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More retouching for The Times

One of the (few) improved skills I have acquired since spreading my wings out of newspaper photography has been using digital imaging. Every image a professional shoots requires this to some extent. Often it is just the mundane necessity of taking a RAW file and making it press-ready by altering colour density, sharpness etc. Most professionals shoot in RAW most of the time to retain maximum information in the digital file and to stop the camera making decisions on colours etc. For us, such algorithms programmed by the manufacturer take too much control from us pro’s who tend to be control freaks at the best of times. Briefly, if your camera is set on JPEG mode (and if it is a compact camera this may even be its only mode) then every exposure is being messed with by the camera’s chip and vital information is deleted when it is written to the memory card in order for more images to be stored. If you have an iPod you can liken shooting RAW to importing your music using Apple Lossless and JPEG to MP3. I know which sounds and looks better but then I’m prepared to sacrifice a bit of sonic palate for the convenience of thousands of songs fitting on my device. (Apologies to my brother in law Dave Blackman at Hiltongrove Mastering who has the ears of a long-eared bat. Not visually Dave. You can confirm this by visiting

Apart from all that RAW conversion stuff many files benefit from some extra tweaking. Not wholesale manipulation such as transplanting heads (though I have done that in wedding groups as a last resort) but what old gits like me know as “darkroom technique”. Printing by hand meant we could shoot on film in a certain way knowing how we might subtly change the image in the darkroom later. By deploying shadow puppetry (really) under the beam of a projected image onto photo paper we altered the dark and light areas by restricting or adding the amount of light hitting the paper. It’s known as “dodging” and “burning”. These tools are digitally in the Photoshop toolbox. They have even kept the names. Here is an example of such tweakage. This lovely portrait of Theo Walcott is by Marc Aspland, Staff Sport Photographer at The Times. Marc knew exactly what he wanted when shooting it. He placed a black cloth behind Theo and used the directional window light from the left but it could just as easily been a studio light with softbox. Marc shot most of the shots tight but stepped back to include the cloth on some and sent me his files as a fresh pair of eyes. When working for national papers we usually don’t have the time to do much of this stuff because of short deadlines. Hence all the food, wedding and portrait work I do has given me more time to explore digital imaging than previously. Using dodge and burn tools and by tweaking contrast and saturation I came up with this. Knowing when to stop is important and I could easily have retouched his scratched leather soles but I love the contrast with the red. I included a film style border for the full analogue look (something else I developed from studio portrait work though we all used it originally in the darkroom when hand-printing) and The Times gave it an almost full page. Walcott sent Marc a text thanking him for the lovely image.

©copyright The Times/Marc Aspland

©copyright The Times/Marc Aspland

©copyright Times Newspapers

Food Photographer of the Year Awards 2013

At last I can show the image that made me a finalist in the Pink Lady Food Photographer Of The Year Awards. My section was “Food In The Field” and shows an escaped guinea fowl living wild in the Lincolnshire Wolds. The picture was taken while I was covering a pheasant shoot for a client. I’m glad to report that none of the guns were trained on the guinea fowl. It just roosted there nonplussed while all kinds of game birds were shot down around it; pheasants, partridges, wood pigeons, mallards etc.

©Michael Powell 2012

And here’s me next to the framed version at The Mall Galleries, London. Don’t know why I’m smirking….I didn’t win. Must have been the fault of sponsor Taittinger! Thanks to my Photoshop skills I successfully did my flies up! Honestly, you’d think someone would mention it. Thanks to Charlotte Turner, another finalist for taking the shot.

©Charlotte Turner 2013

However, best of all my son Ollie took third prize in his Under 18 section. It’s a belter of a snap of a red chilli splashing into water. He did a green chilli too which I have just uploaded to Getty Images so hopefully some pocket money will be heading his way. Good work Ols! I was a judge of this competition last year and although I enjoyed judging enormously it was great to be free to enter this year. More on the competition and winners here:

©Oliver Powell 2013

Paul Delmar - June 10, 2013 - 6:41 pm

Super site,very strong image style Michael from the Red Arrows to the Drinks…Mike is a high flyer cheers,I like you work.

Margaret Thatcher

Spent yesterday doing imaging on Thatcher’s funeral for The Times. I photographed her countless times around the UK and especially in Downing Street. Unfortunately I can’t find the shots. They must all be filed in The Times Picture Library (my loft). I was in Downing Street when she announced her resignation and still have the press release handed-out that day. Here it is.

Moto Hero Guy Martin

French magazine Moto Heroes has used some of my pictures of Guy Martin well in their latest issue. (What a brilliant magazine. If only I understood French). For those unfamiliar with Guy he is a Lincolnshire born and apparently fearless motorcycle racer. A quick search on youtube of him competing in the Isle of Man TT gives some idea of his talent and tenacity when astride a bike. He has also presented a number of TV documentaries including one on BBC1 spent renovating a narrow boat. He still has a day job as a lorry mechanic, one of the many things fans find endearing. He’s a thoroughly genial chap and good fun to be around and photograph. He lives locally so the shot shown here was done in my studio in Caistor. The other was taken across the road from my studio for The Times at midnight whilst trying not to awaken nearby residents. Locals will recognise the passage next to Sandhams Wine Merchant. For photo-nerds, the red glow is from a second flash with a gel and the smoke was created using plumber’s smoke pellets.

©copyright image Michael Powell

Food Photographer of the Year Finalist

I have been selected as a finalist in the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Awards! This is particularly pleasing as I was a judge last year and know how much goes into the selection process. Even more exciting, my son Ollie is also a finalist in one of the Under 18 sections. Good work Ols! I can’t show the pictures chosen yet as there is an embargo in place. More news to come after the reception at Mall Galleries, London on 23rd April where I shall be either celebrating or crying into my Taittinger sponsored champagne. Tough work!