Kallum’s an interesting guy. Far younger than his relaxed and confident manner would have you believe. Already a serial entrepreneur at the age of 24, his real skill is as a connector; he possesses a natural ability to get people together and working well, which will see him go far, of that I’m absolutely certain. This skill is at the fore in his key role at the Acorn Enterprise Initiative, aimed at getting fledgling businesses through the “danger zone” ( most businesses fail at the 3 year stage ). He’s well known locally for the popular Dunfermline Talks Business networking events too, another example of his consummate skill in getting people talking, and working together. On top of that, he runs Audacious Marketing, where ( yet again ) he helps people improve their business. Kallum’s a busy man, it seems.

So with all this confidence, obviously bearing fruit, you’d think Kallum wouldn’t be bothered about a photo shoot. After all, first impressions really count, and online doubly so.

Well, no.

Barring a couple of sitters, almost every client I’ve had has viewed a portrait shoot like a trip to the dentist. Kallum was no different, the scrutiny of a professional eye proving an initially unnerving experience.

He’s in good company though, there are tales on the web of some pretty prominent people, crumbling in front of that unblinking lens. The photographer’s main skill during a shoot, if it is to be a successful one, is to allay those fears quickly, relax the sitter and bring that personality out for all to see. This is not a “one size fits all” skill either. We’re all different, and we all need different approaches.

This takes time, and sometimes, I’m afraid, that can mean the photographer has to be surprisingly blunt. Like telling you to stop smiling. Because it’s making you look daft. Nothing shows nerves like a forced smile. So please for the love of Mike, people… don’t do it.

Kallum had initially said, in our pre-shoot planning meeting that he wanted his cheeky nature to come through in the shots, and in some of the shots I think that comes through very obviously. But there are other, less obvious sides to him too, and I felt it was important to show those too. Once I got him to stop smiling nervously, and relax a little, that started to come through, and I believe that you can see, even in the more serious shots, that there’s a twinkle there. What it took though, was a blunt photographer, to tell him to stop feeling the need to smile. By the end, we were getting natural smiles, and having a lot of fun. I know of few people who could get there in the first few minutes. As I’ve said already, it takes time.

All in all, we had an hour to get the shots we needed. We also had minimal space to shoot in ( a small two desk office, which still had the desks in ). This is fast becoming a major skill of mine. I believe I got studio quality images out of a difficult space, in a tight time frame. I’m really happy with the results.

The biggest thrill though, was watching Kallum’s face as he looked though the images for the first time. A huge smile appeared, unbidden on his face. I should have had my camera ready…

You can view some of the final results here:




Last month I worked with a great company called Wild Packs, who are committed to getting kids from outside of the USA into US summer camps, to experience the profound benefits of the system. They’re pretty unique in that respect and by their very nature are full of fun and personality.

So it was exciting to be asked to come along to Crieff Hydro during a company retreat to do their portraits. It’s an important and oft underrated part of the business equation. In an increasingly impersonal online world, it’s vitally important to put forward your very human face.

That first impression really counts. You might be getting your business online, but whether it’s via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own website; people are still buying into you. So this stuff really matters, and as a photographer it’s an honour and a responsibility to be asked to help get it right.

The challenge with this kind of shoot is 3 fold: space available to shoot; time available to shoot and nervousness, pure and simple. Some people, understandably, get nervous in front of the camera, almost to “dentist” levels of fear.

In order to be ready for these challenges I make a point of having as much knowledge as I can. Knowing the people at the venue who can help, and knowing your options can make the difference between disaster and success on a shoot. Pre-shoot preparation, should be pretty invisible to the client, but if it’s not done, the job gets so much harder.

I’ve also worked hard at being flexible. I don’t need a studio, and you’d be surprised at the results I can get in some pretty small spaces. At the Hydro, I only had access to a small client liaison room, in order to do the shoot, yet the results, in my humble opinion are “studio” quality. In my opinion, studios are not necessary for most modern portraiture. As a client, you need not take excessive time out of your day to get business portraiture done. The photographer should come to you, I know I certainly can.

Also the photographer should be aware of how valuable your time is, and how much of it you’re willing or able to give. In this instance, I had a morning, to set up and do portraits for the whole company. As it turned out, due to preparing well and having a good system worked out, it took an hour. I was aware that the good folk at Wild Packs were keen to be back in the conference room, and wanted to miss as little as possible from the presentations they were actually there for.

As for nervousness. That’s simple. Be professional, respectful, and just plain nice. Sometimes, as with this shoot, photographers don’t have much time to get each sitter to relax. As a photographer, appearing nervous and stressed, or worse, standoffish, will make the job even harder. One of the common elements I always get in my feedback, is that I’m painless to work with and manage to put people at ease relatively quickly. This is a vastly underrated photography skill.

As an aside, for any other photographers reading this, I believe it’s essential that you put yourself in front of the lens on a regular basis. Only then can you understand your clients’ anxieties about standing in front of your camera. The “selfie” is a vital tool.

Organisation, flexibility and being human. These are the solutions to the key challenges in business and corporate portraiture.. It’s an extremely simple set of solutions, but it’s crazy how few bring them all together.

Hopefully, it shows. It was a great pleasure to work with the team at Wild Packs and especially Jamie, who was always huge fun and very approachable.


Creating a great first impression for your business is just one of my skills. If you want to find out more about what I do or contact me about my services you can find my contact details here.

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Well this is exciting. I’ve started up a tumblr blog to post up my Phonar13 work over the next 10 weeks. First up: Pretask – Journey to work. For me this consists of: Kid to school; Drive past the new Forth Road Bridge being constructed on my to work on my ongoing and ever expanding Forth …

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Shotokan Karate has a special place in my heart. As a child I was lucky enough to live in Japan for a year. I studied Shotokan for that year under a (then 5th dan) black belt called Sensei Takahashi. Moving back to Scotland afterwards, and specifically back to my beloved Highlands, while welcome, meant that I could never carry it on. The 80 mile plus round trip for every session was simply not viable.

Over the last 30 years, I have never forgotten Sensei Takahashi, and I have never forgotten the lessons of respect, discipline and the value of practice, that he taught me so well, despite the language barrier. Perhaps it was because he was such a good teacher, or perhaps it’s because these principles are universal, or more likely, it’s a generous helping of both. It has certainly stood me in good stead in all other aspects of my life.

So when I finally found a genuine Shotokan Dojo in my home town, I jumped at it. Not for me – I’m old and busted ( Men in Black fans will get this one ) – but for my daughter ( the new hotness ). I felt it would give her a wonderful start in life, and I firmly believe that almost two years in, it’s had a demonstrably beneficial effect on her. She loves it, and she has already learnt these fundamental and valuable lessons.

Sensei Bert of the Dalgety Bay JKA dojo ( ), absolutely embodies all of these principles and instils them in his students with sublety, grace and no little amount of modesty. So when he built one of the very few purpose built dojos in the UK, and I got the chance to document the opening event; a day of learning for his students under the tutelage of the awe inspiring Sensei Ohta ( 7th Dan ), followed by official opening speech by Gordon Brown, former PM of the United Kingdom… it was a no brainer.

I wanted to provide Bert with a great story. One that he could come back to time and again, to enjoy, remember and use as a tool to promote the dojo. Single images are great, but photostories are infinitely better at getting the message across about what you are about, what’s involved in what you do, and they rule the roost when it comes to solidifying, or capturing memories.

I firmly believe in the power of photography as a storytelling device. Telling stories with photographs is a skill which is slowly being lost, in my opinion. The focus ( pardon the photographic pun ) on the single image over a body of work is leading to a situation similar to the music industry. Where the album is in trouble and individual songs are king. Sites like Flickr, Blipfoto et al, are great forces for good in photography, but they devalue the story too. It’s my firm belief, that we need to do what we can to keep the photostory alive.

The Dojo project is the first of these attempts on my behalf. I hope there will be many more. There are a good number of other photographers out there doing something similar too. Hopefully we can all make a difference.

I’m still working on the final project, but already I know that this project has delighted Bert and achieved it’s initial objective. Once I’ve developed it a little further, I’ll post it fully up here. But for now, here are a selection of images which tell the story of the day.

I have to say, it was an honour and pleasure to meet Gordon Brown. He was a true gentleman and I found him to be very approachable.

For those of you who are interested in photography as a storytelling device. I can heartily recommend Phonar ( ), run by Jonathan Worth and Matt Johnston at Coventry Uni. It’s free, open and absolutely at the cutting edge of learning in a connected world.


I’ve been working hard to line up new portrait shoots recently.

This was the first of these new shoots, with the brilliant Leanne. It’s been a while since I did this type of shoot and I’m leaving the rest of the images from it until next week so I can come at it fresh, but this shot gave me a buzz, so I just had to work on it yesterday.

It’s an example of the unexpected shot that always seems to result from a fluid portrait shoot like this. I went in with an idea in mind, and came away with something even better, in my opinion. It just goes to show, that while it pays to have a good idea of what you want out of a shoot, it’s also highly important to be flexible and willing to stray from the path on occasion.

You never know what you may find!

cedar cones?

Cedar cones?

This is the next image in my  Common or Garden series.

At first glance, the point of the work is to show the beauty in the “common or garden” plants and weeds that we ignore/destroy week after week through the year, but there is another driving force behind this.

The idea is to simplify the content of an image and play with composition and focus. It’s about de-cluttering my “eye” and thinking about the structure of an image in it’s most basic form. So I provide a white space ( most often a square) and inside that I place a simple object. Giving it the attention it deserves and seeing how it interacts with the space, the frame and light itself. I poke it in from the edges and see what it does. I rotate it, bend it, turn it upside down until I find a pleasing interaction with the space. I shoot,  then I play more with it.  I start with the established “rules” of composition, and then see if things work outside of those bounds.

I try and do this with a bare minimum of equipment ( you’d be surprised just how “Heath Robinson” some of these setups have been ( gaffer tape and blu tac are my best friends here ).

It’s all window-lit with the occasional reflector to lighten up the shadows. I’m not sure if it’s my hibernative*, contemplative mood in the winter. or if it’s the colours of the objects that I’m finding right now, but I seem to be veering away from the punchy colours I’d been using in the spring and summer towards far more desaturated, calm colours now. I can’t seem to make the spring ones work with this new colour approach, so I’m not sure yet, how to marry these disparate styles or if I even I even need to. .

*almost certainly not a real word.


Every so often I do a self portrait ( I’d rather experiment on myself than on a paying customer )  to try and play with lighting and learn some new things. Today I decided to try and learn an old thing. I wanted to see how closely I could mimic the lighting of one of my favourite ever portraits.

It’s the iconic, and simple portrait of Max Von Sydow used to publicise Ingmar Bergman’s, 1957 film  The Seventh Seal.

I enjoy the process of taking lighting apart in other people’s work, and seeing where it takes me. Even with just one light, the process can be quite lengthy, I ran out of time to get this perfect but I think I came fairly close.

There are some caveats though:

a/ I don’t look like Max Von Sydow, no matter how hard I try! This kind of lighting really accentuates angular, symmetrical faces. My face is not one of those. That being said this kind of lighting can imbue undramatic faces such as mine with a modicum of dramatic impact. His extremely fair hair really helps with the texture and shape of the image as well.

My beard does not help.

b/  I think that my lighting, now that I can directly compare the two should have been even more directly above my head. There is something odd about the positioning of the lighting in the original which makes it seem as though much more of his face should be lit on the “dark side”. I suspect it was a bit more central,  higher up, angled down and I suspect the key element that’s missing from my lighting is a gobo to dramatically cut off the light on the other side of the face.

I concentrated on getting the shadows right by positioning the lighting to the side. I think I’d have been better served by using the lighting to create the highlight and a gobo ( essentially a black card ) to create the shadows.

It’s noted now as a potential trick up my sleeve should I find a Scandinavian with an angular, perfectly symmetrical face. 🙂

Lighting diagram below.


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