Three weeks in a bunker

Court 14 - above the Photographers Workroom. ©Neil Turner, June 2015

Court 14 – above the Photographers Workroom. ©Neil Turner, June 2015

There aren’t too offices with a cooler roof than the one I’ve spent the last three and a bit weeks working in. The brilliant new Photographers’ Workroom at the All England Lawn Tennis Club is directly under courts 14 and 15 and having world class tennis being played on the office roof isn’t an every day boast!

For the second year running I have had a contract to work as a Picture Editor for the AELTC and I can honestly say that it is an exciting, exhausting, fulfilling, frustrating, full-time and full-on twenty three days.

I get to work early in the morning just as the Ground Staff are starting to get the courts ready for action and I leave as they are putting most of them back to bed for the night. In that time thousands of top class photographs cross my screen and I have hundreds of conversations with our photographers and the dozens of other professionals with whom we work.

What I don’t get to do much of is take pictures. A few snatched frames on my Fujifilm X100S on my way in and my way home and some candid shots of the team in the office are my only chances to use a camera. I walk past the back of No1. Court, between Courts 18 and 19 and then disappear under Court 14 on my way in from the car park and then do it all in reverse on my way home again which is why Court 19 features so strongly in this small selection that I’m posting today.

Early morning on Court 18. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 27 June 2015. Neil Turner

Early morning on Court 19. Marking the lines and making the grass look perfect. 27 June 2015. ©Neil Turner

Court 18 and No1 Court at night. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 29 June 2015. Neil Turner

Court 17 and No.1 Court at night. 29 June 2015. ©Neil Turner

View of back of Centre Court across Court 19. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 01 July 2015. Neil Turner

View of back of Centre Court across Court 19. 01 July 2015. © Neil Turner

Getting Court 19 ready in the morning. The Championships 2015 at The All England Lawn Tennis Club. 04 July 2015. Neil Turner

Taking the covers off and getting Court 19 ready in the morning.  04 July 2015. ©Neil Turner

I’d like to say thank you to the great team with whom I have been working. As a freelance photographer you spend a big part of your working life as a solo operator and it is fascinating and genuinely great fun to be part of something large scale every once-in-a-while. If you’d like to have a look at a tiny fraction of the work done by the AELTC Photo team have a look at the Wimbledon website.

Zooming with your…

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015. A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015.
A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

I was on a job the other day, standing next to a very young photographer in a ‘press pen’. He glanced over at the gear I was using and mentioned how much he would love to own the 135mm f2L lens that I had on one of my cameras. He said that he had never really got the hang of “zooming with his feet” in the way that so many of the photographers he admired had advised. He had also had it drummed into him by one of his tutors at college and it had left him wondering if he was doing something wrong.

Zooming with your feet is a great concept and it is one of the catchphrases in contemporary photography that appears to be beyond question. But is it? Is it actually as much a cliche as a universal truth?

There we were on a job where we couldn’t have zoomed with our feet even if either of us had the skills to do so. We couldn’t go forward – there was a metal barrier in the way. We couldn’t go backwards because there were other photographers and a couple of TV crews behind us – and behind them was another barrier. We had a tiny amount of sideways movement if we could change places with each other but, apart from that, we were in a very fixed position.

The event we were shooting was a fixed distance from us and so it was possible to get the right prime lens on the camera and then to shoot the job.

What my young photographer friend didn’t know was that I had my 70-200 lens in my bag but that I had some real concerns about its performance earlier in the day which is why I had grabbed the 135 and decided to use that.

As we had plenty of time to spare I explained my choice of lens and explained that a lot of press work means that zooming with your feet is somewhere between difficult and impossible and that to get the most from a fixed position a set of zoom lenses is actually the right choice. I went on to admit that I would be doing a fair bit of zooming on the job myself, except that it would be in the post-production – zooming with the crop tool is what I decided to call it.

And that’s what I did. The resolution of modern DSLRs is such that you can get a high quality Jpeg from 50% of the actual frame and the quality of the best lenses easily allows you do that and maybe more. Starting off with a lens wider than you probably need and then refining your crop in post-production was very common in the days of darkrooms and prints but when we were shooting 35mm colour transparencies or with the early low-megapixel digitals it became important to get the crop right in-camera. We have come full circle and some judicious cropping makes sense once more.

Shooting with prime lenses is something that I have discussed more than once before and it is something that I find myself doing more and more on jobs where I’m the only photographer or where I have enough freedom to go with the universal truth/cliche (delete where applicable) and actually zoom with my feet. The rest of the time it is zooms and now that I am using two distinct sets of lenses for different types of jobs I’ve decided to invest in some new gear – and I’ll be blogging about that very soon.

The hours before dusk

People exercising their dogs on the 'dog-friendly' beach at Fisherman's Walk as the sun begins to set.  © Neil Turner

People exercising their dogs on the ‘dog-friendly’ beach at Fisherman’s Walk as the sun begins to set.
© Neil Turner

You can’t publish a blog for more than a couple of years without repeating yourself somewhat and I have waxed lyrical about the light at dusk more than once before. It is especially useful when you are shooting subjects facing due south.

Through the middle of the day taking pictures looking out to sea at my favourite part of the beach near my home life is tough because you are shooting against the often strong sunshine. When there’s a cloudless sky by five or six o’clock in the afternoon and then through to sunset the angle and direction of the light as well as its colour and quality goes from nice to amazing. The type of activity changes too and the almost deserted beaches become the one place that draws me to go and take pictures because I want to.

I might also have mentioned my obsession with dogs on the beach and I am slowly but surely putting a body of those pictures together. I wanted a wide photograph that could stretch across a double page and have some headlines and copy run over it and I think that this picture from yesterday evening is a real contender.

The project will never be finished but there will come a day when volume one gets published in some form or other.

Techie stuff: Canon EOS5D MkIII with a Canon EF 135mm f2 L lens. 1/160th of a second f13 200 ISO

Having read “Annie Leibovitz At Work”

liebovitz_coverI doubt that you’ll be surprised to hear that the vast majority of the books sitting on my shelves at home are collections of photographs. I have books by most of the greatest photographers who ever lived and I find them to be a constant source of inspiration as well as a great help in keeping my feet on the ground. Every time that I need ideas I see what they did and every time I think I’ve done something great I realise that many other people did it before me and often better than me.

One of the biggest sections is the one devoted to Annie Liebovitz. I admire her and I admire her work. I don’t necessarily want to be the kind of photographer that she has become and I definitely don’t want to do the kind of work that she is most famous for but there is a great deal of inspiration there.

For my birthday a few months ago I was given a 2011 copy of her 2008 book “Annie Liebovitz At Work”. It is partly a biography, partly a summary of her professional life and an interesting insight into how she feels about the job that she has done since leaving college. There are also copies of many of her greatest pictures in it – although it’s the words that I want to talk about here.

When I read it a month or so ago I did so immediately after reading Roger Allen’s excellent “The Darkroom Boy 40 Years on Fleet Street” which is a funny and honest look at the life and career of one of the greatest exponents of the newspaper photographer’s craft. At first Annie Liebovitz book appeared dull and a bit pedestrian by comparison but after a bit of thought I remembered that they are two very different characters and have different styles for just about everything.

I don’t want to get into reviewing books on this blog just yet and so I thought that I’d just advise everyone to get both books and read both books because between the two of them you start to get a very good idea why being a photographer is so much more than a job.

Towards the end of the Liebovitz book there’s a section where she answers the ten most common questions put to her over the years and this inspired me to take those questions and answer them myself. It was tempting to send them to Roger Allen as well and maybe I’ll do that another day. In the meantime, here are my answers:

  1.  What advice do you have for a young photographer who is just starting out?

    Take pictures and analyze what you did well and did badly. It doesn’t matter what you are shooting because at the beginning of your journey you will learn something new every time you press the button and then look back at what you did. The lessons are often negative but that’s fine because learning from mistakes has to be one of the best ways to make real progress. As your body of work and experience grows you will grow in confidence, have better ideas and grow as a photographer. On top of that, practice your people skills – if you can communicate with anyone and everyone easily and effectively then you can concentrate more on the shooting part of the job.

  2. What’s your favourite photograph?

    I think that it is probably the portrait of Iris Murdoch and John Bayley that I shot way back in 1998 but I have so many favourites – just look at my folio and you’ll see that I like a lot of my own work. I often come away from jobs having had a deeply emotional reaction to what I have seen and done and because of that I’d also like to mention the photograph I took of a boy doing up his coat for the first time. He had trouble with his motor skills and his determination to zip up his jacket for the camera left me in tears. I like different pictures of mine for different reasons – sometimes it is the end result and other times it is the memory of time and place that they bring back.

  3. Who’s the most difficult person you’ve ever photographed?

    Margaret Thatcher kept me waiting for hours whilst my lights were there ready to go. She walked into the room and stood with her back to a huge window forcing me to change everything in seconds and look like a fool. I wasn’t exactly a fan of hers and so her behaviour only compounded that. I also had a bad time with Stephen Frears the film director. In his defence nobody had told him I was coming and he was snowed-under with work. In the end I just followed him around the studios for a couple of hours grabbing frames and not setting anything up. I actually enjoyed the shoot and got some interesting portraits from it. We parted on far more amicable terms than we had had started the day.

  4. How many pictures do you take?

    It varies from job to job. Sometimes it’ll be a couple of dozen but I always try to shoot on at least two cameras which tends to bump the number of frames up so on a typical editorial portrait I’d want at least 100 frames which would mean maybe ten different images and/or compositions. On some corporate jobs the frames go into thousands so when I say it varies I’m being serious.

  5. Are you happy with the move from film to digital?

    Ecstatic. I love the digital process and learned to intensely dislike shooting film and having to scan it or get it scanned. The quality of modern digitals is amazing and, for the work that I do, I cannot see any point to film.

  6. How is photographing a celebrity different from photographing a regular person?

    There are lots of answers here. Most celebrities have been photographed hundreds of times before and so they are either comfortable with or bored by the process. Those who don’t want to be there are foolish because their image is often everything and the less time you give a photographer, the less likely you are to get a great picture. The worst kinds of celebrities are those whose management feel the need to micro-manage everything and try to look through the viewfinder with you. Regular people come in lots of varieties too and most need to be made to feel comfortable before you can really do your job.

  7. Where do you get your ideas?

    Books, movies, magazines and newspapers. Whatever you are shooting, someone has done it before and it is always worth looking at their work for ideas – some are good and others are bad and so you pick and mix lighting, techniques and compositions to suit what you need to do.

  8. When do you know you have a good picture?

    You can feel it happening and I’ve been told that I start to grin like an idiot behind the camera when it is really coming together. If the light is right and you get the composition working for you good pictures happen. It’s great pictures that are a little tougher.

  9. How much direction do you give?

    As much as I need to or as little as I can get away with. I like things to happen naturally and organically and so I tend to spend less time giving direction than you might think. I like to give encouragement more than direction. People tend to do interesting things and I see it as my job to keep them doing that. Unless it is a very structured shoot, if I am having to give explicit directions then the shoot isn’t going to plan.

  10. How do you set people at ease and get them to do the things that they do in your pictures?

    I talk to them about almost anything. The weather. The traffic. The place we are at. Whatever works really. Having good people skills makes being a photographer a lot easier

I’m not in the same league as Annie Leibovitz and so my answers will not be quoted as well or as often but advice from working photographers is a valuable commodity – even if you read it and then decide to ignore it!
“Annie Liebovitz At Work” published by Jonathan Cape, London – ISBN 9780224087575

“The Darkroom Boy 40 Years on Fleet Street” by Roger Allen published by G2 Entertainment – ISBN 9781782815235

Choosing between full frame Canons…

The Canon EOS6D, EOS5D MkIII and the EOS1DX

The Canon EOS6D, EOS5D MkIII and the EOS1DX

A couple of years ago I wrote about how, as a working photographer, I make purchasing decisions. The formula is simple: assess the actual need against the purchase price and proceed accordingly. On that basis I own Canon full-frame digital SLRs (the cost of switching to another brand would be too high – even if I wanted to) and about ten Canon lenses. My last crop-frame DSLR was the EOS7D which was lovely to use but utterly useless to me above about 640 ISO and I shoot at 1000 to 2000 quite a bit these days. I’m always interested in new kit but rarely do I buy something just because I want it.

The chances are that all three of the cameras in the picture are nearing the end of their model lives. The rumours of an EOS5D MkIV and even an EOS1DX MkII (or whatever they choose to call it) are already swirling around the web and it cannot be long before the EOS6D gets an update either. That doesn’t make them bad cameras – far from it, they are all exceptional bits of kit.

I was asked the other day by a talented amateur photographer that I happened to be shooting a portrait of whether it was worth his while “going full-frame”. There’s never a right or wrong answer to questions like that: Are they rich enough to buy on a whim? Can they afford the new lenses that they might need? Will it improve their photography? All I can do is to say that I love the image quality that the larger area sensors undoubtedly give you in low light. Any of the three cameras above (and their Nikon equivalents) will happily operate at 3200 ISO which is about as far down the road to shooting in the dark as I tend to need to go and so I’m happy to work with any of them.

The EOS1DX is three times the price of the 6D without seeing much (if any) jump in image quality. Of course you get huge jumps in build quality, speed of operation and in the flexibility offered and it is those options and features that you need to assess to justify the extra cost. The weight and size differences are also considerable and in using and carrying them it becomes obvious after a few seconds that they are very different animals and that choosing which one to buy is all about ‘horses for courses’.

Sitting neatly between the 6D and the 1DX is the 5D MkIII. Small enough to be carried everywhere, built well enough for most jobs and with plenty of options too. The speed of operation is good without being blisteringly fast and the files that it produces are right up there with the very best. It is no surprise that the 5D MkIII is my favourite for the work that I do and has been for the last couple of years.

On top of all of that there is the ‘mis-matched camera syndrome’ that I and a lot of photographers suffer from. Put simply, working with two cameras as many of us do becomes a bit harder when the two cameras are not the same model. Not only are the controls and menus different when you are shooting but so are the memory card options and (most importantly) the batteries and chargers. It can be really infuriating if you are travelling and have to bring two or more different camera battery chargers as well as multiple types of memory cards. Luckily Canon only use Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) but that’s still more options than you might like.

If you are reading this Canon Inc (or Nikon for that matter) – can you do something about standardising chargers and maybe adopting charging and even file transfer over USB Type C as an option in your next releases? Standardising batteries across the range is probably a step too far but it might be a good idea if you can pull it off. How about making all cameras twin slot with CF and USB? How about making one of the CF slots on the 1DX replacement compatible with a quality CF to SD adapter? I’ve got lots of ideas and I’m available for consultancy (insert smiley icon here).

If your one of those disciplined souls who can ignore all new equipment rumours and announcements then you’ll have missed Canon’s upcoming EOS5DS and EOS5DSR – two 50+ Megapixel full-frame DSLRs which will have the pixel-peepers going nuts. The rest of us have looked at the specification and decided whether or not we are interested. I’m a ‘not-interested’ and will wait for the much-rumoured EOS5D MkIV to be announced later this year or early next. That doesn’t mean that I’ll just buy one – it means that I’ll think about it when I’ve actually seen one. The same goes for anything else that hits the market by the way.

Taste in monochrome

Ever since I shot my first roll of black and white film back when I was teenager I have been striving to master the art/science/alchemy of good monochrome. Many of my early photographic heroes were all brilliant in black and white and my own struggle with getting close to being good at it is a subject that I have blogged about before. Over the last two years I have become much better at it and I thought that I’d show a series of images here that demonstrate how I go from an original colour picture to a toned monochrome. I sometimes use Tonality for my conversions but this one was done in Photoshop CC.

Colour photo converted from a Fujifilm .raf file in Adobe Camera RAW

Colour photo converted from a Fujifilm .raf file in Adobe Camera RAW

Pensioners window shopping in the Brtish Heart Foundation furniture and electrical good store in Winton.

Straight ‘desaturate’ from the colour photo using Photoshop’s Shift Cmd U on a Mac (shift Ctrl U on a PC)

Contrast added using levels  in Photoshop.

Contrast added using levels in Photoshop.

New layer added and a tone applied across the image using the paint bucket tool at 12% before the levels were adjusted to re-introduce a black.

New layer added and a tone applied across the image using the paint bucket tool at 12% before the levels were adjusted to re-introduce a black.

Once you get the hang of it, this is a simple process which could be automated for batches. I prefer to do it by eye because the re-introduction of the blacks after the tone was added is something that benefits from subtlety and which changes from frame to frame.

I’m 99.9% sure that there are ‘better’ ways to do this but it appeals to my taste in monochrome for the web. It chimes with my taste in printing papers back in the days when we hand printed our portfolios on specialist papers with their own signature tones. Mine was Agfa Record Rapid which, when developed in the requisite chemistry, had a very pleasing warm tone.

I’m getting close to having a style that I like for this kind of work – my personal work – and I am looking forward to putting a better edited body of work together using this style or at least a development on it. In the meantime, there’s a large collection of assorted personal work on my Pixelrights gallery.

Reliance on the internet

As photographers we have got used to using a range of web-based technologies to deliver our work to our clients. Most of the time it works and nobody notices how amazing these technologies are. Over the years we have come to expect more and more in terms of bandwidth and speed and we have come to rely on getting good connections to easily accomplish what would have been regarded as time-sensitive alchemy only a few years ago.

On an overseas job last week the client wanted a lot of high resolution Jpegs delivered to them very quickly and their chosen method was WeTransfer. It’s a very good and reliable system in itself but it depends on a half decent internet connection. Sadly we didn’t get that connection and out of sheer frustration I did these screen grabs:

wetransfer

Yes that’s right: one million, two hundred and one thousand, seven hundred and thirty hours to complete a transfer that should have taken about half an hour on a half decent network. In case you are interested that is fifty thousand and seventy-two days or one hundred and thirty-seven years and sixty-five days. A bit slow. The second screen grab says less than a minute but that was also wildly inaccurate as no further data moved.

In the end I had to abandon the ethernet and wifi networks that the client had arranged for us to use and head outside where I could pick up a great 4G mobile signal by tethering to my iPhone and use my roaming package to send the pictures – which took about 44 minutes (by then I has 1.2Gb of pictures). The point here is that now we have come to reply on the internet for almost all of our image delivery it has become crucial that we have multiple ways of connecting to the internet.