folio photo

Shooting fish in a barrel

London. January 2011. © Neil Turner

In 2008 when I had just left my staff job at TSL I was asked by a reporter working for a photographic magazine about what I intended to do with my career. I pointed out that I had an enormous amount of experience working in schools and universities and that in my time working for the Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Nursery World Magazine I had shot pictures in over 3,000 places of learning in at least 13 countries and that it seemed like a “no-brainer” to market myself as a photographer specialising in those areas. Plenty of prospectuses and websites as well as editorial shoots later my tally of educational visits and shoots tops 3,500 and I’m still in love with the genre. The reporter asked what special skills I had that made me good at that part of the job and my response was that if you can’t get great pictures of kids then you really shouldn’t be a photographer because it was “shooting fish in a barrel“.

A few days ago I made the same claim to another photographer who questioned my assertion. His point was that although the subject matter lent itself to nice pictures the rest of the set-up in schools and colleges tended to be somewhat more challenging. He pointed out that the light was rarely great and that the surroundings were often cluttered and busy. He also pointed out that there can be lots of legal and ethical issues and his own personal problem was that he couldn’t get the kids to ignore him enough of the time. He was right. The light is usually less than ideal and most classrooms are busy places with their walls covered and with all sorts of distractions – all obstacles to well composed and well lit pictures. I’ve worked in so many schools that maybe I just assume that children and even young adults aren’t remotely interested in me or what I’m doing – or at least once I explain that I’m not going to be able to get them on TV!

Shooting in a classroom requires some basic skills:

  1. Working with the ambient light
  2. Being able to get some extra light in that doesn’t completely disrupt what’s going on
  3. Having the ability to make pictures from what is already happening
  4. Setting up pictures when everything else fails

Everyone wants the pictures to look natural and everyone wants it to look as if there’s some great hard work going on. Every time I go to shoot a prospectus I get the same thing from the head teacher or their marketing people; make the children look as if they are happy and working hard and definitely not grinning for the camera. Nine times out of ten they select those grinning pictures because happy trumps serious almost every time. In a brochure that landed on my desk three weeks ago there were eighteen pictures in it. Seventeen of them were shot by me in one day and the other one was an architects photo of the newly refurbished building. Twelve of the pictures taken by me showed kids looking happy and engaged and four of the other five were portraits of staff and governors. The last of my pictures showed a child head-down and working hard.

Younger kids are definitely easier to take pictures of – in fact at the TES we had a saying “with acne comes attitude” and it was always tougher to make great pictures once the children became teenagers with all of the insecurities and hang-ups that come with that age. That was never quite as true when you were working overseas and it was always a huge privilege to witness education in action on other continents.

Choral scholars, Cambridgeshire, July 2008. © Neil Turner/TSL.

Previously on this blog I wrote about three important things that make a photograph and shooting in schools is a wonderful example of having to work hard to make two of them (light and composition) work for you when the third (subject matter) is usually pulling it’s weight. Sometimes you get lucky but, in my experience, most of the time you don’t. Thirty years ago I shot my first paid commission in a school just four years after I was a pupil in one. It’s funny and ironic in equal measure that I used to get into trouble for having a camera at school. I didn’t take many pictures during lessons but I do have a lovely archive of friends and teachers from my sixth-form years and I often wonder if that’s where my love of shooting in schools comes from.

Outdoor education centre, Dorset. April 2014.


Masindi, Uganda © Neil Turner/TSL Education. April 2005.


Nursery School, Kent. ©Neil Turner/TSL. January 2005


School playground, Surrey. ©Neil Turner. June 2011.

I don’t put many photos of children on this blog and when I do they tend to have been published elsewhere first and/or be from a few years ago. I’m still shooting as many jobs in schools as I can and I have a portfolio of school and college work sitting right here on my hard drive for when I get enquiries. If you’d like to talk about commissioning me to come and shoot your fish in your barrel, no matter what the light is like please get in touch.

You can also see a slideshow of headteachers and other education leaders that I put together a few years ago 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…

Portfolio updates

Like many photographers I invest a lot of time and energy into my portfolio. I have had a Pixelrights folio since they launched their service earlier this year and every time they add more functionality I tinker with both the design and the content. Right now the service is looking great and the content management system is working well. One of these days I’m going to relegate my other folio platforms and throw everything at this service but until then please come along and have a look at the galleries for portraits, features and my personal work.

MY PIXELRIGHTS HOME PAGE

Another photo worthy of an obituary

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died aged 91. I photographed him back in 1999 sitting in what I thought was a very ‘egg-shaped’ chair in his London apartment. If you want to know more about him, The Guardian’s obituary is worth reading but my very clear memory of being there was that he was one of the calmest people that I had ever met. He was confident without being arrogant and his understanding of my job and the job of the reporter who went with me was absolute. He had, obviously, been interviewed and photographed hundreds of times before but I still believe it to be true that most people who have had that kind of media exposure still don’t ‘get it’ in the same way that he did.

It seems that almost every week now I see an obituary in the press of someone that I photographed earlier in my career and it has two distinct effects on me. The first is quite predictable – I feel that bit older each time it happens. The second effect is to make me realise how amazingly lucky I have been in meeting the people that I have met and having been able to make what I hope are portrait and feature images that will stand the test of time.

This particular photograph lived in my folio for many years. It was unusual for me to have shot quite such a reflective portrait at that time. I was busy trying to make a reputation for myself as ‘the guy’ who used strong lighting and strong compositions to compliment that lighting. Like most phases of a career, it passed. I can still shoot the strong pictures when the situation calls for it but this portrait is far closer to my current favoured style than almost anything that I shot in those early days of digital. When I look back at the more memorable images that I shot through the late 1990s – the period of transition from scanned negative film to 1.9 megapixel digital cameras – a lot of them have this kind of feel and that surprises me because my memory is of lighting everything in slightly over-the-top ways.

Technical stuff: Kodak DCS520 camera with a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens. Ambient light, 1/160th of a second at f4 on 400 ISO.

If you haven’t seen Pixelrights – check it out…

pixelrigts_ss
When friends of yours start up a new business it is natural to wish it well and then forget all about it until you see those friends again. That’s kind of what happened with me and Pixelrights. Shaun Curry, one of the founders is an old mate and when he rang me out of the blue a while ago to explain his new business venture I was happy for him and offered my support as I would with pretty much any of my friends.

A few months later Shaun got back to me and asked to ‘borrow’ a couple of pictures for their development website. Always happy to help I sent him a couple of JPEGs and signed up for email, Facebook and Twitter feeds to remain abreast of their progress. Once more, nothing much happened and then Pixelrights offered to develop the new website for The BPPA and suddenly there I was having an in depth explanation of their ideas complete with a demonstration of what their idea could offer.

Passive supporter becomes active advocate over the course of one afternoon. I love the idea and I really love the fact that these are people doing what they are doing for money AND for the love of what they might achieve. So what is Pixelrights? Here’s a cut and paste from their own concept page:

Working in photography and the visual arts ourselves, we wanted to create something that we would not only use, but also enjoy using. We saw the need for simple, functional yet sophisticated portfolios which would serve photographer’s interests and needs, in an honest manner with no marketing trickery.

Pixelrights provides a secure, simple, classically-presented choice of website designs, backed up with state-of-the-art technology, all for a single price. There are no hidden charges to remove branding, no divisive price plans and no subscription fee traps.

What it actually provides is a portfolio of the simplest form with good image protection and the option to allow carefully controlled and monitored sharing. There are quite a few design options and there will probably be more by the time the current “Beta” phase is completed. I have three folios on my pages and I have a range of hidden galleries which are invite only so that clients can go and look at images that I have uploaded for them to Dropbox making use of a cool and simple interface. The whole point of a beta phase is to gather opinions of users and make things even better and that’s exactly what is happening.

I’d strongly recommend that you go and check out Pixelrights for yourself and the best way to get there is via my members page. Make sure that you look at the features and the pricing because this is a good idea from good people with an awful lot of backing from working photographers.

One that didn’t make the folio

©Neil Turner/TSL. June 2008, Hertfordshire.

©Neil Turner/TSL. June 2008, Hertfordshire.

When I was putting a massive “long-list” of photographs that I was considering putting into one of the galleries on my portfolio website I looked at this picture and couldn’t make my mind up one way or the other. I was aware that I already had a lot of images from schools – which isn’t surprising when you consider that I have worked in over 3,500 of them in 15 different countries – and that it didn’t add anything to the mix.

I like this picture a lot because it is simple, demonstrates the use of good composition and shallow depth of field as well as reminding me of the kind of work that still makes me want to get out of bed in the morning and go and shoot pictures. These days most of my school based work is shooting for their prospectuses and websites with the odd news story thrown in from time to time but this remains the kind of picture that has a lot of uses and draws the most comment from those who are commissioning the work.

The truth is that almost anyone could take an acceptable picture of primary school children on a scavenger hunt in an enclosed copse. I hope that it also proves that it takes a lot more to produce as good as this on a miserable and rainy day early in the morning when the light is awful and the gear is getting wet. I have kept a few photographs that didn’t make it to one side and I intend to publish a few of them here on the blog with a bit of the background to why I like them along with a bit of the story.

 

Techie Stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 16-35mm f2.8L lens at 16mm. Canon CR2 RAW file 640 ISO, 1/90th of a second at f2.8 on daylight white balance and converted using Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop. At the time it would have been ACR in Photoshop CS3 but the file was re-worked using ACR in Photoshop CC.

Portfolio features now updated

©Neil Turner/TSL. April 2005. Kabalega, Uganda.

©Neil Turner/TSL. April 2005. Kabalega, Uganda.

The funny thing about updating the features section on my portfolio website is that I have a section called “portraits” and another section that should be called “not portraits”. That isn’t a  particularly elegant way to categorise the thirty plus images featured in that particular gallery but I have yet to find a work that sums it up. Features is as close as I seem to be able to get.

Anyway, it’s a big relief to have finished the refresh and the last of the design updates for now. When I was looking through the huge folder of images that were under consideration I was struck by the picture above of a teenaged Ugandan boy who was part of a group helped to think about issues that were affecting their lives by an art teacher who had visited the United Kingdom where he had picked up this technique. They were an interesting set of images of a fascinating project and I’m really glad to have been able to include this picture in the new folio – even if the picture was shot nearly nine years ago.

The new “features gallery” is now on show at www.dg28.com/folio/features/ and I hope that you have some time to have a look.