The personal frames you shoot…

I have shot thousands of editorial portraits over the last 26 years and every once in a while I shoot a few “personal frames” at the end of a job. What I mean is that there are pictures that I shoot if I have time that I know the client would not publish in a million years and so I am doing them for my own amusement/sanity/experience/curiosity. When you start shooting pictures, everything you do is an adventure. Slowly you learn how to achieve the results that you (and your client) want and it becomes very easy to just take the pictures that you need to take without pushing any boundaries or trying anything new.

Professor Lewis Wolpert. London, March 2004. ©Neil Turner/TSL

I wrote an essay in 2004 about why black and white is so effective and why so many people profess to preferring it to colour for a lot of ‘serious’ pictures. The reason that I have always believed is that good photography is about giving people a view of your subject that they recognise but that, at the same time, is not how they themselves would have see the same scene. There are plenty of ways of achieving this but the one that non-photographers seem to respond to most positively is to show black and white pictures. For about two weeks after writing that for the first time I consciously shot pictures that I could convert to black and white to prove or disprove my theory. I even submitted a few black and white images with my edits to the newspaper I was working for.

The experiment developed a little and I started to try to actually mimic the feel of black and white film and prints. Lots of filters and plug-ins were appearing on the market at the time and I played with as many as I could get my hands on. The experiment ended when I shot this portrait of Professor Lewis Wolpert at the Department of Anatomy, University College London in March 2004. I had spent quite a while using Photoshop’s darkroom style tools to dodge, burn, correct contrast and generally make an otherwise ordinary picture look rather nice. I really liked the picture but I decided that the personal frames idea needed to head off in a different direction and so I stopped shooting with mono in mind for quite a while.

In common with almost all of the work that I was doing at that time, this was shot on a Canon EOS1D with a 70-200 f2.8L lens. It was shot at 640ISO (which for me was the highest you could go on the original EOS1D without getting a lot of noise) at 1/125th of a second at f2.8.

4 comments

  1. Do you think staff photographers can do ‘personal photos’ on a job, or are we ‘owned’ while working?
    I often do my own thing, very different from the pic my paper expects, but wonder if the two really can be separated…

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    1. Hi Andrew – good thought, I guess that there’s no doubt that they OWN the pictures but that doesn’t stop us developing our own ideas and thoughts and becoming better photographers – which has to be to their benefit after all…

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