Black & White

The Catacombs Of Paris

We walked down a spiral stone staircase and felt the temperature drop with every step. The Paris sun above had been blistering hot and we welcomed the break away from the heat for a while. We walked slowly through the dimly lit tunnels for a while, a little less impressed than I had expected. Then just as I started to wonder what the big deal was about, we walked into the next section and there it was, stretching out through the passageway.

A German kid reached out with a single finger and poked around inside the eye socket of a human skull. A man with a thick french accent called out in english "Do not touch the bones, this is a cemetery!". The kid pulled his finger back out and moved on until out of site of the skullkeeper, then continued to fondle and prod as many skulls as he could until being told off again, this time from a voice in the darkness that made him jump.

The skeletal remains are expected on this trip underground, but it's the sheer volume of them that is shocking. The bones from all the cemeteries in France were brought here between 1786 and 1788, always at night under a black vail and lead by priests. Walls of bones and skulls are stacked neatly into walls 5' tall (sometimes floor to ceiling) and at least as deep. There's even the odd roundabout made of bones. The tunnels stretch for miles below the streets of Paris, under blocks and blocks of houses.

Oddly, I came across a small pile of old photos placed on top of a stack of bones. These were the last things I expected to find here and they were like an electric shock, a sudden realisation that all of those bones were once regular people, families with kids.

Then suddenly another stone spiral staircase rises steeply in front of us. The climb felt never ending and after days of walking the streets of Paris, my calf muscles could have done without the haul back up to the streets. A quick security check to make sure my camera bag didn't contain the odd skull and we were outside again in bright sunlight and fresh air. I had no idea where we were, but I knew we had travelled a great distance underground. I glanced back, wondering if the German kid would emerge from the staircase holding a skull like a bowling ball, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Makoto Ozone & The SNJO :: Jeunehomme CD

05--Makoto_Ozone-DerekClarkPhoto I've been shooting Project Jazz now for over two years. The project started as a one-off shoot with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to feature as a story on The Kage Collective website, but it quickly grew legs as a long term project with no end. My love of jazz and mutual interest with orchestra leader Tommy Smith in documenting the scene has just naturally evolved into something bigger and more important than originally planned.

One of the offshoots from doing all this work with the jazz orchestra is to have my pictures used in promotional pieces and album covers. I covered the recording session with the SNJO and saxophonist Bobby Wellins for the Culloden Moor Suit CD and those pictures were used on the inside cover. More recently the live recording of guest pianist Makoto Ozone was released as a CD with the strange title of Jeunehomme. My photographs from that concert were used exclusively for the CD. I used two copies of the CD for the photo below. The CD is on sale HERE


The cover shot was taken with the 56mm lens at f1.2. I focused on Makoto's hands because he is a pianist and those fingers are where the magic comes from. I had already shot saxophonist Courtney Pine from the same position the month previous, so I knew I could get enough shallow depth of field creaminess at f1.2 to make his hands stand out.


There's a lot of work involved in shooting these gigs and spending days in Lightroom editing, but it really is a labour of love and something I see as important. I've stood alone backstage with many amazing musicians just before they walked on stage, and I've been a fly on the wall to some great musical moments and it's all down to a camera.


This is the only wide angle shot from Jeunehomme. It was taken with the XF 14mm f2.8, a lens that I no longer own as I upgraded to the newer 16mm f1.4. I'll miss the 14mm, but I need the faster lens more than I need that extra couple of mm. Plus, the 16mm comes in at 24mm in full frame terms and that's a focal length I've always liked. My last shoot with the 14mm (the day the 16mm arrived) was actually at the recording session with The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for Tommy Smiths latest project. More on that very soon.

Project Jazz :: Instrumental Interview

KurtElling-DerekClarkPhoto-15 I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Michael at INSTRUMENTAL recently. The interview was about Project Jazz, my long term project to document today's jazz scene. Michael asked a lot of great questions that forced me to think a little deeper than I had about this project. I also had to go through the jazz pictures that I've shoot in the last 12 months and look at them from more of a portfolio point of view, rather than during the editing phase. I'm very pleased with what I have so far and I can see a nice body of work coming together.

My aim with Project Jazz is to carry on the tradition of shooting black and white photographs of jazz musicians in the same way as the great players of the 40’s, 50's and 60's were captured. If you haven't had the chance to see some of these pictures, you can have a look HERE and the Instrumental interview is available HERE.

Street - Fuji 23mm f1.4 - Colour or B&W? is a cross post with 35mmStreet for the following reason. When it comes to street photography I've always had my feet planted in the black and white side of the fence as it just looks more interesting to me. It strips away the distraction of colour and narrows the photograph down to composition and content. It also gives street shots a timeless quality. 35mmStreet has had only three colour pictures (I think), which were on the earliest posts. Since then it's been B&W all the way and even the post processing has been the exact same home made recipe that I cooked up in Silver Efex Pro way back. But lately I've noticed that some colour street photography has been catching my eye and that's unusual for me. I tend to think colour street shots look a little too bland, but never say never!

So here's the thing. All the shots on this post are in colour, but you will find the same ones in black and white over at 35mmStreet HERE. They were all shot with the amazing new Fujifilm 23mm f1.4 on the X-Pro1, a pair that hasn't been separated since the lens was released. Have a look at both blog posts and see what you prefer. I'd love to here what you think. Do they all look better in colour? Do they all look better in B&W? Or does it depend on the individual photo?

Leave a comment & use the poll on the post at 35mmStreet HERE.


Jazz & Other Projects

BranfordMarsalis-DSCF3668 I've added a section to this website to include personal projects, especially long term projects that don't necessarily fit as a documentary story. Surpassingly it's called PROJECTS and can be found in the main menu. The first thing to be added is my long term Project Jazz that started as a story, but morphed into a long term labour of love.

I absolutely love looking at black and white photos of jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon,Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock (to name just a few). The focus is mainly on colourful photos of pop stars these days, even though the suited and booted jazz musician is very much alive and giging. So I want to continue what photographers like Herman Leonard and William Claxton started and create rich black and white photographs of jazz musicians. I've had the pleasure recently of photographing live performances of modern day jazz legends like Tommy Smith, Branford Marsalis and David Liebman and hopefully a lot more to follow. At some point in the future, I'd like to go on the road with a jazz band and document a tour or at least part of one. On stage, backstage, on the road and everything in between.

So the Projects section is now open and kicks of with Project Jazz. More projects will follow, but in the meantime click HERE to take a look. as always, your comments are very welcome.

Professional Photographer Of The Year Finalist

PPOTYnewsI'm delighted to be a finalist in The Professional Photographer Of The Year Awards. I received an email yesterday confirming I was in the final ten of the News category. A selection of the finalist photographs from all categories will be featured in the April edition of Professional Photographer Magazine (on sale in March) and the winners will be announced at the awards event in Cheltenham at the end of March. You can read more about this shot (taken with my X100) in the previous post The Digital Contact Sheet :: Episode 3

View From My Keys :: 29th April 2012

This installment of View From My Keys is based around guitar machine heads. For those that don't know one end of a guitar from another, machine heads are those 6 (in this case) knobs that are used to turn gears, that in turn twist the posts that hold the strings. As the strings are tightened the pitch rises.

From a photography view, these were all shot with the X-Pro1 at 1/60th of a sec at f1.4 and 1600 ISO. I edited the three photos in Lightroom 4 using a split tone preset that I made recently for my wedding photography.

These shots were taken at AM Rehearsasl which is one of the best equipped and spacious studios in Scotland.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 :: Street Portraits & Post Processing

This street portrait was shot using the 35mm f1.4 at 200 ISO, 220 sec at f2.8. It was a very sunny day, but I waited for this guy to move into the shade and then asked if I could steal his soul. He had just completed a run for Sport Relief (charity). Please click on the images and pixel peep larger files on Flickr. CONVERTED TO BLACK & WHITE IN NIK'S SILVER EFEX PRO

I love Nik Softare's Silver Efex Pro! Don't get me wrong, you can get a nice black and white out of Lightroom 4 or CS5, but Silver Efex Pro is just amazing!


It doesn't take much post to make the X-Pro1 files look even more stunning. I think I'll make a Lightroom preset to batch proccess the files, as the +20 Contrast & +20 Clarity seams to work on most photos.


Even straight out of the camera, the results are great. I'm pretty happy using this, but when you tweak it slightly (like the second image), it really shines!


I can't make up my mind if I prefer colour or black and white for this guy, so I've posted one of each. Let me know in the comments what you prefer. It was a very sunny day, so I'm ok with the shirt being blown-out, I'd rather that than the face being under exposed. Click HERE to see their opposites.

Fujifilm X100 :: One Year On

WHO SAYS YOU CAN'T SHOOT FAST MOVING SPORTS WITH AN X100 On the 21st of March 2011, I drove a 100 mile round trip to buy the Fujifilm X100, after my original pre-order fell through. But on the 21st JRS Fujifilm in Perth (Scotland) tweeted that they had received 1 unit only, I looked-up their phone number, called them straight away and bought it. It's now one year on and I thought I'd give a little update on how I feel about the X100 after the first 12 months. The photographs in this post are a broad selection of many many shots that I have taken with the X100. I've selected these to try to show this camera will suit lots of styles of photography.


There has been a lot of stuff on the web about the X100's shortcomings, like slow focus, useless manual focus, slow wake-up from sleep...blah blah blah! The way I see it, nothing we buy is ever perfect, nor will it ever be. Nothing in this world is perfect...get over it! My kids don't tidy their room, but I don't bitch about it on the internet (maybe I just did). I think a lot of the people that go on about the X100's quirks are mostly photogs that don't even own the camera (don't get me started on Kelby). I paid the full price for the X100 (it's a lot lower now) and it's been the best money I've ever spent on photography! It does have faults, but the pros far outweigh the cons.


I've carried the X100 with me every single day for a full year and it's got me shots that I never would have gotten. Some because I maybe wouldn't have had a camera with me and some because it's much smaller and less intimidating than a DSLR. Street photography has possibly been the biggest area that the little Fuji gem has had the most influence on. I started the 35mmStreet blog and also have a collection of black and white street shots at 500px and overall, I'm really happy with what I've been getting and looking forward to what this year brings.


The new Fujifilm X-Pro1 arrived yesterday, but far from replacing the X100, I'm looking forward to using the two cameras side be side, especially with the 50mm (35mm equivalent) on the X-Pro1 complimenting the X100's 35mm. I'm used to shooting two Nikon DSLR's with a prime on each body, so I'll feel right at home with the two Fuji's. I also recently launched a new documentary photography site at and I'll probably end-up shooting exclusively with the X100 and X-Pro1 for that site. In fact, I've been putting of a documentary project until the X-Pro1 arrived, as the high ISO performance is important.


The X100 is not a point and shoot by any means. It's a camera that you have to master, but you love all the more for it. It's painting without numbers. It's improvising a piece of music, rather than playing from a sheet. It's jazz, rather than pop. The camera fits well in my hands, especially with the lens hood attached (a must have accessory). I keep it set-up to shoot as soon as it switches on, with the focus point at either the left or the right hand side (never centre), aperture priority at f4 & 640 ISO, so that when I fire it up in quick start mode, I will get the shot without playing with the settings. Once it's on, I shoot the X100 in manual more than any other camera, but I always make sure it's at my default settings before I turn it off. The X100 is also a fantastically stealth camera for walking around with it curled in your hand with the LCD against the back of your wrist and the lens toward your leg. I swear it's almost invisible like this. Just make sure the strap is wrapped around your wrist a few times so that you don't drop it and nobody can grab it and run off. The X100 is also silent and that's one of it's best features!


I think Zack Arias summed the X100 up best of all when he simply said "it's got soul!". If you shoot with this camera, you'll know what he means. The X100 has carved a place in history and it's only 1 year old. I think we'll look back in 20 years time with great fondness for the X100, and from that distance we'll all see what a game changer it was. I'm looking forward to shooting with it for many years to come, and that's not something you say often in this time of constant camera updates. Happy birthday X100!