Category Archives: Black & White

Edinburgh Fringe Festival Portraits – Black & White

Every August in Edinburgh, Scotland is festival time. And the Fringe Festival gets bigger every year it seems. According to the official stats, this year’s festival consisted of 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues. An estimated 2,298,090 tickets were issued. Not too bad for a city of about 500,000 inhabitants.

During the day, artists promote their shows on the Royal Mile, wearing their stage attire. There are also countless busking musicians and statues. It is quite a sight and replete with photographic opportunities. Most of the characters are quite colourful, but that will be the topic of the next blog posts. For a few of the pictures, it was clear to me that they would look better in (toned) black & white.

Seymour Stiffs the Undertaker posing for the camera during the Edinburgh Fringe festival

Seymour Stiffs, the gregarious undertaker, was more than willing to pose for the camera

Seymour Stiffs the Undertaker photographed on the Royal Mile during the Edinburgh Fringe festival

I hung around for a while after taking the previous photograph, and I was able to take a candid portrait of Seymour, in a more reflective pose.

During the Fringe festival, you’ll see some most unusual things. Like the gentleman below in a wedding dress dancing and handing out leaflets. He belongs to the “Moving Dust” company, based in London.  This “emerging company is set up to create ground-breaking  performance projects”, according to their website. I have no problem believing that!

Actor from company Moving Dust promoting their show This Much on the Royal Mile during the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh

Gentleman from “Moving Dust” promoting the show “This Much (or an act of violence towards the institution of marriage)

Not everyone in a strange attire on the Royal Mile is promoting a show. Many just pose with tourists in exchange for money, like the Alien Monster below and Darth Vader.

Alien Monster on the Royal Mile during the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh

Not sure if this character is from a movie or not, but I found him on the Royal Mile on a few occasions.

Darth Vader on the Royal Mile during the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh

I guess no self-respecting summer festival would be complete without an apparition of Lord Vader.


Dramatic portrait lighting with Lisa Rigby

In a few of my previous posts, I talked about how I like to photograph women using a beauty lighting set up. But sometimes, breaking the rules is a good thing.

In the commercial world, one typically sees ‘happy’ pictures. Light tones without deep shadows. For some subjects, however, a more dramatic, darker mood is a better fit. Musicians and athletes tend to fall in that category. Maybe it’s just me, but most musicians I know relate to darker, moodier photographs.

Singer songwriter Lisa Rigby holding a mandolin profile portrait

Profile pictures lend themselves better to moodier lighting in my opinion. Lisa is holding a mandolin, a favourite instrument of hers.

A while back, I set up a few portrait sessions with Edinburgh based singer/songwriter Lisa Rigby.  We did a sunset/night urban decay photo shoot, another shoot in a park and a portrait session at a friend’s house. The sunset photographs had a mood of their own, but I wanted to try to get much more dramatic images. Since the photographs are all about tonal contrast, bright areas versus dark shadows, I felt colour was a distraction, and the pictures were converted to black and white.

Singer songwriter Lisa Rigby looking at a painted face on a wall in Granton,  Edinburgh

When I saw the painting of the face on the wall, I immediately thought of this picture. We also provided some entertainment for the security camera operator, who followed us around the courtyard for the duration of the shoot.


Black & White Muse

If you had a look at my portfolio, you undoubtedly noticed I love color.

But I’d like to be able to take good black & white photographs as well. Black & white is really popular amongst musicians, and since I do music photography, I’d like to be able to serve my clients better. And it’s always good to get out of your comfort zone. That’s how you progress.

Ironically, the digital revolution has been good to black & white photography, because in the digital darkroom one has much more control over the conversion process from a color to a monochrome image.

David Nightingale of Chromasia is a world expert in post-processing in general and black & white photography in particular. He is also a former academic turned photographer. What’s not to like about him? So I never thought twice about taking David’s online class “The Art of Black & White Photography”, and it was well worth it. But I needed some more practice after the class to better assimilate some of the material, and experiment on my own.

So I called on my muse, Maria. I have done more personal shoots with her than with anyone else. Not only does she photograph very well, but Maria has a wonderful personality and lots of ideas. For a long time, she had wanted to do a shoot in South Queensferry with the Forth Bridge as the background. I’m always on the lookout for new locations, and since I had never done a photo shoot there, I was very happy to try.

One type of picture I really like in black & white is high key portraits. On the day, the sky was overcast (welcome to Scotland!), so it would provide a light if not blown out background when the model’s face was correctly exposed. The wind was blowing as well, so we used it to our advantage to get the following shot:


Black & white is wonderful for creating moody, atmospheric photographs. I think that is one of the main reasons black & white appeals to musicians. I also learned from David Nightingale some great tips for toning black & white photographs, i.e adding just a touch of color. In the next set up, we set out to produce some moody images, with off camera lighting. I quite like the picture below:


Old habits die hard, and since Maria had brought a beautiful red dress, I just had get some color pictures.

It’s essential to give direction to the people you photograph, since they cannot see what you see through the lens. But with people who are comfortable in front of the camera, like Maria, you can give them some freedom to express themselves, and they will surprise you with the results. The photograph below is one of my most popular images on Model Mayhem: