Raising Anchor!

Whilst walking along the beach the other weekend I bumped into this chap raising a land anchor. The land anchor is used to ensure that boats do not float away during the winter months, when strong surges in the estuary may move boats with a traditional anchor.He was very accommodating and allowed me to make a few images.















































Challenge yourself and improve your portfolio.

It is easy as a photographer to get stuck into a particular shooting subject, whether it be Landscapes, Macro, Wildlife, etc. Sometimes it is good to mix things up a bit and shoot something that does not fit your usual remit.  In my case I have found myself shooting a lot of fashion, obviously working with a lot of models, which I enjoy very much.  However I enjoy all kinds of people photography and really felt that I could do with a bit more variety within my recent work and also give me a bit of a challenge.After having a good think I concluded that my portfolio needed some regular "Joe Public" types, so I decided to head out and do some street portraiture.  Normally this would be done with a 70-200 to capture unguarded moments etc, but this time I went out with my 50mm and grabbed strangers as they walked past.

This really is a fantastic way to meet people and get some images with a bit of variety.  In a couple of hours I have 8 new faces to add to my collection, and I was really taking it easy.  One of my main issues with standard street stuff is that sometimes the background can be busy and distracting, so on this occasion I took the background out of the equation my finding a wall that I liked and setting myself up there.  I then looked for interesting characters as they walked past and approached them.  The thing is with this sort of thing is to keep it real, don't lie to people and tell them your shooting for a piece in National Geographic. I explained that this was a personal project and that sat well with most people.  I also carried small business cards that I ordered from Moo (mini moos) which were handed to everyone. I also took everyones name and email and promised to send them copies of the images.

For this type of shoot it is best to find a shaded area otherwise you end up with too much contrast,  we were shooting on an overcast day here, but we still had to use a diffuser to block out some sun that poked through the clouds.

It can be a real challenge especially if you lack the confidence to just approach people, but after a few yeses you quickly get into the swing, its well worth it.

Thanks for reading.


New Model, Leika

I was introduced to Leika through a make up artist that I have worked with once or twice. New models offer a challenge that is different to that of an established, more experienced, model. In some ways it is more exciting as you have to work harder than normal to produce the great shots.  Working with a new model means that you, the photographer, has to be that little more creative.  It can be easy to rely on a model to produce the goods without much prompting (even though I nearly always fine tune the final poses to fit my ideas).Leika was a pleasure to work with and soon got into the stride of things, and even took a good dollop of cold weather for the team. She should have a bright modelling future.

To get in the mood we started with some very simple portraits.  I often start the shoot this way, first of all it allows me to talk to the model and familiarise myself with their working style. Most of all it is a good way of breaking the ice, using a lighting set that i know will produce good results straight away.  The last thing I want to do is start the shoot producing images that look terrible (not that I ever do that!)





Leika was building a portfolio for a local modelling agency and needed a variety of shots, so we changed up the lighting and went for a few longer shots.  These were taken using speed lights (SB900) and I used the Pocket Wizard flex system to trigger them via ttl. I will write a bit more about this system in a future post, but so far I have been quite impressed.

The first speedlight was fired into a silver reflective umbrella to camera right and a second SB900 was fired into a silver reflector on the floor to provide a nice glowing fill.

We then changed it up and did some shots that showed of Leika's figure a bit more.

We had a bit of spare time at the end of the shoot so decided to brave the weather and head into the cold to see what we could find.  I had spotted this location outside the studio earlier in the day and though that it might make a good image and something else for Leika to add to her portfolio.

Again I used the pocket wizards and an SB900 to light the model whilst underexposing the background.

Thanks for reading, any questions please contact me at info@darrenobrien.co.uk

For more of my work visit my website.




Taking inspiration

I have found it increasingly important to go into shoots with a plan, especially if I am undertaking a free or TF shoot.  It helps to give focus and generally enables you to achieve more.  This brings me to the main point of this post.  Finding inspiration is an important part of being a photographer and is essential when first starting out.  When I began dabbling with off camera lighting, I did my research and found other photographers who's work inspired me.  Using this inspiration I learnt about lighting and technique, by copying their methods (not the same as copying their ideas) I was able hone my way of working.  I took great inspiration from the likes of Joe McNally and later Frank Doorhof.It was when looking for new inspiration I came across the work of photographer Gilbert Rossi, based in Australia.  The first couple of images in his fashion portfolio were the standout ones.  Featuring black models in very strong posing with selective lighting.  Anyway when I finally got chance to work with the beautiful Sithembile I knew where I was going for the inspiration for my shoot.

The following are my take on the idea and should not be thought of as attempts to directly copy Gilbert's style.




I also thought that Sithembile would suit Black and White (to be honest she would suit most images) and so I took a couple that I always intended to be B&W.  things were quite easy with Sithembile as she worked very hard changing up her posing etc. It was very difficult to take a bad shot.



Just about had enough time to grab some traditional beauty shots to really pick out the subtle but nice make up, provided on the this occasion by Carly Michelle Wallington.



Thanks for reading, please feel free to ask any questions or leave feedback.

Lu in the studio

The other day I had my first proper shoot in the new studio and also with the new gray background that we have installed. I contacted Lu as I had been looking to shoot with her for a while and she jumped at the chance to do a test shoot. Lu is a beautiful model and a lovely person as well. She was very energetic and was willing to give any ideas a go.Lu brought her own outfits and we decided to start with a smart style. We introduced some movment into the images to make them a bit more dynamic. We began by shooting with a silver umbrella, but this just didn't suit the looke that we were trying to achieve so we switch to the large Octabox.


Lu Lo 17-03-201200055

Lu Lo 17-03-201200073

We then tried some different posing.

Lu Lo 17-03-201200032

We then tried a different outfit and decided to shoot against one of the patterened backgrounds that we have installed. Again this was shot with the Octabox, but this time the aperture was dropped to f4 to blur the background.

Lu Lo 17-03-201200117


Lu Lo 17-03-201200111

We then moved back to the grey and introduced a prop in the way of our office chair, which worked quite well and offered something a bit different.

Lu Lo 17-03-201200142

Lu Lo 17-03-201200154

Lu Lo 17-03-201200159


Thanks for reading. You can see more of my work on my website

Making a Pointe

Of late I have been receiving a few enquiries relating to dance images and dancer profiles and it was something that I was looking to do more of this year. When the first opportunity presented itself I decided to try out an idea that had been lingering in the back of my mind. I liked the idea of shooting with a backdrop of a local landmark and on a shoot earlier this year I spotted this location. On that day the sun was breaking through the clouds and was bathing the Tyne Bridge in a beautiful pink light, and that was what I wanted.When shooting on location you very rarely get everything you want and on this occasion there was no wonderful sunlight on the bridge just a vast expanse of white sky. I still had a job to do and set about working with a very talented dancer (and seemingly a very good rock climber) Ashley. Ashley worked hard and was very enthusiastic about trying different things, which was great considering it was quite cold and dull.

We went straight in with trying to create my vision and I have to say that although the results are still good they were not exactly what I was after, only due to the lack of sun in background.

We then tried a few different ideas and came out with a couple of nice images.

In our workshops we try to press home the importance of exploring all shots around your subject. By leaving the lights and subject in the same place and the photographer moving around the subject you find different angles and effects.

A couple of days ago Alien Skins released their latest version of Exposure, Exposure 4. I used v3 a fair bit and was interested in seeing what would have changed. I have only had a couple of hours with the software and will release a full review in due course, but here is a sample of some of the effects you can play with.

Thanks for reading, any questions or feedback please contact me or leave a comment.

More of my work can be seen here

Jo on Location

We have been working behind the scenes on a lot of things and putting into practice some exciting developments. Anyway we finally made time to shoot for fun. We really wanted to do something on location, especially in the back streets around our studio.Our poor model for the day was Jo, not someone we had previously shot with but had a pretty good portfolio. Even though it was warmer than the last week it was still very, very cold. The main purpose of the shoot was to test out a new location umbrellabox. Basically this is a compact softbox that opens and shuts like an umbrella, it has a diffused white panel on the front. It is mainly designed for speedlights but it could easily be used in a studio. It has an opening in the bottom to insert a light stand and works well when used with a standard light stand head. Apollo do a great version for around £100, but I have to admit this one was £18.99 of off ebay, on this evidence probably the best £20 I have ever spent. It is really easy to use and produces a nice soft light. The only slight issue I have is that the flash sits to the top of the soft box, so you end up with a hot spot towards the top, but otherwise it is really good.

As mentioned it was quite cold so we worked quickly with some ideas we had formulated.

For these shots I was going for more portraits than fashion or editorial. We found this rough door with peeling paint and really liked the effect.

We then went back to studio and worked the back wall. The white wall produces a nice contrast with the bright orange in Jo's outfit.

I then quickly grabbed a low key shot in the studio.

It was a very cold day and I am still warming up, I might go and grab a cuppa! Thanks for reading.

To see more of my work visit www.darrenobrien.co.uk. Feedback and questions welcome.

Faith on location - High level Bridge

When I came to write this post I realised that I hadn't written a blog since the end of November! December was a hectic month, what with Christmas and the dog ate my notebook (sorry regressing, I don't even have a dog). Anyway welcome to my first blog post of 2012!A few months ago I had my first wander across the High level bridge crossing over the tyne. I was struck by the archways and iron work and it very much reminded me of Paris for some reason, anyway all I new was I wanted to use it for a location shoot. The idea found its way to the back of my mind until another wander a few weeks ago brought it back to my attention (I don't spend all my time wandering, honest). I had been wanting to do more location shoots (as you do when the weather turns horrible) and decided to plan something.

Back in November I spoke to Faith, someone I had not shot before but was really impressed by her portfolio, she liked the idea and the plan was made. Anyway the day arrived and, as per usual with the good British weather, it was raining and blowing a gale. So that day we did the studio fashion shoot. I enjoyed working with faith and I think she liked the results, so when the idea popped up to try and reorganise a shoot on the High Level, she was the first port of contact. Happily she agreed.

On the morning of the shoot I was a little concerned as the wind was howling, but as the shoot was at 2pm I held my breath. Luckily the wind dropped and it turned into a pleasant afternoon.

As with all location shoots I like to start using available light and as the sun was nice and low and bathing the side of the bridge it gave us some nice directional light. I used a reflector to fill in the shadows a little bit.

I then introduced some flash and decided to shoot with the sun back lighting Faith. This worked well to bring out the colour of her hair.

A change of clothes later (thanks to the staff at the Bridge Hotel) and we were on to a more high fashion set up. At the end of the Bridge there is a balcony area and there is a lovely textured wall, which was amazing to shoot against. We lit the wall with a speedlight on a stand and lit the model with a small lastolite Eazybox on a hand held pole. I like working this way as you can shape and manipulate the light much easier than if it is on a stand. Obviously you do need somebody to hold it for you.

When processing the above image it really reminded me of an old Hollywood horror film still, especially with the pose and lighting. During processing I gave it a vintage look which added to that theme.

The main thing that attracted me to the bridge in the first place was the arched walkways along the side of the road. I just used a one light set up here and exposed to allow some the lovely available light to come through, so the image had more texture going into the background.

There was something about the above image that instantly reminded me of the Titanic (or at least that era of naval history) probably the Iron work and the repeating arches. It looks like it could be in the belly of a ship.

Thanks for reading and I promise it won't be such a long time before my next post. Here is a bonus shot from the shoot.


As part of a studio open day we welcomed Bryony into the studio to take part in a lighting demo.

Once again the lighting was kept very simple to begin with using a softbox and umbrella combination similar to the one mentioned in my previous post with Laura. I won't dwell on it other than to reiterate how good this lighting set up is for some nice classical portraits.

We then introduced a third light into the setup. We wanted more of a fashion look to this one so we went with soft box as a key light with an umbrella filling in the shadows caused by the hat. There was a second softbox at a 45 degree angle behind the model camera right.

For a change I demoed the silver reflective umbrella, which is not something I use a lot, but it can be useful especially with a subject who has darker skin and any jewellery, as it really makes things glisten. In this case its the effect on Bryony's black hair that I really like.

Then for a complete change we broke out the orange background and really went for a summery look, involving the wind machine.

This bright and cheerful look was created by very simply having the octabox almost 45 degrees in front of the model camera right, and having a strobe with a barn door lighting the background, creating a very light halo effect around Bryony. This worked well to provide a nice even lighting whilst still having a bit of texture using a bit of contrast.

And Finally.......

One very important aspect to remember when photographing people is to explore every angle. The whole atmosphere can change just by moving around the model, in this case shooting from the shadow side has created a nice low key portrait, resulting in something a little different.

Thanks for reading. Any feedback or questions are welcome info@darrenobrien.co.uk

Gabriela Herman

When trawling one of my many blog readers I recently came across the work of Gabriela Herman. There was a collection of images from her Beetlebung Farm diary and I was immediately hooked. There is a subtle innocence about these images and at the same a certain sense of menace, which I cannot quite pinpoint. It possibly has something to do with images of knives and the graphic use of beetroot juice. Any way on with the images








Thanks for reading, to see more of her work visit www.gabrielahermen.com

Abi workshop

Today we were lucky to have Abi in our studio for a workshop. She is a brilliant model and is always a pleasure to shoot. She has been seeing a bit of success of late with her modelling career, with some high profile work coming up. It was privilege to shoot with her and wish all the best with her career.We started the workshop with a classical portrait lighting set up, using a softbox above and an umbrella below, producing what is known as the clam shell set up. Its not the most exciting set up, but it does produce pleasing results in most circumstance. It produces very even coverage, with the upper softbox used as the keylight with the umbrella being used to fill any wrinkles or bags under the eyes (Abi has very few of these anyway). In this situation it is best to have the fill light a stop lower than the key light so as not to produce a completely flat image. As you can see below, there is still some texture in the lighting that still makes it interesting.

Now personally I prefer a higher contrast look and for this I like to use the Octa, as it produces very soft light and has a nice light fall off.

Thanks for reading, any questions and feedback are welcome.