Twenty-five years ago today

©Neil Turner, 13th February 1990. Whitecross Street Market, London EC1.

©Neil Turner, 13th February 1990. Whitecross Street Market, London EC1.

Over the last few years I’ve posted a few pictures from my own filing cabinet when they have had some relevance or when there is a specific anniversary. This picture was taken twenty-five years ago today as I went for one of my regular wanders around bits of London that were near Metro – the 24 hour laboratory where we all got our E6 transparency film processed. It was about a mile and a half from our Hoxton office (before it was trendy) and it took about twenty minutes to walk there or five minutes to drive. Sometimes there would be other photographers around and we would adjourn to a local cafe for a cup of something and a sandwich and at other times I’d take myself off for a walk around one of the many fascinating side roads and markets that made up the Clerkenwell/Farringdon/Smithfield area and take a few personal and/or stock pictures whilst the film made its hour and three quarter journey through the system and the ‘soup’ at Metro.

On this particular day I went to Whitecross Street with a couple of cameras and a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri-X film. It is amazing what you remember when you start to think about a day and a place and my memory of this day is that I was half an hour into the walk when I bumped into another photographer (there were three or four agencies close by) and we had a coffee anyway!

The man in the photograph (who said his name was Frank but I’m not sure he was being 100% honest judging by the cheeky look in his eye) had been a stall holder at the market selling books and a few magazines for many years. Trade was brisk as the workers from the many offices on the edge of the City of London were having their lunch hours and I didn’t really finish my conversation with him.

Anyway, another ‘archive’ picture that brings back happy memories and brings a smile to my face. This was, quite literally, half of my lifetime ago and I still love the photograph.

Techie stuff: Nikon FM2 camera with a 135mm f2 Nikkor, Kodak Tri-x film.

Electronic viewfinders and me

©Neil Turner, February 2015. The cliff tops at Boscombe on a dull winter's day.

©Neil Turner, February 2015. The cliff tops at Boscombe on a dull winter’s day.

A few months ago a colleague whose work I know and love said that it took him a little while to get used to electronic viewfinders and now that he has been using them for a while he cannot remember why he had been so resistant to them in the first place. Resistant to electronic viewfinders? That summed up my attitude until a couple of weeks ago too. After carrying my beloved Fujifilm X20 around with me I decided that it was time to give an X100S a run out. The lack of a zoom lens and the small jump in size and weight is compensated for by a big increase in the higher ISO quality (which isn’t to be sniffed at during the winter time) and a few more megapixels (allowing a bit of judicious cropping here and there) and so for the last few weeks I have been shooting my personal work with the X100S. The idea hit me that now I had the option of using the electronic viewfinder (to be known as the EVF from here on in) instead of the optical viewfinder (known from here as the OVF) and that’s what I started to do.

For the first few days I was getting annoyed by the EVF to the extent that I had to have a few days off from it. During that time I shot some photographs that I really liked and I had to force myself back to using the EVF with something of a heavy heart. That was just over a week ago and I am now really pleased to announce that I have got the hang of shooting using an EVF. Welcome to the twenty-teens, welcome to the world of the EVF enthusiast and welcome to a wide world of possibilities I hear some of you saying. Not quite.

The current situation is that I am perfectly capable of shooting with an EVF and that I can see why some photographers have made the switch but not me. I still prefer the OVF to the extent that I don’t want to use the electronic version and to the extent that the kind of work that I have been doing with my Fujifilm cameras isn’t as fulfilling without the old-school optical set up. If I were tempted to buy a Fujifilm XE-2 or an XT-1 I’d have to forego one of the main pleasures that I derive from using kit that, despite some huge flaws, makes me want to go and just shoot pictures.

I’m not going to tell all of the EVF enthusiasts I know that they are wrong but I am now in a position where my choice to carry on using OVFs and DSLRs is made from knowledge and not from ignorance. There, I’ve said it.

Another photo worthy of an obituary

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died aged 91. I photographed him back in 1999 sitting in what I thought was a very ‘egg-shaped’ chair in his London apartment. If you want to know more about him, The Guardian’s obituary is worth reading but my very clear memory of being there was that he was one of the calmest people that I had ever met. He was confident without being arrogant and his understanding of my job and the job of the reporter who went with me was absolute. He had, obviously, been interviewed and photographed hundreds of times before but I still believe it to be true that most people who have had that kind of media exposure still don’t ‘get it’ in the same way that he did.

It seems that almost every week now I see an obituary in the press of someone that I photographed earlier in my career and it has two distinct effects on me. The first is quite predictable – I feel that bit older each time it happens. The second effect is to make me realise how amazingly lucky I have been in meeting the people that I have met and having been able to make what I hope are portrait and feature images that will stand the test of time.

This particular photograph lived in my folio for many years. It was unusual for me to have shot quite such a reflective portrait at that time. I was busy trying to make a reputation for myself as ‘the guy’ who used strong lighting and strong compositions to compliment that lighting. Like most phases of a career, it passed. I can still shoot the strong pictures when the situation calls for it but this portrait is far closer to my current favoured style than almost anything that I shot in those early days of digital. When I look back at the more memorable images that I shot through the late 1990s – the period of transition from scanned negative film to 1.9 megapixel digital cameras – a lot of them have this kind of feel and that surprises me because my memory is of lighting everything in slightly over-the-top ways.

Technical stuff: Kodak DCS520 camera with a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens. Ambient light, 1/160th of a second at f4 on 400 ISO.

Quiet documentary image

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Flowers and a memorial plaque to four local surfers on Boscombe Pier.

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Flowers and a memorial plaque to four local surfers on Boscombe Pier.

The light on the beach is almost always interesting and whilst out walking this morning I shot a few frames of a small bunch of flowers tucked behind a memorial plaque to four young local surfers on Boscombe Pier. I guess that I would call this a documentary image and it is yet another different way for me to shoot a beach picture. For me the photograph is a great deal stronger for having the back of the gentleman in the frame.

Tech stuff: Fujifilm X100S, 1/170th of a second at f11 on 320 ISO. RAW file processed through Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CC2014.

Early morning winter sun

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Early morning wintery sunshine on the beach at Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Early morning wintery sunshine on the beach at Bournemouth.

It’s almost always about the light. Watery winter sunshine on the beach at Bournemouth this morning. I shot a frame and edged closer, then shot another before moving closer still. It was my sixth move that caused a few seagulls to finally move off and then I shot this just as the water came through my right boot.
Fujifilm X100S, 1/600th @ f9, 640 ISO.

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Early morning watery sunshine on the beach at Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, January 2015. Early morning watery sunshine on the beach at Bournemouth.

The Pier has seen better days and I’m not sure that the potted palm trees do much for the area but they make good pictures.
Fujifilm X100S, 1/1200th @ f8, 640 ISO.

I was born less than three miles from where these pictures were taken and the beaches along this part of the coast still hold an almost endless fascination for me.

Not the DSLR, I’m having fun

© Neil Turner, March 2014. Shadows on the pavement as a pedestrian passes along Tottenham Court Road.

© Neil Turner, March 2014. Shadows on the pavement as a pedestrian passes along Tottenham Court Road.

Question: Why are so many professional photographers using mirrorless cameras, micro 4/3rds format cameras and experimenting with pretty much anything that isn’t a DSLR?

It’s a tough question and without conducting some sort of major survey I can only give an answer based on my own experiences and those of close friends and colleagues. DSLRs have been my main cameras for over sixteen years now and they have become an extension of me when I’m working. They do what I need them to do with no real fuss, the quality has moved from “acceptable” back in 1998 to “extremely good” and they allow me to do the day job without having to worry about my gear very much. But, and there’s always a ‘but’ – they have become a little bit boring and little bit ‘too good’.

When I’m shooting pictures for the joy of it (and despite doing this for a living since 1986 I still do that) I want to feel something different. Elegant competence isn’t enough any more. Talk to the folks who drive sports cars or motorbikes on the weekend where a saloon would be easier, safer and more comfortable and then talk to the people who buy, care for and listen to vinyl when digital storage is so easy because they’ll tell you that there is something more engaging and far more personal about not doing it the ‘easy way’. 

Of course I could go all the way and shoot film and build a darkroom but I have been there and done that and I’ve thrown away the chemical stained t-shirts. My solution is to own and use cameras that give me a real feeling of taking risks. Cameras that make me think differently and probably take very different pictures too. It’s the weekend, it’s my day off, it’s my time to engage in photography for my own sake and for its own sake. I’m not alone in doing this and feeling the way I do.

According to the conversations that we have, the vast majority of my peers are simultaneously professionals and hobbyists and most of them choose different cameras for each part of their obsession.

By moving away from their amazingly accomplished DSLRs they force themselves to work differently and even to be different and many have taken that feeling from their spare time photography to their professional practice. A few quote practical reasons: lighter weight, less conspicuous, cheaper to buy, quiet or silent operation. A smaller number even profess to prefer the quality of the pictures (which to me is less than compelling given the flexibility of all RAW formats these days) but for me, and most of those whose opinions I trust, it is just a question of ‘different’.

If I choose to use a camera that is less intuitive, more difficult to get consistent results from and more than a little quirky then that’s up to me. If I’m taking pictures ‘just because I want to’ then I reserve the right to use a camera that makes me smile, that makes me less of a camera-operator-businessman and one that enthuses me to pick it up and head out of the door looking for pictures. The best part is that, in turn, I enjoy the work that I do for clients much more – I think that they call that a virtuous circle.

I doubt that the designers of these cameras had people like me in mind when they came up with the concepts. I hope that they don’t watch the market too closely and start to make them as slick and as polished as my day-to-day gear because that would spoil the fun.

Fufifilm X100 where are you? We are going for a walk…

Hard light portrait

©Neil Turner/TSL, September 2007.

©Neil Turner/TSL, September 2007.

Not long after I took redundancy from my staff job at The Times Educational Supplement I spent several days putting together a collection of possible portfolio pictures. I was a long task as I’d been there for over fourteen years and when I eventually published my folio on line I had cut a couple of hundred photographs down to thirty. Whilst I was looking for something else today I came across that folder of 223 pictures and had a good root through.

Like most adventures down memory lane it reminded me of things that I’d forgotten and the story behind this picture immediately jumped into my mind. The lady in the portrait is a blind sculptor originally from Iran who was by this time married to a British teacher and living in south-west London. I have posted a portrait of her on this blog before when I discussed two surprisingly similar portraits that I’d made. This frame from the set has some of the harshest lighting that I’d ever used and it jumped out at me when I was looking today because I rarely use that kind of light any more. I guess that’s partly due to the nature of the clients I work for now – PR and corporates who don’t want anything as edgy as this was – and partly because my first instinct isn’t always to get the lights out any more. Even when I do light portraits I don’t mess around with the light as much as I once did. This goes with my Twitter #PWOTD which is TESTING

Techie stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 70-200 f2.8 L IS lens at 70mm. 200 ISO 1/250th of a second at f8. Lumedyne flash.