education

The Photographers’ Summit 2017

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A graphical breakdown of the types of work that I do these days and where the images end up.

I do quite a few talks and lectures throughout the year and I don’t normally discuss the specifics here on the blog because they are rarely open to a general paying audience. This one is different. The National Union of Journalists here in the United Kingdom invited me to run a couple of one hour workshops at a very interesting event they are running in London this Saturday. Titled “The Photographers’ Summit 2017” the day includes the following:

  • Improve your videography skills.
  • Rights & restrictions: how privacy and property laws affect photographers & videographers.
  • Using copyright law to make sure you don’t get ripped off.
  • Moving from staff to freelance photographer.
  • Innovations in photography — 360degree filming and other developments.
  • New models and ways to make money.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a member of the NUJ to attend and it looks likely to be an interesting day.

My part in the proceedings is to do two identical one hour sessions which I have given the working title of “Making a living with the skill set of a press photographer”. OK, so it isn’t particularly catchy but it does sum up what I’ve been tasked with delivering. What I am trying to do is to say to people with press photography skills that they can take those skills and use them elsewhere within the wider photography industry given that the market for news pictures has been shrinking and changing for many years and given that the world still has a massive appetite for photographs. We’ve all had to accept that a relatively small percentage of those pictures come from professionals but it is my contention that as we reach saturation point for the quantity of images the only place to do go is to do something about the quality. Press photographers have the skills to be part of that change and we just need to do something about applying those transferable skills to the task.

As a quick preview of what I’m saying I have done an updated pie chart (yes, there will be pie charts) based on the one that I did for this blog a few years ago when I wrote about where the work comes from. The changes aren’t too big but it’s worth going back and reading the original article to see how this chart came about.

The 2015/2016 financial year's version of the pie chart.

The 2015/2016 financial year’s version of the pie chart.

Now these are only two of the 20+ slides that I am currently planning to use and for the whole explanation there’s no substitute for being there. These are only a one hour sessions (I’m doing the same one twice) and the material that I have had to condense down normally takes about twenty hours to deliver. Ours is a complex business and it would be childish to promise to distill the last eight and a half years worth of freelance business experience down into a few catchy subtitles but I have had a go, so my talk will feature the following in reverse order;

  • Seven vital skills to learn or develop
  • Six things that press photographers have going for them
  • Five things that press photographers need to know
  • Four assumptions we can make about the industry
  • Three facts about me
  • Two distinct parts to the session
  • One major piece of advice

Christmas is long gone and so there won’t be any partridges in any pear trees (at least in my sessions) and if any Lords turn up they will be asked to restrict their leaping to the breaks. I’m hoping that the whole day will be both fun and informative and that we’ll all get a chance to do some serious networking in the breaks.

If you are interested, there were still a few tickets available at a cost of £35 each for non-members and £15 each for members.

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Hands and portraits

John Redwood MP, photographed during an interview in January 1994. © Neil Turner/Insight.

John Redwood MP, photographed during an interview in January 1994. © Neil Turner/Insight.

It’s January 2017 and like most photographers I am looking forward to the year with a mix of excitement and trepidation. What kinds of challenging and interesting projects are going to come my way in the next eleven and a half months? How is my work going to develop? Am I going to get enough work to pay the bills? Big questions that add to the roller-coaster of emotions that being freelance brings out.

One of the things that I always try to do is look back at some of last year’s work and compare it to older stuff and try to come up with some thoughts that help me to understand my own style better and to make sure that I don’t get tripped up by the same old mistakes. There’s a question that pops into my head about this time every year and it is one that I think that I am finally happy to answer:

What do you do with hands in editorial style portraits?

Almost every time that I shoot a portrait I try to give the client/editor as much choice as I can. Tight head and shoulders only portraits are one thing but what about wider compositions where the subject’s arms and hands start to feature? How should I get people, who don’t do it naturally, to pose? I quite like to keep some pictures as tight as I can and so folded arms are really useful because they bring the hands and arms higher up the body allowing me to frame the photographs that bit tighter. Nine times out of every ten that you ask someone to fold their arms you end up having a conversation about body language and lots of corporate types have been told by their PR people that folded arms look defensive. If only all things were that simple: folded arms bad/hands in pockets good just doesn’t work in photography. Folded arms in pictures can appear defensive but they can also appear as positives – they can be friendly, strong, loving, confident, feeling cold and so many other things. On the negative side they can appear aggressive, angry, lacking in confidence and forced. If you put “body language folded arms” into your favourite search engine you’ll get a few thousand articles written from a few hundred different perspectives telling you that folded arms can mean a number of different things and that context matters. Like so many things in life, it is a matter of judgement and skill and in the photographic portrait it is definitely a matter of getting the relationship between the folded arms, the composition and the facial expression right.

I can understand why PR people are wary of folded arms because they can go hideously wrong but you should never rule out a fantastic photographic tool just because it can be misused.

What about hands in pockets?

I’ve already mentioned hands in pockets. This, by the very fact that the hands are further away from the face, gives a wider composition and some people look great when relaxing hands in pockets whilst others look awkward. That’s where the skill of the portraitist comes into its own; working out who does what well and getting them to trust your judgement when photographing them that way. The difference between lazy and relaxed isn’t that great and you need to train yourself to distinguish between the two.

Over the last twelve months I have been asked to shoot a lot of pictures where the subject has their hand on their chin/lips/ears/hair (mirroring one of the least appealing ‘selfie’ trends appearing all over social media) or where they are cupping their face with their elbows on a table or the back of a chair. It isn’t something I would naturally ask someone to do but if they naturally do it themselves then I will often work with it and see if it makes the picture. Sometimes it comes off but it mostly looks contrived and, quite frankly, a bit naff. Did I say a bit naff? I meant a lot naff.

What else can you do?

One of the most useful ways to shoot portraits is to do it when the subject is talking to you or to someone else and gets a bit animated. Hands suddenly move away from being a potential problem to be a massive asset. Again you have to be a bit careful about what kind of gesture because we all know that pointing fingers, waving two fingers or forming a fist can be misinterpreted very quickly but, if you are in the business of portraying someone as they really are then their subconscious hand movements are a very useful way of getting there quickly.

Jacqueline Wilson receives up to 400 letters from young readers each week and does her best to answer as many of them personally as she can. © Neil Turner/TSL

Jacqueline Wilson receives up to 400 letters from young readers each week and does her best to answer as many of them personally as she can. © Neil Turner/TSL

Back in the mid 1990s I even shot just people’s hands on several occasions. Lots of people were exploring the same idea and several photographers did it far more assiduously and successfully than me. It is, however a great exercise for two reasons: the first is that it gets you notice that people have character in bits of their body other than their faces and the second is that shooting their hands can help to relax more nervous subjects.

Of course you can get the subject to clasp their hands gently on front of them or behind their backs. Hands on hips works about 2% of the time and almost always requires a smile

You may have noticed that I’ve used words like useful and often and sometimes a lot in this short post. That’s deliberate because there really are very few hard and fast rules in good portraiture. Getting people’s hands into the frame is something that I love to do (not a January 2017 revelation) and portraying people as themselves is a primary goal (probably a January 1987 thought). Great portraits rely on a number of factors working together and getting something that is a lot stronger than the sum of its parts.

My January 2017 goal for the year is to get better at the way hands appear in my portraits. I’m not going to shy away from folded arms, hands on hips or anything else but I’m not going to ask anyone to touch their lips or in any other way pose as if they were a teenager doing a selfie that they’ll regret in six months time.

Want to see more? My portraits portfolio can be seen here.

Talking about pictures

On the beach at Fisherman's Walk just before a rain storm.© Photo Neil Turner

May 2015.  On the beach at Fisherman’s Walk just before a rain storm. © Photo Neil Turner.

I spent some of my day yesterday adapting a 2013 Keynote presentation with lots of my work in it ready to go and give a talk to a local camera club. I removed two thirds of the pictures and added a lot of different and newer ones and the thing that I had in the back of my mind at all times was that I had to have something interesting and/or witty to say about each one. That rules out just showing your current portfolio – although a good percentage of the photographs are the same ones – and means that you spend a lot of time remembering and fact-checking those stories too. It is actually a really good feeling to go back through pictures and smile about them even though they were mostly taken for money and not for the love of taking them. What a great way to make a living!

The promise to do this talk came about after a chance meeting in a cafe last year. My wife and I got chatting to another couple and we talked about my camera that I had (and pretty much always have) with me and it turned out that they helped run a local camera club. The invite was issued, a date was set and I’m due there in a couple of weeks. Unlike a lot of photographers I love to talk about my own work because it gives me a chance to go back through and get some fresh ideas from some of my old ones.

Refreshing an old presentation meant that I had to make a decision about what I wanted to say about myself and my thirty plus years working as a photographer and so I decided to start off with a few questions that I want my audience to ask subconsciously every time they saw a new picture. From there I decided to include examples of every genre of pictures that I do in the opening few minutes; corporate, editorial, news, portraits, personal work and schools are all in there just to give a flavour of who I am and what I do. The final act was to throw out about fifty of the one hundred and thirty pictures that I had accumulated because I only have about an hour and a half!

If you want to get a flavour of the themes there are a couple of old blog posts that you can read. The first is about what kind of photographer I see myself as and the second is about how many different types of picture there are. Of course I’ll throw in some anecdotes and lots of ad-libbing before the questions (hopefully) start to flow.

Now that I have a ‘new’ presentation I might even do a few more talks if and when I am invited…

Photography compared to…

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BOURNEMOUTH, DORSET. 08 April 2016. A fairground on Redhill Common. © Photo Neil Turner – Freelance photographer.

When you try to explain concepts in photography to someone who isn’t deeply embedded in the art/craft/science/passion it makes sense to find something else top compare it to. My favourite comparisons are driving, cooking and sport.

Driving is something most of us do and, on the whole, we do it without having to think too much about the basics. I’ve talked about it before so I’ll quickly recap my thoughts:

Changing gear, using the indicators, knowing when to use windscreen wipers and headlights are all pretty much done on auto-pilot whilst we think more consciously about road awareness, speeds, traffic, navigation and much else besides. The comparison to photography is an easy one to make because there are basic controls that we like to think are second nature; exposure, focusing, making sure we have memory cards and batteries whilst composition and anticipating things happening in front of your camera (and often off to the side and behind you) are things that require more conscious thought.

Tempting though it is to continue stretching the analogy I want to move onto cooking. All pictures have some basic ingredients and the skill of photography is to take those basics, add some interesting extras and know how to combine them and serve them up. That’s the schmultzy bit out of the way. Great chefs (and I’ve photographed a few and dined in the restaurants of several) are constantly looking for new twists and the odd exotic ingredient whilst making food that serves the joint purpose of feeding and engaging diners. Mediocre chefs overdo it, use too many trendy techniques and ingredients at the same time and generally fail in the main task of presenting good food where substance and style are in balance. The rest of us when cooking do the same old dishes, warm up too many ready meals and generally avoid any pretence of culinary ambition or expertise.

I’m pretty sure that I don’t even need to draw the comparisons between cooking and photography except to say that I’d almost rather have the gourmet food and the home cooked stuff all of the time and miss out the self-regarding nonsense in the middle. Restaurant critics and food writers have a lot in common with people who write pretentious twaddle about photography. This is one analogy that can go on for a long time.

So what about sport? I am sitting and writing this on the day of the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics thinking of my many friends and colleagues who are already there working as photographers, editors and photo managers. They will be watching/photographing/witnessing some of the finest athletes in the word today. Athletes that have spent years perfecting their skills and getting themselves into peak condition being photographed by many of the finest photographers who have also spent years getting to where they are today.

Comparing photography to sports isn’t so much about finding similarities – it’s more about the differences. When you run 400 metres as a professional nothing much changes. Tracks are tracks and running shoes develop little by little. I know that diet, training and off-track activities change but, essentially, the principal task remains the same because running one lap of a track as fast as possible is what it is; tremendously tough but always the same. Photographing that event is a constantly changing thing. From black and white to colour, from manual focus to auto-focus and now we have to shift the pictures extremely rapidly too. Technology means that day-to-day, week-to-week and year-to-year shooting the same kind of job changes. An athlete remains at the top of their game for a relatively short time whilst the best photographers are around for decades. A swimmer attending their third or fourth Olympics is news whereas a photographer doing that would be just getting started!

Comparing apples with bananas has value when trying to explain the wider art and craft of photography to someone whose experience has been the odd compact camera and their smartphone. Right now I need to go and explain why it takes at least three hours to do the post-production on a six hour shoot and why I can’t just give the client some rough Jpegs. Anyone got a compelling analogy for that?

My iPhone & not taking pictures with it

iphone_grabThere’s no getting away from two facts:

1. I am a fan of almost everything Apple for the work that I do and the way that I do it.

2. I rely on my two and a bit year old iPhone 5S for quite a lot of things when I’m out on assignments.

The speed of the 4G network and the brilliant array of apps available for all smartphones has changed the way that I do some of my jobs quite a lot in the last few years. Recently I wrote about getting pictures away quickly  and I have also written about the workflow that I use with some of the phone apps and you can see from a current grab of one of the app pages on my phone I have quite a few ways to do similar things.

I’d like to talk in this blog about some of many of the ‘un-sung heroes’ of my mobile life – at least one of which is a very new and a very, very welcome addition to the set up.

The backbone of my mobile image acquisition and transmission system is formed of the Eye-Fi and Photogene apps which have been covered at length before but you can also see plenty of other work related apps on this single screen.

The newcomer (bottom right) is ColorTRUE – an app from X-Rite that allows you to colour calibrate your mobile phone or tablet screen if you have a suitable X-Rite monitor calibration device. Sadly, iOS doesn’t have system-wide colour management (yet?) but it is possible to view your images in the ColorTRUE gallery and see very accurate renditions. They have a partner program to allow other app developers to take advantage of this big leap forward and I hope that others will take advantage of this soon – I’ve just written to the makers of Photogene to ask them very nicely if they would get involved in this very useful scheme.

The screen grab below shows what the app looks like in action

colortrue

Also on the home screen is Easy Release which is a brilliant way to get model releases signed on-the-fly that I’ve been using for a few years. Lenstag is a way of recording and verifying ownership of equipment, Transmit is a fully functioning FTP upload app and the mobile version of WeTransfer is incredibly useful for sending big batches to some clients.

My phone has a couple of dozen apps that are photography and business related apps but last, and by no means least, comes the Dropbox app. I have lost count of the number of times I have been able to send links to clients for images and folders of images that I have stored in the cloud using Dropbox Pro whilst I am literally in the middle of shooting and nowhere near a computer. The Dropbox app is excellent and it really does make having all of my edits stored on Dropbox a great idea. Two minutes or less after opening the app the client has access to their files no matter where I am. So simple and so clever.

I do also use my iPhone for making and receiving phone calls but its use as a portable digital hub for my business has made being out of the office a pleasure.

What makes this photo a Flickr favourite?

Waiting for people and texting their friends outside the Apple Store, Covent Garden.

Waiting for people and texting their friends outside the Apple Store, Covent Garden. © Neil Turner. November 2015

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.

The truth is that I don’t know – and that’s a problem because that means that I have yet to master or even comprehend the vagaries of Flickr. If you remember, that’s why I rejoined the sharing site – to acquire a zen-like understanding of the medium.

Some things appear to be obvious though:

  • Black & white pictures get more attention and more likes
  • Certain people follow everything you do
  • If you interact with lots of people it helps to raise the ‘like count’
  • Likes don’t put food on the table
  • Social media takes a lot of work

The really interesting thing is that a potential client did see one of my photographs on Flickr and is keen to buy it for use in their business and so whilst likes don’t put food on the table having the right people seeing your work does. Whether Flickr will ever bring the financial returns that justify the amount of time spent working with it is still unclear but that’s the same for all social media.

Is the picture at the top of this post any better than any of the 176 (and counting) others on my Flickr Photostream? If you know why it attracted a comment of “Nice capture” when so many others didn’t, please let me know!