Photographing Transparent and Semi-Opaque Products

Glass, clear acrylic and other transparent or semi-opaque materials often provide interesting challenges to photographers, especially when mixed with other elements that have conflicting lighting requirements. Here are some examples of different scenarios I commonly work with:

curved glass

Curved glass will generate reflections all over the shop if care is not taken with lighting angles. If the glass is empty reflections can sometimes be “Photoshopped”. When the glass contains solid objects with plenty of important detail I prefer to spend more time angling the lights to minimize or control the placement of reflections so that they are not distracting.

flat glass

Sometimes I need to remove reflections from a surface altogether whilst lighting the whole surface evenly, such as when photographing two-dimensional art framed with glass. Any light directly in front of the glass surface will likely create unwanted reflections / glare, so “copy lighting” utilizes two or more light sources on either side of the subject.

dark glass

Dark glass can look too opaque if only lit from the front, so some carefully directed back lighting helps demonstrate its transparency.

clear acrylic

White backgrounds dominate most e-commerce sites these days (with good reason) but sometimes a dark background combined with carefully placed reflections better show off a product, clearly defining its shape, volume and design.

semi-opaque plastic

The challenge with these semi-opaque storage boxes was ensuring they were light enough to avoid looking dirty, but no so light as to lose detail (especially at the edges) and a sense of volume.

cold drink

After all that work under the heat of the studio lights, a refreshing cold drink may be in order…

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my product photography.

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The Mog Tog: Photographing Cats and Kittens

Let’s face it, the furry little fiends are not the easiest subjects to photograph well. They don’t listen when you are telling them how to pose and they’ll wonder off bored long before you have the perfect shot set up. So, whilst there is no such thing as a bad photo of your favourite felines, here are 20 quick tips for getting snap you’ll be proud to share on social media, or even put on you wall, mouse mat or coffee mug. The models for this tutorial are Dido, Harold and Maude.

1. If you ignore all the other tips, remember this one: patience!

dido loves her pig
dido loves her pig, but if I put her on it she would jump off straight away; so, patience…

2.Get low down and shoot from their height, not yours!

harry a few months old
harry a few months old

3.Get in close and make use of complimentary textures.

maude in amongst the cushions
maude in amongst the cushions

4. Have your camera ready to capture some unexpected humour from your intrepid feline explorer.

dido covered in something she found somewhere
dido covered in something she found somewhere

5. Get in real close for dramatic pet portraits.

harry was made for black and white photography
harry was made for black and white photography

6. Cats are not fond of having cameras thrust in their faces; a telephoto lens can help you get close from a distance.

maude was on the garage roof, hence the "mouse eye view"
maude was on the garage roof, hence the “mouse eye view”

7. Dark fur can be tricky to expose; try spot or centre-partial metering and check the review image and/or histogram after shooting.

dido has always been a bit of a scruff
dido has always been a bit of a scruff.

8. Play with unusual perspectives; I used a wide angle lens to get this shot of Harry.

my paws don't normally look this big, it's wide angle lens distortion
my paws don’t normally mook this big, it’s wide angle lens distortion

9. Did I mention to get in really close? Cropping tightly during editing can also work; the general cropping rule is “crop in, then crop in some more!”

maude's eye and whiskers

10. What are the key physical characteristics of your mog? Use them to add personality to their portraits.

look into my eyes
look into my eyes

11. Is your mog camera shy? Distract them with a favourite toy and get them well into the play before the camera is brought out.

hmmm, catnip mouse, my favourite!
hmmm, catnip mouse, my favourite!

12. To snap the little tykes in mid-play you will require a fast shutter speed and a high ISO; use manual or shutter priority mode on your SLR, or one of the “sporty/action” modes on your compact digi.

let's dance
let’s dance

13. Think about the composition of the entire scene, not just your model.

dido through the serving hatch
dido through the serving hatch

14. Give kittens something to play with, or place them where they can investigate some strange new wonder.

a floral puss
a floral puss

15. Sometimes a prop or two can come in handy; if you’re going to add amusing props to a scene work quickly before the wary mog notices something is afoot!

only one of us is smiling
only one of us is smiling

16. Sibling kittens will interact in ways that adult cats are unlikely too – take such opportunities when they come.

brother and sister
brother and sister

17. Ok, so I couldn’t decide between this photo and the previous one, so you get both. It is worth saying that you won’t always get perfect composition, exposure or focus, but sometimes that doesn’t matter as much as capturing the moment…

yes, your breath does smell of fish
yes, your breath does smell of fish

18. Clutter-free backgrounds are best for any portrait; using a wide lens aperture can help blur the background to make it even less distracting.

harold and maude
harold and maude; yes, after the film

19. Whilst cats are notoriously difficult to direct, kittens can be more pliable; Harry and Maude loved jumping from dining table to serving hatch; I laid in wait with the camera whilst my better half encouraged them to leap.

shouldn't we have capes on?
shouldn’t we have capes on?

20. The general rule of portraiture is focus on eyes / face, but rules are made to be broken…

maude’s paw


To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my human portrait photography.

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Fun With IT

Sometimes a client will ask me to create some light hearted images to promote their services. Such images still need to tell a story – communicate the products or services on offer – but taking a fun and creative helps engage with their audience, grabbing their attention.

web design


These composite images were created back in 2011 for Granite Computers. They wanted something a bit different, something amusing. They also wanted to communicate the fact that they were a small company that could take on big jobs.

search engine optimisation

A storyboard of ideas was developed during the course of a couple of meetings with Granite. We planned a banner image for each page of their new website, covering the various services they offered such as PC and laptop servicing, hosting, web design, SEO and so on. The theme that linked all the images was “playing with scale”.


service pc

Building giant sets was never an option, so the solution was to create composite images – two or more photos merged to create the final image. Shooting the raw material for the composites took place over 3 sessions:

  1. a location shoot at Granite’s premises to capture large objects such as server racks
  2. a still life shoot at my home studio for small objects such as laptops, motherboards and leads
  3. a model shoot at my home studio

Tim from Granite was our main “model”, but I also recruited a second model to add some variety to the images. Props such as the hard hat, virus safe and protective suit were begged, borrowed or stolen (ok, probably not stolen). For the “hosting” image (bottom of this post) I downloaded a stock image of traffic light trails, carefully selecting one that would interact well with the server rack I had photographed. The screen graphics were supplied by Granite themselves.


service laptop

Obviously a lot of Photoshopping goes into this kind of imagery, but the planning stage is really the key. You have to consider the angles and lighting that will help join subjects to backgrounds. The scenarios depicted are obviously not real, but as with a sci fi movie, you still need the viewer to “suspend disbelief”.

connecting a server

Granite could have looked for stock imagery to populate their website, but creating their own images allowed them to show their own liveried shirts and communicate their own unique identity.

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my creative advertising photography.

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Focus Stacking with Open Source Software and Photoshop

The object of focus stacking is simple – combine several near-identical shots of a subject to create an image with a greater depth of field than could be achieved in one photograph.  The only change between each exposure is a subtle shifted of focus – everything else (lighting, composition etc) remains static.

It is not as scary as it may sound, so rather than an in-depth tutorial, this post simply describes my very first personal experiment with the technique.

Why do it?

There are a variety of simple methods to maximise the zone of sharpness in an image:

  • use a prime lens with a short focal length
  • choose a narrow aperture
  • move the camera further away from the subject

Each method has limitations, or may compromise other creative requirements; aperture is worth special mention in this regard. It can be tempting to dial in the smallest available aperture setting, but this can be a mistake. Any aperture smaller than f11 can actually reduce sharpness or resolution throughout the image (including the focal plane). Surprised? Google “lens aperture and diffraction” to learn more.

Focus stacking is most commonly used with macro photography, where zones of sharpness are typically very shallow, and changing lens or distance to subject are not an option.

Setting up

I wanted a subject that would easily show the success (or failure) of my experiment, so placed a desiccated flower (the button-hole from my wedding a few years ago) on a windowsill that received indirect (therefore diffuse) sunlight.

A 60mm macro lens was attached to a Nikon D7100, which was mounted on a sturdy tripod to keep the camera perfectly still throughout shooting.

A few test shots established the exposure settings required: ISO 200, f/8, 1/8sec shutter speed. Of course, using window light for multiple shots requing the same exposure was risky as the strength of sunlight can change rapidly, but the sky was heavily overcast so I figured fluctuations would be minimal.


Connecting camera to laptop via USB cable, I booted up a nifty bit of software called Digicamcontrol. This open source tethering program has focus stacking functionality built in.

I could have tried manual focussing to create a series of shots with small, consistent adjustments in focus, but Digicamcontrol simplified the process. Rather than reinventing the wheel, here is the exact method I followed to capture the images that would form my stack:

If you did not follow the link, it essentially describes the process of setting the parameters required to generate component images for the stack:

  • number of images
  • focus step size
  • interval between each shot
  • near & far focus points

Specifying the near and far focus points was relatively straightforward. For the step value I took a punt on “35”, but there are far more scientific methods of determining this value, such as online step size calculators and tables. For the shot interval I selected 1 second, but that value would have been higher had I been using flash.

The software used these parameters to determine the number of shots required: 11.

Stacking the shots

Once Digicamcontrol had instructed the camera to fire off the 11 shots I switched to Adobe Bridge and loaded the first image into Adobe Camera Raw.

Since this was primarily a test exercise I decided to apply all tone and colour edits here rather than Photoshop, and then apply those changes to the other 10 images via Bridge (Edit -> Develop Settings -> Copy/Paste Camera Raw Settings).

The first image shot was loaded into Photoshop CS6, then each subsequent shot was opened (in the order the images were shot) and copied to a new layer in the first file. This produced a single working image file of 11 layers with the first shot at the bottom (“background” layer) and the last shot at the top of the layer stack.

Blending the stack

Selecting all the layers in the stack, I then ran the following commands:

  1. Edit -> Auto-Align Layers
  2. Edit -> Auto-Blend Layers

Finally, I flattened the image and cropped it slightly, then compared the resulting composite image to a single shot with the same settings and composition; here they both are:

focus stack comparison full
Top image is the single shot, bottom image the merged “stack”.

Here are the same two images cropped in to better demonstrate the difference between their respective depths of field:

focus stack comparison detail
The “stack” is at the bottom again. Maybe I should have done some dusting first…

Ideally I should have shot the single comparison image with a smaller aperture, but the difference between f8 and f11 or f16 on a macro lens a few inches from the subject would be extremely minimal!

In Conclusion

I am not 100% convinced of the more general artistic merits of focus stacking, especially when software is shouldering much of the burden – but that is the subjective opinion of a tog who appreciates the use of out-of-focus elements within imagery. I am also sceptical about HDR photography (which has similarities to this technique) and often wonder whether the ends justify the means… but then I did enjoy playing with another ‘stacking’ technique:

I can, however, envisage scenarios where creative interpretation of a subject requires greater depth of field than available from a single shot. I also see this as a useful technique in commercial product photography, so will continue to experiment….

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my product photography.

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An On-the-shelf Solution

Photography is a glamorous business – snapping beautiful models in exotic locations for glossy magazines… well those are the assignments togs like to boast about. Our bread-and-butter work is often somewhat more down-to-earth, but the challenges presented are no less interesting.

three drop shelf unit

I was recently commissioned by storage specialists Tufferman to photograph the type of shelving units commonly found in garages and warehouses. The shelving needed to be presented against a pure white background, but the photography was to take place on location. This was a primarily a logistic decision meaning the shelving could be constructed (and, where necessary, reconfigured) by the client on-site without having to worry about shipping and so on.

The shoot took place in the loft space at the client’s business premises on the outskirts of Chelmsford, Essex during one of the colder snaps in January this year. I can honestly say that was one of the chilliest environments I have shot in, although I had been briefed to wrap up warm, and the client kindly provided fingerless gloves and hot soup!

the set up

A white backdrop was erected in a space that was large enough to allow use of a reasonably long focal length (between 60-70mm) that still framed these large products in their entirety. A smaller space would have shortened the focal length, which would have exacerbated problems with converging verticals. This is an issue most commonly seen with images of tall buildings – where the walls appear to converge rather than being perpendicular to the ground.

converging verticals
This is how the shelving might have looked had care not been taken with focal length and camera height. The black lines have been drawn in to show divergence from the vertical.

A reasonable amount of space was also required around the shelving units, to facilitate even lighting where flash glare on the shiny surfaces was minimized.

Part of the brief was to shoot the various units at a consistent angle, this uniformity improving the appearance of web pages where multiple images would appear together. To achieve this we marked the positions of the shelves on the paper backdrop (which was going to be cut out anyway). We also organised the shoot such that similar items were photographed contiguously – minimizing the need to move the camera position between shots.

shelf detail
All those little holes in the shelving made outsourcing the cutting-out job a no-brainer

I normally undertake all digital cutting out of subjects from backgrounds myself, but, due to the intensive nature of the selections required to cut the shelving out, the job was outsourced to a specialist, who also added a drop shadow. I then retouched the cut-out images in preparation for web and print use.

single drop shelf unit

The Tufferman guys made me feel really welcome and part of the team throughout the shoot, and that is part of the reason why I love jobs like this just as much as the glamour assignments.

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my product photography.

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Optical Effect – Bespoke Website Imagery

When local optician Owen Aves decided to revamp their website they could have populated it entirely with images from stock libraries.

However, they did not want their new site to look too generic, prefering to feature their own unique brand identity.

designer sunglasses

This was really two or three mini-shoots rolled into one.

To begin with, some branded products were photographed in the studio.

contact lenses

Then I took the studio to Owen Aves’ premises in central Colchester.


On site the shoot was further divided in two. Whilst the business remained open I shot the “still life” interiors and exteriors using the available light.

spectacles on display

Then at closing time the flash units were brought out to light the actions shots.

opticians at work

Part of the brief supplied by the grahic designer (Harvey from Harvey Lyon Design) was that each image would need to be supplied in two distinct crop ratios; square-ish images on the homepage would link in with banner images on categorised sub-pages. The images were also required to be supplied in both colour and monochrome.

OA Website page design requiring two different cropsRoughly four hours were spent shooting on site, during half of which the business remained open and fully operational.

eye examination

To chat about imagery that promotes your brand identity, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

The Northern Lights

What do photographers get up to on holiday? They snap hundreds more photos of course – just ask my better half after the three of us (me + wife + camera) spent a couple of (mostly) happy weeks in Norway.

Gone are the days of abusing friends’ patience with endless slideshows of “us at the newly discovered 8th natural wonder of the world” – that’s what Social Media is for – but it occurred to me that some of the images captured on that trip might form the backdrop to a brief tutorial. One of the highlights of our holiday was witnessing not one, but two amazing Northern Light shows  – something every tog wants to bag, given the opportunity – but which kit and camera settings are going to do the job?

northern lights over svolvaer

Apart from your camera, the most important bit of kit is a tripod. You will be wanting to expose for longer than you can hold the camera steady.

A small torch may also be handy. To see the night sky clearly you want to find a location unpoluted by street lighting, so a torch will help you find camera controls and prevent you tripping over your tripod. That’s not a joke by the way; I didn’t have a torch in Norway and consequently trod on and snapped one of the legs of my flimsy telescopic travel tripod. All was not lost, however; since I was pointing my camera upwards, I merely placed the shorter leg to the rear to help provide the elevation required.

In terms of exposure, there is no single combination of ISO, aperture and shutter speed that will do the job, but the settings used for the first image here will give you a good starting point:

  • ISO 400; ideally I would have gone higher with the ISO, but the old D300 I took to Norway doesn’t handle high ISO noise very well, and I wanted the best quality images possible
  • aperture f3.5; this was as wide as my 18-105mm zoom would permit; aperture is probably the least critical setting for the Northern Lights since they are a ‘soft’ subject anyway, so will not suffer greatly from a shallow depth of field
  • shutter speed 30 seconds; combined with the other two settings, this made the Lights look lovely and bright and even captured some detail in the mountain

northern lights over svolvaer

When working with long shutter speeds a useful feature on some cameras is the self-timer delay. Set this to 2 or 5 seconds so as not to jog the camera when taking the shot.

Probably the trickiest thing to control is focus. Your autofocus will struggle to find anything to lock on to. Mine did manage to focus on the mountain a couple of times, but you can waste a lot of precious time listening to it struggle. Another option is to switch to manual focus and focus on infinity – as mentioned earlier, the lights themselves are not sharply defined objects (they are constantly moving, albeit not always noticably), so ‘infinity’ should be fine for both Lights and any landscape visible on the horizon.

My first evening shooting the Northern Lights was on terra firma (just outside Svolvaer); a few nights later came a mini cruise through the fjord that bisects the city of Tromso. The boat allowed us to escape urban light polution and the skipper turned off the on-board lights of course. The challenge was that the boat provided a moving platform.

northern lights over tromso

Ideally I would have pushed up the ISO and reduced the shutter speed to deal with the gentle motion of the boat, but knowing my D300 would throw a good deal of ugly noise my way if I did that, I limited myself to ISO 500 and cut the shutter speed to 15 seconds. The maximum aperture was f4 on a 12-24mm wide angle lens. As you can see, the movement blurred the city lights at the base of the images, and the Northern Lights, which were much more mobile that night, are blurrier too – but I still liked the overall effect, and definately prefered it to noise.

northern lights over tromso

Whatever else you do, turn off the built-in flash; unless you are photographing someone with the Northern Lights in the background, flash will do absolutely nothing for you.

One last thing – bag your shots, but don’t spend the whole evening with your face glued to a camera. The Northern Lights are not static, they perform a celestial ballet – graceful with sudden bursts of spectacular action – so be sure to enjoy the show, maybe with an arm around your loved one.

To chat about photography or Photoshop tuition for absolute beginners, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

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Photographing property: Tips for vendors and landlords

Most people rent or sell their property via letting or estate agents, and in a competitive market there is great service to be had – some agents using freelance photographers like myself to market their properties. For those preferring to market their own property here are a few guidelines to help you create attractive images of your house or flat.

What Equipment will you need?

Most cameras are suitable for photographing properties; you do not need gazillions of mega pixels for an image that will be displayed on the web. However, if you want to show as much of a room as possible in a photo, a dSLR camera will enable you to attach a wide angle lens (usually purchased separately).

I find a tripod invaluable for interiors. Photographing rooms in naturally light frequently requires fairly slow shutter speeds (around 1/4 or 1/8 second) to ensure the room is nice and bright.

A flashgun can be handy, especially in properties with small windows. More on working with flash later.

For the classic exterior shot with blue sky and fluffy white clouds, try a polarising filter. Be sure to get one that fits the lens you intend to use.

What shots should you aim to get?

At least one of each room – and two or three images of key rooms such as kitchen, lounge and master bedroom.

You may also want to shoot interesting features – a beautiful (lit) fireplace, wooden beams, built-in kitchen appliances, unusual design elements etc. I once nearly put an offer in on a house just because it had a door disguised as a bookcase – so be sure to grab people’s attention with anything out of the ordinary.

At least one shot of each garden is required, and consider attractive views that may be had through windows.

Corridors connecting rooms do not need to be photographed exhaustively, but capturing a hallway or landing that leads through to a lovely bright space can give an extra sense of what it is like to live in the property.

Which camera angles are best for rooms?

Shoot from a low angle – between waist and chest height – so you do not see lots of boring ceiling. An exception is when you want to show chandeliers or other features that are higher up.

Try to keep the camera level with the floor. Tip it up or down and “converging vertical” distortion (the sloping wall look) will increase.

Shooting from corners can create a greater sense of depth than shooting straight down the middle of a room. But don’t be afraid to centre and square beds and other prominent features. For smaller rooms, you may not have much option but to shoot from the doorway to show as much of the space as possible.

Arrange tables, chairs, sofas etc to make rooms homely and inviting, but also to frame your shots. The back of a sofa in the middle of an image will not look inviting; try framing the shot with the back of the sofa in the bottom corner, facing in.

What about lighting?

Shoot exteriors on a sunny day and try to capture front and back gardens in direct sunlight.

For interiors, the aim is usually to make rooms look light and airy. When using natural light, mid morning or mid afternoon are often considered the best times to shoot interiors, but in reality there is no “ideal” time for any given property, as this will depend on when and where your rooms receive sunlight. Perhaps counter-intuitively it can be easier to shoot interiors in overcast weather. Cloud cover diffuses sunlight, reducing harsh shadows and lighting rooms more evenly.

Opinions differ over the use of house lights in photographs. Some people think they should all be on, others think that is indicative of a house that does not receive much natural light. My personal preference is to keep room lights off, except:

  • where the glow from chandeliers, lamps, wall lights, ceiling spots, etc adds charm
  • where a room has no windows, such as some bathrooms or en suites
  • when you turn on lights in adjoining rooms to avoid dark sinister doorways

If a large television is present in the scene, turn it on to avoid a large black space in your photo.

Flash can help you light a room evenly, reducing deep shadowing. Do not use the built-in camera flash unless you really have to. It produces harsh, unflattering light, and may add more harsh shadows. Flash guns (available for many dSLR cameras) are a much better option as they can be diffused and their heads adjusted so light bounces off walls or ceilings – further softening the light. When “bouncing” flash light off surfaces be careful that the chosen surface is not too colourful, otherwise your pictures may take on some of that colour. Generally you use flash to supplement natural light, so try not to fire it on full power. You want it just strong enough to balance and enhance the light coming through the windows.

A final little lighting trick for suitable for rustic kitchens on sunny days: boil some water and waft the steam around so that it catches the sun beaming through the window.

What props should you use to ‘lifestyle’ your images?

Less is more with interior photography; nobody wants to see clutter. Be sure to tidy as well as clean thoroughly before shooting. If things are poking out from under beds or the tops of wardrobes you are sending a signal that there is not enough storage space. Rooms cluttered with too much furniture can also look smaller.

Remove “personal” items such as slippers, spectacles and family portraits – you want your audience to visualise themselves living in the property, so avoid strong personal stamps.

That said, some carefully placed props can make a house feel more homely:

  • glasses of water next to the bed
  • books or vases for coffee tables
  • flower arrangements on tables

Doors are best left wide open when in shot, especially in smaller rooms to avoid the feeling of a cell. Open windows too, where practical, to make the room look inviting and fresh.

Is that everything?

Nearly. I tend to retouch all property images in Photoshop; handy for adjusting light levels and correcting some camera distortions. You may not have time to do this, but do be sure to only upload low resolution images to the web. Any image editing software can reduce high resolution (printable) images to resolutions suitable for fast web browsing. If you do not edit images at all, consider using low resolution jpg settings in your camera. Web images rarely need to be over 1mb in size, and larger images may take ages to load in web browsers, making people skip on to the next property.

To chat about photography or Photoshop tuition for absolute beginners, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

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A Biomass Brochure – Photography on Location

As spring breaks through and our East Anglian countryside blooms once more, it worth thinking about location photography to help sell your products or services. This case study features images from a commission undertaken for Colne Biomass last year.


spring in the air


The brief was to supply imagery for an aspirational new brochure showcasing the company’s diverse range of biomass boiler installations. The client arranged for us to visit a number of existing installations, and shooting took place over the course of about two weeks – 2 or 3 locations a day. Between 1 – 2 hours was spent at each site, with the client present to help art-direct the shoot.


boiler installation


As well as displaying examples of the bespoke solutions available, the images needed to show the scale of some of the properties being supplied by these boilers.


a grand property


Some of sites chosen were other respected local businesses, so their branding was worked into images where appropriate.


branding in frame


As well as the properties, the boiler installations themselves needed to be shown – in what were often less than glamorous settings. Locations such as workshops may not be pretty, but can offer a range of props to help tell the story.


boiler in workshop


In some instances space was so limited that the boiler had to be shot through a doorway. Care was taken with the lighting to ensure the boiler stood out from the background, and flash was used to suppliment the available ambient light.


shot through a doorway


Other spaces were more generously proportioned, and as much use as possible was made of natural light ; in the next image, for example, the massive biomass storage container was lit by the skylights in the barn.


biomass storage


Each site we visited provided a mini case study. Along with the property, images showed the exterior of the structure housing the boiler, the interior space, and some detail or action shots of the boiler itself.


case study


Finally, we shot the part of an installation everyone wants to see inside their home…


cosy biomass fire


To chat about your location photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my interior and exterior photography.


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The Quick and Dirty Guide to Cleaning your Camera

Cleaning your camera may not be the sexiest subject for a tog’s blog, but it is something we all need to do once in a while to ensure maximum picture quality with minimum hassle – by which I mean avoiding having to retouch dark fuzzy blotches from our otherwise fabulous images. We will look at cleaning the whole camera: body, lenses, sensor (for those who can access it), before looking at how to keep your equipment in tiptop condition.

Caveat #1: If you own an SLR, the manual probably recommends that you visit a professional to get the sensor cleaned. Fair advice, but if you are very careful you can save yourself a few quid and still enjoy blemish-fee photos.

Caveat #2: This update features some of the least exciting images you’re ever likely to see outside of



 A quick shopping list to start with:

  • lens pen
  • soft microfibre cloth
  • camera wipes
  • bellows-style manual air blower (e.g. Giottos Rocket-Air or Matin Silicone Jumbo Blower)
  • lens cleaning fluid
  • OR a complete lens cleaning kit

All are easily available via a range of outlets, and are relatively inexpensive.


Dirt Detective

Before cleaning, check if dust is causing dark fuzzy blemishes on your photos. They are usually most visible in areas of an image where there is little colour or contrast – such as a clear blue sky – but you can double check:

  1. Selecting a narrow aperture, take a picture of an evenly lit sheet of white paper. Be sure to fill the frame with the paper.
  2. Examine the photo on your computer, zooming in to identify blemishes.
  3. If you see dust and blemishes (dark fuzzy spots), it may be time to clean the sensor.

image of paper being opened in Photoshop to check for dirty sensor

To make the blotches caused by dirt on the sensor stand out more I have adjusted the RAW settings to increase the tonal range in the image. You can see quite a cluster of telltale blotches on the left hand side. The ‘X’ drawn in the middle of the paper helped the camera autofocus.


Body First

Cleaning the camera body first helps keep dust from getting inside your camera if and when you clean the sensor.

Wipe the exterior of the camera body and lens (not the glass, yet) with a soft microfibre cloth or camera wipe. Do not use a household duster, or you will probably end up with more detritus on the camera than you started with.

Be sure to clean around the lens mount, so trapped dirt does not get in when you clean the sensor.

Do not forget to clean the inside of lens caps, where dust can easily collect.


Spit & Polish

Clean your lenses next. This might remove all blemishes, and avoid the need for sensor cleaning.

When cleaning the glass at either end of a lens, start with an air blower to remove loose particles. Do not use compressed air.

Place a small amount of lens cleaning fluid on a microfibre cloth and wipe the lens in a circular motion, starting from the centre, to remove more stubborn dirt. Do not put the cleaning fluid directly on the glass or you may damage the lens. Use a dry section of your cloth to wipe off excess fluid.

A lens pen is a great investment for location photographers. They boast soft bristles that shift loose specks, and a small non-abrasive pad for cleaning more stubborn dirt from your glass. I usually breathe on the lens and then apply the pad in the same manner as the aforementioned cloth. It will fit in your pocket, so even if you’re not taking a camera bag, you can still clean your lens on location.


The Scary Bit

You may be able to avoid cleaning the sensor altogether if your camera has an auto sensor cleaning function. It usually only takes a second or two, and may do the trick.

You can check by taking another photograph of your piece of paper and comparing it to the first. If you still see dark fuzzy blotches in the same locations as before then you still have some work to do.

It is only the fuzzy blotches that are of interest – the sharper spots are part of the grain of the paper. In Photoshop I created a new blank layer above the image layer and used a thin red brush to highlight the blotches . Clearly the auto sensor cleaning function in the camera did not do the trick this time.

If sensor cleaning is required, ensure you are in a light, dust-free room and roll up your sleeves so fibres from your clothes do not get into the camera.

Ensure the camera battery is fully charged, or connect the camera to a mains adaptor. You are going to be sticking things into the belly of your camera with the mirror locked up, and do not want that mirror to come crashing down mid-operation!

Mount your camera on a tripod if you have one, and angle it face downwards so gravity works in your favour: the dust falls out and no more dust falls in.

Remove the lens from the front of the camera (remembering to place caps over the glass at either end).

Follow the instructions in your camera manual to put the camera in sensor cleaning mode (this raises the mirror up).

Carefully blow air onto the sensor using a bellows-style (squeezable) air blower.

Do not touch the sensor with the air blower.

Do not blow air from your mouth incase you accidentally spit on the sensor.

Avoid compressed air; it can damage the sensor.

There is not usually any need to clean the mirror; it is fragile and does not impact image quality.

When you think you have done enough blowing, remove the blower from the front of the camera body and follow the instructions in your camera manual to take the camera out of sensor cleaning mode (this drops the mirror back down). Then replace the lens you removed earlier.

Check your progress by replacing the lens and photographing the same piece of paper and comparing the results to the image you shot previously. It is fairly obvious if there is stubborn dirt as the blotches will be in the exactly the same place as before, even if you have not lined the shots up 100%.

After a bout with the blower I took another shot and added this image as a new layer above the original image layer and beneath the layer of red brush mark. This enabled me to see where my blowing had been effective, and where it had not quite done enough. If you do not use image editing software, or are not au fait with layers then perform a manual comparison of the images.


Sometimes it takes two or three goes with the blower to remove all the dirt. If the sensor is still not clean enough, you have two options:

  1. Wipe your sensor with a sensor cleaning brush (risky)
  2. Take it to a pro (much safer!)

I only recommend option #1 if you are completely confident that you know what you are doing and have the steady hand of a surgeon. If so, a sensor scope or magnifying glass will help you examine the sensor in more detail. Option #2 will be expensive, but not as expensive as replacing a damaged sensor.


Don’t Do It Again (For as long as possible)

  •  Keep your camera in a bag when it is not in use, and when it is dangling from your neck, keep the lens cap on!
  • Vacuum your camera bag regularly to keep dust out. If you have been to the beach, vacuum again – that sand gets everywhere.
  • Wipe the area around the lens mount regularly to decrease the chance of dust getting inside your camera.


To chat about photography or Photoshop tuition for absolute beginners, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

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