In this post I’m going to go through the basic approach I take to preparing for the photography jobs that I’m offered. This is effectively a checklist of the steps I go through, although I’ve done them so often by now I don’t need the list to remind me.
My goal throughout is to give clients the best, most useful images possible. I don’t try to apply my style to their job, in fact I’d hope I don’t have a style, rather I try to figure out what they need, then figure out how to make the images.
By preparing thoroughly in advance and knowing exactly what I need to do going into a shoot I have more time to work with people and be creative on the day.
On the DSLR camera I use for most of my photos and video work, it’s possible to shoot video and hit the shutter button to take a photo while the video is recording. So that’s exactly what I did, to make a fun little ‘through the lens’ video.
I’ve just finished shooting a short film for Torfaen Police that was complicated enough that it required a test shoot in advance. The test footage is very, very rough but it’s also pretty interesting so I wanted to share.
This is the first in a series of blog posts discussing some tips and ideas related very specifically to taking photos professionally. This is actually a very different concept to just taking good looking photos – I hope why it’s so different will become clear as we go along.
These tips mostly won’t be camera tricks or photoshop techniques, but things which are more subtle, less often discussed and probably more important. And also pretty simple!
I like learning new things which is lucky because I have to constantly.
Over the last three days I’ve been taking part in a short cinematography course run by University of South Wales’ film school. The course is run in association with Skillset and partly funded by Academi+. For me this was a chance to talk to people who know as much as anyone about a bunch of extremely technical things, and get to play with a very nice camera.
My goal in life is to do lots of interesting things before I die. Go places, meet people. Do stuff.
I love learning new things and trying to understand the world. And I love making things.
That’s why I do the kind of work I do. Photography, video and 1000 hidden things that need to get done.
I love my job: I get to go places, meet people, do stuff…
These may or may not be the five best experiences I’ve had with my job, but they’re the first five that spring to mind.
1 – Shooting In Cardiff Jail For The Big Issue
People live in Cardiff for years at a time and never see any of it. Human beings locked up in a building with very tall walls.
On the other hand, most people who live here never get to see inside that building.
I waited to be let in with people visiting their relatives, listening to their chit-chat but very deliberately not getting involved. There was a cursory check of my ID but no search of my camera bag for cakes/files/guns and I was taken inside. Every 10 yards there’s a heavy door or prison-bar gate to be unlocked and then re-locked by the guard escorting me. We might only have gone fifty yards but the constant unlocking/re-locking and the twisting route mean I very quickly have no idea where I am or where I’m heading. I’m locked inside layer after layer of metal and concrete with people who have killed other people.
Prison is really f-cking scarey.
I’m not going to post a photo from this shoot. It was a long time ago and it wouldn’t be fair to the people in the pictures. Instead, here’s a picture of the sky above Cardiff.
2 – No Gallery in Barcelona
There’s an organisation I set up and help run called NoGallery – an art gallery without a gallery. “We do art. We exhibit work. We do not need permission or approval.”
I started NoGallery because I know loads of creative people who make amazing stuff but never show it to anyone. They have no outlet. They get a degree in art then go work stacking shelves for the rest of their life.
Also it’s another motivation to do my _own_ work, not for clients, but for me.
At 3:10pm on the 9th of December last year I was gliding down a sunny hillside in Barcelona on a rented bike, leaving the bizarre deserted fairground I’d just discovered at the top of a mountain, heading back to the city and the sea to drop off a few more pieces of art before the sun set.
The sky was blue, the breeze cool, and the music on my headphones felt like my heartbeat and a cat’s purr. All was right with the world. I had a purpose and a plan.
3 – Live Feedback
I’d wanted to get involved in photography for films and TV for years.
One motivation: how do they do that? I saw many things happening visually in films that I couldn’t work out how to do even in a single still photo. No other photographers seemed to be able to do it either.
To cut a long story short, the answer is money, time and specialisation. Hundreds of people might work on a feature film for several years and many of them have spent their life getting great at one tiny little skill, like sitting in a dark room all year laboriously painting out wires used on stunt men or tracing hairs from a green background.
Let’s say a photo is the equivalent of about 1 second of a film (it’s probably a lot more, and yes I know standard movie playback is 24fps).
A big film might cost $100,000,000 and last 100 minutes. That’s a million dollars a minute. Or nearly $17,000 a SECOND. I’ve never been paid $17,000 to take a single photo (yet) and I’d be very interested to find out if anyone ever has.
In the meantime there’s a lot to learn from film making. My first involvement was with It’s My Shout, a project that helps young people in South Wales get experience in the film industry. For about a decade they’ve produced 6 or so short films each summer that get premiered on a cinema screen (location varies) and then shown on TV, nowadays on BBC2.
I got involved with It’s My Shout through my work for Newport University (I’ve shot marketing/promo stuff for them for years) and pretty soon I was mentoring other photographers, working with directors, creating marketing materials and shooting films or them.
I love making movie posters. I’ve made about 20 for It’s My Shout alone, and a few motion posters or ‘Motos’ like these two. Make them fullscreen, press play and wait for… something.
Back to the point… one moment that stands out for me is a screening at one of their film premieres. Six films that had been made during the previous summer were being shown in Porthcawl Pavillion. I created a slideshow set to music of my still images from the making of those films to act as a trailer and introduction to the films.
It was good seeing my images on a big screen but I was shocked at the end when the audience cheered and applauded. That’s never happened before. Usually I send my images off to clients and sometime later they show up in a magazine or a website or even a billboard but there’s no real feedback from the people who see them. Here people were applauding my work. Very, very weird.
Here’s a slideshow from 2011:
4 – Making People Cry
Of the many types of work I’ve done, photographing weddings is probably the hardest. There’s incredible pressure to get it right. It may be the most important day of someone’s life and it’s literally unrepeatable. Everyone involved is hyped up and emotional.
In the photography industry wedding photographers are often looked down upon, but I disagree. There are some very talented people attracted to shooting weddings because it’s one creative endeavor where if you’re good and persistent you can make the kind of money you deserve.
I’ve never made anyone cry on their wedding day.
But several times I’ve been with a couple as they view an album of my photos from their wedding for the first time and my pictures and the memories they bring back have made them so emotional they ended up in tears. That means something to me. To touch people like that.
5 – Night Swimming
This was only a few weeks ago. I was doing still photos and some BTS video for S4C during the filming of two new promos for their re-brand, one in a gym and the other in Cardiff International pool. As is often the case this was a last minute thing. I got the call on Thursday, the call sheet at ten to five Friday and the shoots were Sunday and Monday night. And by night I mean night: midnight-6am.
The call sheet said “please bring an underwater case for your camera”… which I didn’t have. A proper underwater case for the DSLRs and lenses I use is a quite specialist and very expensive bit of gear, there’s no reason most people would own one.
But… I could buy one. I ordered a case for my Sony RX100 (a GREAT compact camera that shoots RAW, full manual, lots of pixels and not too much noise) Friday night. I worked all weekend on other stuff, had a fashion shoot for a property developer for 14 hours on Monday so had to get my mum to come to my house to wait in for the underwater housing to be delivered. It arrived, I tried it in my sink then went straight to the pool for midnight.
At about 5am most of the work was over and I was in the dark, blue-lit pool on my own, skimming across the bottom, tired but happy.