When I rejoined Flickr a couple of months ago my main aim was to learn the ins and outs of how it works so that I could help an important client build their Flickr profile. One of the side-effects is that I have become quite interested in how and why some pictures get no attention and why some others get loads. This was made all the more interesting when one single picture of mine went from the normal 100-200 views and 2-3 likes to having over 10,000 views and around 130 likes.
I don’t think that it is any better or worse than most of the rest of the (178 and counting) pictures I have uploaded so why did it get so much attention?
I genuinely don’t think that it is because it is a wonderful image so maybe it is because someone influential in the Flickr-sphere decided that they liked it and that prompted their followers to also like it. Maybe it is because I uploaded it on the right day at the right time in the right groups to get so much attention.
Back in 2013 the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival was getting bigger and better and I was asked to come along and shoot some of the events. The climax of day two was to be a spectacular show on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier by Joe Rush and The Mutoid Waste Company who build and drive fantastic vehicles made from scrap. The organisers had penned off a large area of beach, put up a large public address system and once night had fallen the vehicles and their crews came onto the beach.
I had been there earlier in the festival when some of the vehicles had driven through the town and so I knew roughly what to expect. I got there reasonably early and staked out what I thought would be a good position with the sea and the pier in the background. I had two cameras with me – one with a 70-200 f2.8 and the other with a 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens. I had a couple of Canon speed lights and a high-voltage battery pack, plenty of memory cards and then waited for darkness and the start of the show.
Half a dozen vehicles sped onto the sand and I started shooting away without flash. It was pretty dark, despite the arc lights that had been positioned at various points around the perimeter. These vehicles weigh several tons and one or two of them got caught in the soft sand but that made for great pictures because the people who ‘crew’ them are artists and showmen and they gave the most amazing static display whilst waiting to be hauled free.
Technical stuff: Canon EOS5D MkII cameras with Canon EF 70-200 f2.8L IS and 24-70 f2.8L lenses. Top picture 1/100th of a second at f2.8 on 2000 ISO with white balance corrected in Adobe Camera RAW. Bottom picture 1/25th of a second at f3.2 on 2000 ISO.
Even after nearly thirty years shooting photographs I can almost always remember something about ‘being there’ on the job when I look back at the pictures. There’s also a story to be told about why a particular picture was shot, lit or composed in a certain way.
A while ago I was posting a “photography word of the day” on Twitter and one of the first was compromise. This photograph of two rising stars of cross country running is a classic example of compromising to get a decent shot.
When I arrived at the college where they were both studying neither of them had their kit with them to do an action shot. Luckily their England team tracksuits had arrived and so I had to manufacture an action portrait of them that left one important part out of the frame – their feet. Neither of them had suitable footwear to be photographed in action and so I had to find a way to shoot them without drawing attention to their lack of running shoes.
In front of the college was a large banked area of grass and playing fields. I realised quite quickly that I could get the best of the light (dusk was fast approaching), lose most of the buildings and hide their feet by getting down low and using one of the banked grass areas to fill the foreground as they ran towards the low angled sun whilst shooting on a long (ish) lens.
So that’s what I did. The two runners were amused by the lengths to which I was determined to go to get a decent shot. They had been photographed two days before but just wearing their street clothes and standing by the college sign and they had assumed that I’d do the same. They did about ten lots of the ten yard run that had them in the right place and I shot some of them horizontally and the others vertically to cover the possible shapes that the newspaper might use. I also shot it using a range of aperture and shutter speed combinations to get the depth of field right.
I did some static upper-body photographs as well as having them pose with their trophies (feet hidden) on the grass.
Technical stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 70-200 f2.8L IS lens. ISO 320, 1/1000th of a second at f6.7
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. (more…)
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
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.
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.