beach

Best light of the year

©Neil Turner. Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall.

It is almost inevitable that when the best light of the year so far offers up a number of creative possibilities the only camera you have with you will be the one built into your phone. I don’t mind admitting that this has always filled me with dread and I have often missed the picture that I know I should have taken because the phone couldn’t do what a ‘proper camera’ can.

We were away in Cornwall last week for a few days and had just arrived at our hotel after the drive from East Dorset when we decided that a stroll along the beach before dinner was in order. We had been to Fistral Beach many times before but never really experienced the magic of the sunset there and when the light started to dip it was obvious that we were going to be treated to something rather lovely. These days I have an iPhone 7 which has a pretty good camera. I normally use it for snaps, record shots and general visual note-taking but when I needed it to produce the results using it with the 645Pro app allowed me to get exactly what I would have wanted if I’d had my Fujifilm X100S with me.

I was so pleased with the picture that I approached the man who features in it and sent him a copy whilst still on the beach. Photography is still a joy.

Diminishing returns?

Crow takes flight from railings on the cliff tops at Fisherman's Walk,  Bournemouth. © Neil Turner, October 2015 © Neil Turner

Crow takes flight from the cliff tops at Fisherman’s Walk, Bournemouth. © Neil Turner, October 2015

Most photographers have personal projects that they spend their spare time working on. Mine is to document one of my favourite places on the world – the area of Bournemouth known as Fisherman’s Walk. It’s a lovely place that is very close to my heart and I often just pop along there (it’s three miles or so from home) with a camera or two over my shoulder and see what is happening.

The light by the sea is almost always interesting. No matter whether we have dull clouds or sparkling sunshine there will be something happening and that is why I keep going back to the beach, cliff tops and gardens that make up the area.

I have titled this piece ‘diminishing returns’ because that’s what happens with most projects: they start slowly and quickly develop with a flurry of great pictures and then it tails off again. That is unless you really work at it. Commercially speaking all projects need to have a finishing point. They need to have a date where you say ‘enough is enough’ and stop working on it. At that point you need to publish the book, stage the exhibition or just post the web gallery and call it finished. If they are truly ‘personal’ that will probably never happen and because it is a labour of love and there always seems to be more scope for pictures.

When I work with students who are doing long-term projects I try to get them to distinguish between truly ‘personal’ work and self-generated commercially driven projects. Most people can see the difference but few can bring themselves to work differently unless, it seems, the self-generated project involves travel. Obviously any project that involves paying for plane/train/bus tickets has to be finite because the expense of continually going back to expensive destinations makes earning a living from the photographs ever more difficult. The number of times that I have been through the true cost of shooting longer-term stories and projects with talented and driven young photographers couldn’t be counted on a standard abacus. The number of times I have made one of them change the way that they approach their work could easily be counted on the fingers of two hands.

That’s why I want to get the concept of diminishing returns out there. That’s why I want people who read this blog post to start to see the difference between taking pictures to fulfil an inner need to document something special and shooting projects to pay the bills/pad the folio/impress the clients.

Imagine a project to document a place. Imagine that you have high hopes of getting those pictures used editorially. Spending money getting there and spending time shooting the pictures incur costs which have to come into the calculation when you try to monetise your work. Multiple sales to multiple publications has always been the gold standard and selling limited edition prints has become an almost obligatory add-on when the balance sheet comes into the picture. Totting-up what having some extra high quality work on your website is worth is a tricky one but being honest with yourself about the motivation behind what you shoot and how much it has cost you is very important if you want to call yourself a professional.

My frequent trips to Fisherman’s Walk fall into the ‘because I can’ category. I have no plans to market the pictures and I have never supplied them outside the worlds of social media. More importantly, I don’t really need or want to. Fifty pence worth of diesel and free parking for every visit makes this a cheap project in every sense bar my time and I would argue that a few hours here and there over a year is actually a great investment in keeping my creative soul up to date, charged and firing.

It is still the case that the returns are diminishing. When I first started to go there camera-in-hand I was getting three or four good and different images per visit. Now that’s down to none or maybe one. What is happening now is that I am getting slightly better versions of the original pictures – or at least ones that I prefer. In a commercial project that makes no sense whatsoever. When I am at the cliff-tops or on the beach I have more in common with someone indulging in their hobby, which is great because my career is a passion and it is a hobby.

To the students and teachers who read this I’d like to say the following:

  1. Decide when you start a project who the audience is and whether it is work or whether it is passion that is driving you on.
  2. Budget accordingly.
  3. Know when the returns have diminished to an unacceptable degree.
  4. Have the guts to pull the plug.
  5. Being a photographer is a joy but don’t let it become all that you are.

I know that I have at times been guilty of #5 and it isn’t good. There’s a difference between always having a camera around and seeing pictures and always having a camera in hand and missing daily life because of it. That’s why I go out specifically to take pictures – something that has never stopped being a joy.

The beach at Fisherman's Walk, Bournemouth. © Neil Turner, September 2015

The beach at Fisherman’s Walk, Bournemouth. © Neil Turner, September 2015

Back on Flickr

Screen grab of my new Flickr account

An important client recently asked me to do some preparation work ahead of a project with which I am involved. One part of that preparation was to find out all I could about sharing some of their content on Flickr. I decided that the best way to learn about it was to do it and so I established a brand new personal Flickr account and started to post some of my personal work.

Now, when I get five minutes to spare, I’m uploading new pictures, joining groups and generally playing around with the various options that the site has to offer and I’m getting close to the point where I can go back to the client and tell them what I know and get ready to set up their account ahead of the project.

Those of you that are using Flickr; what do you think? Have you got any hints or tips for me? I have the iPhone and iPad already set up to upload images and I have a new IPTC template for photographs so that the correct information gets placed into the right fields for the Flickr system. Please come and have a look at my pictures on the site, exchange “follows” with me and let me know what I need to do next.

You can find me at neilgavinturner .

The story behind a picture #2

© Neil Turner. Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company stage a spectacular demonstration of their vehicles on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier.

© Neil Turner. Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company stage a spectacular demonstration of their vehicles on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier.

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.

© Neil Turner. Audiences watching Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company  on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier to close day two of the third annual festival.  Photo: © Neil Turner

© Neil Turner. Audiences watching Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier to close day two of the third annual festival.

The edit of the pictures was done in rapid time and sent to the client ready for the next day’s papers and any number of websites and social media platforms and accounts.

The 2015 festival takes place in October and I’m looking forward to seeing some of it up close.

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.

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

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.