In general I am a fan of tighter compositions, but there are some subject matters that are just crying out for space. A large area of foreground or background can lend an enormous amount of emphasis to an image. Placing a small subject in a large space helps you to tell a story. If you place a person in one of the bottom corners you might suggest loneliness or vulnerability, whereas placing them at the top may well imply the opposite.
This photograph of a child playing on the beach in the winter suggests that he is really enjoying his freedom. The photograph was taken from quite a height (maybe 25 feet) to isolate the sand from the confusing background and the fact that he is nearer the right of the frame suggests that he has a lot more room to head into. The oldest rule about composition – the rule of thirds – is being observed.
If the space around the child in the photograph was full of details then the impact of the composition would be lost. You would inevitably give the image more than one subject and spoil the simplicity which is the real secret of the picture. Of course if the child’s mother was in another area of the otherwise empty frame then that would give another message altogether, the space would still be making you think – but differently.
Cluttered photographs are much harder to pull off, simple images are often more effective and this image proves that simple doesn’t necessarily mean tight.
This assignment opened my eyes to a whole world of education. I was fascinated by the ‘special needs’ systems that had grown up in the UK to try to provide a combination of tuition and therapies for children whose families were trying to do the very best for them. On this job I was working with a committed reporter who did her best to bring me up to speed on all of the terminology used in the field and years later I found myself telling younger reporters how things were. To this day, disability remains a topic that I get real satisfaction from showing to the world.
Young child who has cerebral palsy having a physiotherapy session at a residential school in West Sussex under the Conductive Therapy regime. This technique was brought to the UK from Hungary where therapists, known as conductors, use a range of very intensive methods to try to get children who have very badly compromised motor skills to walk unaided.
Judging from the date, I expect that this picture was shot on a Nikon FM2 with a 135mm f2 Nikkor. The film is Kodak Tri-X.
Which came first… the Chicken or the egg, digital imaging or workflow?
One of the rather brilliant side effects of teaching is that you had to look very long and hard at your own practice to make sure that it will stand up to the examination of younger and more eager minds. I have taught workflow on and off for a few years now and I have come to the conclusion that all photographers should get theirs checked every once in a while to make sure that they haven’t fallen into the bad habits trap.
It doesn’t take much time and going through what you do and why you do it with an experienced teacher of these things is a great idea. I have also discovered how useful having a go at a proper edit of someone else’s pictures can be. Photographers are rarely their own best editors and it is a brilliant exercise to do an edit of a job where you give no attention to including pictures just because were hard to take or to pictures that you really like but don’t help tell the story. Captioning should also be part of that exercise because we all make assumptions when we do our IPTC that a disinterested party wouldn’t make. All in all, I thoroughly recommend these exercises to you.
In a rather tongue-in-cheek reference to the Alcoholics Anonymous “Twelve Step Plan” to beat addiction, I developed the photographers 12 step plan to get a good, dependable and repeatable workflow. It doesn’t matter that you can cut twelve steps down to seven or eight if you need to work fast and it really doesn’t matter that step twelve was “relax and put your feet up” anyway. What actually matters is that you have a tried and tested way of getting your valuable pictures from the camera to the client and back them up without making silly mistakes that cost you time, image quality and (worst of all) money.
For years I have been “quoting” the Hippocratic oath that Doctors and other medical folks take when they take up their calling. I have put “quoting” in inverted commas because it turns out that the phrase I have always used isn’t part of the oath at all – it’s just a line from a film!
Anyway I’ve been saying this; “First, do no harm”. It works for medicine and it certainly works for photographer workflows because the idea is that you never damage the original file – always working on a copy. Of course, with Jpegs that have had anything more than very light compression applied that means that you have already sacrificed some quality – but I don’t want to go down the whole RAW Vs Jpeg road again.
At some point in the future I will publish an updated version of the photographer’s 12 step plan with a step-by-step explanation of how my own workflow works but for now I wanted to just outline it. Remember that this can be edited down so that you have fewer steps if needs be:
INGEST/IMPORT – get the images and any supporting files from the camera into the computer. Applications designed to ingest or import files look inside folders and sub-folders on the memory card in a way that you might not be able to do by simply copying files from the card yourself. It’s important to note that this is one of the easier steps to cut out if you are in a real hurry.
FIRST EDIT – make an initial selection of the images that you are interested in. At this stage you can dispense with very badly exposed frames, pictures where the focus has been missed, where important people have their eyes closed or pictures that are just not very good.
COPY – move a copy of the selected images to a new folder.
RENAME – give the selected pictures a new name. Some clients will have a formula that they want you to follow but otherwise try using a simple word identifier, followed by a six‐digit date and then a sequence number. All good software has the ability to batch rename and sequentially number files. A set of portraits of Tony Blair shot on the 3rd of April 2011 might be blair-110403-001 through to blair-110403-204. The exact formula that you pick isn’t as important as having one that works for you. The filenames that the camera assigns are not good enough and not unique enough for professional use.
CAPTION – using the IPTC metadata fields to add information about what is in the picture, when and where it was taken and by whom it was taken. This is the best way to insure that your pictures can be found again – all image archiving and storage systems work with metadata.
SECOND EDIT – narrowing the selection of images down to those that will make it into the final edit or the selection that will be delivered to the client.
CONVERT – taking the RAW images from the final edit, making adjustment to colour, exposure, brightness, contrast etc using a RAW converter and then saving the toned images to the required file format.
RETOUCH – opening the images into Adobe Photoshop or a similar application to remove dust spots, make subtle (but ethical) changes that cannot be made in the RAW converter, which, these days, are very few.
SAVE – the final stage before sending to the client is to save the edit in the format that the client requires either JPEG or TIFF are most likely.
DELIVER – most images these days are delivered using the internet. FTP is the most efficient but you may also be asked to email pictures, create web galleries, upload to third party viewing sites or simply burn everything to a disc and put them in the post.
ARCHIVE – make sure that you back up copies of everything that you may need again. External hard drives, cloud storage systems and op?cal discs are the most common options. Multiple back ups are the best way to avoid losing your images due to the ageing of materials or the failure of drives.
The sub heading of this blog is “me writing about photography because I want to” and that’s the truth. Post number 47 and it’s the start of month two.
2012 is underway and I’m planning to do quite a lot of blogging as the year goes by. I’m going to talk about education, press photography, photojournalism, light, technology, workflow, software, cameras and just about anything else that I come across in the day job.
If you read the blog and come up with any questions for me please let me have them. In the mean time, let’s hope that 2012 serves us all well.
In keeping with the amount of recycling of words that I’ve done in order to get this blog up and running quickly, here is last years blog post with the dates changed…
To everyone who has followed the site, followed me on Twitter, has worked with me or been in contact through 2011 I’d like to say ‘Merry Christmas’.
If you are a working photographer who has found this last year to have been a hard one in which to make a living I’d like to wish you a better, happier and more prosperous 2012.
My year has been a real rollercoaster but it has ended on a real high with a lot of enjoyable and reasonably profitable work coming in the last two months. 2012 looks exciting with some teaching and quite a bit of photography already booked. I hope that I will find the time to do more work on this blog and on my website in the next few months – well actually, I don’t – if I’m not blogging it should mean that I am shooting and there is nothing that makes me happier in my professional life than shooting pictures.
So, once again, I wish you a very happy few days until the end of 2011 and a very succesful start to 2012.
In 2006 Ian Smith was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Oracle the software company based in the City of London. This business portrait was actually taken for the Times higher Education Supplement who were running a piece about Oracle’s connections with the education industry. The portrait itself was shot in under two minutes but I had set up with a ‘stand-in’ who posed for some test pictures for fifteen minutes before Mr Smith was available.
The really interesting thing about this portrait is that it was shot with deliberately mixed lighting: tungsten gelled flash on the subject and daylight behind with the camera on a custom white balance which was only concerned with the flash. I use this set of pictures a lot when I am teaching my location lighting seminars.