Cruel and Tender… the final blog post

This assignment came at a rather delicate time for me as I had lost my beloved grandmother in the same month but I’m pleased to say it also helped me to deal with my own feelings of loss and sadness whilst always remembering the tender moments the ‘Queen Bee’ and I shared.

At first I tried to be impartial and stick to the brief then it became apparent to me that I wanted to explore death in pictures so I started calling local Funeral Directors, Crematoriums and Cemeteries around where I live.

Finding somewhere to visit, explore and photograph turned out to be more difficult than I had envisaged but Kingston Crematorium was kind enough to agree to my visiting so long as I was respectful of the place, its ‘residents’ and shared the photos with them.

The Research:


I began my research by looking into Semiotics, as suggested by Zig (see blog post here). It took me right back to when I worked in advertising. Everything had a meaning, it was meticulously thought through and placed in a certain way or in a certain colour because it had an quasi hidden meaning. Some advertising

It turns out that Semiotics itself (in my humble opinion) can be very open to interpretation. For example, it can relate to the visual language expressed in a painting, a secret message it is trying to convey in an advert or a series of codes that are completely vague to some but obvious to certain communities. Take a photo of an old woman holding a broom, for instance, we all know it is just an old woman with a broom right? But to some she might be a Witch or represent one! See how easy it can be do read something as Semiotics that may not even be there at all?

As I dug deeper into the connection between gravestones and symbolism I came across some very amusing facts, here are some of my favourite:

  • In Victorian times cemeteries were often used as picnic areas
  • Up until 18th century people were buried in their land and their grave was surrounded by iron bars to prevent them from escaping if they turned into zombies or vampires
  • Puritans often had that Skull and Crossbones put on their Headstones. It was a reminder that they had gone to Heaven but if you did not believe as they did you would go to hell. It was called a “Memento Mori” which is Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’.
  • Many gravestones face east so the deceased will raise with the sun on their rebirth day
  • It is believed that the use of tombstones started so ghosts could be weighed down.

The Test Shots – pls see here


On my first visit I was made to feel welcome and was even blessed with the most gorgeous golden light. I spent a good couple of hours walking the grounds, taking pictures of the tombs and the flowers left by loved ones. There was something sad yet peaceful, beautiful about the place. Reading some of the inscriptions was particularly touching and I was, once again, facing my own demons that day.


I had lost my Nan the previous week and that same week also marked 3yrs since our lovely Hayley passed away shortly after giving birth to her 4th child. She was only 39 yrs old at the time of her passing. After 3 painful years since losing her she was finally laid to rest that same week. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you this… that was a tough week indeed.

There were a handful of photography principles I tried to follow during this shoot, there were:

  • Leading Lines – the cemetery grounds was full of paths and narrow lanes making it ideal for capturing leading lines. It also kept with the theme of ‘departure’




  • Follow the light – although I am always keen to shoot against the light (I love starbursts, sunbursts and shadows) the beautiful light bathed KCC in the most gorgeous colour. I felt compelled to follow the light and perpetuate that beautify, serene, early morning scene.
  • Make the Most Of The Strong Shadows – with the advantage of such great early morning light I was able to photograph images with great shadows. Shooting against the sun was particularly effective when capturing sunburst breaking through the tree branches.
  • Close Ups – once inside the chapel I tried to take a few close ups of some objects of great meaning to the setting. For example, the prayer books, the place where the coffins rest during the ceremony and even the discreet button that prompts the curtains to close around the coffin and send the coffin to the level below ready to be placed in the furnace. I also took some close up of the flowers left at the graveyard, they felt so emotional, some had already started to die and it was very much in tune with the place.



  • Candid Shots – these were taken by chance when I spotted a hurst arriving for the service. These felt very personal and I did not include them in the final images submitted for the project.

The Evaluation:

Cruel and Tender 8I was happy with my final images and have learned a fair amount about capturing emotions, solitude and sorrow.

This project helped me learn to shoot in conditions I would not shoot otherwise, take candid photos I had never thought of. I practiced both Manual shooting as well as using Aperture Priority (the sun was rising after all and the light was changing rapidly). Preparing the photos for printing was also interesting. I got it wrong a couple of times but recognized where I was going wrong – it was my light-bulb moment!

In terms of Health & Safety it is becoming ‘almost’ second nature to watch out for slippery grounds, make sure plugs, leads, wires are all out of the way. Funnily enough, footwear is also a vital part of Health & Safety, as I found out when shooting on icy roads!

The Submitted Images:

Overall I am pleased with the outcome of this project and will look back fondly on the morning I spent wandering around a cemetery!

Thanks for reading,



P1, P2, P3, P4, D1, D2, D3, M1, M2, M3



A Studio Portrait Inspired by a Classical Painting – The Final Blog

Portrait and Studio Photography does not come easy to me. I am much more comfortable shooting animals, landscapes, flowers, pets (I adore shooting pets!), sports and taking candid shots. That is perhaps the reason why it took me so long to tackle it.


My initial attempts to write about Classical Portraits and Semiotics was published a while back and can be read here. These initial posts were exploratory. I was dipping my little toes in a whole new side of photography that was pretty new to me.

For sometime I wanted to do a studio retake of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Monalisa. Da Vinci has long fascinated me, I’m convinced (and have no evidence whatsoever) that he must have been bipolar! He was just so clever, a painter, an engineer, an inventor, a mathematician, a scientist, the list goes on.

I tried my own version of Mona Lisa at home (read my post here) and had much fun BUT I felt I could  and should do more. I could do better. I wanted to do better.

I carried on researching and loved the link between Rembrandt Lighting and Hollywood Portraits that was particularly fashionable during the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Again, I had to remind myself that the brief we were given was for a classical inspired studio photo and not a Hollywood shot. I decided to save that for another day.

The Rembrandt Light: the one thing Mona Lisa does not have

To achieve the ‘Rembrandt Look’ one half of the models face needs to be in full illumination whilst the other half (usually the side furthest away from the camera) is in partial shadow, with a very distinct illuminated triangle under the eye on the shadowed side.  Rembrandt lighting was “coined” after the master himself, Rembrandt, the famous 17th century Dutch Painter, who used this lighting technique to such great effect in his works of art.

There are plenty of amazing examples of Rembrandt’s work, in fact all one has to do is type ‘Chiaroscuro’ and stunning images by Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio are sure to fill the screen.

Etienne AdolphThat said, I wanted something a little different for my portrait and as I researched for the ‘perfect painting’ for me I came across ‘The Femme Dans Un Manteau’ by Etienne Adolph Piot a French painter who became famous in Paris during the mid/late 1800s for painting wealthy, young and beautiful debutantes.

Contrary to the original painting, my model was a little older and I wanted a portrait that would enhance that. I also liked the idea of her wearing a spot of colour and sheen in her hood.

Having had a chance to help with the set up of other people’s project I was quite confident in setting up my own lighting this time, but I must confess when offered help I was also glad to receive it!

At first, I tried to follow the classical Rembrandt Lighting set up as shown below then adjusted it to give me the ‘look’ I was after.

Image result for rembrandt lighting setup diagram

The beauty dish was set up in the right direction and one of my helpers was holding the snoot just at the right position for me to capture the ‘chiaroscuro’ effect on Anna, my model. The light catching on her hood also made the colour pop (I was worried because chiaroscuro can be unforgiving with colours!) but I was pleased with set up.

Having taken ‘the shot’ we tried to experiment a little with colour gels but quickly dropped that idea.

With Health & Safety adhered to, the shoot went very well. I really enjoyed the session and was pleased with the result.




I would like to point out at this stage that my choice of model and pose were inspired  by the classical painting and in any way made to be an exact copy. I made amendments on my set up on purpose so it would be my own take on the painting and not a copy of someone else’s work.

Personally, I rather like how it turned out.

Thanks for reading this far!

Paula, x



P1, P2, P3, P4, M1, M2, M3

References for Classical Portrait Assignment in Studio:

Still Life – The Final Blog Post

A Set Up Inspired by a Classical Painting

Further to my last post on Still Life (see here) I wanted to write one last post on this subject before I moving on just to remind me how far I have come on this project, what I have learned and how I can use this experience in future shoots of a similar nature.

The Research:

It took me pretty much the entire term to explore this theme and find a Classical Painting of Still Life that inspired me. At first I considered Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, then thought of Cezanne’s Apples but nothing was grabbing me.

Having seen Georgia O’Keefee’s work at the Tate Modern I kept thinking about doing my own shoot based on her incredible work and decided to attempt a photographic interpretation of it at home to see whether or not it would work.

With that in mind, and having done a fair amount of research online, I visited New Covent Garden Flower Marked looking for fresh flowers that resembled the female reproductive organ. Although there was plenty of choice I decided to buy Giant Italian Poppies, Orchids, Parrot Tulips and Single Tulips to carry out my test shoot at home.

Armed with a Small Portable Home Studio and 2 lights I set up the scene of my first attempt. It certainly took a fair few shots for me to figure out the best way to illuminate my subject and dramatise certain elements of the shoot i.e. the fine hairs on the petals, the way the light cast on the petals creating curves and shadows in between the petals.

At first the light was too harsh so I adjusted the strength of my flash and eventually got rid of it altogether, choosing instead a longer exposure. To avoid any possible camera shake I used a tripod and timer.

I was very pleased indeed with the result BUT realised that whilst the shoot had been a success it didn’t adhere to the assignment and it was not a true Still Life Shoot. It was time to reconsider my thinking and refocus on the assignment brief.

Time was certainly flying by and Easter was fast approaching. That’s when I decided to look into still life that included images of eggs and found there was plenty to use as inspiration.

The Technical and Practical Aspects of the Assignment:

I set the scene at college with a range of eggs in different colours and sizes. I also got fresh pasta, a pasta-making machine and a few props. My set up was meant to be soft, simple, classical and without too many distractions. I wanted to work with materials that would not cause reflection. I also wanted to include texture and muted tones in my photos.

For studio light I used a large soft box, turned the light down and asked help in partially blocking it to make it look like my set up was by a window.

Health and Safety was also paramount in this exercise as there was hazard everywhere i.e. wires, hot bulbs, trip hazards, etc. All was tucked away and kept safe during all shoots. In class Health & Safety is always a concerned with so many of us working in what can be almost pitch black. Before turning the main lights of the studio off we always make sure any potential hazard is dealt with swiftly and accordingly.

Louise the Photographer in Chief1

As far as self-evaluation is concerned, I had to print my photos a couple of times but eventually I was very pleased with the result and my college mates decided which photo I should submit as my final image.

I certainly came to understand studio lighting a little more and actually took to helping my fellow students with their own lighting and set up. Standing back from shooting to help others with their work was actually great experience for me as I could focus on the set up and not in taking photos.

It is pretty clear that no matter how much research I do or how many photography books I read, nothing beats getting ‘my hands dirty’ regardless of whether or not I am taking my own photos or helping others take theirs. All experience is great experience not matter now mundane it seems.

There is something new to learn every day, with every shoot and I still have plenty to learn.

Thank for reading,

Paula, x

P1, P2, P3, P4, M1, M2, M3



Still Life – The Final Take

Having gone around in circles trying to come up with a worthy Still Life shoot I was a bit disappointed with my initial choices – Vintage Traveler below, my O’Keeffee-esque (previous post) and a few others I won’t bother to show you.



I felt I needed to carry on researching and that is when I came across the work of Jos Van Riswick – a self-taught Dutch painter inspired by great old masters like Rembrandt and Heda, but also inspired by new realists such as Dick Ket, Jan Mankes and Henk Helmantel.

Riswick follows the traditional methods of painting to make sure his work has that ‘oldie’ feeling. He paints mainly portraits and still life.

Image result for jos van riswick

Because his work is so precise and yet so simple I decided I’d set up my Still Life Scene using simple props, simple subjects and mix a few different textures.  The lighting at the college studio did wonders for my shoot too 🙂

At first we tried to set the light falling on the right and left side of my set but I didn’t think it captured the mood, the shadows I was looking for. We then turned off the light to the right of the set, turned down the power and also carefully positioned the light stand to mimic the light one would naturally get by the window.

It was exactly what I was looking for. The shadows fell in a way that it added to the mood of the shoot without making the set look too dark.

Here are some of my final studio pictures.

I’m not sure yet which one I will select as my final choice, perhaps my classmates help me with that.

Paula, x



Changing the way we look at things…

… will change the things we see


Take Georgia O’Keefe Flower Paintings for example, what do you see, flowers or the female reproductive organ? If you are anything like me I’d say you can’t help but see a bit of both.

When I saw Georgia O’Keefe’s exhibition at Tate Modern November last year I was totally taken by her work, I couldn’t stop staring at her paintings.

The way she captured every little detail with her paint brush was, to me at least, nothing short of mesmerising. I was in awe. Her use of light was not as impressive as Cezanne’s, Rembrant’s or Van Gogh’s yet her delicate work was striking.

Now that spring is nearly here I visited Covent Garden Flower Market in Vauxhall and picked up a handful of flowers of my own to try and challenge the way we see them. Here’s a glimpse of what I shot last night as practice for my Studio Session tomorrow.

It is fairly easy to identify the Tulip. Can you guess what the other bud is? No? I couldn’d either and I was shocked to find out it was a Poppy! Yes, Poppy buds!!! The flower market seller assured me they will open up in a couple of days and fill my vase with amazing Giant Italian Poppies.

I can hardly wait to see them 🙂

Paula, x

Leonardo Da Vinci – Research

As I prepare to fine tune my own interpretation of Classical Portraits and shoot my Latino Mona Lisa I felt I needed to explore the work of Leonardo Da Vinci a bit further. Perhaps I need to justify to myself why his work appeals to me and what it is about him as an artist that I resonate with.

I was brought up a Roman Catholic and Da Vinci’s Last Supper was always, of course, the only ‘painting’ we had by the dinner table… quite frankly I always associated with food and not art – yes, shoot me now.

Ok, I admit I have a soft spot for Da Vinci and he is why:

a) He had a brilliant mind. He was an artist, an sculptor, an engineer, a scientist and an inventor. I was lucky enough to see some of the things he worked on, his notebooks, sketches, etc in an exhibition in Rome a couple of hours ago.

b) Initially a well known painter of Al Fresco he moved to Florence circa 1499 (he painted the mural of the Last Supper in a monastery in there). It was whilst living in Florence that Da Vinci painted many portraits, unfortunately his only surviving work is the famous Mona Lisa

On close examination, The Last Supper was meticulously planned and features plenty of semiotics from mathematical symbolism to Judas holding a small bag (no doubt reference to his payment for betraying Jesus). Judas is also the only disciple cast in a shadow. The painting also features plenty of still life ie lace, bread, etc.

c) I saw the Mona Lisa when I visited the Louvre a few years ago and I can honestly say no picture does it justice. The way Da Vinci brought her to life, the way he highlighted in all the right places, his placement of ‘light’ was striking. I almost felt I was looking right into her yes. Sadly, it was covered in a layer of vanish and as it ages its making the colours dull and covering it with a hint of yellow. I hope it can be restored at some point.

As far as technicalities is concerned and according to BBC Science,  Leonardo used a technique known as Sfumato – the blurring of sharp edges by blending colours – to leave the corners of the eyes and the mouth in shadow. It is this technique that makes the Mona Lisa‘s expression ambiguous.

Mona Lisa, oil painting on a poplar wood panel by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–06; in the Louvre, Paris.

The background of the painting has been made to look more hazy, with fewer distinct outlines than the foreground. This technique is known as aerial perspective, and Leonardo was one of the first painters to use it to give his paintings more depth.



Classical Portrait or is it?

Again, during last week’s lesson I started to think about all the things we discussed, the ideas we swapped, etc. etc. We were covering studio photography and had the studio set up… it then got me thinking about my assign and i found myself thinking ‘what if Mona Lisa had been Brazilian’?!  What would have have wore? Would she have given Leonardo Da Vinci that famous ‘mysterious smile’ or would it have been a smile full of mischief?

That thought stayed with me for so long that I coudn’t resist getting my empty, gold guilded frame out for a play.

Unfortunately I don’t have studio lights at home but it was raining and I figured I’d have a practice run at home and do the ‘real shoot’ at college the following week.

Mmmm I’m not convinced Da Vinci would have been impressed with my version of ‘La Gioconda’. I’ll try again next week when I’m back in class and my friends can assist me.