The Art of Survival

I sit writing this piece just after having completed 10 years in business, first as an assistant, who also shot some stuff, and for the last 7 ½ years, “officially” a photographer. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, simply being in business for 10 years is an achievement in it’s own right. So well done me, aren’t I clever?

There were 34 people in my year at college; we all graduated in 1998, and by current estimations 3 of us are now fully-fledged photographers, who earn their living solely from taking pictures. Another 2 or 3 are making some money from their photography, and another 4 or so are involved in the industry in some way, with jobs ranging from studio managers to art therapists. What about the other 24? In truth, apart from one or two, I couldn’t tell you, as we’ve all naturally lost touch over the years, but this industry is small enough, and Google is such an efficient way of finding people, that I can be relatively certain they’re not working in photography any more.

Analysing why some succeeded as photographers and some didn’t is obviously a very complex question, and not entirely relevant to an introductory business guide. All the same, the 3 of us from my year who are still taking pictures share quite a few things, which I feel are very appropriate to someone starting out in business:
  1. We were all prepared for the long haul. This is as much a psychological issue as a business/financial one. All 3 of us understood that we would have to spend a significant amount of time assisting other photographers (roughly 3-4 years each) before we would be able to go out on our own. Even then we understood that success would not happen overnight. We didn’t give up within 18 months because we hadn’t shot the cover of GQ yet.
  2. We didn’t spend much money on ourselves. I know I went without what could be termed a “proper” holiday for 5 years, and the others were pretty much the same. The occasional weekend away, no problem, but anything costing hundreds of pounds and involving lots of time away from the office and the phone was a bit of a no-no to begin with. For “holiday” you can also read; expensive clothes, elaborate social lives, fast cars, drug habits, loose women, and effing big televisions. In essence we were boring. Likewise, what surplus money we had we invested in our businesses. Either directly in terms of camera equipment, software and computers, or indirectly in respect of websites, business cards, training and so on.
  3. We understood from the beginning that we needed to be businesslike and professional in our approach. This stemmed right from our behaviour on jobs as an assistant, through to our “business image” both online and in the flesh, all the way down to simple things like answering the phone properly and avoiding the temptation to lie in bed on days when we were not shooting.
  4. We kept looking ahead, and to the best of my knowledge we’re still doing so. Once we’d achieved a certain thing (say, shooting a magazine cover) there was always a new challenge over the horizon. As soon as we’d mastered one technical approach, we’d try and find another and so on. This also manifests itself in our behaviour towards our clients – we always feel there’s something more that we can improve on, whether it be something mundane like the delivery of finished discs, or stumping up more work through a long process of marketing and sales.
Of these, it boils down to 2 things – Professionalism, and long-term thinking. It is my considered opinion, based on much of what I see in the commercial photographic world, that you can be an average photographer, but succeed in business with a hefty dose of these 2. By comparison, I’ve seen many very creative snappers fall by the wayside early on, as they lacked these characteristics, despite their amazing artistic ability.

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Where Work Comes From

I've been meaning to do this for ages, but was prompted by some recent questions at talks I've given, plus a post on the Pro/Semi-pro forum on Flickr. Here, in spider diagram form is where my work has come from over the years:

Clicking on it should take you to the Flickr page where you can download or view a larger version so it's a bit clearer. The key is:
  1. Black for starting points
  2. Red for photographers I assisted
  3. Green for people who may not have employed me directly but were instrumental in getting me work
  4. And Blue is for clients - usually magazines.
First, a few basic principles:
  1. This is a simplified version - I have deliberately only included my main sources of income, rather than clients I've only worked for once or twice, or photographers who I assisted for just one day. If I'd shown you everything it'd be hugely complicated.
  2. In my descriptions below I've kept things to a bare minimum, again to keep things simple. To this end you may wonder how in some cases I was able to move from one place to another, but all will be explained at the end.

Now, a fuller explanation. Let's take each starting point in turn.

1. Aop Work Experience. Organised for me whilst I was in my 2nd year at college, and involved coming down to London for a week to get work experience with some Advertising and fashion photographers. One of them was Jonathan Root, who I worked with for 2 days, and then never heard from again. The other was Zanna, who I worked with for 2 days, stayed in touch with, came to visit and work with again several times throughout my final year, then when I left college started assisting on a freelance basis almost straight away.

Through her assistant, Ross (I was 2nd assistant at this time), I later got work with a photographer called Wolfgang, and through him I met the girls at Maxim. I went in to see them with my portfolio not long after I stopped assisting, and expected to hear nothing back, as my work wasn't up to scratch in those days. 2 days later, Marco, the art director at Men's fitness (same publishing company, Dennis, and their desks are about 10 metres apart) called with a shoot for me. That was September 2001, and I'm still working for Men's fitness now. Through Marco I got to know the deputy editor, Andy Dixon, and a while back he left to become editor of Runner's World, the publishing company of which then launched Triathete's world, both of which I shoot for, and funnily enough Marco is currently the art director on T.W.

Going back to Zanna, one of her regular clients, and mates, was Deirdre Callaghan. Deirdre was very good mates with a commercials director/creative director/art director called Graham Fink, who I worked for both as an assistant, and then later as a photographer once he'd started his own company. I met Paul Myatt through him, with whom I did quite a lot of assisting work as well.

Back to the Dennis publishing line (Maxim/MF) - after a quiet beginning I started to get regular work from Maxim itself, mostly portrait and feature work, which continues to this day. Through being known at Dennis publishing, I started shooting events and other odd jobs for them - things like awards do's and so on. It was at one of these that I met the staff of a new gambling magazine - Inside Edge (now Inside Poker), and after shooting their launch party, started shooting portraits for them. About a year later, Dennis launched Poker Player, and I was asked to do more of the same for them as well.

Backtracking slightly, through Wolfgang, I met and worked with Sam Riley, who was art director at a magazine called "Later". As you'll find out in a bit, I'd already shot for them, but I got a couple of last jobs with them, from Sam, just before they folded.

2. Howard. Howard was in the year above me at college, and in October of my first year in London (1998) he called to ask if I could come along as second assistant to a bloke called Iain McKell. Along I went, and worked for Iain on and off for about 9 months. Whilst working for him I met Jo Miller, who at the time was the picture editor on Maxim, and she gave me a few little shoots of my own to do for the magazine, so I ended up working for Maxim even before I was working for them, if you see what I mean.

Through Howard I also met Laura Knox. Another friend of mine from Howard's year at college had been her assistant, but was "graduating", and I went along to do a day's work with her fairly early on in my career. We spent most of that day giggling like idiots, something which has continued to this day, as she's still a good mate, despite not having worked for her since about 2001. Laura shared an office with 2 other photographers, Julia and Ed, both of whom I ended up assisting fairly regularly.

Off the back of Iain McKell I met Steve Read. Steve was an Art Director who was now trying his hand at photography, and he knew Iain from comissioning him for "Loaded" magazine. he asked Iain if he knew any good assistants, Howard wasn't available on the day in question, and along I went in his stead. I worked for Steve for about 9 months, and can't repeat much of what we got up to, as I'd get us both in trouble! Within a short time Steve had me shooting small jobs for the "special project" magazine he was working on called "Later". That's how I got my first work published in a national magazine! He left for LA in the summer of 1999, but his deputy at the magazine kept using me for small jobs here and there on Later, and then when she moved to go to the Independent on Sunday I carried on shooting for her, and it was this work which allowed me to graduate out of assisting. Through Later I also scored a fairly large shoot for Loaded fashion magazine, on the basis of Steve praising my "technical skills" to anyone who would listen. After Kate left, my work with "Later" dried up a bit, until I met Sam Riley, as mentioned above, and the circle was rounded off.

3. Carol Rogerson. Carol was engaged to a very good friend of mine at college, and had always been an Art Director, initially on small circulation magazines in Manchester. When we all headed down to London she started working for Slimming magazine, and initially gave lots of work to her Fiance. Eventually work commitments meant that he couldn't keep doing it, and I started filling in for him on a regular basis. I shot for slimming for about 2 1/2 years - mostly portraits and features. It was on one of these features that I met a freelance journalist called Mike Harris, over Christmas in 2003. 6 months later I got a phone call saying "Hi, it's Mike here, I'm editing a golf magazine now, and I need a snapper". Despite never having been near a golf club (in both senses of the term) in my life, I did a shoot for him, for the short-lived "Total Golf" magazine, and it started an avalanche of work that continues to this day. From "Total" I followed Mike to "Golf Monthly", and it's sister (pardon the pun) title, "Women and Golf". Those 3 have made up roughly 25-30% of my work since mid-2004.

4. The BIPP. I passed the BIPP's PQE (Professional Qualifying Exam) at the end of my college course, which entitled me to automatic status as an Associate of the British Institute of Professional Photographers. This included being listed on their website, with it's very efficient "find a photographer" search engine. This alone used to bring in about £1500 - £2000 a year in PR and small scale commercial work. The vast majority of this was one-off clients who just wanted a quick "grip and grin". However, a company called Words and Pictures, who produce in-house magazines for companies like AIG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Asda, found me through this site in mid 2004, and I shot tonnes of stuff for them up until early last year. I also shot quite a bit for PWC directly, as I'd built up a relationship with their own people besides those at W+P.

So, what does all this tell us, other than that I appear to be a jammy sod?

Well, first off, it doesn't even say that really. If you look at all my "lucky breaks" (meeting Steve Read, Wolfgang and so on) they didn't come about randomly. I was already in a position where I could not only take advantage of such opportunities, but in such a place where the opportunities actually existed. To make it really clear, imagine if I'd ducked out of moving down to London at the end of College, and had instead set up in the Midlands. I would never have met any of these people, or had any of these "lucky breaks". It's because I moved down to London, and put up with the miserable wages, the long stretches without work, no social life, no new clothes or holidays, that I was not only presented with these opportunities, but could exploit them when they appeared.

What amazes me sometimes with the people I encounter, and I'm talking here about Students, Work Experience folk and assistants, is how often they don't see what's in front of their eyes. When I was offered the work experience from the AoP in my 2nd year at college, it was just that - offered. It wasn't forced upon me, and about half my year at the time didn't bother to apply for it. It was through staying in close touch with Zanna that I was able to secure freelance assisting work as soon as I moved to London, and because I'd not stayed in touch with Jonathan Root, that door was slightly closed to me. These days, as someone who gets regular emails from people asking for work experience, and tries to use them wherever possible, I'm stunned at how few don't make the minimal effort required to stay in touch. If you don't enter the competition, you can hardly expect to win can you?

Further along this line of reasoning is "why did I keep getting given these opportunities, and not the next guy?" Beyond the simple fact of being there, was the fact that I worked bloody hard, and was always keen, despite some incredibly long hours and tough conditions. Probably the hardest ever point was a shoot with Zanna for Vogue, back in December 1998. We spent roughly 3 days one week building sets and suchlike, all day Sunday pre-lighting and setting up, then 3 days of 15 hours each actually shooting the fashion story, followed by a half day on Thursday to break the set. For this I was paid for the shoot days, at a rate of £35 a day, with a £50 concession thrown in for the other days. This was probably the toughest it got, but there have been many contenders for the prize!

My point is that it's very competitive out there, and whilst it's not necessarily a case of whoever's still standing when the music stops gets the work, it's not a million miles away. There were far better photographers than me in my year at college (graduating 10 years ago) who are now not shooting. Whilst there will inevitably be lots of reasons for this in each individual case, I can think of a few who simply fell by the wayside when things didn't go their way or got tough.

Moving past assisting, I believe the main reason I kept getting work after nudging my foot in the door, was that I was a safe pair of hands. I'm on time, my gear works, I understand and can interpret briefs, I don't get lost easily, I don't spend the entire shoot chatting up the model or Make-Up Artist, I can handle celebrities without wetting myself and so on. Most art directors would love to employ the best photographers on the planet every day, but they simply can't afford to, and the next best thing is someone like me who gets the job done with very little hassle.

I also can't ignore the work that came in from the BIPP website, and I include it here to make the point that you should always have a "professional presence" so that potential clients have somewhere to look at your work and some way to contact you. In the case of lots of PR and basic commercial work, it's usually enough for a client to look at a few images and be content that you can handle the job. I've stopped doing all this sort of work over the past couple of years, as frankly it bores the living crap out of me, but it's possible to make a very good living out of it with very little effort if it floats your boat. Whatever line of work you choose, making sure your website works and is up to date, having business cards about your person, and generally being amenable and pleasant to get along with will serve you pretty well for a very long time.

So there you are, some very big secrets about how to actually get work as a photographer. Despite the fact that this post has dragged on for ages, it really is the heavily edited version - the world's not ready for the full story just yet.......

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Shooting Celebrities - A Beginner's Guide.

Jonah Lomu in a small bath.

Taking portraits of celebrities is not something every photographer ends up doing, or even aspires to end up doing, so this may be something of a specialised post. All the same, I feel that much of the advice I'm going to offer is relevant to any portrait shoot, as there's so much common ground. These days, with the exception of absolute A-listers, I treat a celebrity shoot just the same as any other portrait job. That is to say that I approach all my jobs with the same level of professionalism, regardless of whether the subject has just released a new album, or if they're the secretary of a golf club.

So I can validate some of what I'm saying, here's a brief list of some famous folk I've shot over the years:

Richard Branson, Tim Westwood, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie, Ricky Hatton, Jean Claude Van-Damme, Dara O Briain, Darren Campbell, Dermot Murnaghan, Jerry Springer, Armand Assante, Jonah Lomu, Jodie Kidd, Bobby George, Danielle lloyd, John Reid, Tessa Jowell, Andrew Strauss, Sophie Wessex, Matt Dawson, Jimmy Carr, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Devilfish, Victoria Coren, Eammon Holmes, Kyran Bracken, Sir Roger Bannister, Phil Hellmuth, Goldie Lookin' Chain, Gilberto Silva

This is only an edited list (and it's a pretty odd list when you look at it)- there's several others, but I think I've made my point! All the links got to the relevant page on Wikipedia, just in case they're not as famous as they think they are and you've never heard of them! There's lots of others I could add from my assisting days, but since I wasn't actually behind the camera I think that would be cheating.

Anyway, enough of blowing my own trumpet, how do you turn what could potentially be a very intimidating encounter into a memorable shot that keeps your client happy? Well, in one word: Preparation.

Be Prepared. (And yes, I was a boy scout once upon a time)

  1. At a really basic level, do your essential pre-production work. The link goes to a post that will give you more detail, but at the risk of repetition - know where you're supposed to be, when, how to get there, what you're taking, who you're meeting, what facilities you can expect, how much time you'll have, what sort of shot the client is after and so on. This is the same for any shoot, but celebrity shoots have a tendency to be very short and sweet, so you need to have everything ready. To give you some idea of how short and sweet, I photographed Jean Claude Van-Damme in 45 seconds, and Tessa Jowell in 12. Both of these were official shoots - not grabbed on the street or anything like that. That's simply how much time they permitted me. It's not the time to run out of batteries, or try out a new lighting technique. Mind you, I did spend all afternoon in the pub with Dara O'Briain earlier this year, so it's not always like this.
  2. Do some background research on who you're shooting. Primarily this is so you can get a grasp on who they are, what they've been up to lately and so on. This can give you ideas for shots to try and get, provide subjects for conversation (or subjects to avoid!), as well as preventing you from shooting something that's already been shot. Some of this might seem daft - surely these people are famous and we all know what they're up to? Well, I for one don't watch the telly, and I hardly bother to read the papers either. I certainly have no idea what's happening at the "tabloid" end of the market, and neither do I want to. Yes, I'm a cultural snob and proud of it! On a recent shoot I had to do the full monty and read up as much as I could about the subject I was photographing, as even though she's been on the front page of the tabloids many times, I didn't know her from Adam.
  3. Get your technical stuff well sorted in advance. Make sure every bit of gear is functioning properly, fully charged, cleaned and so on. If the opportunity to set the shot up beforehand is available - do it, and get someone to stand in (the art director, your assistant, a passing dog) for some test shots. Then once the real deal arrives simply slot them into place, and away you go. I've still got stacks of polaroids from my assisting days of me "sitting in" for people prior to them turning up on set. If you think you'll be able to get (or have been requested to get) several set ups done, then prep as many of them as time permits. It's at this point that the stuff you've been doing in No.1 above will tie-in nicely, as you'll already have a good idea of the location and so on, so you should be able to set up and shoot accordingly.
  4. Have your ideas already sketched out and as ready to go as possible. Obviously your ideas will be tying closely in to the brief you've been given by your client, but at the same time it's worth having a range of them. This is for two main reasons, the first is that you can never be sure which ones will work, or which ones the celeb will simply go "no" to, and the second is to try and present your client with something more than they were hoping for. The first of these is perhaps the most critical, and I tend to have a few "fallback" ideas in mind in case my hero shot doesn't come off. Despite the impression given above of quite rigid sounding setups, the key thing is actually to be flexible. Lots can change on shoots like this - the subject can turn up late, refuse to be shot outdoors/indoors, the weather can change, they might refuse to take their shades off (it's happened to me twice!) and so on. If you've got a range of ideas to play with, you can just roll with the punches on this one.
  5. Now is not the time to try a brand new lighting technique, or give some new equipment a test run. By all means, if you've got lots of time with the celeb, and they seem amenable to it, go ahead and muck about - you may get some fantastic results. However, your client is expecting something usable on their desk, and if all they get are lots of unprintable experiments there may be trouble ahead! If you're keen to shoot something particularly interesting and arresting, brilliant, but make sure it's something you've already perfected elsewhere. The other facet of this problem is that if you're mucking about, and generally looking unsure of what you're doing you will give off the impression that you don't know what you're doing to your subject. This can be a bad thing. At worst they may simply leave (no, really), and at best you'll destroy any rapport you've managed to build up. This applies on both a creative level, with respect to the ideas you come up with, and a technical level, with regard to how you shoot and light something.
So that's the basics. Now onto something a little less tangible - the psychological side of things. I'd be the first to admit that if you're just starting out, being asked to go and shoot someone famous can be more than a little intimidating. If you didn't feel nervous, you wouldn't be human. One of the best ways to build your confidence is by following the methods prescribed above. If you know that all your equipment works, that you've got lots of ideas to fall back on, that you've got lots to chat with the celebrity about, and you arrive nice and early with ample time to set up, then your confidence in yourself and your abilities will naturally rise as well.

Part of this nervousness seems to develop because in our current culture we seem to think of people who've gained some level of fame as superhuman, when of course in reality they're pretty much the same as you and me. Admittedly they might earn a bit more, and get recognised on the street, but they still have good days and bad days, and in my experience the best way to behave around them is to act normal. Just be friendly and polite - though not too friendly! Out of all the celebs I've worked with down the years, the vast majority have been polite, down-to-earth, and businesslike. From their point of view, things like photoshoots are part of the job, and although they may get tired of being asked to jump through the same hoops over and over again, they all understand that part of their fame is based upon working and collaborating with us in the media.

That's not to say I haven't seen my fair share of tantrums now and again, or had to deal with someone who got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. For reasons that should be blatantly obvious, I will not be going in any details about those!

As far as the shoot itself goes, one thing that will always help is trying to establish some sort of connection or rapport with them as soon as possible. This is where some of your background research can come in handy, as it can give you something to talk about. Beware of being sycophantic - it won't get you anywhere. The best trick I've found is when discussing something they've done, talk ABOUT it rather than going "oh my god, you were brilliant in that film, I loved that stunt you did!" This way you can appear interested without being awestruck, though I must admit it has happened to me once. Try also to keep your chatter to a polite minimum, don't overwhelm them with your own stories/problems etc, and
it's here that I want to bring in the one golden rule I've not mentioned so far - there's only room for one ego on a shoot, and it should be that of the person in FRONT of the camera. The reasons for this should be self-explanatory.

Bear in mind also, that there may be a lot of personnel around on shoots like these, the star may have brought their own entourage with them, you may have your own people (assistants, make-up etc), and the client may have a presence as well, and all this will create it's own atmosphere and something of a performance, as well as an opportunity for egos to flourish. I well remember in my early days of assisting, looking round the studio and going:

"OK, he's the photographer, that's the celeb, there's the stylist, that's the make-up artist, that's the journalist to do the interview - who are those other 5 people?"

Celebs can turn up with any number of people in tow - agents, publicists, friends, their own personal make-up artists/stylists, pets, family - the list is endless. 99% of the time these people will have no bearing on a shoot, though agents particularly can be a touch overbearing now and again. On a recent shoot the celeb I was shooting got so pissed off with the agent moaning at him to keep the sponsor's label visible, that he removed it from his shirt and stuck it over his mouth! I of course, was more than happy to photograph him like this. As always, a calm confident air around these people is all that's required, many of them are actually there because it's preferable to a day in the office, and who can blame them? If you're working with an assistant, then one of their jobs should be to keep this crowd off your back so you can concentrate on taking the picture.

One last thought, as this has already rambled on longer than I'd planned. With respect to equipment, I've already
pointed out that it should be in proper working order and so on, but what I haven't mentioned is that it should also look the part. I'm in grave danger here of sounding like an equipment snob, which I'm most certainly not, but if you'll indulge me a moment I'll try and explain why. Put yourself in the shoes of the celeb you may be photographing. They walk off a film or TV set where everything is hugely expensive and lavishly produced, and waiting for them in the green room to do a quick portrait is you, with your tiny little camera, your cardboard and silver foil reflector and your cheap plastic tripod. This appearance may reflect badly on you, and similarly the client you are representing, and anything that undermines your confidence is a bad thing!

This not to say that you need a full set of Profoto flashes, a Hasselblad with a P45 back and so on, but a little investment here and there can work wonders. Buy a grip for your DSLR, and instantly it looks bigger and more professional, get some monoblocs rather than hand-held flashes and so on. None of this costs the earth, and helps to create the right impression. Along the same lines try and dress appropriately - not necessarily your wedding suit, but looking like you just rolled out of bed might not give the correct professional impression! I hate to sound like I'm cow-towing to celeb's ego's here - but effective;y that's exactly what I'm doing. At this sort of level a lot of stuff is actually about show, performance and looking the part (sad but true). It's quite a holistic thing, and as part of the whole picture your confidence will count for far more than a fancy camera, but it's best not overlook the details.

At a glance lots of this may seem very "celeb specific", and of no interest or use to those who shoot Joe Public. However, I firmly believe that the fundamental principles are exactly the same whomever you're taking pictures of. Being properly prepared at every level, and ensuring that the person in front of the camera is the only one in the room with an ego will serve you well whether you're shooting your mates or the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. Though it is particularly useful when you've only got 45 seconds with Jean Claude Van-Damme!

P.S. I just know that the only comments I get are going to be about my last statement about equipment. Ah well, so be it.

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A Photographer's Reading List - Critical Theory

Why Bother?

Well, basically to improve and broaden your knowledge of the world you're working in. It's unlikely that you'll ever be asked by a client to shoot something "with added redundancy, as there's too much noise in our current message, and the semantics of what we're trying to get across are being lost." Mind you, if you shoot enough advertising it might well happen, as they don't half talk shite in that business.

Many of these texts are either compulsory or recommended reading on many college courses, and usually meet with some resistance from those who'd picked photography as they thought there'd be no writing involved. Speaking personally I really got into the critical theory side of things at college, so I have nothing but good things to say about these titles. For me books such as "Ways of Seeing" really opened my eyes (pardon the pun) and truly broadened my horizons. I can well appreciate that for many people reading about the meaning behind the visual world, and learning communication theory seems very tedious, but from a professional point of view it can often be essential. Remember that many of the people who commission you will have studied at college, and will be well versed in the theory behind things. Whilst they may never be as explicit as the phrase in the above paragraph, they'll still speak the general language, and understanding the difference between, for example, the medium and the message, can avoid a lot of embarrassment.

Critical Theory.

"Ways of Seeing" by John Berger. The grand-daddy of them all. Absolutely required reading, for everyone in my opinion, not just photographers. The central concepts of this book will most likely give you a jolt, as you realise that the visual world has lots of meaning hidden in it, and always has done. Harnessing this is your task as a professional photographer, but recognising it in other work is something that once you start doing you'll never be able to stop. Some of his arguments and analyses may seem a little Marxist (well, more than a little actually) but to be honest none of that detracts from his central argument. Besides which, I'm a lefty, and I happen to agree with much of what he says. If you don't bother to read anything else on this list, read this one.

"On Photography", by Susan Sontag. A brilliant collection of essays on photography, it's meaning, purpose and use in the modern world.

"Camera Lucida", By Roland Barthes. Similar in approach to the above, but by the erudite and wonderful frenchman Mr Barthes. His piece about looking on eyes that looked upon Napoleon is absolutely arresting, and will have you thinking about the power of photography in a new way for ages afterwards.

"Mythologies", by Roland Barthes. Not directly applicable to photography, but the concepts of meaning and Myth are central to all communication theory, ergo something you should be thinking about as a professional communicator.

"The Photograph", by Graham Clarke. Takes each genre of photography in turn, portaiture, landscape etc and subjects them to in-depth analysis. A very good introduction to critical theory.

"Another way of Telling", By John Berger and Jean Mohr. Very accessible book on the stories behind photographs, or more precisely the stories we bring to photographs and how our preconceptions influence our view.

These 6 are a very good place to start, and as I realise that this is an area where many people feel it's a bit of an effort to plow through them, I won't list any more. Suffice to say, if you want to read further, each book has a healthy bibliography that should provide a pretty good starting point. Otherwise, if you're really keen, email me and I'll suggest a few more!

Intro, Monographs, Self-Help/Finance, Technique


A Photographer's Reading List - Self-Help/Finance/Business.

Self-Help/Personal Growth.

I dislike the term "self help" as it implies we're a bit pathetic, and need an american style motivation tape to get us out of bed in the mornings. "Personal growth", I feel is much more appropriate, as we're all essentially OK, but a little direction here and there can make a world of difference. As my tutor from college used to put it, as we progress through life we can't hope to become completely different people, but we can hope to become better versions of ourselves. Maybe some of us need to spend time working on self-discipline, whilst others need to confront their fears about shooting creative work as opposed to just commercial. Either way, I feel that being embarrassed about reading such books is a little old-fashioned. Mind you, I still don't read them on the bus!

One important caveat I should add is that none of these books will change your life on their own. In many cases the problems/issues they are addressing are deep-seated personal habits, and in a similar way to giving up something like smoking, they won't change overnight. If you expect to simply read through each book like a novel, and then magically to be cured of your fear/lack of self-discipline/insert your problem here, you'll be disappointed. What these books will do is kind of guide your way for you, and provide you with tools and methods to lead a fuller life - it's up to you whether you use the tools or not.

"Art and Fear", by David Bayles and Ted Orland. A superb little tome (you'll finish it in a day or so.) Concerns itself with the inherent fears involved in producing work that is different, and how we deal with it. If you're trying to move your career on, or feel like your photography is stuck in a rut, start here.

"Feel the Fear and do it Anyway", by Susan Jeffers. Something of a classic this, and rightly so, as it deals with all the ares of your life where you may be held back by fear. We're not talking about the "swimming with sharks" kind of fear, but the ultimately irrational "can't pick up the phone and get new work" kind of fear. Highly recommended.

"The Artist's Way", by Julia Cameron. Similar to "Art and Fear" this is essential reading for those who feel they've strayed off the path a little bit. If, for example you were full of ideas and inspiration at college, and destined to be the next Nick Knight, and yet you currently find yourself shooting pack shots of shampoo bottles, then I'd recommend reading this book!

"The Luck Factor", by Richard Wiseman. OK, we're straying a bit into weirdo territory here - how on earth can anyone make themselves more lucky? All i can say is, read the book and find out - you won't know until you try.

"Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. The original success manual, first written in 1937, and it probably inspired more people than all the rest put together. Essential reading really, if you can ignore the slightly materialistic approach it often takes, and his obsession with huge business magnates. If you read between the lines just a little a much better title would be "Think and become abundant" because essentially the methods he espouses can be applied to success/riches in the broadest sense, something that he only alludes to briefly. This link goes to the original text - apparently there's a whole heap of different versions out there, some of which differ enormously from this version.

Although not a book I feel I must mention a website at this point, Steve Pavlina.com. Steve is concerned with personal growth, and everything on his website is free, including about 6 hours of podcasts. The site covers a wide range, from quite basic stuff on how to get out bed earlier each morning, to stuff that most people will sniff at such as lucid dreaming and psychic experiences. However, given that you don't have to pay for any of it, what have you got to lose?

Business and Finance.

"The Elephant and the Flea" by Charles Handy. Some of this book may seem a little large scale for someone who runs a one-man business, but if you read it closely you'll find a superb analysis of how to make your way as a "Flea" in a world of "Elephants".

"My Mamiya made me a Million", by Keith Cogman. What can I say? This book, and this bloke's attitude towards photography and learning is one of the reasons this site exists. His approach is wonderfully accessible, he hides nothing from the reader about how a photographic business is run, and whilst some of the info may now be a little out of date, chapters such as "Meeting People and Caring" will never lose their relevance, and are applicable to every branch of professional photography.

"Beyond the Lens", By the Association of Photographers. Should be compulsory reading for any student of photography who is actually serious about making a living, and most photographers keep a copy by them for reference purposes. Includes information on copyright, licensing, codes of practice, contracts, working ethics, insurance, tax and financial matters, as well as an appendix with template forms for model releases, licences, invoices etc. It's also being continually updated. This link goes to the online version where you can buy one outright, or buy it chapter by chapter - how very clever.

"Financial Management for the Small Business", by Colin Barrow. Does exactly what it says on the tin, but in a very accessible and approachable way, given that most of us hide under the duvet when anyone mentions finance.

"Best Business Practices for Photographers", by John Harrington. John is a very successful commercial photographer over in America, and what this book does is detail all the nitty gritty bits that go into running a business as a photographer - something I'm having my own crack at with this blog. If you're working America this should be a compulsory purchase, and even if you're not all the sections about psychology, professional presentation, dealing with clients and so on are essential reading. For those of us outside the US the finance sections are a little irrelevant, but only because they are so specific and tax laws vary so much from country to country.

Intro, Monographs, Critical Theory, Technique.

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A Photographer's Reading List - Photographer's Monographs

This is the place to look for inspiration. It's also a good place to increase your overdraft, as not many of these books are bargains! The list is deliberately random, in keeping with my theory of drawing influences from as broad a range of places as possible.

Random Collection 1:

"LaChapelle Land", by David LaChapelle - Bonkers portraits, glamour and beauty stuff. And, yes I do own one of the original Hardback, boxed copies, well done me.

"Star Trak", by Anton Corbijn. For portraits with impact, find a good lith printer (Mike Spry), a Hasselblad with a standard lens, and lots of famous subjects. Does help if you're Dutch though.

"Vietnam Inc", by Philip Jones Griffiths, credited with helping to turn public opinion against the Vietnam war (I find that claim a little far-fetched - it came out in 1971, I suspect the Tet offensive of 1968 might have had a more tangible effect on American public opinion!) Either way, it's a superb work of photojournalism.

"Poles Apart", by Galen Rowell, now sadly departed he was a mainstay of National Geographic for ages, and someone who truly lived life at it's extremes.

"Filming the Impossible", by Leo Dickinson. Much of what he pioneered has been done since, and we've become very inured to "extreme" photography in the past 30-odd years. However - he did it first in many cases (including an ascent of the Eiger by a previously unused route, with camera gear) and his stories of how he achieved all this are very compelling indeed. Plus, he went to my college - hurrah!

"Arnold Newman", Arnold Newman, sadly passed away last year. He left behind him a legacy of probably the finest environmental portraiture the world has ever seen. His compositions are nothing short of perfection.

Random Collection 2:

"Cyclops", by Albert Watson. Kind of like a modern day Irving Penn - has the same dedication and precision to whatever he turns his hand to. Even if you don't recognise some of the images in the book you'll have seen his work, as he's shot more Vogue covers than anyone else in the past 25 years (I think - don't quote me on that!) And by 'eck, his lighting really is something.

"Robert Capa", by Phaidon. A huge monograph covering almost all his work, and although you'll recognise a few of the more famous ones, there are countless gems that are less well known. The last few pages are particularly heart rending as after covering the Spanish civil war, the Sino-Japanese war, World War II, and Korea, you're forced to look at the pictures of a patrol of french infantry advancing along a road in Indochina, knowing that at any minute our Robert is going to step on a mine.

"Paris", by Robert Doisneau. Him of "Kiss by the Hotel de Ville". Beautiful reportage/documentary/photojournalism/candids, delete as appropriate. Should only be read whilst listening to Miles Davis and smoking a Gauloise.

"The Americans", by Robert Frank. Some of the best "moments" in photographic history, and still a template for any wannabe documentary photographer.

"Motel Fetish", by Chas Ray Krider. Slight change of direction to sultry ladies in cheap motel rooms. I absolutely love the narrative that's going on in many of these images. Very few photographers, with the possible exception of Helmut Newton, have ever managed to convey both intimacy and voyeurism at exactly the same time. Since this is one of the key tenets of photography I rather like this book. And I'm a sucker for ladies in sexy gear in hotel rooms, how sadly predictable of me.

"Physiognomy", by Mark Seliger. A staple of Rolling Stone for much of the 90's, Mark's work sums up everything that's great about American culture - larger than life, exuberant and exquisitely produced and executed. I know he's got a whole crew of people working for him to build sets. light things, fetch props and so on, but I can't help feeling a little jealous now and then.

Random Collection 3:

"Jonvelle", Jean-Francois Jonvelle. Lovely French ladies, lounging around in their pants. And sometimes not even their pants. Has a similar intimacy/voyeurism feel to Motel Fetish, but without the performance of the latter - these feel more natural. There was a sequel a few years later, imaginatively titled: "Jonvelle(s)", though I've never bought it as it's essentially more of the same.

"McCullin", by Don McCullin. Probably the definitive collection of his work, though other monographs of his go into more depth in certain areas. Should be read in conjunction with his autobiography, "Unreasonable Behaviour", required reading for anyone who thinks that going off to photograph war, conflict and suffering is in any way "cool".

"Tory Story", by David Modell. Incisive and sympathetic portrait of the Tory party from 1993 to 2001. Beautiful photographs, though it's very hard not to gloat at images of Tories humiliated or suffering, after all they did spend 18 years f**king this country up the arse.

"It's Nothing Personal", by John Stoddart. Some very striking stuff in here. Got to be careful what I say at this point, as although I like some of his work, on a personal level I'm not so fond of him. I'll leave it at that to prevent the libel writs flying.

"Australians", Polly Borland. Very strong portraiture indeed. Didn't realise so many Australians had infiltrated our culture, to quite such a degree.

"Famed" by Michael Birt. The British version of Arnold Newman - more understated, but still very beautifully put together.

"The Last Sitting", by Bert Stern. Famous for being the last images of Marilyn Monroe ever taken, and for the fact that she defaced them, none of this detracts from the work, which is a superb and intimate portrait of an icon.

General Inspiration/Collections:

This section covers all the books that comprise the work of more than one photographer. Following my ethos of drawing influences from as wide a cross-section as possible, books like these are particularly good - in inspiration terms they offer more "value for money".

The Graphis Photo annuals are always a good read, though quite expensive. They comprise a "best of" from commercial/advertising photography around the world, and as such function as a shop front for photographers. A few copies of these, coupled with the requisite AoP awards books (see below) will equip you with all the info on who's doing what at the top level of photography right now.

The annual Association of Photographer's Awards books are an essential - not just as inspiration, as you'll find the very cream of the crop here, but as an important resource for assistants/students looking to gain an insight into who's working at the top level of the industry. The link goes to the 18th awards (2001) as they are often out of print. The AoP themselves are a good place to look for older ones, as is Ebay - the same could be said for the Graphis books.

Images of Rock & Roll, by Rolling Stone. A superb collection of music photography from the 60's to the 90's - everything from scintillating live shots to elaborate studio set-ups.

"Kate" - basically a collection of shots of Kate Moss published in the late 90's. She might be a coked-up nutter, but she has worked with some of the best photographers of the recent decade. Seems to be very expensive on Amazon, so might be another job for Ebay.

Images of the 20th Century, by Getty Images (link goes to 1990's - there's one for every decade). Although they are now the MacDonalds of the image library world, that does mean they have access to an enormous archive, and they put it to good use in these compilations. Each decade covers areas such as, news, daily life, culture, sport and so on, and they're a bargain at a fiver each. I dread to think how little the photographer's are getting for the use of their images.

Although not a book, I have to include the blog Conscientious here, as it's such a fantastic collection point for fine art and photography in general. I would include far more web links, but they're coming in the near future, and I'd rather keep these posts strictly physical for the moment!

Intro, Technical, Self-Help/Finance, Critical Theory

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A Photographer's Reading List - Technique and Practice

The 2 Bibles of Photographic technique are both by Michael Langford, and rather inspiringly called: Basic Photography, and Advanced Photography. Frankly if you can learn everything in both these books you'll know more than me, and likely most professional photographers as well, at least when it comes to technique.

For a more professional and commercial application, as well as tonnes of insights into the business of photography, you can't do much better than Jack Reznicki's Studio and Commercial Photography, Jack is a very experienced, New York based commercial/advertising photographer and his advice is very explicit and practical - he doesn't shy away from telling secrets about how the business works.

The best book on Photoshop I've ever read is Martin Evening's Photoshop for Photographers. The clue to why this book is so good is in the title - rather than a huge encyclopaedic tome that covers every feature (most of which you'll never use), or a cursory "dummies" guide which covers nothing in any depth, Martin concentrates on the bits that actually matter to photographers. This includes sections on colour spaces, acquiring images, and output in it's various forms.


There's a series of "Lighting for..." books, all of which are written by Steve Bavister which I've enjoyed over the years. I treat them a technical resource - in a magpie way I'll browse the images and borrow a bit of lighting form one picture and blend it with a bit of my own. Some of the images feel a bit dated, though they're all by professional photographers, but since it's not inspiration as much as technical input you're looking for it shouldn't be much of an issue. I own the Glamour, and Still Life ones, though as I recall there are also Portrait, Nude and Night time ones. They would seem to be on limited availability at the moment, so Ebay might be a better bet than Amazon.

Very similar in approach, and, it would seem, currently available is the "Pro Lighting" series by Alex Larg and Jane Wood. Rather than link to a specific title I've linked straight to the author search on Amazon, there's not much to separate the different titles in my experience, so it's just a case of picking the one that you think you'll benefit from most. Both these and the Steve Bavister books contain full diagrams for how each of the shots were lit, as well as a glossary that helps to explain what each piece of kit is and what it does.

Intro, Monographs, Self-Help/Finance, Critical Theory.

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A Photographer's Reading List - Intro

Generally speaking we're a fairly visual bunch, and would rather express ourselves through piccies than lengthy essays. Likewise we're not that happy having to plough through thick tomes to get information we could just as easily get from a simple setup shot. However, besides being a bit of a bookworm myself I feel that there's a great deal that can be learnt about photography in the broader sense from a few very good books - mostly those which cover areas I'm trying to cover on this site, and which seem to go unnoticed by much of the rest of the interweb.

I've divided the following list into 4 posts as follows. "Photographic Technique and Practice" covers titles that deal with all the obvious craft stuff, from the very basic to the highly advanced, and including such terribly up-to-date things as
Photoshop. "Photographers' Monographs" are bodies of work by a single photographer, essential for inspiration. "Self Help/Personal Growth/Business Finance" is probably the broadest section, covering everything from self-discipline and motivation to basic book-keeping. Finally, "Critical Theory" covers books that will certainly be essential for those studying photography, but are recommended for practising professionals, as they broaden the understanding of the visual world in general.

All the links go to the relevant page on Amazon (UK) - boring and predictable I know, but very easy, and everyone trusts them. I'm not on any commission, by the way - none of these titles ever sell enough to really make much money! I should also point out that I have only recommended books that I've actually read and either own or have owned - I haven't just entered "photography" into the Amazon search engine and copied what came out. Failing Amazon of course, there's always EBay - I'd suggest going shopping sometime after the colleges empty out their students if you want to pick up any bargains in the critical theory areas!

Before anyone starts commenting on the fact that a lot of the content of these books is available online, or is duplicated by various websites - I'm only too aware of that, and am steadily building a series of posts with links to online resources. I feel there's still a place for a non-Internet dependent collection of info and inspiration for when the power goes down, besides, I'd rather sit with a big photographer's monograph in front of me (and a large glass of Laphroaig) to be inspired, than hunch over a screen. Plus, putting together a list of links is fraught with trouble, as so many sites disappear with regularity, and books are that little bit more permanent.



Quotes on Photography - 1

A bit lazy today, as I'm trying to get my head around editing and converting the 50 000 odd words on the old site, as well as putting up "diary" pieces and all the new ideas which have occurred to me since halting work on the old site and switching to the blog.

So here is a collection of some of my favourite quotes on photography, from a range of sources. I suspect I'll do another post like this in future when I'm a bit short of something to stick up. If you can't be bothered to write, get someone else to write for you, as my plagiaristic English teacher used to say.

From "Robert Capa the Definitive Collecton" by Richard Whelan, published by Phaidon:

"In June 1942 Capa went to the Rhondda Valley in Wales, the coal mining region in which author Richard Llewellyn had set his popular novel "How Green was my Valley". A Hollywood movie based on the book had recently won the Academy Award for best picture of 1941; Capa went in search of people who embodied the the reality of the story. Regarding these photographs, an interviewer once asked Capa how he managed to get such relaxed and natural expressions in close ups of faces. Capa replied that it was very simple: "Like people, and let them know it."

From the introduction to"Star Trak" by Anton Corbijn, text by Brian Eno:

1) Most photographers are not Anton Corbijn, a lively, if rather tall man with a camera. "Lively" is important: people holding cameras are normally dead. They are not in the same time as the rest of us. They are not here. They are already in the future, looking back at the now through their imagined pictures as if it is already history. You think I'm making this up as I go along. But don't you remember those famous proofs? That cameraman at the Indianapolis 500 who filmed the wheel leaving a racing car at 160mph, spinning towards him, spinning, spinning, until it smashed him to bits?

2) The camera inevitably lies, so choosing the kind of lie you want to tell is actually the creative art of photography.

From David Hockney: A Retrospective" by David Hockney, Maurice Tuchman, and Stephanie Barron.

1) "Photography is alright if you don't mind looking at the world from the perspective of a paralysed cyclops for a split second." - Quoted in "Cameraworks" by Lawrence Weschler.

2) "He notes that the gaze moves perpetually, that visual experience is a composite of shifting views focused by interest and inflected by concept and memory. Sensations of death and movement are intrinsic to eyesight, upholding the definition of perception known since impressionism and seen in cubism. While a single photograph can encapsulate only a frozen moment, a collage of them suggests the composite experience of observation over time."

From"The Photograph: A Visual and Cultural History" by Graham Clarke:

1) "The Act of taking a photograph fixes time, but it also steals time, establishes a hold on the past in which history is sealed, so to speak, in a continuous presence."

2) "The professional photographer still remains central and, inevitably, has dominated both the history of photography and the meaning of the photograph. Indeed, one of the many paradoxes at the centre of the medium is the extent to which an infinite number of photographs and photographers has been dominated by a limited canon of images and practitioners; as few as 200 photographers have determined the terms of reference and the frame of meaning for the history of the photograph."

3) Despite it's acutely populist base the photograph, for all it's capacity to reproduce the literal, retains the values and hierachies so much associated with what might be viewed as it's opposite: academic painting."

4) "We might see a photograph in a newspaper, magazine, album, frame, on a wall, taken from a wallet, on a document or in a gallery, in a box or locket, or as a negative or a contact print. Each change of context changes it as an object and alters it's terms of reference and value, influencing our understanding of it's "meaning" and "status".

From "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger:

1) "We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are. Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other, combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visible world."

2) "Perspective makes the single eye the centre of the visual world. Everything converges on to the eye as to the vanishing point of infinity. The visible world is arranged for the spectator as the universe was once thought to be arranged for god."

3) "The bogus religiosity which now surrounds original works of art, and which is ultimately dependent upon their market value, has become the substitute for what paintings lost when the camera made them reproducible. it's function is nostalgic. It is the final empty claim for the continuing values of an oligarchic, undemocratic culture. if the image is no longer unique and exclusive, the art object, the thing, must be made mysteriously so."

4) "The issue is not between innocence and knowledge (or between the natural and the cultural) but between a total approach to art which attempts to relate it to every aspect of experience and the esoteric approach of a few specialized experts, who are the clerks of the nostalgia of a ruling class in decline. (In decline not before the proletariat, but before the new power of the corporation and the state.) The real question is, to whom does the meaning of the art of the past properly belong? To those who can apply it to their own lives, or to a cultural hierachy of relic specialists?"