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Tell us a Story


In this final part of my mini course we are going to discuss what we mean by using  story within our Photographs or collection of Photographs. So what do we mean by story? well it isn’t actually a full tale with beginning middle and end necessarily but you images or collection of images could give the viewer something to follow or something to learn about you or the content of the image. You could have captured a significant moment or something that illustrates the cause, creation or effect of an action. Sometimes we can subtle only suggest a story and allow the viewer to decide what might be happening or has happened.


Story telling in its simplest terms can come from a posed image of just about anything where the elements within the image link together to suggest event. It could be a series of images put together as a photographic essay which illustrates a happening. Or event the documentation of a process or real event you have witnessed.

Whichever you attempt you need to think about your composition as ever, particularly your perspective so you capture subjects in settings where for example the setting may add to the story. Think about your depth of field, if you are shooting a street scene perhaps having the background in focus so it can be understood is critical to allowing the image to explain itself. Here the isolation shallow depth of field brings is rarely going to be of help, framing is also critical again to set the scene to bring in the important elements. Maybe its just family fun doing a pebble hunt on the beach?

pebble hunt

If you are composing your own staged image really think about what you are trying to tell us and build it from there, perhaps use a story board to help pre visualise and understand exactly what you wish to achieve and how.

Exercise: Go search ‘iconic news photographs’ and study them. Understand how the photograph was framed and composed in order that we have all the information we need there to easily know whats going on.



Get Organised

untitled (3 of 18)

I already talked about taking control and this is what this second phase is all about for me. I mentioned that it was important to get some control even in situations where you are mostly reacting to your environment or subject. We also of course have many situations where we have complete control.

I will split this into two areas. Organising your subject matter and composition physically, and organising/manipulating your light.

untitled (12 of 18)

Let’s start with the physical. So here I am referring to a bit of a list really;


  • Your Subject
  • Your Location
  • Your Position
  • Your Purpose
  • Elements
  • People/models
  • Equipment
  • What’s in/what’s out


I think most of those are self explanatory. Using the right mix to achieve what you set out to achieve. Selecting and organising equipment’s and content and making sure it’s all relevant to your end goal. This will be so varied depending on what you set out to achieve its impossible for me to express any clear guidelines. Besides, you want this to be your own right? Not what someone else directs you to do.

I will however talk a little about that last point in the list. What’s in/what’s out as this applies to most situations.

untitled (14 of 18)

By this I am going back a touch into composition. What you are allowing, or putting into your image must be relevant, it must not be a distraction or confuse the viewer. I accept, that in some cases, especially conceptual or surreal art we might introduce elements purposely to confuse, stimulate or create a tension. However, for most of those reading Lightism that probably isn’t relevant right now. So let’s carry on.  Think about isolating your subject initially, then think about what in that environment could add to the image? Maybe nothing? Maybe everything. Be selective, but be strict and don’t leave us [viewers] wondering or distracted, we will quickly lose interest.


I mean, can you imagine a great painter adding a random power line to a classic landscape, or a modern car into a timeless scene or even a portraitist painting in a clothing label into a beautiful portrait, just because those things were there. Leave them out, hide them, move them or move you. Busy backgrounds and unwanted details are distracting and dubious. When making a landscape image I often have to littler pick before I shoot it. It’s that attention to detail that you are working towards, really study what you have framed through the viewfinder and ‘tidy up’

untitled (15 of 18)

Put simply, “if it doesn’t add to the image, leave it out”


Here’s a another great article on the same subject:  If God was a photographer – Advanced composition

 all images copyright martin gillman 2014

Manipulating the Light

Manipulating the Light


Shoot it like you’d paint it 2

Manipulating the light. The classic painters studied the light and often painted their subjects reflecting that knowledge of light. They created a duplication of realistic light fall and that made the world of difference to their works. They moved on from painting everything on what appeared to be a flat even light into developing shape, tone and form by painting with directional light and emphasizing shadow and highlights. Using light to sculpt always makes for more interesting images and so my next advice is to understand that and try to work that way.

This is not always possible but you do have more flexibility than perhaps you think. By this I mean of course using tools and modifiers to create the effect you want with both natural (often called available) and artificial light sources.

For example, if you want to make a portrait like a 17th century painted classic of a lady sat in window light, then sit her in window light. If by candle light, then use candle light. What I’m saying here is use the obvious first, craft your image by sculpting your subject with the light you have available and move the subject. If you cannot move your subject, perhaps we are landscaping again, then it’s a matter of time. Study the light direction and temperature and different times of the day and shoot then. I will often go out and if the light just isn’t right, take few or even no images because if I am just snapping then I am not creating anything other than a flat duplication of what everyone else can see.


The craft here is about getting exposure right and that’s something coming along later from me, but for now we need to be understanding what we want to achieve visually and what effects that outcome off camera. Here is teh book I used when I started out  understand exposure. Understanding Exposure. Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera


Then we have artificial lights. Flash (often called speedlights or stobes these days), continuous lights, indoor general lighting etc. These can often be controlled more accurately, especially flash and continuous types purposefully developed for photography. Here we have much more flexibility and can arrange and adjust these light sources to mimic natural sun light or create multi directional sources of varying strength. Whatever way you go, or have to go the same applies, paint the scene with your light and then capture it with your camera.


The underlying point here is again to take control. Whether you have natural, artificial light or both you need to arrange it to get the best effects possible. Natural looking effects are always safe as the viewer can identify with it, if it looks believable we will appreciate it more.

“Shoot it like you’d paint it”

Shoot it like you'd paint it



Shoot it like you’d paint it … Says it all really.  Take control.

Here I am talking about the thought process before making the picture, trying to be involved in the organization of all the elements that come together to make a wonderful image, hence shoot it like you’d paint it. As a Painter gets to start with a clean canvass and put down exactly what he or she likes. Try to approach photography like that, sometimes you will have complete control, other times only partial but always take control.

With every photograph you make, try to make it so everything about it is how you want it to be. Lets start with what we might think of a spurious opportunity, like street or event Photography.  Even in street photography you have some control, in fact a lot more control than you might think.

You may not, in that situation have much control of the light, but you can manipulate your position, your timing and where in fact you are to start with and those will all influence the outcome. Perhaps set up a photo trap, by that I mean framing your shot and allowing people to come into it and then react, as opposed to following people around waiting for a chance of something interesting to happen (the two examples here are photo traps). Take control, express yourself, create your opportunities. Interact with people, be brave, be bold and as Robert Cappa said “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you are not close enough” so get closer.


Remember these are your Photographs, not someone else’s. It is up to you to impose your creativity and design onto that sensor or film. Pose your models, induce a mood, develop your story or message with props and adapt (where possible) your light to embellish feeling onto your work.


‘Don’t snatch, create’   If you’re new to photography, take a peek at this Lightism article on how to Fill the frame shed_street-3

all images copyright martingillman 2014

Seeing the Light


Seeing the Light … Now, this is most important.
Do I have your full attention?

Photography derived from the Greek photos- for “light” and -graphos for “drawing” is the art, science, and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film, or electronically by means of an image sensor. Yeh, yeh! Yadda, Yadda, Yadda.  Write that down somewhere and now we can get back to reality.

Light sculpts, that’s it. It gives the shape and form to everything we see, without the light there would be no visual form. How light falls onto, wraps around and interacts with objects depicts how we see those objects. I think therefore it goes almost without saying that we must be in tune with seeing and understanding this light in order that we develop our true way of seeing.

Light reveals and effects colour saturation. Light has a temperature that we can measure. Light travels faster than anything else. Light gives life. Light is therefore pretty darn cool right? Wrong, sometimes it’s warm ;) We should respect it and take the time to understand it. Light is now your best friend so get to know him well.


Whatever you look at you are reacting to fall of light. This light is washing over everything and depending on the angle, diffusion and strength it will change what you see and therefore what you can record with you photograph. Now it is an appreciation for how the light falls and sculpts that you need to master because once mastered you will find it, use it, even create it in order to produce a wonderful image.

The early paint masters worked tirelessly to understand how light falls and shapes what we see, they then recreated this with their brushes. You don’t have to recreate it necessarily but you will need to be able to see it and exploit its effects.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 21.30.38 Exercise 1:
Go back to your Google searches and favorite photographs, books and walls.

Describe to yourself how the light was used, where it comes from and why it works in those images.

wales2_getty-2 Exercise 2:
Now go find a window, inside your home. A window with strong light coming through, preferably during the day unless you have a strong light source outside at night. Turn off any electric lights or screens that will pollute the room.

Now ask someone to sit in that fall of light and study what you see. Ask them to alter their position and observe how their form changes, how the light sculpts them.

Begin to recognize light and shadow and those bits in-between, they are your midtones. Decide what looks best, observe and understand how the light works.

If you are confident enough make a photograph and see if you can capture it exactly as you see it. Let me know how you got on.


self2-6all images copyright martin gillman 2014


Ways of Seeing


Where were we?  Ah, Ways of seeing.

In the last post we used the analogy of a Landscape image to start thinking about how we look and then decide what our image will contain. But we don’t always shoot pretty post cards. Whatever the genre the same applies regards the content of the image, it will need to make some kind of sense to the viewer.

Now this sense is open to interpretation and many Photographers of course shoot abstract art as they would call it, but, in most cases they will be able to justify the image which shows that they were concerned with its content. Always be concerned with your content ladies and gentlemen, that is non negotiable. Even if it is a simple photograph of your family on the beach, when you frame that shot really look before you press the shutter button. What is in the frame that either doesn’t belong there, is a distraction, or obscures something that does belong there. It is the subtle differences of method like that when making a photograph that separate a picture from a snap shot.


I guess part of developing ones sense of seeing is to look at most things as an opportunity to make a Photograph. This will push you to look with this new photographer eye that you are working so hard to improve. I think that most of not all accomplished Photographers would agree that this will become an obsession eventually, almost a way of being. For example, as I drive along a pretty road in my mind I am taking a hundred shots a minute. My eyes are darting and framing likely images, this is ‘auto pilot’ for many a Photographer. It is a developed sense of imagery that becomes habit without call or command and should be a goal for you if you are serious about developing your craft. It will just come one day, keep working on it, you can’t stop it.


So we are talking about awareness also. An awareness of what would work, visually. It can be a scene, a moment or a still life that has been set up for the purpose of creating an image. But the fundamentals are the same, that all those elements within need to come together to make a thing of interest and/or beauty.



If you fancy some homework, then try these two articles on Lightism:
How to train your eye to take better pictures and Use Psychology to take Better Pictures:


Next we will talk about “seeing the light”

This weeks reading recommendation. Well, when it comes to ways of seeing I must hand you over to Monsieur Cartier Bresson … of course. Henri Cartier-Bresson: 002 (Masters of Photography)



Learn to see differently


Hi !

Now we are to begin to discuss Composition aren’t we? Before we start, I’m going to make a statement… Now I believe, in fact I know, I can even prove, that at one time in your life all of you were ‘Masters’ of composition. I mean it, and I will prove it.  It will open your eyes and have you laughing and nodding like a donkey, but that’s for another time.

I think today we were going to begin to talk about: ‘Learning to see differently”


“Many will learn but few will master” (I just made that up, but you can’t hope to master until you learn right?)

First off: What do I mean by seeing differently? Well you have to learn to look, I mean REALLY look, almost like you’re looking on another level. Look beyond the obvious. see into the depths of what is all around you. Learn to understand that light ‘moulds’ and ‘shapes’ everything your eyes let in. Also see that everything has some kind of structure and position and as you move, all the above may change with you. Notice I did that without using the word perspective? This is Lightism, this is how we do it.

Learn to shift your gaze from the focal point of what you are looking at. This is really simple, come off target. Say I’m going to photograph a mountain, there it is right in front of me. I’m looking right at it, I’m so fixed on it that I lift my camera, frame the mountain, and ‘click’, mountain photo achieved! Well done. I just got the prize for the ‘one millionth customer’ shot of that mountain from that angle right in the middle of the frame. Nailed it. Or did I?

Now you try, try ‘shifting your gaze’. What’s around that mountain? What’s above it? Take it ALL in, notice what else there is, notice what else you can use or add into the image to compliment or justify the mountain. Notice how the light is falling onto it, how is it lit? Notice the people who might be walking into your shot: bad? Or could they be used? Notice how important parts of your mountain that explain it, would they be in shot? Imagine your shot, where would the mountain be in frame? Centre? Left? Right? Now, you are looking properly.


Now this is just a start, because as you learn more you will begin to appreciate how things go together to make a great photograph. Called by many ‘The elements of design’. Once you have a grasp for those, you will find your ‘ways of seeing’ will be enhanced because you will understand how to put things together. For now though, I need you to just try and soak it all up, immerse yourself in what you see and all that goes with it.

Exercise: This one is easy. Go do an image search or find a book of Photographs you love. Now really look and ask yourself why you love each image. Justify those images as if you had taken them. Notice and acknowledge what is included in the image, and maybe what the photographer left out. I can assure you the photographer only let in what they wanted you to see.


Book recommend for those who like to read in more depth: “Ways of seeing” by John Berger. Now that book can be hard going, but it does a good job of breaking; Paintings, Photographs and advertisements down to understand how and why they ‘work’. Ways of Seeing (Penguin Modern Classics) untitled-131


all images copyright martin gillman 2014

Probably the coolest Photography class ever … starts here!

The Pines

Well, Hello.

This is my first post here at Lightism and I guess I should introduce myself. Why? Well, I am going to be around a lot and hopefully help you along your ways.

So, my name is Martin and it will come as no surprise that while I am a photographer, I am also a ‘muser’. Someone who thinks photography and I love to pass what I think on, mostly to help others. So Lightism if you are new here is a bit different to so many other web sites that talk and show photography. Here we break it down, we keep it simple and we communicate things in a way that allows anyone, whatever their experience, to learn something.  There are no rules in Photography, so I won’t be giving you any. And hopefully you will go onto create Photographs you can be proud of.

Let me also tell you what I am not going to do; I am not going to lay out a tight agenda here, or an index of particular subjects we will cover and by when. There is of course a purpose and below I will let you know where we are going.  Most importantly: I am going to make this relaxed. So sit down, grab a cuppa and we will discuss.

So, this is me in my many online guises …

Twitter: @gillmanphoto

Instagram: @gillman_photo

Facebook: GillmanPhotography

www.martingillman.co.uk portrait-1


And now, lets get started. The widow and Fiddle

What follows over the next weeks are 10 posts that are your introduction to learning how to make a photograph I hope you will be proud of.

Today I want to tell you about Photography A.B.C, This is a way of breaking down the art of composition into 3 bite size steps. Now, you may ask: “why start with composition?” well because I feel that it is the single most important element of ANY image. It is what will distinguish your image from the guy next to you because every composition is different, even if only in some subtle ways. Yet those subtleties will be the difference between ‘meh’ and YEH!

Now composition can be quite complex, It has many elements which make up the final image just like all those parts that make a symphony. Now this is Lightism, so we shall make sense of it for you. (At least the important bits.) Let’s get this right first and all the other technical mumbo jumbo can come later: If your image doesn’t make sense to the viewer, it won’t matter how sharp it is or what the tonal balance looks like. It will still look pants. So, this is why we are starting here.

Lets break this down baby:

A – Learn to see differently. Before we even lift the camera to our eye, we need to learn see what most do not.

B – Shoot it like you would paint it. Organising the elements of design within your image so they work together.

C – Tell us a story Jackanory! Speaks for itself right?

I would like to recommend a book that will help you get to grips with improving your photography. ‘The Photograph’ by Graham Clarke.

That’s the way of ‘the force’ friends. Now in the next post, we’ll get on with it.




all images copyright martin gillman 2014

Creativity, Not Gear!

I’m here to tell you that you can shoot professional, even commercial photography with little or no kit at home on the dinning table.

Creativity, Not Gear

Sure, we’d all love the latest kit, but the reality is that with some thought and resourcefulness…you don’t really need it.

I shot above picture for a one of my food clients to promote an amazingly tasty innovate Fruit Tea which is frozen and contains real fruit. It was needed quickly, so here’s how I used the dining table, some upside down chairs, less that £100 of lighting gear and a flashlight.


Step 1:  Create a backdrop.

I stacked the chairs at the back of the room and draped them with my trustee piece of black velvet.

I have a shower curtain if I shoot white! Both items are a cheap and incredibly versatile.


Step 2: Introduce the lighting:

For this I’m using my Minimalist Super Cheap Strobist kit consisting of two Yonguno speedlights, wireless triggers and 2 x Lollipods as light stands.

The speed lights are positioned above the cups, facing towards each other to create a curtain of light. The table is positioned far back enough that no light spills on the backdrop.

I cannot throw it out of focus, because I’m using F11 to get rid of the day light and give sharpness, but flashes will be so quick that they will freeze the motion.

The camera is positioned low so that the £3 piece of black paper from the local art shop blends into the black velvet draped over the chairs.


Step 3:  Settings and refining:

I’m shooting at ISO 100 for quality,

1/200 th as it’s as fast as I can sync,

F11 to kill the ambient light,

manual focus for constancy,

flashes on manual and 1/3 power to enable three rapid shots before a recharge,

my zoom somewhere between 50-70mm to fill the frame still leave enough room to squeeze behind the camera and not burn my bum on the open fire behind me!

It took a few test shots to position the lights to get the effect I wanted, but that’s just part of the fun.


Step 4: Secret Weapon:

The theory is that I will shoot each cup separately and them blend all four together, you might call it cheating, but I only have two hands!

So three things are critical:
The camera must be in manual focus and not move (self timer is my friend),

The curtain of light is narrow and I need all of the fruit and water to be on the same vertical plan,

The black paper and cups cannot move, so no slipping and only two takes per cup before they are full.

So, my secret weapon:  I placed a small very bright waterproof flashlight in the cup pointing up to provide a visual guide for where the water and fruit must fall. I used a Fenix PD22 which is an awesome pocket light.


Step 5: Trial Error & Photoshop:

After that it was just a matter of trial and error.
I practiced once off camera and managed to pour the water and drop the fruit without any spillage.
I blended four individual shots (one per cup) and the client loved the final result.

What’s in Your Bag?

I love to see things from a different angle and so was delighted to discover a new FREE web site where people can showcase their camera gear and their photography.   It’s designed for everyone with categories for DSLR, Lighting, Film, GoPro and Phone based photography.

In My Bag   InMyBag.net

More importantly for me, their is a minimalist kit section which I hope grows to show you that creativity is way more important than the latest gear!

I’ve already put my iPhone and large Lighting bag on…will pop the Minimalist Lighting Bag soon:



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