About the author: Jane Burkinshaw is a professional photographer and passionate about all things photography related. Jane specialises in portrait photography and runs photography courses.

A practical photography class in sunny Chester (by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

f/2.8, 1/125, ISO 125
For one of my "pupils" it was time to put into practise what she'd learned during our previous two sessions and where better than in the beautiful city of Chester on a glorious Spring day. After a quick coffee and chat about how Ann had been getting on since we last met, we headed up into The Rows to do a re-cap on one of the most important camera functions for low light photography - ISO.

f/3.2, 1/40, ISO 500
If you want to capture the ambience of scenes like this you need to turn your flash off and increase your ISO. As the lights were a bit orange I converted it to black and white in Photoshop. It has also removed any colour distractions.

At this point Ann went straight to the top of the class as she asked how she could have more control over the exposure than the Av (Aperture) setting was giving her. She knew the principles of Manual Exposure but had never dared try it out. After a few goes she was flying and didn't move out of Manual Mode all day!

Chester's wattle and daub, black and white facades made for great shooting material and we talked about selecting the right buildings to photograph, where the light was best, and about cropping out unwanted distractions (lots of "To Let" hoardings).

f/5.6, 1/250, ISO 200
I applied an infrared effect to this shot to enhance the sky and clouds.

One of the day's biggest challenges was the sunny weather! You become very aware of the harsh quality of bright sunlight and the consequent deep shadows, especially in close ups. You also have to think about how bright the sky is and whether it will appear as blue with fluffy white clouds in your shot or as a bland bright white band.

f/8, 1/500, ISO 160
Looking left along the river the scene was idyllic, with people enjoying the warm sunshine and the sky is blue with cloud detail.

f/8, 1/400, ISO 160
Looking right along the riverbank it was a different story, with bright sunshine bleaching out details in the sky and on the water. So I opted to crop out the sky and go for an almost silhouetted look. This took a few attempts in Manual Mode, taking a few different exposures until I was happy.

As we made our way back into the city via the walls, we came upon a crowd of people pointing mobile phones and cameras at something happening in the street down below. An episode of Foyle's War was being filmed and we joined in the frenzy to capture some of the action. It was a tricky street scene with deep shadows and bright sunshine. Great fun to watch even though Michael Kitchen was nowhere in sight.

Last lesson of the day was looking at how a higher f/number (smaller aperture) gives focus throughout the scene (broad depth of field) and from under the famous clock tower we took a shot of the busy shopping street below. With such bright conditions shutter speed wasn't an issue, despite the small aperture.

f/9, 1/80, ISO 100
Ann felt that everything had clicked into place today with using the combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO to give her much more control over the images she takes. Once someone reaches this point I think their photography really starts to fly and they can concentrate on the creative side more.

These images were all taken by me but I know that Ann has some great pictures too and I've asked her to share them with me. She was over the moon with what she'd taken today and I was over the moon with her reaction!

If you'd like to take great photographs all the time, rather than occasionally just by accident (we've all done it!!), then get in touch to book a course or a one to one session via the website.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too! Like Picture It Big on Facebook to see more tips like this.


So you've had a lovely new D-SLR camera for Christmas - what now? By Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Santa has been very generous and has given you your first digital SLR camera for Christmas. You've taken it out of its box, charged the battery, inserted a memory card and attached the strap - all pretty straight forward so far. You've even worked out how to set the time, date and language. Then you've turned to the next section in the manual and probably lost the will to live after about 5 minutes! Do the manufacturers not realise that manuals are mainly read by relative beginners who don't yet know their f-stops from their focal lengths?! The manual goes back in the box (with the CDs containing some software stuff that you don't think you need) and you switch the camera to the familiar green Auto setting. You take some pictures that seem to turn out all right - isn't it nice to have no delay when you take a photo and to be using something that feels like a proper camera.

However, after a little while you get frustrated. Some of your pictures are blurred and the flash fires when you don't always want it to. You had thought that by getting a decent camera you would be able to take much better pictures. You know that you're not using it to its full capability, settling instead for the "safe" Auto setting. You also think you might need another lens too, as the one you have doesn't zoom very far, but you don't know where to start and worry that you could make an expensive mistake.

Well, don't despair, as you are far from alone and help is at hand! The quickest way by far to get to grips with your new camera is to book on a course. You don't need to embark on a year long evening course, a half day or full day workshop will get you off to a great start and you can always book another at a later stage as you progress. There are lots of courses available now and you just need to shop around a bit to find one local to you, at the right level and concentrating on the right photographic subject.

If you live in the Northwest of England then look no further! I've got a full programme of courses for 2014, including courses for parents, bloggers, flower enthusiasts, as well as general beginners. I also offer bespoke sessions tailored to your skills level, camera type and preferred area of photography. I offer advice on what kit you need and what you don't! Although the magic is made in camera, you also need to know how to edit your pictures and I can share my expertise on that too.

You can also learn a great deal from reading books and browsing the internet. Personally I've found that this is only really useful once you've done a course to understand the basics, as many books and blogs assume you already understand apertures, shutter speeds, focal lengths etc.

In the meantime, whilst you decide what is best for you, here are my top tips on how to get started with your new camera:

  • Shoot in natural daylight as much as possible - it's much nicer than flash. If indoors, open blinds & curtains and sit people so they are facing the window light.
  • Use the P (Program setting) instead of fully automatic, as it still does all the important stuff for you, but won't fire the flash automatically.
  • Look up in the manual how to see how fast your shutter speed is. To avoid blurred pictures it should be at least 1/125th of a second.
  • If it's slower than this then all you need to do is increase the ISO number. Look up how to do this in the manual and then increase it until it gives you the shutter speed you need.
  • If you have to use your flash then make sure you are no closer than 1 metre to your subject and no further away than 3 metres. Don't use the red eye setting, fix it later in a free editing programme like Picasa.
  • Have your camera out and ready to use all the time so that you get in to the habit of taking lots of pictures. And do take lots at this stage, as you will learn from your mistakes.
  • Look at other people's photographs  - in books, magazines and on forums like Flickr and Pinterest. Don't be afraid to copy their ideas in order to learn.
Good luck with your new gadget - with a bit of practise it will soon become your new best friend!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 project #9/50 A la Turka (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 9. A la Turka

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 350D, 1/1000, f/2.0, ISO 100, Aperture Priority

The bright early evening sunshine was streaming into this turkish restaurant in Stockton Heath and I wanted to see how the camera coped with the very contrasty scene. I love the way the menu and glassware are lit by the sun. A few minutes later sun had moved and the menu was in shadow.

By the way we had a cracking meal there with great service. Really delicious food - starter and main course £12.95 and kids menu £4.95. Their dessert was a piece of art - complete with cherries drawn with chocolate and red berry sauce.

The bad news is that a very excited dog greeted us at home wearing a neck cone and he knocked my handbag onto the hard stone tiles. My 350d and Canon 50mm f/1.8 were in it and sadly the lens has broken :-(. So this may be its last shot.

My husband suggests I check out the 50mm f/1.4...

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


50/50 Project #5/50 Blue wins! (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 5. Blue wins

50 days with a 50mm lens

Technical stuff: Canon 350d, 1/1250, f/2.0, ISO 100, manual exposure.

I wanted to take a shot today that embodied how good life is when the sun shines. The kids had been playing boules on the front lawn and left them out (!)  and I thought this might work. We only ever play boules a) on holiday and b) in the summer. Also our front lawn is particularly dried out and yellow - another sign of a long hot spell.

There was some dappled shade courtesy of an enormous pine tree, but I've blown the highlights on the distant red boule. Did a bit of warming up in Photoshop and was tempted to patch the chip on the blue boule but managed to suppress the urge! 


50/50 Project: #4/50 Poor Ferb (by Cheshire family photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 4. Poor Ferb

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 350D, 1/160 f/2.8 ISO 100 Aperture Priority

Have you ever seen such a sorry sight. Poor Ferb went off to be neutered today and has to wear this collar for three days. He's so frustrated and unhappy as you can tell. I know this collar looks enormous but he was still managing to lick his wounds with the first one he came home in. And to add insult to injury this one is pink - as if he wasn't already feeling emasculated.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 Project: #3/50 Rainbow Sharpies (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 3. Rainbow Sharpies

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical stuff: Canon 350d, Shutter speed 1/15, f/1.8, ISO 100. Aperture priority

As ever I had to play around a bit before I got the final shot. I did lots of different angles but found it hard to fill the frame with a long thin line of pens. This final angle has allowed me to capture every pen with no empty space in the frame. I've put a few of the rejects at the end of this post.

Working with the fixed 50mm lens is certainly making me work. With a zoom lens it would have been easier to just zoom in to fill the frame. But I would not have got this incredibly shallow depth of field with only 2 pens in focus.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


50/50 Project: #2/50 Windswept man (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 2. Windswept man

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical data: 1/400, f/3.5 ISO 100. Aperture Priority.

We went shopping in a very hot Manchester city centre today and came across this strangle windswept man - especially as there wasn't a breath of wind! He's a street artist - what a strange way to earn a living. Perhaps his wife thinks he's actually going out to work in an office each day!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

A new photography project - 50/50 (photography course Cheshire)

I've really missed doing the 366 project I did right through 2012, when I took and posted a photo every single day. It wasn't always easy (at times it was a downright chore done at 11pm at night!) but I learned so much and enjoyed swapping comments with other people in 365 forums.

I was chatting with another photographer a few weeks ago and he suggested that I do something else this year that wasn't such a big commitment but would give me scope to be creative - a 50/50 project. My brain was trying to work out how a project could be half and half of anything but he put me out my misery and clarified that it was 50 days using a 50mm lens. I was hooked straight away as I have a 50mm lens that I adore using but haven't had out the bag much recently.

(Pic taken on my lovely HTC One camera phone)

This is a Canon 50mm f/1.8 mk II prime lens and cost me around £90. To cut through the jargon / numbers it is a lens that doesn't zoom (to get closer to your subject you move yourself), it isn't very wide angle and is often used for portraits. The low aperture of f/1.8 means that you can get very creative with soft focus and also it lets in lots of light so is good in low light conditions. Not bad for £90 and a favourite of wedding photographers.

I used this lens a fair bit last year for the 366 project until I bought a new telephoto 28-300mm lens from Tamron which quickly became my favourite toy. So I'm looking forward to pushing the boundaries a little more this time with the 50mm lens.

366 photos taken in 2012 with 50mm lens
I hope you'll follow my daily photos for the next 50 days and let me know what you think of them. If you're doing a photography project at the moment I'd love to hear about it. And don't forget that I run courses in digital photography and offer one to ones designed around your needs. Find out more about my photography courses on the website.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


How to take great summer photos - Tip 7 (Cheshire photography course with Jane Burkinshaw)

And here's the final installment for this series on how to take sizzling summer shots:


You haven't taken all this trouble to take some great photos only to leave them languishing on your hard drive, so the next step is to edit them and create stuff. If you're not very confident at image editing - or you just don't have the time, then you should consider using some of the straight forward software that's available. Two great examples are Picasa and Picmonkey and they are both free. I prefer Picasa because it's the one I've used for ages and has been developed by Google. Lots of people love Picmonkey and it looks good but certain features are only available if you upgrade whereas Picasa is 100% free.

I'm not going to go into loads of detail here on how to use these applications - they are both straight forward and intuitive so the best thing is to play around with them. You can crop, straighten, change the exposure, recolour, add great effects, make collages, share on line and by email and lots more. Although I edit all my professional work using Photoshop I often use Picasa to show images to clients and I am a HUGE fan of collages. See my earlier blog on how to make collages.

If you want to try more sophisticated editing but feel a bit intimidated by Photoshop you should try Photoshop Elements and if you know someone who is in education or at school then you can buy it more cheaply. Also you can try before you buy by downloading a 30 day trial.

To see the difference between a non edited and an edited pic see below - it really is worth learning how to use editing software if you're keen on photography.

I'm a big fan of photo books too and can't remember when I last used an album (all those plastic pockets and pics that fall out of them!). Photo books are really easy to do and there's a huge choice of companies doing them now. My favourite is Bobs Books for quality and great colour reproduction but they are not the cheapest. I've also used Photobox and Albelli for cheaper options and many people swear by Blurb for really great value.

This book on our holiday in Cornwall was made with Bobs Books and you can read more about how I made it in my blog.

And why stop at books when you can share your images on mugs, key rings, jigsaws, placemats - you name it and I think you can probably get a photo printed on it! I use Snapfish for travel mugs (love my coffee whilst I'm travelling!) but again there are lots of companies. Look out for all the offers and you can get some really great deals.

I hope I've inspired you with this series of blogs on Top Tips for Sizzling Summer Shots. If you need any help I offer one to one tuition tailored to your requirements (in the Cheshire, Manchester area).

May this weather last into August when I'll be heading off to South Wales with my photobook half visualised in my mind!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


How to take great summer photos - tip 6 (Cheshire photography course with Picture It Big)

This is my favourite of the top tips so far...


This sounds like it could be the introduction to a totally different topic, but we are still talking photography!

Digital photography is brilliant because you can play about as much as you like, take dud pictures and just delete them - at no cost. With apps and different settings you can get some really great effects. I've never done Instagram personally, only because I'm an android girl, but I've got some great apps on my phone that I use a lot for my fun photos. My favourite is Retro Camera - it's really easy to use and has about 6 or 7 different camera effects.

Most of the pics on the left have been taken using this app and a few had effects applied in Picasa - free image editing software from Google (more on this in the 7th and final post of this series).

A word of caution - don't over do the effects - don't use them for every picture and make sure it's still a photo worth taking. It should still be well composed, in focus and correctly exposed. Don't use effects to disguise a bad photo - it never works.

I like to make photo books, calendars and all sorts of stuff so that I can enjoy and share my photos (again more on this in tomorrow's post), and this sort of fun, creative shot gives some variety to whatever it is I'm making.

I also like to capture shots of details that remind me of my holiday or that special day. I love trying to do abstract shots too. This next collage has some great examples.

The more you experiment the more you learn so get playing with those settings and apps!

And if you like the collages learn how to create them in Picasa by reading my blog about it! Here to serve!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


The Exposure Triangle - what is it and why do you need to know? (Cheshire photography course with Picture It Big)

Click on the image to see a larger version

If you've started to wander off the AUTO setting on your camera and are having a play with the Aperture (Av / A) or Shutter (Tv or S) setting, you'll have noticed that when you alter one, the other changes at the same time. This is because they work together to make sure that your picture will be correctly exposed.

Just in case I've already used a bit of jargon that's confusing, let's cover that off first.

The obvious question you might be asking at this point is why would you change the aperture or the shutter speed, rather than let the camera do it all for you on AUTO? Well it puts you in control of the type of image that you take, rather than pointing and shooting, you are determining the outcome and can get creative. Probably the whole reason you splashed out and bought a bridge or SLR camera rather than sticking with a compact. (Some compact cameras do allow you to set the aperture and shutter speed and all this applies to those too!)

So, first of all, why would you want to change the aperture? Have you ever wondered how you get that amazing soft focus, blurred areas in a photograph, whilst the point of focus is still completely sharp, like in the picture of the baby? Aperture, that's how! Set a low aperture like f/2.8 (which crazily is a big opening in the lens) and you'll get a lovely soft background. This makes your subject stand out nice and crisp and opens up a whole world of creativity. This is also called a narrow or shallow Depth of Field.

If you set a high aperture number like f/16+ then your image will be in focus from front to back. Typically you might do this with landscapes. And whilst you're in control of the aperture, your camera is setting the right shutter speed to get the exposure right.

So, what about shutter speed? This is how long the opening in the lens is open for and it can be anything from the tiniest fraction of a second through to several seconds. If you select a fast shutter speed any movement is frozen - anything higher than 1/500th of a second is considered quite fast. Slow shutter speeds blur movement and can be used to great creative effect. If you use a slow shutter speed - anything less than 1/60th of a second, you need to rest the camera on a flat surface or use a tripod to avoid camera shake.

I started off this blog by saying that aperture and shutter speed work together to get the right exposure. In order for a picture to be correctly exposed the opening in the lens needs to let in enough light onto the camera sensor. If you have selected a small opening, then it needs to stay open longer than if you selected a large opening - simple isn't it?!

But sometimes there simply isn't enough available light to do what you want to do. A situation I've faced a number of times is photographing a child running along a forest path, where the overhead canopy of leaves has reduced the amount of light. The camera is on its lowest aperture setting (biggest opening in the lens), but the shutter speed is still too slow to freeze the child's movement. I don't want to use the flash as it's so flattening and it wouldn't reach the child anyway. But there's another option available to me, thank goodness - the third part of the Exposure Triangle, the ISO setting.

ISO determines how sensitive to light the camera's sensor is. In the olden days of film (!) you could buy reels of film that were more or less sensitive to light and your digital camera's ISO setting is the equivalent of this. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light. So in nice bright conditions you use a low ISO number - 80-200 and in duller conditions you could use a higher one like 800+.

When you use a high ISO number you will find that your shutter speed increases - yay! The only downside to high ISO numbers is that you can get a grainy effect in your images. It depends on your camera how pronounced this is. Top end cameras handle high ISOs well, whereas compact cameras can be notoriously bad. If you leave the ISO set on AUTO the camera will decide what to do for you. Call me a control freak but I prefer to know what it's doing!

So there you have the three settings that make sure your pictures are correctly exposed:

Shutter Speed

And I've even created a handy Exposure Triangle diagram to help you remember it all!

Click on the image to see a larger version
I can bring all this to life for you in a bespoke one to one photography class, tailored to your requirements. To find out more or to book click here.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Learn how to take great photographs for your blog, Pinterest and online shops (photography course Cheshire)

Calling all bloggers...and eBay and Etsy sellers, in fact anyone who regularly posts pictures of their products online and can't call on the services of a professional photographer every day, for obvious reasons. Are you taking your own photographs but getting frustrated and a bit embarrassed because they don't do your yummy product justice?!

I knitted these gorgeous hats for my newborn photography shoots and decided to photograph them for the website. I didn't use any fancy kit - just an entry level SLR and natural daylight  - oh and I used some simple photography basics to get a really nice shot:

I made sure that it was an overcast day - bright sunlight would have killed this shot.

I knew that diagonals make a nice strong composition. And I'd spotted a similar shot in a knitting book which "inspired me".

And I used a zoom lens to make the background nice and blurred.

And that was more or less it, apart from a few simple tweaks on the computer to crop the shot and saturate the colours to make the hats really stand out.

Of course practice makes perfect and I have taken a fair few pictures in my time! But you could do this too, with some simple and practical tips and probably with your existing camera. I offer photography classes on an hourly basis, tailored to your requirements and experience. I'll work with you at your place of work, using your camera and show you how to dramatically improve your photographs.

I charge £40 for the first hour and then £25 for every hour thereafter. This rate includes:
  • A telephone consultation to find out what you are looking to gain from the tuition.
  • A proposed schedule for the session.
  • Travel to and from the your home or another location*.
  • Follow up notes from our session.
There's no truer saying than "A picture is worth a thousand words" and it's well worth investing in a little help to make your products stand out from the crowd.

* I am based in Cheshire and my fee includes travel within 30 miles of CW9. Any distance in excess of this would be charged at 40p per mile.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Booking your holiday? Book a photo course first! (Cheshire Photography Course with Picture It Big)

Click to enlarge

I've been sorting through and editing photographs from last year's holidays, a lovely job to do in January, banishing grey winter skies with blue ones and having all the memories of summer sunshine come flooding back (I'm talking about holidays abroad of course, with sunny days a rarity in the UK last year!).

In June we went to Florida, did Disney and Universal for the first time and then had several days in Naples, chilling out by the pool and on the beach. Needless to say it was an amazing holiday and we have so many great memories... and far too many photographs! Having decided to make a photo book and some collages for the kids' rooms I've been having a hard time deciding which shots to delete and which ones to use.

One disadvantage of the digital camera is there is almost no limit to the amount of images we take - and inevitably we take too many and I'm no exception! But as a professional photographer the vast majority of my shots are, as you'd expect, in focus, well composed and correctly exposed. This makes it hard to delete any but of course it's great to have so many lovely photographs.

I'm just about getting there now, having reduced around 800 photos to more like 300 to include in the photo book. I'm going to ask the kids to select about 50 of their favourite pictures to create a poster sized collage for their rooms. In this way our once in a lifetime holiday will continue to live on in our minds and the photographs won't be hidden away on my hard drive.

If you are planning your holidays for 2013 and would like to learn how to take better photographs, book a one to one session with me. I can tailor the training to your needs, whether you use a camera phone, compact camera or SLR. And if you would like to know how to best edit your pictures and how to create stunning collages and photo books I can show you how to do that too.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


From athlete's foot to apertures

(Bear with me on the title, all will become clear!) I'm hoping that the process of writing this post will help me to see the wood for the trees, put some order of priority on all my projects. I feel like my brain is on overload - in a positive way, when compared to the brain fries I regularly experienced when working full time for someone else. I expected and planned for Jan / Feb to be quiet, particularly with portrait work, and decided to use the time for business planning, web site updates, even taking it a bit easy and getting to the gym occasionally. I'm feeling dragged down at the moment by a feeling that I've not made much, if any, headway on any of these, but logic and ever supportive husband keep telling me otherwise.

Portrait work was non-existent but Spring must be in the air because bookings for March keep coming in - bank balances must be starting to recover from Christmas and the gradual warming temperature and lengthening days are making people emerge from hibernation. And photography jobs involving glass baubles, food and snow kept the wolf only scratching at the door over the last two months.

The new area of business I am pushing this year is photography courses. This is something I find so exciting - combining one passion, photography, with another, training or teaching. A long time before I started taking pictures for a living, I wrote "a jargon free guide to taking better pictures" and had more or less put to bed the portrait section. I've always been excited by the idea of enabling people to improve their photography with some simple, non technical tips and techniques. I spent the last two years of my life as an international marketer developing and running training courses on foot disorders - anything from athlete's foot to verrucas. Despite the unappealing subject matter I got such a buzz from this job and can't wait to get training again. Working on my dad's old adage "if you don't ask, you don't get", I approached a number of local venues and struck gold with Willowpool Garden Centre, Lymm, an absolute Aladdin's cave in terms of photographic subjects. So my first course is booked in and I can't wait to start the marketing and get the course material written.

I've updated areas of the web site and tidied it up a lot, but there's lots more housekeeping to do - I suppose you never actually get up to date with this kind of job. If you've read any of my recent blogs, you'll know that taking it easy never happened and aside from dog walking my keep fit regime doesn't deserve the title! My "quiet period" is officially over and I'm chomping at the bit to get on with March's workload. And I think writing all this down has sort of helped with priorities and self esteem!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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