Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

Another year coming to a close…

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Well it hardly seems possible that 2015 has almost finished. It has been a momentous year for the studio, welcoming so many new clients alongside my loyal clientele.

It is getting old to keep apologising for lack of updates to the blog, but I’ll do so once more…as always down to pressure of work. I’ve upgraded much of the photography kit to cope with the increase demands for location photoshoots, and have re-introduced moviemaking (one of my major passions over many years).

I am grateful to all the wonderful models, burlesque artists, actors and members of the public whom I have been so fortunate to have worked with over the past twelve months.  As with last year, I’ve put together galleries of some of these lovely people – my apologies if you don’t see yourself here – drop me a note and I will be delighted to rectify the omission.







Boris – producing Hollywood Glamour in Twenties Whitechapel

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Ronnie Lawrence, a friend of mine, recently asked if I could restore a Boris photograph of his mother-in-law Ada Margolis on her wedding day.  The faded sepia image is reproduced below.

Original wedding photo of Ronnie Lawrence' mother - hand coloured, but faded!

Original wedding photo of Ronnie Lawrence’ mother – hand coloured, but faded!

In the twenties  the East End of London was a poor,  predominantly Jewish area.  This was where Boris Bennett, an immigrant from Poland, set himself up as a wedding photographer. He established his studio in Whitechapel in the twenties, and soon carved a niche for himself by his creative mastery of Hollywood lighting and set creation using art deco props.  Over his career he took over 150 thousand photographs, and many still have pride of place on mantle shelves around the country.

The restoration process

It was an interesting exercise to restore the image. I first scanned it in high resolution, then took it into Photoshop and used the white point dropper in Levels to set the white point. I tried the same for the black point using the black dropper, but the result was way to blocked out, so shifted the black point slider in Levels along to butt against the histogram where tones were just appearing. The next step was to clone out the spots and discolourations on the print. The print has obviously been painstakingly hand coloured, so I added several colour overlay layers, masking and adjusting to bring back skin tones, dress colouring and colour to the flowers.    It was important to remain faithful to the original retouching, rather than create a ‘modern’ look to the photograph.

Both the grain and time had not been kind to the face, so I smoothed the cheeks and forehead subtly, then ‘sculpted the face using a 50% grey layer in overlay mode to give definition to the facial features, using a fine brush at low opacity on the grey – white to lighten, and black to darken.

There was a hint of catchlight still visible in the eyes, so I created a blank layer and on high magnification enhanced the catchlights, to bring life to the face.

The final step was to add a curves layer, selecting Auto to bring back some ‘pop’ to the image, fading this layer until it looked natural.

The restored wedding photo - the 'hand colouring' feel still retained

The restored wedding photo

You can find more of Boris’ work, in an interesting Daily Telegraph article Wartime Wedding Glamour in the East End.   There is now also a lavishly illustrated book “Vintage Glamour in London’s East End” , by Frank Harris and Michael Greisman

The Emerald Isle – weekend break

Sunday, October 28th, 2012
One of the many coves west of Tramore

One of the many coves west of Tramore

My wife and I needed a relaxing weekend getaway – the newly expanded London-Southend airport is a mere 10 minutes from home, so we decided on a quick hop to Waterford in Ireland, one of the recently introduced destinations. Unfortunately the taxi to the airport decided we should take the scenic route, taking us in a wide arc away from the airport before heading back; maybe his ticking meter was a factor!

London-Southend airport is very impressive; it is clean, friendly and efficient…and without the bustle and crowds of the major airports.   It was just a short flight and we were at Waterford airport collecting our hire car.  Our base for the weekend was a delightful B & B, Glenorney, where we were made very much ‘part of the family’ by Marie. Not only was it cosy and clean, but check the image at the end of the blog post to see sunrise from our bedroom window.

Ireland is famed for its scenery, so for the first couple of days we toured from deserted cove to deserted cove, exploring the Copper Coast, where copper mining used to take place. The landscape is rugged and beautiful, with craggy cliffs and wide sweeping bays, well worth a visit.

Tankardstown, a 19th Century copper mine in Bunmahon

Tankardstown, a 19th Century copper mine in Bunmahon

Tankardstown - working up a thirst!

Tankardstown - working up a thirst!

Just as I got out of the car to shoot the old Tankardstown copper mine on the brow of the hill, these guys rounded the bend.

A great place to chill out –   a warm welcome!

The weather was blustery and skies overcast (this is October after all!), but wherever we drove we were greeted by warm welcoming smiles and great hospitality.  When we strolled around the towns and villages, people would stop their cars to let us cross the road…a rather different experience to that encountered in say London!

 Crystal clear

Mention Waterford and everyone immediately associates the name with fine lead-crystal.  The highlight of our trip was our tour of the Waterford Crystal workshops – it was fascinating to watch the many years of skills in glass blowing, carving and decorating being demonstrated by these master craftsmen.


Waterford lead crystal - superb craftsmanship

Waterford lead crystal - superb craftsmanship

The factory is well designed, offering tourists a close view of each aspect of the process and our guide Sean, a former cutter at the factory, was a mine of fascinating information.

Checking the glass in the furnace

Checking the glass in the furnace

Out of the furnace, the glass is prepared for blowing

Out of the furnace, the glass is prepared for blowing

Blowing the bubble, which will become a bowl

Blowing the bubble, which will become a bowl

A wooden template, and a lot of skill, ensure the blowing will be symmetrical

A wooden template, and a lot of skill, ensure the blowing will be symmetrical

Using inked guidelines the cutter works to produce the precise design

Using inked guidelines the cutter works to produce the precise design

No room for the slightest error here

No room for the slightest error here

It takes thirty years to develop the skill to create such intricate art

It takes thirty years to develop the skill to create such intricate art

The etching work above takes a week to complete one single piece – this man is both artist and master craftsman – drawing the design by hand first.

Some of the etching tools - I just love 'pattern pictures'

Some of the etching tools - I just love 'pattern pictures'!

Finished work - this one is on a vase

Finished work - this one is on a vase

Horn gramophone - only eight inches high.  Amazing!

Horn gramophone - only eight inches high. Amazing!

Sunrise, as seen from our room in Tramore

Sunrise, as seen from our room in Tramore

So, if you are looking for an inexpensive relaxing weekend break amidst stunning scenery and welcoming people, I would heartily recommend Waterford!

Photoshoots and more…

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Lately there seem to be less hours in the day and less days in the week!  I keep trying to find time to update this blog, but shooting and retouching leaves me less and less time.  Anyway, burning the midnight oil here to give a brief overview. The next posting, which will follow very soon, will be an all-picture one!

Kristina Labahn

Kristina Labahn - see below

An interesting case

First,  an embarrassing confession.

It soon becomes apparent,when working with models, that they always turn up with a large case  in inverse proportion to their size…a petite model will always arrive lugging a huge beast of a trunk behind them.  The other thing that is evident is that whereas,  without makeup, one would probably pass a model without a second glance,  once made up she will have all heads swinging round!

Anyway, as is my custom, I offer to collect models from the local station to ferry them to the studio.  Last week, I waited at the barrier.  A large case appeared, along with a diminutive model. She struggled up to the barrier with her case, and realised it was not going to go through easily.  I was standing the other side of the barrier and managed to catch the eye of the attendant in the ticket booth; I gestured about the luggage issue taking place.  He nodded,  pressed his button and opened the large side gate which she made her way through.

I gave her a welcoming smile, said hello and proffered my hand, offering to carry her bag.  At this point it fleetingly crossed my mind that I had asked her to come with most of her make-up done, and irritatingly, she had evidently ignored this recommendation.  She seemed to return my welcome with a curious little half smile,  all but ignored my hand, then bustled straight past me, and on towards the exit.  And at that point, who should be coming around the corner towards the ticket barrier,  pulling a large case, but a stunning model, fully made-up – my model!     Oops!

I spent the remainder of the shoot wondering what on earth the first lady had made of the strange guy, who apparently hanging around station exits trying to pick up young girls…or at least their luggage!

People have said…

I am not very pro-active when it comes to promoting the studio, believing that the images should speak for themselves.  However a very good friend of mine, now sadly deceased, lived by the mantra ‘if you don’t blow your own trumpet, who else will!’

So although I will let you be the judge of my work, I can tell you that I do plenty of shoots with those who have never been in a studio before.  Sometimes the shoot is purchased as a gift by friends or family, sometimes it is the model herself who simply wishes to achieve some images to be able to show her children and grandchildren well into the future.

What sort of shoots?  Well, that is entirely the decision of each client.  I have shot anything to cheesecake pin-up, to art-nude…and even pregnant ladies wishing to be immortalised a la Demi Moore.    Images can be as demure or risque as you wish.  Being able to call on the services of professional make-up artists and hair stylists is so important for such shoots – it really makes a huge difference.  The make-up artist/hair stylist discusses what you want from the images and will create a style to help you achieve your dream images.

If you read the blog you will already know I often shoot for performers.  I am also called on to shoot for model portfolios,  so rather than blow my own trumpet I will conclude with a couple of unsolicited testimonials that have come along in the past couple of weeks:

“An absolutely huge thank you for today! It was a huge pleasure meeting you and I had a whale of a time. I certainly enjoyed working and conversing with you a great deal and would be thrilled to have you shoot me again in the near future.

I have looked through the images and an absolutely thrilled beyond words. You have done me a real justice, I am floored by how many I simply adore. I can’t thank you enough. “Kristelle O’Chocolat

“My shoot with Retrophotostudios was incredible. Terry is very easy to work with, and made me feel very comfortable. He gives outstanding direction, and knows exactly how to achieve superb images. I am so impressed with every image I have seen so far. Highly recommended. Cannot wait to shoot again.”Kristina Labahn

Grand Central

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Anxious to try out my new 14-24mm Nikkor, we visited Grand Central station.  I love the “ghost travellers” caused by an extended time exposure so I invariably end up shooting a similar shot to this on each visit!  For optimum quality I selected 200ASA (the lowest on the Nikon D700), and a small aperture which gave me a time exposure of 7 seconds. The key to such shots lies in the camera remaining rock steady during the exposure. A tripod is the ideal but this is not always practical (or allowed) in such public areas. fortunately there is a wide walled balcony overlooking the main concourse, so this was a great stable “mount” for the camera.

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station - yes, and some HDR enhancement!

No sooner had I got the shot when a commotion broke out below me, with chanting demonstrators facing police. Unexpectedly I got the opportunity to try my hand at reportage!  This taught me two valuable lessons – in order to get a meaningful image using a really wide lens, it is necessary to get the camera right in the thick of the action! That was probably a little foolhardy of me. Secondly, you need to know your camera well enough to instinctively adjust camera settings on the fly. I was shooting by available light, so racked the sensitivity to 1000ASA; however this was nowhere near fast enough, so by the time I realised this I had probably lost the best shot.

Arresting demonstrator


The photographers’ dream store…

Monday, January 9th, 2012

On our recent trip to NYC We visited Chelsea Market.  There are numerous trendy niche outlets, offering such goodies as flavoured salts…you can taste each variety…just be careful as one variety is hot enough to make your mouth burn for ages after!

Nestling in the middle we came across a ‘pop-up’ arts collective selling everything from clothing created from zip-fasteners to paintings. I was particularly struck by the photographic work of Bryan Close (  One very dramatic work was shot in the Manhattan subway system, and was an ultra-wide view shot with available light.  I was fortunate to meet Bryan and discussed how the picture came to be shot…it was shot with (from memory) a 14mm lens. It is wisest if I don’t reveal how he came to be in that specific location!

Just a little shopping trip…

A couple of days later found us at B&H Photography store. No photographic trip to Manhattan is complete without a visit to this superstore.

B & H photography store in Manhattan

One small corner of B & H's amazing camera superstore

(The above test was shot with the Nikon 14-24mm Wide-angle zoom lens, on the widest setting, using the Nikon D700, handheld on 1200ASA)

This store is possibly the best photographic store in USA, if not the world!  Spread over three floors, all photographic gear is on sale, with a plethora of photo experts on hand.  You can play and compare the latest gadgets and gizmos to your heart’s content.

At the Nikon counter I recalled Bryan’s image, which is how I came to be playing with several monster wide angle zoom lenses, sporting front elements like fish-bowls, and price tags that don’t bear thinking about!  Despite its weight  I still managed to sell myself on the Nikon product,  so I was delighted to find a mint version of the lens  in their used department – at a significant price saving.  So now, expect to see a large number of wide-angle shots in my portfolio!

Pin-up Modelling – the basics

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

I so often get asked for modelling tips, particularly from novice models,   on how to get the best from a pin-up shoot so I thought I would share a few hints here.

Where is the logic?
Back in the thirties, forties and fifties, those geniuses of the airbrush like Elvgren, Vargas, Petty and Driben produced masterpieces of artwork. 

Pick any image and really study it.  The model may be pulling a face…but always for a reason.  There is a logic to each image, an underlying story. 

So many modern ‘photo pin-ups’ fail this logic test. Countless girls bending forward, eyes wide and rounded mouth expressing shock…but why?  OK, maybe her stocking tops are showing, but unless she has a reason for bending forward, say to pick something up, there is no logic to the image.

Here’s Amy Oh showing surprise/shock, but the logic is that she has just fallen on her behind!

Amy Oh - skating malfunction


Warm up is normal
Don’t expect the first ten minutes of the shoot to produce any gems.  It is usual to have to ‘warm up’, to get used to the surroundings, for a rapport to build between you and the photographer.   Save your best outfits/poses for later on in the shoot.

 Get over embarassment
In my own studio I advise models to leave their friend or partner in the dressing room.  It is one thing being in the unfamiliar surroundings of a studio and trying to pull faces for the camera.  It is ten times worse when one of your close friends is watching you too! 


The mirror is your friend
Take time at home to practice faces. You need to feel confident that you can produce a range of facial expressions.  There are two that seem to defeat most people – the first is surprise with the mouth in an ‘O’…most girls manage an ‘o’ instead!  And the second is a convincing wink to camera!

Select a few of the classic pin-up images and copy them  in front of the mirror.  Airbrush artists often photographed a live model, then accentuated and exxagerated the pose to produce elegant lines in the final image. A lot of the poses will seem awkward – and some really are downright impossible!

Holding your head right…or left!
Head posture greatly influences the final result, and here you will need to be guided by the photographer. Girls so often raise the chin, to tighten the jawline and smooth the neck.  However the result is an aloof expression and the eyelids covering much of the iris. Drop the chin and it is a much sexier look, with the eyes much more open and inviting.    A head tilt, when used to balance the composition, can be much cheekier, friendlier and attractive than the head straight on, passport style.  When in doubt, ask the photographer…or if he is not the communicative type, give him all three variations – tilt to left, tilt to right and straight on.

The most important tip – just have fun.  If there is that sparkle in your eye the camera will capture it!




Friday, October 21st, 2011

I’ve been musing lately on experience, creativity and artwork. This relates to photography and post production, although I suppose could be applied to painting or drawing.

Back in the days before digital a friend invited me to come to a studio shoot, and bring my camera. Having only used an on-camera flash, the ability to construct a lighting set-up was a revelation. Afterwards, fired with enthusiasm, I acquired several additional small flashguns, some photocell triggers and a rather basic flash meter. For the first time I was able to control the relative strengths of my light sources in my makeshift home studio. My backdrop was a cine screen and I started taking portrait shots – of course, because these were only small portable flashes I had no way, apart from the meter, to predict how the images would turn out…and there was the seemingly interminable wait between sending off my reel of film and the prints dropping through the letter box.

I was so proud of these first results – mounting them in an album showing them to all and sundry. They were perfect – the best I’d ever achieved. Except – I happened to show them to one friend, also a keen photographer, and he’d worked taking portraits professionally. He admired them, then asked if I’d seen the distracting double shadows…and several other shortcomings. It seemed so obvious – those flaws suddenly jumped out at me each time I viewed them. I realised I had a way to go to produce better work. It taught me to be more observant and much more self-critical. That album is at the back of a drawer at home, gathering dust.

Spectrum of Artistic Endeavour
It made me realise that we are all on a spectrum of artistic endeavour – no matter how good we think our work may be, if we are honest and open to improvement, we can always discover work by others that will be significantly better than our own, yet this should not be something not to demoralise us, but to inspire us to do better.  If you can call on a more accomplished photographer to critique your efforts that can make a huge difference. With so many photography and art forums online it is easier to find a constructively critical audience – develop a thick skin, ask for feedback, then weigh up the comments. Art is subjective, so you must decide valid points and those that may stem from lack of understanding of the image.

My work from a couple of years back looks relatively primitive compared to my current output, and I am hoping that if I can keep finding more accomplished photographers to inspire me, in a couple more years I will be saying the same about current work!

The key to improvement is to remember you are on that spectrum of artistic endeavour…there are always photographers producing work you can aspire to. If you cease to be open to criticism, whether self-criticism or that of peers, your work will remain at its present standard.

Ok, any photographers care to give their thoughts on here.