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The importance of family photographs

These are the Gladwin children whose parents brought them into my Caistor studio recently for a family shoot and some individual portraits. Each time I photograph someone’s children I am reminded  just how important it is to photograph my own too. It is astonishing to see how much my son has changed in the last two years since leaving primary school and large framed shots of my two blown up and hung around the house are a daily reminder. No longer my “little boy” my son is now taller than his mother and rapidly gaining of me. His voice has broken and his shoulders broadened and not just physically. Meanwhile my “little girl” is now an 18 year old woman. How did it happen so quickly?

Of course the children themselves don’t necessarily understand or appreciate all this attention in front of a camera and some will hide their blushing faces in 25 years time when they are inevitably produced at a wedding speech. But consider this; their own children and grandchildren will be fascinated and thrilled to see high quality imagery of their parents as children. I recently found one of only a few pictures that I know exist of my father as a young boy. It was taken in a studio and he is holding a cricket ball. It is both evocative and touching. He would probably disagree but I think it is superb and thank goodness my grandparents convinced him to stand that day for a photographer in a Scunthorpe studio. Crucially, the only way to “own” an image then was as a print and it survived all these years because it can be held and framed. I am often boring everyone in earshot with my predictions for a lost era of photography. That era is now and it is all because of the digital revolution. It is reckoned that 10% of all photographs ever taken were in the past year. Facebook already hosts an incredible 140 billion photo’s. Maybe you think they are safe on Facebook. You do back-up your Facebook page regularly don’t you? And archive a separate copy? And of course you regularly sync your iPad to iTunes and keep separate copies. You do have at least three copies of your precious family snaps on storage devices you can still access don’t you? None lurking on an old phone, laptop, floppy disc, zip drive, SCSI drive? Do you keep moving them to new media as the old technology become obsolete? Even NASA had to search the world for the last projector that would play the original film of the lunar ladings. Nobody thought.

Back to earth, if you don’t print your family snaps who will? How will your children know where to find your cloud based box of pixel memories (assuming the server doesn’t lose them or go out of business) and will they have the passwords and authority to access them? The print of my father survived because it was cherished and because it cost money and was seen as an investment. Whether or not you occasionally invest in a professional photographer to take quality portraits and produce proper prints you can actually touch, you must print up your own family snaps and store them even if you prefer to browse them on your TV or tablet.

The Gladwin children, below, have all been printed using a Mocha tone to the same 30×24 inch size with a digital film border. Each border is slightly different but all have been framed in a modern pewter moulding to be hung together on stairs. What better place to see daily how they grow-up? The final shot is a less formal, fun montage which has been framed using a modern box frame. They were all shot on a £5000 camera body with a £1200 lens and professional lighting by an experienced professional (me) but most importantly they exist because their parents saw the long-term value in employing me just as my grandmother did when dragging my six year old father to the local studio.

If you are interested in commissioning me for family portraiture please call the Michael Powell Photographer Studio on 01472 859666 or email me above or at


I’m not normally one for giving titles to images but tranquility seems apposite in this case. I waited for the sun to set and the tide to roll-in and shot this apparent bridge to nowhere using a 20 second exposure and 9x neutral density filter. Meditation book publishers, please call for a quote!

Simon Grosset - June 6, 2013 - 8:57 pm

That’s Belhaven Beach, in Dunbar, isn’t it? With the Bass Rock behind. I live 10 miles away in North Berwick, if you come back again….

admin - June 7, 2013 - 11:38 am

Hi Simon. It is indeed. Love it round East Lothian; North Berwick, Aberlady Bay, Dunbar etc. Sadly no trips planned at the moment but hope to see you sometime.

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.