Photowise commercial and wedding photography Pretoria, Gauteng

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Composition: Beyond the labels – Seeing Part 1

I have had the incredible privilege to photograph with and learn from Freeman Patterson on visit to Namaqualand some years ago. Freeman was one of the main catalysts who started my photographic journey and I keep on finding inspiration in his books and photographs.

One of the main subjects of the conversations I had with Freeman was that we as photographers should learn to look at the world around us, without attaching labels to things.

Our first words spoken as babies are nouns aka “labels”. We name things – we describe by attaching labels when identifying objects and in our conversations, thoughts and dreams. Labels often act as the filters, which determine how we will use our senses to experience something, often excluding all but one or two of our senses. Stopping to connect and interact with something, experiencing it honestly enough, to get beyond the “labels”, is where we need to go to really see……we then think in terms of shape, lines, balance, rhythm, repetition etc. It is in this “alternate reality” where waves ebbing and flowing over rocks can be captured as “passing time” and frozen in a single exposure. Or where a range of sand dunes can become a collection of repetitive lines or shapes – almost abstract in their simplicity.

During some pre-dawn moonlit walks, I was struck by how hills, rocks and trees, stripped from detail, colour, form and texture – reduced to mere flat shapes – allowed my senses and imagination to experience them as anything but what they actually are. Two strong lines of repetitive shapes formed by a rocky ridge in the moonlight, had completely disappeared when I went looking for it in daylight. Yes, they were there, but the brownish mottled colours and varying textures had now completely “overwritten” the repetition I had seen in the moonlight. The lines and beautiful repetition had now been reduced to very uninteresting rocks. The strong formidable upright, almost authoritative, monochrome silhouette of Helmut’s tree, became a rather feminine Akasia, decked in pretty yellow blossoms in the morning light.

I was set an assignment at Bokbalbaai – a stretch of coastline approx 1km long, consisting of nothing but pebbles, rocks and kelp of varying colours and shape – to photograph anything but pebbles, rocks, kelp and sea. I sat on a rock feeling a lot of despair, looking at millions of rocks and pebbles…..

Remembering what I had taught so many of our students, I knew I had to simplify the scene in front of me, in order to make any sense of the assignment. Using the viewfinder, I limited my perspective to what could fit in the frame and deliberately deleting the labels “rocks” and “pebbles”, I started seeing shapes, curved lines, shadows repeating the curves and patterns to create form and repetition. It comes as no surprise that “simplify” is the first “rule” first composing great images….

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Vision – “Passionate stories, told passionately..”

David duChemin wrote in one of his books: “Vision is the beginning and end of photography”.

I agree. Vision is that something , the je ne sais quoi, the inspiration that moves you to pick up your camera to photograph it. It will determine how you photograph and why, the settings you choose and the angle you use. For me it is not only the journey of the making of every photograph, but also my journey to discover, define and often redefine my own vision. Often I am defined by my vision.

I get stirred to photograph a particular scene, often not knowing what it is that I am “seeing” or why, only to discover the elusive vision when I look at my images later and then discover exactly what it was what I was feeling at the time. The camera becoming the tool of self-discovery.

DuChemin points out that our vision often grows to meet our skill. I believe we become better equipped to express our vision. I love looking at my older images. I can often clearly see what was going on in my life by looking at what my vision was when I made the images – what caught my eye then…what stirred me. I can clearly see how my technical skills improved with experience, but I am often amazed at how my ability to express grew. There have always been “common” elements in my images, that identify them as my work, but I am just better at expressing my creativity and myself…my vision. I am learning every day how to photograph what moves me, but also how to express what I feel. The more passionate I am about the subject, the more I have to say and to get across to the viewer. Du Chemin worded it so aptly: “Passionate stories, told passionately..”

“Knowing what you love to photograph, and what you do not, is the first step in the recognition and refinement of your vision”. So what happens if I have to photograph something I am really not that excited about? Here, I believe, learning the tricks to communicate through light, colour, camera angles etc can often save the day. I often draw from my love for photography in general – the chance to spend time with my beloved camera – to draw passion back into my vision.

Freeman Patterson summed it up so beautifully: “Photography – both the craft and the art – helps me to be. It allows and enables me to live creatively, which is to honour Creation and my own existence.”

This past week-end the Photowise team was privileged enough to be part of a lovely couple’s special day. All was just perfect and the resulting images reminded me why I photograph in the first place…. I love people and I love telling stories!

Wedding_bride_MAryna Cotton_Photowise

Wedding_Maryna Cotton_Photowise

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Cover shoot for Devoted Magazine

Sarel  recently had the privilege of photographing the absolutely lovely Janet Potgieter for the cover of the Devoted Magazine. Janet is the reigning Mrs Africa Globe Classic. Follow her on Facebook

Good luck in Las Vegas, Janet!

Devoted Magazine on-line:

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McRofuzer rekindles the love for Macro Photography in Photowise students

Photowise has been presenting Macro workshops over the past few weeks and have been inundated with calls and orders for McRofuzer. With Nikon still bundeling the Macro Training DVD’s and McRofuzer with all their Macro lenses sold, Macro Photography is now easier and fits most budgets. McRofuzer for Canon lenses is currently in production and will be available in our on-line store by the end of March. (Click here to pre-order yours!) 

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We received this mail from Leigh Ann and her images are truly stunning!

“WoW, Thanks so much for the speedy prompt service and delivery of my McRofuzer and macro dvd. The dvd was very insightful and am now trying out your recommended settings. I use my McRofuzer now for almost all my shots, the diffused light really makes a big difference and makes the subject “PoP” – brings it to life. I am very happy with my new macro lens & McRofuzer Combo, and look for any and every opportunity to go looking for things to shoot… especially love little bugs!!!” Leigh Ann van Aswegen (E-mail 3 March 2015) 


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Jacaranda FM: Keep It Real Campaign

Great was the excitement when we were offered the opportunity to be part of Jacaranda FM’s Keep It Real campaign this past week. (  Four brave listeners volunteered for a photo shoot, knowing full well that there will be no retouching or post-processing.  The photographer was non other then Jacques du Preez.  The Photowise team pulled out all stops to play the perfect hosts for  the day, making sure Jacques had access to the best Photowise Studio has to offer, and creating a fantastic experience for the brave ladies.  

Follow the Jacaranda FM’s Keep It Real campaign on and on Twitter Jacaranda FM@jacarandafm #Keepitreal.

For the reveal: MBD.

For more behind the scenes: Click here 

For the pics: Click here









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Portraiture – Part 1 (Experience / Perspective / Composition)

Those of you who know me would know that I have never seen myself as a portrait photographer. The reason for the need to classify myself in the first place as a “this” or “not that” type of photographer is something I have never understood. For years I have warned my students not to focus on just one specific genre of photography, as photography, in my mind is a heart and soul thing, a passion, a journey, a means to express, to communicate, to tell a story. However all of these labels relate right back to emotions, humanness and thus people and portraiture. Why is it then that I have never “enjoyed” photographing people? I suspect that the answer to this does not really lie in photography after all, but perhaps rather in my own personal journey. Could the years of being vulnerable, the rawness of my own spirit, the oceans of un-cried tears behind my eyes, have kept me from connecting with the subjects, causing an inability to truly and honestly, tell their stories? Did the treads of my own life, suffocate my desire to create beauty and inhibit my ability to tell the stories of people? Could this have been the reason why I detested my own photograph being taken – a fear that the camera would see the truth in my eyes? Could the fact that I was so guarded have prevented my subjects from showing me their essence? Did I sense that photographing people could or would mirror my own hurting soul? Could this have been the reason that my portraiture experience had almost exclusively been limited to photographing children – safe in their innocence and ignorance?

My life has given me a gift these past few months. One of self-acknowledgement, of self-care, of honestly and truth, and hopefully soon one of healing. With this gift has come a desire, an urge in fact, to photograph people – to tell their stories. Also with this has come a cautious consideration to have my own portrait taken.

So what is the secret to a good portrait?

The connection –

A successful portrait creates a connection with the subject. It captures an expression, a mood, something that reveals the spirit of the person – that magical spark to attests to being really alive. The experience of a making a portrait is all about trust and responsibility. Portraits are gifts to the artist – someone is giving us a piece of themselves, trusting that we, the photographers, can execute our craft skillfully enough to be kind, honest and respectful in our interpretations of them. Our approach as the photographer should be one that cultivates that trust and in doing so create ease in our subjects.


The experience –

In the recent months my experience of the portrait making process has changed. I find the interactions with my subjects to often be an adventure. The excitement of drawing something genuine from my subjects is rejuvenating. The intimacy of the experience and the awareness that I am seeing something authentic – their beauty, their vulnerability, their strengths, their truth, is humbling and precious.


Authenticity -Radiating inner beauty….


A new perspective –

A successful portrait tells a story and how the story is told is influenced by the photographer’s perspective. “An image speaks a thousand words” rings so true. Taking the time to try various angles and perspectives, not only kickstarts my creativity, but allows the subject to see their life from a different perspective. 


Shot from a slightly higher perspective to enhance vulnerability and innocence…..


The Composition –

What you choose to include or exclude from a portrait and where you decide to place the elements in your composition will evoke or accentuate certain emotional responses. Making use of powerpoints and other design elements as well as carefully composing around your focal point will ensure that the viewers attention rests where you want it to rest.

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Focal point on the eyes – to establish the connection, aided by the blurred background and careful composition…



Part 2 to follow……Lighting / Details / Post-processing




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Doing what we love most….

Sarel and I, presented a Macro Workshop for Nikon at Nikon House recently, and as always loved every minute of it! Macro photography has always been a firm favourite with photographers, novices and pro’s alike. Illustrating that it can be really easy and affordable on top of that, gives us such joy. I believe that it is for this reason that the McRofuzer  lies so close to our hearts.

I have pondered my own fascination with photographing little things and goggo’s and the “usually unseen” on many occasions? What is it in human nature (and my own) that makes Macro Photography so irresistible?

I suspect that in my case it is the sense of discovering something wonderful when you realize that there are hairs on bees or ants. Or perhaps the marvel that creation is spectacular and that we mostly do not stop for a few extra seconds to look or to actually really see. What adds to the experience for me is the actual “stopping”. I run too much, I am way too busy and even my photography has become about “how many shoots in a day” or “how quickly can we do this shoot?”. Macro in a sense affords me the luxury to just stop! To spend time on pondering exposure, how to sneak up on my subjects and how to light them. It challenges me to apply my skills and knowledge and to actually think about it. Ever noticed how aware you become of your breathing?

I love quoting Freeman Patterson: “Photography – both the craft and the art – helps me to be. It allows and enables me to live creatively, which is to honour Creation and my own existence.”

That is Macro Photography for me!








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N4 Gateway Industrial Park East
Willow Park Manor, 0184
Cnr Solomon Mahlangu and
R104 Bronkhorstspruit Rd

Location Inside the Park:
49 Sneeuberg Street
Unit 3

S 25°45'16.358"
E 28°21'51.222"

Contact Us

For General Enquiries:
012 803 1370

Sarel van Staden:
082 4150 474

Maryna Cotton:
082 8570 479