2017 01 - The Life of a Photographer

21st January 2017
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
18th January 2017

The Life of a Photographer

John Gardner, a commercial photographer from Wakefield, was booked very recently when the proposed speaker was unavailable. It was an inspired change as he proved an extremely interesting and informative speaker. John turned his back on a career as an IT specialist fourteen years ago to chance his luck in the world of professional photography. It was an uphill struggle at first but he is now 'doing OK'.

He titled his talk was 'Another Day at the Office' - and a very varied 'office' it turned out to be. John described starting out afraid to get up to take a shot on portrait night at his home club, and as a quiet, shy person. He credited his photography with a big personal change after realising that results depend on communication with his clients to ensure he knows their requirements of and for the images and with the models - professional or otherwise - so that they know what is being asked of them and to put them at ease.

We were treated to some of John's earlier work when he indulges his personal passion for nature images. He had lovely bird shots from home and abroad and some glorious insect shots taken using macro techniques. In common with many of our previous speakers, John extolled the virtues of out of focus backgrounds to make the subject stand out. This is achieved using good lenses capable of low f-stops around 2.8 to 5.6. He also likes to shoot through out of focus foreground material - often vegetation - to achieve an individual and attractive effect which really draws the eye to the subject. This of course must be in pin sharp focus to make the effect work.

Some speakers stress the importance of a tripod for most shots, but John finds them restrictive and has trained himself to hand hold even his big 500mm lens to maximise flexibility and the ability to pan and capture birds in flight. He likes to shoot with his camera set to ‘manual’ to ensure total control of what he is doing and from a low position at eye level with his subject or below. A lot of lying on various uncomfortable surfaces seems to be involved.

Commercial photographers know there is a market for speculatively taken images. It is important to be aware of the needs of potential customers if you plan to sell this way as opposed to through pre-arranged shoots for customers. Clients can often be magazines etc. which need room to the side of an image to insert text or smaller images. Aware of this, John has become a fan of 'editorial' or negative space to the side of the subject. This style is often referred to as giving the subject room to move into and is particularly favoured by judges when considering images of birds, animals and insects.

Flowers and fungi can be given similar treatment to animate subjects, though the discussion of these images included dire warnings about the lethal dose of the death cap fungus for which apparently there is no antidote. The moral seems to be shoot it but don't eat it unless you know what you are doing.

The second half was much more varied in content and accompanied by a lot of useful technical information which will help members attempt to emulate John's techniques. He likes street photography and showed some examples. This has enabled him to develop a construction strand to his work, working with building companies to show their product and workforce in a modern and attractive light.
An enjoyment of taking candid shots of people has come about as John's confidence has grown. He has had to learn to take effective portraits of people in many situations. Company brochures and marketing materials often require images of the people involved, so the photographer as to be able to quickly scout backgrounds and develop a technique for bringing out the best in his subjects. Any walk into a public place may present a chance of a shot. At costume events John's practiced eye enables him to spot a scene and a pose. He is happy to ask the people involved to stand where and how he would like while amateurs try to sneak a shot.

We learned how John's portraiture across the range from company personnel through to ballet, tattooed girls, fashion and nudes is all heavily reliant on flash. He has established a personal style of using flash to light his subject while darkening the background to great effect. This works equally well indoors and out. We learned that the exposure controls the lightness of the background while the f-stop controls the amount of flash. Knowing this is key to being able to create the desired dramatic or moody effect.

With all his controls set to manual and total control of the lighting conditions John can ensure they don’t change even if his viewpoint does. He is a fan of cross lighting and prefers a 70- 200mm lens for portraits. He will mix tungsten and flash lighting to create an evening look and likes a lighting set up which made it look as though the light was coming from a table lamp or through a window. Subtle colours in the lighting achieved with coloured gels on the flashes were very effective.

In conclusion we learned that to achieve soft, flattering pictures of women it is ideal to use a lot of soft light as close as possible. To create a rugged look for men, highlighting muscle definition, the reverse is required.