Group photography

I’ve been employed to do some group photographs for a couple of clients recently. There are challenges to groups, especially if you’re the sort of photographer, as I am, that aims to capture documentary-style candid shots and tends to avoid set-ups like the plague! One of my biggest influences is photographer Shirley Baker who insisted her photographs were never posed, saying that she shot around the people in her images. What’s more, in everyday life, I tend to find it easier to relate to one or two people at a time rather than large numbers. However, group shots can be fun and families, especially, love to have them for – but they take a little planning. Things to consider might be, can everyone be seen and lit, is there enough space, is it possible to create variety of heights? If not, how can these challenges be overcome?

A friend of mine sent me a picture he’d taken on a school trip. In it, you can see about 20 or so 11-year-olds sitting on a wall and the steps in front of a church. Plenty of space! They are separated into smaller groups. Sometimes hands and arms are linked. Other times, individuals lean nonchalantly against the wall. Various levels were achieved. It was taken on his phone on cloudy day so the lighting is even and just right for the shot. Different characters emerge from the various ways in which each child has been captured and yet they’re a clear collective. It’s a wonderful photograph because there is a freedom in it that can be tricky for paid photographers to capture. I must let my friend know how much I like that picture – he’d be pleased!

In preparation, as well as thinking about amateur shots I like, I have also been revisiting famous photographers. Of course, Annie Leibowitz springs to mind, and you can see her group work analysed here, which is helpful, although one risks being bogged down. While Leibowitz’s covers for Vanity Fair have become iconic and she’s definitely a good reference point, it’s important to recall that she shoots the whole picture over several days, capturing two or three subjects at a time, and then stitches them together with the rest of the crowd in Photoshop. I once read someone describe her style as fascistic… which isn’t quite what most families are after, although I can think of one or two corporate clients who might like that kind of thing. Either way, I think I prefer to look at Irving Penn’s groups shots. His photograph of famous New York cartoonists and another of famous photographers (all male, unfortunately) are great to study if you’re planning a group shot of your own.

I’ll have my work cut out for me at my next job where I’ll be required to capture about fifteen very large group shots in a relatively short space of time with minimal lighting! Let’s hope I’ll be channeling Irving Penn on the day, but I shan’t forget to recall the super shot my friend shared with me either. In the meantime, here’s one I took several years ago during a family shoot that I’ve always really liked.

A favourite – an impromptu family group shot I took a few years ago. (c)SFurniss (Formerly Sarah-Jane Field)

Portraits – Young male

I have been reading a book by an art critic, who, while conjuring up a thought experiment, contrives to remove all people from all photography. And at the end of a protracted passage where he eradicates everything he professes to be disinterested in in photography, he arrives at images of blank paper on a desk as the only worthwhile consideration. (In fact, the work he refers to ultimately is intriguing and intelligent, and has had a significant impact on the way I think about photography).

I have not mentioned the writer’s name, nor the photographer he highlights as worthy because, while they both matter in certain aspects of my life, what is critical here is that people photography, and in particular portrait photography, is my favourite kind. If I were to do the same thought exercise as the aforementioned critic, I’d get rid of landscapes and still life, and maybe even journalistic images with people running this way or that – and only ever take portraits; the sort where one person and I get together and spend a bit of time with my camera, and not much else. No props, no lights – just the ambient light, perhaps a stool, and the ‘field’ – the space between the subject and me. It will come as no surprise that I very much enjoyed photographing the young man below last week. I hope he also enjoyed the experience and I’m looking forward to more portrait shoots soon!

(c)SFurniss2021 (formerly SJField)

A Wedding at the County Arms in Wandsworth

I know I am in a similar boat to many other photographers who have endured a year and a half of barely any events to photograph! However, I am happy to say that work is beginning to trickle back. And what better way to reintroduce myself to the wedding scene than to share this beautiful occasion. Liz and Bayly are a wonderfully thoughtful, kind couple who went out of their way to hire local contractors and make their intimate wedding an opportunity to support local business, as well as celebrate their vows with close family and friends. Thank you to both of them for sharing their day with me and allowing me to share it with you. Below are a handful of moments from the event, some of which I’ll definitely be adding to my website.

In the meantime, do enjoy these pictures of this lovely family having a wonderful wedding in Wandsworth!






All images ©SFurniss2021 (formerly SJField)

Photographer: Working with the ​charity, Just Shelter

As some followers of this blog will be aware, for several years I’ve been documenting trips to Northern France with London-based charity Just Shelter, who raise money, collect necessary items and organise educational activities for displaced children in France. For others, it might come as a surprise to hear that people are still living precariously in Calais and Dunkirk. The well-publicised Jungle closed in 2016 but families and individuals have continued to arrive in the area and many are existing without any of the basics most of us take for granted.

Donated toys are washed and books sorted in a warehouse in Calais before being given to children and families. Another warehouse nearby continues to provide food for people in need. (2020)

Over the last few years, I have focused on landscapes which aim to mark the passing of time, as well as the Just Shelter’s activities, and when appropriate I’ve photographed people we met. Cameras and displaced individuals are not a great mix, but one of Just Shelter’s aims is to remind people that there are still many in need as well as busy, underfunded, volunteer organisations providing support.

This weekend was the first time I accompanied Just Shelter after a break of several months, and it was distressing to see that, although some things have shifted, the situation is not improving. One is left wondering if it ever will. Today, as we remember some of the worst events from of our history, we can reflect on the way people are being treated in the US and across Europe, and consider the lack of empathy evidenced by Parliamentarians recently who voted not to reunite refugee children with family members in the UK.

Images of a workshop run by teachers with Just Shelter and volunteers from Project Play this weekend with children who really enjoyed the games and maths lessons provided. (2020)

To donate or offer support please visit Just Shelter’s Facebook page. You can find out more about Project Play here. 

All images (c)SJField2016-20

 

South London Photography: Headshots and other portraits

My first love with photography is portraiture. It always has been. And since taking up photography I have enjoyed the process of spending time with people, getting to know them relatively quickly and capturing an authentic quality about them in my camera. However, there is something quite satisfying about photographing people I already know well, like one of my oldest friends, Trudi Jackson, who also happens to be a talented actor. Trudi was recently kind enough to let me work with her for longer than I normally do when shooting headshots. Poor woman must have been exhausted after our day, which of course included a couple of breaks, (I’m not a total tyrant!) during which we fetched her daughter from school and ballet. And who, lucky for me, is equally obliging. Working with Trudi for an extended period gave me plenty of opportunity to play and learn, so I was grateful for her time, and her daughter’s too, of course!

Here are a handful of head shots with some very different looks, chosen by Trudi’s agent, followed by portraits for my own purposes including a couple of the future talent that is Ms. L, who may well follow in her mum’s footsteps by the looks of things.

(c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Not quite singing in it, but certainly enjoying the rain!

Clients always tells me they hope for lovely weather when we have shoots, but don’t completely write off rainy days for photography. The light is generally much nicer and easier to manage than when it’s bright, and cloud cover is a brilliant diffuser. I’m not sure the kids are quite as enthusiastic as me, and perhaps if it had been a bit more stormy this morning they’d have had something to say about being dragged up to Wimbledon Common. Nevertheless, they were content enough to go for a walk in the drizzle, providing hot chocolate and marshmallows were on the agenda, and even let me grab a few snaps of them as I we did. Here are a handful. (That’s my woolly hat, he’s wearing, by the way…)

Despite the weather there are definite signs of spring in the air! And to celebrate I am currently offering a 5% discount off the cost of a family shoot (as specified on my site, valid until the end of April, T&Cs apply.) Get in touch for more information.

Have a great week. SJ x

Images (c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Dunkirk

I was incredibly pleased Just Shelter invited me to accompany them on Saturday to the Dunkirk Refugee’s Children Centre again, and I’m grateful to all involved for allowing me to document the day. Since first going to the Jungle in Calais in December 2015 I have been mindful of respecting people’s privacy and have avoided posting images of recognisable faces online. However, a part of me really wishes I could share more of the images I took this weekend, but of course safe-guarding means that isn’t possible. If it were you would see children just like yours and mine, playing, laughing and enjoying a fantastic day. We are all used to seeing some incredibly powerful images in the news, as journalists cover the crisis, but often those images emphasise and re-inforce difference. During all of my trips to northern France I have tried to focus on aspects which I recognise as deeply human regardless of any of the categorisations we apply to each other. For example, an innate creative response in all and every social group. This morning, as I looked through and edited photos from Saturday, it was extremely clear the children I photographed in Dunkirk and those I might be employed to capture in south London are exactly the same. Although the former aren’t living surrounded by all that we take for granted, they are just kiddies doing what kids do. The people who set up and run the Children’s Centre in Dunkirk have done a fantastic job making that a possibility.

If I could show some of those other photos I took, the ones with faces, you would see joy in the smiles of the girls who had been singing and dancing to Let it Go from Frozen several times, just like my friends’ daughters might have done, before playing All About That Bass as loudly as they were allowed to. You’d see the eager faces of toddlers who enjoy showing off artwork or toys they are particularly fond of. And perhaps you’d be able to recognise and connect with the physicality of the little boy who skipped through the camp in exactly the same way my own four-year-old son does routinely. The delicious hysterical laughter triggered by Earlsfield based performer, Jake Rodrigues, was, as always, wonderful to hear. Perhaps one of the best things from the day was the genuine, utterly spontaneous laughter from so many young children, and we were rewarded with plenty of it. Jake thoroughly entertained everyone, including a journalist who insisted on joining him with a guitar he somehow found during the second half of the day, which led to an impromptu mini-gig for all. I’d hope that rather than difference my photos would show you how very similar we all are. But even though we had such a lovely time the seriousness of the situation could not and should not be ignored. For instance, you can’t help but notice the rashes and bites some children have on their skin, an inevitable and common problem in refugee camps, as it would be for anyone living in cramped conditions without adequate facilities. I have nothing but admiration for any parent living under such conditions while bringing up their children.

During our time in Dunkirk, it was very hard to conceive of anyone wishing those children harm, or of being unable and unwilling to offer sanctuary; yet there they are, stuck with their families in a refugee camp that is woefully inadequate, despite being a far cry from the first Dunkirk camp, shut down last year. The officials who allowed the current camp to be built have done so with some risk to their political careers and should be applauded for that at least. Even so, families are in dire circumstances and the help they receive is deeply appreciated. I know Just Shelter and the Children’s Centre have expressed their huge thanks for all support they receive.

Just Shelter are hosting a coffee morning on 10th March in Earlsfield at 9.15am to raise awareness, garner any further interest and help, as well as raise funds or donations. I will be giving a short talk and showing some more photographs from my various trips to the area. Please get in touch if with me or Just Shelter if you are interested. Numbers are limited so don’t leave it too late.

Best, SJ

Views my own.

Images (c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Colours

As we head towards the end of the year I have just a couple more images that I’m re-sharing. I took this one in the late summer sunshine towards the end of the afternoon as I walked home with the boys along our local high-street. I saw the way the light was falling on a red and blue wall across the road and was really struck by the richness of the colours, made more so by the evening glow, so we all carefully crossed over. The shadows meant that when my eldest son stood by the wall he wasn’t quite tall enough, and I was also holding on to my bike at the time so it was all very awkward –  but as I was trying to work out a good picture this man walked right into my frame which was lucky because the resulting photograph was much more interesting that anything I was consciously trying to capture. I  do love the grey diffused light we’ve got so very much of at the moment but there is something wonderful about long shadows and sunlight so I’m always on the lookout for pictures to take under those circumstances. This is certainly in my short-list of favourites from this year and I was grateful to have captured it.

I have just a little bit of editing to do now and then that’s it for me this pre-Xmas with work stuff. Hope everyone else is winding down now too. I’m so looking forward to a bit of a rest and plan to do as little as possible for a few days!

(c)SJField 2016

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South London Photographer: Last minute shopping

I don’t really get the thing where people manage to start buying Christmas presents six months in advance. Thankfully I only have a few people to buy for as I’ve yet to do my Christmas shopping, and looking at my diary I’m not entirely sure when that is going to happen. Let’s hope I can avoid a frenzied assault in a state of angry panic in the local toyshop sometime after lunch on the 24th. I have friends who have dozens of cousins and nieces and nephews, all of whom need something. Surely a Secret Santa is preferable in that case! If you’re like me and have left it until the very last minute, and have no idea what to get, how about a voucher for a family shoot?  You can choose between a relaxed session where we aim to capture some images of everyone in a favourite place or at home, or something more planned where a family and I will work together to create an image over a period of time that is deliberately made to say something about you and your loved ones. Visit my site for more information or get in touch via email or phone.

Here are a few images from a recent shoot I did where we took a few photographs in the family home and then headed to Merton Hall in Wimbledon.

Happy shopping or whatever else you do at this time of the year.

(c)SJField 2016

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South London Photographer: More favourites

This image, as so many of mine are, was taken on my phone as we sailed back across the channel after our summer holiday, and is definitely high up the list of my favourite shots for 2016. As soon as I saw the round windows on the ferry and the lovely light I knew I had to try and get a shot. I must be honest, I had a go on the way out but the little darlings wouldn’t sit still long enough, they were so excited. Thankfully for me they were so knackered on the way back I got my chance. I ended up with two I love and perhaps I will post the other as we move towards the end of the year. I edited this in Snapseed and Instagram and used the Ludwig filter. If I use a filter at all, then that is the one I’m most likely to go for.  Some people can be little bit snooty about filters, but they have their place and are part of the fun of Instagram so best not to worry too much about that. In fact, let’s not get bogged down by any sort of snobbery or elitism. In my experience it can be horribly limiting.  I often reduce filters to about 20% but I think I kept this one fairly high because I like the colours it produced. Have fun!

(c)SJField 2016

Processed with Snapseed.