The Lawson Trio Welcomes Violinist, Francesca Barritt

The Lawson Trio: Rebecca Knight (left) Annabelle Lawson (centre) Francesca Barritt (right)

After some time away from the music scene for the birth of Annabelle’s beautiful son Marty, these photos are to welcome Francesca Barritt as new violinist to the Lawson Trio.

Annabelle Lawson: Pianist

Francesca Barritt: Violinist

Fran has been busy this year leading English Touring Opera, and recently performing recitals as part of the fascinating Multi Story Orchestra series, as well as playing at Opera Holland Park season with the trio’s cellist Rebecca.

Rebecca Knight: Cellist

You can catch the Lawson Trio for their latest CD launch concert next month at the Sound Laboratory, University of Sheffield, and events starting in 2019, with recitals in Bromsgrove on 22nd February and Sheffield on 10th March.

On the steps of St. Michael Cornhill Church

The Lawson Trio

portrait of man in suit with skull and crossbones tie in shoreditch graffiti tunnel

Battling “The Beast from the East”

The combination of outdoor, early morning, winter lifestyle shoots can generally be a little unforgiving on photographer fingers. However, when Graham booked with us a few weeks ago for such a shoot, amongst the planning, the mood-boards, the image consultation and wardrobe styling, sub-zero temperatures did not feature as highly on the consideration list as perhaps they should!

Our surprise battle with that wicked wind-chill began early one Sunday morning, close to Shoredich High Street Station. We love to start early; to capture the pre-dawn light, the empty streets and, from a more practical pragmatic perspective, before traffic wardens have started their shift.

Man with ponytail sitting on pavement with graffiti wall behind, with the word "start" in the jaws of a lion

And let the shoot begin…

It takes a combination of factors to make a memorable, fun, and successful shoot. Some of it is in the preparation, the honed brief, the planning, and of course the photographer’s skill, but once these boxes are ticked, much of the day is down to serendipity and the sheer amount of effort put in by the client. Graham put in effort by the bucket load – both before, and throughout the shoot. Many would have shirked the cold; Graham’s costume changes in the chill and his bare arms (see the portrait on yellow) are testament to his fortitude!

Headshot of man in black army style coat in front of red and white graffiti

Graham – Dawn in Shoreditch

Heating set to full blast, it was time for the car to give some warm relief. The plan was to stop off for a coffee near Bank, but due to a rally and road closures we found ourselves diverted nearer to the Barbican. It’s a running joke here at Mat Smith Photography that the Brutalist Barbican is Mat’s Bermuda Triangle. Once he enters, he and his camera are never to be seen again, at least for a very, very long time. We played it safe today, and used instead for backdrop the high-rise glassy buildings around the danger-zone:

Man with slicked back hair in front of a green tinted glass building in a army style black jacket with silver double buttons

Brutalist Reflection: A portrait of Graham in the eye of the Barbican

Next, a quick stop for a much needed brew & brunch at caravan coffee. Mine was an enjoyable Ethiopian Wote Konga V60 followed by a ludicrouly laden sourdough grilled cheese sandwich, quince jam, with a fried egg for good measure. Graham followed in the same suit, whilst Mat plumped for the smashed avocado, pickled red onion, soy pumpkin seeds, sprouts, manouri – not forgetting a poached egg on top. No food photos, but back to the blog in hand,  here is a portrait of Graham, whilst waiting for his chow:

Man in coffee shop looking out of window

Coffee at Caravan in the City

Back to business, Graham donned his work attire and we wandered up to Bank. Our brief was to capture Graham both for personal portraits and for business use. The stone archtecture of Bank offered us a good contrast to the glassy walls near the Barbican and street art of Shoreditch. Too corporate, however, would certainly not do for Graham’s brief. The choice of orange tie nicely took care of this!

Business man in blue suit, orange tie and white braces in front of grey stone wall

The back streets of Bank

A business man wearing a bright orange tie walking through columns in front of the Bank of England

Suited and Booted by The Bank of England

Black and white photo of a suited and booted man sat laughing on the Bank of England's steps

Bank of England steps

Being Sunday morning, we quickly stopped off at church (albeit not making it past the front door):

Portrait of a man sitting in front of large blue church doors on the steps of a church entrance

A moment’s reflection

And onwards though backstreets and alleyways photographing as we went, happy in the knowledge, for today’s shoot at least, the Beast from the East didn’t defeat.

Man walking down a back street in the city of London looking back at the camera

Till We Meet Again – A backstreet portrait

Maddox Magic – Portraits in Barbican, Moorgate, Brick Lane

“Magic should be unassuming. It should catch you by surprise, and it should fill you with that sense of wonder”.
— Maddox Magic

Back in Autumn of last year I had the opportunity to shoot the portrait of an entertainer and magician supreme: Maddox.

Check out his video (not by me) and photos from our shoot (by me) below:

Maddox approached me with a brief I immediately warmed to. A range of different crops, everything from a cinematic full length shots to tighter-cropped head and shoulders shot. A range of styles from cinematic to street photography. All with a fresh, engaging, approachable, and cool vibe.

Check out his site here: http://www.maddoxmagic.com/

As with the majority of our shoots, we spent 2 hours together in London to get 5 outstanding portraits. (And as with many of our portrait sessions, the client wants a few more than just 5 from the shoot!)

We made use of the structures found at Barbican to create dramatic shadow and light photos:

Barbican is one of the finest examples of brutalist architecture in the world, a sprawling mass of thoughtfully designed shapes with large open spaces for the public and hundreds of interesting hidden corners, curved walls, enormous concrete pillars.

It’s an urban portrait photographer’s dream place to work, on the right day with the right light. There are so many opportunities for interesting compositions, implied vanishing points, squares of light, dark structures. I love to experiment with depth of field in shots like this one below, I think we nailed it on the final take:

Brick Lane makes a fantastic backdrop for photos. The atmosphere brings out the best in people, and there’s always a flash of colour:

Claire, shot with the iPhone in a coffee house in Amersham

The secrets of iPhone portrait photography

In this article, I’m going to tell you how to get the best possible portrait shots from your iPhone. I’ll also share with you some software I use; these apps are very well-loved by amateur and professional photographers alike.

There was a time I lugged my primary DSLR around with me everywhere I went. Out for dinner with friends, out and about in town, everywhere. The camera lived on my shoulder constantly but, the more time I spent shooting professionally, the less I was inclined to take my DSLR, opting instead to take various other smaller cameras for everyday photography; Canon G6, my beautiful old Nikkormat with 50mm 1.4 lens and a roll of Fuji BW film, even a twin lens reflex was smaller and easier to carry around!

Now I’ve been a professional photographer full-time for 4 years, and the only camera I ever take out with me when I’m not shooting for a client is my iPhone 4S.

The iPhone 4S camera is nothing to write home about, photographically speaking – of course. Without a large piece of glass in front of that sensor, it never will be.

But the point is: it’s good enough. Good enough that shooting portraits can be an enjoyable affair – quick, instant, and good results. The lens and the quality of the sensor are no more than adequate, which is precisely what you need from a tiny take-everywhere camera. The barriers to taking good portraits have mostly been removed; the process of shooting is no longer cumbersome as it was in previous generations of the phone, and I’m always able to predict the optical and digital quality of the images will be good, unlike many other camera phones I’ve used.

Here’s a shot I made yesterday on an unexpected visit to a coffee house in Amersham, where I unexpectedly met Claire and friends:

Claire, shot with the iPhone in a coffee house in Amersham

A portrait shot with the iPhone

4 Steps to great iPhone portrait photography

  1. As with all natural-light photography: find the light. Most of the time I don’t go out looking for it, but instead I see it and think “this is gorgeous light for a photo”. This usually happens when you aren’t expecting it: hence keep the iPhone to hand!
  2. Get an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5. The camera is far superior in the 4S to previous models. Also ensure you update your iPhone’s operating system. The latest version of iOS brought in some killer changes when it comes to shooting quickly. Read up here for more info.
  3. Adopt the mindset of a portrait photographer. Take fewer photos, delete all photos except the best version, start to think in terms of editing every shot as part of the process.
  4. Get the right apps. Process every photo you keep. This takes time, thought, and invention. The iPhone camera is not magic, it’s an automatic camera that makes assumptions about exposure. Every shot you take will require intervention with some kind of processing or photo editing.

Some apps I use

iPhonography is a fast-moving thing, so make sure to keep-up with the latest apps. I’m an incessant reader of reviews in the app store, and I research apps online a lot.  Over the years I’ve purchased, downloaded, and tested tens of photo editing apps, but here’s a quick summary of the ones I always come back to.

Snapseed

Mat Smith Photography - Photolife Blog - Snapseed IconI’ve used this app every day over the last year.

This has been my favoured go-to app for almost every photo I’ve shot on the iPhone. Made by Nik Software, who have a good pedigree in professional photo editing software, the app combines some of the toy-like features of Instagram with some really decent manual editing functions. The Instagram-like photo filters are actually fully manual functions with presets and a randomize feature, which does provide some ‘playability’ if you aren’t sure what look and feel you are going for.

On the whole I avoid using Snapseed’s “vintage” or “grunge” filters as they are way too ‘Instagrammy’ – they detract from the purity of the image. My style is to accentuate and to make the image pop. I use “drama”, “crop”, “selective adjust”, and “tilt shift” a lot, though. I also use the “straighten” function to rotate images although I do find that a bit fiddly. More on how I use this app later.

Big lens

Mat Smith Photography - Photolife Blog - Biglens IconWhereas Snapseed is about bringing out the best qualities of your photos, Big Lens is basically a naughty app for cheats. Don’t get me wrong – you have to put a lot of work in, and the results are very good, but it essentially emulates the look and feel of a big lens where you might stop-down the shot to reduce depth-of-field. Put simply it blurs out the background of your image. (Plus it does a whole load of other things.)

Every great portrait has a good separation of subject and surrounding.

By blurring out the background of your image, you are accentuating the subject and drawing the eye in to the photo. You are removing distractions from behind the subject which is something you can only usually do with a big piece of glass on the front of your camera. The app actually has “aperture” settings to emulate f stops (f3.5, f3.2, f2.8 etc.) although clearly these are to be ignored as, technically speaking, they are nonsense. Add to this the fact that it’s technically not a great idea to mask out a subject using a pen tool, and you’ll see why this app isn’t for photography purists – but I like it because it does give 95% great results a lot of the time, at least for portraiture.

What about camera apps?

The above are great for post-processing, but what about replacement apps for the iPhone’s camera?

Personally I don’t use one. I have a number of theories on this one, not least the fact that there’s a good chance you will inadvertently begin using an app that doesn’t support the resolution of the latest iPhone. It’s a huge flaw, but I’ve seen it before. App developers tend not to make a big thing of such flaws.

If you do prefer to use a special app for taking photos, instead of iPhone’s built-in app, then make sure you do your research. Find an app that definitely supports your iPhone camera’s resolution, and one that doesn’t attempt to make your images brighter. Apps that claim to make the image brighter are actually pre-processing apps; all they do is remove the options to fine-tune your photographs in post-processing afterwards.

How I  process photos

The greatest thing about instant mobile photography is taking your image from start to finish without getting your desktop editing software out! You can do it all on the bus.

I’ve settled on a process I like, which gives my images a certain look and feel. I’d encourage you to find your own process to make images that suit your own eye – this is the key to becoming a great photographer.

That aside, here’s my process:

Settle on my image

I settle on my favourite image version by doing quick mock-up edits of a few different versions, cropping accordingly. I delete extra versions of the same shot and set about editing the chosen image.

Edit in Snapseed

I load the image up in Snapseed and straight away use the “drama” filter:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Load

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Drama

Use Drama filter

I’ll get the filter strength as high as possible without it looking to hyper-real (it gives a surreal bad-HDR effect if over-used).

I bring the saturation UP as it’s usually too low by default. Here I’ve used +54.

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Saturation

Set the saturation and strength of filter. Experiment with options.,

I make a note of the numbers and then try out different combinations of the two settings for this filter. I press-and-hold the top compare button a few times to decide whether I went over-the-top:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Compare

Always keep stopping to compare as you go

Then I apply the filter:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Apply

Click to apply the filter, before moving on to the next filter

Sometimes the image isn’t nearly bright enough. To fix this I tend to prefer using the “Tilt Shift” filter (instead of the “tune image” filter), as this has a really nice brightness algorithm. Although the image is exposed nicely here, I still use it to slightly push-up the brightness:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Tilt Shift

Use Tilt Shift instead of "Tune Image" - nicer algorithm for brightness

I use two fingers to pull-apart the Tilt Shift area, so that the diagonally opposite corners get a tiny amount of blur, and I tend to leave the other settings as they are. Perhaps I will tweak the saturation a little.

Next up, crop:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Portraits - Snapseed - Crop

I prefer to crop and straighten as last step in Snapseed

I usually double-check my edits using the compare feature from the main screen (this time, press-and-hold the image. The compare button shown above is only when you are in one of the filter views).

All done! Now I save the image out to the camera roll.

Edit in Big Lens

Next I load the image into Big Lens. Always use “advanced” to mask the image:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Splash

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Advanced mask

Always use the manual / advanced mask technique

Now draw the brush around the subject. Then click Auto to tighten up the edges:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Draw

Make a rough drawing

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Auto Fail

Auto helps get your edges half good, but you need to edit them more

Zoom in to erase the mask where it shouldn’t be, and use the brush tool to re-apply if you removed too much:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Zoom and Mask

Pinch to zoom, pan with two fingers, use brush and eraser

To pan around, use two fingers.

Be patient, this process takes a long time. If you mess up, it won’t look good. There’s an undo button you can use for brush strokes. You really need to be a little bit anal about this process. Don’t worry though, you can try it out and go back and edit the mask if you like.

Use the arrow top-right to move to the next stage. Now apply your aperture size.

You can see here, I’ve gone too far. This makes it look unnatural, and you can also see masking artefacts more, if you look around the edge of the subject:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Dodgy Masking

Dodgy masking - either re-mask or lessen the blur effect

I went for f3.2 in the end. I also used the ‘pop cold’ filter, which only applies to the backdrop, to further draw the eye in. I turned the filter strength down to about half:

Mat Smith Photography Blog - iPhone Photography - Big Lens - Filter

Add a filter if you like, but dial-down the settings

Again, use press and hold the compare function. Play around with the other options.

But there you have it: a great looking portrait from a tiny camera in your phone.

Before and After

Here’s a quick before and after comparison:

Mat Smith Photography - iPhone portrait photography comparison before processing and after processing

Comparison of image before and after processing

Camera of Fun at Tom and Emily’s Wedding

Tom and Emily’s beautiful York wedding was over the Easter weekend and featured a floral theme of daffodils, expertly prepared by members of the bride and groom’s families. These were some of the loveliest floral displays I have seen – although I am biased because I’m a bit of a daffodil fanatic myself. Colourful flower photos to follow!

After the wedding ceremony, dinner, and speeches, we set to work on the photobooth studio a.k.a. the Camera of Fun. See below…

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mat-smith-photography-iphone-icon iPhone version here

Official wedding photos yet to be released. Guests – watch this space!

More Tom and Emily – A York Wedding

So the wedding plans for Tom and Emily’s wedding are taking shape and I can’t wait for the big day in a couple of weeks. Guests will be asked to have their portraits taken (classic low depth of field 85mm on white), carrying on the theme of Tom and Em’s engagement shots so far. Kind of like photo booth meets studio portraits. Naturally, it will be towards the end of the evening, when guests are at their most animated! There may even be the option for guests to actuate the shutter themselves. Fun!