Not the DSLR, I’m having fun

© Neil Turner, March 2014. Shadows on the pavement as a pedestrian passes along Tottenham Court Road.

© Neil Turner, March 2014. Shadows on the pavement as a pedestrian passes along Tottenham Court Road.

Question: Why are so many professional photographers using mirrorless cameras, micro 4/3rds format cameras and experimenting with pretty much anything that isn’t a DSLR?

It’s a tough question and without conducting some sort of major survey I can only give an answer based on my own experiences and those of close friends and colleagues. DSLRs have been my main cameras for over sixteen years now and they have become an extension of me when I’m working. They do what I need them to do with no real fuss, the quality has moved from “acceptable” back in 1998 to “extremely good” and they allow me to do the day job without having to worry about my gear very much. But, and there’s always a ‘but’ – they have become a little bit boring and little bit ‘too good’.

When I’m shooting pictures for the joy of it (and despite doing this for a living since 1986 I still do that) I want to feel something different. Elegant competence isn’t enough any more. Talk to the folks who drive sports cars or motorbikes on the weekend where a saloon would be easier, safer and more comfortable and then talk to the people who buy, care for and listen to vinyl when digital storage is so easy because they’ll tell you that there is something more engaging and far more personal about not doing it the ‘easy way’. 

Of course I could go all the way and shoot film and build a darkroom but I have been there and done that and I’ve thrown away the chemical stained t-shirts. My solution is to own and use cameras that give me a real feeling of taking risks. Cameras that make me think differently and probably take very different pictures too. It’s the weekend, it’s my day off, it’s my time to engage in photography for my own sake and for its own sake. I’m not alone in doing this and feeling the way I do.

According to the conversations that we have, the vast majority of my peers are simultaneously professionals and hobbyists and most of them choose different cameras for each part of their obsession.

By moving away from their amazingly accomplished DSLRs they force themselves to work differently and even to be different and many have taken that feeling from their spare time photography to their professional practice. A few quote practical reasons: lighter weight, less conspicuous, cheaper to buy, quiet or silent operation. A smaller number even profess to prefer the quality of the pictures (which to me is less than compelling given the flexibility of all RAW formats these days) but for me, and most of those whose opinions I trust, it is just a question of ‘different’.

If I choose to use a camera that is less intuitive, more difficult to get consistent results from and more than a little quirky then that’s up to me. If I’m taking pictures ‘just because I want to’ then I reserve the right to use a camera that makes me smile, that makes me less of a camera-operator-businessman and one that enthuses me to pick it up and head out of the door looking for pictures. The best part is that, in turn, I enjoy the work that I do for clients much more – I think that they call that a virtuous circle.

I doubt that the designers of these cameras had people like me in mind when they came up with the concepts. I hope that they don’t watch the market too closely and start to make them as slick and as polished as my day-to-day gear because that would spoil the fun.

Fufifilm X100 where are you? We are going for a walk…

Late November afternoon in the park

©Neil Turner, November 2014. Playing football in the  park.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. Playing football in the park.

This is just another of those “just because I like it” photographs that I have added to my personal work folio on my Pixelrights account. The family had been out to breakfast and we went to the park for the youngest members to have a run around. I had my Fujifilm X20 with me and shot a few frames including this one.

For the technically curious amongst you, the black and white conversion was done in Photoshop with a 5% red layer added to the desaturated sRGB file to give it more body and depth.

Mint in box

©Neil Turner, November 2014

©Neil Turner, November 2014. Canon EF 200mm f2.8L II USM lens.

There are lots of things about the world that I don’t understand. Some of them I ignore, some I oppose and there are others that I just go along with.

One of those that sits squarely in the latter category is the obsession with keeping the boxes for items of photographic and computer equipment that you are intending to use. I go along with it because people are actually prepared to pay more for a used item if you have the original packaging. Basically, it appears, you are prepared to pay me a premium for a secondhand piece of kit if I keep cardboard, plastic and polystyrene in my loft so that you can do the same during your ownership of that item.

It makes sense for collectables where the market loves “mint in box”. We have a few Star Wars items safely tucked away still sealed in their original packaging and I have a couple of Corgi model cars in their boxes too (the box for one on my desk is actually more attractive than the die cast metal contents anyway). But the logic of hoarding packaging for something that is in use is beyond me. Again, I get the concept of saving the instructions and any accessories (I have a massive box full of both of those) but not the packaging. It’s no big deal which is why I am now going with option 3 and just accepting that it is just the way it is. No sense fighting against it and ignoring it isn’t much of a principled stand!

I wasn’t always of that opinion. Somewhere there’s probably a whole load of boxes being safely squirrelled away that look exactly like the original boxes for the items they were bought with but they are just substitutes. When I bought my first two Canon EOS5D MkII bodies a dealer bought the boxes and instructions from me. I thought it a bit weird at the time but £20.00 is £20.00 and I sold them. He presumably “re-united” those boxes with cameras that were missing theirs and sold them on to some unsuspecting soul who thought they were getting the original packaging.

I’m not even sure why this is taking up an hour of my time thinking about why I find it so absurd – other than the fact that I am getting rid of some superfluous gear and one of the lenses really is “mint in box”.

“What gear is that?” I hear you ask – it is a Canon EF200mm f2.8L II USM prime lens that I bought a few months ago when I was going through a phase of using prime lenses for as much as I could while my 70-200 f2.8L IS (ditched the box for that one in 2003) was away having major surgery. The repairs cost less than I had expected and in the end I only used the 200mm lens twice – both times indoors for large groups of head shots. I had bought the lens as secondhand myself although Castle Cameras did (which I trust) say that it had barely been used and had been originally purchased through them a few months before that. So here we have it; a fabulously sharp current model lens with all of the correct bits and pieces – including cardboard, plastic and polystyrene – which retails for £569.00 new going for the bargain sum of £449.00 + delivery.

I am loath to stick it on eBay given the massive commissions that they now charge but the average selling price for one of these (and it would be impossible to be in better condition) is £473.91 on the auction site. The lens is registered with Lenstag and so I would obviously transfer that over. By clicking on the link you can check that it is verified – such a good system!

I will be clearing some more gear out soon. None of it will be ‘mint in box’ because 99% of my equipment gets used for many years before I sell it on but it will be well looked after, properly serviced and verified by Lenstag.

Five day black & white challenge

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A young woman jogs along the promenade near Portman Ravine in Bournemouth with a child in a pushchair.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A young woman jogs along the promenade near Portman Ravine in Bournemouth with a child in a pushchair.

A couple of weeks ago I was nominated by another photographer to take part in a Facebook Five Day Black & White Challenge. The idea was simple: to post a new black and white photo every day for five days. I have to admit that I was a bit reticent at first and posted pictures that I’d already taken in the previous few weeks. Then someone mentioned that they found the discipline of having to go out every day and shoot something new invigorating and so I started the challenge over again and shot specifically for it every day. My second challenge ended yesterday but it wasn’t until I was out shooting again today that I remembered that the challenge was over. What to do with the pictures from day six? The answer was to post the chosen frame to Facebook anyway and then to post it here too – as another “just because I like it” frame.

Technical stuff: Canon EOS6D with a 28mm f1.8 EF lens (cropped slightly). 160 ISO and 1/1250th of a second at f11 RAW file converted and desaturated using Adobe Camera RAW CC 2014 with a 5% bronze tint added.

After the storm

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A pensioner walks along the beach near Bournemouth Pier.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A pensioner walks along the beach near Bournemouth Pier.

Following on from my post about zoom and prime lenses I was out with just the primes yesterday – walking along one of my favourite bits of beach in wild winds and failing light. I was just out having some photographic time before getting into the car for yet another drive up the M3 for work. This one was shot at 640 ISO at 1/1000th of a second at f4 with an 85mm f1.8 Canon EF lens on my rather lovely little Canon EOS6D – a camera that I am becoming increasingly fond of. When I’m doing personal work like this I tend to set the white balance to daylight and accept whatever colour cast I get and in this case it wasn’t far off of what the naked eye saw.

Scavenging starlings

©Neil Turner, October 2014.

©Neil Turner, October 2014. Hengistbury Head, Dorset.

Anybody who knows me or my work would put wildlife and nature photography somewhere near the bottom of my interests. We were out as a family at the weekend having a drink and a snack at a cafe when a table of people enjoying an all-day breakfast behind us got up and left without clearing their plates. A mass of starlings descended and grabbed anything edible off of the plates. All I had to do was turn around and grab a few frames!

Canon EOS6D with Canon EF 50mm f1.4 lens.

Performing the ritual of “The Selfie”

For as long as I can remember I have shot pictures of my wife and I on holiday with a compact camera at arm’s length. I have examples in the family album dating back to 1984 and, whilst I’m not claiming to have invented “The Selfie”, it really isn’t anything new in our house. We started doing those pictures just because there was never anyone else around to take the picture for us and so it was very much a second best picture. Slowly and over the many holidays that we have enjoyed together it became something of a tradition to do at least one of those arm’s length couple pictures but we always liked to get a passer-by to do the picture if we could. It is a phenomenon that I am fascinated by and I often shoot pictures of people as they perform the Ritual of the Selfie.

Olympic and Commonwealth Gold medallist Laura Trott posing with riders on The Mall in a break between media interviews during the Freecycle event - part of Prudential RideLondon. 9th August 2014.

Olympic and Commonwealth Gold medallist Laura Trott posing with riders on The Mall in a break between media interviews during the Prudential RideLondon Freecycle event. ©Neil Turner, 9th August 2014.

I was prompted to compose this blog post because I suddenly realised why it works so well. One of the media team working with Prudential RideLondon had offered to take the picture and the three young women dutifully posed but their faces didn’t come alive until they rescued the phone and performed the ritual of the selfie. There seems to be a confidence and a joy in taking your own picture of yourself and your friends or, in this case, you, your friend and an Olympic and Commonwealth champion. Is it because these days that can see themselves in the screen and only shoot when they are happy with what they see? I believe that there’s an element of that in it but the sense of self-reliance is just as important as far as I can see. There is a joy in The Selfie that is missing from a perfectly well taken group photo. Time after time we all saw people enjoying taking self portraits during the event and that’s the case almost everywhere almost every day.

Where I depart from the celebration of The Selfie is where media outlets and PR companies encourage people to do it and post them as part of marketing campaigns. For me the innocence and joy of the ritual gets lost when it is prompted like that. Where I also have an worries about it is when people do it dozens or even hundreds of times a day. I had a link request on EyeEm the other day from a guy who have over 6,000 images on his account and, from what I could see, they were all of himself.

I don’t object to The Selfie at all. In fact I indulge in the ritual myself from time to time. All I’d ask is that marketing people without another great idea stop trying to make something from them that isn’t really there. Photography is about a lot of things and fun is right up there as one of the most important.

The one "selfie" that I do like of mine - under water at the beach in Bournemouth in the summer of 2013. ©Neil Turner.

The one “selfie” that I do like of mine – under water at the beach in Bournemouth in the summer of 2013. ©Neil Turner.