Would You Take The Shot?

Would you take the shot?

I was driving to a friendâ??s house the other day when I entered the motorway and everything ground to a halt. We crawled along for a few miles and before long the source of the trouble became apparent.

A sporty looking saloon â?? it was impossible to tell what it was before the crash â?? had spun out, swiped a lorry and ended up half way through the barrier. The police, fire and ambulance service were all in attendance and there was a blur of fluorescent jackets swarming around the vehicles.

Without warning the carâ??s fuel tank exploded. I donâ??t mean that it caught fire and popped a bit; it actually exploded â?? fire ball and all. I had no idea that this could actually happen in real life. I thought exploding fuel tanks only happened in Hollywood. In my excitement I reached into the back seat, grabbed my camera, switched it on, raised it to my face and zoomed in. Then something odd happened. I started to squeeze the shutter release and as I did so, a flood of guilt washed through me and I froze. As if someone else was controlling me, I put the camera down on the passenger seat, leant back in my chair and let out a long sigh. I felt appalled with myself. Some poor fellow might have just been really badly hurt and my first thought was to get a good snap of the fray. Moments later the traffic moved on and we left the horrible mess behind us.

Iâ??ve thought about the crash a lot since then. It was one of those situations and one of those opportunities that (at least I hope) will never present its self again. Iâ??m certain that I missed out on taking an amazing photograph. I probably could have sold it, at least to the local papers, and I would have received lashings of praise from my photographer friends. Regardless though, Iâ??m sure I made the right decision. Sure, it could have been a great photo, but at what cost? All I could think while putting the camera down was what if it was me? How would I feel if someone else profited from my misfortune? I could never be proud of the photo; I would always feel a little ashamed.

Itâ??s not quite the same thing, but I have a friend who is a freelance celebrity photographer. Heâ??s one of those guys you see hanging over the railing at glitzy, red carpet events. In his view, the absolute best part of his job is when something goes wrong and he gets a good snap of the big name when it happens. Itâ??s these photos that heâ??s most proud of and itâ??s these photos that earn him the most money. In life away from work heâ??s one of the nicest people youâ??ll ever meet. Heâ??s kind, generous and a great guy to be around, which is why I canâ??t understand why he gets such a buzz from doing what he does. After all, isnâ??t it profiting from someone elseâ??s misfortune in its purest form?

There are times when it is prudent and even important for us to photograph â??bad thingsâ?. For instance, without the photographs and news reels of the two world wars, how would we know of the atrocities that occurred? Itâ??s also important that we keep seeing them. Not every day, but at least every now and then. Itâ??s imperative that we are reminded of these â??horrors of warâ??. Can you imagine what would happen if we forgot? Without the photos of starving children in third world countries we would be unaware of the constant struggle of hundreds of millions of fellow human beings. They would have no voice and there would be no way for us to know that they need our help. Itâ??s these photographs that remind us of how fortunate we really are and in doing so give us perspective on our own lives.

I donâ??t think the lessons we learn from seeing photos of car accidents are really on the same par. Sure, we are reminded of what happens if we donâ??t drive carefully, but then how many traffic accidents do you see in a year from simply driving about? That seems enough of a reminder to me. As for what we learn from seeing A-list celebrities tripping over at a movie premier â?? well Iâ??m stumped.

Perhaps Iâ??m making too big of a deal about all this? Maybe Iâ??m just going soft, but this type of thing really doesnâ??t sit well with me.

What do you think about this? If you had been in that traffic jam what would you have done? Would you have taken the photo or would it not have even crossed your mind? Perhaps you would react as I did, fully intending to take the shot but then finding that you couldnâ??t follow through? Is there a line that should be drawn or is everything fair game?

Are You a “Cheap Wedding Photographer”?

Are you a cheap wedding photographer?

Back to the subject of Wedding Photography, again (I suspect we’ll be covering this one a lot!).

I was talking to my friend Mark, who I have mentioned before is right now going through the transition from keen amateur to professional. Mark was telling me about the half a dozen or so weddings he has covered for free, or dirt cheap, in order to have the opportunity to get a few weddings under his belt and into his portfolio. Oh, and for the experience of course, which never comes cheap in this game!

The trouble is, he is now in danger of being labelled as a “cheap wedding photographer” for the foreseeable future. Although having covered friends’ and relatives’ weddings at a special rate has lead to a number of referrals, the referred clients have an expectation of an inexpensive photographer covering the event from dusk till dawn.

It strikes me that when trying to make the jump to pro status, the photographer needs to have a plan, almost a prepared statement to read to the lucky couple getting the special deal. My suggestion (much too late for Mark, obviously!) would be to quote friends and relatives the full price you intend to charge once you have made the jump. Then, give them a whopping discount, clearly showing that this is a one-off because you are my cousin/nephew/sister/best buddy or whatever. This way, the photographer has shown his normal price and the friend/relative can clearly see the saving they get from being in the right place in the gene pool at the right time.

Will it actually work? I don’t know. I need someone to try it out and let me know! Any takers?

The Perfect Gift For Mother’s Day?

Motherâ??s Day

I can’t deny it, I’m a bit of a “baby-bore” when it comes to my kids. I’m verging on obsessed, if I’m honest, and I tend to assume that everyone else in the family (and I do mean everyone – all the way down to step-second-cousins-twice-removed-in-law) feels exactly the same; both about my kids and their own (where appropriate) for that matter.

So, when it comes to gift-giving time I naturally assume that there could be little the lucky relative could want more than another beautiful picture of their grandsons/nephews/cousins etc. Which is also pretty handy as I have so many pictures they haven’t even seen yet! Fortunately I have my wife on hand to point out what an arse I am (that’s not the actual phrase she uses – I thought I better water it down in the interest of good taste!).

Now I’m absolutely sure that the grandparents, aunts and uncle Andy all want pictures of the boys and I like to flatter myself that they even appreciate the high quality and technical competency displayed in the images I send them. What I’m not sure of is when is the right time and when is the wrong time to give a picture of the kids to a relative as a present. Is there a right time? Should pictures of the kids simply be an ongoing part of the process of parenthood?

In my role of part-time photographer, I mostly shoot portraits of kids. Invariably about half of all the prints I supply are intended as gifts for relatives. The busiest time of all for me is pre-Christmas and many of my clients (that’s pompous talk for “parents of our kids’ friends”) tell me they are getting the pictures taken specifically for Christmas presents. Is it okay to give a picture of the kids as a present if you have a “professional portrait” shot precisely for that purpose? The photos I give our relatives are shot by the same “professional” (sorry, I can’t use the p-word about myself without putting it in quotes!) in the same set-up I use for paying clients, so where is the difference?

Being serious for a moment, I don’t really send pictures of my kids to my wife’s cousins for their birthday (what, you thought I was really crass enough to do that?). However, I do feel (no matter how much my wife protests!) that my mother (or mother-in-law) would appreciate a picture of her grandsons, expertly taken and presented by her son (or son-in-law), as a gift on Mother’s Day. Have I got this wrong?

Workflow Dilemmas


I was browsing through some of the last year’s photography magazines at the weekend, looking for articles to tear out and keep before throwing the rest into the recycling bin. The only article I kept was one about digital workflow, an area which has given me plenty of trouble.

Going back to my film days (here we go, blah blah blah, don’t listen to the dinosaur…) workflow was relatively simple. Each film was the same length, it got cut into strips and slid into a transparent page which could be filed in a big folder. Each page was numbered, contact printed and logged in a simple index. Done.

But film also was simpler in other ways. For the most part there was only one subject on a film. Often, there was only a handful of pictures worth printing on a film, for that matter! I wasn’t shooting transparancies for stock or anything like that, so there was no real indexing to worry about, other than the basic subject matter which was usually the name of the sitter in my case.

Now I’m digital and I have thousands more images to deal with (literally thousands more). There are plenty of programs out there which (up to a point) help with this. I have used Adobe’s Photoshop Album for a number of years and really liked it, up until the day I decided that my pictures were not filed all that sensibly and had to re-link all the pictures which can be pretty tiresome.

And there is my dilemma – what is “sensible filing”? I have read so many differing ideas on folder structure and file naming and even sat down and tried to work out what is right for me and nothing ever seems to be quite what I need. I think the real problem is that every time you find a way to improve what you do, you either have to dedicate a lot of time to modifying everything you already have or you have to live with a legacy of varying methods instead of one cohesive solution. This makes me reluctant to try something new.

So now I’m getting to the stage where I have tens of thousands of images, in hundreds of folders, with various naming conventions and some are tagged and catalogued and some are not. About the only constant in all of this is the timeline – as long as I can remember when one set of images was taken in relation to another, I’m okay. However, being a dinosaur means the old memory is not as sharp as it used to be.

Someone, somewhere, has the definitive workflow. Please find them and get them to tell me what it is!

Meeting Other Photographers: The Kit Divide

Canon v Nikon

I donâ??t know about you, but whenever Iâ??m at a party or friendly gathering and meet a fellow photographer for the first time, almost without fail, the same thing happens. There are the normal how-do-you-do type pleasantries, then you realise you’re both photographers and there’s some small talk and then, before long, the kit question comes up.

Other Photographer: â??So, Canon or Nikon?â?
Me: â??Canon. You?â?

At this point something very interesting happens. Depending on the answer, youâ??ve either made a new chum or, for all intents and purposes, a die hard enemy. OK, that might be putting it a bit strongly, but if youâ??ve been in this situation youâ??ll know what I mean. Providing you both use the same make of camera you get to chatting, often obsessively, about photography and before you know it your other half is annoyed with you because you still havenâ??t gotten her the vodka and cranberry she asked for an hour ago. Should the makes differ however, something entirely different happens. You make polite small-talk for a few minutes then, as soon as thereâ??s a suitable gap in the conversation, one of you makes an excuse about having to speak to someone else or needing to make a phone call and thatâ??s the end of that.

I donâ??t think it’s anything to do with not liking the other person, or even a lack of respect for the way they go about their jobs. There isn’t time to really learn anything about each other in those few short minutes, yet for some reason the different kit creates an insurmountable gulf between photographers. Of course if youâ??re friends first this doesnâ??t happen, but there will always be the tongue-in-cheek, slanderous remarks exchanged whenever the topic comes up.

Iâ??ve spoken to some of my photography chums and theyâ??ve found that the same happens to them too. Interestingly Iâ??ve just thought about it and without exception we all use Canons. There isnâ??t a Nikon among us? How odd.

I find this baffling. I wonder how many collaborative opportunities have been missed because one photographer uses different kit to the other. Itâ??s so short-sighted yet the majority of us seem to do it. Why is there such segregation between Canon and Nikon camps? Is there a group of Nikon users, similar to me and mine, who are pondering the very same question? If so, weâ??d love to hear your take on the subject.

Oddly, I’ve not come across too many photographers that use other manufacturers, but I wonder if the same divide is there too.

Now, weâ??ve tried to stay away from the Canon vs. Nikon debate on TDM. Mostly because we feel a good photo is a good photo and why should it matter what was used to take it? However, that being said, itâ??s always interesting to know what kit people use. So, what do you use? Canon, Nikon or something else? Let us know in the comments and weâ??ll come back to this at a later date with the results.

Cheese, Anybody?

Say Cheese

Traditionally (at least according to popular culture) we photographers are supposed to request our sitters “say cheese” when we photograph them, in order to get a smile. Obviously, we all know this is a rubbish technique which is never going to produce a satisfying, natural result.

A few years ago, a designer friend of mine was dating (and later got married to) an officer in the Royal Navy. She showed me a photograph, taken at a summer ball, of her with her chap and several other officers and ladies. I was immediately struck by the natural expressions on every person in the photograph, especially because they all had beaming smiles. I asked her how the photographer achieved this and she explained that it was actually down to her. She waited until he was about to release the shutter and then she shouted a “certain word” and trusted the photographer to capture the reactions, which he did perfectly. I’m not going to tell you what the “certain word” was, but it was a scientific name for part of the female anatomy – not exactly a rude word, but definitely not expected in polite company!

For a brief moment (but just long enough), everybody forgot they were supposed to be having their picture taken and reverted to being a bunch of people having a good time. This is exactly the opposite of what happens when you are asked to say cheese. Or at least what would happen – I refuse to believe any real photographer actually does this!

This got me thinking about how to get the right expression from the people in front of my camera. Not just how to make them smile, as it isn’t always a smile we are looking for. The answer is (broadly speaking) quite simple – you need to engage with the sitter. People look at each other every day. They make eye contact and study each other’s expressions for visual clues during every conversation or encounter. This does not make them feel self conscious. It is when we put the camera up to our eye that everything changes.

I have found that one of the ways that works best for me is to talk constantly, asking questions, saying anything which comes into my head. Talking about the sitter is always good as it is a subject they know about and will soon become absorbed, as long as you can jump in with a question or two when they pause. Silence is the killer.

If I’m looking to get a natural smile, I’ll often ask my sitter not to smile and then, depending on what expression they do adopt, I’ll follow with something like “when I said don’t smile I didn’t mean for you to look like a bulldog chewing a wasp” which will usually get a chuckle and I can capture the smile I want as they relax.

Thanks to my children, I have also found that variations on “say cheese” can work very well. When I say “variations” I mostly mean complete alternatives. For example, “say stinky cheese”, “say smelly sausages”, “shout hairy camels” all seem to have the desired effect, especially with kids who love the opportunity to shout something silly. The technique seems to work pretty well with adults too, who get so tied up in trying to work out if you are being serious and wondering if they sound foolish that they completely forget what is happening and I get natural expressions.

I recently came across a technique used to engage a young child who was refusing to cooperate with the photographer. The photographer told the child that if he watched the camera’s “eye” carefully he would see the camera wink at him. The child became totally absorbed watching the shutter winking at him and the resulting photos were wonderful. I have used this technique myself and it worked a treat.

On the many occasions that the sitter is someone you are meeting for the first time, it is worth building up a set of easy conversation starters. Obvious subjects are holidays, jobs, family, hobbies/interests, why are you here in front of my camera? – pretty much anything, actually.

The important thing to remember is to engage. Talking to people should be easy – we all do it every day without even thinking. And remember that your sitter is probably nervous and expecting YOU to be in control.