My First Stranger.

Yesterday, I attended a workshop hosted by the talented Lou O’Bedlam. Although I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, I was getting inspired. Not only was I getting inspired to take more picutres, I was getting inspired to focus on stepping out of my comfort zone and going after my dreams.

Lou talked about recently teaching his nephew how to ask a girl out. His advice was simple: “Just ask her”. His nephew replied, “But then what would I say?”. “Woah!, that’s phase 2, don’t worry about that. Focus on phase 1: Asking her”.

The analogy was straight forward enough and was advice for us as photographers if we want to take pictures of the strangers we meet in the street. The worst that can happen is they can say no.

I took my camera to work today determined I would simply take pictures of all the interesting people I met. Throughout the day I saw several ideal candidates. But I can’t ask her, she has headphones on. She’s walking too fast, must be in a rush. The light’s not right. He doesn’t look friendly. She’s too tall, I’d have to climb something to get the right angle, but she’ll think I’m just trying to take a picture of her boobs… My brain found an excuse in an instant for all of them. The truth was that I was a big scared wimp.

I went out again, on my own this evening to walk around the harbour specifically to see if I could pluck up the courage to ask someone if I could take their portrait. All too soon, my opportunities were missed and the sun had set so I headed home dragging my heels. On the way however I saw a girl with an amazing look and I went for it so spontaneously that I surprised myself.


She looks startled. I mean, very startled. It’s quite late and there are only one or two other people around. I panic a little and start to blurt out my words at record pace (the opposite of Lou’s advice):

“Erm, I know this is a bit random, but you have a really pretty and interesting face, do you mind if  take your picture?”

She’s still startled, perhaps so much so she can’t think of a better answer:

“Um, yeah, ok”

What? She said yes. Christ, now I’m gonna have to take this thing, where’s the light? It’s about 9:45pm and getting dark. I don’t want to use flash. I slap the camera on aperture priority to f/1.8 and cross my fingers.


Blurry, damn.

I glance up and can see she wants to leave. She heard a click and I only asked for a photo. I can’t remember what I then said, some mumbling nonsense about grain and ISO settings probably. I quickly knock the ISO up to 800.


I eyeball the screen, blurry? Probably. Good enough? Yes!

“Thanks so much for letting me take them. I can see I’m freaking you out a bit so I’m just gonna go the long way home over this way so you don’t think I’m following you. Er.. thanks again.”

I start to scuttle off, feeling awful for scaring the poor girl then hear a feint “Cheers”. Maybe she’s just a little shocked, but flattered. I wanted to give her my card so she could at least choose to email me if she wanted to see the photos but I forgot. I didn’t even tell her my name, or ask her hers. The whole thing was a nightmare display of clumsy social awkwardness that would make any observer cringe. Did I step out of my comfort zone? Yes. Did I learn about 50 things in as many seconds? Yes. None of that matters, that’s just perfecting phase 2. I’ll work on that tomorrow…

Buying Your First SLR

I get asked the following question quite a lot:

I want to buy an SLR, what one shall I get?

In my software engineering life, clients often approach me with a description of software they want me to write. What you really want is for them to describe the problems they are having that need to be solved. That way you might be able to design a better (simpler) solution. I’m sure it applies to every discipline, but a simple method for finding out the root problem is to just ask Why? a lot.

The trouble is, I get asked this question quite a lot and asking Why? to everyone multiple times takes too long so I’m just going to ask them all here as a default response to future question askers…

  • Are you actually interested in photography? If you are and you’re willing to learn how to use it properly, getting an SLR is a great idea. If your rationale is that you think it’ll just take better pictures on “auto” then I’m afraid it doesn’t. You really have to learn how to use an SLR before it’ll start giving you better pictures.
  • Most SLRs don’t shoot video (although they are starting to). Is this important?
  • What do you want to do that a compact camera does not do?
  • Do you want an SLR because you want a special camera for taking high quality photos?
  • Would you use it as your only camera? Would you be happy carrying a big lump of camera everywhere you currently take a compact? In reality, you may end up taking fewer pictures than if you just took a quick compact everywhere. Is this acceptable?
Here are some tips should you just want to go ahead and buy one…
  • I’d say choice is between Canon and Nikon (some argue Sony but I wouldn’t). Lenses and flashes etc. are not interchangeable between brands, so whichever one you pick, you’re kinda stuck with forever. (I’m on team Canon).
  • Good lenses are quite pricey. You can just get the body with a kit lens (probably about ~18-55mm range) and that’ll be fine for most situations. “Kit lens” basically means a cheap entry-level lens but you get a lot of bang-for-buck.
  • Consider buying second-hand. My first SLR (Canon 400D) is now half the price I paid for it 3 years ago. I’m not sure if that’s the average rate of camera depreciation (I couldn’t find any stats, can anyone else?) but it still takes good photos.
  • If buying new, don’t listen to sales guy that says you need a UV filter to protect the lens or some special insurance policy. Save your money, you should just be careful with it.
  • Ignore features like megapixels / max ISO / shutter rate etc. when comparing. This is just a sale arms race and they’re all more than good enough. Go in a shop, pick one up. More important features are: Does it feel comfy in your hand? Do you like the screen size/res/contrast? Does it focus quickly & quietly between dark objects in foreground & background? Is it too heavy/light?
  • Stating the obvious, but read some reviews online.
  • I buy all my stuff in Bristol Cameras on the top of corn street. Decent prices and it’s nice to be able to take something back rather than post (not needed to yet, touch wood).
If you pick a camera or get stuck between the final two choices, please ask me again…

Bristol Bike Rental scheme comes to an end…

Bristol have been trialling a bike rental scheme for about a year and I had high hopes for it. I paid my £20 in support of the scheme even though there were no bike stations in the places I needed them. I feel if there were more bikes and more stations it would have been ideal. (see my comment from back then…).

Unfortunately, they’ve decided to end the scheme deeming it unsuccessful:

Dear Hourbike Member,

It is with regret that I have to report that the bike sharing

pilot project that we started in partnership with Bristol City
Council, The University of the West of England and First Great
Western Trains is coming to a close. The intention of the current
pilot was to test the acceptance of the concept and determine the
potential demand for such a scheme with the hope of expanding it
beyond a pilot. Feedback from yourselves and from enquiries has
clearly shown that there is an interest in this type of scheme
but the Cycling City project has determined that it has more
pressing priorities and therefore cannot commit further funding at
this point in time.

The support of Bristol City Council both in terms of finance but
also the credibility of the scheme is particularly important, and
though other funding was received from the other founding partners
– First Great Western and the University of West of England – the
significant majority of funding has come from private investment.
Without the support of the local authority the scheme is unable
to attract further private investment.

My apologies to any of you that have noticed the recent reduction
in the availability of bikes at the stands. Our discussions with
the city council have taken some time to come to a conclusion.

We are hoping to continue the rental stations at Parkway and UWE,
and of course your memberships are still valid at the growing list
of our other Hourbike operated schemes in the UK, so please keep
your card and membership number for future use. I am a strong
believer in the value of large scale public bicycle rental schemes
and we are being successful in other towns around the country that
are investing in similar services, and I believe you will shortly
be seeing other schemes becoming available across the UK. This is
not a decision that I have taken lightly, but hope you understand
some of the reasoning behind the change.

If you would like further information from us I will do my best to
respond to you personally.

Best Regards

Tim Caswell
Managing Director
Hourbike Ltd

I’m gutted 🙁

More details here (the Hourbike website isn’t particularly useful).