Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Monthly Archives: May 2015

Deutsche Börse prize 2015

As seen in The Guardian

South African photographer Mikhael Subotzky and British artist Patrick Waterhouse have won the Deustche Börse photography prize for their publication Ponte City, a study of an apartment block in Johannesburg. Here is a selection of their winning images

The book depicts a 54-floor apartment block in Johannesburg, built in 1976 for a white elite under apartheid rule. During the political transition in the 1980s and 90s, it became a refuge for black newcomers to the city and immigrants from all over Africa

All photographs: Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse/Goodman Gallery


Untitled #4, Ponte City, Johannesburg, 2008
‘We met many of the remaining residents in the lifts where we asked to make portraits of those who were willing. When we brought copies back to their apartments, doors opened to all kinds of living arrangements – whole families in bachelor flats, empty carpeted rooms with nothing but a mattress and a giant television console, and penthouses divided up with sheets and appliances into four or five living spaces’


Ponte City from Yeoville Ridge, 2008
Subotzky and Waterhouse began their project in 2007, working with the remaining residents, after a regeneration project failed


Looking Up the Core, Ponte City, Johannesburg, 2008
Subotzky writes: ‘Developers emptied half the building and stripped the apartments, throwing their rubble into the structure’s central core. When we started our work there in 2008, the development was in full swing. The building felt like a shell, its bottom half completely empty, and the top half sparsely populated. Former residents moved out in a hurry to make way for the developers. Many of their apartments were then burgled and trashed’


Untitled #3, Ponte City, Johannesburg, 2008
The book depicts a 54-floor apartment block in Johannesburg, built in 1976 for a white elite under apartheid rule. During the political transition in the 1980s and 90s, it became a refuge for black newcomers to the city and immigrants from all over Africa

See the rest of the gallery here


10 Critical Assumptions That Can Stifle Your Artistic Goals

This is an interesting article on Lightstalking by  William Petruzzo I think many of William’s points can be applied to various areas of our lives

Every single one of us holds assumptions. They are part of being human. We assume there won’t be too much traffic on the way home from work, or that there will be way too much. We assume it will be hard to find a partner, or that it will be exceedingly easy. We assume that we’ll be able to pull the details out of the sky, or we assume that the camera doesn’t have enough dynamic range.

Assumptions are cognitive shortcuts based on patterns.

Human beings are pattern-matchers. We find patterns everywhere we can, and then use them to take cognitive shortcuts. Broken windows don’t mean the neighborhood is rough. But see enough broken windows in rough neighborhoods and soon when you see one, your brain will be taking the cognitive shortcut and concluding that the neighborhood must be rough.

Assumptions aren’t necessarily a negative thing, however. For example, my dog, Mikey, always greets people who come to the door. If I am working, and Mikey eagerly jumps up and runs to the door, I’m not going to spend energy considering the many things his haste could mean. Instead, I’m going to follow the pattern and take the cognitive shortcut to conclude that someone must be at the door and I may need to go welcome them.

A critical assumption is different in that the shortcut it provides might sidestep a potentially important, or perhaps the only, path to some desired outcome.

For example, let’s say I’m loading all my camera gear in the car and I’m going out to photograph the local squirrel infestation. I’ve seen them running around for weeks, and I know all their favourite spots. When I get there, however, I find that the local pest control has ‘relocated’ the problem. Now I have all my gear in the car and nothing I have intended to photograph. The outcome I desired was artsy images of adorable squirrels. The critical assumption was that I have all the time in the world to create those squirly images, and that the infestation wasn’t a problem someone else was attempting to solve.

If I had identified that critical assumption, I would have taken different actions and I would have quite the conversation starter hanging, perfectly arranged, on the wall of my office.

Want to observe the critical assumptions in your own life? Wait for the next time you get caught in the bathroom with an empty roll of toilet paper. If you never assumed there’d be toilet paper available, you’d probably never be caught without it.

That example starts to go to an extreme though. Critical assumptions lend a hand to the everyday uncertainties of life. They’re not altogether avoidable. But, if you can identify them and dispel them, or at least prevent them from being equated to “Truth”, you’ll be opening up a lot of pathways to whatever it is you’re aiming for.

So although critical assumptions come in every size and just about every degree of consequence, and are usually invisible until it’s too late, I’d like to talk about some of the high-level critical assumptions that a lot of us might relate to. Not the ones being formed in your day to day, but the ones forming your day to day. The larger ones that take hold almost like they are personal values. Not the ones that keep you from getting to work on time, the ones that keep you from quitting your job.

Critical Assumption #1: I’ll be ready when I get there.

Critical Assumption#2: I’m not the kind of person who…

Critical Assumption #3: I can’t do anything until I get organized.

Critical Assumption #4: I’m not good enough.

Want to see more and read the commentary on the above go here

I am teaching a class on Composition tonight, starting with Henri Cartier-Bresson as a guide, here are some of his pictures








From 121Clicks we found this article that has a decent spread of some of the greats of colour photography

They taught us the meaning of photography, the very smell of composition and the beautiful essence of lights and shadows. Their works teach us great insights on all aspects of photography. To say the least, We are happy to get some online presence of these stupendous works. In this post of ours, I wanted to bring you the best of the best photographs yet unseen from the ordinary.


Photo By: Vivian Maier


Photo By: Steve McCurry


Photo By: Martin Parr


Photo By: Saul Leiter


Photo By: Bruce Davidson


Photo By: Alex Webb


Photo By: Fred Herzog


Photo By: Raghubir Singh


Photo By: Helen Levitt


Photo By: Constantine Manos

See the rest here

Oddly no William Eggleston in this list so here are some




Palmyre The Venice of the Sands under threat

In 2009 I was lucky enough to visit Syria and join my friend John Wreford who then lived in Damascus. He took me on a tour of the country. One of the highlights was our visit to Palmyre. Now it is under threat as reported on the BBC website

Palmyra is in danger. As Islamic State fighters clash with Syrian government forces around the historic site, it is worth considering what the loss of this wonder, dubbed the “Venice of the Sands”, would mean for the world’s cultural heritage.

Palmyra is the last place anyone would expect to find a forest of stone columns and arches. Travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries were repeatedly astonished by what they saw: a vast field of ruins in the middle of the Syrian desert, roughly half-way between the Mediterranean coast and the valley of the River Euphrates.

For anyone visiting, however, the key reason for the site’s prosperity is immediately apparent: ancient Palmyra sits at the edge of an oasis of date palms and gardens.

It was as a watering place on a trade route from the east that Palmyra’s story begins, and the very name Palmyra refers to the date palms that still dominate the area….read more here

We have seen how ancient sites in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya,  and Syria have been destroyed during the wars in those countries, such unbelievable loss, of course overshadowed by the loss of lives.

Here are some images from my time at Palmyre

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria


Palmyre, Syria

Palmyre, Syria

John Wreford is now based in Istanbul, here are links to his work


Here is a link to the DEC SYRIA CRISIS APPEAL

You can see more of my pictures from Syria here


Focus Stacking: how to extend depth of field in Photoshop

Focus stacking is the new lens flare, which was the new off camera flash, which was the new HDR, which was the new….. there are always trends and fads and now it is focus stacking. This does make it sound as if I think this is a pointless activity but I don’t, in the right situation it is utterly brilliant and if you like making sharp pictures front to back, whether landscapes or macro flowers this is for you.

Shooting anything up close requires incredible patience and extreme precision. If your close-up photography isn’t sharp then you’re not only wasting pictures, but you’ve wasted hours of your time. In this in-depth tutorial we’ll show you how to use one of the most amazing Photoshop effects macro and close-up photographers can use: focus stacking.

Below we’ll show you step-by-step how to focus stack and extend depth of field when shooting close-up by shifting your point of focus in multiple images, which you’ll later stitch together so you can produce images that are sharp throughout the frame.

Focus Stacking: how to extend depth of field when shooting close up

One of the best things about close-up photography is the wonderful softness that results from working with such a shallow depth of field.

Even at the smallest apertures the plane of focus will stretch to a couple of centimetres at most, and anything outside this range will fall off into beautiful bokeh.

At times, however, this can be a problem –especially if you’d like a completely sharp subject. Stopping down the aperture will increase depth of field, but sometimes this simply isn’t enough to achieve sharpness across the subject from front to back.

The solution: fix the camera to a tripod and shoot several frames, each with a small shift in focus, then use Photoshop to combine the sharp areas to create a single pin-sharp image.

Read the rest of this very useful article from Digital Camera World here

we have an advanced DSLR course where one of the things we teach is focus stacking, go here for more information


Masterful Steve, which picture do you like best?

Vee Speers – Photographer

I came across Vee Speers in a Sunday newspaper colour magazine, no point in giving Murdoch a plug, and was immediately interested, When I found Vee’s website the artist’s statement explained why

I don’t like to follow the crowd.
I like to seduce, with images that are at once disturbing and beautiful,
but leaving a space for the viewer to enter my world.
My portraits combine elements which evoke conflicting
emotions that can surprise the viewer, telling a story that is somewhere
between fantasy and reality, the obvious and the unexpected.


Vee Speers was born in Australia and studied at Queensland College of Art. Her work has been widely exhibited and has been seen in publications including The Sunday Times, Harpers & Queen, Arena, Esquire, and Black & White Magazine.





In The Guardian she said this:

This started off as an intimate project. I thought it would be good to freeze a few childhood moments before my daughter became a teenager – that’s her in the picture. My kids used to blow bubbles using their hands in the bath, and I wanted to recreate that. But it’s impossible, of course: soap bubbles only last a few seconds. I found something the French call “balloon paste”: it’s a gluey substance you blow through a straw, and you get these sticky, transparent bubbles that last around three minutes.

The picture became part of a bigger series called The Birthday Party. I was imagining a world run by children, not adults – an anarchic world threaded together by an imaginary party.

This is the only picture in the series that I sketched before I started, and it came out exactly the way I had drawn it. I found the outfit from a dance show she’d done at school, a kind of swingy skirt thing.

Then I wanted a big Marge Simpson hairdo, something totally exaggerated to go with the circles and the balloon. A hairdresser came in and built it. He blew up a regular balloon and pasted some hair of the same colour on to it, like papier-mache. We twisted her hair around the balloon, and got it on her head. That was the hard bit. I had to get her in the right position, have her stick her neck out. It was a bit uncomfortable so I worked really fast: I wanted the photo in the can in five minutes. She’s only nine.

I had no idea this project would be interesting to anyone else. Then I started shooting her friends in similarly peculiar styles, and it all took on a life of its own. It started to look strange and interesting, without me forcing it. Then it became a book, with this as the cover image, and the pictures went around the world. It seemed to strike a chord with people.







Go to her website to see so much more

Born: 1962, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

Studied: Fine arts at Queensland College of Art, Brisbane.

Inspirations: David Lynch, Tim Burton, Peter Greenaway.

High point: “I’m part of an inaugural exhibition at an amazing museum in Stockholm, with Annie Leibovitz.”

Top tip: “Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t be distracted. Be prepared to work like a dog.”

Museum of Natural History Photography Competition

From our source deep in the bowels of the NHM in Oxford we get details of a photography competition with not bad prizes. Of course to get your hands on a prize you do have to enter. Here is a link to the page on their website http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/about/artfund.htm

Basically you snap and either email or post the image(s) to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #motyphoto (and ideally the Museum handle too which is @morethanadodo).  There doesn’t seem to be a subject area but NHM has so much to photograph.

Museum of the Year Photography Competition

To celebrate our nomination, take part in the Museum of the Year Photography Competition by tagging your favourite photos of the Museum with #motyphoto on Instagram or Twitter. You can also upload your photos toartfund.org/prize/photo-competition.

Photos must be submitted by 31 May 2015.

Renowned British documentary photographer and photo-journalist, Martin Parr will be the lead judge in selecting a shortlist from all submitted photographs and the public can vote online for their favourite between 8-22 June 2015, with the winner announced 25 June.

The winning photograph will be published in the Art Fund’s Art Quarterly magazine and the winner will receive a photography holiday in Berlin for two plus a £500 photography equipment voucher.



Shoot brilliant bluebell photos

I have noticed that the blue bells in my garden are now at their best, visit some woods now. If you do go down to the woods today then this advice might help, from Digital Camera World


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.

Longer lenses to compress the image and make the display look more dense, attention to white balance or shoot in RAW and correct it later. Tripod, particularly one that goes low to the ground.

There is lots of good advice here



Early Colour Photography from 1913

From Lightsalking we find this interesting article about one of the pioneers of colour photography and the autochrome process. Thanks to the folks at The National Media Museum these amazing photographs by Mervyn O’Gorman have been getting a lot of attention lately. Taken at Dorset in 1913, these photographs of his daughter show us some wonderful versions of the Autochrome Lumière process.

Autochrome Lumière was a process  ( it is worth reading this explanation of the autochrome process used here) for colour photography invented in France in 1903, marketed in 1907 and which dominated colour photography until the mid 1930s.

O’Gorman himself was an engineer with a very prevalent photography habit which has meant that many of his photographs are often included in exhibitions of early colour photography. For anyone curious about photography’s history, these certainly are a wonderful discovery.






There are many other examples of this early colour process, the beautiful quality that the process produces is a bit of a revelation for me at least, I hope you enjoy these too. You can see many more here