Five tips for Brum pics

Tim Cornbill helps strengthen our phone photography game

On his way back to a hotel in Berlin, Brum-based photographer and architect, Tim Cornbill, snapped the stunningly simple shot, above. It did alright. It did better than alright. It bagged Tim one of his two Sony World Photography Awards and, on the strength of those awards, he was approached by a publisher to pen a book about capturing major cities on camera. And none are more major to Tim than Birmingham. Here are his five top tips — from novice to intermediate — on making Brum your muse.

1. TIMING, TIMING AND DID WE MENTION TIMING? 
"Light impacts the images you can capture probably more than any other factor. Poor light requires loads more kit, and without knowing exactly when the sun is going to set, you'll never get a shot like this one, taken from Small Heath train station back towards the city. The sun bouncing off the tracks draws the eye back towards Brum, adding a lot more to the image than your typical skyline shot. Amongst others, I use an app called The Photographer's Ephemeris, which not only tells you when the sun will set but where and in what direction. I also keep a close eye on the weather forecast. People complain about the unpredictable British weather but it can bring opportunities and atmosphere as well as technical challenges."

2. MAKE THE IMAGE DO THE WORK 
"Talking weather, I got this shot from Stephenson Street looking back towards New Street, cowering under the side of a building getting drenched — you can see the bounce-back of the water on the floor it was so wet. I took this picture on my phone — probably the most useful tool for any aspiring urban photographer. There's a whole chapter in my book about how to choose your camera but, in essence, you need to work within the limits of what you've got at the moment you see a shot and think about how to maximise the composition of what's in front of you. On an iPhone 6S Plus — the phone I still have today — I used buildings to frame the shot and road markings to draw the eye towards the entrance of the station. Another advantage of using your camera phone for street photography is that people are so used to mobiles these days, that taking yours out of your pocket is unlikely to alter their behaviour. As soon as you start setting up tripods or changing lenses, you draw attention to yourself and the whole dynamic of the situation you're trying to capture can quickly change."

3. GET HIGH
"Wherever you are in the world, get as high as you can with your camera — plenty of cities have public spaces and rooftop bars from which you can get a unique vantage point for the price of a pint. In Brum, I was lucky enough to go up the Mclaren building (that really tall one on Priory Queensway) to capture this shot, looking towards the back of the Radisson Tower. Though this is actually quite a flat image, by literally filling the frame, a composition technique where you leave no distractions or space around the edge of your subject, you can get a really dense shot that, here, makes the buildings of Birmingham appear closer together than they actually are. So take any opportunities given to get into unusual spots and seek out high up public places. If you don't find a well-placed bar, look for a car park — I've captured some really unusual angles from their upper levels."

4. BRING OUT THE BIG GUNS
"Sometimes, there's no substitute for some techie kit to get the shot, like a tripod. I'm pleased with how this time-lapse of the traffic around Queensway Tunnel turned out. I used a 30-second exposure, a manual function on my big camera, to get this. What you see here is 30 seconds of time all in one frame. On the left side, can you see those high, red light trails? They're from the tail lights of a bus passing. Small breaks in the light trails are from where cars were stop-start. You absolutely need a tripod here to avoid the image being blurry but even iPhone's come with time-lapse functionality and you can get mini-tripods these days so it is possible to try out this sort of technique without committing too much cash."

5. SOMETIMES, IT'S WHAT YOU LEAVE OUT
"I was tracking this guy around the outside of the Library of Birmingham when I realised I only had my point and shoot on me, a camera with no zoom. Knowing there was something in the repetition of the circular shape of the balustrade and amphitheatre, and that I could edit the raw shot later, I took this picture. Unremarkable, isn't it?! But making a success out of photography can be as much about knowing you can reverse engineer a shot later as capturing it perfectly first time around. Having worked in black and white a lot, I could see how striking the contrast between the ground and the path could ultimately look. In the original shot, the brown of the grass is the first thing your eye is drawn to. In the edited version, the shapes stand out because of the stark contrast in colour and shadowing, and by cropping the shot, I got rid of lots of the busyness, allowing the composition to do the work. There's a whole chapter about editing in my book and getting to know how everyday colours will look in black and white is a really useful skill. But, between you and me, there's a lot you can pick up with a bit of a trial and error.

Urban Photography is published on July 11. Pre-order it here, or pre-order a signed copy direct from Tim here.


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