although the resulting photograph will be correctly exposed any movement may be blurred or the whole picture may suffer from camera shake. Your camera is quite clever and knows this and will decide to fire the flash to provide some extra light. This might not give you the effect you were looking for as flash can be quite harsh or unflattering. If you take the camera off the AUTO setting you would have a number of options available to you, to stop the flash firing and increase the amount of light coming into the camera without slowing down the shutter speed too much. Setting a larger aperture (lower F number) with the AV (aperture value) setting or increasing the ISO would probably work.

You might be thinking that this is not particularly relevant for you but there are lots of circumstances where you could come across dull light conditions during the day. I have done several shoots in woodland areas and have found that the canopy of leaves reduces the light to such an extent that my subjects are blurred if they are moving e.g. running, waving, even just walking. Flash can just kill the atmosphere and make the background appear unnaturally dark. Using other camera settings has enabled me to still get the shot I was looking for.

Another common instance when you might benefit from moving off AUTO is when you are photographing something or someone against a cluttered background. If you are zooming in on the subject then the background will start to blur but you can control how much it blurs and how much your subject stands out by using the AV setting and using a larger aperture (lower F number).

Taking the camera off AUTO and knowing what setting to use instead puts you in control rather than the camera. When I use an automatic setting I make a conscious choice rather than using it because I don’t know what else to try.

Note that I said “an automatic setting” not the AUTO setting. You may not be aware of it but your camera is likely to offer a semi-automatic mode called P or “Program Mode”. In this mode you can make some of the decisions for yourself and make some corrections. For example you decide when to use the flash – it doesn’t fire automatically. You also have the option to make the picture lighter or darker using something called Exposure Compensation. And you would also be able to change a number of other settings whilst still letting the camera automatically set the shutter speed and aperture size.

It can be quite scary when you go off piste (off AUTO) for the first time, but what have you got to lose? If you make a mistake you can delete it and try again. I experimented with the AV setting by propping my foot up on a stool one day and taking pictures of my big toe with different apertures! Needless to say you won’t find those shots on my web site! And try the TV (time value) setting to increase and decrease the shutter speed with a moving subject – I have lots of photos of blurred running dog progressively becoming in focus running dog!

Not sure about apertures and shutter speeds? Forget your manual, it’s unlikely to help you and sadly neither will many of the magazines and books which claim to be guides to digital photography. In my experience they all assume a certain level of knowledge and tend to jump in at quite a technical level. The best quick introduction I’ve found is in Annabel William’s book “99 portrait Photo Ideas” where she tells you just enough to go out and have a go. Then once you’ve had a play around and grasped the basics that’s the time to start looking at the books and delving in a little deeper.

It’s easier to practise these settings outside in daylight, so do a bit of reading in the evening, use the Quick Set Up Guide, which hopefully came with your camera, to learn how to change the AV and TV settings and then get out with your camera during the day. And don’t forget that AUTO is there for a reason – it will give you a good shot in many circumstances – but go on, be a devil, try the P setting sometimes too! You’ll soon find that you’ll be using that in preference to AUTO and before you know it you’ll be flicking onto AV and TV too.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

The 3 "P"s of photographing toddlers

In 2010 I took Katie and Alice's portrait in their home and within a very short time had some picture perfect images of them sitting side by side in party dresses. Dad received a framed picture for his birthday and was, by all accounts, thrilled to bits. One year on and Mum, Tina, wants to mark his birthday again with a more up to date picture of their twin girls. Now, there's one major difference between last year and this - those girls are now toddling! When I arrived they were prettily dressed in matching tops, posh trousers and bows in their hair. Now I had more than a sneaking suspicion that things weren't going to progress as smoothly as last year - after all I've photographed a few hundred toddlers and have begun to understand the species quite well. I was under no illusion about the challenges I faced in trying to capture that perfect moment when two toddlers beamed at me, at the same time, whilst standing or sitting closely together. Once in a blue moon it does happen, usually when I'm changing lenses or catching my breath!

But let's come back to some sort of reality (and normality - I don't want mum to think that her girls are out of the norm!) when dealing with toddlers. They truly define the expression "a law unto themselves" in every sense. Whatever you think they're going to do, you can bet it will be the opposite. They cannot be directed, positioned or posed. Reasoning, begging and pleading fall on deaf ears. Distraction can work but you have to be prepared to work like greased lightening.  I usually enlist the help of mum, dad, nanna and older siblings to act like complete lunatics in order to get a toddler's attention and to earn their smiles and laughter. But remember that we're talking double trouble here and you can guarantee that whilst one child is beaming beautifully at the camera, the other has got closed eyes, hand in mouth or finger up nose! I sometimes use bubbles to get them to look upwards but that usually ends in complete chaos as you can't expect any self respecting toddler to sit quietly and admire the bubbles - where's the fun in that?!

Many of my clients want that dream shot of their beautiful children, smiling together with scrubbed, shiny faces and best party outfits. And if you're lucky and the wind is blowing in the right direction and the gods are smiling down on you then you just might get it. And as kids get older and respond better to bribery and cajoling it becomes much easier. However,I try to persuade parents of babies and very young children that it's better to forget trying to stage manage the shoot, forget Pears Soap portraits and concentrate on photographing toddlers being toddlers. They are absolutely wonderful creatures, fascinated by and engrossed in the world around them. Walking and running is a novelty - they don't care where they're going just as long as they can do go there without being stopped. Toys are great but they'd pick puddles, mud and sand any time.

I hope mum and dad like the photos - we did manage to get a few of the girls smiling side by side (albeit fastened down in their high chairs!), but I will always prefer the portraits of Katie and Alice as they raced around the farm yard, splashing (and sitting) in puddles and bouncing around in glee on the trampoline!

Oh and the 3 "P"s of photographing toddlers - Patience, Perseverance but above all Play.Posted by Picasa

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Bloomin' gorgeous Winter

The landscape can seem pretty barren and drab at this time of year - everything can appear tired and faded, with barren fields and bare branches. At least this is what I used to think, but I've come to appreciate and love this time of year. Clearly it lacks the lushness and colourfulness of the other three
 seasons but look for beauty in the landscape and you will find it. I particularly like the contrast of faded, almost yellow fields and burgundy brown bare hedges - Mother Nature never puts colours together that don't work and these two shades are stunning together. When everything else is stripped back the most simple details - bark on branches and single leaves for example - are often striking in their simplicity. The light is wonderful at this time of year as the sun is lower in the sky, making it softer and lighting everything from the side rather than directly above. You get lovely soft shadows modelling and contouring your subjects. The teasels in the first shot are light from behind by the diffused winter sun making the spikes stand out from the background. Focusing on them has thrown the reeds in the background out of focus and created the perfect back drop.

The solitary leaf in the second picture caught my eye. It almost looks like an insect's cocoon and along with the new buds on the twigs hints of Spring.  The leaf stands out nicely against the background of diagonal twigs.

The first snowdrops and hellebores should be making an appearance sometime over the coming weeks. I've visited Rode Hall a few times to enjoy and photograph their snowdrop walk, but just google "snowdrop walks" at this time of year and you'll be spoilt for choice. Last year we had a lot of snow in February and I rushed out to capture snowdrops in snow but was disappointed to find that they looked less spectacular than when they are against a contrasting background of brown earth and green grass. My favourite images in the grouping below are the two bottom left, where leaves, mulch and pine cones provide interest, with just a hint of snow to suggest Winter.

When photographing anything at ground level at this time of year I always wear waterproof trousers or carry a bin liner, as you really need to get down at their level. Hellebores hide their beauty under their bonnet of petals and snowdrops are just so delicate that you need to get down low. To get a shot of a drift of snowdrops covering the woodland floor, you can stand up and avoid wet, muddy knees. But be aware of harsh, contrasting light if the sun is out and if it's a dull day be careful to avoid camera shake as the canopy of trees can make it quite dark. But NEVER use your flash unless you are looking for a very flat, stylised look. The best advice is to experiment - one of the benefits of digital photography!Posted by Picasa

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

I have around 55,000 images in my picture library. If I assume that around 50% are work related that leaves 22,500 personal images taken since I got my first digital camera back in 2002. Forgive my shaky mental arithmetic but that works out at about 2,500 per year, or just over 200 per month on average... that actually feels quite reasonable, especially when I consider that I took 360 pictures on our recent holiday in Cape Verde. However, it would be an exhorbitant and quite impossible number if I was still using a film camera - imagine the cost in films, developing, postage or bus fare.
I guess that I could be considered a hard core user when it comes to my photography habit. Strangely enough I am often the only person with a camera at many social occasions, although increasingly less so these days. I feel bereft if I leave the house without at least one camera and am convinced that I will miss a golden opportunity - that once in a lifetime shot. Indeed it is a mantra and firm belief of mine that good photography is as much about opportunity as it is about knowing your way around a camera. Quite simply, it's often about being in the right place at the right time WITH YOUR CAMERA AT THE READY. But I'll save that lecture for another blog and endeavour to keep on topic, which, in case it's not yet apparent, is why do we take so many photographs (some of us admittedly more than others)? I'm excluding professional photographers, myself included and have my personal hat on.
The affordability and accessibility of digital photography has completely changed the way we take photographs and enjoy them. Photography is no longer confined to special occasions and holidays but is a part of our everyday life - a picture snapped on a mobile phone is uploaded onto Facebook in seconds for thousands to view and enjoy. When did someone last show you a dog eared photo of their beloved child or pet from a wallet? I'll bet it was displayed on a phone or IPOD. 
The digital age has changed our relationship with photography but I don't believe that the underlying emotional need has altered. We just do more of it for the same reason - and for me that is to freeze a moment in time, capture it and make it into something more tangible than a fleeting memory. Equally as important is the need to then share that moment with others. And as time goes by, those images of moments that were important enough to us to photograph become increasingly more treasured and special, because the memories fade and cannot possibly retain all the details.
The collection of photographs shown here are all taken from my childhood and represent just about all the pictures of me upto the age of about twelve. Baby photographs are conspicuous in their absence - my mother died when I was around 9 weeks old and photography probably wasn't top of mind for my poor dad. Despite that I am still struck by how few images there are, but this is probably not that unusual for the era (1965-1977). After this period I know there are many more photographs still in my dad's possession - he was a bit of  a gadget fiend and was (and still is) a keen photographer. But this handful of pictures is extremely valuable to me - I see things I couldn't possibly remember and without photography those details would be lost forever. The picture of my mum is one of only 3 that I have, sadly there are none of her with me. What I also find interesting is how much the line blurs between what we think we remember and what we are actually remembering from photographs. Our memories of smells and how things felt are often more accurate than of things we saw. I can remember how the big old sofa in the living room felt both velvety and rough and had soft gold fringes around the cushions but I can't remember sitting on it with my brothers and a ball bigger than me!
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By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Taking great pictures over Christmas

We had our first Wincham / Pickmere photography group last night and talked about how to get good shots over Xmas, without getting too technical. Hope you find them useful.

“The best camera is the one you have with you at the time”.

Always have your camera near you so that if something happens you are ready to grab the shot. Taking great photos often isn’t about knowing how to use all the different settings, but more about OPPORTUNITY and being able to SEE THE IMAGE.

Take a few practise shots, check the results, adjust settings if necessary and you’ll be well prepared.

The best shots of people are often the candid ones, especially children. Get them used to you taking photos all the time and they will be less self conscious.

For posed photographs help make people relax by talking to them, make them laugh. Try getting people to say “Cheeky Monkeys” or “Smelly Socks” and after you’ve done one shot get people to tickle each other or hug.

If you want a more informal group shot ask people to toast each other, meeting each others’ eyes rather than looking at the camera. This can also reduce red eye. (But don’t worry about red eye and don’t use “Red eye reduction” setting on camera as the double flash is off putting and it takes longer so you can miss the moment. Sort out red eye on the computer afterwards.)

Get people really close together, heads nice and close and all on the same plane (i.e. not some further in front or behind the others as you could risk some being out of focus).

Take several shots of groups in case anyone had their eyes closed.

Fill the frame when taking pictures of people. Use the zoom on your camera to catch candid shots of the kids—they won’t know you’re taking the shot and zooming in has the effect of blurring the background, making the person stand out.

Try different angles—get down to the same level as your children or shoot from low down or high up. Tilt the camera slightly and take the picture on an angle. Experiment.

At night time or in low light try using the night portrait setting on your camera to capture the lovely Christmas lights / candles etc behind or near your subject. Make sure the flash is on and select night portrait. The camera fires a quick burst of flash but then keeps the shutter open for a moment longer to allow light in. Hold the camera steady or you’ll risk camera shake. Rest the camera on a level surface if possible. Try taking pictures of the children by the Christmas tree like this. Or of the Christmas pudding as it is aflame.

If you want to take a picture of Christmas lights in a town or garden etc, rest the camera on a wall, make sure the flash is off and press the shutter. You can do this in AUTO mode. If the picture is too dark, use the TV mode (Might be “S” on some cameras) and slow down the shutter speed. Experiment until you are happy with the shot.

If you are taking pictures of people on a bright sunny day outdoors, use the flash to avoid harsh shadows. Overcast days are actually the best for photographing people. Snowy overcast days are great as colours of scarves, hats etc look really intense against the white snow.

On cold frosty days look for interesting details and zoom in close—use the MACRO setting. Frosted cobwebs, reeds, teasels etc look magical covered in frost.

Landscapes—use rule of thirds, try to lead the eye, have a clear focal point.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Get out there now!

This is one of my favourite times of year as a photographer. Crisp, clear days, a pure quality of light and an abundance of colours and fascinating subjects. If you are familiar with my photographic style you'll know that I don't usually go in for landscape photography as such, but prefer to find some detail in the landscape - whether that's a close up shot of a leaf, bark, plant etc or a feature within the landscape. I have a wonderful book by David Ward called "The Landscape Within", which has been the inspiration for many of my own shots.

Several years ago I did an assignment on Autumn as part of my A' Level in Photography. At that time I was still using a compact camera, so all the shots shown here are shot on that - a Panasonic Lumix - lovely cameras. Autumn leaves are the obvious autumnal shot and I went off to Tatton Park and Biddulph Grange in search of fiery acers. The red image on the left didn't require any special
techniques - it was just a case of framing the right shot and zooming in a little to blur the background.
 The small shot on the left is quite unusual - the sun had caught the outer branches and leaves of an acer, whilst the trees and bushes in the background were relatively dark as they were in deep shade. When I looked at this shot on the computer I decided to further deepen the shadows and brighten and saturate the leaves. Unusually for me I then applied an effect called cut out which simplifies the colour palette and emphasised the contrast between the leaves and the background (and my Photoshop skills were almost non-existent in those days!).

Although technical ability does play a part in creating a good shot (it makes it easier to achieve what you want), I strongly believe that it's having the all important eye and being constantly on the look out for an interesting composition that is the crucial factor. The shot of leaves under water remains one of my favourite images of Autumn and once I'd spotted it, it was only a matter of framing the shot and pressing the shutter (most likely all done on AUTO in those days!).

I mentioned the amazing clarity and quality of the light at this time of year - it must be something to do with atmospherics and temperature, but you can't beat a cold, clear autumnal day as far as I'm concerned. And as the sun sets earlier you are more likely to be out and about and able to get some great shots. The golden light makes for extremely flattering portraits - this is one of Abbie that I particularly like.

David Ward in "The Landscape Within" seeks out details which are different to the usual landscape shot. I tried to do the same with this shot of the Tyne Bridge at sunset. After firing off lots of shots of the entire bridge I zoomed in and focused on the idea of commuters on their way home, lifted by the wonderful sunset on the river.

As Autumn moves into Winter we'll get the first frosts (possibly sooner than we think as a cold spell is now forecast) and early in the morning the most mundane of objects is transformed by an icy coat. I love this shot of barbed wire and cobwebs and almost want to shiver as I look at the frosty fields beyond.

So dig out those scarves, hats and fingerless gloves and get out there now!!!

(And don't get me started on fungi - I spent a whole day photographing over 50 types of mushrooms - separate blog to follow!)

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Don't let your favourite photos languish on your hard drive - get 'em out!!

We returned from our summer holiday in Cornwall with hundreds of lovely photos of the beautiful cornish scenery, the kids playing on the beach, surfing in the sea - the usual stuff. I sort of had a plan right from the start of the holiday to do something special with the pictures when we got back, rather than leave them on the computer, never to see the light of day. We don't use albums any more (does anyone?) and we only print a few pictures out every now and again - in fact I think it's almost a year ago since we last did.

I've put lots of photobooks together for clients but never for ourselves, so this time I was determined to. As ever I took photographs every day and almost everywhere we visited and
from time to time I spent a little time in the evening jotting down a few notes about the day's events, anything funny the kids had said or the dog had done!

I was all set up when I got home to put the book together and couldn't wait to get on with it. I used Bobsbooks for the first time as they offered full double page spreads, nice quality binding and a full colour wraparound hard cover. They are not the cheapest around but I think you get what you pay for. I downloaded their software and over the next couple of weeks I did a bit of the book at a time. The software for all the different companies is usually pretty intuitive - each has its little foibles which can be frustrating at times but overall it's drag and drop your image into a standard template, move it around and resize it if you want, add some text and so on.
Well, I don't know about you but I was absolutely delighted with the finished result and was dancing around in excitement when it was delivered. The quality is great, lovely vibrant colours, thick pages and just fab! It's slightly under A4 size and now sits in pride of place on my new cabinet in the family room. Any visitors to the house get it shoved into their hands but I've not had any complaints yet!

So go on - get those pictures off your computer and do something with them. I'm already planning a lot of Christmas presents and had better get started as I'm sure they'll get busy soon, as photo books are becoming increasingly popular and are replacing the traditional photo album. (And Bobsbooks are not paying me - I just think credit should be given where it's due!).

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Eaton Hall Estate - a perfect, private paradise

 Sunday 29th August –heavy rain showers in the morning gradually cleared to leave an unexpectedly sunny but blustery afternoon. After the summer we’ve had I will not waste a single ray of sunshine by sitting indoors. The children, however, take ever more convincing that a trip to yet another garden is going to be a fun day out. The promise of ice cream usually works and I have been known to embellish the truth somewhat: “Sam - this one has a dragon garden!” – “What, with real dragons? Like kimodo dragons?” – “I don’t know – there might be...”

Even though we didn’t spot any real dragons on our visit to Eaton Hall Estate, we will remember it as one of the more unusual gardens. I am still scratching my head over quite how to summarise it in a few hundred words. This 11,000 acre estate lies just a few miles outside Chester and is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. The gardens are only opened to the public on three days each year and I was very thankful that I had marked the last open day in 2010 on a spreadsheet of gardens to visit. A quick look at the web site was enough to intrigue me – a French style chateau and the promise of several different style gardens. Right from the car park it felt very different to a trip to Tatton. Smartly dressed young RAF cadets shepherded cars into neat rows and a very polite chap took our money, rounding it down to £10, thus giving free entry for the kids. As we always take all morning to get ready to go out it was well past lunch time by this point and we headed straight for the refreshments. Tea, coffee and homemade cakes were served in the covered courtyard adjacent to a magnificent collection of horse drawn carriages. The courtyard was buzzing with visitors and dogs - we had left Daisy at home guessing she would be unwelcome and I was feeling very guilty as we spotted yet another boxer dog.

Having browsed through (and purchased) a book about the gardens I was keen to get going and we headed into the walled kitchen garden where it was evident that the household still very much relies on its abundant produce. It was here that it became apparent that these are gardens where design and form reign – nothing is allowed to stray outside of a precise plan. The branches of fruit trees have been carefully trained horizontally and vertically and every area is precisely delineated. This theme of perfection and formality continues throughout the gardens, even the vast lawns stretching away down to the lake are mown in stripes. Box hedges look as if they would pass any spirit level test and loungers and parasols stand in perfect symmetry by the family swimming pool. The pool is a stark reminder that this is someone’s home. Abigail and Sam couldn’t get their heads around that: “People actually live here?!” We weren’t sure whether to be dark green with envy or just glad that we had the chance to ogle and explore such a private and splendid garden. It’s easier to live with the latter – we would have to go back to our little house and garden at the end of the day after all. We also assumed that the policemen and women strolling around the gardens weren’t just enjoying an afternoon out – another clue that someone important lives here.

As ever my initially reluctant children were soon running ahead of us, keen to get to the next garden or pool before we did. Running up and down stone steps, along pathways, across grass, sitting on giant stone balls, posing next to statues of knights and dogs, hiding behind hedges and jumping out, but best of all dashing through the spray from the fountains as it blew sideways across the grass. Who needs kimodo dragons to keep their interest?! And there was plenty to keep Nic and I interested too. The Lioness and Kudu statue in the oval pond is stunning and fantastic to photograph, with the dark blue water of the brimming pond contrasting with the green grass.
The most photographed part of the gardens must be the Dragon Garden, with the French chateau style house and the clock tower in the background. The dragon statue in the pond and that of an ibis are beautiful, but it is the design of the formal garden and its gorgeous purple, white and green planting scheme, with the house as a backdrop that make it so special. And have I mentioned that it was a glorious afternoon with blue skies and the occasional fluffy cloud? Photographer’s heaven! To mention the lake, the rose garden, the flower borders and the wild flower garden would run the risk of turning this from a blog into a full blown guide book. But I can’t leave out the tea house garden – well the tea house itself really as the gardens were probably at their best earlier in the summer. I could easily imagine myself sitting on the veranda of this black and white building, watching the dappled light playing across the chequered stone floor and sipping tea (or something stronger, as apparently the windows are decorated with glass circles from bottles!). The kids also enjoyed watching light playing across the teahouse, as there was a modern art installation creating arcs and cubes inside the teahouse.

Although the gardens themselves are very formal the atmosphere and mood was very relaxed and people were extremely friendly, from the man who let us off £2 off the entry fee, to the lady who allowed us to eat our own sandwiches in the refreshment hall (we did buy tea and cakes too!). The brass band in front of the Parrot House (no parrots in sight either – sorry, Sam!) played well known and not at all stuffy tunes – we sat on the grass in the sunshine and listened to a theme from a Bond movie. We were reluctant to leave at the end of the afternoon as the sun was still warm, but the Eaton Estate was closing its enormous black and gold gates to the public until next spring. What I wouldn’t give to see the gardens in the autumn, partly for the colours and light, but also to see the neat pathways and lawns strewn with leaves and mussed up just a little!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

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Perks of the Job

Actually there are two recent shoots which could warrant this title! The reason the first qualified as a perk is a bit sexist I suppose but I don’t think the clients will mind! The owners of the gorgeous and very friendly Bez (see earlier blog) gave my name to a couple, Stacey and Lee, with four month old India. I was really looking forward to this shoot, partly because I love photographing very young babies, but also because I knew they wanted a very stylised black and white look to the photographs. Oh – and how could I forget to mention that they also have a very handsome boxer dog called Kilo! Regular followers of my blog will know that we have a boxer too and that immediately pre-supposes that we will get on well with all other boxer owners – a bit like the Porsche owners club! (Although I don’t think Porsche would thank me for that analogy!).

Stacey had a very clear idea of what she wanted – very simple images of Lee with India primarily and then anything else was a bonus. With Lee stripped to the waist holding a naked India I set about capturing some special moments between father and daughter. We worked fast as babies have a tendency to mood swings and frequent calls of nature (India only peed all over Lee once!) and I could immediately tell that we were going to have some lovely photographs. It would have been a real shame for Stacey not to be in the shots as well and so I got a few great shots of all three of them. Stacey was wearing a strapless maxi dress and the final shots are just gorgeous, with no clothes to distract from the simplicity. The final challenge was to get some shots of Kilo and then of the family altogether. I have to say that Kilo was brilliantly behaved – are we the only people with a completely bonkers boxer dog?! What could have been utter chaos – parents with baby and dog – was really easy and painless; in fact the whole shoot had been very enjoyable, not like work at all!

Back to perks of the job – it wasn’t until I got back home and looked through the pictures that I realised I had been photographing a really hunky, half naked man. I was quite impressed with my own professionalism – not being distracted on the job as it were! Anyway, I loved the pictures and by all accounts Stacey and Lee are very pleased too. India is absolutely gorgeous and it was exactly the right way to photograph her, so that her beautiful baby skin, tiny toes and fingers and big eyes are the focus of every shot. To find out about the second perk read my blog “A night with a difference”.

Bluebell Cottage Gardens

 I don’t think a lot of people realise just how many beautiful gardens lie hidden around the Cheshire countryside. I often mention to friends that I have visited a particular garden and nine times out of ten they are oblivious to its existence, even when it lies only a few miles away. Occasionally someone will claim to “have seen the signpost” but have never diverted from their route to investigate. I am shocked at their “ignorance” and try to persuade them to go and have a look. I want to convince them that they are missing out on a lovely experience. Unsurprisingly I haven’t had many converts – my strange enthusiasm probably scares them off, but more than that I think I am guilty of forgetting everything my years in marketing have taught me about target markets. The majority of my friends just simply don’t seem to be the primary target consumers for gardens. When I visit gardens, particularly the less commercialised ones, I usually encounter lots of retired couples who are spending their well deserved leisure time strolling around, looking for inspiration for their own gardens, or just simply enjoying being there, in the fresh air, surrounded by nature’s bounty. The exceptions to this would be people like myself who are mad about garden and flower photography, and any keen young gardeners.

Bluebell Cottage Gardens is a beautiful garden that I have visited many times and feel everyone should know about. It’s a great “starter” garden if you’re a virgin garden visitor. It’s small enough to go round in half an hour and can be tied in with visits to other nearby attractions. It falls into the category of a smaller, non-commercialised garden although it does have a lovely, well stocked nursery – Lodge Lane Nursery – from which you can buy some of the plants you’ve seen in the garden and you will often find Sue Beesley, the owner, on hand to answer any questions you might have. You can’t miss Sue on account of her battered and well worn leather wide brimmed hat – I’m not sure I would recognise her without it!

I have been to the gardens several times over the last three years, both as a visitor and in a professional capacity and have had the pleasure of seeing it in different stages of maturity. I love seeing it in the springtime, partly for the bluebell woods (see earlier blog,) but also because it looks all neat – like a fresh short hair cut on my son – and you just know that it’s waiting to burst forth at the first sign of warm sunshine. I am always struck by the marked contrast when I visit later in the middle of summer, as I did on Sunday. The crisp, neat edges of the flower beds are softened and hidden in a profusion of colour and texture. Grasses which were just a few inches high now bob gracefully in the breeze at waist height and the trees in the orchard are laden with plums and apples. This year Sue has sown wildflower seeds beneath the trees and the effect is wonderful as you look up or down the gardens through the orchards.

I particularly like the fact that despite its relatively small size, there still feels like there’s a lot to explore and see. On Sunday I went to the gardens with my niece, great nephew (doesn’t that make me sound and feel old!) and daughter. Abigail loved walking across the lawns, holding hands with Joe Jack and leading him through into the different areas. They spent a lot of time rolling around on the grass and trying out all the different seats around the garden. I was left free to watch them from a distance and get some lovely portraits of them. It’s when I look at the photographs later that I wonder why more “non-core” target consumers don’t know what they are missing out on! Surely playing and exploring in such beautiful surroundings would appeal to almost anyone? There’s the added bonus that it’s a really cheap day out and there are usually tea rooms too! At the weekends you can partake in home baked cakes, locally made ice cream and of course a pot of tea in the basic but charming tea rooms at Bluebell Cottage Gardens. It’s a refreshing alternative to a soft play centre or MacDonalds and yet I bet the kids would have just as much fun, if not more!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

A really secret garden

You could easily fail to spot Walkden Gardens right towards the bottom of the list on the Cheshire Garden's web site and, equally, you might drive or walk straight past it on your way through Sale. Indeed many locals are probably unaware that there is a secret oasis right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a busy suburb of Manchester. I was purposefully looking for a garden to visit in the vicinity of Altrincham where I was working in the morning and Walkden Garden's own website promised "a beautiful and peaceful hideaway" and "a magical place". I met up with the rest of my little clan in the FREE(!) car park and we entered the gardens (which are also free to visit!), drawn immediately to the fairytale-like dovecote, originally built around 1840 and a now a grade II listed building. Wild roses climb the red brick walls and it was a wonderful spot in which to take a lovely photograph of Abigail, proudly wearing her new maxi dress. At the end of this blog I explain how I shot this. You can sit awhile and admire the dovecote from a bench built into a drystone wall in a modern curving wave form - the first sign for me that these gardens have been thoughtfully developed by people who care about design and natural materials and who want visitors to really enjoy their surroundings.

From the dovecote you walk towards the very striking Compass Point, made from granite and sandstone, with pebble mosaics and ceramic edgings. The compass marks the heart of the gardens and points towards the different areas, from the Woodland Walk, the Field of Hope, Japan, the Theatre Lawn, Wisteria Arch, The Raft Birch Walk and the Dovecote. Again this is a beautifully designed and crafted feature, that speaks of a team of dedicated supporters. From the compass you can explore the intersecting gardens, all very different to one another. Lawned walks edged with flowerbeds and clipped neat hedges dissect the centre of the garden and beg to be explored and run along. "Doorways" through the hedges lead to amongst others, the fuchsia garden the theatre lawn, the mini arboretum and - a real treat - the Japanese garden. We were constantly surprised and pleased by what lay around each corner, at the end of a path, through a gap in a hedge. The laburnum arch must be breathtaking when it's in flower, but the kids enjoyed running through the dark leafy tunnel it creates now. In fact they loved exploring everywhere, dashing through the maze, climbing walls, posing on rocks, tumbling across lawns, running through the meadows and woodland and cartwheeling across the compass.

The gardens are impeccably maintained and lovingly tended - there wasn't a single piece of litter, no signs with DOs and DON'Ts, just discreet litter bins and the freedom to enjoy and relax in beautiful surroundings. We only saw a handful of fellow appreciators, strolling slowly around, despite it being a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon.

The main challenge I think I'm going to face is not getting around all of Cheshire's Gardens of Distinction, but resisting the urge to return to the same ones time and again. I already want to see the Japanese Garden in the autumn when the acers be will fiery red and purple and the idea of a summer's evening spent on the Theatre Lawn watching an al fresco performance whilst sipping Pimms is very, very appealing.

The gardens provide the ideal location for a photo shoot and Abigail enjoyed being my model. In order to get the above shot I asked her to lean against the wall - a great way to get people to relax and not look awkward - and I made sure that from where I stood the climbing white rose would edge the left side and bottom of the shot. I then zoomed in and focused on Abigail, ensuring that she would be clear and sharp, but the roses in front of her and the background behind would be soft focus. I also checked that she was in shade rather than direct sunlight. The resulting portrait is evenly lit, nicely composed, realxed and romantic.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Make photos while the sun shines

 This sunny weather is fantastic but it doesn't half make photography tricky! Have a look at a few of my simples DO'S and DON'T'S of sunny day photography.

DO... Use your flash if the sun is high in the sky when photographing people who are in direct sunlight. Chances are they will have dark shadows across their faces which will look even darker on the photograph. make your flash fire by popping it up or switching it to "Forced flash on" depending on your camera type. (Don't forget to switch the flash off afterwards as your next shot might not need it). In the shot of Abbie and Sam on the statue at Kew I used the flash.

DON'T... make your subjects squint into the sun. Get them to turn sideways slightly.

Do... look for shady areas - umbrellas, shade of a tree etc and get your subjects to pose in the shade. You don't need the flash for this and your pictures will look very natural. In the ice cream pic and the tunnel one the kids are in natural shade and the light is nice and even.

DO... take photos in the late afternoon / early evening (or early morning if you're mad as it would have to be about 6am currently!), as the light is fantastic - the sun is lower down and the shadows are less harsh. In the photo of Abbie on the beach it was late afternoon - you can tell from her longer shadow. No flash was required and the colours are lovely and saturated.

Although mid-day can be a tricky time for portraits DO take landscape shots as the blue sky / green grass / azure seas etc lend themselves to picture postcard shots - no flash required and make sure your horizon is straight. Many cameras have a grid display on the LCD viewer that you can switch on, or you can straighten the shot up easily in PICASA and other software.

So, go enjoy the sunshine, put your suncream on and try out all these techniques. Meanwhile I'll be mostly found in my hammock with a chilled glass of wine!

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By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Up close with a creepy critter

We came across this hairy beast on the boardwalk by Pickmere Lake - I'm amazed that Daisy didn't spot it and it therefore survived her passing by. The light was great - sunlight filtered by the high reeds and also bounced back up by the bleached wood of the boards. My first shot is a bit typical and although in focus and correctly exposed, it is, well, just boring!! So I decided to try another angle, which involved me lying down. The caterpillar wasn't going anywhere - frozen to the spot in fear of a strange giant - so I thought I'd play around a bit with camera settings. These shots are all taken with my compact camera - Panasonic DMC-FS12 - so no fancy lenses or kit. I set the camera to its Macro setting for a close up shot - just select the flower setting to do this. I then put the camera on the boardwalk, rather than hand holding it. This was partly to get right to eye level with my hairy model, but also because I was lying at an awkward angle and wanted to ensure I didn't get camera shake i.e. blurred picture. Then I took picture 2. This has started to look quite interesting but the point that is in focus is the middle of the caterpillar's body (where the + is).
When you select the flower / macro setting it gets your camera to start doing some quite clever things. Wherever you focus with the little square in the middle of your screen will be in focus but other areas will be out of focus - this can be a really nice effect and is called "shallow depth of field". But you really want to think about which bit of your picture is going to be in focus and which bit is blurred. In this case it would look better if the caterpillar's head were in focus. I decided to change my angle again for picture 3, looking along the length of the caterpillar and making sure I focused on its head - I actually wasn't sure which end was which so I may have focused on its bottom by accident! I still put the camera on the ground and just pressed the shutter to avoid camera shake. This is a much more interesting shot and I really love the blurry grey of the boardwalk and green of the reeds.

So next time you meet a hairy critter that is willing to model for you have a little play around with your macro / flower setting and don't be afraid to get up close and personal!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Look for a different angle

Give your photos a bit of interest and add some quirky humour by shooting at a different angle. In this shot I lay on the ground at Abigail's feet and shot up through the tree branches. The tree in question is a Canadian Redwood, a baby admittedly, as these can grow spectacularly high and I wanted to emphasise the height and the fact that the kids were fascinated by them. I also made sure the flash would fire so that Abbie's face wouldn't be in dark shadow. The flares across the picture are from the high sun coming through the branches. If this had been coming directly into the lens it would have ruined the shot and I would have changed my angle. As it is I quite like the effect here.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Zoom, zoom, zoom!!

I love my zoom lenses because...
  • I can take candid shots without the subject being aware. Little Mathilde had no idea I was catching this lovely moment as she crouched to examine the flower she had picked.
  • It makes people less nervous when you are further away. It can be very off putting when someone points the camera right in your face (Nic - please take note!)
  • Zooming in blurs the background and isolates the subject. Background objects become less distracting and the blurring can create a very pleasing effect - the blues and greens of the bluebell wood in this shot.
I used a 70-300mm f4-5.6 Canon lens for this shot - it's a good lens to use for candid portraits as it has a good zoom range letting me get close up shots from a distance and has image stabilisation - a must if you want to avoid camera shake. (Imagine using binoculars to look at the moon and it seems to jump all over the place?) This lens is at its best when it's nice and bright but I have to watch out if the light is a bit low as f4 does not let a lot of light into the camera, so the shutter speed can be slow, with the result that movement can be blurred. In the shade of the trees it was occasionally too dark to get sharp shots of Mathilde running. I have my eye on a telephoto lens with a wider aperture (lower f number) but you wouldn't believe how much the cost jumps up for this sort of kit!

Many compact cameras now have great zoom lenses. My Panasonic DMC-FZ20 has a 12X zoom (i.e. a lot! equivalent to 36-432mm on a film camera) and also has built in image stabilisation. Be careful about "optical" zoom and "digital" zoom when you use your compact camera to zoom in. The optical zoom uses the lens to make the subject closer. Digital zoom isn't really zoom - it's actually just magnifying part of your image, a bit like zooming in on a picture on your computer screen to look at it closer. Image quality isn't as good once you start using the digital zoom so I usually avoid it. I can set my compact camera to only use the optical zoom but on some compacts the digital zoom kicks in after you have zoomed in as far as the optical zoom lets you. There's often a slight pause and you have to click/ press to zoom digitally. If I've lost you, then just look it up in your manual and have a go with your camera.

Otherwise, just get zooming, fill the frame and enjoy getting some lovely candid shots!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Use flash when it's really sunny outside

This might sound like complete madness - why make it brighter when it's already very bright and sunny?

Have you ever taken a picture on a sunny day and wondered why faces are so dark even when they didn't really look that way? With bright sunlight you also get very dark shadows. We don't see the contrast as starkly as our brains are used to reducing the effect. If the person you are photographing is standing against a very bright background - sky, snow, beach, in front of a window - then their faces may be in dark shadow unless you use the flash. I used flash in the picture above to make Abigail stand out against the blue background and to reduce the shadows. This was taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS12 compact camera.

Depending on what camera you are using you may have to "make" the camera fire the flash. On a compact camera on your flash settings you should be able to select "forced flash on". On a hyrbid or SLR you should be able to pop the flash up.

Try the shot with and without the flash and see which you prefer. Don't forget to put your flash back on AUTO once you have finished.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Now, where did I put that lens / filter / bag....??

For the last few days I have been hunting high and low for my Lensbaby and its accessories. In the process of scouring drawers, cupboards and various camera bags (bags are a subject to which I could dedicate an entire blog...) I have uncovered all sorts of odds and ends that I had forgotten about. When you consider that all these “odds and ends” are bits of photographic related equipment, it is nothing short of scandalous that I don’t have them all organised and accessible in one safe location.

I can’t believe I have amassed all this kit – just eight years ago I was happy with my Olympus Trip and rather ungrateful when husband returned from a trip to the States with a Pentax compact digital camera as a present for me. “Didn’t they have the Clinique stuff I wanted? I’ve already got a camera!” was likely my response. However, I think I can now trace back my conversion to the religion of photography to this moment – or to a few weeks later when it dawned on me what a brave new world my first digital camera had opened up. Gone were the days of ending up with 35 awful pictures and 1 good one. The learning curve was still quite steep but so much shorter and cheaper. I don’t know what I would have done either, without Picasa, the free image editing software from Google. My digital image library was building, along with my family – two years on and I had a toddler and a new baby to experiment on (photographically that is!)

Husband then convinced me that I was ready to move onto a camera that allowed me to take more control and we bought the Panasonic Lumix FZ20. It was a great “inbetweeny” camera for me – I wasn’t ready at that time to upgrade to a full SLR, but this looked a bit more serious, had a larger LCD screen and produced really punchy sharp images. The 10X zoom was great, especially combined with the image stabiliser function. I’ve had this camera for 4 or 5 years now and I still use it a few times a week, as I take it on my dog walks and on general outings with the kids. I tend to think of it as expendable but I would be devastated if anything happened to it (well, at least for the few minutes that it would take for me to realise that I would have the perfect excuse to buy a newer model, with face, smile & blink recognition...).

I have to admit that I continued for quite some time to use it on the AUTO setting and didn’t make use of the manual focus option either. Husband kept egging me on to try a different shutter speed or change the depth of field and was rewarded with expletives. Just as you shouldn’t learn to drive with your dad, neither should you allow your spouse to teach you photography! It was only at the end of the first class of an A’Level course that I finally understood f-stops and shutter speeds and was finally able to move the dial off AUTO and on to “A” and “S” (or TV as it would become on my SLRs).

I upgraded to my first SLR – a Canon 350d – partway through the first term of the first year of the A’Level and so began my metamorphosis into photo gadget geek. Every Christmas / birthday / Mother’s Day there was something I was dropping hints about. And really there’s no item that I regret buying or haven’t made good use of. I would be bereft without my external flash gun & plastic diffuser. Although other factors also come into play to make a good portrait, soft bounced light can really make a shot look more professional. No more red eye or unflattering direct light. The first lens I bought was a 60mm prime lens, as I had started to do a lot of close up, abstract stuff, partly for the A’Level, but also to explore my passion for abstracts of flowers and plants. I sometimes wish I’d bought the 100mm lens instead for slightly less accessible subjects when I need to be at a greater distance, but I’ve still made great use of it. These days it is my main portrait lens – head & shoulders close ups or even tighter crops – the quality is fantastic and I can get such a shallow depth of field so that the focus really is on the subject. For more candid shots I’ve got a telephoto lens – 70-300mm f.4.5 – with image stabiliser – and it’s been a real work horse for me, particularly at nurseries when I’ve been able to capture lovely natural shots of children at play. My next big outlay could be for an upgrade to one with a lower f-stop but this will be serious money. The Lensbaby was a birthday present and I used it a lot for my A’Level projects. It’s been neglected of late, hence why it was lost, but I’ve got a hankering to have a play around with it again and get some more creative portraits.

Once I got to the point where I had got a reasonable amount of work on the books I started to panic about something happening to my 350d mid-shoot, so I had created an excuse to go shopping again. At the time, the most affordable upgrade option for me was the 40d, which is now my main work horse. At weddings or particularly fast paced jobs where I don’t have a lot of time to switch lenses, I have both cameras slung around my body, but don’t seem to control them as effortlessly as some photographers do. Also for weddings and large groups I bought my wide angle lens 17-40mm. This is a good quality lens and does the job, but I have yet to fall in love with it like I have done with the telephoto or macro lenses – I find it hard to be creative with it – more practise needed as I’m sure it’s possible to get some really good results with it.

I’ve also amassed lots of other “bits & bobs” – filters, polarisers, tripods, bags (don’t mention bags – I always think I need a new one!) but as this blog is already a novella, I’ll save commenting on those for another day!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

From athlete's foot to apertures

(Bear with me on the title, all will become clear!) I'm hoping that the process of writing this post will help me to see the wood for the trees, put some order of priority on all my projects. I feel like my brain is on overload - in a positive way, when compared to the brain fries I regularly experienced when working full time for someone else. I expected and planned for Jan / Feb to be quiet, particularly with portrait work, and decided to use the time for business planning, web site updates, even taking it a bit easy and getting to the gym occasionally. I'm feeling dragged down at the moment by a feeling that I've not made much, if any, headway on any of these, but logic and ever supportive husband keep telling me otherwise.

Portrait work was non-existent but Spring must be in the air because bookings for March keep coming in - bank balances must be starting to recover from Christmas and the gradual warming temperature and lengthening days are making people emerge from hibernation. And photography jobs involving glass baubles, food and snow kept the wolf only scratching at the door over the last two months.

The new area of business I am pushing this year is photography courses. This is something I find so exciting - combining one passion, photography, with another, training or teaching. A long time before I started taking pictures for a living, I wrote "a jargon free guide to taking better pictures" and had more or less put to bed the portrait section. I've always been excited by the idea of enabling people to improve their photography with some simple, non technical tips and techniques. I spent the last two years of my life as an international marketer developing and running training courses on foot disorders - anything from athlete's foot to verrucas. Despite the unappealing subject matter I got such a buzz from this job and can't wait to get training again. Working on my dad's old adage "if you don't ask, you don't get", I approached a number of local venues and struck gold with Willowpool Garden Centre, Lymm, an absolute Aladdin's cave in terms of photographic subjects. So my first course is booked in and I can't wait to start the marketing and get the course material written.

I've updated areas of the web site and tidied it up a lot, but there's lots more housekeeping to do - I suppose you never actually get up to date with this kind of job. If you've read any of my recent blogs, you'll know that taking it easy never happened and aside from dog walking my keep fit regime doesn't deserve the title! My "quiet period" is officially over and I'm chomping at the bit to get on with March's workload. And I think writing all this down has sort of helped with priorities and self esteem!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Shy snowdrops & elusive dog

Well, we still haven't had a snow event in Wincham but we had another powdering on Wednesday night and in case that was it for us this winter I decided to go in search of snowdrops in snow. Rode Hall near Congleton was resplendent with snowdrops and daffodils at this time last year and it's slightly higher than Wincham, so could have more of a snow event than here. And although we weren't exactly knee deep in snow drifts at Rode Hall, there was quite a lot of the white stuff, almost too much, as many of the snow drops were a) struggling to push their heads through the surface and b) foiled by their natural camouflage (i.e. white on white). These factors combined with the cold weather kept all but the most foolhardy visitors away - we were the first to leave our mark on the pristine white footpaths, a good hour after opening time. But it was far from being a wasted journey. It was magical to explore the gardens in such wintry conditions, snow creaking under foot (isn't that a great and unique sound?!) and I did come away with some lovely images. Little groups of snowdrops in sheltered nooks and crannies (I really must ask a gardener why crab and mussel shells were used as mulch around their base - other than offering some great contrasting colour), and early blossom flowers and daffodils wearing white bonnets of snow.

And I've enjoyed some wintry walks with Daisy. I've made it my mission this last week to try to get some shots which really show her character out on our walks - this is much harder than it sounds. She moves at the speed of light, has no particular destination in mind (in fact a previous dog trainer concluded "that dog lacks focus") and is either camera shy or is getting her own back on me for all the times I've tied her to a fence. The net result is a lot of shots of dog just going off camera (cursed shutter delay on compact cameras), blurred dog or dog's hind quarters. Never mind actually going for a well composed shot with background interest! I lined up one perfect shot of her looking back at me, standing on a narrow, snowy pathway lined with tall, golden grasses and low, raking sunlight and shadows, only to find a huge splodge of mud smeared across the lens from her last mad dash past me. Anyway, here's the best of the bunch but must try harder.

Oh - and the young swans were back, posing at the lake-side whilst keeping a wary eye on Daisy - very wise.

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