News photography isn’t a huge industry. It employs a few thousand people here in the UK and it’s amazing how many of those know each other, or at least know of each other. That having been said, it’s also amazing that so few people can be divided into so many small pockets. Sports photographers, news photographers, local newspaper photographers and features photographers all come to mind as sub-divisions of the business. Whilst talking to a couple of colleagues the other day I was made aware of another division. A division that you seem to fall on one side or the other of according to the way you see and shoot pictures.
Apparently I’m a “light and shader” whilst my two colleagues referred to themselves as “tight and brights”. They told me that the division here in the UK was broadly along the lines of tabloid versus broadsheet, mass market versus serious. This explanation was both amusing and, in a lot of ways, pleasing. I like to think of myself as a more serious photographer – one whose use of light and shade is central to their style but I was a bit worried that they seemed to be writing off what they do at the same time.
Make no mistake, these are two top class photographers, each with a staff job on one of the two biggest selling newspapers in the country. They provide their picture editors with the right images day in and day out that satisfy the constraints of the designs and the tastes of the readers. Both are also intelligent and articulate journalists and so I did start to wonder whether they were just taking the mickey out of me – implying that I take myself and my work too serioiusly.
The chances are that it is a little of everything. I suspect that they and the other tight and brighters like to differentiate themselves from the mainstream and I also suspect that they envy the small amount of extra creative freedom that the light and shaders seem to get. It also makes you realise how hard the job of wire service and agency photographers must be – satisfying two very distinct markets at the same time and having to have an eye for different types of images on the same job.
No doubt there are other divisions between photographers. I can think of a few other ways of dividing us up: I once heard one of my photographic heroes talking about the “that will do gang” – referring to an attitude amongst some professionals whereby they will do enough to satisfy their brief without going the extra yards let alone the extra mile in order to produce the best work possible that he contended was what made doing the job so satisfying and what made hime rush to get out of bed almost every working day.
I know what he means. I found myself getting excited about shooting an interesting portrait a week or so ago – excited enough that it would be slightly uncool to admit it. I love taking pictures and I love to make use of light and shade. I’ve got to shoot some tight and bright images later this week and I will think of my two tabloid colleagues when I do.