Alex Bamford Photography

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9 years of Pride Portraits

As a Brighton photographer, taking photos at Pride each year is an absolute must. What I find the most visually rewarding in this celebration of our city’s diverse community are the drag queens and costumed paraders. Pride is a real fun event and though people go to great lengths to create their costumes, none of them take themselves too seriously. Since 2009 I’ve been shooting individual portraits and through experience I’ve found that the hour before the parade starts whilst everyone mills about getting ready is perfect for me. 

With my background in advertising art direction I’m used to working to a brief so even on my personal photographic projects I like to set myself limitations to work within. Each year I use the same medium format film camera, a fixed lens 1961 Minolta Autocord loaded with the same Fuji portrait film. This has helped give my shots a consistent look across the years. 

Using an old camera is a great conversation starter, it’s visually unusual compared to the digital SLR’s most people are using. It has two lenses, a viewing lens and a taking lens, and to focus you need to look down into the top mounted viewfinder. It’s not a fast to use as a digital but people seem to appreciate the extra effort that goes into making the picture. For me, the advantage of the top mounted viewfinder is that I naturally shoot from lower down. This viewpoint makes my subjects look statuesque and proud and also gives me a greater chance of getting a cleaner frame of clear sky behind them.

Brighton Pride is the UK's biggest and attracts an estimated 300,000 people to the city over the weekend. My individual portraits can only give you the tiniest taste of what a great celebration it is.

The Mother of all Storms

Late last night, well early this morning, an epic thunderstorm hit Brighton. I'd had a go at photographing the lightning a few weeks back but I managed to miss the brunt of the action and just got soaked instead. This time there was no missing it. It was active enough as I set up my tripod to make me think I'd missed out again but it carried on raging for another two hours. 

The shots below are 30 seconds long (at f9 and ISO 200 for the techies). On a moonlit night a long exposure would leave the sea in a milky calm but lightning acts like a large flash gun, freezing the action so you can clearly see the waves and even the odd daredevil seagull. 

Depending upon the sort of flash you get - some light up the whole sky above the clouds rather than fork down beneath them - you get different colours. In my second shot below, the sea is a rich turquoise. I could see it as the lightning struck so I was really pleased it came out on the photo.

The rains came by the time of the third shot, and they were torrential. Fortunately the wind was off shore so the lens stayed relatively dry. I'd also grabbed a plastic bag and a rubber band on my way out so I could fashion a makeshift raincoat for my camera. It meant I could see what I'd just shot but I could keep shooting for longer.

Shooting lightning is very hit and miss, I took well over a hundred exposures over two and a half hours to get these three images and I was completely drenched by the time I got home. I would do it all again though. That was a most exhilarating experience. 

Moonlit Wedding Portraits

A lovely commission this week from Brighton newly-weds Erin and David to photograph their wedding portraits by moonlight. We drove to Peacehaven and walked down the steps to the undercliff, a spot I know well from my Sleepwalking series. It was a wonderful clear sky with a low full moon which left clear, long shadows. This shot was taken from halfway up the steps with guidance shouted down over the sound of the splashing waves. Many thanks to the bride and groom for a very memorable night shoot. You can see the other shots in my Commissioned section.

Moonlighting

My first serious forays into photography were very clandestine. I was working in London as an art director in a large advertising agency and found that photography came as a private creative release for me. I could think of an idea and execute it exactly how I wanted without needing approval from the committees of clients and creative directors.

I began taking photographs by moonlight in 2006 during a trip to Japan to art direct a car shoot . We had commissioned a Japanese photographer, Satoshi Minakawa, who at the time was taking amazing nightscapes in and around Tokyo. One of our ads was set against a backdrop of Mount Fuji and on the day of our shoot we were lucky enough to have a clear skies and a full moon so we shot it at night.

Satoshi used a large format film camera, with exposures lasting up to an hour, so I had plenty of time to experiment with my recently bought digital camera. I didn't have a tripod but I found that by resting the camera on a glove on the ground and shooting for 30 seconds, I could get a half decent picture (nothing in comparison to Satoshi's though).

It was enough to get me hooked and on pretty much every full moon since I have been out with a camera, in and around Brighton where I live or wherever I happen to be.

This blog is a journal of my photographic journey and how it emerged from the darkness and into the light.

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