Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rest easy dear friend

James AKA 'Tomo'. Rest easy dear friend. 1981-2008.

Yesterday I went to James' funeral. There are no words to truly express how much we miss him and the huge impact he had on so many of us.

I took this portrait shortly before he left the UK for his first tour of duty. I believe it captures his mischievous spirit and sense of fun. As the pastor said yesterday at his funeral service, "He lit up the room with his smile." But the impact he had was so much more. He was a force of life and wherever he went he left people feeling more cheerful and optimistic.

He had a serious side too. Professional, dedicated and calm, he was the kind of guy you knew you could count on without question.

Here is the official press release and you can read the earlier news releases in my previous blog.

I know my blog is about photography but I had to write something more personal because I feel it so badly. And in a way this article is about photography too because the pictures we have of James are now tremendously important. They are tangible memories we will treasure. He will be remembered and talked about, and children not yet born will gaze at pictures of this special man, while they listen to stories of his adventures and exploits.

Take care of yourself and each other.



Monday, May 26, 2008

Tragically lost his life

You may have noticed I've been quiet lately. It's a sad time. A friend was killed a week ago in Afghanistan. His funeral is next Friday.

He was a wonderful, strong, funny chap and I miss him. I can't believe he is gone.

Here are some of the news articles.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Capturing 'once in a lifetime' photographs again and again. What does it take?

Everyone has to find their own way of seeing the world. I photographed this youngster at a Brass Band festival in Delph, a small village in England.

How do photographers get those great shots? Most writers focus on the obvious answers like photographic technique – composition, lighting and enhancing images in the digital darkroom. Obviously these are important but there's something perhaps even more important that barely gets a mention.

So let me a share a few 'secrets' about getting 'once in a lifetime' images again and again. It all comes down to luck. You were there and everything fell into place perfectly, just at that moment just as you pushed the shutter button. Look at many of the astounding photographs of our time and what do you think? Yes, that photographer was darn lucky to be there at that moment.

Why are some photographers luckier than others? Well there may be an element of pure chance but on the other hand there are several strategies you can use to improve your luck. As Samuel Goldwyn said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

It takes determination, perseverance and effort to make good images. You need to prepare your mind as well as your camera bag. Here are the strategies I use when preparing for an editorial assignment. The principles can be applied to any photographic mission.

The first thing I do is work out what the story is really about. I try to nail down the essence. Then I develop several themes that will help me tell the story visually. Depending on the type of story and depth of coverage there may be up to 15 themes. The next step is to think of picture ideas that fit under each theme. Breaking everything down like this gives you a systematic, logical and targeted approach.

Research is critically important. I try to find out exactly what I am getting into. Having an idea of what other photographers have done provides a benchmark. I know you have to do better. Editors don't want to see me producing the same image as another photographer did. They want to see something unusual that excites them. I aim to take a shot that nobody else has done before.

So with the main themes in place and loads of 'knock em dead' picture ideas and research done I move onto the next stage, the logistics of ensuring that I am in the right place, at the right time with the right equipment, the right people and environmental conditions. Did I mention determination, perseverance and effort? You need a hell of a lot of it to get things done. Actually taking the photographs is often the easiest part of the assignment!

Once I do get to the photography I am constantly looking for ways to make the images stronger, more exciting, interesting and beautiful, while never losing site of the theme of the shoot and the essence of the story. I am 100% focused on making the best image possible. All that technical stuff is a reflex and happens unconsciously. Probably the biggest challenge photography enthusiasts face is to move past thinking about their equipment and the act of taking pictures, and to instead direct their full attention to how best to use a photographic opportunity to communicate with the audience.

After the shoot I reflect on the images I've taken and how they can be improved further. Often the key to getting those 'once in a lifetime' shots is to use the knowledge you gained the first time shoot and go back and do it all again, if you have the opportunity. And then go back again. And again. Always refining and pushing it further. Never settle for second best.

And once you've got the shots, lavish them with tender loving care. Make every pixel count toward the final impact. That's how you get lucky in photography. Making your own luck is hard work. The ability to get things done and determination to succeed are as important as a 'good eye' and technical ability.

If you find this article interesting and helpful please let me know. Leave a comment or send me an email via the contact form on my website. I would also be delighted to discuss assignments with picture editors and art directors.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Photojournalism today and the World Press Photo competition

A man lies collapsed in the street, attended by a policeman who put him in the recovery position and stood by him waiting for the paramedics. Click on the images to see a larger version.

This week I came across the event above and took two different images. The first is a clear no frills photo journalistic image. The second image uses photographic language and aesthetics to create an emotion. A friend said of the second image, "I would not qualify it as photo-journalistic as it is too artsy (in the right way) to be published in a newspaper. But man, it does have a strong impact!"

I found that interesting. Thinking of the beautifully lit images that W. Eugene Smith made. Would they be considered too artsy for a newspaper these days. Which brings me to the recent debate about the beautifully lit image of the Thai prostitute discussed in Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's hotly debated article "Unconcerned but not indifferent", which goes behind the scenes at the World Press Photo Awards.

ere is a a tension between aesthetics and content. The judges differ as to where the emphasis should lie in deciding which pictures are in and which are out, and no doubt the debate will continue for as long as photojournalism exists.

The arguments are complex and well worth delving into if you have any interest in the current state of photojournalism.

I highly recommend you read the following excellent articles published on Foto8

Also take a look at Reuters, Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War

So what's my take on things. Well I like to keep it simple. To me photojournalism is about communicating information as effectively as possible. The way the communication is received depends on the context of the viewer, their social awareness, beliefs, morals, knowledge and intellect.

Just an image is never enough. Photojournalists rely on words to support the communication brought by their image. Viewing and judging images purely on aesthetics divorced from context renders the value of a photo journalistic image purely in terms of artistic merit. I would argue this is a rather pointless exercise given that the photojournalist is out there risking life and limb to bring us the "story". Anyway, I've never come across a magazine, newspaper or news broadcast that doesn't use any form of caption to explain photo journalistic images.

Having said this it is clear that in recent years the World Press Photo competition has evolved into a soapbox to highlight important issues and there is of course no harm in doing so. The more ways we can make people aware of issues the better.

Fundamentally though the aim of the photojournalist is to bring the story to a wider audience and all methods are valid and necessary, whether it be the more abstract post event approach or the hardcore eyewitness. Whatever approach we use, ultimately the effectiveness will depend on how receptive the audience is and their context.

I hope this provides food for thought and look forward to reading your comments.


Monday, May 05, 2008

True emotion

Ken and his border collie, Pinch, stride through along the Bempton cliff tops in Yorkshire. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Man and dog have a centuries old relationship, with dogs working alongside us and earning the title "man's best friend'. I think this image illustrates that special bond with Pinch looking up at Ken waiting for his next instruction.

She was so attentive. A typical border collie - fast, intelligent and ever willing to please. This image to me has real emotion. Ken strides confidently along through the field. He looks down at his dog and she spins round to look up. The connection between the two of them is as clear as daylight. The image has space to breath, texture, light and a pleasing composition, all working together to tell us the story of man and dog.

I hope you like it too. In the coming months I'll share more of my images and tell you why I think they work. Hopefully my thoughts and pictures will interest you and perhaps even inspire you.