10 years of Pride Portraits by Alex Bamford

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 when everyone is buzzing with anticipation is perfect for me. 

With my background in advertising art direction I’m more comfortable 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. As people are generally trying to get to their start points and organise themselves, I limit myself to I shoot one frame for each subject before moving on

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 glass viewfinder. It’s not as fast to use as a digital but people seem to appreciate the extra effort that goes into making the picture. An added advantage of the top mounted viewfinder is that I naturally shoot from lower down. This viewpoint gives my subjects a statuesque appearance 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 hundreds of thousands of people to the city every year. My individual portraits can only give you the tiniest taste of what a great celebration it is. If you get the chance, do come and join in. 

Free content vs free publicity. by Alex Bamford


Yesterday, I was very happy to have the Observer newspaper publish a picture of mine - lightning striking the West Pier. Last week they had called out for photos under the theme of "Storm" for the reader's photos section in their News Review.

There was no money involved, which led to a couple of my photographic friends to question the morality of giving out images for nothing. It's a question that has been keeping photography online forums in hot debate for years now. Photographers are losing out as newspapers find cheaper ways to illustrate stories and fill their pages. 

Having recently switched from working in a long career in advertising, I am well aware of how clients' decreasing budgets have affected both agencies and magazines. But as a fledgling photography business I need to get my pictures out there by every means possible. Even at the risk of shooting myself in the foot.

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Guardian readers' photos.

Heart Murmurs by Alex Bamford


On winter evenings in Brighton, the starlings gather on the seafront and put on a free display as the sun goes down. I go as often as I can and wait for the moments when they get spooked and suddenly twist and turn in the sky, making beautiful abstract patterns. 

For a photographer, it's a great daily workout. It pushes both the camera and the photographer to extremes. The point where the starling's performance is at its greatest is just before they roost, which is also just as the light is failing. To capture a sharp image takes constant tweaking of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and in the half light, you can't rely upon autofocus. It's also generally freezing cold so you're making all of your fine adjustments with numb fingers. 

If you're planning on shooting them, the starlings normally appear in October and disappear suddenly at the beginning of March. Shows begin 15 minutes before sunset and carry on for 30 to 40 minutes. And if you want to avoid the thousands of other photographers, take the afternoon off work and come on a weekday.

You can see more of my Murmuration pictures here.


The Mother of all storms. by Alex Bamford

Last July, an epic thunderstorm hit Brighton. I'd had a go at photographing the lightning a few weeks before 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) which on a moonlit night would leave the sea in a milky calm but the 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 offshore 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 couldn't 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.