Photography basics in Dalston ft. Quintina Valero

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” (A. Siskind)

My history with Tina stretches back a decade when we were neighbors and part of the houseboat community in Butlers Wharf (not far from Tower Bridge) in 2005/06. I lived on the Dutch barge ‘Ijsbrandt’ and she lived next door in a flat-bottomed steel beast called ‘de lachende moor’. The later is still owned by the dad of my now godson, Paul, but his stories are for another day. I do remember helping to put up the basic structure of what would become Tina’s bedroom in the boat (Paul suffered from chronical lack of urgency when it came to these things). I also remember a god night out in Shoreditch afterwards to honour this achievement.

Tina made her move out of finance in Spain and into photojournalism already back then, studied photojournalism in London and is now one of the top newcomers in the photography world. Most of all she is one of the nicest people you can imagine. Do have a look at her amazing work (link). She has documented migration issues in Europe and Africa, life after Chernobyl (its been 30 years jn 2016!) and other important issues such as prostitution and human trafficking as featured in the Guardian here and the Sunday times (picture below).

Recent Sunday Times article ft. Tina

So when I needed some help to get started in photography … Tina was my first port of call and she didn’t let me down. We arranged to meet on a Monday in  her place in Dalston, East London (frankly an area I wouldn’t have visited 10y ago when I lived in nearby Shoreditch, but things have changed).

Since my new camera hadn’t arrived yet, we used her Canon and a 24/105mm lens with minimum aperture of 4.0. For basic stuff it doesn’t really depend on the model/make of the camera. Personally I use a Sony alpha 7r II with a 24/240mm (3.5 aperture) superzoom Sony lens and most likely a 35mm (1.4) fixed lens.

Intro to catching the right light

Topic for the day was how to use the camera in manual mode and make sure that there is sufficient light.

  • Aperture: In essence the aperture stands for the focus / sharpness of a lens (the pupil of the camera). Large aperture lets you capture many objects in a frame while a low aperture will focus on one object (say a face) while the rest around it will look blurry/fizzy. A low aperture reading (say 1.4) lets in more light. Low aperture is expensive and thus a 35mm lens with f1.4 can quickly set you back GBP1,000+. For fixed lenses the minimum aperture is a constant more or less, while for zoom lenses you will most often find a rising aperture as you increase the zoom.

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Swing sharp

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Foreground sharp

  • Timer: The timer settings allow you to control how long you want to let light come ‘through the door’. It’s measures in fractions of a second (e.g. 1/250), but since only the denominator is quoted a smaller number improves light and vice versa.

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  • ISO: Higher number caches more light. In normal light ISO100/200 will do just fine. Some may remember this from the standard  Kodak film rolls back in the days. Modern day cameras let you take this up to much higher levels though you should use a tripod some stage (my Sony offers above ISO100,000).
  • Flash: Flash can be of good help when natural light is rare. Dark rooms being one example, but more importantly also when a picture involves competing lights e.g. bright sky vs. darker foreground. Since all camera adjustment apply to both natural light sources, then flash can give you the edge to increase light in the closer vicinity.

Now it has to be said that these settings interact. For example higher aperture reduces light, so you have to ‘open the door longer’ to collect more light or increase ISO (or both). But that will come with experience. At least I know the levers now.

Tina in action … picture of snake teeth ;o)

By the time we had gone through the four points, taken a few snaps and laughed our socks off on several occasions (Tina was still recovering from a 5 day seminar in the countryside, which was at least say unusual ;o) our feet started to get cold and it was time for some food.

We opted for a Japanese place (Tonkotsu East) based in converted railway arches not far from Haggerston overground station (same area as a restaurant that I had previously visited with Chanel). The food was good and even included a special ‘Spanish’ ramen from a very god Spanish friend of Tina – I remember well the long queues at Borough Market as folks patiently waited for their  chorizo sandwich. He went on to launch his own restaurants (link). Only downside of the place was the chilly temperature in the room (hold on tight to your ramen soup!).

Overall an amazing and unusual way to spend a day in London on a Monday morning. Thanks Mrs. Valero! Will definitely consider your workshop idea once I got my head around the new toy.

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NYE in St. Pete – Ракета на гастролях

After a well deserved catch up sleep, it was time to settle slowly into New Years Eve mood. First up Yura’s father, who had recently moved here from Murmansk, was super-proud to show me his newly refurbished apartment (with compliments to his sons). Naturally, that involved a few shots of vodka and of course food (Olivier, Olivier …). Russian hospitality. We discussed football with the confederation cup coming up June/July 2017 ahead of the 2018 world cup. None of us was sure if the new stadium in St Petersburg would be ready in time (by now apparently the most expensive in the world yet it failed a fifa inspection … Wembley all over ;o). Some stage his other son Vitaly with wife Katya and daughters Lisa and Nastya arrived and we made our way back to Yura’s. Get the drinks on!

The flat slowly filled up and amidst much chatter the party got going. Soon Yuri, a good friend of Yura, stopped by (well, we picked up more chairs from his flat in the same building) and he had some shocking evidence of an Absinth fuelled night a few years back. Memories (or lack thereof ;o).

By midnight I had easily gained 2kg given all the salads, caviar and meat on the table. Delicious, but also quite heavy. Plenty of vodka to help digesting. Then it was time for the traditional new years speech of the president. Absolutely no clue as to what Putin told his electorate this time round, but he must feel quite smug given recent events in global politics that make Russia look like a relatively sane place! In any case, always a special occasion and everyone in the flat listened (and sang).

С новым годом!

Eventually we took to the streets that had livened up significantly after midnight. The night wasnt too cold (snow still absent) and so young and old enjoyed themselves dancing around a large xmas tree, watching whatever fireworks went off or just having a chat over a drink. Party on! By the time we made it back to the flat in the early hours it was bedtime. Well deserved. Great end to a nuts year.

Our first day of January started slow. Well, not so much for Nika given little Maxim required her attention. Pleasures of a mum! By 3pm we both went to see my in-laws (well ex in laws technically). More food, more presents, more drinks (so another kg added to carry around). It was nice to catch up be it that daddy Viktor still vastly overestimates my Russian language skills (he talks, I listen … but I couldn’t tell you what we talked about in any detail). Afterwards back home and a little rest for the night ahead.

Nika had arranged to leave both kids at the grandparents and so we adults all headed out to the center. Belgian beer, hours of waiting for food, cocktails, a gift from Daniel (thanks again) and finally karaoke followed. The latter place, while we remained mostly observers, kept us going until early morning. Some singing along and a bit of dancing (Nika & Yura had some romantic moves to show off). We also met a few new faces including a totally nuts guy (riba or ‘the fish’) who kept breaking glasses (even a table) and I am not sure how he wasnt kicked out and a Finnish biologist (Maari) who works in the botanical gardens in St Pete and translates finnish into russian for a living (both languages being a pain in the a$$ to learn!). Good times and good vibes overall. By the end we even got a little taste of winter as it had started snowing. Snowball fight mandatory! Beautiful.

The last day in St Pete was reasonably quiet. Much fun at Co-op garage (highly recommended) with my former colleague and good friend Ekaterina & her husband Hadley. Much to chat about despite having met up very recently in London for x-mas drinks. In the end we struck agreement that I can go and work on their farm in summer while also becoming their investment advisor at the same time. Lets call it hands on involvement m! ;o) Can’t wait. It appears that St Petersburg will become the first destination of the places I always wanted to live in. Letom baby, letom!

Now back home and back to the UK in the morning. Hope no more delays at the airport ;o)

Thank you St Petersburg especially my hosts Yura & Nika. All time great!

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