How to take a portrait photograph -the simple version

This is a video I was involved with a while ago for a Friend to help promote their business of prints on canvas( It was shot by Duncan Mcadams ( ) . It gets the message across with simple instructions, and if you are looking at it , you might actually find some useful hints in there. Duncan did a great job of making me sound good with his editing skills.If you still need a professional to do the work – I’m still there at

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Generic images

So you thought those cheap istock photos were a good way to keep costs down? what about the actual value of the campaign? Isn’t the image the first point of contact ?

An interesting article from the New York times…

“Invest in good photo shoots: a great photographer can add a fortune to your Web site’s business value.” After all, most sites are full of “fluff — of which there’s too much already on the Web.”

What about lashing out a bit more and using some original photography!

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Photography (and travel ) in China

China always fascinated me, one of the big pieces of Asia on the map that along with Russia , was carefully avoided when questions came up at school about what those countries were . China was always Taiwan to us and the other places were too godlessly communist to mention. Meeting recent immigrants to New Zealand  made the place even more intriguing with their stories of the capitals of China, Beijing and Xi’an ( formerly Chang’an , the capital of the tang dynasty in the 8th and ninth centuries).The German city of Qingdao ( a German city in China?  At the turn of the 19th century, the Germany had owned  by treaty the place and hurriedly put up a city in German style. It must have been at breakneck pace judging by the size of the original city and the number of buildings from that era still remaining) Along with Shanghai and the ancient water town of Suzhou , it really is an interesting (and huge ) place. And that is just the north and not the interior or the southern regions or Tibet!

These days it seems to  be the number one concern of the rest of the world . What will china do? And strangely for a communist country , it now seems to have the most efficiently functioning capitalist system the world has seen. Of course it isn’t either, its a Chinese system , with all the apparent contradictions that implies to western sensibility. Why there wouldn’t be one never seems to occur to the western media , but seems to make perfect sense to all Chinese , whichever their political persuasion. I can’t remember in the economic rules where it says capitalism has to have a western style democracy to function.

Beijing family in Hutongs ( traditional alleyways) enjoying spring sunshine

Part of the temple of heaven , Beijing

Beijing opera actor applies makeup

Making breakfast , Beijing

Dumpling stall , Beijing

I planned a working trip/holiday there and thought it might be a good idea to take some language lessons before I went. Unexpectedly I found my self  fascinated by the concept of a tonal language , and the arcane but highly sophisticated writing system . I was , and still am , very enthusiastic  about learning more about chinese culture , language and cuisine.

Photographically I wanted to explore another country and culture , particularly one where English wasn’t a major language, and to see what I could achieve traveling relatively  in that kind of environment.

I had worked in Thailand and the Pacific previously , and was keen to see some really major cities again ( call me crazy but living near a nice beach and the sea,in a relatively rural setting – I wanted something a little different.)

Tiananmen square , Beijing

I expected to ease into using  the language on arrival in Beijing. Despite  the previous eighteen months with regular lessons I didn’t feel confident , but arriving off the plane by myself  was quite a shock . I needed to speak mandarin straight away to do the basics , find a taxi and get to the hostel then buy food . Thankfully the hostel staff there and later in other places all had a very good command of English , but once outside the doors it was a different situation.

I spent a couple of days in Beijing by myself , exploring the city , experiencing a  few of the tourist traps and well run historical sites. I spent half a day in the forbidden city and sadly it wasn’t enough time . despite having purchase a map at the entrance , I found it to big to take in in the time I had allocated. I had by passed the hall of clocks with the thought that it might not be that interesting but later seeing the fabulous timepieces in that location I regretted the decision.

Bridal photographers window , Beijing

After carefully avoiding the year of the Olympics , I had found an independant tour company that seemed to offer what I was looking for , independent travel with  language and logistical support . On the internet I found, it seemed to be the solution to the sort of service I was looking for , rather than the package tour kind of trip with sights and Hotels included.

It was avery good experience and way to travel China, and although we went to places that seemed obvious tour destinations , there were often few , if any other europeans there . In fact the bulk of tourists in China are chinese , going to experience some of the highlights of the country often for the very first time .

Electrical wire Beijing

Comrade Obama in Beijing shop window

Our Guide Andy’s knowledge of local areas and appreciation of aspects of chinese life  was impressive. An Australian married to a chinese woman who spoke fluent mandarin and has lived in China for nine years, he had a good knowledge of how everything worked and how to interact with Chinese.

After meting the other members of the tour , we unanimously agreed at our hostel in Beijing the first thing we all wanted to do was see the Great wall, Although a day trip was included , we all were very keen to see it , even if it meant going to Badaling , the main great wall tour destination. Andy warned us it might be a  little crowded and so it turned out to be, with a mass of humanity moving up and down the wall between the first three towers heading up the hill , after that as the hill got steeper, the crowd thinned out . Nevertheless , the approach to the great wall was an awe inspiring experience and to see Chairman Mao’s statement  that “if you haven’t been to the great wall then you aren’t a  real man” was greatly encouraging to my masculinity. After the trip to the Great wall , we spent the afternoon at the temple of heaven , another vast historical site in Beijing . On entering the exterior park we encountered many , mostly older people playing shuttlecock ( where a shuttlecock is kicked around a circle of people) and others talking and playing musical instruments. The weather was cool , so every one including us , was dressed warmly.

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By the waterfall , Savaii

Photography in Samoa.

A couple of years ago I was given the a job to produce a number of photographs for a tourism brochure for Samoa. The deadline was very tight and so was the brief, a range of photographs had to be produced making Samoa appealing as a holiday destination . I had spent some time working there some years before so knew a little of what to expect in terms of the conditions there , so was well equipped for the assignment. The weather proved unexpectedly challenging but fortunately was never for too long.

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South Island photographs, all about the light

alexandra bridge pylon, South Island , new zealand


thistle rolled oats works , gore

Building early morning , bluff

Church for sale , bluff , South Island
















I have just been going through some of my images I have not had time to really look at and found these of the south island of New Zealand that I took a couple of years ago . The light really was so clear and colours intense , it really is like no other place. Bluff had this wonderful faded splendour quality to it , and so many other places had been spared the development that seems to destroy the character of many New Zealand towns and cities.

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Portrait Photographs

business portrait for use in internal communications


Shona Jennings for More Magazine

Portrait photography is always one of the main parts of any photography business and mine is no exception . While many photographers might have one particular style of portrait , generally most professionals might have to work in many different styles to cater to different clients. There could be the executive or business portrait , the actor/actress portrait, the candid portrait or the illustrative or character portrait.








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Group portrait photography 2

The Kiwi spit roast barbecue king

This image was of one of the people working at the kiwi spit roast barbecue king company, a photography shoot I did for a commercial mayonnaise brand promotion . I used the wonderful 85mm 1.2 canon lens to control the backgrounds with its wide aperture and ability to make interesting things out of areas that may not look so good in focus – of course the wide aperture also gives the opportunity to be more flexible in low light areas so there is less fiddling around with lights etc making the subjects nervous.

The AUT team for Cook book Credits

Continuing on with the people theme , this was taken earlier this year as a portrait of the production team for a cookbook I was working on . It was carefully staged to look natural – I prefer to work that way so usually pick the location and relax the subjects into it . I used available light and a little bit of flash to compensate for the overhead lighting . I was Pleased with the result as commercial kitchens can look a bit grim sometimes.

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Group portrait photography 1

photographed this group of property agents in Epsom the other day out side their offices in a prominent building of the area. It was a great opportunity to do something a bit different from the regular corporate shot and also to use black and white. The brief was to have them moving and not looking too static , and to fit a panoramic format as that was the size of the promotional piece they were planning. a quick visit to the site and some initial planning to work out the angle. Then it took a little direction to get them moving the right way and the biggest issue was yelling over the noise of the traffic! We were all very pleased with the outcome.

Ray White Group

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Creative photography

Summer in The bush , Piha , Auckland city

After raving on about large format and quality in a previous post . I should point out that sometimes its better to be there and to shoot with what you have. I took this shot of my nephew last summer clambering over rocks in a stream. Its not sharp , but it has something, the colour and the movement are interesting and its a great picture of him in the environment. This time the camera was a Canon G10 . I bought it as its one of the very few smaller cameras that shoots RAW digital files, and unlike the other cameras,while they aren’t a huge step up from the jpegs out of the camera, they give just that little bit more in terms of quality and richness.

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Aerial Photography in Auckland

Aerial photography in Auckland is something I produce on a regular basis, Mostly for the bigger property companies around the Auckland area and shooting industrial property and commercial office buildings to give a sense of the location in regard to the rest of the city for prospective investors.
Shooting from the air is never entirely predictable and an apparently suitable fine day can be spoiled by a thin layer of cloud covering the area that is only visible when flying overhead. Wind can be a factor and it can be a lot different 1000 feet up to to on the ground , not to mention cold, even in summer.

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How retouch a picture 2

In this image , I used retouching to add to the numbers of people available for the image. This was an image created for a Pr company to publicise 250 years of Guinness stout.
The ideas was to create a publicity stunt where 250 people would assemble themselves on a field in the form of a giant Guinness glass. Unfortunately on the day numbers came up short so as a publicity stunt for press it didn’t really happen. However with a bit of retouching and creation of additional people to boost numbers a useful illustrative piece could be created – so the day didn’t go wasted!
In this case I was down the rankings for photographers as the press people got the pole position so not having the right angle created some extra work. It wasn’t a particularly simple job to retouch and took a day of intense people creation so not to have too much repetition in the image – The human eye is very good at picking up repeating patterns so it was important there not be any looking exactly the same.
On a more technical note – I shot the scene with both Canon 35mm and Hasselblad medium format digital cameras. The medium format camera gave me some additional colour depth and field flatness ( because I was able to use a comparatively longer lens ) which made finalising the retouching much easier.
Below you can see a few of the before and after shots .

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Ballast exhibition catalogue – John Edgar Sculptures

John Edgar sculpture

Sometimes the ability to retouch photographs is quite a relief. I’m not really a big fan of retouching , more of a photographic purist and like to get things right in the camera . But if you need it to tell the story , it is essential.

"Flagstone" A sculpture by John edgar for the "Ballast" exhibition.

This was a shoot I did with John Edgar( , currently New Zealand’s premiere sculptor. He had produced a series of sculptures that centred around his Scottish ancestry. Pieces of New Zealand and Scottish stone were bonded together to represent both nations.
Originally we had this idea we could take them out to photograph in the landscape in various locations, but weather and the problems of moving pieces of 100kg stone , along with the impending deadlines of having to ship them to Scotland for an exhibition precluded this possibility.


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To video or not to video? Video with stills work.

cooking , cookbook production

Shooting video while doing stills is a great idea, but as in this instance it nearly went wrong. Anticipating a bit of action when the pudding was set on fire I took a video at the clients request , not a big deal , maybe for web use, but a video needs a beginning and an end, a photograph captures the moment.

As it turned out , the flames weren’t that strong and the brandy refused to ignite unless thoroughly heated. While distracted by the video process , I almost missed the moment! Everything was well prepared so it was just a matter of pushing the button and getting a sequence with the Medium format camera , but next time video will be better catered for with perhaps the assistant in charge.

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How to take a portrait photograph

This is a video I was involved with a while ago for a Friend to help promote their
business of prints on canvas( It was shot by Duncan Mcadams ( ) . It gets the message across with simple instructions, and if you are looking at it , you might actually find some useful hints in there. Duncan did a great job of making me sound good with his editing skills.
If you still need a professional to do the work – I’m still there at
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chicken meal

Photography around the block

am a photographer based in Auckland , New Zealand. You can see some of my work at

I have been in business for about twenty years, through the most intense time of change the industry ( and many industries ) have seen in the past one hundred years or more . When I started in the industry, my employer still used a half plate ( 6×8 inches ) view camera to take passport photographs, 35mm film wasn’t generally used in the commercial world as scanning technology was still quite primitive and the bigger the original transparency or negative the better. Photographers didn’t need to know much about the technology at all, just how to make a good image on a piece of film . 

These days it seems like a digital madness . while it is great to have all this technology at our fingertips to be able to control the quality of out put to clients , at the same time the amount of new software needed to be learned for both photo production and delivery is extraordinary. And just as you think you have it all sorted out it changes again. Life with a roll of film seems so simple by comparison.
In the past I used multiple formats of film for the production of images . Everything from 4×5 large format film to 35mm and medium format roll film in multiple formats from 6×4.5 to 6 x 17mm sizes. I sill like to shoot a roll of transparency film once in a while to see what a” real ” photograph should look like , but almost all my work is now done on digital equipment for the sake of convenience for both me and my clients , although if the need arises , I still use film . Now the question has changed form ” what format do you prefer to use ” to – how many megapixels do you use. In my opinion , once megapixels moved past the 16 mp range , the question almost is academic .
Originally in digital land I used a 6mp Kodak 760 camera and the files from that camera were used from thumbnail to billboard size and were all satisfactory – at the correct viewing distance..
Nowadays I use 21mp Canon cameras and 22 and 39 mp medium format Hasselblad cameras and apart from the smoothness in the files , the main reason is the ” look ” the larger cameras give – richer and deeper colour and incredible detail. If the images need to be cropped , or details selected and enlarged , then the bigger the file the better, so higher megapixel count cameras give photographers a little bit of insurance in this regard

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