Photography Lesson 101 With Neil Buchan-Grant
Last weekend I was lucky enough to travel down to Winchester to meet Neil Buchan-Grant, a professional photographer, to have a day’s worth of one-on-one tuition. I have always been really interested in photography, but like most, have always been self taught. Therefore, the chance to hang out with a professional whose numerous awards include ‘Travel Press Photographer of the Year Winner 2013’, was definitely an exciting one.
And what a day to have chosen! Without doubt the nicest day of the year so far, the sun was shining, the town bustling and so the scene was perfectly set, at least hypothetically, for me to take some nice pictures. No pressure then!
Let’s get shooting!
Having met me at the station, Neil and I strolled through town and I gave him a bit of background about my photographic experience so far. We then jumped straight into shooting to put what I’d claimed to the test. Luckily, it was market day, which provided some great subjects for practising street photography.
There were food stalls, a banjo duo and, more unusually, a man under a table with his head poking through a hole into a small basket with his face painted as a dog, barking at people walking by!
Breaking the ice
One of the most important things that Neil taught me is the importance of building a rapport with your subject in street photography. It is all too easy to shove on a telephoto lens and shoot from far away, without your subject ever even noticing that they’ve been snapped, but this is often a limited approach. Much better, as Neil showed me, is to keep to a standard prime lens of around 50mm and go right up and start talking to the person you want to shoot. If you approach them in the right way then most people are willing to take part, and you can get some much more enigmatic shots closer up when they know they’re being photographed but feel at ease. Having said that, not everyone is quite so understanding. At one point Neil asked to have a quick go with my camera and whilst trying it out picked an unsuspecting subject on the other side of the road who noticed and shouted ‘Oi! “****” off!’.
At the risk of sounding a bit old before my time, I have to say that I thought Winchester was bloomin’ lovely. It was my first visit and I was really impressed by how stunning it was. And less than an hour on the train from London!
Over the hills and far away
We then decided to head away from the town centre, along the lovely towpath of the River Itchen, in order to try out some scenic shots. With no shortage of interesting things to photograph Neil helped me improve a hugely important but often overlooked part of photography - that of composition. Perhaps because I do a lot more work in video than in photography I found myself shooting in landscape orientation far too often, and when Neil would have chosen portrait. After a while though I began to get a better feel for which was more suitable and also to compose things in a more dramatic way, making sure to keep the ‘interest’ of the scene as the focal point. By 5pm we’d walked a couple of miles along the river, up onto a hill overlooking the town and felt that we deserved a beer in the gorgeous afternoon sun before I had to catch my train back to London, so Neil directed us to one of his favourite pubs, the Black Boy. After a lovely pint or two it was time to jump on the train back to town.
I can’t thank Neil enough for a truly excellent day. He was the perfect tutor in being hugely informative and very patient! I learned a huge amount and am very much looking forward to putting it all too good use on my next spontaneous trip. If anyone is interested in photography and looking to improve then I thoroughly recommend getting in touch with Neil and booking some tuition in with him.
- Build a rapport with your subject. It will help them relax and you’ll get more interesting shots.
- Use Auto ISO. Modern cameras are so good at dealing with low light that you shouldn’t worry about the camera bumping it up if it needs to.
- Make the most of the ‘Rule of Thirds’. This states that important elements should be placed at the intersections of the imaginary lines what would divide the scene into nine equally sized parts.
- If you have the option to do so, always shoot RAW, not JPEG. This uncompressed file format allows much more powerful changes to be made when touching up in programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom.
- Use ‘Exposure Compensation’. On most cameras there should be an easily accessible wheel that will allow you to over or under expose a shot by up to 3 stops. This basically means you can easily adjust a scene to be brighter or darker if your first shot is poorly exposed.
Equipment used on the day:
Jamie: Canon 70d with 17-55mm IS USM lens Neil: Olympus OMD-EM1 and a variety of lenses including a 45mm and 12-40 PRO zoom
Why not get a lesson?
Neil currently offers 1-2-1 bespoke photography workshops in Winchester and other UK locations. He is also running masterclasses on the evocatively-named the "Coast of Light" in Andalusia, Spain and also Venice. Why not check out his blog to find out how you can book your workshop and learn from one of the very best in the business!
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