Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The myth of the detached photojournalist

There's a perception that photojournalists are emotionally detached, fly on the wall observers, taking their pictures, high on the adrenaline of the moment. All they care about is getting the image at any cost.

OK you can't heap everyone together in the same pile and yes there are photojournalists that seem detached, that would do virtually anything to get the shot. Paradoxically they're never really good in my experience.

The photographers that rise above the rest, that produce images which define our perception of a historical event, the really great photojournalists are people that care passionately about life, justice and human rights. They are not detached but they do know how to deal with their emotions in the heat of the moment so that they can continue photographing. Over riding almost everything else is the need to tell the important stories around the world.

The photojournalist holds a mirror up to our collective conscious and says with his/her images - this is our world today - are you prepared to accept it or are you going to do something to change it. Nothing confronts our psyche more powerfully than the still image because it is single moment frozen in time and almost infinite detail - unlike video which flashes past and is gone - it is there to look at again and again. Each time you see a powerful image it imprints itself on your brain and this imprint is reinforced every time you look at the image.

So what in my opinion makes a great photojournalist:

  • An eye for a great image - one that tells the story with power, emotion and clarity
  • The ability to get oneself in the right place at the right time
  • Being passionate about a cause and humanity
  • Being able to build a relationship with the people you are photographing because in many circumstances photojournalism requires the acceptance and co-operation of your subject
A few of the photojournalists that I admire most are Don McCullin, James Nachtwey, and Tom Stoddart .

More soon...


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Designing an image

A couple enjoying the park and fountain despite it being a cold winter afternoon.

My motto as you know by now is to go beyond the obvious and here I tried to do just that by using the fountain in the foreground to create extra interest and add to the design of the image.

Often a foreground can be used to frame an image and add depth.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jill Coleman aka sugarbird

I'd just like to draw your attention to a new blog written by friend and fellow photographer Jill Coleman. She describes with great sensitivity her photographic journey and the people she has met which provides a unique insight into the thoughts of this talented documentary photographer.

I highly recommend a visit to her blog Freedom to Dream.


Making ugliness attractive

Worn tires, each one the result of thousands of miles of travel on our roads, lie in an ever growing mountain of waste.

The challenge here was to make an attractive image from an ugly subject. As photographers we have to look for the beauty in everything, even ugliness and human misery. Paradoxically the first challenge of the photographer is to make the image attractive for the viewer to look at, no matter what it contains.

An image that no one wants to look at will fail to communicate.

More soon...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mobiles on the street

A young lady checks her latest text message.

Just about everyone has a mobile these days. It's part of life and the streets are full of people using them. Yet in society people don't seem to be able to really communicate and meaningful conversation is a dying art.

"Hello, I'm on the train. Yes, it's snowing." Nothing beats a face to face chat. All of which has got very little to do with this picture, which I hope you enjoy.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Journalists raise awareness

Today I was interviewed by a group of student journalists.

All respect to them. They asked tough questions on difficult social issues. It is often journalists who raise awareness and help set the social and political agenda. They are in a privileged and powerful position because they can turn the spotlight on important issues.

Journalists can play the role of social conscious. However all too often the media is a fickle beast, refusing to cover important stories. Unfortunately commercial pressure from advertisers who do not want to see their brand on display next to a grim picture and story dictate that magazines and papers stay away from the harsh realities that used to be covered in magazines like Life. Now the pages are more often filled with celebrities and gossip.

I hope these young journalists realise the importance of what they are doing and the role that they can play in helping to shape our social conscious.

What I've said here is not new but it is important. Journalists and especially photojournalists with their powerful images can shape the way we view societies, people, cultures, social issues and conflicts. It's an awesome responsibility.

More soon...


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tips for your portfolio

Magda has been through a rough time with her health over a period of several months. She is now starting to recover. On Sunday we went for a walk in the local park. Naturally we had our cameras with us.

A photographer's portfolio is the most vital marketing tool he or she has. If you would like to know more about building a successful portfolio then I recommend buying John Kaplan's excellent book, Photo Portfolio Success.

Here are some of the tips from leading figures in the industry that he shares in the book:

"Show your work and get feedback. Don't ever pass on a good opportunity." - Ruth Adams; photographer, educator.

"Develop a personal vision, not just a style. One is just aesthetics and the other is a coming from the soul and the heart." - Tom Kennedy; Director of Photography, Washington Post Newsweek Interactive (Former Director of Photography at National Geographic).

"Show the world through your eyes. It's as much about the real world out there as it is about your point of view." - Gerd Ludwig; Photographer.

More soon...


Tuesday, March 13, 2007


A grandmother sits on a wall at the Canal Gardens in Leeds, patiently waiting for her family.

She looks like a strong and determined woman and I wanted to bring this aspect out in the photographs I took of her.

As photographers we touch on many people's lives, our images a testimony to the passing moment we bear witness too. But the images can be so much more. They can be a metaphor and a symbol of someone's life, a tribute to them. I for one do not treat this responsibility lightly.

I hope this image also bears witness to the respect I feel for the people who's portraits I make.

More soon...


Sunday, March 11, 2007


Young lady in the city.

The above image has done rather well on a website where photographers share their images for critiques and points. Obviously I like it or I would not have uploaded the image. The thing that makes it stand out is the digital manipulation that I applied to the image. It literally took five minutes to do.

The thing that bothers me though is that while I'm grateful for the recognition from other photographers I have produced far more meaningful images that have received virtually no attention. It seems that for the audience on this website the key point of interest is not the story a picture tells or the emotion it evokes but rather that a technique has been used.

Any artist or creative is happy and flattered when their work gets attention but I think it is rather sad that so many images in the world by photographers who genuinely capture emotion or communicate something important are ignored by the photographic community.

Their praise then rings rather hollow and leaves me with an empty feeling and some sadness. It is a shallow and superficial world we live in. Luckily there are always a few people who do comment and recognise an image that really communicates an emotion and tells a story.

More soon....


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Award winning photo causes controversy

Journalist Gert Van Langendonck located the subjects of Spencer Platt's prize-winning photo from Lebanon. You've probably seen it. The people in the red convertable with t-shirts and designer shades driving through war torn Beirut. Gert met and talked to and photographed the group.

The picture which won the World Press Photo of the Year has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in photojournalist circles.

There's a thought provoking article on PDNOnline, well worth a read.

More soon...


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Saatchi Gallery

I've posted an image for the next Saatchi Gallery Showdown, which will be featured in the round between 19-03-2007 and 26-03-2007. You will be able to click here to visit the page to vote for my image when the next showdown starts.

I am building a portfolio with The Saatchi Gallery, which will soon go live.

The whole initiatve of an interactive gallery is great and well worth a visit. See you there.

More soon...


Monday, March 05, 2007

Waiting room

M waiting to see the doctor. Sitting there watching the minutes tick by wondering about the diagnosis, hoping for answers. Her look says it all.

Photojournalists witness all sorts of emotional and physical struggles. It's never easy but when your loved ones are affected it is very hard indeed. We all have to find our own way to deal with things.

This time I reached for my camera. M didn't mind being photographed. She understands my drive to photograph life in all its facets. Shortly before I took this image she had taken a poignant picture of the waiting room with it's array of well read magazines on the glass table.

We waited together for over an hour. I don't think I know of anyone who enjoys sitting in a doctor or dentist's waiting room.

I hope that in a way this image captures a sense of the feeling we all share, whether we are there for something minor or a serious illness. And I hope my image tells the story and touches your emotions. I hope it gives other people who are ill the feeling that they are not alone in what they are going through and I hope that people who are well will rejoice in their health while feeling empathy for those less fortunate.

More soon...


Saturday, March 03, 2007


Looking back from the passenger seat in the cab of the truck I watched the refeulling operation. This image was taken during a reportage on the road with a construction company.

I chose the image because I like the balance between the elements and the overall visual design with various forms and shapes interacting across the composition. The wide angle creates depth and dynamism. Their's a slightly surreal feeling to the whole scene. The image also fits wih my motto 'go beyond the obvious'.

If you'd like to read more of my thoughts on using design in photography take a look here.

More soon...


Photogaphers and clients have different perceptions

Portrait of B on holiday with his family. This was one of several portraits for this family taken during a week long reportage.

Perception is a strange thing. I like this portrait and so do the family that commissioned it. They are delighted with the images taken during the reportage. However, when I wanted to upload this picture on a photo sharing site my wife and fellow photographer, Magda, said, "No one is going to comment on that, it's just a straightforward picture of a young boy." And she is right. I tried the image briefly on three different websites. No comments.

Many of my images delight clients when they see them in print but on the Internet they don't attract much attention from fellow photographers. It must be a matter of perception. I'm told time and again that I capture the essence of an individual. Of course if you don't know the person you can't recognise this aspect of what the image achieves.

Portraiture is about the person you are photographing. It's not about making bold photographic statements or digitally enhancing images to within an inch of their life. Often large photographic competitions recognise this fact and then the masses (including many professional photographers), who may not be very visually literate, complain and say, "what's so special about that." They don't see that subtlety can be very powerful and that as photographers we need to show things as they are rather than over interpreting them 'photo-graphically'.

It all comes down to a matter of perception. That's the only answer I can come up with to answer the conundrum of people who commission images and see the prints loving the work while other photographers don't seem to get it.

If you've got a view on this I would love to hear it.

See you soon...


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Design in photography #2

Welcome to the second article on design. If you missed the first here it is.

There’s a lot to cover and we’ll get there eventually. I think it will take another two or three articles.

For now let’s look at a few advanced design strategies.

Anchoring the subject, or the lead into the subject, to the edges of the frame. This can introduce a feeling of structure and stability to the subject as well as enhancing the sense of strong design within a composition.

Creating a path for the eye to follow. When you design an image you need to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition and make it easy for their eye to move from one element to another. The key here is how easily the eye can move through the composition without being distracted. Western people tend to scan an image starting top left and they then ‘read’ the image zig zagging down and leaving at the bottom right. Of course using strong colour or subjects of interest like faces will change the starting point but overall we still read an image from left to right.

Make use of space within your image. Don’t cramp your subject. Give it room to breathe. The ‘blank’ space can be just as important as the space within the image filled with your subject. All too often photographers produce ‘postage stamp portraits’ (just the head) without using space or indeed cropping tightly to create interest in the image.

Strong lines within a composition can be used to draw attention to the subject and create a dynamic feeling. Think about the way the lines are working in your composition. Look at the relationships between:
  1. Strong horizontal lines
  2. Lines of different depth and thickness
  3. Vertical lines
  4. Circles
  5. Contrasting lines
  6. Diagonals (incredibly powerful – whether actual or implied in the composition)
  7. Groups of lines
Another powerful device is using the foreground to frame the subject. Frames within frames are particularly powerful, even if implied.

Perhaps one of the most important considerations in photography is the balance and relationship between light and dark areas. To understand this more clearly take one of your images and invert it so that you see it as a negative. You will then clearly see the relationship and spread of light and dark areas across the frame, albeit inverted. Having used BW film and developed it myself in the darkroom, I’m quite used to looking at negatives. I guarantee I can spot an image with good potential by just holding a neg up to the light and looking at it. If the pattern of light and dark areas looks interesting you know you are a good deal of the way to having a really stunning image. Some photographers refer to this as the skeleton of the image. And like any skeleton it’s the structure on which all else depends and hangs.

I’ve touched on using empty space. Of course it is never empty. It’s merely out of focus or a different colour etc. The background plays a vital part in that it sets the stage for your subject. A disturbing background is the death of many picture. It’s hugely important.

A lot has been written on the Golden Ratio. Here I will refer you to an excellent article on Wikipedia, which puts it better than I could.

That’s enough for now. More soon….