Fandom and the Female Gaze

I wrote this original blog post in 2015, which shocked me because it simultaneously felt like yesterday and a lifetime ago. Since then so many things have changed, but I still feel like a lot of what I (tried to) say is still relevant, especially more so as there are now so many photographers in the SPN fandom (my own sphere of experience). 

My basic idea in my earlier blog was that “fandom photography” (which has kind of been developed and shaped in the Supernatural fandom) is a richly unique form of female gaze. Photography outside of fandom is largely still a male-dominated arena. Men photograph for other men’s consumption. Advertising, editorials, fashion, sport, travel. It can be argued that some forms of  commercial photography, like infant and family lifestyle photography, are more skewed towards females and dominated by females (this is arguable). But they don’t deal with the subject matter in the same way that say, someone photographing a convention panel would approach a subject. 

In case you wanted a refresher, “the male gaze” is a concept in feminist theory that “occurs when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. It may linger over the curves of a woman’s body, for instance.” 

So conversely, the female gaze is the polar opposite to that. The camera is offering up a vision of (more often than not) a male subject for consumption of a largely female audience. (I realise these are wholly general and simplistic terms, and that the audience has grown to proudly encompass a whole range of different genders and identities. But because I am wholly unqualified to offer a well-rounded opinion on that, I am using black and white areas and terms.)

The cast that attend the conventions are largely male, and the audience they cater to is largely female.  Overwhelmingly, fandom photographers in the SPN fandom are also female.  They are taking photographs and recording events knowing that the material will be consumed predominantly by other females. So the question is, how much of that is subconsciously guiding how photographers are approaching their subjects? 

Jensen Ackles, San Francisco 2015

As a photographer, you use a variety of techniques either subtly or overtly to move the viewers gaze around your image. Line, repetition, form, shape, composition, framing, colour, shadow, light. The list is endless. It’s like a writer using words to build a story and a narrative, and more importantly, an opinion. As a photographer, I’m bringing to the table how I feel and how I see and using that to influence an audience. 

So, if I know that an audience would appreciate a certain pose, or a certain way of framing and thus emphasising something, I would use that either subconsciously or consciously to compose a shot. “Concepts that you use within photography – use of line, use of shape, use of curve, use of repetition – suddenly become avenues on male subjects that draw the eye and direct attention. These become the set of a man’s jaw, the curve of a back, the play of light and shadow across a face.” (Yes I am quoting myself, I used to be a much better writer).

Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016

I argued in my earlier blog that it is not necessarily hyper-sexualised in any way, but there is a distinct level of intimacy on display. I would argue that there is a whole emotional layer that is over and above what is seen in the photo. The emotion is there on the side of the photographer – conventions are hugely emotionally taxing and that can have a tremendous impact on your state of mind while photographing one – and there is equally the emotion that someone viewing the photos will bring in seeing one. We all care for the people in the photos; it’s a strange, one-sided affection and familiarity that I could probably take all day trying to explain and not get anywhere close to touching the surface. But for whatever reason, we are hugely emotionally driven to these people despite any objectification the photographs may afford. 

Billy Moran, Cleveland 2018

Photography is a form of voyeurism and objectification. “It is a means of making meaning and definition out of wholly visual cues.” But I would argue that when you compare, say an editorial shot by a man (like Terry Richardson) to a photograph taken by a fan at a convention, you would be looking at two very different feeling photographs. And yes, con and event photography cannot in any way really be compared to portraiture or editorials. They are both means to very different ends. But photography is approached largely in the same way by everyone. The underlying technique is there. But where Richardson’s work may feel somewhat sterile and bare, a fandom photograph from a panel will more often than not feel brimming with emotion. I would argue that it is also wholly unique to the Supernatural fandom, in some ways. If you look at event photography that comes out of, say, San Diego Comic Con, it is completely different. How much of that is because of who is being photographed and who is doing the photography? 

Misha Collins, Burbank 2019
Richard Speight Jr and Rob Benedict, Las Vegas 2015

Candid photography is a very different beast than portraiture and one which is wholly uncontrolled. But there is still a lot of thought that goes into it. You are deliberately picking and choosing the moments you want to show. When you edit what you leave out is as important as what you put in. While you may not be running the numbers constantly and looking for something that will “get the most likes”, you are constantly thinking about what is going to be an emotional hook for someone scrolling their twitter. What is going to make them stop and go back to look a second time? Would it be the way someone’s profile stands out against a backlight? A curl of their lip into a small smile? The way another person’s back is arched, or the muscle in a jaw is tightened? A subtle lift of an eyebrow? Sinew in a forearm? It’s all a choice in the end, whether you recognise it or not. 

Richard Speight Jr, Minneapolis 2017
Rob Benedict, Minneapolis 2017
Matt Cohen, San Francisco 2017
Jensen Ackles, Las Vegas 2017
Rob Benedict, Las Vegas 2017

When you first start taking photographs at a con it may purely be just for a way to record your experience. In fact, you may never go beyond that point. But if photography interests you, as you start to develop and hone your skill your taste also starts to develop. You start to look at things more deliberately, really think about how you want people to see what you’re seeing. If that includes the male form for the female gaze, there are unconscious little learned tricks that you may have picked up somewhere along the way to help your audience find their gaze.

Alex Calvert, Burbank 2019
Misha Collins, Phoenix 2016

Who knows? Maybe we have learned something from being the subject of the gaze for so long, and we are wrenching some control back from that by turning the gaze to someone else. 

Shooting At A Con // Some Tips

There isn’t really a magic formula to taking photos at conventions. It’s like all things in life – it takes a mixture of practice, patience and grit and more luck than people like to admit. What works for me won’t necessarily work for other people, but there are several questions that I get asked a lot that I thought I might try to answer here. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and things like actual photography theory and detailed editing would take too long to go into. But I can touch on some general things to help make it all seem a little less daunting.  I’ll also pepper the blog with links to articles explaining terms that I think might need more explaining, and add some useful links at the end.

That was one of the biggest things when I started out – it all seemed too big and too complicated and I just read and read and practiced and I was lucky that I had people willing to give me advice.


I didn’t start out using the camera or lenses I have today. When I first started taking photos at conventions, I was using a Sony “bridge” camera. It’s called a bridge camera because it’s not quite a point and shoot, not quite a DSLR. It had a fixed zoom lens and could actually zoom quite far.  It was a great camera to learn on, and I used it at a few conventions. But as I started wanting to improve myself, it wasn’t giving me enough detail in low light.


Misha, AHBL 3 2012. This was shot using my Sony "bridge" camera

Misha Collins, AHBL 3 2012. This was shot using my Sony “bridge” camera


I then moved to a Canon 600D (which I’m not sure they even have anymore?) This was the camera I did quite a lot of learning on. It was close to what I’m shooting with now, just not as robust. Again, it was a great camera but it wasn’t giving me the scope I needed for the low light situations I was shooting in. At every step though, I made sure it was the fact that I felt I was outgrowing a camera rather than just upgrading because I thought it was what was expected, or thought the camera would somehow make me a better photographer. It was about what I thought me and the camera could do together.

That’s when I got my current camera body, a Canon EOS 5D MK III.



Jared Padalecki, SFCon 2015. Shot using my 5D MK III

Jared Padalecki, SFCon 2015. Shot using my 5D MK III. The benefit of not only a robust camera body but hours and hours and hours and hours of practice in photography and post-processing.


I have 3 lenses – a 50mm f/1.8, an 85mm f/1.8 and a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L Series. The 70-300mm is the workhorse and the one I use most often at conventions. It is by no means what they call a “fast lens”, meaning that it doesn’t have a particularly wide aperture setting  ( So it takes a bit of work to use it in low light settings like a panel room, but I’ve used it for three years now and I’ve made it work!

If I ever wanted to experiment with other types of lenses, I would hire them. Hiring is a great alternative to outlaying money for a new lens. A quick google search brought up this example in the US, and to give you some idea, a Canon 70-200mm  f/2.8 would cost you over $2,000 US, and yet you can hire one from for 10 days for $112 US. Perfect for having before a con weekend to play around with.

Photography is an expensive hobby and despite how appealing it seems to want the best equipment, especially because you think it will make your photos better, it is unnecessary to outlay so much money on something that in all likelihood will sit in a bag in your room for the majority of the time. Unless you are seriously considering making a career or a serious hobby of photography, there are much more cost effective ways to shoot conventions and renting is a big one.

There is a lot of talk in the photography world about how mirrorless cameras are going to take the place of DSLR’s, but I have never used a mirrorless camera so can’t really comment on it. It is another route to go though, if you’re interested in looking at different equipment.


My camera takes both SD Cards and Compact Flash cards, and I use CF cards 99% of the time now. When I first started out, I was extremely reluctant to go over any of my cards, especially if they had photos that I was proud of, or of cons that I wanted to remember. The hard truth is, like everything else about photography, Compact Flash cards especially are expensive. So I had to give up being precious about my cards and I had to reuse them at each con.

When you start out with a card, if you’re going over an old card or even if it’s just out of the packet, don’t forget to use your camera menu and format your card. This completely cleans your card and gives you a fresh slate to work on. You’re much less likely to end up with a corrupted card, which is a nightmare. Take a few cards with you, since it’s always better to have more than you need than less. I actually carry a small pencil case in my camera bag, and once I have used one card I will put it in there and I know it’s used and not to go over it the rest of the weekend. Professional!


On the left, an SD Card and on the right a Compact Flash Card

On the left, an SD Card and on the right a Compact Flash Card


SHOOT IN RAW. If you are at all interested in doing a lot of processing and making big editing changes to your photos after the con, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. Raw files contain every single scrap of information; JPEG compresses a lot of that information. JPEG is fine if you are simply wanting to capture photos and share them online without too much fuss. It’s quick and you don’t need specialized software to open them and work on them. But if you’re wanting to perhaps fix up some photos – recover any exposure mistakes, make any big changes – you’ll need access to as much digital information as possible and that means using a RAW file. RAW files are subsequently much larger and take up more room on your cards. You also need dedicated software like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to open the files and work on them. But if you are serious about working with your photos, your best bet is to always shoot in RAW.

Always remember to have your charger and charge your batteries at night. I have a camera grip on my camera, which is an extra attachment that means that I have two rechargeable batteries working rather than one. This lessens the chances that I will run out of juice during the day of a con. It’s not necessary, but it’s something that has helped me ( It’s also useful because it means that when I’m shooting portrait and turn the camera vertically, I have a vertically positioned shutter button and control dials. Which, again, isn’t necessary but it helps ergonomically for photographing for long periods of time.

I do have a flash gun, but I never use flash at conventions. By their nature, the reach of a flash will only work if you are in the first couple of rows at best, and if you’re that close chances are you’ll have light spill from the stage lights and won’t need it. You’re better off trying to work with your camera settings organically, rather than introducing an artificial light source that in all likelihood won’t help much anyway. If you’re not using it outside the con, it’s an expense you don’t need at one.


This is a topic that could take another whole blog on its own. I can put some links to some basic exposure tutorials, but it’s impossible to give a strict guideline about how to expose because every con venue is different. There’s even often differences from one panel to the next in how they are lit, and so how you need to best adjust your settings is a matter of experimenting.

If you’re working with a DSLR, you will have Automatic, Program, Manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority settings. The camera picks all the settings for you if you use automatic, the camera picks settings but allows you to make adjustments if you want if you use program, and manual it is all up to you. Shutter Priority means you will set how fast or slow you want the shutter speed and the camera will adjust the other settings to compensate, and the Aperture Priority is the same only you set how wide or narrow your aperture will be. People will often talk about going “full manual” as if it’s the pro thing to do, and while it will give you maximum control over your exposure choices, it is perfectly acceptable to use the other settings, especially in an environment as complex as a convention panel where you have absolutely no control over the light sources. I will often use Shutter Priority, because I want to keep my shutter speed up to avoid camera shake, which can happen if you have your shutter set at a slow speed which you can tend to do in a situation where there isn’t much light.

Probably the single biggest lesson I’ve learned is not to be afraid of grain.

Exposure is an equilateral triangle. All three settings – shutter speed, aperture and  ISO work to expose an image correctly, but they are entirely dependent on each other. If you change one, you have to change the other two to compensate. In low light settings, one of the things that often have to be pushed to the limit is your ISO. The ISO determines the sensor’s sensitivity to light.  The higher the ISO, the more grain or noise is introduced. Have you ever taken a photo at a con and it’s come out very grainy like an old photo? That’s digital noise and often comes from having a high ISO setting.

The thing about grain is that it can be cleaned up in editing. Poor exposure is a lot harder to fix. So if you need to pump up your ISO, do it. Just be aware that it can also affect how sharp your images can look, so go high but not overboard.




I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop when I’m editing. There are other options, but these are the ones I’ve always used. Unless you have the physical software from a few years ago, Adobe now works on a cloud based subscription, and you can purchase a Photographer’s Bundle that is Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC for $9.99 US a month.

I use Lightroom mainly to as a way to catalogue my photos, open the RAW files and to do very basic early touching up. I’ll open the RAW file and adjust white balance if needed, and sharpen and reduce noise in Lightroom, then export the photo into Photoshop to do the bulk of the work. Don’t be afraid of either Lightroom or Photoshop – they are daunting, but there are plenty of online tutorials to show you how to make your way around them. I’ve used Photoshop for over ten years, even before I started photography again I was using it for graphics work, and there is still a lot I don’t understand. But like most of photography, it’s about experimenting and finding what works. The beauty of it is if you do shoot in RAW, your files will not be destructed by anything you do – that original file will always still be there and recoverable for you to work from and start again. One of the joys of this is to go back on old photos and edit them with all the updated knowledge you have gained along the way.


Events like Karaoke at the SPN Creation conventions are a great opportunity to experiment with camera angles and pushing your editing to extremes

Events like Karaoke at the SPN Creation conventions are a great opportunity to experiment with camera angles and pushing your editing to extremes. Matt Cohen, Karaoke, PasCon 2015



The biggest tip I have for shooting at a convention is not really to do with photography technique at all. It’s to do with looking after yourself.

I am a big believer in how you are feeling affects your output. If I am having a bad day, or I’m not feeling very well, I really believe that my photos won’t be as good. A convention is a very unnatural environment. It’s frenetic and emotional and it’s very easy to get swept away in the adrenaline. But there are a few ways you can keep an even keel and it will help you avoid such a startling crash at the end of the weekend.

Drink water. All the time. Even if it’s a con like VegasCon where there is a steady supply of alcohol, drink water too. Water will help you concentrate, help you sleep and help you function.

Eat. Even if you can manage one sit down meal with friends at some point in the day, where you are actually sitting and focusing on eating it’s better than nothing. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, just one proper meal. Throughout the day, try to snack on things like nuts or fruit.Trail mix is great. You will mostly be running on adrenaline and chances are you’ll be too nervous to eat much, but try to eat something.

Sleep. Even if it’s a couple of hours a night. You’ll want to stay up all night deconstructing every photo op with your friends, and that’s part of the fun of a con. But try to snatch a few hours just so that you are somewhat refreshed for the next day.

Shower and take any medications you need. Showering will make you feel more human, and take any medications you would take at home. If you’re on blood pressure meds, or anti-anxiety meds or anything like that, be responsible and take them during the con when you should. I am on anti-depressants, and I am of absolutely no use to anyone if I don’t take them. It’s my responsibility to make sure that I do.

If you have any questions or concerns or something has gone wrong, speak to someone. A volunteer, a staff member, a friend. Don’t think that any question is stupid, or trivial. Chances are, you are not the first person to ask it and you won’t be the last.

Thank the cast, thank the staff and thank the volunteers. They all need to hear it, especially the volunteers. It’s a hard job and they have to do and put up with a lot all weekend. (If you’re at a Creation convention, thank Chris, the photographer in the photo op room!)

Have fun! It’s one of the most fun things you will ever do but it’s so easy to get caught up in feeling anxious and overwhelmed that you miss out on the fact that it is fun. Especially if you’re wanting to photograph the con, you can get distracted by wanting to do such a good job that you forget to really listen and enjoy a panel. It’s okay to say you want to sit a panel out and just be there and experience it rather than photograph it. There’s no shame in that. A few years ago, I had a bad migraine on the Saturday night at SPN VegasCon, and the next day I couldn’t focus properly to photograph Misha Collins’ Sunday panel. He brought his son West out on stage and while I was extremely disappointed I didn’t get to photograph that, I knew that in all likelihood my photos wouldn’t have been very good anyway because I was so sick. So I just got to be there and enjoy the panel itself, and there are still lots of other photos of the panel out there.

This may all seem like strange advice for a blog about con photography, but taking care of yourself on a weekend like this is a big deal, and your photos, and your experience overall, will be much better for it!



Exposure Guide

Cambridge In Color: Learn Photography Concepts –

Digital Camera World Lightroom Tutorials

Digital Camera World Photoshop Tutorials

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC Photographer’s Bundle

Borrow lenses US –


How To Become A Rockstar Photographer – a great blog that is geared towards concert photography but the principles between that and con photography are often the same

Digital Photography School on twitter – @digitalps

Fstoppers on twitter – @fstoppers




Osric Chau and Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6 Melbourne 2015

Osric Chau and Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6 Melbourne 2015



Rob Benedict, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, PasCon 2015


Bruce Campbell, OzCC Melbourne 2015

Bruce Campbell, OzCC Melbourne 2015


Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015


Jensen Ackles, DenverCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, DenverCon 2015


Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015

Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015


Briana Buckmaster, PasCon 2015

Briana Buckmaster, PasCon 2015


Gil McKinney, Louden Swain Saturday NIght Special, DenverCon 2015

Gil McKinney, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, DenverCon 2015


SPN Cast, VegasCon 2015

SPN Cast, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, VegasCon 2015


Matt Smith, Whoniverse Melbourne 2015

Matt Smith, Whoniverse Melbourne 2015


Mark Sheppard and Osric Chau, Jus In Bello

Mark Sheppard and Osric Chau, Jus In Bello V, 2014

Million Dollar Potato

Two interesting things happened in the photography world today.

Firstly, a simple photo of a humble potato sold for over $1 million dollars.  Then, David and Victoria Beckham’s sixteen year old son Brooklyn was chosen to photograph fashion label Burberry’s latest fragrance campaign.

It would appear that the two, while reflective of two very different parts of art and photography, were about comparable in controversy.

“Potato #345 (2010)” (why didn’t he call it Potato In Space?) is by Silicon Valley portrait photographer Kevin Abosch. A visit to his website shows … not very much. It’s extremely sparse and very uncomplicated, like the examples of his portraits. He apparently makes really good money taking photos of professional type people, but nothing in the range of Potato #345 (2010).




My initial reaction was much the same as everyone elses. I’ve been doing this all wrong, I thought, I just have to take some random photo of some random thing and apparently someone will buy it. Truth be told, despite how much I love photography I actually can’t imagine anyone paying a million dollars for a photograph, let alone a photograph of a potato. But it raises a question about what art is, and is art actually a universal concept? What constitutes art for each of us personally, does that necessarily make it art to everyone else? Who gets the ultimate say in what art actually is?

According to his studio, this isn’t his first potato subject either:

“Kevin likes potatoes because they, like people are all different yet immediately identifiable as being essentially of the same species,” his studio tells PetaPixel. “He has photographed many potatoes. This one is one of his favorites.” (Peta Pixel)

So obviously, Abosch sees something in them that we might not necessarily see. And maybe we would be more inclined to understand that if someone hadn’t paid such an exorbitant amount to own it. If Abosch had just come out with a coffee table book of different photos of different potatoes, maybe we’d just laugh it off as one of those “contemporary art high concept” things. But because someone out there felt that this particular photo – subject matter, how it’s photographed, the whole thing – was worth over $1 million dollars, that’s what’s left everyone scratching their heads and looking through their kitchens for stuff to photograph.

The other event moves away from what is art and more towards who makes art, and breaking into the photography world.

According to David and Victoria Beckham’s sixteen year old son Brooklyn announced on his Instagram account to his 5.9 million followers that he was going to be photographing the new Burberry fragrance campaign ads. Professional photographers – and those who want to be professional photographers – soon started to flood the comments section of the post to decry the decision as a blatant act of “nepotism” used as a tool for publicity. This insecurity is not borne out of nowhere; it is now easier than ever for someone to walk into a store and walk out with a mid-level or even higher range camera, start a Facebook page and start charging people to take their photographs. There are thousands and thousands of photography start-ups like this every year. Newborns, family portraits, senior pictures, weddings. Any search for any permutation on the words “photo” or “photography” will bring them up. People going wide-eyed and optimistic into a cut throat, expensive business that is unrelenting and unforgiving. They severely under charge and try to undercut others in their area. Many fold within a year, if not much less than that.

Because of this surge of competition (you notice it most after Christmas, when everyone gets a new camera) suddenly the market is flooded with photographers and people, naturally wanting to save money, will go for a cheaper photographer rather than someone who has been working and specializing for fifteen years and charges proportionately to that knowledge and experience. The candle is snuffed out through lack of oxygen and the industry can’t handle the pressure.

This isn’t even taking into account the fact that some newspapers are firing specialized photojournalists in favour of simply handing their reporters iPhones.

This tension in the photography industry is building up slowly in the background, and so to hear of someone who is being propelled into an extremely high end, lucrative job at the age of sixteen when for all intents and purposes it is most likely because of his name cuts a little deep. One look at his Instagram though shows that he does have an eye. An eye doesn’t come with a surname, no matter what it is. And an eye doesn’t even always come with years of experience. It’s one of those unquantifiable things that people either have or they don’t. Brooklyn Beckham definitely has it. His photos are moody and raw, and the subjects are about what you’d expect from a teenage boy (no potatoes, sadly. Sorry Kevin Abosch). But how much of this sudden break comes from that eye, and how much came from his name?


Via Brooklyn Beckham's Instagram account

Via Brooklyn Beckham’s Instagram account


With his famous parents come stepping-stones that other people have to gather, beg, borrow or steal on their own. Things like connections, networks and opportunity. He didn’t have to go very far to look for those; he was born with them around him. Other people, possibly the ones so angry and responding on his Instagram post, are the ones who have to rely on a lot of grit and a lot of luck just to get those connections and opportunity. They could be more talented than Brooklyn Beckham and have been taking photos since before he was born, but because they don’t have easy access to the sorts of industry people the Beckham’s would, it would be meaningless until they could find their way out of limbo. People don’t just stumble across a job working for Burberry shooting a costly fragrance ad. That just doesn’t happen.

As someone who is struggling to find my way (and incidentally, someone who put up a Facebook page really early and thought of herself as a business probably before she should have) it is hard not to be resentful. I’m a no-name woman in Melbourne, Australia far away from Tinseltown who is losing money on her small – I wouldn’t even call it a business, but business – rather than making it, so sure I am kind of pissed that someone a lot younger than me is afforded an opportunity that not only would I love, I wouldn’t even think I was good enough for. Maybe that’s the secret? That at sixteen, he still has that bluff and swagger that he can do it and even more than that, he’s entitled to do it.

But who’s to say that he won’t rise to the challenge? And who’s to say a photo of a potato isn’t worth $1 million dollars to someone out there? In the end they both speak to fundamental questions about photography and art in general: who makes it, and what is it?


Suitable For Framing

Framing is the technique of drawing attention to the subject of your image by blocking other parts of the image with something in the scene *

There’s an old writing technique that says that it is more effective for a writer to “show” rather than to simply “tell”. The same can be said for photography. While the nature of photography means that everything is more or less there in front of you to see, there actually is this element of holding back, of not quite showing your whole hand in order to tell a more impactful story.

One of the simplest ways to do this is through framing and composition. Framing, like the quote above says, is the act of drawing attention to something in your shot. Composition meanwhile, is all the individual elements that are in a photograph that help to draw the attention of the person looking at it. Things like rule of thirds, depth of field, colour, repetition and framing are all methods of composition.

When we take a photo, the particular framing of the photograph is one of the biggest things we think about. Framing is hugely influential in the way the photograph will look overall, even down to the emotion it will evoke. Not only is it an aesthetic decision, but it ultimately becomes a narrative decision – what are we choosing to put in, and almost just as important, what are we choosing to leave out?

Boiled down to the simplest choices – will we shoot a photograph in landscape or portrait? Will the main focus of the photograph be centre-framed, or framed at an extreme left or right side of frame? When I first started taking con photos, one of the first aesthetic choices I really felt comfortable making on my own was that I didn’t really like shooting centre-framed shots. I’m not sure why; I didn’t understand why I was doing it, it was just a personal stylistic choice that I made that has stayed with me ever since.


Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2012

Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2012


Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6, 2015

Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6, 2015


That’s not to say that I don’t centre frame at all – I do, and I do a lot more now. But I am still a huge advocate for negative space and the strength it can give an image. Negative Space is basically all the parts in a photograph that aren’t the subject of the photograph. So in the photo of Timothy Omundson above, the black above and around him is negative space. It’s an element that can be used as another way of telling a narrative through your image – is there lots of negative space because the subject is isolated emotionally and physically? Is it being used to denote space and vastness, like in a photo of a hot air balloon in the sky? For the photo above, I liked the way he was looking up into the space. The blackness added a sense of drama. It’s not necessarily telling a story, but to someone looking at it maybe it will.

I’ve been looking at the incredible photographs by Vivian Maier recently, and the photo below seemed like a really good example of the way negative space can denote a sense of the unknown. Who is this woman and where is she going? Towards that car? Does the act of us looking at her going towards the black negative space give us a sense of excitement because she’s obviously all dressed up to go somewhere? Or does it make us feel kind of uncomfortable because she is heading into the unknown?


Vivian Maier, January 9, 1957, Florida

Vivian Maier, January 9, 1957, Florida


Which is another one of the big motivators behind things like framing and composition, it’s not only something that we choose because we think it looks good. The way we choose to present photographs goes a long way to influence how people will feel looking at them. So what we choose to show – and leave out – plays a big part in that. I noticed that when I started going back and re-cropping some of my old convention photos I could add a different emphasis to a photograph just in the way I chose to frame it. I could more or less “make” the viewer focus on what I wanted them to.

Another one of Vivian Maier’s photographs highlighted this sense of emphasis for me.


Vivian Maier, July 27, 1954, New York, NY

Vivian Maier, July 27, 1954, New York, NY


This couple are obviously very close, but we don’t need the extra information that would come from having them fully in the photograph. We don’t need to see their eyes, or them looking at each other. We can get all the information we need from how close they are standing to one another and their hands being loosely intertwined. It shows comfort, stability and intimacy in a non-conventional way. There are few elements in the photograph but the ones that are there all work towards that one idea. We can formulate our own stories about what is happening beyond the boundaries of the frame of the photograph just by the very small window we are shown within it.

It’s one of the things I most love about photography; that it is a tiny piece of a much greater whole. I would often cut limbs and faces out of photographs because I wanted to show this idea of the dynamic – the people I photograph could not possibly be contained in a small frame, they belonged to a time and a space well outside it. I was only there capturing what small part I could.


Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015


Rob Benedict, PasCon 2015

Rob Benedict, PasCon 2015


Dani and Dad, December 2012

Dani and Dad, December 2012


Richard Speight Jr and Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Richard Speight Jr and Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015


I am by no means even anywhere near the league of people like Vivian Maier, but these same principles can be used in photography no matter what level you are. It helps you to focus on what you’re trying to do with a photo, and what kind of a story you want to tell. It’s ultimately the goal of all art – to tell a story. Just like writers have rules and tricks, so do photographers.



If you would like to check out more of Vivian Maier’s beautiful  work and read the fascinating story of her life and how she was discovered, visit her site here

*This quote is from Digital Photography School Online and can be accessed here

White and Gold and Black and Blue

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard about the internet kerfuffle about the colour of a certain dress.

Some saw a white/gold dress, others a black/blue dress. I personally saw white and gold, and it took a lot of manipulation in Lightroom to make me see black and blue. Some of my friends swore they saw it as black and blue. Whatever colours you see, it threw into light interesting concepts of colour and how everyone views colour in different ways. (In the end, I think almost everyone decided it was a pretty ugly dress whatever colour it was.)

But this isn’t a blog about the dress, I promise.

Someone asked me on tumblr not long ago why I had “colour theory” listed as an inspiration on my photography tumblr and what that meant. Today’s debate reminded me of that, and why colour is actually an important subject for artists – photographers especially – to study.

So what is colour theory?

Colour theory is basically a set of structures to measure the application of, and relationship between, colours. These theories have been built up over time since at least the 15th century, and have evolved using maths, physics and chemistry. Thankfully (for me!) the modern colour theories are a lot easier to grasp and revolve around some basic grounding ideas.

Colour Systems

There are two primary colour systems – methods by which colour is reproduced: additive and subtractive. Additive colour works with anything that emits or radiates light. Your computer monitor and other screens use the additive system and primary colours of Red, Green and Blue (RGB model). In this model, white is the combination of colours and black is the absence of colour. The Subtractive colour system works on the basis of reflected light and also has its own recognised primary colours – Cyan, Magenta and Yellow (CMY model). Unlike RGB, in this model black is the combination of colours and white is the absence of colour, however this system is imperfect. You may have heard of CMYK – this is because in the subtractive model a fourth pigment (called “Key”) is needed to actually create true black.

RGB vs CMYK by

RGB vs CMYK by

The Colour Wheel

Sir Issac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colours in 1666. Since then there have been many variations on the theme, but the basic plotting of colours on a wheel allows us to see the primary colours (Red, Blue and Yellow, colours that cannot be mixed or formed by any other combination of colours), secondary colours (formed by mixing the primary colours) and tertiary colours (made by mixing and primary and secondary colour eg. blue-green).

The Colour Wheel by Dr Gil Dekel

The Colour Wheel by Dr Gil Dekel

Colour Harmonies

Colour harmonies are the relationships between colours, and can be easily read using the colour wheel. Dr Gil Dekel on has made an excellent diagram showing the harmonies and how they can be read on the colour wheel.









Modern day software – like Adobe Kuler (now Adobe Colour) can develop thousands of these harmonies into pleasing visual palettes. It’s like going to a hardware store and picking different paint chips or swatches – some combinations will work better than others and that is ultimately down to their relative relationship on the colour wheel.

So why is colour theory important?

Colour theory is important in all facets of art and design, because of the effect that colours and their combinations can have on the viewer. Interior designers rely on colours and their combinations to create certain moods for certain rooms of a house – for example, a warm, earthy palette for a living room and a cooler, breezier colour scheme for a bathroom. Artists use colour theory to mix and create colours to suit their needs. Photographers can use colour theory to influence composition – utilising colour can make one subject stand out, can create tension within a frame or can be used to create overall harmony.

Even when I’m working with black and white, I will shoot in colour because the greater the scope of colour within an image, the greater the tonality will be in black and white. There will be a whole range of tones in between the black and the white, giving the image range and depth that it wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. Colour is always a consideration.

It’s a powerful but often overlooked part of everyday life. The brilliant thing about colour is that while there are these foundational ideas that we talked about, the way we each perceive and respond to colour and colour combinations is intensely personal. Two people can see the same combination of colours, and yet have very different ideas about whether or not it is visually pleasing. It can affect our environment and mood; it dictates the way we dye our hair, the way we decorate our houses, even the kind of car we drive.

And, obviously, it can spark massive debates online over how we each see a dress.


‘Basic Colour Theory’

‘Basic Colour Scheme’

‘How to Master Colour Theory’

‘The Colour Wheel’

‘The Photographer’s Master Guide To Colour’ by Jeff Wignall

‘Trading Spaces – RGB vs CMYK’