Martin Parr’s Black Country Stories – The New Art Gallery Walsall

Martin Parr Black Country Stories

Martin Parr at his new Black Country Stories exhibition. © 2014 Helen Ogbourn

It was a strange thing when I found myself standing next to a photographer whose work I’ve admired for a long time; all the questions I thought I’d ask if I ever met him suddenly vanished out of my mind. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, Martin Parr is a British documentary photographer with an international reputation for capturing the everyday social and cultural aspects of modern life. I find it hard to observe his work without a smile on my face; he captures life just as it is, but often with a touch of inoffensive satire that makes you really warm towards his subjects. It’s the kind of photography that makes me want to pick up my camera and get shooting. 

A few years ago I heard that Martin had been commissioned by Multistory to undertake a project in an area close to where I live. The Black Country in the West Midlands gets its name from the dark polluted days of coal mines and metalworks when it played a key role in the Industrial Revolution. The heavy industry is long gone, and the decline in manufacturing has left high rates of unemployment in an area which is trying to forge a new identity while remaining faithful to its past. Last week saw the launch of Martin’s exhibition featuring photos, audio and video taken around four areas in the Black Country: Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton. 

It was only on the day as I was looking up directions to the gallery that I saw that Martin would be taking visitors on a tour of his photographs (and that it was free and open for anyone to attend); certainly an opportunity not to be missed. From the start it was clear how, by his informal style and unobtrusive manner, he is able to enter the other people’s worlds and document them in such a brilliant way. Some of the stories behind the photos revealed a few surprises and it was interesting to hear how he engaged with the people whose portraits he took. There was opportunity to chat and ask questions as we walked around in a small group, although as I said I forgot all of mine in the moment!

Martin Parr Black Country Stories

via Instagram @_itsonlyhelen

The exhibition itself started with a wall containing row after row of photos. I’m sure if I returned I could spend the same amount of time looking at them all over again. Opposite them sits a sofa, a small vegetable display, and audio equipment where you can listen to tales straight from the mouths of Black Country folk (although I didn’t get chance to listen to these unfortunately). The main part of the exhibition is a collection of larger prints on themes of industry, signage, places of worship and portraits, as well as photos taken at celebrations, events or in places of work. In a separate room a series of short films are playing on loop. Martin had particularly requested comfy cinema style seats to be installed, and I was so comfy in them that I quite happily sat for the best part of an hour watching all about a sweet shop, a glass manufacturing company and a Tinsel and Turkey coach tour to Weston-Super-Mare.

One of my favourite photos was almost a little hidden in a doorway between two areas of the gallery and I nearly didn’t spot it at first…you can see the photo here on the Multistory website :) I don’t want to say too much about particular photos as they’re best experienced at the gallery. The online photos from the project can be found here, but if you’re planning on going to the exhibition I’d wait to see them there first :) You have plenty of time to visit as the exhibition runs until 11th January 2015 at the New Art Gallery Walsall

50mm Photography Project: 12/50

50mm Photography Project Autumn

Hello October! 

We’ve been clinging on to summer for the last few weeks but it looks like autumn is finally making an appearance. One of my favourite autumn things to do is have a stroll in the golden hour when the light is hitting the fallen leaves. I was walking through the park yesterday and spotted this freshly fallen twig which was perfectly positioned in the setting sunlight.

I only had a couple of minutes to fiddle with my camera settings and get the shot, so I quickly put the camera in aperture priority mode at f1.8 and took the photo, getting muddy knees and elbows in the process :)

The light was quickly disappearing and the shot came out a little darker than I had intended; had there been time, I would have shot in manual mode and given a bit more thought to it. I wanted to give my photo more of an orange-y look as I’d taken this at the very end of the golden hour when the vivid oranges had already faded. I applied one of my Portobello presets to the photo and slightly adjusted the highlights to get the final photo.

Lightroom 5 Preset: 50mm Photography ProjectProgress with the 50mm photography project is slow but I figure it’s worth taking time over :) I’ve also been shooting with some film cameras recently, including my disposable camera that I intended to finish using in June! Oh well, what’s that old Confucius saying…”It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you don’t stop!”

Cheerio for now, hx

How to shoot portraits of yourself holding an object!

How to shoot portraits of yourself holding an objectSo yesterday I posted a self portrait as part of my photo project. As promised here are a few little tips about how to shoot portraits of yourself holding an object.

I take quite a few shots where I am holding objects in my hands. I’ve found it’s a way to make the objects more interesting, or to convey emotion in a photo. Setting up the shot can be a little tricky but it’s worth persisting!

More often than not, I take these photos when I don’t have anyone around to help and over time I’ve learnt a few things to make the process easier. Anyone watching me take the photo would probably think that I’ve lost the plot a little as I am balancing things all over the place and jumping around, but I’ve learnt not to worry about what anyone else thinks :) 

1. Be prepared to be patient

These photos take a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to the camera and it will take time to get the shot that you want. Make sure you have a bit of spare time so you’re not rushing and getting frustrated.

2. Dress for the occasion

At first I was going to just take the shot wearing my jeans and t-shirt but then realised that it wouldn’t look all that pretty. I wanted to make a light and airy photo where there would be some contrast with the conkers so it was an opportunity to have a look through my wardrobe and find something more suitable. 

Don’t forget to consider your background when choosing what to wear. Even though it may be blurred if you’re using a shallow depth of field, make sure that your clothes contrast in the right way so as not to distract from the main subject of the photo.

3. Wash your hands 

Even if you think your hands and nails are clean, give them a bit of a wash before you start taking the photo. I always find I have ink dots on my hands or that I need to trim my nails. 

If you are wearing nail varnish make sure your nails are neatly painted. The camera will pick up any little chips in the paint or specs of paint on your finger tips. 

4. Make the most of natural light

I don’t use any lighting equipment and rely on natural light for my photos. Choose a nice spot indoors by a window, or even better get outdoors to make the most of the light around you. Beware of shadows, particularly when the sun is lower. 

5. Get the angle right
Use a tripod where possible, but if you haven’t got one there are ways to improvise. Using a 50mm lens, I stood between 1-2 metres from the camera. Ideally you want the camera to be slightly higher than the level of your hands and tilting down slightly to ensure that the object you’re holding is visible. I have taken many failed photos where you can see my hands but not what I’m holding! 

If you don’t have a tripod you can improvise using walls, chairs, piles of books, or whatever you have nearby that is suitable. I have often folded the camera strap and wedged it under the back of the camera to get a little bit of tilt. Just make sure that you have something soft on the ground in case your camera isn’t as steady as you think!

6. Choose a wide aperture

I find that an aperture of between f2-f3 suits these photos best. Although my lens will shoot at f1.8, this often produces such a shallow depth of field that the majority of my subject looks out of focus. An aperture of f2.8 for example will ensure that your body is blurred while the object you’re holding remains in focus. 

7. Manual focus

You are set to fail if you try to shoot a shallow depth of field using auto focus. Chances are, the autofocus will set as you stand near the camera to set off the shutter and so by the time you move you’ll be totally out of focus.

Instead, you need to set up the shot using a stand in for yourself. If there is no one else around to help do this you’ll need to find a tallish object. I was in the garden and so grabbed a tall stool from the kitchen and placed a peg basket on it with a peg clipped to the handle…glamorous right?! Doing this enabled me to manually focus exactly on the spot where I would hold the conkers. 

Once the manual focus is set, place some markers on the floor (anything that won’t blow away will do!). Place a marker for the distance your hands need to be away from the camera, and place another marker for your feet then move your stand in model away. Each time you set the shutter you won’t need to guess where to move back to.

Life is easier if you have a swivel screen camera. I learnt to take photos using one but I don’t have this feature on my DSLR! It means a little more time and patience but it doesn’t make it impossible.

8. Try to stand near a mirror or a window 

When you’re on your own reflections are very useful! You can test the height for holding out your hands and have an idea of what the final shot will look like.

You can also make sure your clothes are looking neat enough and having gone out of shape. I always find that one cardigan sleeve will slip or I’ll have random folds in my clothes…reflections help sort this out before the shot is taken.

9. Check your self timer settings

Even though I often use a remote, it’s absolutely no use when your hands are full :) Instead I rely on the self timer.

Set your self timer to a long amount of time e.g. between 10-20 seconds, and make sure it’s set to take as many pictures as possible; mine will take up to 9 each time. If possible, choose a longer interval time so that you get chance to make adjustments between each shot.

10. Hold your hands away from your body

When your hands are close to you, the angle of your arms can look a little funny and uncomfortable in the final photo. By stretching, your arms look a bit more natural and this also results in your body being kept slightly out of focus.  

11. Test different positions for your hands

It is really easy for hands to look kinda ugly in photos if they’re not in the right position. I find that holding one hand under the other works best for me, but it’s a case of trial and error to find what position works best for you. 

Thumbs and little fingers are the hardest to get right as they tend to stick out at funny angles. Try to make sure that you achieve a balanced look with thumbs at the same angles and heights (another reason why mirrors and window reflections are useful).

12. Start shooting

Once you’re happy with your set up it’s time to start shooting. Either have a table nearby so you can pick up your object on your way back from pressing your shutter, or, try and hold the object in one hand until the shutter is pressed. You’ll soon get used to the right position for your hands so that you can quickly get back in place before the photos are taken. 

Don’t be afraid to move between each shot as this will give you more of an idea of the positions you like to stand in and the height at which to hold your object.

No doubt it will take quite a lot of shots to get a final photo that you are happy with. I think I took about 150 (9 each time) before I got the image I wanted!! 

I’d love to hear if you’ve given this ago! If you haven’t tried it before, maybe give it a go this weekend :)


50mm Photography Project: 11/50

50mm Photography Project 11/50I was inspired to take photo 11 of my 50mm photography project as I was strolling along my road this morning. There are huge horse chestnut trees all along the front of the houses and at this time of year it can be a little bit like running the gauntlet with conkers falling all around :) I decided to collect a few (well, rather a lot actually) and see what I could come up with. 

Sometimes it can be really hard to find inspiration for photos when life is busy and I’ve certainly realised this in the last couple of weeks. Remember to keep a look out for the everyday things that usually pass you by because it’s these simple things that make some of the nicest photos.

Shooting photos like this isn’t quite so easy on your own but a bit of patience can pay off. Watch out for tomorrow’s post where I’ll share a few tips about how I took this photo, and what I’d probably do differently next time :)

Cheerio for now,


50mm Photography Project: 10/50

There’s something delightful about the Paris skyline with its light coloured buildings and higgledy-piggledy chimney tops. I just loved this view from Montmartre with all the lines and random bits of graffiti (can you spot the Pacman character?).

I’m not the only one who loves the rooftop views of the city; Michael Wolf has built a whole collection of photos of the city’s rooftops. I’d have loved to have visited his exhibition (if I lived anywhere near San Fransisco!). 

Two months down and only 10 shots into my 50mm photography project. I’m going to have to speed up a bit if I want to finish it this year :) 

Have a great weekend!


50mm Photo Project: 9/50 Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

Oh dear, it’s taking me rather a long time to get posting my photos! Back to the 50mm project and this was taken in Paris on a day when it was really too hot to be walking around (I can’t even remember what that feels like after all these grey days!).

I love how the parks in Paris are just filled with the green chairs so you can sit and watch the world go by whenever you feel like it. These chairs were in a perfect place for watching the fun fair across the other side of the Jardin des Tuileries.

I’m glad to hear that some of you have been enjoying the discount from Rigu – the offer is still on so don’t forget to make the most of it :) 

Have a great week!


Exclusive! Rigu 10% Camera Accessory Discount

Rigu Colourful Camera Accessories
I’m very excited to share an exclusive discount today for followers of my photography blog :)

 is an online store of lovely colourful camera accessories by various brands and I’m teaming up with them to offer you a 10% discount on all orders (shipping to the UK and internationally). Simply enter the code HOP10 at the checkout to receive the discount on all items in store!

You may remember that I created a wish list of photography related goodies a while back, one of which was a new camera strap from Rigu. I was very happy to buy the lovely spotty camera strap with some of my birthday money and I’ve loved wearing it instead of advertising my camera brand in huge letters around my neck!! 

I chose an iMo neoprene strap as I find the padding really comfortable to keep on my neck all day long, although it is possible to buy straps in different materials. I took my camera out every day whilst on holiday and it didn’t irritate me once like my old strap used to. I also found the quick release clip feature really handy as it meant I could quickly hand the camera to someone else without faffing around! 

There are so many lovely items in store ranging from compact cases to M4/3 and DSLR bags, as well as straps, lenses and little jewellery items. You can notify the store if you spot an item there that isn’t currently in stock. I’ve chosen a few below which caught my eye…let me know your favourite items in the comments below!

Rigu Camera Accessories1. Blue ‘Lolli’ suede leatherette DSLR camera bag by ideer
2. Atomic blue and white 52mm DSLR lens cap by Smile
3. Black and white stripe camera pouch by Vlashor
4. Coucou Bonbon wrist straps
5. Leather camera strap with ring connection by Cam-In
6. Blue Pacific Camera Handbag by Vlashor

I received such a friendly and efficient service from Rigu which is why I’m happy to partner them to bring you this exclusive discount. I hope you also enjoy having a look around the store!

Have a great week!

Please note that this blog post reflects my own personal experience of shopping at RIgu; I have not received free items from Rigu for promotional purposes.

Lightroom 5 Preset Pack – New Portobello Presets!

Portobello Preset Pack

This summer I’ve been creating new Lightroom 5 presets based on my Portobello preset range and I’m excited that they are now in store! For the same price as the original pack, you will now receive 17 presets which will create desaturated, vintage and toned looks for your photos. 

The presets can be found over at my Etsy store where you’ll also find some preset FAQs and shop policies detailing how you can test the presets on your photos before buying them. 

Don’t worry if you bought the original pack – a message should be waiting for you containing the additional 9 presets that you don’t already have :) 

The pack now includes the following new presets (in addition to well as the 8 originals):

Portobello Blueberry
Portobello Cherry
Portobello Cream
Portobello Flat
Portobello Gold
Portobello Green
Portobello Rose
Portobello Tangerine
Portobello Violet

You can check out examples of the presets in action over on my presets page here. Please get in touch if you have any questions!