life

Instagram – one month into the project

#archivephoto from November 2010 showing a father and son walking the dog in the park as the mists lift. ©Neil Turner

In my last blog post I announced that I had finally decided to get on board and establish an Instagram account. Just over one month later, I have sixty-nine images on my feed and 282 followers.

Not many, I know. I am delighted by the quality of those followers though because they include at least two dozen photographers whose professional and personal work I admire along with a small number of picture editors and commissioners of photography. Sadly, the young picture editor whose comment triggered this project still hasn’t added herself as a follower but that’s probably just as well because out of those sixty-nine images only eight have the hashtag #newwork which I’m using to indicate brand new pictures shot since I established my account. It has been great going back through archives to find the others and I’ve still got a dozen or so #archivephoto options that haven’t been posted yet. (more…)

Seven things to agree on before taking a commission

© Neil Turner, October 2014. Production of John Foster's Shot At Dawn in the Council Chamber at Bournemouth Town Hall.

© Neil Turner, October 2014. Production of John Foster’s Shot At Dawn in the Council Chamber at Bournemouth Town Hall.

Quite a lot the posts that I’ve uploaded to this blog in the last few months have been related to the business side of photography. For those who want more of the old dg28 – your time is coming soon. In the meantime I wanted to post my thoughts on what you should agree with your client before undertaking a commission. This is taken directly from my own outline terms and conditions which are posted on my website. I have absolutely no objection to any photographer copying and/or adapting these seven points for use in their own terms and conditions because, in my opinion, the more of us who do this the more likely it is that potential clients will be used to the concepts and it will require less pushing to get them to negotiate. (more…)

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.

Space makes you think – part 2

©Neil Turner, March 2013. Family enjoying an early spring afternoon near Fisherman's Walk in Bournemouth, Dorset.

©Neil Turner, March 2013. Family enjoying an early spring afternoon near Fisherman’s Walk in Bournemouth, Dorset.

A very long time ago when I was studying photography at the Medway College of Design I was surrounded by like-minded and equally obsessive photography students who all wanted to unlock the many ‘secrets’ of great photography so that we could all some-day be someone. We were only a very short distance along the journey (it was the first term of the first year) when we were set a project to shoot an object against a background where the object would be very small and still have great composition and make sense. It was a lesson that I will always remember for two reasons:

  • The first is that I loved it and actually shot four or five entirely different pictures – ranging from a damp and golden autumnal leaf on a grey path to a red balloon against a bright blue sky.
  • The second reason is that during a group critique someone (and I have no memory who) said “space makes you think”.

Space makes you think has stuck with me to this day and as a short and snappy phrase it appears in my thinking and in my discussions on a very regular basis. From the day I learned that lesson and then learned to leave space in my compositions for mastheads, strap line, type and headlines I have always looked for pictures with space. Cropping images really tightly is a great way to shoot some subjects and I remember another phrase from my student days which sums that up too “if an element doesn’t add to the composition then it detracts from it”. That’s also true and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why photography is so enthralling, confusing, infuriating and rewarding. Two ‘rules’ that appear to directly contradict one another that form the basis of one of those secrets that we as students of the art/science/profession spend our lives trying to grasp and the interpret in our own ways.

Rules are there to be obeyed most of the time and broken often enough to make sure that we remain creative in our thinking. That was true back at Medway College, it still is and I hope it always will be.

* Those other “obsessives” included Jez Coulson, David Chancellor, Bill Green, Richard Gosler, Mike Cooper, John Baxter, Richard Ansett and Andy Eaves who, I am delighted to tell you, are all still as obsessed as they were! There were 28 photographers in our year and I’m sure more than those listed above are still plying the trade.

How long does gear last?

When I teach new photographers the business studies element of what it is to be a working photographer I go through a whole exercise which adds up the cost of the gear and then divides that cost by the number of working days that it might be expected to last before you need to replace it. My formula was mentioned in a previous post and I try to be realistic about the life span of the principle kit that we need. Camera bodies, for example, last somewhere between two and three years on average whereas lenses last four, five or even six years. It’s a simple idea and when you add it all up you come out with a figure that represents the amount of money it costs to be a photographer based on working a fixed number of days per year. For most photographers that’s around the £45 – £60 mark.

©Neil Turner. March 2014. My Elinca branded lighting stand that is at least 21 years old

©Neil Turner. March 2014. My Elinca branded lighting stand that is at least 21 years old

Some gear, such as tripods and equipment bags last a lot longer and there’s good evidence to say that a Pelican case is for life as long as it doesn’t get stolen. I was looking at some kit this morning and making sure that I had everything that I needed for a two-day job over the weekend when one of my lighting stands came apart. That got me thinking about how much this stand had cost me on a ‘per day’ basis since I bought it somewhere between 1990 and 1993. I won’t go into how I can narrow the dates down but let us say that it is at least 21 years old. At today’s prices this stand would probably cost about £70.00 (but probably cost me a lot less) and by dividing that by 21 you can see that it has cost me £3.33 a year. That’s a meagre £0.26 a month or, if I work 150 days a year that’s £0.02 per working day.

I have used lighting stands every single working day since then and, whilst it hasn’t always been this one, my preference for a specific brand seems to be justified by the way that they take a battering. That brand is Manfrotto – even though this one is labelled “Elinca SA” it is clearly a version of an older Manfrotto 052 model (not the same as the current 052 or 1052) because it is almost identical to another stand that I have which is labelled “Manfrotto 052”. I also have a pair of identical lighter-weight stands where one is branded Manfrotto and the other is branded Lastolite and a pair of tiny stands where one is Manfrotto and the other is Bogen. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that one manufacturer was/is making them and that they were/are being sold under many labels.

Going back to the stand itself, when I say “fell apart” what I mean is that this stand came apart at one of the connections. When I had a good look it was obvious that it had lost a bolt and nut that tightened around the metal tubing keeping it in place. Three minutes later, I’d found a suitable replacement amongst the bits and pieces in my garage and the stand was fixed and ready for a lot of action over the next weekend. So that’s a lighting stand of extreme professional quality that costs me two pennies a day – what a bargain! Of course I have forgotten to add the maintenance costs – £0.12 for the bolt that I fitted today plus my labour at a maximum of ten minutes.

For the record, I have three Manfrotto tripods (all with Manfrotto heads), three Manfrotto monopods and a case full of their accessories (Super-clamps, suction clamp, low-level stand, quick release adapters, a boom and so on). I reckon that I have about £1,000.00 worth of Manfrotto gear in total – most of which is over ten years old and some of which is over twenty years old.

Manfrotto haven’t paid me for this blog post, nor have I spoken to anyone from the company or any of their distributors or retailers. I just think that their kit is pretty good value for money. Of course, if they want to offer me a retrospective bribe…

Back on the beach

In another “just because” moment I thought that I’d post this picture I grabbed on the beach today. I’ve blogged about my near obsession with shooting dogs on the beach and today I was at my favourite part of my favourite beach when the combination of light and subject matter came together meaning that all I had to do was compose, wait and click.

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Bournemouth

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Bournemouth

I actually saw this picture as a mono image too and anyone who has been following this blog will know that this was a major step forward for me in my quest to be able to truly see in monochrome when I want to. To add the final piece to the jigsaw of this image, I love a good silhouette too.

The picture was shot on a Fujifilm X20 at the fullest extent of its 112mm equivalent zoom and it shows a dog with its owner having something of a difference of opinion about what should happen with a ball. You don’t expect to get such beautiful weather in late October – especially less than 36 hours after a massive storm had lashed this part of the English coast. Within a minute or two of shooting this picture I did a RAW conversion in the camera before using an Eye-Fi card to transfer it to my iPhone 5S where I used the Photogene 4 app to optimise and caption the image before uploading it to EyeEm (in colour). The version shown here is the more considered black and white image converted in Photoshop CC on my Mac at home.

No such thing as professional?

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Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Meyer made a stupid remark yesterday whilst announcing a complete overhaul of their Flickr photo-sharing website service. She actually said was that “…there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore”. Like many people who used to think that they were professional photographers I became very angry.

What I’d love to happen next is to get commissioned to shoot her portrait for a major newspaper or magazine and to prove her wrong. That’s unlikely to happen, which is a shame. Within a few hours of hearing what she had said I had deleted my Flickr account and let my Twitter followers know that I had done it and why I had done it.

Did Ms Meyer really mean to upset hundreds of thousands of hard-working professionals? Does she really think that our profession has ceased to exist? I suspect that what actually happened is that she made her remark with the subtlest of hints of humour in her voice in order to promote her company’s new-look product. I doubt that it has done too much harm but why do corporates continually keep doing this kind of thing? Gerald Ratner famously compared his company’s gold jewellery to  a prawn sandwich wiping millions of pounds off of its share value and ultimately leading to his downfall. Time after time people at the top who believe their own hype and who think that they can be funny in order to sell their products make this same mistake.

Flickr’s owners won’t apologise. They have sought to make light of her remark because it was ‘light-hearted’ – or at least it was light-hearted in her mind. At a time when the value of photography is, in many ways, at an all-time low the owner of one of the biggest sites based on photography has unwittingly reinforced that perception. Stupid and un-thinking throw-away remarks do damage in ways that only become apparent over time

My business model isn’t based on Flickr. I had about thirty folio images up there simply because it probably pays to have a presence on all of the social media sites. I have probably shot myself in the foot by deleting my account but anger leads to gesture and the biggest gesture that I could make was to leave Flickr.

The point that I really want to make here is that photography does have value. Good photography is, in fact, invaluable. Maybe if the Board of Yahoo realised that they’d actually get their CEO to apologise.