The photographer’s “uniform”…

I was told the other day that I was wearing my uniform with pride. What uniform you may ask? It seems that the uniform in question was that of a freelance news photographer. I have known for many years that many of us tend to dress in similar ways: we all spend a lot of our time kneeling down or lying down to get the best angle. In the winter we all get cold when we are working outdoors and so it comes as no surprise that we all choose similar clothing. So what was I wearing?

The first thing that I did was to look down and make a mental note of my attire. Heavy duty winter coat, fleece scarf, heavy weight denim jeans and my much loved Timberland boots. They are ancient, they are warm and the tread is still pretty good. These boots have waded into the sea, they have stomped through Scandinavian snow and they have marched across many miles of the New Forest with the family. Most importantly of all, they have seen me through a lot of miles on the streets of London.

You’d be right to think of this as a uniform – how many of my colleagues have a black or grey North Face jacket on their backs? It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say “most”! I have no idea if mine is the latest technology (its Hyvent, whatever that is) or the coolest (black and grey?) but it works amazingly well. This too has kept me warm in the northern areas of Finland in the depths of winter. In fact, I even have a warmer one that I find it hard to wear. That McMurdo parka was a big investment for me and I’ve worn it twice.

I have just remembered that I was also wearing some amazing grey fleece gloves that my brother bought me a while back. They are made by Rohan and they are perfect for a photographer. They allow you to use the camera well enough (even the tiny buttons on the back of a Canon EOS 5D MkII) and manage to keep the worst of the chill off of your hands. The trouble is that they don’t have a name on them and the Rohan website doesn’t show any gloves so I guess that the recommendation isn’t all that helpful.

I’ve written before (although I really cannot remember were) about the photographer as chameleon. The idea is that we need to adapt to our surroundings and sort of blend in. In the city, surrounded by other members of the media it is pretty simple – once you’ve seen one black winter jacket with cameras hanging from it then you’ve pretty much seen them all. It gets trickier when you are the only one there. I’ve done jobs that required a dinner suit and others which asked for high visibility vests and construction helmets (more of the latter recently) but the majority of the jobs don’t come with a written dress code. The trick is to go for the right kind of smart casual wherever possible and to cover it all up with an expensive looking coat.

What you wear says plenty about you. Looking like a photographer tends to help you be accepted as a professional and helps you shortcut the whole credibility issue. I want my Doctor to wear a white coat and my postman to have the right clothing too. If you look like an archetype, if you play along with people’s prejudices it tends to relax them. If I turn up to shoot someone’s photograph dressed like a postman or a doctor I’m going to have to work that little bit harder to convince them that I know what I’m doing and that I am a professional photographer.

So that’s my winter uniform sorted. What shall I wear this summer?

11 comments

  1. check. check. check. 🙂 The only thing I don’t use but was just looking at last week is the Timberland boot. Are they as good as they say? Warm and waterproof etc? I’m bored of the cross trainer hiking boot that die within a year but found the Timberlands that I looked at to be SO heavy. Thoughts?

    Who’d have thought we’d be discussing clothes on your photo blog…

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    1. I agree that Timberlands are a bit heavier than the lightweight hiking boots that a lot of photographers wear but the extra warmth and the long life are, for me, a good trade-off. They take a while to break-in, so be prepared for a few evening strolls to loosen the boots up a bit – these are old-school!

      I would also recommend the sorbothane inserts that camping shops such as Cotswolds sell as a great investment when buying Timberlands.

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  2. Here its jeans and a T-Shirt (high-end mind you) for any fashion work, but like you said I find myself in High Viz and helmet more and more ( they pay on time). As for boots, in my previous career as a rescue paramedic, I found Oliver boots to be comfy, water/oil proof and light weight, they are a little more costly but well worth it.

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  3. Your post reminded me of a day four years ago. Sitting on a connecting train from Birmingham New Street to Birmingham International and the NEC. I was checking my (then new) iPhone and clad in a rather new North Face jacket when I looked up and viewed my predominantly male occupants of the carriage. To a person we were all looking at our iPhones and all clad in black North Face jackets. Next stop Focus 2008!

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