Dean O'Brien's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘photography

Ten things that I am doing to improve my photographic practice

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Below I am listing ten things which I am doing to improve my photographic practice.  I am doing these things to help myself transfer into a more creative image maker

I always shoot in RAW.  This gives me a true digital negative.  Jpegs were deciding for me what information they thought I needed retaining within an image.  Shooting in RAW gives full control back to me.  This naturally results in a better quality image.

If I like a piece of work I do my best to go and see it as it was meant to be seen so that it can be fully appreciated.

I use social media sites such as twitter to my full advantage.  This gives me a great opportunity to network with professionals who are already successful in my field of work.

I write regularly on my blog.  This attracts regular visitors who are then diverted to my website.  I don’t understand people who write four posts in one day on their blog then nothing for six months.

I read the right magazines.  Rather than buying the brightly coloured monthly magazines full of gleaming adverts I now read specialist periodicals which better suit my needs.

I make the most of every opportunity which arises and I treat every shoot as though this could be the one that gets me the break which I need.

My circle of friends has changed.  In order for me to take a more positive direction in life I have needed to surround myself with positive people.  This was an essential move in order for me to make progress within my practice.  Many of my friends or associates are models, photographers, graphic designers, web designers and artists.

I am trying to market myself as a quality, reliable product.  I am entering a very competitive field and understand that I need to be amongst the best at what I do.

I am no longer obsessed with the latest lens or camera.  I now see my camera as a tool.  Much like a mechanic who uses the correct size socket to remove a wheel nut.

I use a dictaphone.  This enables me to record lectures or talks which I attend.  A basic device, but something which is time saving and essential in the field of photography where the medium is using sound and moving images more than ever.

The ten things which I have listed here may not be ideal or suit everybody but they have worked for me.  We all need to recognise where our faults or weak areas lie and deal with them.


Written by Dean O'Brien

October 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Inspiration

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DVD Review: Search For The Afghan Girl

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As some of you may know from my recent blog post I recently visited the Retrospective exhibition by Steve McCurry in Birmingham.  Without doubt the image which he is most known for is ‘The Afghan Girl’.  It appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in June, 1985.  After doing some research on the internet I came across a dvd which documented the search for the girl in the image.  Seventeen years after the original image was taken, Steve McCurry and a team from National Geographic magazine set out to find the girl in the picture.

The dvd documents Steve and the team searching for the girl through to the Afghan-Pakistan border.  FBI investigators apply cutting-edge eye-scanning and face-recognition technology to try to verify the identity of the nameless woman.   I don’t want to reveal the final result, but its well worth watching.

As far as documentary dvd’s go, this is very well produced.  Watching a programme such as this does answer many questions.  Questions about struggle and suffering from people who are born into a war zone.  It also goes to show how powerful an image can be.

In recognition of her, National Geographic set up the Afghan Girls Fund, a charitable organization with the goal of educating Afghan girls and young women. In 2008, the scope of the fund was broadened to include boys and the name was changed to Afghan Children’s Fund.

Written by Dean O'Brien

August 24, 2010 at 10:04 am

Module 152MC Working with Light: Pinhole camera (task three: Control)

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This week my task with the pinhole camera was to take more images but to take control over the lighting.  As with all pinhole shots at first I had to guess what the exposure might be and work from there after seeing the first couple of images.  The image below was shot with an exposure time of two minutes and had nine bursts of flash from different angles aimed at the subject.

The main idea of this task is that I understand more about controlling light, whether this be flash or natural light.  I understand that light is the most important thing in photography and I am constantly reading about how light is used in certain images.  Deconstructing images is something which we will be looking at in more depth over the next few weeks with our lecturers.  This will enable us to have a greater understanding of how certain images have managed to achieve  their appearance.

I decided to experiment with the pinhole negative below.  Instead of making a positive image in the darkroom I decided to scan in the negative and then import this into photoshop.  This then enabled me to invert the colour and pull more detail by using the levels.  Although this was a digital method it was still another way of controlling the light.

Written by Dean O'Brien

May 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Module 152MC Working with Light: Pinhole camera (task one: Street)

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I first had my experience with pinhole cameras almost three years ago when I was at college completing a BTEC National Diploma in photography.  Pinhole photography is just one of those things that never ceases to amaze people.  Even those who have no interest in photography.  Basically all it consists of is a container (anything from a tobacco tin to an oil drum) which is light tight.  All it then needs is a pinhole in it, which acts as the aperture where the light will pass through.  This then projects an image onto photographic paper which is inside the container.  Basically thats it in a nutshell…or tobacco tin…(excuse the joke).  Go to a darkroom, remove the paper and develop in chemicals.  Hey presto, there’s your image.  Tis’ witchcraft I hear you say…..

For such a basic thing,  pinhole cameras can produce some amazing results.  When building my camera I decided to use an empty grass seed plastic container.  This was ideal in some respects but not others.  The main problem being that the plastic was transparent, not very light tight and allowed light to pass through it.  I had to start by painting the inside and outside in matt black paint which I had in the garage.  This seemed ok at first until the adhesive qualities of paint on plastic are virtually non existent.  The paint started to peel off at the slightest touch.  After a further rummage around the garage I found a massive roll of black duct tape.  This was then used to cover the whole of the outside, base and lid ensuring that it was completely dark inside.  After that, it was just a case of drilling a 6mm hole in the centre of the box and taping my aperture in place.  The aperture being a small piece of metal with a needle hole pierced through.  Photographic paper is just held in place using blu tac.

The black & white image which you see on this post consists of a positive and a negative pinhole image.  It really does bring into question though about what exactly is a camera?  Its a box with a hole, which lets light in to capture whatever you point it at.  So why might you ask are we using such a basic camera in this hi tech digital age?  Its because the most important thing about photography is light.  Regardless of which medium you are using.  It is you who take the image not the device.  The device is simply used to contain whatever you see at that exact moment in time.  Over the next couple of weeks I will be working on various tasks which involve using the pinhole which I will post on here so please feel free to leave a comment.

Written by Dean O'Brien

May 6, 2010 at 4:54 pm

France 2010 – Not quite the ride I expected, but an experience none the less…

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After travelling to both France and Germany previously on my bike I felt that it was time to make another trip abroad.  Originally it was going to be a week long event to the alps but due to commitments with my University course we decided on a three night trip.  Rather than use the traditional Dover to Calais ferry route we opted to use the Channel Tunnel.  This was a straightforward 40 minute crossing from Folkestone to Calais.  Once out of the channel tunnel it was all plain sailing until when we arrived in St.Omer the guy who I was riding with indicated to me that something was wrong.  It turns out that he had clutch problems and could not change gear.  When we arrived at the hotel only a short distance away this is where the problems really started.  It turned out that Mark (the guy who I was riding with) had no european breakdown cover (rookie mistake).  As this was a Saturday evening we figured that we could maybe get his bike fixed locally the following day.  However, this was a Sunday and everywhere was closed.  To cut to the chase, all the motorbike shops locally were closed on the Monday as well, so basically we could not travel any further into France as we were returning back to the UK on Tuesday.  For the mathematicians amongst you, yes thats correct.  I travelled 180 miles to Folkestone and only 25 miles into France.  Not quite what was planned or expected but it was an experience none the less.

In these situations you can only try and turn a negative into a positive and this was easily achieved.  St.Omer is a beautiful town steeped in history.  As riding on the bikes was a no go there was nothing else to do but to explore the town on foot.  I do enjoy a drink and to be fair, I do enjoy photography as well so imagine how I felt when I landed in a bar that had a photography exhibition going on.  The exhibition was of work by a local photographer called Jean Louis Saelens.  After purchasing more than a few beverages the landlord was more than happy to show me around and we discussed a few of the images in more detail.  The images were presented with mount board in black frames.  There were plenty that had more than a hint of Cartier-Bresson about them.  I also detected a hint of Paul Strand as well.  We also managed to visit Notre Dame Cathedral which is amazing and is undergoing a major renovation.

A great experience and something which I would gladly do again.

So what did I learn from my trip to France?  I think we in the UK could learn a lot from our french counterparts.  Litter free streets, sensible drinking and no gangs hanging around the streets causing a nuisance.  It may not cure all of our countries problems but its a good place to start.

The images below are a mixture with no particular theme.  They were just interesting things which I came across whilst I was there.  Some are abstract whilst some were long exposures taken whilst sitting at the bar having a cold beer.

Written by Dean O'Brien

May 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Photography Film Review: Pecker featuring Edward Furlong and Christina Ricci

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Today I had the pleasure of  being able to watch a film called Pecker.  Produced in 1998 it is a comedy set in Baltimore USA.  The story is based around an 18 year old lad called Pecker who works in a sandwich bar.  His true passion however is photography and he just snaps away at everything he sees.  It is often pointed out by his peers that his shots are out of focus and blurred but the fact remains that they still retain something special within them.  After all, this is what images are all about.  His girlfriend in the film states ‘You see art when there is nothing there’.  I think that is what makes photographers what they are.  They have the vision to create an image which the everyday person fails to see.  He manages to hold a mini exhibition of his work at the cafe where he works and he is discovered by a New York art dealer.   Cindy Sherman even manages to appear in the film although due to her ever changing appearance I could not actually confirm whether or not it was actually her playing the part.  Its a good mixture of comedy combined with underlying messages and well worth watching.

So this was a different animal to the film which I had viewed a week earlier.  There were plenty of hidden messages within this film.  Although the film was a comedy it also contained many serious references for me to consider.  It made the point that Peckers images worked because he shot loose and natural.  The moment that he was being told what to shoot it never worked for him.  His best images came from the heart and what he saw in his immediate surroundings.

As the film came to a close Pecker mentioned that maybe he would like to work on a movie.  Experiment with a new medium to bring images to life.  This is something which is now becoming very relevant to photographers today.  Full HD movie making is available on most SLR’s and will soon be standard on all new models.  People now want to see filmed footage as well as still images.  Before, this would have meant carrying both a camera and camcorder.  However due to advances in technology this is now easily possible within an SLR.

I had a very strict upbringing at college so to speak.  The technical side of photography played a massive part.  Portraits were scrapped if the eyes were soft, even if the image itself was good.  The eyes had to be pin sharp.  I remember being sent back time and time again until the image was near perfect.  My lecturers at University are teaching me a very different approach.  I don’t doubt their capabilities.  They are all at the top of their game and produce amazing work.  They are telling me not to think to much about the technical side of things.  I have to shoot more loosely.  I’m getting there slowly.  This film showed how a loose style of shooting produces real. raw images that people instantly relate to.  My 365 project which I post to every day shows loose style images taken with a camera phone.  This is one of many steps which I am taking to improve my image style.

Written by Dean O'Brien

April 29, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Reviews

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Fusiliers homecoming to Kenilworth….Documentary style photography

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When I first heard about the Royal regiment of Fusiliers having a homecoming parade I knew that I had to attend.  The regiment lost four of its men in Afghanistan last summer and recruits largely from the Midlands.  I wanted to attend for two reasons.  The first reason was to show my support and appreciation for what they are doing on my behalf.  Secondly ,it was going to be a great opportunity to improve my documentary style image taking.  My course at Coventry University is heavily based around this style of photography so the sooner I get stuck into this the better.  I have always been keen on candid street style photography so this is not a million miles away.  My technique just needs to be fine tuned.  I tried not to go for the ‘obvious’ style shots and look a bit more around me at footwear and minor details etc…

Well the weather was bright and sunny which as photographers we know is quite harsh light to be shooting in.  I had to position myself away from the sun where possible or use its presence to my advantage.  This came in handy when I decided to shoot abstract style shots using shadows as part of the image.  I was mostly using  a 70-200mm zoom lens without a tripod so image sharpness was always going to be an issue.  However, after filtering through my final images I believe that I managed to get a few good shots.

There was a very good atmosphere and a very relaxed attitude towards candid street photography.  A rarity these days.  The very high security presence ensured that everything ran smoothly.  I am going to attend more public events such as this in the future.  It may seem simple but the more that I shoot the better I will get.  I understand now why most professional photographers who were there had at least two camera bodies with them.  I do however understand that this does not make you a better photographer, it just means that you are more prepared for when that split second opportunity lands at your feet.

Written by Dean O'Brien

April 21, 2010 at 11:01 pm