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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.

Social media … is it working yet?

A little over two years ago I wrote a blog post about social networking where I asked largely rhetorical questions about whether there was a point to it, which platforms were the right ones and whether or not it made any difference. About three weeks ago I wrote on Twitter that I’d spent half a day integrating my social media – getting my Tweets to show up on LinkedIn and getting my photos posted on EyeEm to show up on Facebook and then getting every single platform to react to one another when I wanted them to. Not only did I set all of that up on the desktop and laptop computers but I also did it on the iPad and the iPhone. Boy, am I ever integrated now!

This morning I added a post on a LinkedIn group about explaining to reluctant businesses why they should be using social media:

“The simplest way to explain it to the doubters is to point to the utter stupidity of NOT using social media in the world in which we currently live. You didn’t need it ten years ago and theres’ a chance it might be past it’s best in ten years time but right here, right now it is the method chosen by a massive proportion of the population for making choices, doing research and engaging with business.”

So… is social media working yet? You wouldn’t expect me to give a clear and unequivocal answer to a direct question that I posed myself would you? Of course not – except there is an answer that I have given a few times when talking about this:

“It isn’t not working”.

How do I explain that? I’d be worried if social media was having a negative effect on my business and career but I have been really careful to avoid the stupidity of posting banal, overly-personal or critical observations on any platform unless they were going to have a positive effect – which is almost never. On a few closed Facebook groups I might be a little less guarded and in private messages I might use the odd bit of cussing but on the whole my social media profiles have been kept clean. That has meant very little controversy, relatively few spikes in activity and a lower profile than I might have gained had I been happy to upset a number of people. That’s all OK but why would I imply that all wasn’t well with social media? Well, the hours spent plugging away haven’t been directly rewarded with more business and it would be hard to quantify the actual benefits of getting out there in the worlds of social media. So in the two years since I first blogged about this I have got a lot better at doing it, gained a few jobs here and there and generally promoted myself positively. I’m going to keep on doing it because I genuinely believe that to avoid social media is a very bad thing.

The irony is that this blog is the one thing that I want people to see, read and interact with. That’s my strategy and that’s why I wanted to get the integration going – the other platforms are there to boost the blog and the blog is there to raise my profile. Whether or not that circle is vicious or virtuous is something only others can decide upon.

©Neil Turner, May 2013. First seen on EyeEm - there are so many ways to promote your business these days!

©Neil Turner, May 2013. First seen on EyeEm – there are so many ways to promote your business these days!

Ask me anything…

©Neil Turner, June 2012. Dorset.

©Neil Turner, June 2012. Dorset.

Whilst looking back through some of my most popular blog posts in the last few years a surprising number of them were written in response to questions that other photographers and students of photography have asked me. That got me thinking about posting this simple update with a very simple request/offer:

“ASK ME ANYTHING… WELL SOMETHING… ALMOST ANYTHING…”

So not exactly ANYTHING – I’m only going to answer interesting questions about photography and my own work! Please use the contact form or reply to this blog posting. You could tweet me but I might miss that given the avalanche of stuff that goes across my desk each day. I will then pick out a couple of questions and use them to write future blog posts. Great… get other people to come up with the ideas!!!

Headteachers or whatever you want to call them…

Almost everyone remembers their head teacher. If they don’t then they will probably remember the Principal, Headmistress, Headmaster, High Master, High Mistress, Direktor or whatever other title the person who led their schools went by. Since 1986 I have photographed hundreds of these people and I have made the journey from being a little bit scared of them through accepting them to being impressed by the work that they do and the huge difference that their being good at their job makes to children and young adults.

I decided to put together a slideshow of some of the headteacher portraits that I have done. Most of the portraits date back to my time at The Times Educational Supplement. I also made the decision to keep them anonymous – I just wanted to show how different they are yet how much they have in common. Some of the Heads featured in this selection are famous in the world of education and one or two have been made Knights or Dames for their services to education. A few have since retired but that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to suggest that the person in charge is the only reason that some schools are better than others but I have yet to visit a successful school that doesn’t have first rate leadership.

 

Dogs on the beach – a personal obsession

I have a bit of an obsession when shooting pictures for fun. Dogs on the beach have featured in my personal work for many years and when I was out for a stroll the other day I shot this on my Fujifilm X20.

©Neil Turner, April 2013. Alum Chine, Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, April 2013. Alum Chine, Bournemouth.

I haven’t got a great deal to say about the picture but I have to say that I really enjoy shooting with the Fuji compact. There is something about the way it handles and about the very satisfying click that the artificial shutter sound makes that makes me want to take pictures. Professional photographer, keen amateur or camera novice – it doesn’t matter as long as you get that “I want to take some pictures” feeling every once-in-a-while.

1/1000 sec;   f/9;   ISO 100

Lighting gels… the best in VFM?

Almost all photographers spend money on accessories, gizmos, gadgets and photo-related odds and sods. Sometimes we waste our money but I wanted to put in a brief plug for the things that constantly amaze me by the amount of “bang for the buck” I get from them. I’m talking about lighting gels. They cost a few pounds each and they last for years if you look after them even reasonably well.

Screen grab from Swatch App

Screen grab from Swatch App

The reason that I am writing this today is that last week I was shooting a job and was slightly embarrassed that the pieces of gel in my lighting kit were looking a bit tatty. I realised that some of them were bought as shared sheets (ie I only had half of a 52 x 61 cm sheet of each) when I was at college in the mid 1980s. I might have added a few more colours and strengths since then but even the newest gel in my bag is five years old. The beauty is that you don’t need to look after them that well really – even a scrunched and screwed up gel is still the same colour and will work. Of course they don’t like extreme heat and they aren’t partial to liquid damage either but at under the boiling point of water and kept dry they are very durable.

When I decided that I needed some new gels I phoned The Flash Centre and they arranged for Rosco to send me some. I have been playing with the iPhone Swatch app for about eighteen months now and it made ordering the new gels rather easy. They arrived rapidly in a strong cardboard tube and all I had to do was cut them down into the right sized pieces to fit into a pocket in my Think Tank rolling case.

This time around I ordered various grades of CTS – that’s Colour Temperature Straw, the gel that changes the light coming out of my flash units to varying degrees of Tungsten right up to the Full CTS which does a very good job of making the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra flash tube into a Tungsten light that very closely matches the Tungsten setting on a Canon EOS DSLR. I also got some ND (Neutral Density) gels and a sheet of a diffuser called ‘tough spun’. I didn’t need to get any effects gels – the purple, orange, red, blue and green gels that I have in the case are fine even if they are old enough to buy alcohol by now.

Comparing the cost of this big batch of new gels to some of the money that I have literally thrown away on rubbish gizmos over the last 30 years I feel very smug. I know that after one single use I will have justified the (tiny) expense and that after the 50th use it will get embarrassing how smug I feel about the VFM (value for money) that you get from quality lighting gels.

It’s been a while…

Sitting here almost half way through December it’s hard to believe that I haven’t published anything on this blog for five months. I promise you that it wasn’t because I had run out of things to say or that I hadn’t been doing anything!

First of all there were the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I spent the whole of the summer – 13 weeks in all – working in the Main Press Centre on the Olympic Park on the Photo Help Desk and in the Photo Workroom as part of the Photo Operations team. Very long days, a lot of hard work and only a handful of days off more than compensated by the sheer joy of being right at the centre of an absolutely amazing event.

Imagine spending all of that time being surrounded by photographers, other photo operations team members and a vast cast list of people equally as passionate about photography as I am? I got to meet hundreds of top class professionals and make a lot of new friends. Before I left for Stratford my wife gave me a little blue book entitled “Jetsetters that I met and liked” and I’m happy to say that it is full of comments and messages from many of the amazing people that I worked with and for. Bob Martin, the London 2012 Photo Chief, put an amazing team together and it appears that we did a great job.

Lots has been said and written about the thousands of volunteers who made the Games happen and I’d like to add a few words of my own. The twenty or so volunteers that were part of our Photo Workroom and Photo Help Desk team were simply AWESOME. They grafted, they smiled, they brought an incredible array of talents and skills and they achieved a level of service that we couldn’t have provided without them. We had teenagers, undergraduates, graduates, professionals on a summer break and an amazing nucleus of people who had retired from very challenging and impressive jobs. We had linguists, teachers, journalists and communicators and the balance between all of those talents meant that we could have accomplished almost any task.

There is so much that I could say about my three months wearing purple. I could talk about the moment that the whole world shook as the first fireworks of the Opening Ceremony went off less than 200 metres from our building. I could list the stars and officials who passed through on their way to press conferences and briefings. I could even try to put into words the sheer joy that I felt every time I went into one of the sports venues. Being part of the London 2012 operation was a very special and emotional experience and I am sure that nothing will ever come close to replicating it. All good things come to an end and I returned home with my bags of souvenirs, my little blue book and all of my memories only three days after the closing ceremony for the Paralympic Games.

Returning to my day job was how I thought of it but, having been away for three whole months, it was never going to be easy. A couple of my regular clients had turned to other photographers in my absence and a couple of jobs that I thought were booked-in got cancelled. I hadn’t seen family or friends much or even at all since June and there was a lot of catching up to do – and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three months. That is the reason why I’m writing this today; the same amount of time has passed since I came back to earth as I was away. It has taken that long to get things straight.

I’ve been teaching Photojournalism at Up To Speed Journalism in Bournemouth and I’ve done a couple of seminars. I’ve written a couple of pieces about photography and I have embarked on a new phase in some photo-consultancy work that I was doing immediately before London 2012 took me away. Most importantly on a professional level I’m back shooting editorial and commercial pictures and it is when I’m wearing that hat that I’m happiest. The Leveson Inquiry has reported and I have been working my way through all 2,000 pages. It’s hard to believe that it was over ten months ago that I sat there in that chair in that room to answer questions. Lord Leveson’s report has raised quite a few more that our profession needs to answer and that is yet another challenge yet to be faced.

I had wondered whether working with and for photographers would change how I felt about the industry. I had wondered if I would try to find things to do that used some new found skills but I haven’t. I’m sure that I’d enjoy working in a photo operations role again and if any opportunities present themselves I’d be interested but it’s not going to be my principle career choice – taking pictures remains my number one professional love.

So what next? The portfolio career is here to stay for a while – that’s a certainty. Speaking of portfolios, a new editorial folio is right at the top of my “to do” list. Just below it is a new commercial folio, some work on my website, a return to blogging and tweeting and I’m going to get on with all of those just as soon as we’ve had a family Christmas.

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch to make sure that I’m OK and that my lack of blogs and tweets wasn’t a sign that I was either unwell or going away. Thank you to everyone who has found me work to do since I got back from Stratford. Thank you to everyone who I worked with and for at London 2012 and, most of all, thank you to my family and friends whose hard work meant that I could spend three months wearing purple without having to worry about a thing.

Why do YOU take pictures?

Most of this blog is about the professional side of photography but, like a lot of people who make their living taking pictures, there is a passionate enthusiast inside me too. From time-to-time I get a lot of emails from keen amateurs asking me how they can improve their photography. The first answer is always “take more pictures” but beyond that it really helps to know what you are taking photographs and who the audience for those pictures is.

©Neil Turner. November 2011, Branksome Beach, Dorset. This picture was taken as part of a set to illustrate why the BH13 post code area is such a desirable place to live.

Defining who your audience is and realising what their requirements are is a huge step towards becoming a better photographer – especially if you care about what others make of your work. Of course there are many among us who would profess that they only take pictures for their own enjoyment and who don’t really care what other people think. I’m sure that those people exist but they are an incredibly tiny minority. The rest of us want to share our work, get feedback on it and (hopefully) have praise heaped upon it.

A few years ago I wrote an essay entitled “Commission Yourself” as an early attempt to give some direction and purpose to photographers who had a desire to be out there taking pictures but who struggled with what, when and why they were doing it.

It doesn’t matter if you are a professional photographer, a keen amateur or a weekend and holiday compact user – shoot the best pictures that you can. It is all a matter of approach so here is how I suggest you try to take pictures. There are a number of things that a professional photographer knows long before he or she starts to take pictures. The pro knows who the client is, what the end use of the pictures will be and what they will be taking pictures of. This enables them to “focus” on the job ahead, an approach that can easily be translated into the type of photography you do.

The “client” could be your partner or your children and you know that the pictures are destined for the family album. The pictures might be of a child’s birthday party. Already you are starting to think in a far clearer manner and you can concentrate on making a list of the important images. You could, for example, need a range of images that would fit accross a double page in the album. You need a shot of the birthday boy – maybe a nice tight one. You need some pictures of the guests – perhaps a wider picture with three or four revellers in it. Some smaller images of a cake and other guests and something with a bit of humour. A total of five or six images, shot from different heights and some tight, some wide. To get five or six good images you will need to shoot at least thirty pictures and on a digital you have wasted nothing by trying different things. You can print images to different sizes and edit on screen adding captions as you go.

By deciding what your goals are in advance you will actually spend less time just snapping and hoping. Next time you will know how well you did and what worked in the framework you set yourself and adjust your self-commission accordingly. It is one of the great ironies in photography that tighter briefs often make better pictures. I have never been able to just “go and take photographs”, but if I am looking for a something specific I nearly always get what I want.

As you become a better photographer you can learn to recognise what you like about certain images and trying to shoot in a given style becomes a great way of finding your own. So go out and commission yourself tomorrow and if nobody is having a party try to document your garden or street. Pick out details and shoot the wide picture – you’ll soon have your own photo story in the can.

Of course it is equally true that there are people out there who don’t really care about what they shoot; they just want to own and be seen with some very cool and expensive gadgets. I have met so many people with cameras over the years who can quote the features of their kit as if they had learned the brochure by heart but who don’t actually like taking pictures. Each to their own.

Another tactic for becoming a better photographer is to analyse and even mimic the pictures that we see from other photographers. Shooting street scenes in the style of Henri Cartier-Bresson or portraits in the style of Terence Donovan can be a real creative spur and sooner or later you will develop your own spin on those styles and start to move towards having your own way of shooting. There are fashions in photography related to specific lenses that you can follow and there is a constant cycle of effects doing the rounds that you can analyse and adopt if you need more inspiration. It’s all out there waiting. Light, subject matter and composition – master being able to assess those three elements in other photographers’ work and you will be well on your way to being a much better photographer.