A Roadmap to success in photography….

Let me start by saying if you clicked on a link to this blog hoping to find all of the secrets of how to be a rockstar photographer, you’re gonna be sadly disappointed.

When you think of successful photographers, who do you think of..?

For me (being a wedding, fashion and portrait photographer) its people like Lara Jade, Sue Bryce and Lindsay Adler.

Perhaps the more important question is to ask, what makes a successful photographer?

And then even more importantly, who is that photographer successful to?

I know it feels like I’m diving a few levels on this like Leo and his crew on Inception, but bare with me on this, as it may just help you as a photographer.


The dictionary defines “success” as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

I like that definition. What I don’t like is that others can define an individuals success without even knowing their aim or purpose. That is beside the point of this blog, but it begs a few questions.


I often get asked from photographers who are at the start of their photography journey (there is a reason I used the word journey) how to be a successful photographer. First of all I usually ask them why they’re asking me, do they perceive or view me as successful. If we go by the definition of success above, that really can’t be the case.


I then ask them “What does success look like to you? where do you want to be and what do you want to do?”

Being a successful photographer can mean a multitude of different things to someone starting their journey,  or even someone who is on their way.

The first and foremost thing to do is to take away any worries, thoughts, feelings that your success or perceived success needs to be judged by anyone but yourself. That is a really important step. How can anyone else say that you are, or, are not successful if they don’t know what your goal is.

The second and probably most important thing to do is sit down, shut up, get a pen and paper and make a list of what success looks like for you. Decide on the final destination you’d like to be at (not like the films!!!), decide how long you’d like to take for your journey and then decide if that route doesn’t happen to work out, where is the alternative. You need a Roadmap or Satnav for your joinery.

There is no way on earth you can possibly know when you’re successful if you haven’t decided on what successful is.

No one but you can decide what your success looks like, it might be earning the same as your old day job, it might be getting published in magazines, it might be retiring early, hell it might be none of those. BUT, it needs to be something. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there.


I know this Blog is full of cliche’s about reaching your goals, but this is one of the few times that I will bleat on about one single point because it’s something that I am extremely passionate about.

In my eyes, I am not a successful photographer because I have not reached my end goal. I am on course, I have hit some of the markers and I am on the time limit I set. But I am still not there yet. To be fair, I’d love to see a photographer who thinks they are there….

If you’ve ever watched my YouTube channel and one of my Vlogs you would have heard me talking about my “Bucket List”. This bucket list is my roadmap. It details all of my business targets/goals/outcomes as well as my personal ones. They go hand in hand. If I am successful in my photography career, it will help me achieve my personal and family goals too. That is something I learned all too late in my previous career in retail management and Im extremely determined not to make that mistake again.

I can’t speak for any of you on what you should plan and how your business and personal life should link together, but, (and I say this on every workshop I run) I earn less money now than I ever have. But, I am happy, I get to take my kids to school every day, I work when I want and I do a job that I love. That is worth more than its weight in gold to me.

Commercial Photographer Newcastle




Single Light Techniques – Part 2

If you managed to catch my last post about Single Light Techniques, you’ll understand why I like them so much. If you didn’t…. you can read it here first .

Now I’ll start this little tutorial by saying I am a High Speed Sync (HSS) novice- as I write this, I’ve been using HSS for a little over two weeks. But, in those two weeks I’ve gone through all of the emotions of falling in love with a beautiful woman; Attraction, rejection, admiration, lust and then finally comfort. I’ve long admired the technique of photographers who can use HSS techniques effectively, more so when shooting inside of a studio. And I wanted to be able to do that.

So as I approach all of my learning I set up my lights, got my model in front and started a process of trial and error. Within three frames I had the exact effect I wanted. As people who know me already know, I don’t work in mathematical terms with my lighting, for me you can throw you inverse square laws and calculations out of the window. I just don’t work that way. I find the light I like and I stick to it, If I need to change it, I do it by eye, not by a light meter or a histogram.

So here is my set up, each of the images you see directly below we’re shot with this exact set up. I used my Pixapro CITI600 Light with the Pixapro Easy Open Octabox with  both diffusion panels in place.  My light was placed about 45 degrees to the model and myself, meaning that I’m not going to get too much fall off on the opposite side of the face. I was triggering the light through the Pixapro STiii system which enable me to shoot at speeds of up to 1/8000th.





1/3200sec, F2, ISO 100           Model – Deaann Shotton – Tyne Tees Models


Using this effect means that I can shoot at extremely shallow apertures while still freezing the subject with flash, and without letting in too much ambient light. That’s a winner for me. The image above is one of my favourite images so far from 2016.



1/4000sec, F1.8, ISO 100       Model – Jamie Yates – Tyne Tees Models

For this image of Jamie I added a second light just level with his left shoulder to add a little bit of interested on that side of the face. It was set to a lower power so not to get a uniform exposure across the face but just to give a little detail to the shadows.

One thing to remember when shooting at these apertures is that any movement there is either in camera or by the model after the focus has been set with result in the focus being off whether it’s a little movement or a lot. So be conscious if you’re looking for a really crisp exposure to talk to your model and minimise any movement during the shot. By all means encourage lots of changes of pose and expression, but ask them to freeze it for a second or so for each look.

Although I prefer using this technique inside my studio, you can also achieve sensationally looking images outdoors with it too, especially in very bright conditions.

I ventured outside with the model below, about 30ft from my studio to the church across the road. The sun was absolutely beating down, with very little cloud cover and it was very very bright.


With this set up I was shooting pretty much straight into the sun which was over the left shoulder of our model. I still wanted to have some detail in the sky and given how bright it was, I needed to dramatically reduce the amount of ambient light in the scene. The only way to do this was to raise my shutter speed. I raised my speed to 1/5000 sec, this allowed just the right amount of light to enter the sensor to maintain some detail and colour in the sky. I then positioned my model against the wall with my light and octabox to her left and slightly in front so that I could shoot along the wall. I wanted some subtle leading lines coming in from the brickwork, and a shallow aperture to really highlight our subject.



1/5000sec, F2, ISO 100       Model – Grace Bungoni – Tyne Tees Models

Now without going too far into technical details (as I don’t like talking technically) the simple way to make any off camera flash image work is to use your variables effectively. Remembering that your shutter speed controls your Ambient light, you aperture controls how much light your camera lets in and your ISO is (for me) a last resort if you need that little bit of extra help. Brett Harkness explains this very well with his “Triangle of Loveliness” on his DVD’s- well worth a watch!

So there it is, another incredibly simple set up that can yield tremendous results.

Thanks for reading chaps, have a great day!

See a YouTube tutorial below on using High Speed Sync in the Studio;



Commercial Photographer Newcastle


Fashion Photography Workshop Review

Sunday 7th August marked the first of my new series of Photography Workshops in partnership with my awesome friends over at Pixapro. What a day it was!

We had attendees from near and far with one of our photographers coming from north of Edinburgh, which was a huge compliment in itself that someone was willing to travel that far to listen to what I had to say.

Although the day had a loose structure I wanted to maintain a good open dialogue throughout the day to ensure that our group got everything that they wanted to from the session. Whether that be linked to lighting, posing, copyright and even photography ethics. We covered a wide range of subjects in the breakout session which led to some really interesting points around the photography industry as a whole.

So the content started with a quick introduction of who I am and what I do, how I go about planning Fashion and Editorial shoots, how I incorporate the team (notice I’m not giving too much away here…… you’ll need to book onto the workshop to find that out ) and how to keep communication between all parties at the forefront of everything to ensure that the vision is shared and leaves no room for confusion.

We reviewed a selection of images, talked about how they’d been lit, and more importantly why. This helped give the group a real insight into the differences between shooting for yourself, in which case I’d use much more creative lighting to flatter the model, and shooting for the client which would be more steered towards ensuring that the garments are perfectly and evenly lit to give maximum exposure for the clothing.

Before we broke for lunch, we walked around outside of my studio (which is in a housing estate, on a main road, surrounded by largely uninspiring scenery) to look for locations to shoot with our models after the break. We picked out 7/8 different locations ranging from brickwork to long grass in front of some allotments and a church to wrought iron gates. We talked through how we could shoot the images dependant on who we were shooting for; ourselves or the client. This makes a big difference to how they would be shot. We talked through the lighting we would be using, namely the Pixapro CITI600 strobe (see my review here) and a Pixapro Speedlight and associated trigger systems.


After lunch it was time to put the lighting and locations through their paces. We started up on the fire escape of the studio, now baring in mind we had 60mph winds in the North East, this was a real battle to keep the CITI and a 120cm Octabox still without being blown over! This fire escape is on the 2nd floor of my studio and offers an interesting perspective with its dark walkway and bright sky behind.


Our model Harriotte wore a long flowing blouse which allowed a lot of movement in this wind, although it was a difficult set to shoot with Harriotte’s hair constantly blowing into her face, she handled it phenomenally to create some tremendous images.

Settings:  1/8000 sec, F1.8, iso 100.


After battling in what seemed to be a massive wind trap, we moved to the next location that we had picked out for our other model Grace.

Now this section of brickwork is the side of a newsagent on a busy road. But, it is also extremely detailed, reflects light brilliantly and offers a great backdrop for some edgy images. We shot this section with a bare Speedlight because we wanted a harsh lighting effect without softening the light too much. As you can see from the diagram below, we set this about 45 degrees between the camera and Grace which allows us to create a harsh shadow while still getting a good even coverage on the face and clothing.


While I would usually use this effect with the zoom effect on the flash, I decided to shoot this one at the standard flash coverage. This still allowed me to create a high contrast image through killing most of the ambient light, and having quite a small aperture.

Settings:  1/160 sec, F13, iso 100.


Moving away from the street look, we literally walked over the street to our next location. One of the things I always teach my groups whether it be a Fashion or a Wedding Photography Workshop is that if you’re struggling for a location or background, use the sky! Get down low and look up and if you’ll have a pretty much infinite background to use.

So with that in mind we picked out some long grass in between a church and some allotments. I know pretty uninspiring right? The dilapidated old sheds and stripping paintwork of the church fence didn’t look the most appealing at standing height anyway.


“Get down on your knees” was the instruction to the photographers in the group to change perspective and create a hugely different image.

We were really battling the elements at this point, bright sunshine followed by dark clouds paired with a very strong wind made for an interesting time while shooting this set up.

Because of the bright sun we wanted to take out as much ambient light as possible to ensure that our light would give a nice even light on Harriotte’s face, and with that in mind we were shooting right up at 1/8000 sec using the High Speed Sync Function of the CITI600 light. Getting that lower angle and shooting to that everlasting background, also known as the sky, allowed us to create an image that could have been shot in a big open field while only using a space of 3/4ft in total.

Settings:  1/8000 sec, F2.5, iso 100.


After much battling with the wind and several near misses with dropping the light  we decided to head indoors so that we could shoot our last set in a studio environment to create some simple yet stunning images.


All in all I’d say that this Workshop was a great success being that it was the first of this new series. But don’t just take my word for it, here is what some of our attendees said…..

“This was probably the best value for money workshop that I have been on. I particularly liked the fact that we were not in a hotel but in Chris’ place of work, his studio. This was real added value as we could see how he worked and the kit he used. I also think that made for a more relaxed and ‘audience participation’ kind of environment and worked really well”


“Friendly, Informative, Helpful,Enjoyable and Eyeopening”



Images by Tom Feeney

“I have a fair degree of studio lighting experience having my own small studio in Dunfermline. However, with little experience using studio lights outside on location I was looking to gain confidence in setting them up and using them to best effect in an outside environment. I came away from the workshop confident I can now do this. I learned a lot, particularly how easy it was to use a single light to such good effect. Also that you do not need to travel far to find excellent locations for great shots.”


“Most prominent for me was location scouting, we shot in a small patch of grass that looked like an open field in photos, by using HSS flash and the correct angles any surface / location can make a compelling backdrop.”



Images by Gordon Scott

“As a semi professional with a number of years under my belt, but self taught and never having been on such a course before, i was keen to find one in my field of fashion/portraits and where I could benefit from the experience of others, learning sometimes the little things that others might use, getting a glimpse of the tips and techniques, and if nothing else expose my badf habits. This course lived up to this entirely”


If you’re interested in attending one of my workshops, please fill in the form below for more information.

Commercial Photographer Newcastle

The Self Appreciation Society…

Ok, no doubt there is a society in the name of Self Appreciation- this is no link to them!

I read, and participated in, an interesting thread this week on a photography group on Facebook. It was mainly discussing whether being published in Magazines actually does anything for a photographers business. Cash generation was the main query that people were talking about.

It’s an interesting debate, which links into a blog I wrote recently; Staying Motivated in a Creative Industry.

I’m not going to speak on behalf of anyone else here, but purely give my opinion and feelings on this.

Celebrating success is a hugely important thing for me. Photography, as life, can be at times very lonely, very frustrating and can drive self doubt without justification. As photographers, we constantly look for the approval of other photographers, creatives and ‘Jo Public’ too, thats why we upload to Forums, Groups, Instagram, Facebook etc- we just want our work to be appreciated. When in fact there are only two people who’s opinions matter; You and Your client. If you client is happy- job done. If you’re shooting for yourself (again refer back to my previous blog post) then shoot for yourself and no one else. If you’re happy with what you produce- tell the world. Say it out loud .. “I love this image!!!”

Hell I’ve got a studio full of my favourite images which have been framed and hung on the wall. Yes my clients will see them when they’re at my studio- but they are there for me. For me to look at and think, I did that. I made that great image possible.

Don’t get me wrong- these types of images are few and far between. But I liken it to playing Golf (and I am shite at Golf but), every now and again you hit a drive that just feels right, as soon as you hit it you know its flying straight and going the distance towards the flag. Everything felt right. I feel this as a photographer, during a shoot I will capture an image at 1/200 and think THAT was it, all of the planning, effort and work that has gone into the shoot and THAT was the shot I wanted. I usually get quite giddy at this point and inform the rest of the team that THAT was it. Then, being quite pleased with myself, I finish the shoot knowing that if I don’t take another good image on the shoot, I still have THAT image. After the shoot, when I am able to (having waited for it to be published or released) I share the shit out of THAT image. If it gets lots of likes and comments- great- but really I don’t care. I just want people to see THAT image.

Please don’t confused this with blowing my own trumpet…. well it is really. But so what- If I don’t enjoy what I do and what the result is, why the hell am I doing it?

I want my name out there, I want to be published more because I know that it adds credibility when Im pitching to clients, it gives me motive to continue to shoot creatively and it gives me a platform to grow my skills even further.

I’ll rewind 13 months so when I set myself a personal target of being published in a Magazine. I didn’t really care which magazine it was, I just wanted to say that I had been published.

Bringing it right back to May 2016, I have had four front covers of Magazines, had eight editorial shoots featured in both UK and US publications, had an article in a photography magazine, an image in an International photography magazine and had my images used for advertising in both business and lifestyle magazines.

Am I proud?

Fuck Yeah. (Sorry for the swearing Mam)

“So What?” Someone asks in the conversation, “What has that done for you?”

Well for my self esteem and motivation. Shit Loads (Sorry again Mam)

For my business? Enough to make it worth while.


I’ve deviated a little from what I wanted to say, and I have to admit, having the kids watch Spongebob Squarepants as I write this has helped me constantly lose my thought trail. Hopefully the reasoning behind the post comes through.

Capture17 (2)

Part of an 8 page spread in Surreal Beauty Junior Magazine


Me, looking very pleased with myself.


Commercial Photographer Newcastle


Kit- why I don’t spend much..

I’m lucky.

I’m lucky in the way that I really don’t get excited when a new lens or camera is released. I don’t particularly yearn for near gear or want to upgrade every time something new comes out but more importantly I’m lucky in the way that I won’t go and buy new equipment unless I absolutely need it.

I will be filming a Vlog tomorrow on exactly what travel with to shoots.

I like to think I’m quite prudent when it comes to big photographic purchases, in that I very rarely buy new kit. The only time I can justify a substantial purchase is when either my current item breaks, or it can’t do what I want it to do.

So for instance, up until four years ago I was shooting all of my work on a pair of Canon 60d’s. At the time, a perfectly capable camera for my wedding work and portraits that I was shooting. It wasn’t until a shot a wedding, in winter at Matfen Hall (which is just dark inside) that I realised that I needed to upgrade my camera to a 5diii. Although the 60d performed fairly well in low light, I needed to be able to get up to ISO 8000 without too much detriment to the image quality. So, I went and bought a new camera body. Job done.

With lighting equipment, I started my OFC (off camera flash) journey with Neewer Speedlights after attending a Steve Gerrard Workshop and seeing how a simple one OFC set up can dramatically spice up your images. It wasn’t until I was shooting this wedding at Lumley Castle where the flash power just wasn’t enough, and I was running back and forward to the flash to change the power that I realised that I needed a more substantial portable lighting system. So I went and bought an Elinchrom Quadra set up. This opened huge possibilities for me using not only the 400w of power, but also a very effective modelling lamp. Not the mention the ease at which I could adjust the power from the top of the camera using the remote system.

I see a lot of photographers showing off their latest lens purchase, or new camera body and often wonder- how is it going to improve their work. One of the things I teach anyone who comes to my workshops is that you must master the gear you have, no matter what it is, because one day its all you will have with you. The best lens, best light, best camera you have, is the one you know best.

I remember attending a few Wedding Photography workshops over the years, one where people looked at me funny for using the Nifty Fifty, although I don’t have it now (I dropped it while shooting) this is still one of the best lenses I have ever used. I only upgraded to the 1.4 version because there was an error on the sellers website and I got it £100 cheaper than it should have been. Another wedding workshop I attended I noticed a guy sitting at the top of the table, with two bodies, 6-8 lenses and a load of other gear. He didn’t know how to use any of it, he just thought that’s what he should have. Crazy!!

I think the days of photographic snobbery are finally starting to go away, it really doesn’t make a difference on what gear I have. As long as it does what I need and want it to do!




Planning a Fashion shoot… How I do it

As with the style of my product reviews and lighting techniques, the way I do things may not always be the best way to do it, but it is the way that works for me.

No matter what I’m shooting, whether it be an editorial campaign, a model portfolio or testing new equipment for review; I have a plan and then I have in my head that all of my plans could go out of the window.

I prefer shooting outdoors on location for Fashion and Editorial Work for two reasons. I have less control, meaning, I have more of an open mind for change.

So, take my last big editorial shoot which was featured in Surreal Beauty Magazine. I was inspired by a Vanity Fair shoot I first noticed last year featuring Benedict Cumberbatch  which was shot in woodland, with a dark and moody atmosphere. I would watch this video at least once per week trying to figure out, how, where and when I could do something similar.

So in my mind for this shoot was Harriotte (our model) in amongst tall branchless trees, holding the leash of two Great Danes, with a lot of smoke behind and having the scene quite underexposed to give that dead of the night feel. Although we did shoot this image, it wasn’t my favourite from the shoot- infact the most simple set up worked the best for us, and I’ll come around to explaining that later on.

In my mind, to have a successful shoot, I need several elements. A model who “gets” the idea, a strong and consistent beauty team (hair and makeup), an experienced stylist who can build the look based upon the brief, willing photographic assistants and most importantly an open mind from me. I don’t come up with all of my ideas, I’m heavily influenced by the creative teams I work with. If they have something to say, I will listen. If they come up with an idea, I will consider it. If they tell me something won’t work, I take that on board.

Having open communication with everyone involved, in my eyes, helps to get more buy in from the team. Getting everyone involved in the decisions on how to style the hair, which colour lip gloss to use and how to style the outfits means that we’re pooling the knowledge and experience of 6 people instead of just one. I have an open mind to listen to everyone’s input, but I also have the strength to say “No” when it just ain’t adding to the value of the shoot. And by value, I mean the quality of the end product we’re producing.

So, back to this particular shoot. I’ve never shot the type of shoot in woodland- so I didn’t really have an idea on where to do it. I’ve worked a few locations around my studio which have a few trees, but nowhere near the depth that we needed for the shots in my head. We also needed to have somewhere nearby to change outfits, refuel with bacon sarnie and coffee and work from as a base. Luckily, Harriott’s Mother Sarah knew a great spot, literally 25 yards from their back gate. Location- sorted.

As you might have already guessed, Harriotte was the model for this shoot. As soon as I decided to go ahead with it, there really was no one else I wanted for it. In terms of Hair and Makeup, I’m very lucky to work with two awesome ladies on a regular basis for pretty much all of my editorial and beauty work. Rachel White (makeup artist) and Steph O’Neill (hair stylist), these guys we’re brought on board and I created a Pinterest Board to give everyone involved a quick flavour of the sort of look we were going for. Pinterest is an immense tool if you’re looking for inspiration, or looking to collate ideas for shoots to share with the rest of the creative team. While I will often send ideas for hair and makeup to the girls, I pretty much leave them to their own devices now as I trust them to produce great work, no matter what the theme.

So that’s Model, Location, Hair & Makeup, Inspiration and ideas all sorted. The next part, assistants. I like to take assistants on pretty much all of my shoots. Having someone to help with lighting, moving props, pulling out weeds and generally watching out for things I’ve missed is, to me, invaluable. I was very lucky with this shoot to have three assistants with me, Ian kindly offered to bring along his generator in order to power the smoke machine and to be our “smoke maker guy” for the day. I literally could not have shot the sets with the smoke in the background without this guy. If I was working alone, running back and forward between the smoke machine and the camera position just would not be feasible. Colin, a good friend of mine, came along to support with lighting, and the general set up, offering ideas along the way. Again having a VAL (voice activated light stand) means that I am able to keep my position without having to move lighting positions, and I can stay in front of my model keeping dialogue going.

And that is pretty much it- that is how the shoot is planned in a nutshell. I have another big shoot using the same creative team for a magazine front cover and editorial at the end of the month that we will be video and releasing over on my  YouTube channel too, so keep an eye out for that bad boy. But in the mean time don’t forget to watch the behind the scenes for this shoot and see just how we shot the different sets!





Single Light Techniques – Part 1

For those photographers who have visited my studio before through a studio creative night, a 1-2-1 session or to help out on shoots would have already heard me rave about using single light set ups.

I’ll rewind a little here before I go too far into the technique and talk a little about why I like them. Are you ready for this? I am lazy. If I can create a stunning image for a client portfolio or magazine editorial with the least amount of faffing around as possible. I will.

I’m a self-taught photographer in terms of lighting. Well actually, I’m taught by YouTube, magazines and a huge amount of trial and error. I am not afraid to try something, even with a client in the shot, and if it doesn’t work, I’m not afraid to say so and change it so that it does work.

My entire approach to studio lighting has been built upon trying to replicate the look I like and then trying my own techniques and perfecting them through trial and error. After all, we learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes. I’d far rather get it wrong three times and then know why I got it right the fourth time- it’s just the way that I am wired.

So, onto the first in a series of single light techniques. I will be posting tutorial videos for all of these techniques over the coming weeks but for those who prefer written word and diagrams, here it is.

This is my favourite single light set up to use, its quick, its easy and if you have the space you can shoot this set up around 180 degrees to your model without having to touch the light itself.





A flat surface always works well for this set up- I’ve shot it along a 20ft scoop in my studio, and I’ve also shot this on a 4ft fold out background. Place your model against the wall, as close as you can and set the light up at about 45 degrees to the model. I use a studio strobe with a gridded reflector fitted in order to channel the light into a concentrated area which creates a natural vignette, depending on how you frame the shot. I’m not going to go into the mathematics of the lighting and the power etc- I like shots with lots of contrast so I will tend so shoot at much higher Apertures. So for instance- this shot of Dee below was captured at F18, 1/160sec with ISO 100.


If you look at the diagram further up the page- my shooting position is more shallow than the light- usually starting at around 20 degrees to the model and the wall behind of the model. Now as I said the beauty of this set up is that you can move around the model (if you have the space) and literally shoot a full 180 degrees without moving the position of the light. Obviously as you move further towards the opposite side of the light, the look is going to change dramatically, so be conscious of where your model is facing and where the light it going to hit.



One of the main variables you can create with this set up is the shape of the vignette of light. For instance, if I was shooting this set up with the light at the same height as the model and pointed directly toward the wall (which I wouldn’t but..) it’s going to produce a pretty definite circle of light. However, if I raise that light, and point it downwards, the vignette becomes stretched into an oval shape down toward the floor. If I moved the set up shallower to the wall, the same would happen with on oval going away from the model. Trial and error and a little experimentation is well worth while with this set up to learn how moving the light by 6″ one way or another can totally change the look of the image.



As I mentioned above I will be publishing a Video tutorial for this technique over the next few months which will be included in a training app that I will be releasing.

If you’ve any questions on this technique, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to answer.



See my tutorial video below on shooting a very similar effect, but outdoor using a Speed light;