Neil

The story behind a picture #4

Trying to interest tourists in the shell game on the South Bank in London. © Neil Turner, December 2015

Trying to interest tourists in the shell game on the South Bank in London.
© Neil Turner, December 2015

I almost always carry a camera when I’m out and these days I have to go to a lot of meetings with clients and potential clients – most of which are in central London. There’s always something to see and as I was on my way to a meeting just before Christmas I saw a small group of people trying hard to get passing tourists interested in playing ‘the shell game‘ on the South Bank near the Royal National Theatre.

The idea is simple; one of the group pretending to be a tourist plays the game and wins whilst other members of the group stand around playing the joint roles of lookout and interested bystanders. It took them about ten seconds to realise that they were having their photograph taken and whilst some of them hid their faces the others tried to block my view and make me move on. It was a cold and damp day and they weren’t getting any trade so my presence probably angered them but I stood there, shot some pictures before moving on.

My favourite frame was the attempt that the man actually conducting the game made to hide his face as he approached me to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to take his picture!

Shell game players hides his face with £50 notes on the South Bank in London. © Neil Turner, December 2015

Shell game players hides his face with £50 notes on the South Bank in London.
© Neil Turner, December 2015

Technical stuff: Fujifilm X100S, 1600 ISO 1/125th of a second at f5.6. Converted into black and white in Photoshop CC2015

The story behind a picture #3

Sitting in the window seat at Subway on Shaftesbury Avenue Photo: Neil Turner Photo: Neil Turner

Sitting in the window seat at Subway on Shaftesbury Avenue
© Neil Turner, November 2014.

This photograph falls into the ‘personal work’ category. I had been to a meeting in central London during the evening and had arrived fashionably on-time having failed to park in my favourite evening parking space near the location of the meeting. That had forced me to park a bit further away. As a result my walk back to my car at around 10.30pm was both longer and much more interesting than usual.

I nearly always have a camera with me and it is nearly always either my Fujifilm X100S or it’s little brother the X20 but on this evening I had a Canon EOS6D with a couple of fast prime lenses and so I shot some photographs of things that interested me as I walked. This shop window – a branch of Subway that stays open until the early hours was the very first thing that caught my eye and I was very interested to see just how good the EOS6D is at higher ISOs. This was shot at 3200 ISO with a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second at f1.8 using a Canon EF 28mm f1.8 lens. For a DSLR this is about as unobtrusive as you can get – the quiet shutter mode is really good and the speed and accuracy of the auto focus on the centre focusing point means that you can ‘snatch’ a frame in really low light with quite a high degree of certainty.

Just around the corner I saw the potential for another nice image with the frontage of a theatre after the last member of the public had left the building. I composed, waited and finally got this frame as a solo pedestrian passed through the frame.

Pedestrian passes under the "Memphis" banner outside a west end theatre at night. © Neil Turner November 2014.

Pedestrian passes under the “Memphis” banner outside a west end theatre at night. © Neil Turner November 2014.

This photograph was also shot at 3200 ISO but was better lit at 1/640th of a second at f1.8. I was actually quite disappointed when I got back to my car and realised that I had a two and a half hour drive home. I knew that I had half a dozen good photographs and I sat in the car and transferred a couple of them to my phone using the camera’s built-in wifi before uploading them to EyeEm and Twitter. Then I drove home…

Zooming with your…

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015. A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015.
A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

I was on a job the other day, standing next to a very young photographer in a ‘press pen’. He glanced over at the gear I was using and mentioned how much he would love to own the 135mm f2L lens that I had on one of my cameras. He said that he had never really got the hang of “zooming with his feet” in the way that so many of the photographers he admired had advised. He had also had it drummed into him by one of his tutors at college and it had left him wondering if he was doing something wrong.

Zooming with your feet is a great concept and it is one of the catchphrases in contemporary photography that appears to be beyond question. But is it? Is it actually as much a cliche as a universal truth?

There we were on a job where we couldn’t have zoomed with our feet even if either of us had the skills to do so. We couldn’t go forward – there was a metal barrier in the way. We couldn’t go backwards because there were other photographers and a couple of TV crews behind us – and behind them was another barrier. We had a tiny amount of sideways movement if we could change places with each other but, apart from that, we were in a very fixed position.

The event we were shooting was a fixed distance from us and so it was possible to get the right prime lens on the camera and then to shoot the job.

What my young photographer friend didn’t know was that I had my 70-200 lens in my bag but that I had some real concerns about its performance earlier in the day which is why I had grabbed the 135 and decided to use that.

As we had plenty of time to spare I explained my choice of lens and explained that a lot of press work means that zooming with your feet is somewhere between difficult and impossible and that to get the most from a fixed position a set of zoom lenses is actually the right choice. I went on to admit that I would be doing a fair bit of zooming on the job myself, except that it would be in the post-production – zooming with the crop tool is what I decided to call it.

And that’s what I did. The resolution of modern DSLRs is such that you can get a high quality Jpeg from 50% of the actual frame and the quality of the best lenses easily allows you do that and maybe more. Starting off with a lens wider than you probably need and then refining your crop in post-production was very common in the days of darkrooms and prints but when we were shooting 35mm colour transparencies or with the early low-megapixel digitals it became important to get the crop right in-camera. We have come full circle and some judicious cropping makes sense once more.

Shooting with prime lenses is something that I have discussed more than once before and it is something that I find myself doing more and more on jobs where I’m the only photographer or where I have enough freedom to go with the universal truth/cliche (delete where applicable) and actually zoom with my feet. The rest of the time it is zooms and now that I am using two distinct sets of lenses for different types of jobs I’ve decided to invest in some new gear – and I’ll be blogging about that very soon.

Reliance on the internet

As photographers we have got used to using a range of web-based technologies to deliver our work to our clients. Most of the time it works and nobody notices how amazing these technologies are. Over the years we have come to expect more and more in terms of bandwidth and speed and we have come to rely on getting good connections to easily accomplish what would have been regarded as time-sensitive alchemy only a few years ago.

On an overseas job last week the client wanted a lot of high resolution Jpegs delivered to them very quickly and their chosen method was WeTransfer. It’s a very good and reliable system in itself but it depends on a half decent internet connection. Sadly we didn’t get that connection and out of sheer frustration I did these screen grabs:

wetransfer

Yes that’s right: one million, two hundred and one thousand, seven hundred and thirty hours to complete a transfer that should have taken about half an hour on a half decent network. In case you are interested that is fifty thousand and seventy-two days or one hundred and thirty-seven years and sixty-five days. A bit slow. The second screen grab says less than a minute but that was also wildly inaccurate as no further data moved.

In the end I had to abandon the ethernet and wifi networks that the client had arranged for us to use and head outside where I could pick up a great 4G mobile signal by tethering to my iPhone and use my roaming package to send the pictures – which took about 44 minutes (by then I had 1.2Gb of pictures). The point here is that now we have come to reply on the internet for almost all of our image delivery it has become crucial that we have multiple ways of connecting to the internet.

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.

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…

Another ‘classic’ technique posting from the old site

The idea here is to have two separate lighting set-ups for one interview portrait without having to constantly move around the room adjusting lights. This interview was with a senior businessman who chairs a body that decides how much teachers’ pay rises will be each year. The reporter wasn’t all that comfortable with me shooting through the interview but it was what the picture editor wanted, so that’s what I did. This job required a bit of quick thinking so that I could get two different set-ups in place.

©Neil Turner/TSL, April 2008.

©Neil Turner/TSL, April 2008.

The picture on the left was lit using a single Lumedyne head at 50 joules bounced off of a wall almost in front of the subject. The image on the right was lit by a single Canon 550ex flash gun with a Honl Photo snoot attached aimed directly at the subjects face and set further away from the camera.

Both flash units were fitted with Pocket Wizard receivers set on different channels from each other. The idea here is that by simply switching between channels on the transmitters I could switch between two very different lighting styles without moving.

The left hand image is far more evenly lit. The large expanse of off-white wall made a very good and large light source. The exposure here was 1/60th of a second at f5.6 on ISO200. There was some available light play – without flash the scene would have been two stops under exposed with that amount of flash. You can see from the diagram below how the room was laid out and the flash head was positioned at about 10 degrees above the subjects eyeline.

The right hand image is far more starkly lit. The exposure was 1/250th of a second at f13 on ISO 200. There is almost no available light in this picture and the lighting effect is dramatically different. The very narrow angle of the light offered by the Honl snoot makes it difficult to always get the subject right in the centre of the small pool of light and so you need to be careful when aiming it to centre it on where the subject is most likely to be.

The layout of small conference room where the interview took place.

The layout of small conference room where the interview took place.

The point of this technique is that you can arrange more than one style of lighting and then switch between them at will simply by selecting a different channel on the trigger. I find that I use the Honl snoot a lot more than I had imagined that I would. It fits into a bag very easily and it is simple to use. When you are in complete control of the lighting, it’s very easy to achieve dramatic results. This style of light might not be to every picture editor’s taste and so the evenly lit alternative is a very good idea.