Shooting in less than favourable weather.

Another re-posting; this time posted in April 2009 but from a job that I shot in 2006…

One of the best things about being a photographer is that you get to do some pretty odd things. Sometimes you climb to the top of a tall building and have a look at the view. At other times you get to meet interesting and amazing people and take their pictures. At other times you have to get up early on a bleak winter’s day, go to the beach, wade into the water just after dawn to get the tide and the picture. It all adds to the fun of the job.

©Neil Turner/TSL

I shot this commission a while ago and I have been meaning to write it up since then. The story was about a school head teacher who owns a horse that she keeps in stables near the sea. She refers to her horse as her “work life balance” – something that we all need, but few of us have quite such a visible symbol of it!

Being a teacher, she is at school most days. During the holidays she gets away to the coast and rides whenever she can and if the tide is right she can ride on the beach. It was an October morning and we met at dawn in the car park near the stables. My brief was to get a double page spread for a magazine which showed her enjoying herself.

Of course photographers rarely get to choose the weather and it was raining with a reasonably strong wind. The tide was just right (we checked the tables in advance) and so we started to shoot some pictures of her riding on the sand. It’s a stretch of coast that I know well and I knew that there was a high chance of poor weather. There’s nothing that you can do when the deadline is tight except to shoot the best pictures that you can.

The picture above was taken towards the end of the session and by this time it was getting lighter. The exposure was up to 1/500th of a second at f3.5 on a 24-70 f2.8L lens. We had started at 1/125th at f2.8 and the light was doubling every twenty minutes or so. Unusually for me I shot this job without lights, without flash – just good old ambient. Had there been any sunshine, there would have been the complicating factor of having to shoot almost directly into the sun if I wanted to stay on the beach.

Most of the pictures were taken on a 70-200 f2.8L lens and I made use of a monopod whilst the light was low. I shoot on beaches quite a lot and I always take a large piece of plastic to sit my camera bag and anything else that I put down onto. If the plastic sheet is big enough, you can also use it to wrap everything but sand still gets in and salt still seems to coat everything.

©Neil Turner/TSL

I always try to give picture editors a lot of choice and to give them small “drop-in” pictures to use if they need a second or third image for an article. The wider the variety of magazines and papers that I work for, the more I find that the drop-in picture gets used in unusual and creative ways. Magazine clients appreciate choice.

©Neil Turner/TSL

The reason that I wanted to mention this job was the combination of the early start, the poor light, the wind, the rain and getting absolutely soaking wet wading knee deep into the sea. Maybe it was because of all of these factors that I enjoyed it – who knows.

I wrote a while ago about my addiction to Timberland boots and I was very grateful for them on this job. My jeans were wet but my feet stayed dry.

Sticks and stones

My mother told me that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you” and I spent the first 40+ years of my life without questioning that piece of maternal wisdom. At the ripe old age of 46 I started to realise that certain derogatory terms, when applied to groups of people, can have a bad effect.

not going to equate my profession with religious or ethnic groups who have suffered real physical and emotional harm from the constant repetition of terms deliberately designed to insult them and from name calling intended to isolate them or to incite others to be prejudiced against them. What I am going to do is try to make a case for the quiet burial of collective nouns and occupation based slang terms for photographers that only serve to devalue what we do for a living.

Before I get into the arguments I want to say that photographers often use many of these names for each other in what is meant to be a light hearted and affectionate way. Words get borrowed, used and then abused so we are doing ourselves no favours by perpetuating them. There are a whole raft of pseudo-tabloid terms for photographers that I object to;

  • Snapper – implies that we take snaps, which we don’t. We take photographs, we make photographs and we create photographs.
  • Lensman – what does this mean? It’s just a pointless term that gets trotted out by people who cannot be bothered to use a thesaurus.
  • Camera monkey – particularly offensive, and usually used by ill informed and self important writers.
  • Pap’ – shortened form of ‘paparazzi’, which is liberally used by the ignorant to refer to a wide range of news photographers. I have nothing against the paparazzi (literally translated means buzzing flies) but I object to the pejorative connotations of the word when applied to other photographers.
  • Reptiles – used once to my face by an ‘old school’ journalist who was politely informed that I objected to the term on the grounds that it may well have been used affectionately by him, but that it may not be used so kindly by others.

The list could go on but the point that I’m trying to make here is that words used in jest by friends of our profession get picked up by others and used to denigrate us all. All of this is happening at a time when we are struggling to present a unified, dignified and professional image to a world which at best doesn’t understand what we do and at worst regards us with contempt. The terms that we use to refer to one another are important. Not as important as avoiding undercutting other professionals, not as important as selling out on copyright and not as important as belonging to professional bodies, but in a world where everyone who owns a digital compact camera thinks that they can take ‘professional quality pictures’ every small action has an effect. It’s like the old, and probably untrue, story about a butterfly beating it’s wings in China causing a hurricane in Florida – some very small actions have very large consequences.

As photographers we owe it to ourselves and to our colleagues to avoid using terms for each other that can have negative connotations. When was the last time you heard a Doctor call a colleague a “sawbones” in public? When did you ever hear a lawyer, an accountant, a teacher or a systems analyst use a potentially damaging slang term for a fellow professional? I believe that the use of slang terms is a sign of professional insecurity and we can all help ourselves and our peers by refraining form making those signs.

Names may not hurt you or me individually, but they can eat away at our profession.

What they don’t teach you in college

This post was originally written in 2003. Things, sadly, haven’t really changed and so I thought that it deserved yet another airing.

For better or for worse, the vast majority of people entering the photographic profession are coming from college courses. I have no problem with that, I came from one myself and so did a lot of my favourite photographers. But…

I’ve been a working photographer since 1986 and based on a few things I have picked up since then I have come up with a list of things that they should have taught us that were not on the syllabus. A whole range of vital skills that go a long way to marking out the complete professional from the aspiring “not there yet”.

Obviously when it comes to choosing which lens to use, or selecting backgrounds and props – only experience and familiarity with your kit and brief will do, and colleges are good at telling their students that. There are, however, some skills that are never even mentioned that are vital.

  • People skills: The ability to handle anyone that you are either photographing, who have influence over those being photographed or who are just getting in the way.
  • More people skills: You need to be able to charm the ‘jobsworth’ security man and persuade the reluctant PR and to do it all without breaking into a fit of temper until such times as all else has failed and you have no other option
  • Even more people skills: As a news photographer you need to be able to communicate with anyone from a starving refugee to a pampered celebrity in a meaningful and constructive way – often on the same day! You have to get them to trust you, to do what you want them to do and achieve all of this with dignity and respect.
  • Advanced people skills: As a portraitist you have to have the ability to talk to absolutely anyone and to keep the conversation going at a light but interesting level whilst setting up equipment, making vital technical decisions and shooting the job.
  • Extended people skills: You need to have a sense of your own place in the scheme of things. It’s no use throwing a prima donna tantrum if you are not getting what you want and are never going to get it. It gets even worse when the person you are arguing with is a close personal friend of the editor. Know when to give in, to make another plan and get your shot anyway.

You are probably getting my drift by now. Once you have acquired all of the technical skills and bought all of the kit that you need all that’s required is to learn how to conduct yourself. I often refer to the photographer as the “Social Chameleon”, changing colours and attitude to suit their surroundings. This should be both physical – dressing appropriately so as not antagonize the people that you are dealing with, and mental – adopting the right attitude – be it meek or aggressive, as friendly or confrontational as the situation requires.

Maybe photographers should all adopt some of the techniques used by the best sales people and mix them with skills more common in the diplomatic service. I have watched charity workers running soup kitchens and marvelled at their ability to be both understanding and firm, and I have watched police officers and been stunned by the way that they get the information that they want whilst conducting an otherwise friendly conversation.

My biggest tip on this subject is to find some common ground with whoever you are talking to and work it. It might be sport, it might be the weather or the journey that you both had to get where you have met. If I’m in someone’s home I will often talk about a piece of art or furniture on display or their pet cat or dog. It doesn’t matter what you chat about, you are chatting and barriers are coming down. Avoid contentious subjects unless you are really sure of yourself.

So there you are, what they don’t teach you in college is how to handle people. It’s not just a skill needed by photographers – it’s a life skill. I think that’s why a lot of the greatest photographers have come from other careers where they have learned about people and use those skills in their new profession.