2017 03 - Professional Photography

12th March 2017
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
2nd March 2017
Images by Robert Mallows

Professional Photography

New speaker, Robert Mallows, travelled from London to give us a memorable talk. He started in photography almost 40 years ago, and after his initial photographic studies he began work in 1977 as a professional photographer with BRE, who have employed professional photographers since 1924. BRE provide professional imaging for environment, construction and engineering applications. Initially they constructed environments for many of their pictures and later for their fire safety videos. Digital photography has meant they now shoot on location.

Robert also works freelance and he explained some of the challenges he faces today. Photography is very different from 10-15 wars ago. Clients’ focus is more on budget than just quality and their requirements must be delivered. This impacts on all areas of his work - you have to get the shot right for the client. Night shots of commercial premises mean advance planning to ensure the correct internal lights are left on to show the building to its best effect. Surprisingly many buildings have copyright attached to them, so Robert has to identify from the architect if commissions or fees need to be paid.

Robert also cited working within London Underground where the need to maintain the service meant they could only work after 12mn on a Sunday when lines could be closed. Teams of engineers were employed to ensure the electricity was switched off to the lines and crews were needed to transport large batteries and lights, etc to light up the tunnels.

Photographs taken in public spaces or working environments inevitably include people. Obtaining consent to publish used just to relate to children but now is required for all people. A "model release form" is used for small numbers but is impractical for large crowds. Venue / event tickets often have a small print clause on the back of stating that shots may be taken and used; notices may be displayed at public events and event participants may be obliged to consent to photography as a condition of taking part.

Aerial photography brings its own challenges. Robert and his colleagues have learnt to invite the client along so they can appreciate the difficulty and ensure the correct shots are taken. While in the past they used a helicopter piloted by "a mate" whereas today they hire helicopters costing approx.. £1,000 / hr. This focusses the mind on careful planning so that once in the air they know exactly where they are heading, can locate the subject, which is not as easy as it sounds, and get the shots quickly. Prevailing weather has to be worked with, but the time of day and approach have to be taken into account. Flight planners use apps to ensure the angle of the sun will be optimal at the target site on arrival.

Lack of contact with the subjects on the ground during shoots mean they are unable to point out "eye sore" objects that need moving or tidying. They must be cloned out later. Stabilising the camera can be difficult whilst flying and the need for an open window it makes it incredibly cold. They have tried drones but due to the nature of inner city areas and the altitude required, the results have not been good.

Robert shared some fascinating statistics about Wembley Stadium where he works freelance as the photographer for stand-alone events ranging from European Football Cup finals to concerts by artists such as Ed Sheeran, AC DC, Take That, Beyoncé, Coldplay and the forthcoming Adele concerts.

The stadium’s top tier (level 5) seats 40,000 people compared to Retford's population of approx. 20,000 people and its perimeter is 1km - a long way to cover when relocating between shots!

Robert discussed his kit. The demands of the job in this enormous stadium mean he selects not only for technical requirements but also on being compact and portable to enable him to the right place at the right time. He uses two full frame Nikon cameras - a D3S and a D800. The D3S has a motor-drive making it his camera of choice for sports events while the D800 is a high resolution camera with the facility to use different lenses. Robert has found the best lenses for him are a 24mm wide angle and occasionally a fisheye - equivalent to a 16mm on a full frame camera. His longest lens is a 70-200mm. He prefers to crop into larger images to get the precise shot he needs.

For musical concerts Robert has improvised his own version of a ‘selfie -stick’ using a strong monopod with a long cable release. He puts his heavy camera on the monopod with a wide angle lens and is able to capture images of the crowds at concerts. Knowing his equipment completely is vital to working as quickly as possible. Without the luxury of time that we amateurs have, he only ever has one or two attempts at a shot and has to get it right first time.

One of his favourite photos from a Wembley concert was planned, knowing in advance that Ed Sheeran would ask the audience to light up their mobile phones and hold them up after a particular song. He knew his cue to dash to the best location for the shot, which is on the stadium website.

Robert doesn’t take photos for himself but because he is paid to. He must keep the client’s requirements in mind when he is shooting. Robert's images record the infrastructure changes as the stadium is converted from one event to the next. Judges speak dismissively about record shots, but here they are required as they provide an inventory enabling everything to be put back exactly as it was.

Event sponsorship is enormous and sponsors like photographic evidence of the impact they made. Photographic event portfolios are very useful for sponsorship sales staff to demonstrate what they can do for prospective clients.

Food is an important part of the Wembley offering, especially to corporate hosts. Always challenging to photograph in its own right, where food intended for consumption is the subject, time is also an issue. Food Hygiene considerations dictate that food is only put out an hour before it is eaten, meaning that Robert has to plan carefully in advance. He has a Triple A pass giving him access to all areas and calculates how to take other required shots and also be in the hospitality areas for the maximum time. Being organised is vital. Sponsors, 'MasterCard', have 688 food outlets at Wembley – and there are four other sponsors too!

Robert always shoots in RAW and uses Adobe Lightroom for processing and finds it invaluable for organising the many images he takes at an event. He will use Photoshop to clone out items such as a waste bin that he had not noticed during a crucial shot.

Robert spoke with passion and enthusiasm for his work, but his closing comment was that he was looking forward to retirement so that he would be able to take pictures that he wanted, for himself rather than always at the request of others.