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The First Portfolio Builder Day

Last Saturday 16 photographers, 4 models, 3 guys from Hasselblad and Broncolor got together with Andrew Griffiths from Saracen House Studio and me for the first Portfolio Builder Day (PBD)  of 2014.

After the behind the scenes video there is a selection of images from the day. The next PBD is on May 3rd at Wortley Top Forge near Sheffield.


The models at the end of a long day.

Andrew Appleton Photo Training The First Portfolio Builder Day

And Gloria:

Andrew Appleton Photo Training The First Portfolio Builder Day

Guest blog by photographer Shane Young

Many thanks to Shane Young for sharing his experience of a workshop, over to you Shane:

Being a voracious consumer of all sorts of online photographic training material, the more I learn, the more I want to get straight back out there and put it into practice. There is no substitute for hands-on experience and practical training, whatever your skill level.

I should state that I shoot professionally, which obviously means I should have a good idea what I’m doing already or I have no right shooting people’s weddings; but anyone who professes to know everything there is to know about photography is probably dangerously deluded and should not be allowed anywhere near the most important day of someone’s life, however top-of-the-range their kit might be!

Anyway, my aim is never to stand still in my quest to be the best I can be. What better excuse is there to spend a day in the company of some great friends and pro photo colleagues at a new wedding venue in my home town, with two superb models as bride and groom and the excellent and much-lauded Andrew Appleton as workshop host/trainer.

I should thank our good friend Maggie Booth for arranging the day with her usual good grace and deadly efficiency, and Anselm for opening up Elmore Court, his ancestral home, for us to knock about in with our big lenses and general rock n roll shenanigans. The setting is a grand and fine period residence, as the pictures should amply illustrate.

The quality of Andrew’s work is beyond question, with hundreds of past clients lining up to praise his very keen eye and wonderfully accessible training style. He clearly knows his onions  technically, but beyond that there is the innate ability to ‘see’ a fantastic shot and know how to  maximise its potential to become an image of exceptionally high quality with the minimum of fuss.

We each described what we would most like to develop or refine about our wedding photography, and some common themes sprang up, including placement of the bride and groom into the right background, posing, and of course the ever-crucial subject of lighting, with particular emphasis on off-camera flash. As it turned out, however, none of us needed to remove the flash from the camera at all that day, instead opting to bounce, fill and reflect our way through every shoot scenario we came across. This was particularly useful for us as wedding professionals because quite often there is simply no time to start setting up stands and triggers in the middle of a busy wedding.

One of the key points I took away from the day was not really about cameras at all, but about learning to see. And I mean really see. Not by having a cursory glance at a pleasant setting and thinking ‘this’ll do’, but by nurturing the ability to picture the finished shot in its entirety, as if looking at it on the page of a magazine, and studying it soberly in all its detail, and knowing the why and the where and how of the success (or otherwise) of the image.  However good you get at this, there is always room for improvement, and this was a great opportunity to stretch and flex the muscles of that ‘inner eye’.

Andrew’s instincts for a shot gave us a fascinating insight and often a new perspective. Several times I had an idea for a shot at a given location, only to find Andrew had a different take on it, which makes one perform a mental switch away from one’s habitual way of thinking, to consider alternative ‘looks’, treatments, angles and moods. A very healthy expansion of one’s horizons!

We spent a good amount of time at the start of the day just exploring the building and assessing the spaces for quality of light and potential shooting angles. It was good to do this without a camera anywhere to be seen.

Although all of us blessed with sight can see light, seeing and understanding how light really affects and shapes a picture is a skill that takes time to learn. Even when we know the principles, there are many subtleties, and only experience arms the photographer with the knowledge to use light optimally. An ornately carved wooden fireplace surround was a good example. Andrew’s idea to shoot it from the opposite side to the window light threw its intricate detail into sharp relief. The same window light also gave the model a lovely rim light. Andrew then bounced his flash behind his own head off a wall about thirty feet away and managed to get some illumination to the subject’s face. Eventually it was decided that we could bounce the flash into a reflector immediately behind us so that much less power was needed. Important to note that although your flash can work really hard when needed, it will drain the batteries quickly if you use full power when you don’t really need to. This technique also gave us more control of the colour temperature of the bounced flash, whereas the wall colour had added its own cast.

We talked about the inverse square law affecting the amount of contrast on the subject’s face when looking towards window light, and used this principle to place our bride just the right distance away to define her face and get the most pleasing quality in the shadow fall-off.

We worked on balancing ambient light with supplemented flash so that our subjects didn’t look artificially lit. Often Andrew suggested creating a makeshift ‘window light’ by bouncing flash into a reflector. When balancing flash with room light we sometimes used a coloured gel to match the tungsten light sources with an eye to adjusting the overall colour temperature later if needed. Some of us used ETTL flash with compensation and some used manual flash to achieve the right balance of light.

We used floorboards to create lead-in lines, we tried shooting at various heights, distances and with different lenses to eliminate or include elements that adversely or positively affected the composition. We studied the effect that bouncing the same flash off different surfaces had on the skin tones of our subjects, as well as how the angle and quality of light affected the shape of their facial features. We occasionally used an Icelight to subtly separate the groom’s dark suit from a dark background. Appropriately mirroring a real wedding shoot, we had to deal with periods of strong sun interspersed with completely flat light, for instance choosing a spot where there was a pool of shade to stand our bride so that whether or not the sun came back out, we were able to get an effectively lit shot.

It was good to be reminded to explore the effect of shooting from the ‘short’ side of a subject’s face to flatter the features. In other words, not shooting from the side of the face most exposed to the light (which enlarges or fattens features) but to shoot more from the shadow, or ‘short’ side.

All in all we had a really good day. As well as having lots of laughs, I think everyone would agree that every shot helped reinforce good habits and practices and hopefully eliminate subtle negative elements by ‘seeing’ the whole image more thoughtfully, and from fresh perspectives.

I would recommend any photographer of any skill level to attend one of Andrew’s sessions. He is very easy to talk to, free of ego and funny to boot. His rapport with his models was entertaining to say the least, and hopefully you will see that his guidance helped us to produce some beautiful work.

Andrew Appleton Photo Training Guest blog by photographer Shane Young


A new type of workshop – PBDs

A new type of workshop – PBDs

Back in September 2013 I got together with Saracen House Studios and ran a location lighting weekend at Windmill Art near Cambridge. Over two days 12 students got the opportunity to shoot 4 different models on location with a variety of different genres and lighting set-ups. The feedback we had was so good we decided to run more in 2014.

However, we’ve made a few improvements. Tweaked the format a little and these changes the events have now become portfolio builder days, PBDs! They could be an opportunity to put into practice the skills you have learnt on previous workshops or maybe try out some new ideas.

Each event will be run in an fabulous location with 4 models working across a variety of genres. The day will begin with a meet and greet over refreshments followed by a walk of the location and detailed discussion on looking for the light, working with the light, choosing backgrounds and posing the models. The 16 delegates will be split into 4 groups of 4 and throughout the day each group will shoot with each of the 4 models. A variety of lighting equipment will be provided but students can bring their own.

A buffet lunch will be provided and during the lunch break there will be a guest presentation.

We will be announcing the models who will be attending these events over the next few weeks, make sure you are on the newsletter list!

4 ways to enrol and pay:

1. Book all 5 in advance and save £225. Normal price is £975, book all 5 in advance and pay just £750

2. Select 3 PBDs, book and pay in advance and save 17%

3. Choose the workshop(s) of your choice, book and pay in full 60 days prior to the workshop date and save £25

4. Choose the workshop(s) of your choice, pay a £50 deposit and the balance 30 days before the event

Locations and dates:

April 12th Location TBA (Hertfordshire)

Andrew Appleton Photo Training A new type of workshop   PBDs

May 3rd Wortley Top Forge, Nr Sheffield

Andrew Appleton Photo Training A new type of workshop   PBDs

June 7th WindmillArt, Linton, Nr Cambridge

Andrew Appleton Photo Training A new type of workshop   PBDs

July 21st Woodchester Mansion, Gloucestershire

Andrew Appleton Photo Training A new type of workshop   PBDs

August 23rd A very secret location! This is private country estate with period buildings and some classic cars.15 minutes from Standstead airport

On-line booking will be available in a few days.

Handbags, tights and speedlights

Handbags, tights and speedlights

I have just spent a hectic weekend with my partner in crime, Zara Watson. The main task was to get some video footage for my new training DVD – Mastering Speedlights.

However as all work and no play makes Andrew a dull photographer we had a couple of deviations from the task in hand!

First was to shoot a pretty raw video of Zara pulling a variety of facial expressions, this is spliced from a couple of takes and no retouching. It is slightly speeded up to fit with the soundtrack but she can pose that fast folks! Best invest in some fast recycling strobes if you are going to work with her!

Next deviation was to do a quick fashion shoot inspired by some tights Zara purchased. Have to say they reminded me a little of cheese! The whole shoot took 30 mins from beginning to end, make-up, hair and styling all by Zara. I lit it with one studio head and a beauty dish then processed in LR5 and Photoshop CC.

This was what we were meant to be doing, some bright lifestyle images in the bathroom all lit with one on camera flash. The DVD should be available in February and will include hours of practical advice and demonstrations for working with speedlights  both on and off camera.

Andrew Appleton Photo Training Handbags, tights and speedlights Andrew Appleton Photo Training Handbags, tights and speedlights

The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time!

So we come to the end of an amazing year, I ran about 50 workshops, travelled to France and South Africa and met some fabulous people. 2014 is shaping up nicely with trips to Italy, France, Portugal, Majorca and South Africa already planned. On top of those I have a load of new UK workshops including portfolio builder days at superb locations.

Back to December 2013. It started with an Erotic Photography workshop at Zara Watson’s venue on Sunday 1st. It’s a difficult genre to teach and we always spend a lot of time discussing what all the students think of as erotica before we even lift a camera. Zara is fantastic at this style of modelling, for 2014 we have changed the format and will be running two day Art-nude to Erotic workshops throughout the UK, these will go from the almost graphic style of Art-nude, through the softer boudoir and on to darker, more erotic images. The first is on 8 and 9 of March The Photostudio in Kent. Other locations are Steel Studios in Glasgow plus venues in the Midlands and South West.

Here are 3 of the shots I took on the workshop.

Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time!

Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time!

Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time!


One of the things I have always tried to do is visit as many of the photography socials that are held around the UK. One of the biggest and best is run every month in Gloucester by Rob Golding. Friday 6th was the date for their Christmas social and happily it coincided with shoots in Bristol and workshops at the Blackthorn School of Photography in nearby Cricklade. Zara Watson accompanied me as she was working with me on the workshops and also had a shoot in Bristol.

It was fantastic to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while and if you are in the Gloucester area I recommend you check the monthly socials out.

Saturday was what can only be described as wet! I was shooting with a new young model, Jess White, from her family home near Bristol. We spent the day dodging down pours but got 5 good sets Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time! Jess is lovely to work with and already has several agencies interested in her.

Sunday was a day of one 2 ones at The Blackthorn School of Photography and I spent part of the time there working on some rear curtain sync techniques and some single light fashion set-ups.

Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time! Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time! Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time! Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time!

Back in the summer Andrew Griffiths and I had the idea of a joint Christmas Party. We thought a small gathering over a meal for about 20 clients and colleagues. In the end we had 70 people dressed to impress at the Harbon Devere in Newport Pagnell. But Before we could start partying I had one last workshop for the year; Dance Photography with the fantastic Kayleigh Lush. Although the course was run at Saracen House we spent part of the afternoon in a spacious Yoga studio nearby to allow Kayleigh to advantage of some space!

Andrew Appleton Photo Training The twelfth day of Christmas: Party time!


The Saracen House Appleton Photo Training Christmas Party



Well that’s it, 12 days of Christmas – 12 fantastic months for me.

I’ll sign of now by wishing everyone a very happy New Year, I hope to see you at some point in 2014!