The Photographer's Car

OK, here’s a post about a vital piece of professional photographic equipment that’s very often overlooked - the Professional Photographer’s Car!  I’m sure I’m not the only professional who has spent quite a bit of time selecting the right vehicle, and then a little more time (and money) to get it functioning in a way that makes my professional career easier.

My 3 main considerations for choosing a car for work are:

  1. A boot big enough to take a lot of stuff, so I’m not always having to put the seats down and have stuff on display.
  2. A car small enough that I can drive around, and park in, central London without too much hassle.
  3. Decent fuel economy, as I do a lot of long distance mileage.

Now, the answer to the first point would often work against the other 2 - it would be very easy to go out and buy an Estate car but it would almost certainly be more thirsty than I would want, and it would be difficult to park and manoeuvre round London.  After a few experiments over the years I think I’ve found the solution.  Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Laurence:

Laurence, or Laurence II to be more precise.  Named after the actor Laurence Fox (check initials on licence plate...) not Lawrence of Arabia - that would be weird.

I’m on my second one of these cars, a Peugeot 3008, and I’m blissfully happy with it - an enormous boot, pretty compact and pleasant to drive, and it averages more than 50 miles per gallon.  Sorted.

Now, with that big problem out of the way, we can start looking at what extra bits I carry and how I make use of the storage space to do shoots, and make my job easier.


First off, the main course - filling the boot with gear.  In this shot you can see a typical load for an average job (although there’s no such thing as an average job in my opinion!)  All of this fits in the boot with room to spare.

 A boot full of gear.  Wherever possible use an assistant to load and unload it....

None of this is rocket science, but obviously put big heavy stuff in first, and on the bottom so it doesn’t crush anything more fragile, and leave vital stuff like the camera bag to hand near the front so it can be grabbed quickly.  I’m probably able to get away with just using the boot about 75% of the time, and only have to put seats down, or lay stuff across the back when I’m carrying backgrounds and the like.

Staying in the boot, there are a few bits and pieces that I’ve added that come in handy.  First off there’s an army issue poncho on the floor of the boot.  This is one of the most versatile pieces of kit I own, it’s been used as a groundsheet, it protects the boot of the car from the daily impact of all the kit, I’ve sheltered kit and people under it many times, and I’ve even slept under it on a handful of occasions when doing shoots with the armed forces.

The boot.  Clockwise from top left - the poncho, compressor etc in storage and on display, first aid kit etc, and the poncho being employed by lazy people on a shoot for Nokia a few years ago.

In the side pockets are a plug-in compressor to pump up the tyres, some cinch straps for securing stuff to the roof racks, and a multi battery charger, and on the opposite side a first aid kit, can of de-icer, and bin bags for emergency waterproofing and keeping things neat and tidy on location.

Back Seats

In one passenger door I keep a smock - and old, very battered windproof warm pullover, and in the other door is a lightweight waterproof.  Of course, if I’m heading out on a location shoot I take the right gear, but once in a while I get caught out by the weather, plus I’ve lent them to less prepared people on many occasions!  Beneath the front seats are two storage bins, the left hand one contains a silver foil space blanket, a change of socks and boxer shorts (in a waterproof bag), and a microfibre towel.  The right hand one holds a fire extinguisher.  It’s not a legal requirement to carry one, but I’ve been caught out once in need of one, though thankfully no-one was hurt!

Smock, waterproof, spare clothes etc, fire extinguisher.

Front Seats

In the “cab” I keep a copy of all important documents (driving licence, insurance etc) a notebook, some pens, spare fuses and so on in the glove compartment.  In the huge centre console, besides my ipod (absolutely essential) there is a pouch full of cables and chargers for various gear, an old satnav that doesn’t get used much anymore, 2 bottles of water, 2 cans of energy drink, and several cereal bars.  This console is chilled when the air con’s on, and it’s a godsend in midsummer!

Glove compartment, pouch of cables, and centre console.

In Use

Now obviously, I don’t end up using all this gear on every shoot, but sometimes I’m able to work right out of the back of the car and employ it as a base of operations.  Generally this happens when it’s lashing down with rain, and there’s nowhere else to go!  Although I’ve no pictures of it in use, I’ve actually made a “car condom” in the past, by taking a roll of clear plastic, and wrapping it around the open doors of the boot to create extra shelter, as well as rigging the poncho out to make a temporary roof.  When working in the wet, one of the most useful habits I’ve developed is to have strict wet and dry areas within the car - once your hands are wet, and your gear is wet, it can very easily spread everywhere.  If you keep a certain area dry, and make liberal use of towels etc, you should limit this effect somewhat, and keep your precious gear, and your sanity intact!

Shooting promotional images for the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest at Battersea Power Station.  Dean Macey is seen here sheltering from the weather, and stealing the food I keep in the centre console.  Also note plastic bags over the flashes, and everything being recruited to keep gear dry!

I appreciate lots of what I’ve suggested is common sense, and in some cases not very photography specific, but I’ve found that if I extend the same level of planning and care to my car as I do my other equipment it makes for a much easier life on location!


Handy Tips for Shooting in Wet Weather

I'm a location photographer, and that means that I spend a lot of my time dealing with the various elements that are thrown at me by the great outdoors.  This winter in particular has been wetter than usual, so I thought it would be useful to share some tips things I've learnt shooting in the great outdoors.  None of it is rocket science (few things in photography ever are....) and mostly it comes down to the old adage of being prepared, but hopefully it'll be useful.

First things first - keeping the camera dry.  Pictured above are 2 solutions, the one on the left is a KATA raincover, and the one of the right is an Optech, which is essentially a plastic sleeve with a drawstring at one end.  Both of these do a decent job of keeping the camera dry, however, neither is perfect.  For that you need to upgrade (as I have done very recently) to one of these.  The big advantage the ThinkTank one has is in the addition of an eyecup.  Even the expensive KATA one doesn't have one of these, and it make simply looking through the viewfinder very tricky indeed - imagine adding a layer of thick plastic that's always several mm away from the viewfinder and you'll see what I mean.

The Optech bags are useful in a pinch, but by design they're not very well sealed, and water will get in if you're out in the rain for more than a few minutes.  On the plus side, they're dirt cheap, and light enough and small enough to live in the camera bag all the time.

Moving on to keeping other equipment dry:

The best solution I've found for flashguns on location is simple zip-lock food bags, or sandwich bags - inexpensive, light, and very quick to fit.  Seen here in action on an old Army train in Salisbury Plain, moments before a deluge started.  I keep several of these bags in the side pocket of my portable flash kit.  For bigger lights, you just need more plastic:

This Bowens head has simply got some clear plastic sheeting wrapped around it, as well as visi-vest in a vain attempt to stop people walking into it!  It was being used to replicate daylight on a shoot last Autumn, and stayed outside in the rain for several hours quite happily.  Do remember to waterproof any power cables too though.  I've started using the clear plastic bin-bags my local council provide for recycling to cover any big flashes, as they're free, and large enough.

In  general, keeping stuff dry on location can become quite a task.  Water has this uncanny habit of just seeping in everywhere, and wherever possible create sheltered areas, or use covered areas as close to where you're shooting as possible.  Try and be strict about these areas though - delineate between a wet and a dry area, so that things like laptops, or spare clothing don't end up getting inadvertently soaked every time you come and go from the shelter.  I always keep an old army poncho in the car boot for just this purpose, as well as a smaller one in my tool bag - they can be draped over things, or even used to lay down on to try and keep me dry.  I also make sure there are a few towels around, as wet hands can very quickly spread the damp everywhere!

Here you can see a car full of gear, with some of it sheltering beneath the poncho, and some of it getting soaked, as someone's left the boot open.  You can also see Dean Macey stealing the food I always keep in the glove box.  

For this shoot I had to have the camera low down, and looking upwards, and keeping rain out of the lens in this situation is almost impossible.  Originally I enlisted the help of the lovely Claire to hold a golf brolly over the top, but eventually I rigged a magic arm up so she could go and do more important things.

I'm the idiot lying face down in the mud, in case you were wondering.

Which brings me on to an often overlooked point - keeping yourself dry and warm in these situations.  I'll be the first to say that I've often suffered physically for my "art", but ideally you should try and keep this sort of thing to a minimum.  Besides the general unpleasantness of being wet and cold, there's the fact that if you've ended up like this, you're probably not going to be producing your best work - your mind will be too focused on how crap you feel, rather than the job in hand.

Besides splashing out (do you see what I did there?) on some decent waterproofs, gloves, hats etc, I'd always recommend taking with you a dry change of clothes (I keep a set permanently in the car), and invest in little details like Sealskinz socks and gloves.  Always dress in a layering system, as this will help to wick moisture away from the bottom, avoid cotton next to the skin, and bear in mind that you may have to balance the needs of being on the move a lot with periods of standing around waiting for stuff to happen!  I can remember a particularly unpleasant half-marathon I shot last winter during some heavy snow - I was on a bicycle to allow me to get round the course, and had equipment hanging off me, so couldn't wear too many layers, otherwise I'd overheat in minutes once I started pedalling.  However, I was only shooting 5 specific people during the race, so I'd get ahead of them, then stand, waiting in the cold for them to come past.  At this point I desperately needed more layers, as my temperature predictably dropped very quickly indeed.  The only solution is to carry extra clothing, and add/remove it as required, but of course, this adds to your overall bulk!

 Shooting events like the Men's Health Survival of the Fittest often entails getting wet even when it's not raining, and I've started waterproofing my cameras even on dry days for these sort of events.  2 years ago, after shooting 5 in a row I noticed that both my 24-70 and 70-200 were making very unpleasant noises when the zoom ring was rotated.  Cue a very expensive trip to the repair shop to have them serviced and cleaned out.  A bit of clear plastic would have saved me several hundred quid, but because it wasn't actually raining at the time I didn't think to use it!

If gear does get soaked, at the earliest opportunity, open as much up as you can (i.e. take lenses off, open any dust covers etc) and allow it to dry out naturally.  DO NOT aim a hairdryer at it, or leave it on top of a heater/radiator etc.  Likewise be very careful when bringing cold equipment into a warm environment, you may need to warm it up in stages to avoid getting condensation in places you don't want it.  If you have some silica gel knocking around from the last time you bought some new gear, by all means leave a sachet sealed in a bag with the wet kit - I've been told Rice will do a similar job, but not tried it myself.  The watchword here is patience - drying stuff out naturally is going to take hours, not minutes.

3/4 of the way through a Survival of the Fittest race.  Note state of trousers.

There are many aspects where professional camera gear is worth the extra cash, but one that's overlooked is it's general build quality and weatherproofing.  In my experience, no pro DSLR bodies are truly waterproof, but they are pretty resilient to dust, water, sand etc, and consumer level bodies are often very vulnerable indeed.  I've fallen in a river with a Nikon D700 and a 24-70 2.8 strapped to me, jumped out immediately, laid the camera and lens out in the shade, and everything was fine 10 minutes later.  Worth the extra cash in my opinion.  Of course, even more worthwhile would be not falling in in the first place.......

Ziplock bags, and old Lynx helicopter, and some very sodden ground.

 The real challenge comes when you actually NEED the weather to turn nasty, say, you're shooting a load of waterproof clothing or something, and you've now got the challenge of keeping yourself and your gear dry, whilst ensuring the talent and the clothes look like they're taking on the worst nature can throw at them.  I find in this situation that a couple of people with buckets of cold water come in very handy:


The Long Creative Pause

So, in a follow up to yesterday's post about taking Short Creative Pauses in the middle of a hectic shoot, I want to talk today about taking what I call a Long Creative Pause.  I'm being very pretentious here, because I suspect most people call these things "holidays"!

Those who know me, or follow the blog at all will know that I'm one of those busy people, and not someone inclined to lie around on the beach or loaf in front of the sofa.  Last year, by my count, I did more than 150 shoots (see the Blackbox for more info) and whilst this was my busiest year on record, it wasn't way above average.  In fact, despite this, I took most of July off, and tried with some success to do the sort of things I want to talk about in this post.

My "office" for a few days last July.  The top of One Tree Hill in South London.

Now, on a basic, human level, we all need a break, perhaps me more than most, so the idea of taking time off is hardly controversial or original.  However, what I want to talk about is not just the notion of catching up on the latest DVD box set, or running up a large bar tab, but actually choosing to devote time to other constructive things besides directly making money/doing shoots/going out working.

You see, the problem is, when you're as busy as I am, is that whilst it's fantastic to have lots of people emailing and ringing up and saying "can you go and photograph this please", the massive demands on my time this creates, coupled with the amount of spillover that being self-employed creates, leaves very little time for anything that could be classed as career development.  By this I mean learning new skills, spending time thinking about what I really want to shoot, testing new equipment and techniques, and researching/looking at other people's work.

Shoots by their nature are very expedient - they need to take place at a very specific time, be done in a strict time frame, and delivered promptly.  All of these aspects mean that they naturally (and rightly) take precedence over something more nebulous like "getting better at Photoshop" in the day-to-day course of things.  So, the main thing about taking a long creative pause is actually devoting time to these less time-sensitive things, and shifting priority temporarily away from day-to-day demands.

So, the things I tend to focus on when I take a longer pause are:

  • Tutorials - particularly in my case Photoshop skills, and video editing/sound.  Both of these are still fairly new to me, as, although I've been using Photoshop for about 15 years on and off, it's only in the last 4-5 years I've actually developed any skill in it, and incorporated it into my workflow.  The same goes for video - I've been shooting videos for a couple of years now, but there are still a lot of areas where I need dramatic improvement.
  • "Working on my Work" to give it a catchy name.  By this I mean examining what I'm shooting, what excites me, and where I want to take it forwards.  Exercises like the Black Box, and the No Excuses exercise are part of this process, as is working on my Logbook (which I promise I'll finally blog about soon!).  This also involves lots of research into other practitioners - looking at other photographers and artists websites, going to galleries, reading books, and so on.
  • Shooting test shoots.  Sometimes these are directly related to the point above, where I try and move my work forward by shooting new and challenging work, without the constraints of a commission, and sometimes they're simply what I call a "technical test" where the results are highly unlikely to end up in the portfolio, but they may prove whether a certain lighting technique/photoshop process/triggering system works how I want it to.
  • Education stuff.  For me this consists of blog posts, as well as creating courses that I teach for Nikon, and at various Universities and Colleges.  Last July for example, although there was very little to be seen on this blog, I wrote something like a dozen posts for the NYIP, and created 2 one-day courses and an evening course for Nikon

The Logbook - I promise I'll blog about it in the near future!

Here are a few lessons I learnt from last July, as well as times I've failed to take a proper creative pause:

  • Actually make time for the pause.  It's one thing to look at next week's diary on Friday, see that the week is pretty clear, and say to yourself "I'll try and do some photoshop tutorials next week" and another to actually formally make space in the diary for it.  It's yet another step to stick to your guns when a client calls up and asks you to shoot that day.  If you don't make time for it I guarantee you other things will get in the way, allocating time for it is a much more certain way of getting things done.
  • How you deal with telling clients you're not available, when you've devoted that day to going to a gallery/watching tutorial videos/writing in your logbook is completely up to you.  You can try the easy white lie of saying you're already booked, but in my experience I found it was better to simply be honest.  Good clients will recognise that a more skilled and creative version of you will only serve them better in the long run, and they can probably manage without you for a couple of jobs.  Bad clients?  Well, we don't want to work with bad clients anyway....
  • Don't expect to achieve everything in one go.  It's very tempting to say at the start of a pause like this "By this time next week I will be a lighting genius/photoshop master etc etc" and then find yourself very disappointed when 7 days later you still don't know the difference between a selection, a mask, an alpha channel, and a barn door.  Like so many other things in life, set yourself realistic goals, and appreciate that learning is a process, rather than a conclusive thing, and you'll be far happier!
Now, before I sign off, I realise some people are probably fuming about the fact that I'm giving out instructions on how to actually work less, when most people are probably keen to get as much photographic work as possible.  I have 2 answers to this,  the first is that I can obviously only speak from my own experience, and as we know, I'm quite busy, so my problems will be specific to me, though I suspect some of the issues I identify are actually widely shared.

Secondly, a career in Professional Photography requires a huge amount of work, effort, and sacrifice over the years, and as such, it seems absurd to put all that time and effort in, only to end up at a place where you're simply working for the sake of it and fighting just to keep your head above water.  Taking some time to develop new skills, look at your work more closely, and focus your vision beyond the next 24 hours can reap huge benefits in the quality of your work, your own mental well being, and even, dare I say it, your bank balance!  A photographer who is creative, technically skilled, and in touch with the wider visual world is in a better position to charge more money than someone who simply grinds through every job with one eye on the pay cheque, and the other on the clock!


Birthdays and Creative Pauses (Short)

Happy Birthday to me (etc etc)

So, my 21st Photography birthday was on Saturday, and to celebrate I had a day off, after one of my busiest months in history, and then watched England just lose to France in the 6 nations (boo).  Someone was kind enough, and sharp eyed enough to notice that the anniversary was approaching, and sent me the rather lovely card pictured above - thank you Mr Andrew Ghosh, I'm deeply touched!

Yeah, another year older wiser and all that, except this year I genuinely think I've learnt a lot.  2013 was without doubt my busiest year ever, but I've definitely made some progress in the art of managing all the various elements that go into being self-employed, and working as a professional photographer.  Hopefully, if my workload stays sane this month, I'd like to share some of these lessons with you all.

The Creative Pause (Short)

One of the key things I've learnt in the last 12 months is the importance of taking breaks, something which those of you who know me will will appreciate I'm not the best at!  Besides the simple act of "not working" and taking time off, which we are hopefully all familiar with, there's the more professional sounding "Creative Pause" which I'd like to share my experiences of.

There are 2 types of creative pause, the long and the short.  I'll detail the long in another post, but for now let's talk about the short one.  A short creative pause is simply a brief full-stop in the middle of a hectic day, allowing you a bit of space to catch your breath and look around.

During a busy shoot, with a lot of demands on your time, lots of technical issues to deal with, various personnel fussing about the place, equipment failures and bad weather, it can be very easy indeed to get swept up by all this, lose your focus, lose your temper, and generally switch to "fight or flight" mode.  Everyone is familiar with the notion that when under stress the body switches to this mode, and whilst it can be life-saving in certain situations, in most cases when we're on a shoot, the physiological and psychological aspects of your body behaving this way can be very detrimental.  Your focus will narrow, you'll feel more stressed and anxious, and you'll probably be quite snappy and irritable too!

Photoshoots can involve a lot of moving parts, a lot of moving people, and rapidly changing conditions - like the weekly 5K park run storming through your impromptu studio!

The best way to fix this is firstly to recognise when it's happening, which is not always easy, but vital.  If you find you're no good at self-diagnosis in this regard, have someone you work with regularly agree a polite way of informing you when you're slipping into this frame of mind - ideally not by shouting about it in front of the entire crew!

The next, and even more important stage, is to relax.  Easier said than done, I know, but in fact there are myriad ways of achieving this, and I'd recommend experimenting with various methods until you find one that suits you best.  You can try progressive muscle relaxation, deep diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, and/or anything else that works.  Personally I use a self-hypnosis program I've developed as it can be done very quickly (less than a minute) and it's very effective in my experience.  However, I've had some coaching in these methods, so it's not something you can pick up instantly.  Probably the simplest and easiest methods to try would be progressive muscle relaxation, and deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

The benefits of taking this little pause are enormous in my experience.  Slowing down and looking around allows you to hit "restart" and remember what it is you're supposed to be shooting, something which may have drifted away from you during the course of a busy shoot.  It allows you to focus in on details that may have escaped you, as well as letting you pull back to view the bigger picture.  It can let you generate new ideas when under pressure - something I've done several times in the past 12 months.

Like any skill though, it needs practice.  Don't expect to be under pressure, and then with no rehearsal, drop into a relaxed, calm state.  Instead take opportunities to practice whichever habit you choose in more relaxed circumstances, then when you need to call on it, it'll be a well-developed skill.

I'll talk more about the Long Creative Pause in a day or two, but for now, practice relaxing!


2013 Black Box

2013 Black Box - Should open to a larger image, but I'm afraid you can't click on every image within it.

It's that time of year as always, in fact there's only a few hours left as I write this!  Above is my "Black Box" for 2013, and to quickly recap the rules:

  • I must pick one image from each shoot, but it must be the image that speaks to me most from the shoot - not necessarily the one that the client liked best, made the cover etc.
  • No ignoring certain shoots happened....
  • And for multiple day shoots, such as trips abroad, I allow myself 1 image per day.  Days when I do more than 1 shoot, but for 2 different clients count as 2 (or more, but it's been a while since I've done 3 different shoots in a day!)
So, some numbers from this year:

  • 153 shots, which is a new record total.  This is not necessarily a good thing!
  • Only 6 foreign countries travelled to - Hurrah for staying in the UK and not having to cart my gear around the world!
  • 26 Different Clients
  • Not shown are the 5 different courses I taught, some for Nikon, some for Calumet.
  • And I have no idea how many miles travelled, or shots taken.  I suppose I could look it up, but life really is too short.
On a personal note, I'm very happy with how the year's gone, as I took some time in July to reassess things a bit, and try and get some of my direction back.  It didn't pay off instantly, but simply taking some time out to think about things was very worthwhile, and I can highly recommend it.  

I'm just about to head out for a NYE party, so not in the clearest frame of mind for talking business, but I'm very optimistic about 2014, there are already some very interesting jobs on the horizon, and some of the personal stuff I've been working on is starting to bear fruit too.

Happy New Year, see you on the other side!


Upcoming Courses at the Nikon School

So, a couple of months back I was talking about teaching some courses at the Nikon School in London, and after a bit of mucking about, in which they had a break in, and I had stacks of work, we've finally got some dates in the diary.  2 are confirmed, and the third is just being finalised as we speak.

An expectant seminar room at the Nikon School....

First up, on the 28th November, a one day Introduction to Editorial Magazine Photography.  You can go and read (and book) all about it via the link, but in a nutshell:

• Working Editorially - working to briefs, developing flexibility, liaising with art directors, picture editors and journalists.
• Dealing with limited time and budgets - including lots of useful techniques and tricks that can produce impressive results with very little time and effort.
• Organising yourself - get all the basic production aspects right and your life will be much easier.
• Equipment for shooting editorially - a guide to what gear is essential, and what can be hired in, begged or borrowed.
• Delivery, post processing and editing - getting your workflow right will make your clients happy and allow you more time to do things beside work!
• The impact of video - what magazines are now asking for, and what you may be asked to deliver.
• An introduction to Copyright along with advice about licensing and contracts - some basic advice that will stop you losing money.
• Insights into fees, expenses, and getting paid - the stuff that everyone really wants to know. 
• Some thoughts on getting editorial work including thoughts on what should be in your portfolio - all pretty vital, and much simpler than many people expect! 

Shooting a Men's Health Feature.

The second course is called "Commercial Creativity", and is on the 4th December.   This one's a bit harder to immediately get your head round, but to quote what I've already said on the booking page:

"This workshop will discuss the importance of working with the images and artwork that inspire you, creating your own logbook that will be your constant creative companion, and the role your technical skill plays.
There are several exercises throughout the course, designed to start you thinking more creatively, and giving you starting points to develop in the future. There are also suggestions for further reading and investigation.
The course is recommended for those with some level of experience in photography, but due to the nature of the subject, is as suited to jaded and cynical professionals of many years standing, as it is to those just embarking on a professional photographic career."

The logbook - we'll be talking about this a lot on the day!

The way I'm thinking of it, is that it's an Arts Degree course in a single day, which is in no way very arrogant and presumptive of me, nope, not likely!  You can also think of it as getting an insight into the creative method, and a way of generating ideas on demand, rather than waiting for inspiration to hopefully strike!

There's also a 3rd course, which for now is going by the name of "90 Second Portraiture", but we've not got that one nailed down yet.  I'll let you know as soon as we have though!

Be great to see some of you there, I've not done any teaching in a while, and it's always very good fun.


My First Ever Roll of Film

Very little practical advice to be had in this post I'm afraid, but I'm sure it will be quite amusing all the same.  The other week whilst clearing some stuff out, I came across a box of old prints, including, of all things, the first roll I ever put through an SLR, way back in 1991.

The camera was a Chinon CE-5 (basically a Dixons own brand version of a Pentax) with a 50mm, a 28mm and a 70-150mm zoom, all manual focus, lent to me by my Father for my annual pilgrimage to Scotland.  My best mate at the time (Chris Jones - wonder where he is now?) was coming with us, and 6 months before he'd saved up and bought himself a Ricoh something-or-other, and seemed to be getting very into the whole photography thing.  As one does at that age, I wanted to do what he was doing.

Ah, the much-feared Quality Control Sticker!  I think I may have been trying to do some sort of slow panning thing here, and gone a little TOO slow on the shutter speed!

I had absolutely no training, other than what Chris had told me, and he had no training other than what he'd read in Practical Photography magazine.  We had a couple of copies with us, which we referred to avidly (particularly the section about glamour lighting - not that handy in the wilds of Scotland, but rather interesting to a 14 year old boy)

A Buccaneer, that had just waved it's wings at us as we were sitting having lunch.  It was that long ago that aircraft like this were still flying.....
The camera had an aperture priority mode, a manual mode, K-mount lenses, no motorwind, and erm, I think that's about it.  If there'd been anything more complicated on it I think I'd have given up and been too daunted by it.  

Highland Cow, not as fast moving as the Buccaneer.
The film was almost certainly just standard colour neg (I can't find the negs to confirm this) which would then have been taken to Boots for printing.  It was 2 more years before I learnt to dev and print my own Black and White film.  The catch to getting Boots to do the printing was that their machines were always set to even out as many inconsistencies, and so if you deliberately under or over-exposed a shot it would often come out just looking mushy as the machine tried to average it all out.  At least, that was my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Red Deer, given I only had a 150mm lens I must have got pretty close.  This is because I am a Ninja, and had spent ages crawling patiently on my belly!

The other big drawback in getting Boots to develop the shots was that the feedback loop between trying something out and seeing the results was very long indeed - generally days at a minimum, and often weeks.  Nowadays you take it for granted that if you're trying something out, you can set the camera a certain way, take a shot, review the image on the back, change the settings, and straight away see what effect it's had.  This is a huge boon in learning technical stuff, and without sounding bitter I know that the long feedback loop of getting prints back from the lab, and having to match them to notes I'd made in the field made my technical learning a bit slower.  Again, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Minnows eating cheese I'd chucked out of my sandwich.  I have a funny feeling I was trying to use a polariser on this shot, and yet there's still a reflection in the water bottom left.
 During this trip, and several more to come, I would walk the hills with my big, grey, shoulder camera bag, as well as my rucksack with my day's food/waterproof in.  Every time I wanted to stop and take a picture I would get everything out of the bag, attach various bits, uncap various things, and generally make quite a kerfuffle.  This would mean I would get steadily further and further behind everyone else on the walk, and would have to scurry along to catch up, only to fall behind again.  If I'd know then that 10-15 years later I'd have upwards of 12KG of camera kit strapped to my back on adventure races and 30-40 miles to cover on a bike, I think I'd have given up there and then and chosen a different career.

Self-timer group shot.  Perhaps crop in a little tighter in future Tom?
 Landscapes and wildlife were undoubtedly what I focused on, and on that whole roll I think there are only 3 frames with any people on at all.  It took me about another 2 years or so before the magical breakthrough of "oh my god, I can make all my male friends do very stupid things, and all my attractive female friends take their clothes off", and that of course was partly due to developing more confidence with the camera.

Odd light leaks - they're on the neg, but not on any other frame.  Can't quite fathom how they happened. 
 The only piece of kit I still have from this era is a small grey blower brush, and I carried it in my camera bag until a couple of years ago.  That is, until I thought I'd lost it.  Pathetic though it sounds, I went into a panic, later found it, and now it sits safely on my desk at home.  I think the notion of losing my last physical connection with my ancient past was too much to bear, and it had become some sort of talisman.  Sad bastard.

Portrait of Mum.  A bit more confidence needed when approaching human subjects - they're not Red Deer!
Lately I've found myself hankering after shooting film again - purely for personal pleasure you understand - not on jobs.  I think what I'm trying to recapture is that feeling that each shot had to matter, and therefore I put more thought into pressing the shutter each time.  Don't get me wrong, I don't "spray and pray" every time I shoot these days, but let's be honest, it's a bit easy to rattle through frames with digital isn't it?  Such habits do lend themselves to being a bit more careless with what, how, and why the picture in question is being taken.  My last 2 main camera bodies have each had nearly 200,000 frames through them when they were retired - enough said!

Seagulls in action.  Not terribly bad when you consider I only had a 150mm manual focus lens, and no idea whatsoever about shutter speeds!
 Just last week I wandered past a secondhand camera shop, ambled in, and very nearly spent a few hundred quid on a 6x9 Horseman.  All that stopped me was the knowledge that I'd probably prefer either a 5x4" or a 6x6 TLR - both of which I've got a fair bit of experience using.  I don't think I'll be able to resist temptation for too long though.

The Sound of Mull.  Landscape photography rapidly became my first love, a love which only dwindled as I realised how little money there was to be made from it.  That, and the fact that I got addicted to taking portraits!
So beware of digging too deep into your past, it can be revealing, mildly amusing, and even possibly educational, but there's a decent chance it'll end up costing you a bit of money sooner or later.  Look out for me on the streets of London in the near future, dressed in hipster jeans and specs, and with a leather-bound old Horseman slung round my neck, snapping away and pretending I'm getting in touch with myself.....