June: Artist Spotlight - Louise Dunn

I hope you are all enjoying full sun month, and that the weather has co-operated for at least some of the days! As per usual in the UK we've had a real mix, you can need your winter coat one day and be plastering on factor 50 the next! This month we've chosen to spotlight the lovely Louise Dunn. As well as telling us about about her photography journey and her gear, she also has some fantastic tips for us about shooting in full sun, along with so many gorgeous example images! Make sure you don't miss this one!

Abi xx

Tell us about your photography journey...

Photography has always been a huge part of my family. My Grandfather was a keen photographer with his own lightroom, my uncle was a semi-professional photographer and my dad is a real photography enthusiast and film maker. My parents bought me a camera at a very early age and I learnt how to insert and change film so I could document all of our family holidays. I remember how exciting it was to wait for the film to be developed and that first eager look at your pictures to see how they had turned out. My first ‘proper’ camera was an Olympus SLR or quite possibly a Minolta SLR, which I took everywhere. I’m not that sure, as it was stolen whilst I was backpacking. I do remember trying out different films with it, and often I would shoot in solely in black and white.

Back in the UK, I bought a little digital Canon Powershot – it was so exciting to be able to carry something so light and be able to see what you had taken immediately. A keen photographer friend said to me, after looking through my photos of New York, that I really needed to get a decent camera. When my little Powershot died after a very cold trip to Sweden, I invested in my first DSLR, a Canon 450D (Rebel). I had a great time with this camera and enjoyed rambling around the countryside with my sister’s dog. I subscribed to a photography magazine which taught me how to use Photoshop, and I just shot away at things that caught my eye. I bought a 10-22mm lens which was amazing after using my kit lens for so long. I really fell in love with the wide angle. I didn’t have a clue technically and looking back now, at some of my settings, it’s amazing I ever had anything in focus.

Last year, I stumbled across ‘Photography for Parents’ on Facebook, a teaching platform which offered a free seven day taster, so I signed up. I hadn’t picked up my camera in years, what with a busy full time job as a primary school teacher and the discovery of new hobbies. It was wonderful to dust off my little Rebel again. I immediately signed up for a six week course and was hooked. Halfway through the course I upgraded to a Canon 6dmii and carried on working through the online courses. To be learning again after a long and difficult lockdown was so motivating and uplifting.

Tell us a bit about your style...

I’m not sure if I have a style as such, but I know what I like. I like capturing candid expressions, energy and movement, and I like to be outside. This is pretty tricky when it is just my daughter and myself. She just loves to be next to me holding my hand, which makes photographing her, a real challenge. We’ll often play a game like… Who can find the tallest daisy? Who can collect the most pinecones? Who can get to the fountain first? She’ll run off and I’ll dive onto the floor with the camera. My favourite moments are capturing her when she’s having fun with Daddy. I love seeing the joy in her expression as she runs around with kites or bounces on a trampoline.

I do love a centre composition. I’ve always been drawn to symmetry and natural framing. It’s a real effort to make myself shoot with the rule of thirds; I have to constantly remind myself to change it up a bit. Recently, I’ve taken a few pictures with my daughter really close to the edge of the frame and I love those too – I love pushing those rules a little. Negative space appeals to me a lot, it feels so freeing. I love wide open spaces like beaches and I love skies.

I have begun to experiment with double exposures this year after Natalie’s Robinson’s wonderful Fused guide to double exposures. This has opened so many doors to me creatively, and really helps to add some sparkle and magic to photos I love, that I feel are lacking somewhat. I have recently joined the Light Communion group on IG too and love the ethos of gifting and sharing light with others. The images these artists create are other worldly, and I regularly have imposter syndrome being surrounded by Click Elites and Hello Pros. I used to be quite nervous about posting and sharing my work, but this year I told myself I’m just going to go for it – and I’m having a good time.

When it comes to editing, I feel I have a pretty light touch. I always use Lr first as I find some of the tools and masking so speedy. I select ‘auto’ edit and adjust accordingly – sometimes it’s bang on, sometimes it’s way off. I generally like bright and colourful images so don’t play around too much. There’s a lot of lifting of shadows, brightening exposure using radial filters and I do like a gentle vignette. If I’ve played around with an image a lot, I will close it down and revisit the next day - I feel it really helps to look at it again with fresh eyes if you are not sure. I use PS for all my double exposure work and love experimenting with the blending modes.

What gear do you use?

Canon 6dmii - I bought mostly because for the swivel screen so I wouldn’t have to lie in the grass so much

Canon 50mm - a beautifully sharp and light lens - such a great buy

Canon 24-70 - big and heavy and not as sharp as my nifty, but I love the wide angle

Lensbaby Sol 45 (and macro lenses) – opened my eyes to a whole new world of photography and the challenge of focusing manually

Helios 44/2 – sun-loving, glorious and golden - a really well spent £30

What's your go to lens and why?

The lens I use really depends on a number of things… where we’re going, who we’re with, what mood we’re in. If we are on holiday, I will always go big with the 24-70. We will usually be on the beach and I just love the wide open space this lens gives me. I will always bring my lensbaby too, as I love to capture light and texture effects to use in my double exposure work.

If it’s an everyday kind of outing, and we have visited this place many times before, I will choose my Helios or Lensbaby – especially if it’s a sunny day. I just love the softness and the bursts of light. When I first discovered lensbaby, I couldn’t believe that shooting photos that weren’t sharp was a thing. I find shooting with these manual focus lenses so freeing, and I love the results. These lenses really inspire me and I love playing around with them.

Sometimes I just take my phone – it’s a challenge to myself to look for interesting perspectives and angles at yet another playground. My phone is nothing special, just a pretty regular camera phone (iphone SE 2nd gen). I used to be such a phone snob, but I’ve realised you can edit and manipulate your photos with saturation and contrast to give a really good finish. I just import my images into Lr and treat them as I would any other images, or sometimes I’ll just use the Snapseed app.

What tips do you have for shooting full sun?

I’m not sure what else I can really bring to the table here, as I learnt so much from the tutorials myself last June. But I can tell you about a few things I always have in mind when I do shoot in full sun.

Always have in mind the positioning of the sun. High above is not going to make the most flattering portrait, so moving into a shady area or focusing on details other than the face is a good idea if shooting at midday. I quite like shooting towards the sun too to create an intentional silhouette/darker subject. I feel this works well if body language and shapes are really clean.

Take a series of shots at different angles. If I feel the action will continue for a while, I take a series of shots at different angles until I find the one that works the best. Yes, I am shockingly bad at horizon lines and always have to correct in post. For me, the facial expression and those little legs are what I love the most.

Underexpose by a couple of stops. This means I can capture those gorgeous blue skies with white puffy clouds. I find it easier to edit and lift exposure on my subject/foreground in post, rather than adjusting the sky. If I play with the sky too much I feel it can look artificial. I’ve also discovered that full sun images can make a striking black and white conversion – must remember to try this more! The sun is also great for great for capturing shadows.

Use burst mode to capture action. I use live view A LOT as I love a low angle. Live view is pretty redundant in full sun. I can just about use it to make sure everyone is in frame, but I really can’t see much else. So I line up my shot, and focus on my subject using live view. I make sure burst mode and al servo are set on my camera and then I hope for the best. The downside is you have a lot of photos to delete afterwards but if you’re lucky, you’ll capture a real gem.

Try a creative lens. The Helios and the Lensbaby love light. The manual focus aspect really put me off for a long while, but you get used to it and I really love what these lenses give me in terms of flares and bokeh. I also have the macro lenses for the Lensbaby and these enable me to get up close with my flowers on a lovely sunny day. It also gives my daughter a break from the camera – we photograph the bees together.

What full sun image are you most proud of and/or love the most and why?

I LOVE this photograph of my daughter on the swing. Her hair always glows when the sun hits it and I really wanted to capture that and the fun she was having. It really didn’t bother me that the focus wasn’t sharp, I could feel the movement and feel the fun. My sol 45 really froze this wonderful moment in time for me in a beautiful way. It represents a real turning point for me as a photographer as this photograph wasn’t very well received by my photography community and I really didn’t mind, because I loved it. It was the start of my creative lens play and it opened my eyes to a whole new world

Things I’m thinking about this summer:

- Using a 10 stop ND filter to shoot with a low shutter speed

- Phone lenses – only just discovered this is a thing

- Macro – chasing bees

- In camera double exposure

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