If you’ve visited my blog any time over the last 15 months you will know that I blog about photography every Sunday. I have decided to change my routine slightly. I will still join in with the My Sunday Photo every Sunday that I can. However my more wordy blog posts about the nuts, bolts, experience and art of photography are moving to a weekday (I’m aiming for Monday or Tuesday). The New Routine Today I have a bit of a teaser for you, as this photo will feature in my upcoming new blog series about auto mode photography. If you are a “stuck on auto mode” photographer, then I hope my next series will be a good first step to improvement. If you are a keen photographer and are…View Post
If you read my blog post “Teens Taking GCSEs: What Happens at the End of Year 11?” then you may have already heard of National Citizens Service. Some of my contributors to that blog post mentioned this government-backed activity programme which runs in England and Northern Ireland after the end of school year 11. Having read such strong recommendations, I was glad to be given the chance to find out more.
The GCSE Exam Period
My 16 year old daughter Fizz is in the thick of it right now with revision and exams beginning this week. Through the Easter holidays the rest of us in the family have all orbited her like moons about a planet. While she got her head down to revise, we organised our days around her. We took her for ice-cream breaks in the afternoons, kept the heating on in the day and I even tidied her bedroom floor without a word of complaint! For our travel-loving tribe, it was a strangely immobile Easter break.
This year the GCSE exam period runs for over two months, ending in late June. By then Fizz will really need a change of scene and lifestyle.
Joining the NCS Activity Programme
The National Citizens Service (NCS) is an activity programme of two to four weeks aimed at 16 and 17 year-olds. The entire thing is amazing value at just £50. There are outdoor team-building activities in the first week. Then in the same group they progress on to life skills and social action in the community. Finally there’s an end of programme celebration event. Fizz looked over the programme for the first week and immediately singled out the zip-wires! I know she’d like the hiking too and my youngest Belle would love the climbing wall if she was old enough. Accommodation, food and travel are all included in the £50 cost.
Like us, you may have booked a summer holiday but it’s reassuring to know that NCS are flexible. They will endeavour to get each teen a suitable time slot on this unique programme.
Transforming Young People and Communities
A key feature of NCS is the chance to unite young people from different backgrounds and grow them in shared experiences. The movement was born from a desire to grow seeds of community cohesion. I think this is so worthwhile in today’s world. For example, when we picked the girls’ secondary school we had the choice of a less diverse school or her current one, and I’m glad I picked this one but it’s still quite a narrow constituency. Our rural town has never felt very diverse and as a city girl myself I really notice this. I don’t think my children notice as much, as it’s just what they are used to.
I make a point of talking about racism, disadvantage and marginalised groups with my children and they have taken it very much to heart, but it’s all words. It’s not the same as experience. I do think kids can grow up anywhere and have a limited outlook, it’s not a unique problem.
Now – that may all sound very deep and serious, but NCS is a salve to our blinkered lifestyles which is irresistibly fun and exciting. Through the first week of the activity programme the mixed group of young people form bonds whilst on outdoor adventures. The following weeks of the programme are spent on residential with the same people. Together they take on more responsibility and develop more skills over time.
The community action project they do gives them workplace and leadership skills as well as confidence. The aim is to build a more mobile and engaged society, and inevitably this makes better citizens. There’s lots of fun throughout and young people get to celebrate their achievements at the end.
The NCS activity programme is government-backed. Since it started in 2011, almost 400,000 young people have taken part. This year over 100,000 teenagers will take part – that’s nearly one in six 16 year-olds. NCS believes that every young person should have the opportunity to take part, and support is available for those with additional needs, and bursaries too. There should be no barriers to any young person taking part, and it’s easy to register to find out more.
There are still places available for Year 11s to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity this summer. To sign up now, go to the NCS website.
additional photography kindly provided by NCS.
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I learned how to use my camera as a young child. That’s so long ago that I can’t remember my photography learning process. People do ask me for help to learn and I haven’t been sure where to start. I’ve been very fortunate to have been asked by my local blogger buddy Sunshine Sarah to meet up and help her learn photography. She’s been learning photography and I’ve been learning how to teach. This has been great for both of us! It’s early days yet; we’ve had two afternoons on it so far and I’m fortunate that she is a fast learner with a good memory.
Sarah does know what she wants to learn. She has a Lumix bridge camera which functions in a similar way to a DSLR. She wants to understand how it works, what settings are best in different situations and also how to find a good composition.
As a blogger, Sarah needs quick wins. She’s a busy working lady and she can’t spend a month doing homework on aperture and ISO before she can find her way to taking a better photo. My aim on day one was to get her to take far better pictures in a few short, memorable steps.
Photography Learning in any order
This leads me to an important point about photography learning – there are many ways to skin this cat. You do not have to learn things in one particular order. You can learn exposure before perspective, or afterwards. You can learn composition before you learn depth of field, or afterwards. You will try taking a photo and discover what it is that you don’t know, and so your learning path with make itself clear as you go along.
That means that I can’t plan a rigid photography learning course that will automatically suit everyone. Your learning is as individual as you are. You don’t need to aim to take the same photos as someone else, either. That’s because your photos will be individual too. You’re making art and that’s a creative process. It’s not like learning equations for a maths exam and you don’t want the same result as the person next to you.
Are you like me?
I would like to help more people improve their photography through this blog. I do not want to be like so many other photography blog sites which spout dry lessons at you and hope you absorb it. This is still a personal blog about me, my family, our travels and interests and the point is this: If you are anything like us, perhaps you are taking photos of similar things. You take photos of your days out, your holidays, the view from your dog walk, your cooking triumphs, your kid’s cardboard sculptures, your family get-togethers, the sky when it’s beautiful, the flowers you were given. Wouldn’t it be nice to take those photos really well, and give them more lasting appeal?
For what it’s worth, I am still learning too, 33 years after I started out. Much of my recent photography learning is documented on this blog, especially in the “Judging a Photograph” blog series. I make mistakes (like last week when I forgot to change my aperture and messed up 5 photos in a row) and there are whole types of images I just haven’t got my head around, such as Insta fashion photography. Camera skill can be taught. Your creativity is all your own, and that can be teased out of you, infinitely. Like me you will never stop learning that part.
What to do next
If this sounds like your kind of thing, then you need to do two things. First, fill in the very short (4 questions) questionnaire below, which is anonymous. This is essential because it will tell me what you want to learn. You can comment on this blog post instead if you prefer. I’ve already written dozen of blogs full of photography tips and advice but it would help to know what you are looking for. Thank you in advance!
Second, follow this blog either through the WordPress reader or social media (Twitter, Facebook or Instagram). There will soon be an email list you can join, which is in the planning stages, so keep your eye out for that.
Create your own user feedback survey
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With recent data showing that Brits work longer hours than a dozen of their European neighbours, more of us feel pressure to make the most of our holidays. But if you can only squeeze one week off work, how do you choose your destination to make the most of your time?
City or beach resort
City breaks are more popular than ever. If like many people you like the seaside, then combining beach with city can be too much of a juggle. The general wisdom is that a one week holiday is too long for a city break. Really big cities have lots to do and world class museums or attractions. However they tend not to have beautiful, clean beaches or scenic golf resorts. My tip is to choose a coastal resort and get your fix of culture and history in a charming village or historic old fortress in a more rural area.
Beach resort choices
Travel broadens the mind of course, but arriving at your hotel and never straying more than a few hundred yards is not so good for your soul. Grab your holiday with both hands by venturing out for sightseeing and some alternative cuisine. Choose a destination with some historic sights nearby and maybe hire a car for a few days of your one week holiday to see a whole lot more. Mediterranean destinations may have fascinating Roman remains nearby.
With just one week off work, short-haul flights are your best friend. In a little over 2 hours from the UK you can reach mainland Spain or Portugal’s Algarve. Half an hour further are the Balearic islands such as Mallorca. There are some lovely coastal walks to do in these parts of the world and seafood dishes to discover too.
If you want to tick some of the most famous historic sights off your bucket list, you may want to travel further. A five hour flight will take you to ancient Crete. Or fly just one hour further to get all-inclusive holidays to Egypt. Like Egypt, the Canaries are further south but about 4 hours flying time. They more popular in Spring or Autumn thanks to the weather.
Flight timings for a one week holiday destination
With a one week holiday it is worth going to the effort to arrive early on your first day and leave late on your last. This is definitely something I would prefer to try now my children are older as it would have been a bit fraught with really little ones. Some parents do manage it with tiny tots and of course getting a teenager out of bed has its own challenges. It’s surely worth it to get your full week.
A few people take “being prepared” before a flight to extremes. Last summer at 5am in Leeds airport I found myself in a queue behind a man wearing a colourful full body swimming costume and a pair of flip flops! He got on a different plane to me, thank goodness, but he was clearly ready to leap straight into the pool.
Have you ever packed a lot into one week in the sun? Share your experience in the comments!
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Welcome back to my blog series on black and white photography. The fifth reason I choose to turn a photo black and white is to get more flattering portraits. It can be used to smooth skin tone and texture, which has the side effect of bringing out the eyes.
To be honest I don’t do this very often as I no longer shoot many portraits. I’ve already blogged about my lesson in portrait photography but I didn’t explain why that shot ended up black and white. It was mainly because of skin tone. The shot was a bit dark and the model’s face was very pink with a red shirt below. He just looks more natural in monochrome, particularly his skin.
What does black and white change in skin tone?
The most obvious changes to skin tone by switching to black and white are changes to blemishes and other marks. Spots are usually a bit red, so these recede when colour is gone. Freckles on the other hand are usually emphasized in monochrome, unless the lighting is very bright. I think freckles look fantastic in black and white.
Dark circles under the eyes are usually improved in black and white but not always. If the face is in a bit of shade, they could look worse. The eyes themselves can stand out beautifully in monochrome and that’s one of the real joys of black and white portraits.
Alternatively black and white works to emphasize wrinkles for an interesting craggy effect in a character portrait. I’ve seen other photographers do this but I’ve never been brave enough to ask a really wrinkly person to let me take their photo this way. They might not be keen!
The Timeless Art of Black and White Portraits
Even plain, clear skin can look better in black and white and I struggle to explain why. I think it is partly because a portrait is a timeless record of something personal, and black and white styling is always associated with timelessness. Although considered old fashioned, at the same time black and white photos are immune to changes in fashion. It’s as if it will always last.
Flattering portraits – more than anything – are the kind photos which people want to endure as they are. Your own face may age (apologies for the reminder) but you don’t want your portrait to do the same. As the saying goes “fashion may come and go, but only style remains”. I believe this truth applies directly to the enduring style of black and white portraits.
Tips for flattering portraits in monochrome
My own personal method is strong full-face lighting. That’s not the usual wisdom for portraits but I like to get the skin several shades lighter than the hair. That will get the face nicely framed and smooth the skin. The light must be diffuse like on a cloudy day, otherwise there will be unpleasant shadows.
If you follow some conventional wisdom for portrait lighting and use a sideways lighting angle, then it will make for a stylish portrait. You would impress a professional judge in a competition. However it will be an unforgiving black and white portrait. Do it well and it will be a photo you can be proud of. The more you practice, the more you will recognize the type of face which needs a certain type of lighting before you start.
The point at which I choose black and white
As I’ve said before, colour photography is my preference and I always start out planning to shoot colour. I tend to choose black and white during the edit. It’s different for portraits where I always aim to produce two versions – one colour and one black and white.
It is an art form itself, to aim for black and white before pressing the shutter. There’s a lot more to say on this and I’ll perhaps when I’ve experimented with more pictures I will write another blog post. When I have tried out my ideas, I’ll continue to share my monochrome journey with you. This series about my own personal reasons for shooting black and white ends here, but I’ll still be writing weekly about photography, so please follow me.
Have you ever achieved more flattering portraits or better skin tone when you’ve switched a portrait to black and white? Let me know in the comments.
Read this five-part blog series on black and white photography from the start.
Read the previous series on judging a photo from the start (30 blog posts).
Read about my much-loved Sony camera.