The Photography Show 2016

I haven’t posted for what feels like ages as I have been very busy of late, so this is something of a delayed one!

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend the Photography Show at the NEC with some good friends and fellow photographers. This was my second year at the show which meant I was a little more organised this time around. Knowing what to expect, I was able to arrange to attend a couple of talks. The one I was most looking forward to was Chris Packham on the Super Stage.

I have grown up watching Chris on the television right back to The Really Wild Show which he co-presented with Terry Nutkins and Nick Davies from 1986, and Michaela Strachan from 1993. I have always found his passion and enthusiasm for wildlife engaging (my wife is also a huge fan), so  was building up to this for weeks. If you’ve never heard of the show, or fancy a trip down memory lane, then check out the opening of the first show below…

After an initial quick scout around the arena on arrival, I went and did that very British thing of ‘queuing’ for the Super Stage to eventually listen to what Chris had to share. Although hard not to steer the ‘conversation’ to ‘conservation’, Chris provided a very entertaining and informative hour of his photography, named ‘Nothing is Brilliant’. I have to say, I thought I was bad at criticising myself until I heard how Chris picks his pictures apart! Amidst his self-criticism, his love for the natural world and an excitement of what is around us wherever we are shone through.untitled-144He dedicated the first part of his talk to a recent trip to The Antarctic and talked, amongst other things, about penguins and the challenges of photographing groups. Now this is something I feel we both share as I am most definitely a photographer who likes to concentrate on one subject. As Chris would strongly agree, when you are trying to capture one or more animal in frame you can guarantee one will be looking the other way, photobombing or scratching its intimate parts!

If I took nothing else from the talk I did come away with one very important lesson – and that is if I was to ever photograph penguins in the Antarctic I should always photograph them going uphill after leaving the water, as if you try and photograph them going downhill from the nest, they are most likely to be covered in pink poo! As you listen to him talk about his subjects you can really see the deep understanding of their behaviours and how he uses this knowledge to predict what the animals will do, which enables him to capture the striking images he does.untitled-150The second half of the talk focused on a rather less pleasant location – this being the open sewage dump in the Gambia where he has visited for many years to photograph the plethora of resident birds. Now anyone that risks cholera and I don’t know how many other diseases for their art truly deserves to be successful! The key point I took away from this is don’t always look to the exotic. As Chris explained, there is beauty in nature wherever you are on the planet, you just need to look for it. The resulting images from this sewage plant were amazing and by looking at the final images you would never have guessed the location. It’s a credit to Chris’s creativity in even using the sewage trucks as they dumped raw sewage into the plant as background colours in reflections on the water. Overall, a very entertaining and informative hour – and I would highly recommend seeing Chris if you ever have the opportunity. One final pearl of wisdom he did leave us with, is that if we are entering a photographic competition with him as a judge we are more likely to win with a photograph of a creative, backlit urban pigeon than we are of a big cat in the Serengeti. Now there’s a challenge!!

After the discussions, it was off to explore the rest of the show and see what technical delights there were to dazzle me with (far too many by the way!!). However, before I could get underway there was a slight invasion…untitled-78-2untitled-19-2Now, thankfully, I did know it was Comic-Con next door otherwise I might have thought we were under attack by the Dark Side. Even so, they were still pretty unnerving as they marched their way through the hall with the ‘Star Wars’ theme full blast! Even the Dark Lord made his presence felt…untitled-109-2-2Chris Packham to Darth Vader?? I think this is shaping up to be quite the random post – so please bear with me. 🙂

One of the key elements of the day was exploring all of the new gear available and calculate in your head how many years you need to work before you can afford any of it. There are always lots on demonstration and it’s great to have a play with some new toys from all of the major photographic players. I got my hands on a few new lenses to try on the day and it was nice to spend time learning varying techniques.untitled-48After perusing for a few hours, it was back to more talks and lectures with the first one being all about continuous lighting with Manfrotto. Artificial lighting and flash is hard to get right and  make it look natural and this certainly was a masterclass. The shot below was simply taken against a backdrop but with the lighting positioned and directed as the street lights would be, as if the model was actually there. My picture doesn’t really do it justice but you get the idea. Good lighting – whether natural or artificial – is most definitely the key to a great image, and get it right and you’re onto a winner.

Although there are key formulas when using lighting, sometimes it’s worth breaking the rules (as always) as that can also create something visually quite different. The second and third images are more ‘natural’ in their lighting with no ‘shadow’ or ‘highlight’ areas giving it more even lighting rather than trying to create a mood as in the first picture. It’s a challenge photographing demonstrations as you are juggling for space with other photographers as well as quite often shooting outside of your comfort zone, while also trying to dodge a photobomb by the instructor. I think all of the images are equally pleasing in their own right – although the composition in the third could have been better, although I do like the colourful backdrop of the flowers.untitled-140untitled-54untitled-2-2Towards the end of the show, I did part with more than a few pennies and bought some new software which I have been busy trying out on some of the pictures from the day. I really enjoyed the demonstration from the ‘Topaz’ presenter and no doubt that will now be many hours sat spent trying to understand it all and making it work (which is always the challenge).

As the day came to a close, I did manage to catch a rather quirky ‘Cosplay’ demonstration (which was a little less unnerving than the dark side). For those that don’t know (as I didn’t) Cosplay is ‘the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime’. Having seen some of the costumes today they take it all pretty seriously and for many it’s more than just a hobby. Here are a couple of pictures taken of ‘Helen Alice Cosplay’ who are two very talented ladies, who not only wear and showcase ‘Cosplay’ (amongst many other things) but they design and make all of their own costumes too. 🙂untitled-49 untitled-82 untitled-101-2 untitled-117-2Although an 18 hour day it was a lot of fun and informative too – so we now look forward to next year! A huge thanks to the speakers, exhibitors and models who had to survive the full four days of the show which is pretty gruelling. You put on a great show so thank you! 🙂 See you in 2017!