Urban Portraits™ in Bristol ~ Pictures and techniques

Jul 18, 2011 | Flash, Location | 9 comments

1. 1. A simple enough shot to set up once you know what to look for. Overcast conditions forced me to find a covered location with decent lighting control. A shift of white balance and a creative exposure compliments Jojo's warm expression.

I thought I’d share the thoughts and process behind the classic Lovegrove workshop that is Urban Portraits™ I’ve run over 30 of these workshops in Bristol now and over 20 in other cities including among others New York, Sydney, Dublin and Edinburgh. Each workshop produces different pictures and it’s own challenges.

2. Our first shot of the day was in a random moment of sunlight. Coping with the sun is one of the key elements I teach on this workshop. If we are lucky to get some sun I embrace what it can do for our pictures while showing how to manage the challenges it sets us. Even if we are unlucky with the weather I explain how to shoot in full sun. For this picture I used the 100mm lens on my 5Dmk2. I placed Jojo in the dappled light created by the sun coming through a tree. I often use a Speedlight to shoot this exact frame if the sun is behind clouds.

Those of you who have been on one of my street workshops in Bristol will probably recognise this spot as being near the Costa coffee shop where we meet at 09.30. I’m usually there a bit early checking my tweets and having a Flat white coffee. It’s a very relaxed workshop with most delegates arriving between 09.30 and 09.45. We are scheduled to shoot from 10.00 but we usually start a bit early assuming everyone is present and refreshed.

3. This shot was taken to show how flattering covered areas on the shady side of the street can be. I love the random wisp of hair and the rythym of repeating near horizontal lines. I plan the edges of a frame before I set the pose. Here I wanted to keep the hem of Johanna's dress in the frame and used the fall of her head and the loop of her joined hands to force the viewer to read the picture top to bottom. 'Throwing a hip' accentuates Johanna's curvacious body.

We are a small group out on the streets. I have 5 delegates with me, a model and an assistant (usually a previous delegate invited back to revise their knowledge). I find quiet streets with places to shoot under cover if it should rain and with nearby refreshment facilities on hand. My routes are meticulously planned and I’ve made some good friends in the bars and cafe’s that we frequent.

4. The close up is just as important as the big picture if you are shooting for an album. I shot this in the same spot as the shot above using the same 100mm macro L lens on my 5Dmk2. That lens allows me to shoot flattering close-ups as well as full figure shots. I just need to compose with my feet.

5. A Lovegrove classic shot taken with an off camera Speedlight. I teach all the set ups needed to be creative with one Speedlight on a stand triggered using infra red or another flash. Here I have rigged both a Nikon and a Canon Speedlight on the same stand so that both codes can shoot simultaneously.

When I’m teaching the flash bits I encourage everyone to work effeciently. I explain how to read the shot on the back of the camera before making any changes and taking another frame. All our cameras are ‘normalised’ at the start of the day so we can contrast and compare shots and settings amongst the group.

6. This frame taken on my Fuji X100 is in the identical place as the flash shot above. I encourage the delegates who don't have the trigger at that moment to shoot some natural light portraits from different angles.

The infra red triggers work well even in full sun if you know how to rig them. The biggest problem is having to orientate the flash head carefully to maintain line of sight. Radio Poppers or Pocket Wizards solve this problem but at a price. I cover using that equipment in the ‘Speedlight Mastery’ workshop.

7. On another wall in the full sun I exploited the studio lighting style that was presented to us.

By morning coffee in Caffe Gusto we have usually shot many set ups using the sun (if it is out) including my standard technique of shooting into the light and avoiding sky in the shot. Caffe Gusto is an interesting place to shoot in or just to drink coffee in. The flat white here is probably the best in Bristol. I love the giant cookies too so I usually buy a selection for all of us:)

8. This little sequence was shot in complete shade. I show the delegates my secret system for using natural light creatively (even when it is raining) to give shots a hot and sunny look. Lovegrove brides have always had the benefit of this system and it never fails to amaze clients.

9. A lot of fun and laughter lightens the shooting experience.

10. This frame was shot on my Fujifilm X100 and the delegates used a 35mm equivelent lens. I have 3 lenses with me on this workshop, a 35mm (Fuji) a 50mm and a 100mm macro. Most delegates use 24-70 and 70-200 zooms. A fast prime is a worthwhile extra for the dark bits.

I ensure that I have organised permission to shoot at Millenium square before we get going but still we get questioned by security. It’s not often that I get moved on these days because everyone knows who I am and that I’m bringing valuable visitors to the city.

11. We shoot in the grungy areas too.


12. After the grunge comes the shiny. Diffuse reflections are a valuable resource and only a tiny amount is needed like this pillar covering panel measuring about a metre wide.

13. After a hearty lunch at one of the waterfront bars we head for an interior shooting location where I show how to work with the ambient lighting in urban interiors. This picture was originally shot in monochrome and converted back to colour in Lightroom. I used a downlighter as a back light and had the chandelier light fitting out of focus in the background. The key light was a window 5m away.


14. Shot on my Fujifilm X100 udsing just the window light for illumination. Throughout the day I show the delegates how I create a mood in portraits. For this shot I used a high viewpoint combined with a closed pose to create a sense of vulnerability. I directed Jojo's expression accordingly. Portraiture is so much more than the technical bits. The Fuji X100 is very small and unthreatening so I will be using it to capture more candid images. For this frame where I have total interaction with my subject the Fuji has very few advantages over a DSLR, if any.

15. I love light. I love how it can be used to great effect when it comes from just one direction. I also like the way Jojo's toes are arranged like pan pipes:) Fuji X100 wide open at f/2, auto ISO.

16. This is another Fuji frame and it shows how the little marvel renders out of focus backgrounds. One of the key advantages of the large imaging sensor. The low viewpoint has given Jojo a confidence and a sense of optimism.

17. After being inside due to heavy rain, it had subsided enough to go back out on the streets to capture some figure in the landscape shots. Fuji X100.

18. A short shower brought out the brollys and we set up and captured this fun moment.

19. Throughout the sessions we were exploring different angles and identifying the best light for different shots. Here for instance was wide light under the canopy of a Plane tree, perfect for close ups.

20. After a tea break at local art gallery we shot this frame using natural light. Some areas of the city are forever changing with grafiti and tags. These doors are pretty clean at the moment.

21. A strong expression gives this shot an edge.

22. This glass panel is a new adition the waterfront museum. Aqua is a favourite colour of mine.

23. Sometimes there is the opportunity to shoot in the goods wagons on the dock front railway. We usually shoot on the tracks too. Fuji X100

This is just a small selection of the images I shot on one of my recent Urban Portraits workshop with Johanna Ormsby as my model. I always use professional or agency represented models for this kind of workshop because the clients these images attract are confident in front of camera too.

Weather you are an amateur photographer enjoying a day of inspiration and picture making or a hardened pro sharpening your skills, the Urban Portraits workshop delivers on so many levels.

Available dates and information abut my next Urban Portraits workshop can be found here.

You can also browse our range of upcoming photography training courses here.

Please feel free to share your experiences about this event, ask questions or comment on the pictures and techniques used.







  1. Paul Fuller

    Hi Damien, your work with the Fuji x100 is some of the best I’ve seen. This shoot is fantastic. I’ve been researching this camera a lot as a tool for personal and everyday shooting and you’ve just made my mind up for me. Thankyou

    • damien

      Hi Paul,

      I hope your journey with the Fuji X100 is as rewarding as mine is. Please feel free to tweet me any questions you may have. My replies here are on a 3 week turnaround or so. Emails are a week or so. Twitter is 8 hours or so :)

      Thanks for your kind words,


  2. Howard Angus


    This course has been on my wish list for a while and your shots increase my desire even more. Great postings from the X100 too. Thanks for sharing them.
    4, 5, 8 and 23 demonstrate the diversity of your day really well [goes to check c/c balance]….

  3. Romana Fotograf Praha

    Really looking forward to Friday – I love how you bring the color into every photograph. Getting excited about the workshop now.

  4. Peter Boyd Photography

    Great shots, although I’m not sure ‘panpipe feet’ is something every model wants to hear! ;)

    • damien

      Thank you David, Iain and Peter.

  5. Iain King


    What a fantastic article. You always inspire me with your insights and thought process around your images. The images taken with the Fuji are fantastic. A possible game changer!



  6. david cooke

    Wonderful photographs as usual Damien, you are an inspiration and as soon as I am on my feet and working again I will be on one of your courses.

  7. David Pearson

    Such a great article and inspiring images. I do love your work Damien. I would dearly love to attend this workshop and as much as I want to invest in more training with professionals such as yourself I just can’t afford it at the moment – so frustrating but paying the mortageg and feeding my 4 children has to come first I guess ;-)

    For now, I will continue to read your wonderfully insightful articles and those of other inspiring photographers too.




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