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Imperfect Portraiture

Pascale Allotey, Professor in Race and Diversity at Brunel university in west London.© Neil Turner/TSL November 2005

I have had the title for this piece rattling around in my head for several weeks now but before I dive in I want to explain that it is about a certain style of editorial portraiture that appeals to me. It is equally important that nobody reading this thinks that I believe other forms of portrait photography are somehow inferior or are “less portraity”.

I suspect that every sentiment that you will read in this mini-essay will have been expressed somewhere on my blog at some point in time. After all, if you did a search for the word “portrait” on this site you would get hundreds of hits. From explaining the anguish of editing your own work to my definition of what is and is not a portrait. I have written about why this kind of photography speaks to me so loudly and so consistently but I have wanted for some time to bring all of those thoughts and impulses together. As always, there are two reasons for doing this; the first is to stimulate thought and debate amongst those who care to read it and secondly to help me further clarify my own opinions and, by doing so, make my own work better.

Of course there isn’t a strict set of rules about what constitutes a portrait. Back in 2011 I wrote this; (more…)

Archive Portraits on Instagram

Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer, photographed in her London studio after she had been celebrating with her team having won yet another design award. October 1990. Photo ©Neil Turner

Over the last few months I have been devoting an awful lot of my time to building up an archive of my professional work from when I left college in 1986. There are plenty of gaps and there have been lots of surprises – images and commissions that I had long forgotten and it occurred to me that my Instagram feed was looking a bit sorry for itself and so I started to add portraits that had something of a back story. That was a couple of weeks ago and there will be photographs on that feed that regular readers of this blog will recognise but, equally, there will be some very unfamiliar portraits that haven’t seen the light of day in many, many years. (more…)

Mission Creep

I have lost count of the number of times I have agreed the details of an assignment with a client only to find out that they want to add a few “little extras” on the day of the shoot. Sometimes it is a job where we agreed to do a dozen headshots only to find out that they’ve added another six or seven. It can be a school prospectus shoot which was meant to end with the school day where, over a cup of coffee, they casually add an after-school club that doesn’t start until after you were supposed to be off-site. In the most extreme case I can remember it was to do half of the job in central London and the rest of it a two-hour drive away on the outskirts of Coventry.

The military term “mission creep” sort of covers this except that most definitions use the word “unintentionally” whereas this kind of “job expansion” is pretty often entirely intentional. How you handle this regular occurrence says a lot about you as a photographer and can define your relationship with that client for years to come. What might seem as a harmless addition to the brief can leave you with extra work, less time to shoot parts of the original brief and can get you into a row with the client.

For me the worst part of mission creep is the almost inevitable additional time that will have to be spent in post production. It stands to reason that even if you can shoot extra pictures in the time given for the job there will be a greater number of images to be sorted, captioned, cropped and toned. The client almost always ends up getting what they perceive as more pictures for the same fee. (more…)

Whilst I was out…

Whilst I was out shooting some pictures for the EOS5D Mark IV Update I shot a small set of pictures that reminded me that it is almost inevitable that you find interesting human stories whenever you are out shooting pictures. I met and chatted to a former Royal Marine who had donned his green beret and his medals to come along at the eleventh hour to honour one of his relatives –  a Royal Marine Musician – who died when the ship he was on, HMS Hood, was sunk in 1941.

A moving gesture from a man who had himself served for over 27 years for a relative and fellow Marine who he had never met.

Mark Tapping who served 27 years in the Royal Marines places a framed photograph of his relative Royal Marine Musician Albert Pike who died when HMS Hood was sunk on the 24th of May 1941. Armistice Day at the War Memorial in Bournemouth 11 November 2016. Bournemouth, United Kingdom. Photo: Neil Turner

Mark Tapping who served 27 years in the Royal Marines places a framed photograph of his relative Royal Marine Musician Albert Pike who died when HMS Hood was sunk on the 24th of May 1941 on the memorial. Armistice Day at the War Memorial in Bournemouth
11 November 2016. Bournemouth, United Kingdom.
Photo: Neil Turner

 

EOS5D Mark IV Update

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A few weeks ago I wrote on this blog about the wifi potential of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and I have been using three of its functions pretty heavily on jobs over the intervening period. It wasn’t hard to learn all about the system having used a number of different wireless systems over the last three or four years and my first impressions were very favourable. There are definitely one or two changes that I’d like to see Canon make (preferably in a firmware update) but the system has been remarkably stable and reliable. It’s wireless which means that there will be glitches but I’d stick my neck out here and say that this is the best wifi that I’ve used given that 1) it is built-in and 2) doesn’t require any extra gadgets or adapters.

Today is Armistice Day – the anniversary of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when the guns finally fell silent at the end of the Great War in 1918. I had no jobs on and so I took myself down to the War Memorial in the centre of the town where I was born to pay my respects and to give the wireless on the Mark IV a real world test that I could actually share with you. (more…)

Thinking on your feet

My shadow using a monopod to get a high angle picture. March 2016 ©Neil Turner

My shadow using a monopod to get a high angle picture. March 2016 ©Neil Turner

I was out shooting a job yesterday and needed to get quite a bit of extra height. The best place to shoot the picture from was on the side of a grassy hill which was very wet and the client’s health and safety policies meant that it wasn’t going to be easy to use a step ladder – whilst building a tower was outside the budget. In an ideal world a proper pole-cam or even a drone would have been the best option but the light was right and I needed to improvise.

Having used the Canon EOS6D as a remote via their iPhone app once before I was reasonably confident that my idea would work but the app has been replaced/updated and it meant learning the new one on the job. I had a basic monopod, a tripod head and a Manfrotto Super Clamp in the car but no proper way to attach the phone to the monopod to use as a viewfinder and remote release. With a proper pole-cam you rest the base of the pole on the ground and it is pretty stable. You also have a cradle for the phone or even a tablet if you want to go bigger. I had to tuck the foot of the monopod into my belt to get enough height but I had about an hour so I went into full “1970s Blue Peter” improvisation mode.

The cradle that holds my iPhone in my car was pressed into service and that attached very easily to the Manfrotto Super Clamp. Having extended the monopod to its full height I then attached the clamp to the second stage of the monopod (about eye-level when the whole thing was in use I guessed). Then I stuck the tripod head onto the monopod tilting down a little and put the EOS6D with a Canon 16-35 f4L IS lens on it. Whilst all of this was being done I was downloading the latest Canon Camera Connect app from the Apple App Store.

After a few minutes messing with settings I had the system working. I could use the phone as a viewfinder and a remote release for the Canon DSLR and I set about shooting the pictures without leaving the ground myself. After a minute or two I decided that I needed more height to look down on the subject a bit more and so I tilted the tripod head down a little and when I put the camera back into the air the foot of the monopod was resting on my chest. Even with a camera as light as the 6D I couldn’t hold it up for more than a minute at a time but we got the shot and I only got pointed at (and laughed at) by a small handful of passers-by. I wouldn’t want to have to work this way very often but, having just edited and uploaded the pictures, I know that I have a “Blue Peter”** solution that works.

** Blue Peter was required viewing as a child growing up in the 1970s. They always showed you how to make useful things from odds and ends lying around the house.