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Matthew J. Thomas


a hot garden

Summer at The Garden House, Sussex

Creative landscape, portrait and commercial photography by Matthew J. Thomas

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Photo of the Month

Wild Black Poplar

November 2023: My ‘shot of the month’ this month is of a wild Black Polar tree - but not any old Wild Black Poplar. This is the largest and probably the oldest surviving wild Black Polar in Sussex. It grows in a large private garden on the banks of the Ouse in Lewes and the photograph is part of my growing collection of ancient tree photographs that I plan / hope one day / some day to turn into a book.

During the shot I noticed how the poplar contrasted with the small saplings surrounding it, so I chose to emphasise this by over exposing the shot, so that the surrounding trees almost fade into the background. The Black Poplar in the foreground was also slightly over-exposed, but thanks to the high dynamic range of modern cameras, I was able to selectively correct its exposure in post, to gently accentuate the contrast. The tricky bit is achieving this without the shot looking artificial!Photographed with a Sigma 28-70 f2.8 DG DN, set at 30mm, F14, 1/3s ISO 100 on a Sony A7rIV.

Wiston Wine

September 2023: Something a little different for my ‘shot of the month’ this month - a product shot of some rather nice English sparkling wine.There are two ways to make a photograph like this: 1/ Get it right in camera using a studio with several thousand pounds worth of lighting, or 2/ On location with a single flash and quite a bit of tinkering around in post.Needless to say, I used the second method for this shot. Other than the ambient light, the only additional lighting was a bounced flash off the ceiling behind my head, which created a 'catchlight' reflection in the bottles.

Everything else was pulled together in post, using Capture One Pro and the vastly under-rated Affinity Photo 2 (just as good as Photoshop but much better value).The shot was made with the lens wide open, so I used focus stacking to get all the labels crisp sharp. Dodge and burn allowed subtle adjustments to be made to the lighting across the image and selective white balance adjustment using layers altered the 'feel' of the image.Photographed with a Sigma 28-70 f2.8 DG DN set at 62.7mm, F2.8, 1/15s ISO 100 on a Sony A7rIV.

Wedding Kiss

August 2023: My ‘shot of the month’ for July is 'the wedding kiss'.I don't photograph weddings very often - they're far too stressful! But it was a real pleasure to take a trip to Eastwell Manor Hotel. in Kent last month to photograph Paul and Nicole's special day.Without going into too much detail here, I had not been able to follow the normal wedding photography conventions. Not only had I not even met the bride and groom before their big day, but I had never visited their wedding venue either.

To cap it all, when I finally arrived the sky was heavily overcast and the day was peppered with showers of drizzle, making outdoor photography a bit of a challenge.So photographically at least, the wedding turned out to be fairly 'spontaneous'. All the same, Paul and Nicole were both wonderfully photogenic and they seemed happy with the results, which is the main thing!Photographed with a Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 lens set at F2.8, 1/640s ISO 320 on a Sony A7rIV.

The Wyllie Oak - an ancient oak tree in East Sussex

1st July 2023: My ‘shot of the month’ for June is this one of ‘The Wyllie Oak’ which grows in a remote part off the High Weald, near the Kent / Sussex boarder. It’s part of a series of photographs I’m putting together of the giant trees of Sussex. This one is reputed to be 900 years old.The photograph may not look particularly interesting but it was actually made in particularly challenging circumstances. Strong, evening sidelight created a huge amount of contrast with very deep shadows cast across the trunk of the tree. The contrast was beyond even the huge dynamic range of the Sony A7rIV.

To manage the huge contrast I made two exposures: A long one for the tree trunk and then a balanced exposure for the sunlit areas (which under exposed the tree trunk). I then used the under exposed shot as my base image In Affinity Photo and 'sculpted' the tree trunk into the under-exposed areas in post, using the long exposed shot.Photographed with a Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM lens set at 22mm on a Sony A7rIV set at f10, 1/25 sec and 1/6 sec, ISO 100.

Cowslip Field, Washington, West Sussex

1st June 2023: This has been a memorable year for blossom so far, with the Hazel catkins looking better than I can remember and the Hawthorn absolutely draped in white on the Downs. Cowslips did particularly well too. I found this marvellous display on the hills above Washington one still evening in mid-May.To tell the truth, I'm not absolutely satisfied with the shot. Perhaps it's the colours, or the composition or the rather flat evening light. In any case it's still my favourite of the month, just for the amazing spectacle of seeing all those bright yellow Cowslips in full flower!

This is actually about half a dozen photographs, combined. The aim was to achieve sharp focus back to front and to equalise the exposure a little (in reality the sky was very much brighter than the foreground which made it impossible to expose the whole scene correctly in one shot). This has sort of worked but perhaps left the photograph looking a little artificial somehow?The shot above was photographed with a Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM lens set at 16mm on a Sony A7rIV set at f4, 1/125 sec, ISO 250.

Time to Talk Befriending afternoon tea

1st May 2023: I had a wonderful time a couple of weeks ago photographing an afternoon lunch club run by Time to Talk Befriending. TTTB are a local charity which do an amazing work bringing lonely older people together for a social time, mixed with plenty of good food!The shoot was far from straightforward because of some huge, plate glass windows on two walls of the venue. These streamed sunlight straight onto the back of the heads of my subjects. Some thin blinds didn't do much to reduce the glare and fill in flash was out because it would have been too intrusive.

After experimenting a bit with exposures I opted to over-expose by a couple of stops which seemed to work well, although some colour adjustment was need in post.The other major challenge was resisting the temptation to grab a heavily loaded cream cake, which would have had disastrous consequences for my expensive camera equipment . . .The shot above was photographed with a Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM lens on a Sony A7rIV set at 25mm, f3.5, 1/125 sec, ISO 320.

IGPOTY Competition 16 Finalist Certificate

1st April 2023: This month I thought i would unashamedly share my Finalist certificate for the International Garden Photographer of the Year 2023.I entered this shot into the 'Wildflower Landscapes' category. It came just short of the top three places - must try harder next time! It's of a group of Common Spotted Orchids, made at Wiston Chalk Pits last June. I remember it was a rare occasion when a free evening coincided with great weather. I made the shot with the deliberate intention of entering it to IGPOTY.It's actually a composite of about 8 photographs, stitched together in post to achieve focus front to back.

The main challenges were: Making a decent composition in what was a rather overwhelming scene; freezing movement (there was enough breeze to move things around) and then making the shots at just the right moment, as the sun disappeared over the horizon. The light was changing almost by the second!I think the most memorable thing about it was the perfect evening with the sound of church bells coming up from Washington village below.Photographed with a Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM lens on a Sony A7rIV set at f3.5, 1/200 sec, ISO 200.

Jordan Powell, Sous Chef

1st March 2023: February was a fairly quiet month again photographically, with the notable exception of a day photographing some of the staff at Chalk restaurant in Findon. This is a shot of Jordan Powell, the new Sous Chef, conveniently chopping mushrooms in the kitchen.Most kitchens have horrendous lighting for photography and this was no exception - nasty florescent strip lights bathed everything in a rather cold, flickery light.

I used fill-in flash to partially mask the effect of the florescent lighting and to pull Jordan out of the shadows. I used a Wistro AD200 flash with a 'magbounce' light modifier, triggered remotely using a Godox ProX, so I could set the flash on a stand, to one side of the camera. This very portable bit of kit does a brilliant impersonation of a small softbox, creating soft, even lighting.Photographed with a Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f1.8 lens on a Sony A7rIV set at f1.8, 1/160 sec, ISO 100.

Muker, Yorkshire Dales

1st February 2023: Last month was a bit quiet photographically with lots of other things to do, including a week away in the freezing Yorkshire Dales!It was a family holiday rather than a photographic expedition so I took what I call my 'snapper' camera with me (a Sony A6000) with a small, manual focus lens that fitted easily in the pocket (TT Artisans 25mm f2).

The TT Artisans produces some interesting effects which can be a bit reminiscent of an old 1960s manual focus lens - great for walk around shooting.I made the shot above just after a snow flurry. The tiny hamlet of Muker sits high on the Dales many miles from anywhere - the shot just about sums up the rugged winter scenery for me - and being January, there were no tourists (other than us of course!).

Young Girl

January 2023: Two very different favourite photographs from last month this time.The shot above is of my granddaughter who just managed to sit still long enough! Natural lighting only (from a side window).Sony A7riv with Sony 55mm lens set at f1.8, 1/320 sec, 200 ISO

I made the ultra-panoramic shot below during mid December, in what in recent years has become an highly unusual week of frost and snow down here in Sussex. The small gathering of Holm Oak created an unusual atmosphere in the gloom of early evening. Made on the footpath to Great Barn Farm, below Chanctonbury Ring.This is actually two shots stitched together in post. Both Sony A7riv with Tamron 70 - 180mm lens, F16, 2 secs at 100 ISO.

Wild Service Tree, Udimore

Wild Service Tree, Udimore

December 2022: My favourite photograph from last month is this one, made at Udimore, in the far east of East Sussex.This is, or was the largest Wild Service Tree in Britain, before it collapsed a few years ago. Somehow it has stayed alive in its prostrate form and still puts on a spectacular display of golden red leaves and berries in autumn.It was a gloomy, grey morning and after a long drive to find the tree, I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to make a decent photograph, when a shaft of sunlight broke through the cloud for just a few moments to light up the scene.

Wild Service are one of the rarest trees in Britain and normally confined to ancient woodland, so to find it growing in an open paddock, close to a farmhouse is unusual. Perhaps it was planted in the long distant past to provide berries for pigs or other farm animals.The fruits of the Wild Service Tree are called chequers. They can be made into an alcoholic drink and this may account for the popular old name of 'Chequers' for the pubs that can be found hidden down winding lanes across the Sussex Weald.Sony A7riv, with the Sony 16-25 GM lens set at F/14, 16mm with 1/15th second exposure, ISO 100.

Wedding tunnel

November 2022: Just had to post up this fun shot as my pick for November. I don't normally do weddings but couldn't refuse this amazing couple and we had a ball! Here they're heading for the wedding car under a tunnel of arms.The lighting was iffy and they were moving fast, so I pushed the Sony A7riv, all the way to 12,800 ISO at f4, 250 sec - using the Sony 16-35 FE (set at 20mm), The couple are a bit blurred, so I could have gone for a faster shutter speed, but somehow the blur adds to the sense of excitement and movement.

Giant Oak tree, Cowdray Park

October 2022: Another tree photograph this month - this time of a huge, old Oak at Cowdray Park. I'm gradually photographing the largest trees in Sussex as part of an ongoing photobook project.Cowdray Park has some of the very largest and oldest trees in Sussex. It's perhaps not surprising, since the Park can trace its origins to the Norman invasion. Some of the oldest oaks there could have grown up in the original 'wildwood' that would have clothed most of Sussex before its colonisation by Saxon farming communities.

I wouldn't normally try to photograph a landscape by shooting into the midday sun! But on this occasion I was time restricted and I didn't know when I would next be in the neighbourhood, so I decided to try to make the best it.To overcome the ultra-high light contrast, I made three exposures, which I then combined in Affinity Photo. The trick is to avoid the rather false looking 'HDR look' - I think this shot works!Sony A7riv, F/10, 16mm with 1/50th, 1/15th & 1/3 second exposures combined, ISO 100.

Ancient Sallow tree, Wiston West Sussex

September 2022: This month I'm publishing not one, but two of my favourite shots from August. The first is of the largest, and probably the oldest single stemmed Sallow tree in Sussex, which can be found near Buncton Chapel, on the Wiston Estate. It has a massive girth of 5.5m at its base and must be well over 150 years old.

I'm gradually working towards producing a photobook featuring the largest trees in Sussex. There's still quite a way to go though. This shot was made late on a still evening, just as the light was fading.Sony A7riv, 6 second exposure, f/9, 16mm ISO 100.

The team at Lomers Removals

September 2022 #2: The second of my favourite shots from August is a commercial one; the team at Lomers Removals. I was commissioned to make some shots for them, for their all-new website.Although this might look a simple shot to do, there were actually some interesting lighting challenges to overcome. Getting the guys to all do the right thing at the same time was fun too!

In this shot I just managed to pull things together before strong, morning sunlight crept across the composition from the left. The red strip of a shutter door, on the extreme right, helps to balance the colour composition.Sony A7riv, 200th sec, f/5.6, 74mm ISO 640.

Mother and two girls in the countryside

August 2022: My favourite photograph of July came from a family shoot in the hot, dry sunshine of Sussex. Strong, direct sunshine is generally not a good idea for photographing people, particularly towards midday. I could have used an off-camera flash but that's tricky when you're working on your own and people are moving around quickly! I aimed to catch some shots of this family in the shade, where the lighting on their faces was far more pleasing.Sony A7riv, 1/125 sec, f/5.6, 63mm ISO 250

Species rich chalk grassland, South Downs

July 2022: Perhaps a little cliched but my favourite shot of last month is this one, made on the South Downs near Washington village, West Sussex. It was quite tricky to do because of the timing involved. About a minute earlier and the sun was too bright and was burning out the sky. About a minute later the sun had set and the colour had drained out of the frame. In the intervening moments I made six shots, focused at different locations around the scene. I then stitched them together in post, using the 'focus stacking' technique to ensure the whole frame was sharp from front to back.

Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris

June 2022: This month's Photo of the Month just had to be this one of the gardening team at Wiston House. I was in the middle of shooting some rather conventional shots of the team for their website when John (pictured) came up with the idea of doing something a little different. Here's the result - I had to be quick to grab the shot before they dropped him though!

Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris

MAY 2022: Few ponds in the UK are truly natural in origin, but Buncton Pond has formed where fresh water from the pervious South Downs chalk, meets the impervious clay of the Weald and bubbles up to the surface. Here, wetland plants thrive, including Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula), Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) and Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris). The latter gives a spectacular display of butter yellow flowers in late April / early May.

Copyright © Matthew J Thomas 2023.
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Wild Flower Meadow, The Sussex High Weald

Ancient Hay Meadow, Sussex High Weald

I am a Sussex, UK based photographer working in a fairly broad range of styles, including portraits, interiors, landscape, gardens and product photography.My background is in ecology and nature conservation, and I still particularly enjoy photographing wild plants. In 2016 I gained 3rd place at the International Garden Photographer of the Year awards (Wildflower Landscapes’ category) and I was also highly commended at the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year. In 2017 I won a first place at the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year awards ('Bring Home the Harvest’ category).Since 2017 my photographs have regularly appeared in magazines, books and websites worldwide, including recent features in 'Sussex Life', 'Country Life' and 'The Lady'.I suppose the main motivation behind my photography is to offer a different way of seeing the world. Sometimes I feel rather like a tourist looking into this amazing planet and wondering if anyone else has noticed what I see. I particularly like to reveal the extraordinary in the everyday and harmony in seemingly random circumstances.Call Matthew on 07763 206030. or email: matthewthomas1@me.comA small selection of my photographs are available as limited edition prints at Saatchi Art., or contact me for framed or unframed prints of any of my photographs in any size.

Matthew Thomas

'Inside the box we gather together,
People, reasons and thoughts.
The edge of the box is where we stand,
Outsiders looking over the wall.'
from ' The Box' by Carl Taylor Walker

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West Wittering Beach at Dawn

Sunrise at West Wittering Beach

A selection of my work including landscapes, architecture, abstracts and portraiture. Chose a category below to see more.

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Landscape & Travel

G A Lomer & Son Removals

Brighton Seafront

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Interiors & Exteriors

Bats Demolition

Demolition of Bats House

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Plants & Gardens

The Garden House

Tropical Garden, The Garden House

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People & Portraits

Old Age and Baby

The Grandparents

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Product Photography

Old Age and Baby

Wiston Wine

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Events & Editorial

Big Wheel

Big Church Day Out

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Tree silhouette

Tree silhouette

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