What I Learnt from Ansel Adams

Tree and Sheep Overlooking the River Dart

Tree and Sheep Overlooking the River Dart*

Not, unfortunately, from seeing and hearing the great American landscape photographer personally but from his autobiography published just a few years before his death in 1984.  The book, as well as being a an enjoyable and captivating story of the life of a working photographer at the start of the 20th century, is also full of good, solid advice for today’s photographers.  Advice that is probably more relevant than ever in a world of throw away images where we dwell on photographs for milliseconds before swiping up/down or right/left and assigning them to the great bit-bin of digital trash.  Adams made images to last, both in terms of their content, choosing timeless themes of landscapes and nature, as well as in how he printed and published images for future generations to appreciate.

Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902.  He initially trained as a pianist, which was to be his intended career, until a trip with his family to Yosemite in 1916.  He wrote of his first view of the valley: “the splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious…. One wonder after another descended upon us…. There was light everywhere…. A new era began for me.”  His father gave him his first camera during that stay, a Kodak Brownie box camera, and he proceeded to photograph anything and everything with his usual hyperactive enthusiasm.  From then on Adams embarked on a career in photography revisiting Yosemite, as well as many other National Parks, hundreds of times over the course of his life and amassing a huge number of negatives as well as publishing books and prints and exhibiting his work all over the world.

Adams was not only a photographer but a great conservationist as well.  He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club, the influential environmental organisation founded by John Muir 1892.  Adams tirelessly lobbied to create national parks and protect the environment from destructive development projects.  He used his photography to show us not just the beauty of the world but what would be lost if we did not protect it.

As well as taking (or making) photographs Adams also did much to raise the status of photography as an art form, both in his work with galleries like the Museum of Modern Art in New York and also through his writing and teaching.  It is in his writing that not only does his passion for photography come across so strongly but also his ability to explain its importance and legitimacy as an art form.  His great insights into the medium are a rich source of knowledge that we could all learn from, a few snippets of which I share here.

1. You make a photograph, you don’t shoot or take it.

This might seem a trivial distinction, what difference does it make as long as the image is captured?  Adams point though is this.  The terms ‘shoot’ and ‘take’ imply a conquest or an appropriation over something that is not yours.  The photographer’s job is not to take something away but to create something from what is already there.  Photography, as much as anything, is an attitude.  It’s about building an empathy with your subject, no matter if it is an inanimate object or a living and breathing being.  Once empathy and understanding is achieved then you can begin to make great art.

2. Photography should be a collaborative undertaking.

The popular image of the lone photographer working in war torn parts of the world, trekking over rainy hilltops or working in isolation in her darkroom though at least partly true is not the whole story.  Photography, like any creative endeavour, is about sharing.  Both the photographer sharing her knowledge but also being willing to learn from and be inspired by the work of others.  This means not just work of other photographers but in the wider creative and commercial world as well.  This is definitely something Adams excelled at.  He seemed to know personally just about every great photographer that was alive at the same time as him** and was humble enough to explain how they helped him form and shape his own view of the world through photography.

3. Your photographs should reflect your values.

Adams said “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in its entirety.”  Adams was not just a passionate photographer but was also passionate about nature and tried to reflect both the grandeur as well as the minutiae of the natural world that he experienced and observed in the images he created.  He saw photography as a means of “expressing [this] affirmation and of achieving an ultimate happiness and faith”.

4. Be prepared for the unexpected.

Adams is probably most famous for his large format images of Yosemite taken with heavy box cameras requiring considerable perseverance, not to mention strength, to haul up mountain sides and along rocky pathways to capture one or two images before the light changes and the opportunity for an image passes.  Sometime however a transient images makes an impression on the mind and you need to be ready to capture it.  Adams relates a story of when he was driving with Edward Weston and passed a large field on “whose distant edge was an interesting assemblage of weather-beaten planks and posts”.  They stopped the car retracing their steps and went back to make the picture.  You always need to be prepared to capture that transient image and these days of course, with small carry anywhere camera, not to mention smart phones, there really is no excuse to not get that image.

5. Photography can tell the truth but can also be twisted and deformed more than any other art form.

In a letter to Dorothea Lange in 1962 Adams writes of his concern at how photography, when it tells the truth, can be magnificent, but when it is twisted and deformed it can be compromised more than any art form.  Adams was talking about the documentary photographers of the day and how they focussed on ugliness, squalor and despair rather than the beauty of nature and the world of man.  He wanted photography to show how we can have a better life and not to just “suggest the unfortunate aspects of existence”.  In many ways Adams was an idealist, perhaps because of his somewhat cosseted upbringing and prolonged exposure to the happier aspects of nature.  I wonder what he would think of how today’s photographers can literally manipulate any image and change it for their own means and give almost whatever message they want?

6. Photography, like any art form, requires hard work and lots of practice, there are no short cuts.

It’s generally recognised that in order to be good at something, whether it be computer programming, brain surgery or playing a musical instrument, you need to practice.  How much practice makes you good or even great is a source of constant debate but it does not seem unreasonable that the more you do something the better you’ll get at it.  Adams makes the point that for some reason photographers don’t think they need to practice much in order to be good, or preferably great, at their art.  In photography, more than any other art form, people seem to think that because they own a camera then they must be a photographer – something that is probably more endemic today than ever.  Why is this?  After all if I buy myself a Fender Stratocaster I don’t automatically become a guitarist or if I buy some paints and brushes I don’t become a painter.  The tools do not make’th the artist.  Adams said that “the siren calls of the hobby obscures the necessary extractions of art” meaning that we can get too seduced by the technology and buying gear for the sake of it than practicing how to make great images.

7. Hasty visits to a place can result in inconsequential images.

As he grew older Adams became less interested in travel to other parts of the world preferring instead to concentrate on creating images of his own part of the world along the California coast of which he said he could “work for a century, exploring with eye and lens”.  Whilst you might point out that California is a particularly photogenic part of the world to see out your days in Adams does have a point when he says “one must live in a region for a considerable time and absorb its character and spirit before the work can truly reflect the experience of the place”.  Maybe this is something we should all consider more.  Not just because no matter where we live there is almost certain to be a photographic treasure trove to be had on our doorsteps if we just look in the right way but also because as the impact of global tourism becomes better understood we could all benefit from staying at home a bit more.

* The image in this post is my own little homage to some of Ansel Adams’ tree images and was made using a Fujifilm X100F which I have had for just over a year now and will be publishing a 12 month review of shortly.

** Margaret Bourke-White, Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques Henri Latrigue, Dorothea Lange, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston,  to name but a few.

Fujifilm X100F 12 Month Review

It’s just over 12 months now since I upgraded from the Fujifilm X100T to the X100F so I thought it was time to post a quick update on my experiences of shooting with this camera over the last year, as well as show some recent images taken with it.

Like most cameras these days in this price bracket (around £1200) there is very little not to like about it or the images the camera produces.  Clearly, as a fixed lens, APS-C sensor camera you have to live within the ‘limitations’ this comes with.  You are not going to buy this camera for high speed sports photography, for videography or if your primary motivation for making images is portraits or macro photography.  As a go anywhere, ‘street’ camera which is light (it weighs less than 500g) and easy to carry, aesthetically pleasing to look at and intuitive to use it is second to none however.

A few weeks ago, whilst on holiday in Devon, I decided to make the X100F the only camera I carried to see what type of images it would be capable of making.  All of the images below were taken with the X100F over the course of that week.

My primary motivation for buying the X100F was as a street camera.  When used for street photography I put the camera in aperture priority mode with auto-ISO and set the default sensitivity to ISO 200, the max. to ISO 3200 and a min. shutter speed of 1/125s.  Unless subjects are very fast moving or it is a particularly dull day this allows most shots to be at least exposed correctly even if framing is out.  Having an APS-C  sensor does allow for some cropping to isolate subjects further if needed.

So what is my verdict of this camera after a year of use?  First the plus points:

  1. The camera looks gorgeous and is a pleasure to use.  It screams “use me” and makes you want to pick it up to take out and make some images.
  2. Image quality is superb over the complete aperture range, even at f/2 and f/2.8 (which I use a lot).
  3. The film simulations on the camera are a nice choice, no gimmicky filters just the type of thing you actually find useful.  That said I tend to select these during post processing rather than select them in camera, preferring to just capture RAW images.
  4. By and large all the buttons and dials and menu items are where you’d expect them and fairly intuitive.  The card format option is buried a bit too deep in the menu system for my liking but I suppose this means there is little chance of accidentally formatting a card!
  5. The clever hybrid viewfinder, giving you the option of shooting in either optical or electronic modes, is pretty cool although I tend to use it exclusively in electronic mode.
  6. The small joystick/focus lever immediately to the right of the back screen makes focus point selection easy and quick and is a good addition over earlier X100 models.

In terms of negatives, like I said earlier there really is not a lot to dislike about this camera but a few annoyances are:

  1. The battery/SD card door sometimes pops open when in use, the latch not being very good.  A few times I’ve been wondering around with this camera and looked down to see the door open.  Whilst it is very unlikely the card or battery will drop out the door feels a bit plasticky and could easily get knocked off.
  2. Lack of waterproofing is a bit annoying for a street camera.
  3. In a desire for the retro look Fuji have even made the ISO settings a dial rather than a button or menu selection.  It’s not that easy to change ISO settings whilst shooting therefore (although there is a way of assigning the front wheel to this function).
  4. The camera sometimes has trouble focussing when there is a lack of hard lines or contrast but not frequently enough to make you miss too many shots.

The X100F is the fourth iteration of Fujifilm’s X100 series and to be honest it’s difficult to see how the camera could be improved.  Water proofing or at least water resistance would be good to add but apart from that the camera is pretty much perfect in my view.  I don’t plan to exchange or upgrade it any time soon and think it’s going to give me a good few more years of use.

 

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Review – The Ideal ‘Street’ Bag

Billingham Hadley Pro - The Idea Street Bag

Billingham Hadley Small Pro – The Idea Street Bag

As I’ve said before, more than once, I’m a big fan of the wonderful camera bags made by M. Billingham & Co here in the West Midlands not far from where I live.  Their bags are not only good looking and stylish they are incredibly durable and long lasting.  My original bag, a Hadley Pro, was purchased in 2006 and is still going strong.  I use it either to carry my portrait kit when travelling to a shoot or as a messenger style shoulder bag, to carry a laptop (and small camera) when travelling around on business, by removing the protective insert.  I also own the Hadley Large which I use to store/carry all my gear.

The Hadley series is one the original range of bags made by Billingham and as well as the  original Pro and Large they also make the Digital, Large Pro and Small.  I used to own the Digital as well but, although a great bag, found it a bit too small to be useful when out and about.  Even if carrying just one camera I like a bit more room to carry additional ‘stuff’.  I’d looked at the Small as an alternative but always wished it had a carrying handle which is quite useful when you’re travelling with others cases or a backpack and need to not always have a shoulder bag as well.

When visiting this years Photography Show at the NEC I was pleased to see that someone in Billingham must have been having similar thoughts as they had just released the Small in a Pro format with a carrying handle as well as a few other new features.

Hadley Small Pro with Carrying Handle

Billingham Hadley Small Pro with Carrying Handle

Other differences from the original Hadley Small are that the shoulder strap is now detachable, which presumably means is replaceable (not that any of the straps on my other bags show any signs of wearing out any time soon).

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Detachable Shoulder Strap

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Detachable Shoulder Strap

Two other additions are that on the back there is now a document pocket with a waterproof zip (a clever plastic film that covers the zip and peels nicely away as you open it).  There is also a strap for fitting over the handle of a wheelie case so if you find yourself whizzing around an airport and don’t want your bag falling off your shoulder you now have another way of securing it.

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Back Pocket and Luggage Trolley Strap

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Back Pocket and Luggage Trolley Strap

The new Small Pro bag has the same two adjustable front pockets as the original Small which are secured with brass studs (no velcro anywhere on this bag).  The studs are heavy duty and feel really secure making them safe from potential pickpockets as you’re walking around with the bag.  The bag also has the traditional Hadley removable padded insert.  The insert comes with two vertical and two horizontal dividers though shown here are just one vertical/horizontal pair.

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Internal View

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Internal View

There were a couple of reasons why I wanted this bag.  First off because I wanted something a bit bigger than the Digital so I could carry my Olympus OM-D with the M.ZUIKO 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO fitted as well as one other (shown here the M.ZUIKO 45mm f/1.2 PRO).  The bag holds these snugly with the single vertical and horizontal divider as shown below.  The OM-D fits either lens down or on its size, albeit minus the battery grip but that’s fine as that does make the camera a bit more obvious if you are using it for street work.

Billingham Hadley Small Pro with Olympus OM-D

Billingham Hadley Small Pro with Olympus OM-D

I also wanted something for my street photography which was small and discreet so the colour was important.  Billingham make some amazing (and luminous) colours for their bags but for street work discreet and restrained are what you need so a black bag is more the order of the day.  The Small Pro is available with black leather trim but I opted for the black and tan leather in the end as I decided it gave a nice mix of style and discreetness.

It's a Billingham!

It’s a Billingham!

In use the bag is everything you would expect from a Billingham.  It’s tough and weather resistant (the latter not tested yet as we have actually had sun and no rain here in the UK for the last week) as well as very light to carry (the bag itself weighs just under 1Kg).  Although you could load this bag up with quite a lot of kit it’s not something I plan to do as I don’t want the extra weight or bulk when out on the streets for a long period of time. The padding in the bag is also excellent, really protecting your kit and the adjustable dividers mean you have lots of options for configuring the bag for your own needs.

As with all canvas strap bags if you are wearing the wrong type of jacket it does have a tendency to slip off your shoulder but that’s easily fixed by adding the optional shoulder pad or wearing the bag across your chest.  The additional features of carrying handle and back pocket are useful and well designed and a good incremental addition to an already nice looking bag.

If you like this style of canvas, shoulder bag with a slightly retro look and feel there really is not a lot to dislike about it.  The bag is not cheap (£200 from the Billingham web site inclusive of UPS delivery) but as I say it’s incredibly strong and durable and will pretty much last forever I suspect.  Definitely worth a look if you’re in the market for a  nice compact ‘street’ bag that won’t let you down come rain or shine and give many years of service.

Portraits with the Olympus f/1.2 Pro Lens

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lens

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lens

The rule of thumb for the ideal lens for portrait photography is that the focal length should be about twice that of the ‘normal’ lens.   For micro four thirds cameras that would amount to a focal length of 50mm.  The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro lens pretty much falls into that ‘perfect focal length’ zone therefore.

Olympus have had a lens of this focal length for a while and a dam fine lens it is too.  The f/1.8 lens is a superb piece of glass and wonderfully compact, I have had one pretty much since it was released.  Late last year however Olympus released a new lens at this focal length with an even greater maximum aperture of f/1.2.  You can read all technical stuff on this lens here.

The lens is bigger than it’s f/1.8 sibling and definitely has a more solid feel to it to earn its ‘Pro’ label.  This also means it is significantly more expensive, that extra stop pretty much making it six times more expensive at current retail prices here in the UK.  Although bigger, the lens is nicely balanced on the OM-D E-M1, especially with the optional battery grip in place.  According to Olympus the lens has “feathered bokeh” which, to be honest, I’ve no idea what that means.  The lens certainly has a nice creamy blurring effect with good drop off from the subject to the out of focus areas.  Whether this is better or indeed more “feathered” than any other similar class lens I’ve no idea.  It does certainly exhibit good ‘regular’ bokeh though.  Like the OM-D body the lens is also dust-proof, splash-proof and freeze-proof so both these bits of kit should make them pretty much a go anywhere combo’.

I’ve tried the lens on a couple of portrait shoots so far and the results are suitably impressive.  Is the lens worth six times more than its f/1.8 counterpart? Probably not in the short term but its solid, all metal construction and weather sealing certainly means it should last for a while to come and over time will pay for itself (that’s my excuse anyway).  Enough discussing this lens though, here are some images from the shoots I’ve done so far.  First of the model ‘Mal’…

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/800 @ f/1.2

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/800 @ f/1.2

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/1000 @ f/1.2

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/1000 @ f/1.2

Side Lighting with the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/5.6

Side Lighting with the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/5.6

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Finally of the model ‘Kirstin’ with makeup by Laura May MUA…

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/10

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/10

Kirstin Gribbin

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/9

All images taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 (Mk I) using Elinchrom lighting, including the new deep umbrella, as well as natural light.

Photoessay: The Desolation of Dorridge Park

SMBC Notice of Work

SMBC Notice of Work

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC), using a grant from the European Union, have been performing “tree thinning” at my local nature reserve which is part of Dorridge Park.  The work was carried out over a period of just under two weeks in February.  During this time the contractors closed off the woodland area where the tree thinning was taking place for safety reasons.  As a result it was difficult to see exactly what was happening behind the roped off areas however it was interesting to see the large number of neatly piled up logs that were being lined up along the pathways, awaiting removal and sale by the contractors.

It was only after the woodland area was reopened to the public that the true devastation wreaked by the contractors could be seen.  Large areas made completely devoid of trees;  pathways that once meandered through a pleasant woodland area rendered virtually impassable by deep, sticky mud; trees felled but not cleared; waste bins left upturned with rubbish and bags of dog excrement falling out; water flooding over paths because it is no longer stopped by trees  and bird nesting boxes hanging off trees.  The whole area has been left completely desolate looking, more like something from a First World War battlefield than a nature reserve with birds singing and wild flowers and animals.

Overturned Bins Spilling Out Rubbish

Overturned Bins Spilling Out Rubbish

A Muddy Clearing

A Muddy Clearing

Discarded Contractors Equipment

Discarded Contractors Equipment

Uncollected Logs and Chopped Down Tree

Uncollected Logs and Chopped Down Tree

A New Clearing!

A New Clearing!

What Used to be a Path

What Used to be a Path

A Broken Up Tree

A Broken Up Tree

What Used to be a Tree Laden Path

What Used to be a Tree Laden Path

No Birds Live Here Any Longer

No Birds Live Here Any Longer

Water Soaked Pathway

Water Soaked Pathway

Solihull Council have replied to a number of concerns with this statement: “Now the felling and extraction is complete the contractor is in the process of repairing the damage caused by site traffic or otherwise consequent upon the works.”

It will be interesting to see if this does happen, how long it takes and what the wood finally looks like.  I’d also be interested to know if an EU grant will be forthcoming to aid with the damage repair.  Let’s hope SMBC get their application in before March 2019 if that’s what they plan to do.

Tellingly SMBC also responded to my tweet saying they will be “putting in place additional measures based on our experience and observations”.  It would appear this is not the only park to have suffered a similar fate at the hands of contractors but let’s hope it is the last.

 

 

Portraits with the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella

As a location portrait photographer who likes to be in control of his lights it’s important how much lighting equipment I need to carry (i.e. less is more) and how quickly I can setup and take down my lighting.

I use Elinchrom D-Lite RX’s (I have a ‘2’ and a ‘4’) their standard umbrellas and a Rotalux Octabox softbox together with a couple of Manfrotto light stands.  This all packs up reasonably compactly into one light bag and a couple more bags for the lights stands and the Octabox.

The Ocatbox is a wonderful piece of kit giving lovely soft light for portraits however it does have two disadvantages.  It takes a while to assemble and disassemble and, if you are shooting in a confined space, it is quite large.  Ideally what you need is a combination of the speed of assembly and disassembly that an umbrella gives you together with the softness of, well, a softbox.  Enter the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella.

I took a look at these umbrellas at this years Photography Show and liked what, on the face of it, seemed to be the perfect all-around light shaper i.e. one that could be set up in a jiffy while offering a nice soft and versatile quality of light (and at an affordable price, even better).  As the nice people on The Flash Centre stand were offering a discount I decided to extract my credit card and buy the 105cm deep white version.

The umbrella has a real solid feel to it and, given it’s covered by Elinchrom’s three year guarantee will, I’m sure, give a good few years service.  It also comes in a nice shoulder bag like the Octabox does but is obviously a bit smaller.

The umbrella can also be used with an optional diffuser which wraps around the open end of the umbrella and over the flash unit.  Whilst a great idea it somewhat takes away from the rapid set up and take down of the unit which is its real advantage so I opted not to get that.

Here are a few images of the model ‘Mal’ taken with the deep brolly.  The first three are using it in the traditional beauty lighting mode (with a reflector beneath Mal’s chin).

The last three images are with the umbrella to one side of Mal giving a darker and moodier look.

So what’s my verdict on the deep brolly?  In short, I’m impressed.  Even without the optional diffuser the light is nice and soft and can be directed more than a traditional umbrella.  The unit is very easy to set up and is nice and portable (packed into its bag it’s not much more than a meter long).

There seems to be very little difference in light quality between this and the Octabox unit.  I will continue to use both but probably the latter will be better used in a studio where there is more room and I have more time to set it up.

All these images are taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the fantastic Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens, a great portrait lens, more of which later.

The Photography Show 2018 – Four Photographers

Another year and another Photography Show at the National Exhibition Centre is over.  Whilst it’s always nice to walk around looking at all the shiny gadgets that are on display this year, more than ever, I feel I have benefited from listening to what some of the working pros have had to say about their approach to photography and where they see the profession going.

I visited the show on the Sunday and Monday this year.  The first day, as ever, was spent familiarising myself with the layout. Nikon and Canon inevitably had two of the biggest and brashest stands placed strategically at either end of the hall; appearing to ‘glower’ at each other along the interconnecting walkway.  The rest (Olympus, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic et al) also had fairly decent sized stands where they were showing their wares by attracting the punters with photo ops as well as talks from well known, and not so well known, photographers.  There were also the different stages and theatres where speakers gave talks, presented their images and ran demos.  Finally of course the main UK retailers were all there, Wex (who now own Calumet), London Camera Exchange, Camera World and, my favourite, The Flash Centre.  This year also had a fantastic exhibition by the Magnum photographer David Hurn called ‘Swaps’ which showed by David’s own images as well as those he had swapped with fellow photographers like Henry Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold and Harry Gruyaert.

I think one of the strengths of The Photography Show is the good balance it seems to strike between talks and speakers, the manufactures showing off their ‘stuff’ and the retailers trying to sell the gear.  You can see the virtuous circle they are trying to create here: go to a talk or demo and get interested in a bit of kit; wonder over to the manufacturers stand to have a play; go to the retailer to buy it.  Job done.  I guess the challenge that the conference organisers have is to ensure the punters don’t spend too much time doing any one of these activities at the expense of the other two.

On the second day I spent most of my time attending talks, both of people whose work I knew (Mary McCartney and Peter Dench) and those I did not (Jason Lanier and Holly Wren).  Naturally all of these photographers have very different styles and approaches to their photography but all of them brought some particular insights into the contemporary photography scene I thought it would be informative to share here.

Holly Wren was speaking on the Nikon stand about how she moved from hobbyist to pro in five years and shared her five tips for how she did just that.  Holly is a lifestyle and portrait photographer, is self taught and gave up a well paid job to become a full-time photographer at the grand old age of 28.  The top tip for me from Holly was on the importance of investing in your own projects to learn something new and to give yourself a safe environment in which to make mistakes without the risk of upsetting a client.  Photography, like anything else, is a learning game and if you don’t continually invest in your own practical learning based projects you won’t succeed in this very competitive profession.  Holly’s advice was also to specialise by spending as much time as you can on your chosen photographic genre and to be known as a specialist rather than generalist.

Jason Lanier is a new name to me in the photographic world which says more about my lack of connectedness with the YouTube generation of photographers than his own fame.  Judging by the size of his audience (the theatre literally had people standing in the aisles) I was in a minority in terms of people who knew him.  Jason is from the US  and has that typical American brash style of self-promotion and in-built assuredness of everyone being a salesman.  Jason was talking about the importance of social media to promote yourself and your work.  His advice was to get yourself a YouTube channel and start to ruthlessly market yourself by producing videos.  Link these to a good and regularly updated blog which Google searches will easily find (hint: use of appropriate hashtags and names for blog posts will help here) and you can sit back and watch the work (and cash) flow in.  Interestingly Jason’s advice was the opposite to Holly’s in that he recommended you don’t specialise but shoot as many different subjects as possible.  In his view its just important you get out there shooting never mind what it is you shoot.

And then there was Peter Dench.  Peter is the polar opposite of Jason Lanier, a quiet unassuming man who started his talk by apologising for the small size of his audience (don’t worry Peter, it was nice to hear an intimate talk from such a dedicated and professional photographer).  Peter’s talk was about how to take advantage of your photographic heroes (without taking advantage of them).  For the purpose of  this talk he discussed the books of three of his heroes Martin Parr’s, The Last Resort, Paul Graham’s A1: The Great North Road and Tom Wood’s, Looking for Love. As it says in the talk description these ‘heroes’ for Peter were all practitioners who “inspired him to pick up a camera as a young man and continue to pick up a camera as an older man.”  Peter showed his own images alongside some of the originals from the three books which were a homage to his heroes.  In particular was his own tribute to Paul Graham’s book, the A1: Britain on the Verge, his own personal analysis of a changing Britain during Brexit.  This was a wonderful talk and I really do recommend you take a look at some of his great work.

The final photographer of the four is Mary McCartney.  Mary, I guess, would be the most famous of these four, not just because of her family name but also because of the commissions she gets and the people she photographs.  This talk was on the Super Stage (i.e. a paid for by the punters gig) and was done in the style of a chat show where Mary was interviewed.  Mary is very much a people person and places a big emphasis on the importance of trust (which she says comes from the closeness of her family growing up in an extreme media spotlight).  Trust, she says, is vital if you want to get inside the person you are photographing and gain a deeper insight into their personality.  To be honest this interview style of presentation is not my favourite.  Previous Super Stage events I have seen have just had the photographer stand up and discuss their work whilst showing their images or videos.  There were a very limited number of images in McCartney’s talk and they were on a loop so the same ones were shown over and over.  Whilst they were great images it would have been nice to see a few more.

Oh yes, and one more thing.  The Canon stand had a presentation from Clive Booth, the director of a short video about Sir Don McCullin’s photography assignment in Kolkata which you can watch here.  It’s truly amazing to watch the 82 year old Sir Don, ducking and diving around the streets of Kolkata like a 22 years old.  A great inspiration for all of us to keep on photographing for ever and a great end to the show.