#BullringAfterDark - One night, One Empty Bullring and lots of Photographers!

I love receiving emails out of the blue inviting me to do something super-cool that I would never normally get the chance to do! A few weeks ago, I got one, 'Would you like to come into the Bullring and shoot it after hours while it's closed?' Well that's a big fat Yes!

Here's Bully...

Here's Bully...

I was slightly apprehensive as I wasn't sure who was going to be there, what we would shoot and to be honest, whether it would even be worth. So when we met at 11.45pm by 'the Bull' and I saw a group of my favourite photographers from Birmingham's growing community, I knew good things were in store (no pun intended!).

We were met by the guys from Bullring who were more than helpful and even went as far as to provide sweets and drinks, presumably to keep the sugar levels up for a long night ahead! We made our way around the outside of the building, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to use tripods (something normally restricted without a permit) and set to work shooting all of the iconic views in this historic part of the city.

Once we had covered every inch of the exterior, we made out way indoors. It was a strange feeling being in such a large shopping centre after hours, something I had only experienced many years ago when I worked in a shop at the Bullring. Needless to say, we all jumped at the opportunity to explore the space, looking for symmetry and shapes that you never normally have time to notice.

We slowly made our way up through the floors and round to 'Link Street' I think it is only when you see the centre closed that the space really hits you, it's cavernous! The group were all well behaved as we explored the levels, though some were a little more adventurous, lying on the floor to shoot the spectacular space above. 

The 'grand finale' was an exploration the Selfridges building. Seeing the shop empty, you really get an appreciation for the size of the place and you can take in it's spectacular balconies and cool crossed escalators. We made our way up to the bar on the top floor which offers great views back down over the West Mall - a must see if you find yourself in the store.

Thanks again to Bullring for allowing us access. Search #BullringAfterDark on social for more images from my fellow photographers...

https://www.bullring.co.uk/

Star Wars Day: May the Fourth be with you!

Who would have thought that a little Sci-Fi film would give us so much joy! If the franchise wasn't great enough, the gift that keeps on giving also birthed one of the internet's great puns. 'May the Fourth be with you' - hewn from the immortal phrase 'May the force be with you' a clever play on, well, the date has given us all an opportunity to celebrate one of the all time best film franchises and for us photographers, a great excuse to play around with Photoshop... Here are a few quick edits, I hope you enjoy them. 

All hail Darth Vader, watch out for the angry Storm Troopers as well! 

All hail Darth Vader, watch out for the angry Storm Troopers as well! 

Paradise Lost... to AT-AT...

Paradise Lost... to AT-AT...

'Tram back to Wendsbury shall I get'...

'Tram back to Wendsbury shall I get'...

'The next train from Platform 11b will be calling at Northfield, Longbridge and the Death Star'...

'The next train from Platform 11b will be calling at Northfield, Longbridge and the Death Star'...

Nobody sits at the back of the bus when R2D2 is around! 

Nobody sits at the back of the bus when R2D2 is around! 

C-3P0 & R2D2 hitting up Bambu on a Saturday night...

C-3P0 & R2D2 hitting up Bambu on a Saturday night...

Birmingham's 2025 transport system will include 'Millennium Falcon'.... 

Birmingham's 2025 transport system will include 'Millennium Falcon'.... 

These images were inspired by the awesome work of Thomas Dagg, please make sure you check out his work so you see how a real pro does it! http://www.thomasdagg.com/ - #StarWarsDay #MayTheFourth 

'I Love Jewellery Quarter' Instameet with IgersBirmingham

If there are two things I love it's the local photography community and the Jewellery Quarter. So when the two things met, well 'instameeted'(?) I knew good things would come of it. The guys from IgersBirmingham teamed up with JQ BID to arrange a special kind of instameet that would allow 100+ local photographers access to some award winning businesses. 

You can watch the highlights below but it goes without saying that it was a pleasure to see all the 'usual suspects' as well as a host of new faces who all added to what was a fantastic day! A big thank you goes to IgersBirmingham for putting on another amazing event, JQ BID for being great hosts, all of the businesses that opened their doors and Rebel Uncut for letting me steal their drone footage! 

Finding out you're not that good after all...

I love to try new things and when it comes to photography, I am happy to go out and shoot 'whatever'. So when I saw that IgersBirmingham had teamed up with Street Photography legend Kris Askey to do a talk/walk around Birmingham, I was all over it. 

For those that may not know, Street Photography is the art (and it is an art!) of capturing unique scenes in everyday life, sometimes humorous, sometimes emotional but generally, it's documenting what is happening all around us everyday. Street Photography, when done right, is amazingly captivating and gives us a real insight into 'those little moments' that are there for a split second and then gone.

Kris is an expert at capturing them and it goes without saying that you should go and check his work out. He has pretty much single-handedly started a bit of a movement of street work within our city and a quick flick through Instagram shows that there are plenty of people out there trying their hand at what, on paper, should be straight forward enough.

On the day of the meet, I was pretty excited to get out and give it a go. Having done little bits here and there, I knew it could be challenging but after a very compelling half-hour talk by Kris about his journey into Street Photography and some very useful tips on achieving great results, I was pretty certain that I was going to very quickly become the greatest Street Photographer that ever lived, ever. 

Armed with my trusty, partially broken Ricoh GR, I set to the streets and started firing at anything that moved, people on bikes 'click', people in coffee shops, 'click', old women 'click', homeless guys 'click click click'... I stopped and looked back through my shots and something wasn't right, they looked nothing like Kris' or any of the other Street Photographers I had seen, they were, well rubbish.

I quickly deleted all my shots, changed some settings and went in for round 2! Several 'clicks' later and I dared to view the images again, they were somehow worse! I felt more miserable than the weather, which I had convinced myself was ruining my shots, so I went into New Street Station in the hope of getting some gold! Click, click, click... Utter rubbish, it was clearly my camera's fault!

By now, it was time to head back to our meeting point where there would be a 'live edit' of a couple of the photos that people had shot. I sheepishly walked in and slipped my camera away and slumped into my chair as Kris asked if anyone would share their pictures... Street Photography was more difficult than I thought, this was more than just an 'off day', it was a big punch right in the ego!

I'm a little embarrassed to post my pictures as, quite frankly, they're terrible. However, this is the thing, you don't just wake up one day and become the world's best dot dot dot... To be good at anything takes time, effort and commitment. I also think some people are a little too quick to try and apply some deep & meaningful context to a shot that, realistically has none... My point? Some things are harder than they seem and you can't be good at everything, so either be honest and say it's not for you or get out there and practice! 

Kris Askey - krisaskey.com/  |  IgersBirmingham - igersbirmingham.co.uk/

10 Times Birmingham has been the most Beautiful City in the UK

OK, so I may be a little bias, but at times I honestly think that Birmingham may be the most beautiful city in the UK. I know that a lot of people will disagree but bear with me and I will prove my point! Birmingham has long been depicted as a grey, concrete mongrel of a city and in part, that is true. Birmingham owes a lot to it’s industrial past and should not be ashamed of it, in fact, it should celebrate it.

However, the huge amount of development going on it the city stands testament to it’s progressive nature. Anyway, I digress. You don’t need to be a photographer to understand that at the right time of day, in the right light, our city looks beautiful and can easily compete with any major city in the UK in terms of it’s aesthetic appeal. It may not have the beautiful Georgian streets of Bath or the ultra-modern skyscrapers of the capital, but it does have it’s own unique character and that goes a long way.

1) Bullring at Sunrise

Now this may be a little bit of an obvious choice as it was my ‘break through’ image and the one that really got me a lot of attention, but look at it, it’s a beautiful view! This shot has been done a thousand times a thousand different ways and rightly so, as it is one of the most appealing views in the city. An early morning stroll through the Bullring is a must and if you catch a good sunrise, it’s generally spectacular.

2) Gas Street Basin in Winter

Another image that you’ve probably seen before is a shot back across Gas Street Basin. Birmingham owes a lot to it’s canal network that fed it’s industrial past. These days, it plays home to many canal-side bars and restaurants (more of that later) but it is also an incredibly popular waterway and commonly plays home to dozens of canal barges that make for a pretty nice image.

3) Edgbaston Reservoir

It is hard to believe that this view is just a few minutes out of the City Centre and you would be forgiven for believing you have been transported to a beautiful countryside spot. If you are lucky enough to visit the reservoir in Winter you will normally be treated to a beautiful frosty scene and if you get a good sunrise, there are not many better places to be in the city.

4) Moor Street Station

Birmingham has it’s fair share of major train stations from the recently redeveloped New Street Station, to the ‘long over-due a facelift’ Snowhill Station, but by far the most attractive of the lot is Moor Street Station. Although it is a busy station, it has a been lovingly renovated with more than just a nod to it’s past, including beautiful signage and authentic touches throughout. It even has a disused piece of track that just adds to the nostalgic feel.

5) Brindley Place Canals

As mentioned before, Birmingham’s canals now play host to many bars and restaurants that prove hugely popular all year round. A Summer’s stroll along the canal is a treat, stopping for an icy cold cider along the way. Equally, in Winter, the mist covered canals look mesmerising and transport you back in time, but with easier access to burgers and cocktails!

6) The Big Wheel

We couldn’t talk about the beauty of the city without acknowledging the annual city centre takeover that is the Frankfurt Christmas Market. Although it is positively Marmite when it comes to dividing opinion, it is difficult to ignore it’s impact. For photographers, it’s is a veritable goldmine of potential and probably the centerpiece being the huge ‘Birmingham Wheel’. However, finding new ways of picturing it brings it’s own challenges.

7) Aston Expressway

How can Aston Expressway be beautiful? OK, even I admit this one is a stretch of the imagination but I challenge anyone to not love the occasional ‘long exposure’ shot of the traffic (actually) moving through the city. Another example of how a unique perspective on the city can prove that it is more visually appealing than first imagined.

8) Stephenson Street

Birmingham is certainly a mix of ‘the old and the new’ and rarely is that so evidential than the view along Stephenson Street. With the modern, metal clad New Street Station on the left and the historic buildings on the right, it shows the constant juxtaposition that is found all across the city. Even the freshly laid tram tracks are a huge nod to the past, albeit with it’s cool new modern trams shuffling people around the city.

9) Victoria Statue

If the City Centre does one thing well, it’s big open spaces. From Centenary Square, through to the Bullring and beyond, one thing Birmingham can not be accused of is being cramped. The centerpiece is Victoria Square where Victoria herself stands proudly. Whilst the redevelopment of Paradise Circus continues and the gaping hole left by the demolition of the Old Library, the sun sets just behind ‘old Vic’ and makes for a pleasant image of the cities main open space.

10) Skyline at Sunset

It may not be Manhattan but to millions of people, the Birmingham Skyline is iconic. The Rotunda, BT Tower and even more modern structures such as Beetham Tower and the Slefridges building are instantly recognisable.

Long gone are the days when it was easy to criticise Birmingham and yes, it is a little rough around the edges. However, I hope these images go someway to show that Birmingham can be beautiful and we should be proud of our city. After all, there is no other city out there quite like Birmingham!  

Camera or iPhone? It's all just Apples and Oranges...

You've probably noticed by now that I'm a fairly active member of Birmingham's photographic community. However, this isn't so that I can turn up and talk about myself! I genuinely use every meet up as an excuse to try something new and see if I can actually learn something. So when the wonderfully talented Kris Askey announced that he was partnering with Apple to do a photo-walk around Birmingham, I was definitely in!

The focus of the day was to capture 'Ordinary Life' in Birmingham and with Kris leading the way, that is exactly what we tried to do. After meeting at Apple's very impressive store on New Street, Kris shared some fantastic tips and advice before hitting the streets. Being an Apple event, the focus was on shooting with iPhones and being a 6s owner, I had no excuse not to! 

The weather had brightened up outside and we made our way along Corporation Street, trying to capture the ordinary. Shooting with a phone instantly set me a few challenges, not least of all was trying to look discreet! Holding a phone at head height and virtually chasing old ladies down the street was never a good approach, so I tried a little sneaky shooting instead.

The next biggest challenge was 'seeing' a shot. I love 'people watching' and this is effectively what we were doing. Kris had shared some great tips on composition and framing techniques and as we all got warmed up, it was clear that he knew what he was talking about as shots slowly started to appear. It's amazing how these little scenes play out each day and we barely even notice, learning how to 'see' them and even anticipate them is definitely a skill! 

I found myself missing my zoom lens and as Kris rightly taught us to 'zoom with our feet' - I found that I needed to be more confident in actually getting close enough to people to frame a shot the way that I wanted. Going out of your comfort zone like this is a real challenge but this is where the real 'learning' happens. We made our way around Victoria Square, down to New Street Station and back to the Apple store.

The group then had some time to edit the photos and once again, Kris and the guys from Apple were on hand to share tips and techniques. The group (around 15 of us) took turns to share our images on the big screen and discuss why we shot what we shot. The shots were incredible and also incredibly diverse, yet each one perfectly capturing one of Birmingham's little moments, never to be captured again.

Reflection-Edit.jpg

Looking back at the images, I was really impressed with the results achieved by the iPhone. I normally carry a little 'compact camera' on a day-to-day basis but looking at the results achieved by everyone, this almost becomes pointless as the phones can definitely hold their own. Looking at little closer at the final images (100% crop!) I don't think I'll be throwing my DSLR out of the window just yet, but for capturing a quick image, I will definitely be reaching for my phone more often! After all, the best camera is the one you have with you at the time!

You can find out how Kris shot the day HERE and be sure to follow him on his social channels to see more of his brilliant Street and Portrait work and in particular, his upcoming exhibition which will be a must-see! 

Sunrise? I think I mist it...

Someone once said something quite profound about 'best-laid plans' and after planning an early morning sunrise shoot for the weekend, it suddenly rang true. The Friday had been one of those beautiful Winter's days where it was sunny, yet with a definite chill in the air to keep you on your toes! After checking my weather apps, Saturday look good around sunrise and when a couple friends asked if I would be up for an early morning shoot, the answer was a resounding 'Yes'.

Sunrise above Birmingham New Street Station from Grand Central

Sunrise above Birmingham New Street Station from Grand Central

We planned on meeting on top of the Grand Central car park to get a shot looking back across New Street Stations spectacular roof, beyond the Rotunda and out towards where the sun would rise from. We agreed to meet at 7.30am and I got there for about 7.25, a good 40 minutes before sunrise. I started grabbing some images to capture the warm oranges and purples in the morning sky but couldn't help notice the big band of cloud across the horizon- a photographer's nightmare!

By 7.35am when Fraser, Jon and Martin met me on the top floor, the sky had lost all of it's colour and had been covered by a thick blanket of low cloud - it had literally changed that quickly! What had been intended as a nice glorious sunrise had now become a dull, grey washout. However, determined not to waste our early start, we planned on walking along the canals to Gas Street Basin in the hope of capturing some atmospheric images. 

One of the biggest challenges with photography is the weather, learning to adapt to different situations is essential and we could easily have called it all off and gone for a fry-up, which was a mighty tempting idea indeed. When we reached Gas Street Basin, it was well worth our perseverance. The mist added a new layer of interest, by obscuring many of the buildings in the distance and adding emphasis to the things in the foreground. 

Another added bonus to shooting at that time of day is how quiet it is, with the occasional jogger or dog-walking breaking the silence as they come by. The absence of people makes for a nice image but finding a solitary figure emerging from the mist makes for a very nice image indeed. We made our way around past the ICC, Barclay Card Arena and round to the Birmingham Canal Old Line. It always amazes me how a few minutes walking can seemingly transport you out of the City Centre and into a typical 'rural' image, if you look beyond the maisonettes and concrete walls that line the edges of the canal.

We made our way back through the ICC, passed the library and spent a few minutes capturing images by the 'Paradise' development. A solitary man in a hat made for a great street image as he crossed the path behind the Paradise development and must have felt like a celebrity as we all rushed to take his picture, shutters firing away. Breakfast was calling though so we decided to head back towards Grand Central and grab some food on the way.

Victoria emerging from the fog in Victoria Square, Birmingham

Victoria emerging from the fog in Victoria Square, Birmingham

There was just time for one final shot and probably my favourite from the day as we passed Victoria Square and saw Victoria herself standing proud with the Council House shrouded in fog behind her. The image looks very nostalgic and if it were not for the crane in the background, it looks like it could have been taken a hundred years ago. As we devoured our breakfast we flicked through our cameras and were generally pretty pleased with the outcome. It just goes to show that a little perseverence can often pay off. 

Birmingham's Growing Photography Community

One of the biggest challenges in photography is that it really helps if you are a 'people person'. Whether you are just shooting for fun or if you want to make a serious career from it, at some point you are going to need to interact with clients, contractors and the general public. This can be a real challenge and if you are a little shy, like me, it can be a real barrier!

Birmingham Skyline + Photographers = Instameet!

Birmingham Skyline + Photographers = Instameet!

Photography is naturally a solitary pursuit and that suits the introvert down to the ground. However, if you want anyone to see your images and get feedback, you need to start interacting with people. Friends and family will always tell you that your pictures are the best thing since sliced bread. This is dangerous, I lived off these kind of compliments for way too long and only when I got some honest 'they're a bit rubbish' feedback, did I really get my act together and try to improve!

So what if there was some amazing way that like-minded people could get together and discuss images, share tips and generally chat about photography? Well they do exist, in fact, Birmingham is awash with them! We are fortunate to live in a city that has a strong creative sector which celebrates local talent and actively aims to assist those that want to learn. Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter are creative hot spots where you can't walk down the street without tripping over new trendy start-ups. 

Instagram has changed the photographic landscape and done more than just make photography accessible to the masses, it has made it a genuinely 'cool' activity. More people than ever are understanding the subtle rules behind creating an image rather than merely 'taking a snap'! Even the major players on social media (Birmingham Updates, IChooseBirmingham, Independent Birmingham, Brumpic etc.) actively promote local talent and regularly share some amazing pictures of our city from the local photographic community.

All of this sounds great but there is one final bonus, the real 'cherry on top' which is that 99% of people I have met, are genuinely nice people. Many of these people, I now class as close friends and enjoy socialising with (even when we leave the cameras at home!). I was at an 'Instameet' organised by IgersBirmingham at the weekend and it was genuinely amazing to meet up with people that I haven't seen in a while and also get to know a few people who were attending for the first time. 

We are very lucky to live in a city that celebrates creativity and the photography community is incredible. Everyday there are new names springing up and providing spectacular new ways of seeing our city and the suburbs. Whether you are just starting out with photography or an old-hand, I would strongly suggest getting involved in one (or more) of the local groups (Instagram is a good place to start) and sharing your experiences with like minded people. If you're really unlucky, you may even bump into me at one!