Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Bluebell photography: when, where and how to take creative spring pictures

Bluebells, that beautiful blue haze, that wonderful slightly purple shimmer, what colour is it? Well for years I took pictures of bluebells, changing film types, using filters and since digital trying different white balance settings, over exposing, under exposing, trying everything to replicate that hard to describe colour. Well here is a tutorial on how to get it right, found on Digital Camera Magazine

The time for bluebell photography is just around the corner. In this tutorial we explain when to take pictures of bluebells, where to find them and how to set up your camera for the best results

You have to be watchful at this time of year, because it’s almost time to go down to the woods – not for the teddy bears’ picnic, of course, but for something much more inspiring than that… it’s time for bluebells!

Their wonderful carpets of blue and green are one of the signs of spring, and make for fantastic photos.

Depending on seasonal temperatures and how far south you are, there’s a short window from about mid-April to the end of May during which you can see bluebells. With this year’s mild winter in the UK they may be early, so don’t miss them!

One of the joys of spring in Britain is walking through a woodland to enjoy the birdsong, smell the scented air, see the wildlife and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

An established beech wood is best for photographs, as you get tall, straight trees with little undergrowth and not many offshoots or branches protruding from trunks.

You ideally want an open aspect to the east or west side of the woods where you can shoot towards a low sun that’s not too strong.  



Renaissance Photography Prize 2014

We do try to keep you updated about competitions but also try to avoid the vacuous money making scams that seem to proliferate the world of the web. This is a competition with a very good cause nailed on, supporting younger women with breast cancer is a cause close to us here at OSP Towers at the moment so we are very happy to give this our support. There are only a few days left so make the effort, take pictures and submit, even if you don’t win you are doing some good.

The Renaissance Photography Prize is an international photography award celebrating emerging and established talent and raising money to support younger women with breast cancer. Enter now to get your work seen by some of the most highly regarded photography critics, and the chance to win £6,000 worth of prizes in total and international exposure. The 60 finalist and shortlisted photographs will be exhibited at Getty Images Gallery in London, UK.

Photographers can enter single images and/or series of work and the competition is open to everyone worldwide. And the good news is it’s all for a good cause. All profit from your entry fee is donated to Lavender Trust at Breast Cancer Care (registered charity number 1017658), a charity which is dedicated to supporting younger women with breast cancer.




The Renaissance Photography Prize is an international photography competition (the Competition) which raises money for the Lavender Trust at Breast Cancer Care (registered charity in England and Wales 1017658 and Scotland SC038104 (the Charity)). It is organised by the Renaissance Photography Prize Ltd, a not-for-profit company run almost entirely by volunteers (Renaissance) and all pre-tax profits from the Competition are donated to the Charity.

By entering the Competition you are deemed to accept the competition rules (the Rules).


The Competition is open to all professional and amateur photographers worldwide. If you are under 16 you must have a parent or legal guardian’s permission to enter.


The Competition will open for entries at 10.00 GMT on 28 January 2014 and will close at 23.59 GMT on 28 April 2014. Entries received after this deadline will not be accepted.

Entries received and paid for before the 28 February 2014 23.59 GMT will receive an early bird discount (30%) on entry fees. The discount will be applied automatically at the time of payment. No discount will apply for Entries received after this time.

No responsibility is accepted for network connectivity, computer hardware or software failures of any kind which may restrict or delay the sending of your entry.


The Competition consists of two sections: the single-image competition (the Single-image Competition) and the series competition (the Series Competition). 

You can enter as many single images, series or combination of single images and series (the Entries) as you wish to the Competition.

The costs of entering (the Entrance Fee) are:

  • £15 for 1 image
  • £25 for up to 3 images
  • £40 for up to 6 image
  • The entry fee for more than 6 single images will be calculated using the above scale.Perou_1020x340px_Carousel
  • For more information go here

Leibovitz. Leibovitz. Leibovitz.

The documentary film about her life begins with celebrities simply saying her last name one after another. Leibovitz. Leibovitz. Leibovitz. Not only is her last name as unique as the photographs she creates, Annie Leibovitz has become synonymous with the profession that has made her nearly as famous as the people she photographs. Her images have appeared at museums and galleries all over the world, including the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris. She has been given the Barnard College Medal of Distinction and the Infinity Award in Applied Photography from the International Center of Photography and was also designated a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. In short, Annie Leibovitz is an icon of modern photography…..READ MORE AT FADED + BLURRED






annie-leibovitz-angelina-jolieThere is more to see and read at Faded + Blurred here


Mirror’s weeping child picture is a lie and smacks of lazy journalism at best

There is an interesting debate that keeps cropping up and it is to do with how true or honest a photographic image is and whether any form of manipulation renders it unsuitable for journalism purposes. We have reported on instances in the past where photographers have  lost their right to earn a living as press photographers because they have made changes to an image, see here. Now we find that national newspapers are using stock images to illustrate articles and when it suits them to manipulate images themselves. This article comes from The Guardian

Paper’s use of stock shot of American child to illustrate splash about food banks in UK is betrayal of its photographic heritage

The Daily Mirror’s weeping child picture was basically a lie, and we don’t normally condone lying. The Mirror used a stock shot of an American child taken five years ago to illustrate their front-page splash about the growth of food banks. This is the prime position for a news image and the Mirror has a fine tradition of commissioning and publishing strong news pictures.

Its photographic style has its roots in gritty Picture Post-type reportage of UK social affairs. To use a stock shot on the front page is misleading its readers and a betrayal of its photographic heritage. The reader really doesn’t expect a picture used with a front-page hard news story to be a soft library image.

Only a few weeks ago the Mirror took the brave decision to publish the shocking image of the bodies of the children gassed in Syria. It was a troubling picture, but told the truth in a bold way that most of the other UK papers shied away from. Possibly exploitative to some people, but also true to its tabloid sledgehammer style, it presented the evidence available on the day.

Surely the point is that if the reader can’t believe in the picture presented with no hint that it might just be an illustration, can they believe the story? This is a manipulation of the truth. In the rush to publish the story, the visual veracity has been forgotten……..
Daily Mirror front page

Associated Press photographer Kirsty Wigglesworth had shot a great picture at Spurs the Sunday before last: Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor saluting embattled manager Tim Sherwood after he scores a goal against Sunderland at White Hart Lane. Sherwood is also saluting and alongside him is a member of Spurs’ coaching squad, Chris Ramsey.

A nice moment well captured by Wigglesworth. So well captured that, out of the hundreds taken that day, several papers including the Guardian used it on their back pages the next morning.

But a couple of UK papers, the Daily Mail and the Mirror, saw fit to erase Ramsey from the image. For what reason is not exactly clear, perhaps the Mail thought that their fact box would look bolder without a figure behind. In the Mirror’s case was it to let their headline stand out more?


For whatever reason, the irony is painfully clear: if Kirsty Wigglesworth had amended her photograph, AP would have sacked her, because that’s their policy and they have a good track record in enforcing it. Only a few months ago, AP news photographer Narciso Contreras had his contract terminated for altering a picture from Syria.

Makes you wonder, then again no it doesn’t

Understanding Metering Modes

It doesn’t much matter which make of camera you choose they all offer a variety of ways to measure the light reflected back from your subject and so how the camera sets exposure. Understanding this can be very useful. In class I am often confronted by students who have selected spot metering, without understanding why, because they thought it was more professional. This article, although focussing on Canon cameras explains the use and purpose of metering modes.


Taking a photo is often referred to as ‘making an exposure’. This is because when you press the camera’s shutter release button the mirror that reflects the image into the viewfinder flips up out of the way, allowing the imaging sensor to be exposed to light.

Another sensor inside the camera, called the metering sensor, is central to this whole operation: it measures the light that’s coming through the lens and determines how much is needed to produce a well-exposed photo.

SEE MORE: Metering mode cheat sheet – how they work (and when to use them)

Of course, you can let your camera do everything and hope it produces the goods – and much of the time it will.

However, you’ll often be able to improve things if you get involved in the process, and the first step is to choose the metering mode the camera uses to measure the light.

The majority of Canon EOS cameras have four metering modes: Spot, Partial, Centre-weighted Average and Evaluative, all of which work in the same way.

As light is reflected from a scene or subject through the lens, it hits the mirror in front of the imaging sensor and is reflected up to the camera’s focusing screen and metering sensor.

However, each of these modes takes an exposure reading from a progressively larger part of the frame.

As the name suggests, Spot metering offers the most precise metering – anywhere from 1.5%-10% of the total picture area, depending on the camera – while at the other end of the scale, Evaluative metering takes a series of readings in zones that cover the entire frame.


Read more on digital camera world here

An Exhibition: Image, instinct and imagination: landscape as sign-language

There are many debates amongst the photographers I know about the validity of photographic criticism, or more accurately the validity of ‘art’ photography criticism and the words used to explain and identify why the image is worthy. It should be noted that art photography is rarely actually criticised because that just raises the spectre of the ignorance of the critic. Not understanding the purpose and development of an image is a failure upon the part of the viewer. You see if you look at a photograph that is considered art and you don’t understand, like or even see any value in it then you are at fault. Interesting circular argument.

Here is a piece of writing explaining the worthiness of an image:

A striking example of a Panorama with a reach or ‘fetch’ of over 45 miles. The picture here relies on the clarity of the light and illustrates the advantage of ‘falling ground’. The immediate foreground is free of vegetation that might impede the prospect, but we are assured of the proximity of refuge by the line of the treetops, high enough to catch our attention but not to interfere with the prospect.

The tidal River Trent enters from the left in the middle distance, joining the Yorkshire Ouse at Trent Falls (a misleading name, as there are no ‘falls’ as such) to form the Humber. Until the opening of the Humber Bridge, some 7 miles downstream in 1981, this water-body interposed a formidable barrier between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

The panorama illustrates well how landscape is a product of the interaction between nature and humans. The fields bordering the rivers are natural floodplains reclaimed as productive farmland and divided by hedgerows providing linear pathways for the movement of wildlife. Since this picture was taken in 2003 the whole middle distance has been given back to the estuary and restored as floodplain in one of the Environment Agency’s largest realignment projects, providing a cushion against tidal surges. However the storm surge of 5 December 2013 caused severe damage to the infrastructure of the site, with fences being carried up to 1km from their positions by the force of the water.

The foreground platform, on the edge of the Jurassic escarpment, showcases a rare example of a mystery puzzle to challenge our curiosity. Julian’s Bower is one of a number of turf mazes in England whose origin, date of construction and function is uncertain. What we can be sure of is that instinct demands we carry on questioning. Words by Jay Appleton

This does make the image sound interesting and full of understanding but here is the image

1_resize1Simon Warner

I think this is nice enough, don’t you like the word ‘nice’ either adds or detracts. I don’t see the wealth of value as espoused by the words written about it.

Here is another

A tributary of the River Thames, the Windrush meanders across water meadows. Until the early 20th century irrigation of the meadows was controlled in order to improve agricultural productivity. This peaceful scene belies the importance of the river as a source of clean water and power for the woollen industry which became established in many of the small towns along its course during the Middle Ages.

The picture is an example of an Indirect Prospect, where an alternative vantage point (in this case the church spire) appears likely to offer an even better view. It is also a Deflected Vista in that the course of the river beyond the bend has to be inferred. Both these pictorial elements are prompts to our curiosity. The picture also shows the operation of a particular Habitat. The swans will have found sufficient refuge in the reeds and grasses to build a nest, and are now exploring the surroundings with their cygnets. The environment is not entirely safe, as they are vulnerable to attack from hungry pike as well as from human interference. But the river can supply all their food, and the balance of advantage and threat is in their favour. again words by Jay Appleton


Simon Warner

I have to flag up that I don not accept any images from students that contain ducks, I include swans, it is not that I don’t like ducks; with an orange sauce they are acceptable or better crispy with pancakes, it is just that indolent wildfowl are too easy and too dull. I think the same about sunsets by the way.

Back to the picture, did you actually get any of the commentary from just looking at the picture? It looks like a post card to me, maybe worse, not even interesting enough for that. I read a lot of photography criticism and often do feel over my head, why can’t I see what the writer can see, what is missing from my education and decades of looking that keeps these mysteries from me?

The article that I am using as a source is Royal Geographic Society, so I would expect them to understand about landscape and it’s function and history but not necessarily about photography. A landscape photograph so devoid of atmosphere or emotion that needs many words to support it is diminished.

Here is another for you to consider and when doing so think about the many inspiring landscape images you have seen, how they make you want to get your camera and make some yourself.

The broad raised track offers a reassuring prospect of access to the shelter of the wood, avoiding any need to cross the Impediment Hazard of ploughed fields on either side. The edge-of-the-wood is an important site in Prospect-Refuge terms. It typically offers unimpeded outward views from the refuge of tree-cover, thus fulfilling the desirable condition of seeing without being seen.

5_resize1It is clearly easy to be simplistic about photographic composition, to only work with basic compositional devices, rule of thirds, lines, frames etc but these are a basis upon which many of the greatest photographers have built credible bodies of work. These images, although nice, require words to lift them out of the mundane, to express what the photographer probably meant to say.

A blog is a place for opinions, no blog is accurate or true just one person’s version of something.  I cannot deny the very impressive accomplishments of the writer and the photographer, both are lauded and held in esteem, so am I just ignorant?

These images and words are from an exhibition

Image, instinct and imagination: landscape as sign-language

  • Monday 31 March – Friday 16 May 2014
  • Weekdays (excluding bank holidays) 10.00am – 5.00pm
  • Also open on Saturday 5 April 2014 and Sunday 6 April 2014
  • Displayed in the RGS-IBG Exhibition Pavilion, accessible from our Exhibition Road entrance

An exhibition of photographs by Simon Warner with a commentary by Jay Appleton, supported by the Landscape Research Group, LUC and Colvin & Moggridge

In an unusual collaboration, the geographer Jay Appleton and photographer Simon Warner join forces to explore Professor Appleton’s Prospect-Refuge Theory of landscape appreciation, first published in The Experience of Landscape (1975), where aesthetic taste in landscape and landscape art is shown to derive from primitive, hunter-gatherer instincts for viewpoints (Prospect) and shelter or concealment (Refuge). Humans, as well as other animals, select environments that contain a favourable balance of these two elements.

If you want to read more or discover details of the exhibition go here 

New website for Photographers Workshop

The origins of The Oxford School of Photography were in the training, tuition and courses run by The Photographers Workshop. Opened in 1982 as the UK’s first commercially run darkroom and studio hire centre with over 20 enlargers, black  and white and colour darkrooms, full finishing area and extensive studio, PW was a haven and home for many photographers and would be photographers. As well as providing access to essential equipment we also provided tuition to those just starting in photography. This connection still exists but we no longer have darkrooms and all our courses are scheduled as evening or weekend workshops. So is PW the mother ship of the Oxford School of Photography, well yes I think it is. The Photographers Workshop is now exclusively the commercial photography arm of the covering all areas of professional photography, the new website has been developed to reflect the continuing relationship between PW and OSP.

Have a look at our new site

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 12.21.41

A 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia


A photographer who snapped what could be the world’s only girl hunting with a golden eagle says watching her work was an amazing sight. (The sub editor who says the photographer ‘snapped’ this impressive sequence of images should be sent back to school where they might learn that photographers do not snap) Beyond that this is a very otherworldly set of images and much better for not having been snapped but crafted

The BBC continues

Most children, Asher Svidensky says, are a little intimidated by golden eagles. Kazakh boys in western Mongolia start learning how to use the huge birds to hunt for foxes and hares at the age of 13, when the eagles sit heavily on their undeveloped arms. Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, shot five boys learning the skill – and he also photographed Ashol-Pan.

“To see her with the eagle was amazing,” he recalls. She was a lot more comfortable with it, a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it.”


See more images here

In Touch With Fragility: Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon is an all time favourite because of the variety and vision, a real master of photography and in the Spotlight here from Faded + Blurred.

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”
- Richard Avedon
Though he is known mostly for his minimalistic portraits; intense and often brooding subjects surrounded by white, it was the world of fashion that provided the backdrop that helped make Richard Avedon one of the most celebrated, controversial and sought after photographers of all time. Fashion photography simply didn’t exist before Richard Avedon, not modern fashion photography at any rate. Before Avedon, fashion photography was static and flat, models were stiffly dressed and rigidly posed. Avedon took fashion out of the studio and into the streets. He injected movement, life and a vitality where none had existed before. If a particular scene he wanted did not exist, Avedon created it, building sets, bringing in models, or, as was often the case, enlisting the help of onlookers or passers by. Avedon was both an ardent observer and a passionate creator, fascinated with what he called “the human quality”. It was this fascination that led him to constantly explore and reinvent what it meant to be a photographer and an artist. For nearly 60 years, from Paris fashion to celebrity portraits to a five year project chronicling the working class people and drifters of the American West, Richard Avedon not only defined generations of photography, but also inspired countless photographers to look to his work to bring life to their own. Irving Penn once said of Avedon “I stand in awe of Avedon. For scope and magnitude, he is the greatest of fashion photographers. He’s a seismograph.”

Born in 1923 in Manhattan, Richard Avedon was just 21 years old when his photographs first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar. He had dropped out of high school and joined the Merchant Marine, where he served as a photographer.”I must have taken pictures of maybe 100,000 baffled faces,” Avedon once said, “before it ever occurred to me that I was becoming a photographer.” Upon returning, he was hired as a photographer for a department store. His work was seen by Alexy Brodovitch, the art director for Harper’s Bazaar, who saw something unique in Avedon’s work. “His first photographs for us were technically very bad”, Brodovitch remembers. “But they were not snapshots. It had always been the shock-surprise element in his work that makes it something special.” Brodovitch would go on to play an enormous role in Avedon’s life and career, serving alternately as mentor, father figure and friend. Avedon soon became chief photographer for the magazine and, by 1946, owned his own studio and was also shooting for Vogue and Life. ….READ MORE


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Stephen Shore – photographers

Stephen Shore’s work has been widely published and exhibited for the past forty years. He was the first living photographer to have a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since Alfred Stieglitz, forty years earlier. He has also had one-man shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; George Eastman House, Rochester; Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Jeu de Paume, Paris; and Art Institute of Chicago and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His series of exhibitions at Light Gallery in New York in the early 1970s sparked new interest in color photography and in the use of the view camera for documentary work.

Books of his photographs include Uncommon Places: The Complete Works; Essex County; The Velvet Years, Andy Warhol’s Factory, 1965 – 1967; American Surfaces, A Road Trip Journal, and Stephen Shore, a retrospective monograph in Phaidon’s Contemporary Artists series. Stephen also wrote The Nature of Photographs, published by Phaidon Press, which addresses how a photograph functions visually. His work is represented by 303 Gallery, New York; and Sprüth Magers, London and Berlin. Since 1982 he has been the director of the Photography Program at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, where he is the Susan Weber Professor in the Arts.









See more pictures, read more information here


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