Bring your Portrait shots to life

Do your portrait shots sometimes look just a bit flat and lifeless?
Want to know how to make them more engaging?
Assuming you’ve got the basics right – good composition and non distracting background, you’ve posed your subject in the desired lighting… then
The secret bit is… “the eyes”

Well it’s no ‘secret’ really – the Old Masters knew how to bring a portrait painting to life. Compare these two paintings of The Mona Lisa and The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

Look closely at the eyes.

The Mona Lisa’s eyes are dead – black holes with no life in them, where as the Girl with the Pearl Earring eyes are much more alive.

This is because the artist has painted ‘catchlights’ into her eyes – the little white dots.
The same can be done with photography to bring your portrait shots to life.
Depending on where I am and the conditions, this is how I do it:
  1. The quickest and cheapest option is to get your subject to just look at a window – the window will be reflected in the eyes.IMG_8399
  2. Use a reflector to throw light back into the face and eyes – the reflector will also appear in the eyes.IMG_8402
  3. The most expensive (and my preferred option) is to use studio lighting – a soft box works really well at getting catchlights in the eyes…. the downside is that Studio lighting and a softbox can be a tad costly (mine cost around £700).IMG_8404
Hope you found this helpful – and if you fancy the soft box option, I have all the kit and am currently offering to do a home/work one hour local* photo shoot from £40.
You supply the background for the shoot … oh …and maybe a cup of coffee 🙂
Take a look at my website
*North Shields, Whitley Bay, Cullercoats, Tynemouth, North Tyneside area

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One test at a time

It’s been 62 days since I last had an alcoholic drink. And I’m still counting.

New Year always presents us with the opportunity for resolutions. Most I would wager don’t last very long. I’ve made a few empty “promises” to myself over the years to do more of this, or less of that.

In our busy lives, these “promises” tend to get lost pretty quickly.

So, on 1.1.2019 when I said “I’m doing #DryJanuary”, in my own head I knew that by 27th January this would most likely be a very “WetJanuary.”

Test 1

I had a big birthday party to go to on 27th January – and the alcohol would be flowing.

The chances of me sticking out #DryJanuary were slim, to be honest.

The first couple of weeks I’ll admit we’re a bit tough. When it got to about 5pm, we were starting to prepare the evening meal, I’d usually have either a G&T in my hand or a glass of Merlot.

It was just a “habit” really – a cycle, which needed to be broken and replaced by something else.

It may sound boring but drinking 500ml of tap water at 5pm did the trick. Even when my husband had a G&T or a glass of Merlot, I stuck to my 500ml of tap water. Horses for courses I guess.

Even smelling a glass of red wine by day 21 did not entice me into having a glass – by then it smelt like vinegar to me (I don’t like vinegar).

The party night arrived and I was fully expecting that being around people drinking would tip me over the edge – but it didn’t – I stuck to black currant and lemonade and went home that evening feeling pretty smug with myself.

I never really used to get hangovers after I’d had a drink – occasionally maybe if I’d really had far too much. Usually the after effects of a few drinks was a bit of a thick head and being a bit sluggish.

I. do. not. miss. feeling. like. that.

I wake up every morning now with a clear head. I swear that my skin looks much better – less puffy and fewer wrinkles. I think this is the combination of not drinking alcohol and drinking a lot more water.

I drink about 1 litre of water a day now. Historically I hardly drank any and was always dehydrated. I feel soooooo much better.

I realise that I’m probably sounding a little evangelical now – so I’ll leave it at that, save for one more thing:

If you are thinking of giving up alcohol for whatever reason, I’d say, yes it is tough to begin with but after a while the benefits of not drinking make the thought of slipping back and having a glass of wine or whatever unthinkable.

What have your experiences been of giving no up alcohol? I’d love to know.

#Alcohol #AlcoholFree #Sober #DryJanuary

I’m so lucky

My trip to Vietnam and Cambodia has been a real eye opener.

I realise now that I’ve lead a pretty sheltered life.

I’ve been abroad many times – but usually to places like Italy, France, Austria, Norway and Singapore. Generally affluent societies. Not without social problems… but generally not places that you see widespread poverty.

In Cambodia I was up close and very personal with people that had practically nothing in terms of possessions.

I visited a small fishing village on Tonle Sap Lake where about 1,000 families lived in wooden ‘houses’ on stilts (because in the rainy season the water rises by upto 30ft).

I use the word ‘house’ very loosely (having been inside one).

Families of upto 7 people live in cramped and dirty conditions.

I felt really embarrassed when I visited – I must have looked like an alien from another planet. I felt like a visitor from Britains Colonial past (not a good thing in case you were wondering).

The visit has had a huge impact on me and I shall write more about it when I return home.

Oh … yes, “I’m so lucky” – lucky that I can go home to my comfortable 3 bedroom property in England where I have food on the table, clean clothes in a wardrobe and a bathroom with a shower and toilet. The things I generally took for granted.

My Trip to Cambodia – life changing.

#Cambodia #Travelling #LifeChanging #poverty

The Killing Fields

I can’t imagine that many people visit Cambodia without including a trip to the Killing Fields or the Genocide Museum.

I did both yesterday.

The Genocide was occurring all over Cambodia around about the time I was in school studying for my ‘O’ Levels (or GCSE’s as they are now) – around about 1975 – 1979.

I knew very little of it at the time.

In essence Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot attempted to form a Communist peasant farming society resulting in the deaths of 25 percent of the country’s population from starvation, overwork and execution.

That’s around 3 million men, women and children.

Our tour guide, Nicky’s grandparents and Aunt were killed and put into one of the numerous mass graves that have since been found. It was an emotional day finding out about Cambodia’s sad past.

Occupied by the French and at war with Vietnam for hundreds of years (so my Vietnamese Non La hat was put in a bag pretty quickly upon arrival).

Pol Pot (Political Potential) was the saddest part of the history of course – I’ll spare you the details of what we learnt other than one piece of information which will stay with me for the rest of my days:

Bullets were regarded as too expensive to kill the millions of people – they were encouraged to kill using farm implements, slit throats with sharp leaves or spear people with umbrella handles.

Pol Pots followers (Cadre) killed babies in the Killing Fields in-front of their mothers by holding them by their legs and smashing them against a tree.

Think about that for a moment.

I cannot imagine how someone could do such an awful … awful thing to another human being.

But it was “kill or be killed”. If a captor had family members in prison they had to kill them or be killed themselves.

Look at the photographs – and if you can, visit for yourself.

Wars can never bring good. The Killing Fields are an eerie reminder of this.

New arrivals to S21 holding camp – before either their death or transportation to the Killing Fields and ultimate death.

The female guards – all with short hair to be recognisable

New arrivals – with terror in their eyes

The dead

Section C for the female prisoners- barbed wire to stop them jumping out of the building to commit suicide

A few of the 9,000 skulls on display behind glass cabinets – sorted by age and sex in the Killing Fields

“Stupa” – a building holding the bones of the dead

One of the many items of clothing discovered buried – a child’s jumper

#Cambodia #Genocide #KillingFields #PolPot #War

Trying something different

This always takes me out of my comfort zone – but I make myself do it.

It’s a sure fire way of learning a new skill and developing.

So I find myself in Vietnam with my camera trying a little bit of Street Photography.

First off using a long lens and shooting from a far, usually on a street corner and then gradually moving in close and asking to take a photograph.

It’s a fast pace of life in Hanoi – pretty crazy in fact. Nothing stands still.

It seems so much more interesting here than at home. I’m sure if I spoke the language it would probably be just as mundane – people just going about their daily lives.

#Vietnam #Hanoi #StreetPhotography #BlackandWhite #Photography

Into the darkness

Kate & Aaron Film Noir

I was recently asked to shoot a Film Noir set of images for a couple who simply love all things ‘cinema’.

First thoughts were “Oh heck – I have no idea how to do this”

First words were “Yeah sure I’d love to do that!”

Lots of research, borrowing of props and testing out ideas, light set ups etc on my husband and friend ensued before I felt confident enough to book a firm date in the diary.

So, what can I say about the experience?

In a nutshell : It was the BEST hour that I have spent photographing a couple EVER EVER!

The plan originally had been to do the shoot outside in the back lane – but British weather being what it is – it didn’t happen. Not to worry though our dining room was swiftly re-arranged and was soon turned into a photography studio!

It wasn’t long before the film noir loving couple were into character and I was standing on the dining room table with my camera doing fist pumps between shots!

Never been so pleased that I said the first thing that popped into my head before engaging my brain …. otherwise I might have said ‘No’ to doing this!







Blooming Marvellous!

Maddie and David’s wedding was both really pretty and personal.

David’s mum, Joyce did an absolutely fantastic job of transforming the top floor of the Old Low Light Heritage Centre from an exhibition space into a gorgeous setting for an intimate wedding.


The wedding ceremony took place at Maritime Chambers (the old Stagline building) on what must have been one of the sunniest days ever in North Shields.

I’d brought along a huge stash of bio-degradable confetti for the guests to throw (and they made good use of it!) before we set off on the Tyne Idols bus along the coast to Whitley Bay.



The guests had an absolute blast of a time on the bus – “singing” 🙂 and sipping fizz as we made our way to St Mary’s lighthouse for a few photographs before then heading to the Old Low Light Heritage Centre for the party.


The guests enjoyed a bit of mingling in the downstairs cafe whilst we did a few photographs outside.




The day just seemed to fly by – all wonderfully organised and over way too soon!

Congratulations Maddie and David!


Blowin’ A Hooley

Hells teeth it was literally ‘blowin’ a hooley’ on Sunday for the unveiling of a blue plaque for Tom Hadaway, on what would have been his 95th birthday.

Tom was a bit of a late starter as a professional writer having been encouraged by CP Taylor, who apparently heard one of Tom’s stories on the radio, and put a note through his door telling him to start writing plays. Stroke of luck there then!

Tom first made an impact on the national scene with a television play, “God Bless Thee Jackie Maddison” (1974), and went on to write memorable episodes of “When The Boat Comes In” (1976), along with Sid Chaplin and Alex Glasgow.

Despite the bitter cold (and snow) – lots of people turned up to hear the speeches by Elected Mayor Norma Redfearn CBE, Michael Chaplin, Val McLane and Tim Healy.

Tim Healy did the honours and revealed the plaque seconds before the curtains practically blew off of their own accord!

Just time for a few photos before the snow really started and then back to the Old Low Light Heritage Centre on the Tyne Idols bus to warm up!

At the Old Low Light Heritage Centre we were treated to a superb performance of “The Filleting Machine”, by a theatre group – aptly named ‘Blowin’ A Hooley’

They received some fabulous and well deserved feedback from Tim Healy and Charlie Hardwick – as you can see they looked suitably blown away!

What better way to end a fantastic day than having a bit of a mingle, followed by fish, chips and fizz before heading off to the Low Lights Tavern !

p.s. Dave Young did a cracking job organising it all – Well done Dave!

Tom Hadaway Blue Plaque 18.3.2018

Dave Young – Trustee of The Old Low Light Heritage Centre, North Shields

Want to live longer?

You betcha!

One of the ways to help you achieve this I learnt today was to have a good network of friends. We take having friends pretty much for granted – but people with autism find it much more difficult to make and keep friends, and as a result can feel particularly lonely and isolated.

I have just begun volunteering at Friends Action North East – (FANE)  and today was my induction. The group have been supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism to build and maintain friendships in and around Newcastle upon Tyne since 2004.


A little group exercise exploring the difficulties people with autism might face when deciding to meet a friend

People with autism face many barriers when making sustainable friendships – finding accessible venues is one of them. To help combat this, FANE has an on-line rating system called NEAR (North East Accessibility Rating – a bit like Trip Advisor) which encourages people to rate and review venues across the region – but with a strong focus on accessibility information, service and the whole experience.

My role as a volunteer will be to help with the website and NEAR, designing posters for FANE events,  and getting the message out on Twitter.

I’m looking forward to getting started properly next week. If you are on twitter and are feeling generous today – please give Friends Action NE a little follow on Twitterhere’s the link

A few re-tweets every now and then wouldn’t go amiss either …….   thanks! 🙂