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  • Grace Williamson

The Photography Show at the NEC Birmingham

Long post today! This year was my first time attending The Photography Show in Birmingham! I only went for one day, on Saturday 16th March, as that was the day that had the talks I wanted to listen to.


I left my house about 8:45am, and got to the NEC at about 10am. There was a huge queue on the motorway up the sliproad. Shows how popular it is! There was also a three car crash. Looks like the back car had not realised how busy and slow everyone was going and hit the middle car, which shunted into the third car in front of it. Not nice! There were quite a few people, so I hope they got rescued quickly.


I entered the show at about half past ten, and my first thought was wow! It was laid out just like a comic-con - I like going to comic-cons - but for photographers. I did expect it, but seeing the layout on a map and walking into it are two completely different experiences. I felt a bit overwhelmed. I must have looked a bit wide-eyed and vulnerable because almost immediately someone came over to me and asked if I wanted to sign up to win something. I did, because why not! I asked him where the wedding stage is, and we looked at the map and worked it out. It was right near the entrance which was good.

First view inside

I went over, and the little area and stage were set out like a church wedding. It was a really nice touch. I sat down, and met another budding photographer named Ranjit - spiriliticalphotography - and he's done some street-style portraits and two weddings, one for his sister. Same sort of experience as me! It was nice to say hi to new people.

View from a seat of the Wedding & Portrait Stage

One thing that did annoy me a little was the people who sit in the first seat of a row, then everyone else has to scooch past them! I deliberately went to sit at the end of the rows by the wall so I wasn't in anybody's way.

11am Talk

The first talk at 11am was about Natural Light Portraits. The speakers were the photographer Mark Wilkinson and the model Imogen. They run the unexpected.tales Instagram page, and natural light workshops through

They were informative, and knew what they were talking about; some of the examples they showed us were beautiful. A lot of what they said, however, I did already know. I did rather hope that it would be more about portraits at weddings, but still I'm glad I went. Some of their tips:

+ Use natural reflectors - snow, white tables etc reflect light back up from overhead light.

+ In places like museum and cafes, go early to get photos when it's not busy.

+ Colour match - three shades of the same colour work well to make a photo cohesive. Their example was a green chair, a green jumper, and a green hair clip.

+ Shoot at the golden hour, and utilise the light and shadow contrast

+ Create a halo - have the sun behind a model, then use a reflector to bounce light back onto their face. Works with the model holding it if it's a headshot.

+ Note the position of the hands as they can make or break a photo.

Wander Around

After the first talk, I had half an hour to wander around the stalls. There was everything! I saw tripod and monopods, lighting, backdrops, albums, wildlife experiences, props, digital storage... Plus of course the Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus, and Fujifilm stands with their cameras and lenses. I just had a quick nosy around as I knew I was not buying anything, and had to get back to the Wedding Stage.

12pm Talk

The 12pm talk was about family portraits with Ross Grieve. His speciality is studio portraits. Again, not something I'm looking to expand into, but still informative and fun. He used a lightweight backdrop with a magnetic thing to hang it onto a stand. It looked like it was made from the same material as reflectors, and could fold smaller to carry it. He used 3 lights - a key light at a 45 degree angle, a filler light 45 degrees the other way, and a rim light to the back. Not all were used at the same time for every photo. Here's some of his tips:

+ Capture inbetween moments of the family's interaction. They're the photos that would sell best.

+ Be aware of challenging clients - teenagers, shy kids, shy parents, and pushy parents.

+ Co-ordinate colours, and no football or branded tops. They don't look good and age badly.

+ Start with the group, then peel people away. It's less intimidating than starting with a single person at the centre of attention.

+ Use props for kids. They create a more relaxed photo, and relax the kids.

+ Use a colour checker. That's a card or similar with lots of colour squares. It means when you come to edit, you have the one picture with the model holding the colour checker as a base so all the photos all have the same colour cast.

+ When posing, bookend the parents around the kids. This shows them as a family unit.

+ For men, have their hand in their pocket to the knuckles - not all the way in! And for women, have their thumb in their pocket.

+ Have the family lean in together, and lean a little forward.

+ If there is one parent, have them in the middle of the children with their arms around the kids. Just make sure the hand isn't peaking out around the side of the kids.

+ Ross said it's best for any boys to have their photo before any girls, because girls will get jealous of their brother's attention and will try to outshine them. This may be true, however I think this will work either way round, just depending on who is shyer. Have the more outgoing child go first to show the shyer one how much fun it is.

+ Use a "follow my finger" and mimicking technique. If you want the client to stand with their body a certain way, do it yourself first. Then, if you want their head turned a different way, ask them to follow your finger with their head without moving their feet.

+ Do the same poses for each child. That way the parents can have photos to compare, and match.

Between Talks

After the 12pm talk, I stayed at the stage and went through the Photography Show guide I have. I looked at all the stalls, and marked the ones I wanted to visit. I also circled them on the map. I did have a wander to find some, but a couple of the stalls were not there which disheartened me. Ah well, I can look online for them.

1pm Talk

The 1pm talk was It's Not About Other Photographers, It's About You presented by Karen Massey. In short, the talk was about branding. I loved it. I found it really inspiring. I struggle with marketing and advertising (I'm really not a salesman), and on most marketing advice blogs one question is always "who are you? what do you do that is different to others? what makes you special?". After listening to this talk, I feel much better about it.

+ A brand should be identifiable to your clients. It has emotional and functional associations.

+ A brand isn't just your logo. It's your presentation, colours, attitude, material. It's how you treat your clients, and what your clients can expect from you. A brand is an assurance that the product will perform as per the customer's expectations.

+ Four things a photographer must be when building their brand are: Consistent, Committed, Sincere, and Patient.

- Consistency means that all your social media remains the same, as well as your personality and attitude offline. If you are all rainbows and cupcakes online, but you are a thundercloud in person then your client will not be able to trust you. You have to deliver what you present.

- Commitment is a serious part of building a brand. It takes time and effort to establish yourself, and more time to become a trusted brand.

- Sincerity is similar to consistency. You have to be honest. Don't lie about yourself to make yourself better. If you can't deliver what you advertise, then again your brand cannot be trusted.

- Patience is something I lack sometimes. I want it, and I want it now! However it doesn't happen overnight. This could take months, or even years. (Karen became a photographer 13 years ago)

- All four of these are concepts I need to keep in mind. I remember a while back when I was frustrated my photography was not going anywhere, I read a Photography Institute testimonial from a woman who was in her 40s, she'd had a job, then had children, and once her children were older she decided to get into wedding photography. I remember thinking, I'm only 24, I have loads of time!" And though it's been 3 years, and I've only done 2 weddings, I know I can get there.

+ What Is Your Brand? Your brand is your identity, your design, your marketing, pricing, packaging, service, and experience. It's everything about your business together. It's not just your logo.

+ Karen explained her workflow, from initial enquiry to after-wedding care.

- Once an email enquiry comes in, she has an automatic reply, and responds as quickly as possible. She sends her brochure via email, or by post. She prefers post as clients are more likely to engage with physical material.

- She arranges a meeting to see what she can do for the client. NOT what the client can do for her. The client can book her and pay her. It's what she can offer the client for their day, what makes her the best choice for them.

- She works on their wedding day, being in the moment with her documentary style.

- After the wedding, she uses social media to share some photos, acknowledge other vendors, and generally have her presence felt.

- She creates the album with her branding, and sends to the client along with a thank you. The thank you includes a card, chocolates, and a candle with her branding. Again, her branding isn't just a logo, it's how she treats her clients, and how the client feels about what she delivers. The album is seen by their families, and friends, and everyone can see what she has created.

- At Christmas, or their anniversary, she sends a card (again with her logo) as a nice gesture. This also reminds the client about her for anniversary shoots, or if they have a new baby etc.

- This was insightful, and one day I want to be in a position to be able to give little branded gifts like that.

- Karen stressed that as a documentary style photographer, she captures the candid moments but makes sure she is right in there. She interacts with the guests to make them more comfortable, and she puts herself in the middle of the party. That way, her photos are from a guest's perspective, rather than an outsider's view.

- Karen says that the wedding photography market is competitive, not saturated. Saturated would mean that there is too many photographers so there are literally no clients left to book. Competitive means that there are a lot of clients out there, and you have to find your niche to get the bookings. This is done with Competition Analysis. I need to do that!

- Lastly, Karen stressed about "being at the party" by which she meant social media. You have to be present, and interact with others. Again, I'm not great at that because I usually think "no-one cares", so I need to put myself out there more.

This talk was filled with brilliant advice, and I feel more confident in working on my brand. One little thing I really liked - Karen's logo incorporates a heart as the "m", then on her brochure and other bits she used that "m" shape to frame photos. That "m" was instantly recognisable. That is what inspired me to make my new logo! Obviously not copying hers, but on my site I had a few titles with grey or pink squares behind them. I decided to incorporate them into my logo, and now it is recognisable, able to be used as a watermark, and the squares can be on any designs as text boxes.

2pm Talk

The 2pm talk was Small is Beautiful, by Gavin Hoey. I thought it would be about macro photography, and photos of rings and the like. It was about small equipment. Gavin gives lighting workshops and training, and uses Olympus like me! He's a fun guy, very outgoing and chilled out. He has a small studio in his shed - it's still 13' by 27' by 7' so not that small! He uses Godox AD200 or Pixapro Pika200 lights, which are small enough to be portable, but about 3 times as powerful as a speedlight. I'd love to have one or two, but they're over £200 so not yet! He used a wireless trigger to achieve TTL and to remotely change the flash output. He also used a flash meter to measure the output of the flash on his model.

+ For his live demonstration, he started with one Godox light shot through an umbrella. He showed how if the light was too close to the umbrella, it did not cover the whole of the it. He showed us techniques for making a black background, a white background, and a textured background, all using the same backdrop (the one from the family portrait shoot, which looked a bit like brown wood).

- For the black background, he changed his setting to remove any ambient light (f/8, ISO200, 1/250 or something like that). He put his model before the screen, the umbrella at 45 degrees, metered for the shot, and tried it. The backdrop was dark, but not black. He used the Inverse Square Law and moved the model further away from the background, and closer to the light. He metered again, and this time the whole background was black.

- For a white background (remember that the backdrop is a dark brown) Gavin explained that white is just loads of light bouncing back. He set up two lights to hit the backdrop on full power, positioned his model in front, and took a shot. The background was completely white, but the edges of the model were falling out of sharpness (her front was underexposed as he was not using the front light yet). So, Gavin metered the back of her where the light was reflecting off the backdrop. It was too high - he couldn't lower the flash output, or his aperture - so he moved the model away from the backdrop (inverse square law again!). Now, she was underexposed but all her edges and hair was appearing. So now, all he had to do was set up the front flash with the flash meter again. The photo came out with the model exposed correctly, and the background white.

- For the textured background, Gavin used the same technique as the black background, but moved the model to close to the backdrop. The backdrop was still dull and underexposed, so he widened his aperture (changing the flash output to compensate), and added another flash right behind the model pointing at the backdrop. This one was on the lowest setting. This ensured the background was not overly bright, and the texture could still be seen.

+ Gavin also used a blue gel and a red gel over two of his lights. One was over his main light with the umbrella, and one was on a light to the side and slightly behind. The main light cast a blue hue on the model, and the side light added a rim of red to one side of her. It looked amazing! I would love to try that out with my friends. I think I have some gels for my studio lights.

+ Gavin also showed us "hero lighting", which was two lights placed to the sides and slightly behind. This made two rims, but the middle of the model was dark. The further back the lights, the less light on her face and front.

Now I've had a live demo of the lighting, I can't believe how simple it is! The one light through an umbrella on the black backdrop is easy, and had great results.

3pm Talk

The last talk on this stage was Documentary Wedding Photography, by Kevin Mullins. Kevin prefers sticking to reportage style photography, with minimal staged/posed photos. This is to the extent that clients have to specifically ask for a few group photos if they want them. However, the clients that come to Kevin know this, and prefer documentary style. Now me personally, I think my style leans more towards reportage rather than formal, though I do take time to get those posed group photos for the client. So, this talk was really interesting and informative to me.

+ Tell stories, not snapshots - establish shots to lead in, connect the dots with venues, movement, and have a natural end. Just like a storyboard.

- I think with Emma & Joe's wedding, I managed this. When he was going through it, I thought "That's what I do!"

+ Work with the light, not against it. Don't try to eliminate the ambient light with flash. Use contrast with shadow for moodier photos, and use spot metering to light the area you want.

- spot metering for a bride's face before a window is an example. The outside of the window might be overexposed, and the room behind her might be dark, but this will draw the focus to her alone.

+ Don't just snap away at everything. We are observers, to see the moments and emotion rather than event. Take a step back, take breath, and see the story.

+ Keep the integrity of the moment - DO NOT INTERFERE! If you see Grandma tearing up at the bride, get in, capture it, them move away. Don't keep snapping and making them uncomfortable, and don't make them feel like they have to pose.

- One way to do this, Kevin said, was to shoot from the chest. Literally. If you bring your camera to your eye, people react to it. If you keep it at your chest, as though you're just waiting for the right moment, then people won't expect it. I think this will take practise, as you won't be able to see what you're focusing on.

+ Have a theme so you have a focus. Emotion and interaction are good ones to run with.

+ Use street photography techniques. This one was a little vague to me, but I'm not a street photographer. Kevin captured moments as they were happening, such as children playing, but also had foreground interest such as someone holding a beer bottle. The bottle was out of focus but still distinguishable, and the children were the focus.

+ Find the extraordinary in the ordinary - a cake is an object. A cake next to its unpacked box is a story.

+ Take photos from a guest's point of view - this is what Karen does too, so simply great advice.

+ Use people and objects as natural frames. Shoot through two guests talking, through fences, arches...

+ Capture the humanity of the day. People being people.

What I am Taking Away

So all in all, I had an amazing day. I have learned so much.

+ I feel more confident in Kabbij Patch Photography as a brand. I know who I am. I'm naturally cheerful, bouncy, fun, laid back, and a bit off the norm. I can't change who I am, and why would I? I want my photography to have the same elements - natural, cheerful, fun, relaxed, maybe a little quirky. That is what I can bring to clients.

+ I think documentary style photography is more my thing than formals, but I still want to incorporate formals. I need to get into the party more going forward.

+ Off camera flash is simple now I've seen it done! I really want to have a go as Gavin's techniques. Think this calls for my friends to help out!

And all of this one just one stage. There was a wildlife and outdoor stage, social media talks, photo editing, and a drone zone. Any hobbyist, amateur, or pro photographers out there thinking about going to the Photography Show, I highly recommend it!

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