Anda di halaman 1dari 19

Technique

by Andrew Smith
In the temporary absence of a proper introduction Ill tell you briefly what this book is intended to be: It is an honest discussion of how I work as a full-time photographer. I cant promise that it will help your own career, or that it will help you take better photos, and I certainly cant promise that it will help you to make more money. All I can promise is that everything I tell you will be truthful, unpretentious and sincere. It might be wrong, but I believe it is right.

About me...
Im a small-time photographer. I earn a modest amount of money doing newspaper photos, portraits and some commercial work. My job is not particularly glamorous and, for most people, would not be at all exciting, but I love it. So thats whose advice youre reading.

For busy people...


If you want to save yourself the bother of reading the book then Ill summarise it for you: Customers come first. Without them youre nothing. Integrity before money. Always. Get paid. Stick to those guidelines and you wont go far wrong. Thats 90% of the book covered right there. The rest of it is detail. More detail than you could ever possibly want to know...

TECHNIQUE

The hook of the single strong element


Or: why bland sells
This family portrait of two brothers and a sister is frequently praised for its subtle black and white toning (the result of a laborious and intricate processing job over several days) and for the novel twist of having the three subjects not looking at the camera, but instead gazing into the mysterious unknown. These, however, are minor details, mere artistic flourishes. In fact the image works so well because of the composition, which brought something new to the repetitive world of classic portraiture. If you can show people something that they havent seen before then that immediately elevates your image to another level and makes your work stand out from the crowd in an over-populated market.

Concept
The booking for this session came with a rare luxury: An existing photo of the three subjects. Immediately I could see that the anchor point for my portrait should be the girls striking blonde hair, and this in turn helped me to quickly decide on the black background, the dark clothing and the lighting design. Figure 1.1 shows how the original concept was executed successfully, producing a strong traditional portrait. Towards the end of the session I suggested trying an alternative composition. I had recently seen a dramatic portrait of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, created by Lord Lichfield, in which the two subjects were positioned next to each other, lit from the front, and then photographed from the side. I wanted to try my own version of this composition but with posing for the subjects. After all, the photo had been commissioned by their mother and she would be more interested in seeing their faces rather than any clever lighting. I remembered the Lichfield portrait as being black and white, and had always intended my family portrait to be presented in that way. But as I write this I have just gone back and looked at the Lichfield image again, and seen that it was in fact colour. What a good illustration of how much impact a strong composition can have on the viewer! 2 TECHNIQUE

Figure 1.1: The original concept took advantage of the girls striking blonde hair as an anchor point for the image.

Lighting
Due to the composition of the image it required an extraordinarily deep field of focus, and I was shooting at a focal length of 110-mm so I had to use an aperture of f/22. With an ISO speed of 100 this became one of the most light-hungry images I had ever created. The light was supplied by a 1000-watt strobe at full power with a 100-cm softbox positioned just a couple of feet in front of the subjects. When I took the first test shot and the flash fired, all three members of my carefully-arranged group took a step back! As I was using a black background I also needed to put some light around the back of the group for separation. A set of barn doors was used on the rear strobe to prevent light from flooding the camera lens.
Figure 1.2: Softbox in front of the subjects, bare flash behind the subjects with barn doors.

Processing
Your initial goal in processing may be one of aesthetic fixes such as removing blemishes or tidying up some distracting stray hairs. But ultimately you are aiming to give someone an immaculate photograph of themself that they will accept as being true to how they really look. Maybe it is essential for the portrait photographer to expertly wield the clone tool, the healing brush, surface blur and layer masks for skin softening, and all of those techniques and more were used extensively on this image. But equally important is knowing when to leave the image alone. Perfection is not natural. Nobody imagines themself as perfect. But our minds eye self-portrait doesnt include the faults. Give someone a photo of themself with all of their flaws fixed and theyll accept it as true. But give them a photo with perfectly smooth skin, for example, and theyll know its fake. Commercial photographic portraiture has the opposite goal of traditional painted portraits. A painter wants to reveal something of a persons soul. But a photographer is hired to produce an image that is essentially a blank canvas. The viewer fills in the details later. People frequently tell me that they want informal, almost candid images of their loved ones. And they really believe that they do. But the posed formal photos always sell the best. They have less life in them, so the viewer can imagine the life for themselves, however they want. And therein lies the secret of this photograph: It has its single strong element the composition but at the same time it is quite bland. There is nothing not to like, so people are able to love it.
Figure 1.4: Stray hairs needed to be digitally removed. Here several bright strands of the girls hair had to be removed while being careful to preserve her eyelashes, as well as the texture and shading of her brothers skin.

Figure 1.3: The photo was shot in raw format using a hi-res digital camera. This allowed maximum scope for conversion to black and white, tone adjustments and selective sharpening with minimal loss of quality.

TECHNIQUE

Compliments dont pay the bills


One of the most valuable pieces of advice given to me when I first started selling pictures was that people will always tell you how beautiful your work is and how much they love it, but it doesnt mean much unless they actually put their hand in their pocket and bring out some money. I have never considered myself to be an artist but I accept that people will always talk to me as if I am one, and it is human nature to compliment artists on their work. As the recipient of these compliments you quickly get a sense of whether people are just being polite or if they really like your photographs, and of course it is nice when someone genuinely likes one of your pictures. But if youre in this business to earn a living then ultimately what you need is for them to buy it! It may seem cold to play down the value of compliments. Perhaps someone really would like to buy the photo but they cant afford it? Thats always a possibility. But if people truly love a photograph then generally they will find a way to afford it so why arent they buying yours?

Figure 2.1: Channels

TECHNIQUE

Why people dont buy pictures


The owner of a renowned gallery close to where I live is known for his support of photography. When I first started producing landscape photos I showed him some of my large format glossy prints. Most of my photos were dismissed in an instant but some were greeted with a good measure of approval. He advised me that photographs were best displayed as gicle prints and suggested that I invest in having them produced in that format and then come back to him. The idea of showing my photos in a gallery was appealing but not a priority, so it was months before I produced gicles of my work. Then I headed back to the gallery to show the owner my super-duper expensive prints which I expected to be immediately hung on the wall and sold for outrageous prices! The gallery owner took one look at the gicles and without any comment about the actual images said, in the most stereotypically pretentious tone: Ive always felt that photos are best presented as glossy prints. Since then Ive heard an echo of that gallery owners voice in every enthusiastic comment about any of my photographs. Because I realised that people will come out with any old nonsense to avoid telling you their honest opinion: They like your work, they just dont like it enough to actually buy it. Thats why the non-buyers are always the most vocal and complimentary. Buyers hardly say a word.

This page from top to bottom: Figure 2.2: Archipelago Figure 2.3: Dawn of Winter at Cadboll Point Figure 2.4: Rocks & Water Study in Blue

Silence is golden
All of the photos on these two pages have been widely praised by other photographers. All have been framed and prominently displayed in a busy caf in a popular holiday area. And all have received very positive comments from many locals and tourists. None of them have sold. Meanwhile my landscape photos that do sell always go very quietly. Consistently the people who buy them cant explain why they like them. They dont need to. The moral of all this is that youll receive two kinds of compliment: Vocal and cash. The vocals are warm and snuggly but unreliable. Base your commercial decisions on the cold hard cash. It always tells the truth.

TECHNIQUE

Six months and nine minutes:

A story of shooting Elton


At 7:03pm on Sunday 15 July 2007 the Tulloch Caledonium Stadium in Inverness came alive with the applause and jubilant screams of 18,000 people. Elton John made a low-key entrance to stage right and thus began the most nerve-wracking nine minutes of my photographic career. But this story began six months earlier...

It was mid-January and I had just done a depressingly poor job of photographing the Highland 2007 Year of Culture launch night for the BBC Scotland web site. The spectacular evening of music, fireworks, street performers and giant inflatable monsters had attracted upwards of twenty other accredited photographers from all of the local agencies and newspapers, so I had decided to break away from the reserved media spots and look for the pictures that nobody else would get. As an amateur you want to get into the media areas. As a pro you often want to get out of them. Public areas are sometimes better. This calculated gamble didn't pay off and I missed several of the main events. A giant Loch Ness Monster paraded through the streets of Inverness and I didn't even see it, never mind capture it on camera. 6 TECHNIQUE

Figure 3.1: The aerial ballet troupe Transe Express performed high above Inverness during the launch of the Highland 2007 Year of Culture.

That weekend I had some serious questions to ask myself, but they all boiled down to one thing: Was I in the right business? I could make feeble excuses about scheduling errors by the event organisers; I could blame over-zealous security staff who wrongly blocked access to preplanned locations; but such hurdles come as standard in this job. The truth was that I simply didn't get the photos and that was my fault. Fact. Monday rolled around. No doubt still basking in the publicity of the well-received launch night, the Highland 2007 organisers played their trump card: They announced that Elton John would conclude his Rocket Man tour in the Highlands, a major coup for the region. The population of the entire north of Scotland is less than most small cities so we aren't exactly a prime destination for world-class stadium artists!

Climbing the career ladder


Career doubts were immediately put on hold and I set about getting credentials for the Elton concert, still half a year away. Somehow I hadn't entirely blotted my copybook with the BBC and I was given the go-ahead to photograph the concert for the Highlands & Islands web site. I would do the photos on the same basis as I covered the Year of Culture launch: If the photos were good then they'd be published and paid for; if not then they wouldn't be. (Some photographers would balk at this way of working but I think it's a sensible and fair way to start climbing the ladder. It was my suggestion. And if that sends a chill down your spine then you won't like hearing that I never invoiced for the eleven Year of Culture pics that were published. They didn't come up to my standard.) The first challenge in getting a photography pass for the Elton concert was finding out who to request it from. The venue referred me to the promoter who in turn referred me to a lady at a PR company who referred me to a man at the same company who was constantly "in a meeting". Eventually I applied by e-mail.
Figure 3.2: Fireworks over Inverness castle during the launch night of the Highland 2007 Year of Culture. Perhaps the perfect example of how not to photograph a fireworks display over a castle. Later thousands of fireworks sailed down the river and I didnt get one useable shot.

Freelance accreditation: Just be honest


I'm finding that few silences are more deafening than the ones you get from PR companies. Knowing that our livelihoods depend on their cooperation, they seem perfectly content to leave e-mails unanswered, phone calls unreturned and answering-machine messages ignored. In fact, at the same time I was also applying to a different PR company for permission to photograph the Rock Ness dance festival and not one single e-mail or phone call was ever answered. The festival came and went without any evidence that the PR company existed at all, and a lot of media coverage of the festival seemed to rely heavily on poor quality camera-phone snapshots sent in by members of the audience.
Figure 3.3: Thomas and Anna with dad Robert watched rehearsals for the Highland 2007 Year of Culture launch night. This image, one of my early attempts at using off-camera flash, could have been so much better if Id put the flash on a light stand to frame right, or asked someone to hold it.

TECHNIQUE

It took a while, but eventually I managed to syphon a smidgen of information about the pass for the Elton John concert: My application had been received but it would not be processed until two weeks before the concert. To cushion the inevitable disappointment I took this to mean that it would be refused at the last minute. And sure enough, the first week of July came and went. Elton was five days away and, again, nobody was talking to me. More e-mails into the void. More calls not returned. More empty assurances from people who were clearly in no position to make them. Then an e-mail arrived from a different PR company: My pass would be confirmed as soon as possible. A follow-up e-mail asked who I would be doing the pictures for. Some photographers love to big themselves up to be more than they are. I never do, and I would advise others that honesty is the best policy. So I explained that this concert was a huge opportunity for me to cover a major event and I had asked the BBC if I could do the photos for them. I also stated that I would behave professionally, I wouldn't cause any problems for security, I had the appropriate public liability insurance, and I knew that the photos could only be used for news/editorial purposes, no commercial sales. The reply came: "Fine." That was it, just one word. Then a phone call explaining that my pass would be waiting for me at the box office.

Above all else: Getting the shot you need


However there was still one problem to overcome: The pass was extraordinarily restrictive. Photographers were not welcome in the stadium before the concert. We weren't allowed to photograph the support act. We had to meet at the box office shortly before Elton was due on stage, at which point we'd be escorted into the stadium by security who would then wait with us for one song. Then we'd be escorted out of the building. There would be no press facilities on-site, not even luxuries such as a chair or a power socket. And if it was raining? Well, laptops are waterproof, aren't they... This kiboshed most of my long-formulated plans for the day. I would have liked to put together a gallery documenting the whole event: Stage preparations, sound-check, audience arriving, support act, Elton, crowd shots, Elton, the band, a bit more Elton, more crowd shots, etc. But it was made abundantly clear to me that the photography policy was set in stone and it applied to everyone, no exceptions. When the big day arrived I did the best I could with my limited options. I was given my pass early, allowing me to at least shoot telephoto from outside the stadium. I got some fun pics for the local papers. And I chatted with the other photographers about how this was the most media-unfriendly event I'd ever heard of.
Figure 3.4: For this concert media access was so limited and restrictive that it could be seen as little more than a token gesture. Even while taking this photograph from outside the stadium a security guard told me to put my camera away, until I convinced him that my pass covered this area.

Then it was time for us to be puppy-walked down to the stage. I think we had three security people with us, all of whom had different ideas of when and where we could go. One of them gave the nod for us to get on with it and I didn't need telling twice: I installed myself in the perfect position to get a good view of where Elton would be seated at the piano.

TECHNIQUE

I had decided by this point that I wouldn't do crowd shots. I'd have liked to, but I wasn't going to risk losing my vantage point. The only shots that really mattered were the ones of Elton: Get one good pic of Elton and I had done the job right; get a Pulitzer-winning crowd shot but miss Elton and I would have failed. I did briefly stray a few feet away and quickly took a succession of photos in a circle, a weak attempt at making a 360-degree panorama of the stadium. Then I scurried back into position. By now I was more nervous than when I first photographed a wedding. Realising how unexpectedly nervous I was made me more nervous. It took me two minutes to meter the piano: I was convinced that the perfect histogram was somehow wrong.

When your instincts fail you...


Id say I'm fairly good at photographing people on stage. I've done it often, in a variety of environments and conditions: Badly lit schools, brightly lit theatres, even a cruise ship with constantly changing theatrical lighting. I can switch to any of my camera's 45 focus points in a fraction of a second. My timing is good. I can chimp without moving my eye from the viewfinder and I can correct the exposure instantaneously. But my first dozen photos of Elton were two stops over-exposed and out-of-focus. When I chimped and saw the flashing highlights I was suddenly gripped with a fear that I didn't know what to do. It took me a second or two to bump the shutter speed and when I went back to shooting I had no idea if I'd bumped it too far or not far enough, but another quick chimp looked okay. Elton had only just started playing the piano and he turned to the audience and punched the air. It was an iconic image and I missed it, didn't zoom out quickly enough. So far, everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. Elton was singing his heart out. I zoomed in, focused on his face and hit the motor drive. I had a good shot.
Figure 3.6: So it was a relief to have this one in the bag moments later.

Figure 3.5: Not what you want to see when you check your first images: Terribly over-exposed, probably even beyond the point that it could be saved.

TECHNIQUE

The rest of the shoot is mostly a blur, although thankfully the pictures weren't. For some reason I moved from my vantage point and got some nice frames from a more side-on angle, and then I moved back to where I had started. One guy moved to let me back in. Moments later I ducked down to let him get a shot over my head. I was impressed that all of the photographers, about ten of us in an area maybe six feet square, were mindful of what each other was doing and we worked well as a group. I've never been an Elton John fan. Haven't even heard much of his music. But at one point he turned to one of the photographers next to me and gave him a stern look, which gradually melted to a smile and then a cool-looking, playful snarl. I immediately liked Elton John. The guy has style and charisma exploding out of him. The first song ended and Elton leapt up to stand on his piano stool with one foot on the piano. I switched to my centre focus point, zoomed out and motored it. Then a security guard gave me a light punch in the ribs and it was time to leave. I think the security guys made a point of walking us out as slowly as possible, which was good of them.
Figure 3.7: Snarl or a smile? I dont know but it made a good photo.

Time to transmit
While 18,000 people danced away the perfect summer evening I went back to the hotel, only to find that the wireless network wasn't working. I headed across town to another hotel and by the time Sir Elton was about halfway through his set I had seven photos processed and sent off to the BBC, and to an editor at Getty who I had asked to take a look at them with future commissions in mind.

The results of all that effort?


One photo was used to illustrate a story on the BBC web site. Getty liked the images but said they weren't different enough from existing shots. One local paper used a cute shot I did of two local gals. Pictures in some other papers were evidently by photographers who were given special treatment or who broke the rules, which is the sort of behaviour that makes it difficult for the rest of us to get passes in future. Overall a successful day. Great fun, good experience, I made a small profit and I did a competent job under tight restrictions. I e-mailed the PR people who helped me and thanked them for giving me the break. No replies, of course, but I hope they read the e-mails at least. Months later a legal firm wanted to license one of my images so I sought clearance from the PR company. I was told that such licensing was against policy but, as someone had forgotten to get my signature on a contract, I could do whatever I wanted with my photos. I assured them that I would honour the contract even though I had never seen it or signed it, and I declined to license the image. That, I feel, is one way to stand out from the crowd: In a cut-throat business, put your knife away. Being trustworthy is more important to me than selling an image. And long term it will be more profitable.

Figure 3.8: Fun photos of local people are always a good bet with newspapers.

10

TECHNIQUE

Metering and focusing for concert, theatre and other stage performances
With the wide variety of stage lighting conditions you may think it would be impossible to offer any useful guide to metering and focusing for photographs of people on stage. But there are some fundamental techniques that will serve you well for all kinds of live performance. Stage lighting is almost guaranteed to confuse your cameras automatic metering as it wont know how to cope with the brightly lit performers against a dark background, possibly with strong back-lighting. You will likely end up with performers over-exposed as your cameras exposure algorithm tries to compensate for the many dark areas in the frame. So for stage photography it is essential to use manual exposure, and a spot meter is invaluable. This will allow you to meter the performers face and adjust the exposure accordingly. Some cameras have spot meters built in or you can buy light meters with spot capabilities. You also need to have some basic knowledge of the zone system. Now, the mere mention of the zone system can be scary for some people but it is not nearly as complicated as you may believe. Two minutes from now youll understand it... All you need to know is which zone your spot meter is calibrated to (zone 5 is the standard) and which zones different skin tones belong in. For example, the average white skin tones belong in zone 6. When you take a zone 5 spot reading of white skin the resulting image would be under-exposed by 1-stop, so you need to adjust the reading to over-expose by 1-stop, putting the skin tones in zone 6. Thats it! If you understand that last paragraph then you now know how to spot meter white people under any lighting conditions. Dark skin goes in zone 4 or zone 3 for very dark skin. So for black people you take your spot meter reading and then under-expose accordingly. There, now you know how to spot meter everyone. Easy. Focus can be an artistic choice but generally youll want to get the performers face in focus, and specifically their eyes. Many modern cameras have 7, 9 or 11 user-selectable focus points, and some have as many as 45 points. So compose your frame, select the focus point closest to the subjects eyes, and let the camera focus. This is much more accurate than focusing with the centre point and then re-composing the shot. When photographing performers you will usually be working with a telephoto lens so re-composing by even a few degrees can be enough to shift the plane of sharp focus away from their eyes and from the rest of their face. Plus, of course, in the time it takes for you to re-compose your shot, the performer may have moved!

Figure 3.9: Automatic metering would struggle with this scene due to the black background and bright lights. But by using manual exposure settings based on a spot meter reading of Eltons skin tones, the exposure is correct.

Figure 3.10: The zone system divides all visible tones into 11 zones numbered from 0 (pure black) to 10 (pure white). Each zone covers one f-stop. Your camera will be able to record approximately 5 zones in each exposure and spot metering is the easiest way to tell the camera which 5 you want.

Figure 3.11: If the camera was allowed to decide where to focus then it would choose a high-contrast area such as the cross of the music stand or part of the harp. By selecting a focus point it was possible to focus on the musicians eyes.

TECHNIQUE

11

The masterpiece myth


You are captivated by an image. It speaks to you. So you seek out other works by the artist and you find that they are good, but something is missing. The image you fell in love with is the pinnacle of the artists genius. This is the masterpiece myth.

12

TECHNIQUE

Separating intent and result


For the purpose of considering one artist and one masterpiece there could be no clearer choices than Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa. But what can photographers learn from one painting by one artist? While we may be able to garner a few gems about composition or lighting or colour, the Mona Lisa also reveals something more telling of human nature, something crucial to our understanding of our own work and to the nature of the milestones that we aspire to reach. What the Mona Lisa can teach us is that there is no such thing as a masterpiece. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. When we think of a piece of work as an artists masterpiece we have a naturally romanticised view of the work being intentional from start to finish: The artist had a vision and then made that vision real. Yet it is debated whether or not the Mona Lisa is even complete. As a frustrated perfectionist da Vinci was known for leaving his work unfinished. In the case of the Mona Lisa it is noted that the subjects eyebrows and eyelashes are missing, and perhaps her fingernails too. And the Mona Lisa known to the modern world is somewhat removed from the original version of the 16th century painting. Restorations and repairs have left layers of paint upon layers of paint, discoloured by coats of varnish, with the orphic strokes of da Vincis own brush and perhaps even the touches of his fingertips obfuscated for centuries. If a painting is left unfinished by the artist, and the version that we know today has been minutely changed by the interim involvement of restorers and repairers, then how can we sincerely declare that painting as the artists masterpiece? Perhaps doing so might even be considered an insult.
Figure 4.1: The unprocessed original version of the main photo. Figures 4.2 & 4.3: (Below) Other photos from the same shoot.

Youre as good as your best accident?


The black and white photograph on the left is generally regarded as my best work, and if I were to become famous one day then it might even be proclaimed as my masterpiece. But it isnt. Originally planned as the clich dichotomy of a beautiful girl against a starkly under-exposed background, and always intended as a colour image, the bright sunlight on the day proved too strong to over-power with flash. The resulting image (figure 4.1) was, in a word, boring. It was converted to black and white, and some subtle processing was applied to enhance the surreal lighting. Only then did the photo take on its enchanting quality and became something special. So as much as I like the final image, I can tell you that it is not good by design, but by accident. And accidents are not to be aspired to...

TECHNIQUE

13

Your masterpiece? Your decision


If you could have a conversation with Leonardo da Vinci about only one of his paintings, which would it be: The one that the world regards as his masterpiece, or the one that he considered to be his best work? And the natural extension of that question: Do you aspire to take photos that other people will tell you are good, or would you prefer to take photos that accomplish your own pre-determined goals? For me, its all about the goal, and the goal is composition. Before I even held a camera I had a passion for certain styles of newspaper photo and I would practice the compositions by forming a rectangle with my hands and framing anything and everything. When I got my camera I began refining my compositional skills by taking thousands of random photos on a half-mile stretch of beach, nearly every day for months. I would look for uninteresting scenes and try to find a good composition. The compositions that I aspire to master are ones in which you arrange small groups of people in such a way as to create a foreground and a middle-ground. This is standard fare in thousands of local newspapers around the world, and many photographers appear to create these photos effortlessly, but I find them very difficult. To date I would say that figures 4.4 and 4.5 are my two best compositions:

Figure 4.6: Main photo: Bare strobe with silver reflector to frame left. Sun to frame right. Both on full power!

Figure 4.4: Chefs at Taste of Tain

Figure 4.5: Harry Potter launch night

Figure 4.7: Harry Potter launch night: Bare strobe to frame left, strobe with CTO (orange) gel to frame right.

So suppose I do become famous and someone holds up that black and white photo of the girl in front of the wooden fence, and proclaims it as my masterpiece. Of course that would be a hug for the ego, in the sense that its always nice to hear kind words said about your work, but it would also mean absolutely nothing. Figures 4.2 and 4.3 from the same shoot turned out how I envisioned them an hour before I tripped the shutter so praise for those would mean something. But praise for an image that is accidentally good? Thats not a compliment! Ill take a small success over an accidental masterpiece any day. To grow as photographers we must keep in mind that luck cannot be repeated, and luck is often a factor in why people like a particular photograph so much. If you rate your images according to other peoples opinions of them then the first photo you ever take could be the best photo you ever take. Hows that for a depressing thought?

Figure 4.8: Chefs: Bare strobe to frame right, strobe with CTO (orange) gel to frame left behind group.

So accept the compliments graciously, but be guided by your own opinion of your work based on how close it is to your intentions.

14

TECHNIQUE

How many hours are there in one minute of your time?


This is an issue that photographers love to whinge about but doing so achieves nothing so we wont spend any time on that here. The fact of the matter is that clients often dont comprehend, and sometimes dont appreciate, the amount of effort that culminates in those few moments when we stand in front of them and push a button.
Figure 5.1: (Above) Even though this location was not used, an hour was spent preparing it, including stabilising the lights due to a strong breeze. Two other locations had also been scouted as possible alternatives, with test shots being done of each. Figure 5.2: (Below) The location that was eventually used had also been prepared before the family arrived. The scene was lit with a 1000-watt strobe on full power with a 100-cm softbox about 10-feet to frame left. This set-up was used as a lot of light would bounce around the room so a strong directional light source was required to create highlights and shadows.

For a family portrait in this country house, two of the first words in the brief were quick and simple. All those words mean in real terms is that the client doesnt want to stand around for very long. You take the booking with the knowledge that youll still do the usual ground-work, and thus you charge the usual price. Dont cut your margin. On the day of the shoot I appraised four locations and lit two of them so the family had the choice of an inside or outside photo. Or they could have had both if they wanted. It only took a minute to do the photo but it wouldnt have happened without the previous couple of hours.

TECHNIQUE

15

Priorities: When the right shot is the wrong shot


From concept to set-up to execution your priority is to do the shot to the best of your ability. You want it to be perfect. But if youre shooting for a client then chances are theyll have a different set of priorities. This photo was requested by a schools activity coordinator who wanted photos done at a series of crown green bowling lessons, hoping that the local newspaper would use them to publicise the project. Setting up the photo took around five minutes, during which time I was told by both the coordinator and a teacher that it was taking too long. But the schools coordinator got what she wanted: The photo ran on the front page of that weeks paper. That was because it was a good photo, and that was because I took the time to do it right. I thought that result might nudge the client into realising that I knew what I was doing. But no, at the next bowling lesson I was allowed even less time and then the rest of the photos were cancelled. Nowadays, for any photos that require lighting or set-ups I tell clients to allow 15 minutes. If the photo they want isnt worth 15 minutes of their time then I know that our priorities are different and the client would be happier working with someone else. 16 TECHNIQUE

Figure 6.1: Bare flash on a light stand to frame left behind shooting position. Flash with CTO (orange) gel on the floor behind the children.

Shooting sports: Dont be a dinosaur


Editorial sports photography isnt about sport. And it doesnt have much to do with photography either. Its about money and having fun. People who specialise in shooting sports have a passion for it and they want to keep doing it. This can lead to them being fiercely resistant to anyone trying to move in to their territory. Of course theres nothing wrong with that: A few years from now when youre having fun being paid to photograph your sport of choice, will you be happy to have some newcomer start taking your precious commissions away from you? But many long-established sports photographers have one major weakness: They are dinosaurs. They do the same old boring shots week in and week out. So you can get ahead by out-thinking them. One of my first sports commissions was a mid-week night game featuring the regions professional football team. Id paid my dues working amateur games for a couple of years so you can imagine how good it felt to be moving up to the next level. For me, the most exciting thing about the commission was that Id finally have some nice stadium backgrounds for my photos, but Ill admit to also enjoying the sense that Id proved myself and earned the right to move up to pro games. Theres nothing quite like that feeling when you first walk out of the press room, along the corridor and out to the sideline. After ninety minutes in the rain and snow of a freezing Scottish winter evening I sent off half a dozen solid action photos with good captions, confident that Id earned my next commission. Alas, that was not to be...

Figure 7.1: (Above) The papers choice from the first professional football game I was commissioned to cover.

Figure 7.2: (Below) Some of the other photos I submitted from the game.

All is fair in sports and business?


Shortly after the paper hit the streets with one of my photos from the match, I received an apologetic e-mail from the editor: She wouldnt be able to commission me for these matches in future. The photographer who she had been using in the past had complained about me being commissioned instead of him. And he had backed this up with threats about involving the National Union of Journalists. The upshot was that he somehow forced the editor to surrender her own free choice and commit to using him for future matches. An injustice, for sure. And that photographers actions were certainly extreme. But you need to be ready for people who arent entirely ethical. So how would you have handled the situation?

TECHNIQUE

17

Its not their business, its our business


When you decide to earn a living by taking photos you immediately become an equal to everyone else in the business. Yes, they have more experience and they might even be better photographers, but you have an equal right to earn money. And with that equal right comes an equal responsibility to uphold the integrity of the profession. So knowing that a fellow photographer had undermined my right to earn a living, I had two distinct issues to deal with: First was my responsibility to ensure that rogue elements dont harm the business. Second was the fact that I had just hit a major roadblock in my career. The first issue was a no-brainer: My anti-competitive peer had decided to involve his union, so I decided to involve them myself. I made some unofficial enquiries and then filed a complaint. If you would have thought the problem was best left alone then consider this: Maybe youre of a strong-enough character to cope with someone stabbing you in the back, but what if the next person they do it to is more fragile? Some people invest their lifes savings in pursuing the dream of working as a photographer, and they deserve to succeed based on the quality of their work, not how thick-skinned they are. In my opinion, those of us who can cope with the extra pressure of weeding-out the back-stabbers should do exactly that.

Figure 7.3: Netcam shots dont need to be done with a wide angle lens. This one was shot at around 100-mm.

Figure 7.4: Not many photographers take football photos from inside the goal but at amateur games you can get away with almost anything. This image was the result of trying various angles while photographing a prolonged penalty shoot-out. I got dozens of unusable photos but everything came together perfectly for this one.

Think big, think different


Then I went straight back to the amateur games at the local parks and focused on being the best football photographer I could be. Thats how you compete with the dinosaurs. Dont try to beat them at their own game. I wanted to show the editors at both local papers that there was a whole new game, and I could play it better. The photos on these two pages were chosen to debunk some myths about sports photography that many newcomers have, due mainly to a lot of bad advice bandied about on Internet photography forums. All of these photos were published apart from figure 7.7 which was the only one shot in a stadium. If youre kidding yourself that your photos would sell better if you had stadium backgrounds then get that idea out of your head right now. You can find good backgrounds anywhere by working the angles.

Figure 7.5: Strange colouring, the players are too dark and it isnt obvious who scored. But where I live Im the only photographer who does netcam shots so they are still new and that goes a long way in getting published.

Fast telephoto lenses are nice but you can probably earn money in sports photography with whatever equipment you already have. Figure 7.8 used a fast telephoto lens but every other photo was taken with a wide angle lens or a mid-range zoom. The netcam shots didnt use remotes, they were all hand-held. Newspapers do value originality. Every time Ive tried a new technique, the resulting photo has been published. Every time.

18

TECHNIQUE

Figure 7.7: Stadium terraces are the ideal backgrounds but it could be years before you shoot stadium games.

Figure 7.6: The newspaper didnt have a reporter covering this match so even the best traditional action shot may have been left unused. But the unique angle of this photo made enough of an impact that the paper ran it without a match report and even dedicated space on the back page to writing about the photo itself, explaining how it was accomplished. The technique was simple enough: I pre-focused a wide angle lens and then held the camera as high as possible on a 6-foot monopod. I aimed as best I could whenever the action came close, and triggered the camera with a set of Pocket Wizard radio triggers. I worked this way for the whole game and although I got a few other shots that werent too bad, this was the only one that I considered useable. It may seem excessive to commit an entire game to trying a new technique, to get only one good image, but I would prefer to get one good original image and have it published instead of dozens of great traditional shots that dont make it into the paper.

Figure 7.8: (Above) If you can shoot from an elevated position then you can use the pitch itself as a background. Figure 7.9: (Below) Alternatively a low angle can produce a more majestic image with a stronger sense of drama.

TECHNIQUE

19