composition

The story behind a picture #1

Young England cross-country runners posing for a photograph in Winchester. © Neil Turner/TSL

Young England cross-country runners posing for a photograph in Winchester. © Neil Turner/TSL

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

Zooming with your…

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015. A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015.
A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

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.

The event we were shooting was a fixed distance from us and so it was possible to get the right prime lens on the camera and then to shoot the job.

What my young photographer friend didn’t know was that I had my 70-200 lens in my bag but that I had some real concerns about its performance earlier in the day which is why I had grabbed the 135 and decided to use that.

As we had plenty of time to spare I explained my choice of lens and explained that a lot of press work means that zooming with your feet is somewhere between difficult and impossible and that to get the most from a fixed position a set of zoom lenses is actually the right choice. I went on to admit that I would be doing a fair bit of zooming on the job myself, except that it would be in the post-production – zooming with the crop tool is what I decided to call it.

And that’s what I did. The resolution of modern DSLRs is such that you can get a high quality Jpeg from 50% of the actual frame and the quality of the best lenses easily allows you do that and maybe more. Starting off with a lens wider than you probably need and then refining your crop in post-production was very common in the days of darkrooms and prints but when we were shooting 35mm colour transparencies or with the early low-megapixel digitals it became important to get the crop right in-camera. We have come full circle and some judicious cropping makes sense once more.

Shooting with prime lenses is something that I have discussed more than once before and it is something that I find myself doing more and more on jobs where I’m the only photographer or where I have enough freedom to go with the universal truth/cliche (delete where applicable) and actually zoom with my feet. The rest of the time it is zooms and now that I am using two distinct sets of lenses for different types of jobs I’ve decided to invest in some new gear – and I’ll be blogging about that very soon.

The hours before dusk

People exercising their dogs on the 'dog-friendly' beach at Fisherman's Walk as the sun begins to set.  © Neil Turner

People exercising their dogs on the ‘dog-friendly’ beach at Fisherman’s Walk as the sun begins to set.
© Neil Turner

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

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.

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.

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.