Group photography

I’ve been employed to do some group photographs for a couple of clients recently. There are challenges to groups, especially if you’re the sort of photographer, as I am, that aims to capture documentary-style candid shots and tends to avoid set-ups like the plague! One of my biggest influences is photographer Shirley Baker who insisted her photographs were never posed, saying that she shot around the people in her images. What’s more, in everyday life, I tend to find it easier to relate to one or two people at a time rather than large numbers. However, group shots can be fun and families, especially, love to have them for – but they take a little planning. Things to consider might be, can everyone be seen and lit, is there enough space, is it possible to create variety of heights? If not, how can these challenges be overcome?

A friend of mine sent me a picture he’d taken on a school trip. In it, you can see about 20 or so 11-year-olds sitting on a wall and the steps in front of a church. Plenty of space! They are separated into smaller groups. Sometimes hands and arms are linked. Other times, individuals lean nonchalantly against the wall. Various levels were achieved. It was taken on his phone on cloudy day so the lighting is even and just right for the shot. Different characters emerge from the various ways in which each child has been captured and yet they’re a clear collective. It’s a wonderful photograph because there is a freedom in it that can be tricky for paid photographers to capture. I must let my friend know how much I like that picture – he’d be pleased!

In preparation, as well as thinking about amateur shots I like, I have also been revisiting famous photographers. Of course, Annie Leibowitz springs to mind, and you can see her group work analysed here, which is helpful, although one risks being bogged down. While Leibowitz’s covers for Vanity Fair have become iconic and she’s definitely a good reference point, it’s important to recall that she shoots the whole picture over several days, capturing two or three subjects at a time, and then stitches them together with the rest of the crowd in Photoshop. I once read someone describe her style as fascistic… which isn’t quite what most families are after, although I can think of one or two corporate clients who might like that kind of thing. Either way, I think I prefer to look at Irving Penn’s groups shots. His photograph of famous New York cartoonists and another of famous photographers (all male, unfortunately) are great to study if you’re planning a group shot of your own.

I’ll have my work cut out for me at my next job where I’ll be required to capture about fifteen very large group shots in a relatively short space of time with minimal lighting! Let’s hope I’ll be channeling Irving Penn on the day, but I shan’t forget to recall the super shot my friend shared with me either. In the meantime, here’s one I took several years ago during a family shoot that I’ve always really liked.

A favourite – an impromptu family group shot I took a few years ago. (c)SFurniss (Formerly Sarah-Jane Field)

Portraits – Young male

I have been reading a book by an art critic, who, while conjuring up a thought experiment, contrives to remove all people from all photography. And at the end of a protracted passage where he eradicates everything he professes to be disinterested in in photography, he arrives at images of blank paper on a desk as the only worthwhile consideration. (In fact, the work he refers to ultimately is intriguing and intelligent, and has had a significant impact on the way I think about photography).

I have not mentioned the writer’s name, nor the photographer he highlights as worthy because, while they both matter in certain aspects of my life, what is critical here is that people photography, and in particular portrait photography, is my favourite kind. If I were to do the same thought exercise as the aforementioned critic, I’d get rid of landscapes and still life, and maybe even journalistic images with people running this way or that – and only ever take portraits; the sort where one person and I get together and spend a bit of time with my camera, and not much else. No props, no lights – just the ambient light, perhaps a stool, and the ‘field’ – the space between the subject and me. It will come as no surprise that I very much enjoyed photographing the young man below last week. I hope he also enjoyed the experience and I’m looking forward to more portrait shoots soon!

(c)SFurniss2021 (formerly SJField)

A Wedding at the County Arms in Wandsworth

I know I am in a similar boat to many other photographers who have endured a year and a half of barely any events to photograph! However, I am happy to say that work is beginning to trickle back. And what better way to reintroduce myself to the wedding scene than to share this beautiful occasion. Liz and Bayly are a wonderfully thoughtful, kind couple who went out of their way to hire local contractors and make their intimate wedding an opportunity to support local business, as well as celebrate their vows with close family and friends. Thank you to both of them for sharing their day with me and allowing me to share it with you. Below are a handful of moments from the event, some of which I’ll definitely be adding to my website.

In the meantime, do enjoy these pictures of this lovely family having a wonderful wedding in Wandsworth!

All images ©SFurniss2021 (formerly SJField)

South London Photographer: End of the ​year, end of Christmas, and end of the decade images in Richmond Park

We love a winter walk and are fortunate enough to live close to several open spaces in or very near to South London. Just before sunset this afternoon, we traipsed about Richmond Park and almost ended up being locked in! Worth it though for these images. Incidentally, the yellow gloves were for magnet fishing – it’s a thing, apparently! (c)SJField2019 (click on individual images)

South London Photographer: Albums

It’s that time of year again when well-known brands start releasing their big-budget adverts and the shops go crazy trying to sell us plastic and gift sets. For me, it’s when I start to think about creating a family photo album. To be honest, I am normally pretty busy with work so I don’t get round to doing my own one until February at least. I thought I’d share the last album I created so you can see how special these objects are. Despite people thinking photographs mostly look best on screen, you can’t beat a beautiful book to hold in your hands and keep on your shelves.  It’s quite wrong too, you know, about images looking better on screens. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. It depends on the image and its meaning in the world. I could attempt a long academic rant about it but I’ll refrain from inflicting that on you. What I am certain about, is that I am often really thrilled when seeing how an image looks on paper.

Click on the link below to scroll through a PDF of my last family album and if you are interested in hiring me to do something similar for you, do get in touch!

PDF of my Family Album (c)SJField2018

I am offering a 5% discount on all family and child bookings until 1st December 2018. T&Cs apply – see my site for details.



(c)SJField 2017-1947DSCF19472017
An image I included in my album



South London Photographer: Community involvement

A couple of years ago when I was first finding my bearings as a photographer I was asked by Paradise Co-op to document their summer fete which they were hosting on Dobbins Field, just across the road from the prison in Wandsworth. I wrote quite a long blog post about how I’d lived very near to there for many years and what an integral part of the community both Paradise Co-op and the prison were.  The Co-op provides some amazing services to everyone, including their neighbours, throughout the the local community and so I was very happy to be asked to come along again to document this year’s fete on July 15th. Find out more about the day here.  I’m reposting some of the images with a much shorter post and look forward to being there on the day.

Here are some images to remind you of how pretty it all looked and what fun it was last time.

(c)SJField 2015

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South London Photographer: At the foot of a mountain in Italy

It’s taking me a little while to get my head back into every day life. Sitting in the spring sunshine reading books while the kids went completely feral was much needed and I made the most of it, but I think I might have fried some cells just beneath my skull. Ever since we returned my brain has felt like sludge which is not ideal when you’re trying to do things where you actually need a fully functioning head.

It wasn’t all play and no work. I had taken more camera equipment than I usually do when I visit my mother in Italy especially so I could experiment with how I photograph my family. I guess I also needed to work out if wandering round with heavier gear in my bag or over my shoulder felt acceptable. I’ve always used a relatively small albeit very decent camera on holiday, most likely because I was carrying quite enough to be getting on with when the boys were very young, such as extra nappies and the rest of it. Plus I remember having an SLR over my shoulder, bending down to help a child and whacking him in the bonce with it, which wasn’t ideal, obviously. It was my child I hasten to add, not a client’s. But lately I’ve sort of gone off my little camera. I must state now, this is not a product review. I don’t do those and if I did I’d have to give the camera I’m referring to an excellent review. It’s takes terrific pictures. And ultimately you have the equipment you have – the whole constant sell, sell, sell we live with is trying, so I’m not on about specific brands here.

Nevertheless, I’ve begun to feel limited by the camera I have used for a while when I’m with the boys as I wasn’t always getting the images I was after. Frustrating! So a couple of months ago I started using the camera I use for work, a full frame SLR, more and more when I was out with the family. I immediately felt happier with it and have since been taking that camera out fairly frequently for personal images.  But one of the good thing with my smaller camera is that it has a fixed prime lens. Which may sound annoying, but actually it stops you from needing or wanting to take out extra lenses, and if you have to get closer or move further away, then you’re forced to do exactly that… shift your position. Which I like. In fact, whenever I work for myself on long term projects rather than for a client with the main ‘work’ camera, I prefer a lens that doesn’t zoom. That way, you get to know your frame which can be a really beneficial, especially when you’re working on a series of images and you’re after a cohesive feel for the whole set. I do, of course, have a choice of lenses to choose from when working commercially, and so I took a choice with me on holiday this time. Yup, definitely due to the fact there are no longer nappies and buggies to think about, extra camera equipment seems more doable and less like an intolerable and terrible nuisance. So with all my clobber, I experimented each day and tried to work out which scenario I prefer when with the boys going forward. I can’t say I have any definitive answers and, despite what I just said, I did really like using the ridiculously long zoom lens that is heavy as Hades, even though there is absolutely no way you can be shy about the fact you’re taking photographs in public when you’re pointing it at someone.

Before I went away I was convinced I’d get rid of my small camera soon and put the funds towards a new lens which I’ve wanted for years. But looking through my pictures I’m not sure now. I probably should and probably will but I’m terrible at making decisions. I know I will stick with using the SLR more and more when I’m out and about though. And aren’t I lucky to have a choice at all!

I have said a little about each camera I used for the images below. It is not a cohesive set. In fact it’s not a set at all but each has elements worth comparing. (c)SJField 2017

PS-  You can check out an earlier blog where I shared some images from Italy at Easter in 2015 here. The weather was very different that time as you can see. These are taken with the little camera and it makes me think, oh no, I’ll need a wider prime lens to replace it if I sold … best keep hold of it, heh?

1) The first couple were with the camera I have used for a few years when out and about with my family. It’s small and light with a fixed lens so hangs over my shoulders without getting in the way. It takes good pictures but is slower than it might be to find focus in low light. I’ve always really enjoyed the fact I can just grab it and go.


2) Taken with my SLR on a 50mm lens which is probably my favourite to use. I suspect I get overexcited by the very low apertures but it’s great for me because it’s light and easy to carry round. I am also pleased to have used this in Calais and Dunkirk as it is less of a huge in-your-face object.


3. Finally, taken with a zoom which means you can be quite far away when taking the images if necessary. This lens is actually really great with kids. I love using it but it’s heavy and not always practical if you don’t really feel like standing out. Also the size and weight make a tripod worth considering which isn’t always desirable when chasing children round and trying to capture moments rather than setting up posed images  – and so means you have to develop a very steady hand.


South London Photography: Headshots and other portraits

My first love with photography is portraiture. It always has been. And since taking up photography I have enjoyed the process of spending time with people, getting to know them relatively quickly and capturing an authentic quality about them in my camera. However, there is something quite satisfying about photographing people I already know well, like one of my oldest friends, Trudi Jackson, who also happens to be a talented actor. Trudi was recently kind enough to let me work with her for longer than I normally do when shooting headshots. Poor woman must have been exhausted after our day, which of course included a couple of breaks, (I’m not a total tyrant!) during which we fetched her daughter from school and ballet. And who, lucky for me, is equally obliging. Working with Trudi for an extended period gave me plenty of opportunity to play and learn, so I was grateful for her time, and her daughter’s too, of course!

Here are a handful of head shots with some very different looks, chosen by Trudi’s agent, followed by portraits for my own purposes including a couple of the future talent that is Ms. L, who may well follow in her mum’s footsteps by the looks of things.

(c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Not quite singing in it, but certainly enjoying the rain!

Clients always tells me they hope for lovely weather when we have shoots, but don’t completely write off rainy days for photography. The light is generally much nicer and easier to manage than when it’s bright, and cloud cover is a brilliant diffuser. I’m not sure the kids are quite as enthusiastic as me, and perhaps if it had been a bit more stormy this morning they’d have had something to say about being dragged up to Wimbledon Common. Nevertheless, they were content enough to go for a walk in the drizzle, providing hot chocolate and marshmallows were on the agenda, and even let me grab a few snaps of them as I we did. Here are a handful. (That’s my woolly hat, he’s wearing, by the way…)

Despite the weather there are definite signs of spring in the air! And to celebrate I am currently offering a 5% discount off the cost of a family shoot (as specified on my site, valid until the end of April, T&Cs apply.) Get in touch for more information.

Have a great week. SJ x

Images (c)SJField 2017

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South London Photographer: Dunkirk

I was incredibly pleased Just Shelter invited me to accompany them on Saturday to the Dunkirk Refugee’s Children Centre again, and I’m grateful to all involved for allowing me to document the day. Since first going to the Jungle in Calais in December 2015 I have been mindful of respecting people’s privacy and have avoided posting images of recognisable faces online. However, a part of me really wishes I could share more of the images I took this weekend, but of course safe-guarding means that isn’t possible. If it were you would see children just like yours and mine, playing, laughing and enjoying a fantastic day. We are all used to seeing some incredibly powerful images in the news, as journalists cover the crisis, but often those images emphasise and re-inforce difference. During all of my trips to northern France I have tried to focus on aspects which I recognise as deeply human regardless of any of the categorisations we apply to each other. For example, an innate creative response in all and every social group. This morning, as I looked through and edited photos from Saturday, it was extremely clear the children I photographed in Dunkirk and those I might be employed to capture in south London are exactly the same. Although the former aren’t living surrounded by all that we take for granted, they are just kiddies doing what kids do. The people who set up and run the Children’s Centre in Dunkirk have done a fantastic job making that a possibility.

If I could show some of those other photos I took, the ones with faces, you would see joy in the smiles of the girls who had been singing and dancing to Let it Go from Frozen several times, just like my friends’ daughters might have done, before playing All About That Bass as loudly as they were allowed to. You’d see the eager faces of toddlers who enjoy showing off artwork or toys they are particularly fond of. And perhaps you’d be able to recognise and connect with the physicality of the little boy who skipped through the camp in exactly the same way my own four-year-old son does routinely. The delicious hysterical laughter triggered by Earlsfield based performer, Jake Rodrigues, was, as always, wonderful to hear. Perhaps one of the best things from the day was the genuine, utterly spontaneous laughter from so many young children, and we were rewarded with plenty of it. Jake thoroughly entertained everyone, including a journalist who insisted on joining him with a guitar he somehow found during the second half of the day, which led to an impromptu mini-gig for all. I’d hope that rather than difference my photos would show you how very similar we all are. But even though we had such a lovely time the seriousness of the situation could not and should not be ignored. For instance, you can’t help but notice the rashes and bites some children have on their skin, an inevitable and common problem in refugee camps, as it would be for anyone living in cramped conditions without adequate facilities. I have nothing but admiration for any parent living under such conditions while bringing up their children.

During our time in Dunkirk, it was very hard to conceive of anyone wishing those children harm, or of being unable and unwilling to offer sanctuary; yet there they are, stuck with their families in a refugee camp that is woefully inadequate, despite being a far cry from the first Dunkirk camp, shut down last year. The officials who allowed the current camp to be built have done so with some risk to their political careers and should be applauded for that at least. Even so, families are in dire circumstances and the help they receive is deeply appreciated. I know Just Shelter and the Children’s Centre have expressed their huge thanks for all support they receive.

Just Shelter are hosting a coffee morning on 10th March in Earlsfield at 9.15am to raise awareness, garner any further interest and help, as well as raise funds or donations. I will be giving a short talk and showing some more photographs from my various trips to the area. Please get in touch if with me or Just Shelter if you are interested. Numbers are limited so don’t leave it too late.

Best, SJ

Views my own.

Images (c)SJField 2017

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