Portraits with the Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L USM lens

I recently took my new Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L USM lens out to the lovely setting of Sizergh Castle, a National Trust property in Cumbria. The intention was to do some test portraits, but I ended up creating a little story which I’m calling ‘In Search of Snowdrops’.

The lens performed brilliantly, and I absolutely love the background bokeh when shooting wide open (f2.8) at full zoom (200mm) while close to the subject.

This lens is quickly becoming a permanent fixture on my camera.

Trying out the Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L USM lens

I treated myself to a new lens this week, and have been itching to try it out. At lunchtime today I finally got the opportunity to grab a few shots with it, and I’m seriously impressed with the performance.

First of all, I should say that this isn’t a lens for the faint-hearted. It’s heavy (about 1.4kg), long (about 20cm), and quite tricky to hold steady at full magnification. However, some of the wonderful background bokeh effects that are possible at wide apertures at 200mm make it all worthwhile.

All these images were shot at 200mm, with the aperture wide open at f2.8, except for the cat picture which was shot at 190mm. The cat and the soya milk carton were taken indoors with the light supplemented by on-camera flash (bounced).

The picture of the hen and the picture of the leaf demonstrate the level of bokeh that can be achieved when shooting at this focal length, at f2.8, close to the subject. The dark background on the leaf picture is actually the bottom of the garden, but the shallow lens has totally smoothed it out.

I can’t wait to try out some portraits with this lens.

Casting Call – SS18

This Spring/Summer (2018) I’m looking to create some romantic and emotive portraits of people with horses. See my ‘Portraits with Horses’ Pinterest board above for some wonderful examples of the sort of image I want to make.

In order to make it happen, I need volunteers who would like to have a go at being a model for the day and have access to a horse (either their own or a friend’s). No prior experience of modelling is necessary, and this casting call is open to adults of any gender.

If you’re interested, please get in touch.

I’m a keen rider myself, and ride twice a week, so I’m used to being around horses.


My last couple of posts have featured carefully arranged and nicely presented food and drink, I wanted to see if I could carefully arrange the opposite. I’m quite pleased with the result, but I think they are still a bit ‘reserved’.

As an experiment, I posted these to the same hashtags that I posted the original pretty images, and predictably I didn’t get the same number of likes. However, I did get a favourable reaction from a few people – and one that I felt was more genuine.

I used the same approach to composition as the original pictures: a shallow depth of field or a flat lay.

I could have gone a lot more edgy with these, and made them quite gritty using some on-camera flash and a different setting, but I quite like them as a set.

Why we all love #flatlays and #coffee

Whenever I have a random browse through Instagram, one of the things I notice is the prevalence of flat lays and coffee – usually flat lays of coffee, tea, or matcha. Why are these so popular? What is it about the subject and format that appeals?


I’ve done it myself a few times. Above is a picture of a recent matcha latte I was about to consume in Chairs & Coffee, Fulham. I knew I was on to a winner as I set up the shot – the rustic background, the unusual magazine, and the beautifully decorated top on that latte.

We can all relate to them

I think the inherent appeal of the subject is that it’s something we can all relate to. The UK is very much a coffee society nowadays, and we are all used to sitting down to enjoy our Espresso, Americano, Cortado, or Latte on a daily basis.

The fact that many of us frequent coffee shops regularly also means shots like this are quick wins for the Instagram feed. Low-hanging fruit, you might say!

The visual appeal of the flat lay

There’s something about the flat lay that makes it visually striking. As we reach for our hot beverage in the latest hipster coffee shop we don’t usually see it in that two-dimensional way, with the high viewpoint perpendicular to the table top.

It’s fun doing them, but it can become receptive. The flat lay isn’t the only way! We’re used to a more familiar three-dimensional view similar to the one below, but if you have the right camera you can add another visual twist to your favourite subject.


A cappuccino I recently enjoyed with breakfast at Hally’s, Parson’s Green. Even though it’s not a flat lay I still think this is an interesting image, probably due to the shallow depth of field which makes the coffee and the design on top leap out of the picture. Again, it’s a striking visual effect that we aren’t naturally aware of as we go about our every day life.

So that’s my theory: a familiar and accessible subject presented in a slightly different way that makes it pop. Maybe I should start doing more of them?

Do Food Photographers get to eat their work?

I’ve never really done much food photography, and snaps of my food have mostly been limited to quick Instagrams of meals in restaurants. I’m never happy with the result – mine always seem badly lit, grainy, and because they are taken with the iPhone’s built-in wide-angle lens, everything on the table ends up looking a bit distorted.

Today I thought I would enter the Quaker Oats #ShowUsYourOats competition for a bit of fun, and went about it with a more professional approach. I found myself really enjoying the process of styling the food, as well as sorting out the light and other technical and creative aspects of the image.

The best part was, I got to eat my work at the end! I wonder if all food photographers get to devour what they shoot, or at least sample it.

Often overdressed

Having a keen interested in people photography means I’m bound to be a stickler when it comes to having the right profile and header pictures on my social media. Sorry, but I’m just not the type to turn on the front facing camera of my iPhone and take a snap.

Me 8x10

This is my most recent profile picture. It’s very formal, but I do like to dress up. If there’s an excuse to put on a tie and pocket square, I’ll be there. In fact, I always wear a pocket square if I’m wearing a jacket. It’s become one of my trademarks, and I’m often overdressed, but that’s just me I suppose.

So, I decided to make “often overdressed” a personal branding thing, and did a matching header image for my LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.


The light setup for the first picture was quite simple – the main light was a Canon Speedlite shooting into a large white reflecting umbrella a few feet in front of me, just to camera right. The back light was good old fashioned sunlight through a large window. I decided to leave in some background for a bit of context.

The second picture was done with the same setup, but here you can only see the main light, as the sun is blocked out behind me.

I’ll end this with a couple of quotes from men’s style icon, David Gandy…

To walk into a room knowing that you are well dressed is such a confidence boost. Remember, there is no right or wrong in fashion. Someone might criticise you, but who are they to do so? Have the confidence to do something slightly different.

A very British thing is sarcasm and dry humour, so of course you’re going to take some stick from your boys if you do look different, but you can take that as a compliment for having the confidence to do your own thing.

Spicy Breakfast Biscuits

I should perhaps add the word ‘Christmas’ to this title, because this is a ‘biscuit’ recipe containing mincemeat and various other spices that never fail to bring the spirit of Christmas to the tastebuds.


Firstly, let me say I’m absolutely not a baker. This is only my third ever attempt at cooking something sweet, so Paul Hollywood needn’t lose any sleep. However, if you’re feeling a bit peckish, don’t jump in the car and drive to the nearest supermarket for triple chocolate cookies, try knocking one of these up instead. They’re pretty healthy, and are oat-based – which suits me, being the porridge fiend that I am.

I made one of these yummy biscuits (actually the size of a decent cookie) with just:

  • 50g oats
  • 2 teaspoons of mincemeat
  • 1 teaspoon of all-spice
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of chilli flakes (optional, but worthwhile!)
  • Between 50ml and 100ml of milk (I used Oatly oat milk)

Mix everything up into a thick paste using the teaspoon, using your judgement as to how much milk to add. You’re looking for a fairly thick consistency so you can set the biscuit into shape without it running. Add the milk bit by bit so you can get it just right.

Spread the mixture onto some greaseproof paper into whatever form you want (I went for a traditional round biscuit shape), then stick it on a shallow baking tray and into an oven pre-heated to 120 degrees Celsius. Leave them in there for 20-30 minutes, checking them a few times during the last ten minutes to make sure the result looks similar to the above picture.

When done, let it cool for a short while so you don’t burn yourself, then either eat warm or stow away for another day if you’re iron-willed enough. (I wasn’t.)

A Short Break in Windsor & Eton

Nearly twenty years ago, I worked in Slough for around six months. I wasn’t immediately impressed with the town back then, and followed some advice to stay in nearby Windsor instead. I found myself a B&B where I settled for the duration, and since then I have been a regular visitor back to Windsor and Eton, with my wife tagging along. We always stay at the Castle Hotel, but with every trip there is something new for us to discover, as well as comforting familiarity.

This time we discovered the grave of the author M.R. James, in Eton Cemetery. We also discovered how lovely The George Inn is – it’s on High Street, Eton, and well worth a visit for food and/or drink. We enjoyed a mulled wine sat by the open fire.

Whenever I visit Windsor I always want to return to my old haunts. Alma House B&B is still there, where I stayed in 1999, although it has changed quite significantly since then. The Viceroy of Windsor, a fantastic Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant is also still there. I have memories of spending many an evening enjoying a spicy curry. My old favourite was “Murgi Mussala” – Chicken and minced lamb, medium spicy, with egg – and imagine my delight to find it still on the menu as a house special!