I really have to get better at this whole blog thing and not just post when Im travelling. Incidently Im off today to the beautiful (when it doesnt rain) west coast to do a wedding later in the week for a friend. My usual excuse applies in that I have been busy, honestly I have been, but in case the tax man is reading, business is desperate! Its now the end of my wedding season and yes I do do weddings but this weeks is the last one I have booked. Im not really interested in being a wedding photographer per se, rather a photographer who occasionally does weddings. Its the photography that interests me and although I was asked by a local venue to be official photographer for the site the idea of going to the same place taking similar pictures week after week just fills me with dread. I love hearing peoples stories and yes I suppose I am a romantic at heart but I see the photos telling the story of the people, as well as the day. I suppose its hard to explain but then again thats why I only do a few per year and only if I really really want to tell the peoples stories. That might come across as arrogant (would fit in with the wedding photographers rightly) but my view is that this is my job, I have to enjoy my job and if I enjoy it that comes across in my photos. I tell that often enough to my students so I’d be a bit hypocritical if I didnt practise that myself. So other than weddings Ive been doing a fair bit of dance photography. As with the weddings I’d love to show you the pictures but they arent stock images so arent for sale, plus the dance photos are embargoed until the performances and brochure materials get produced so I’ll save that for a later blog.
I’d love to say I’d been out on the boat, fishing away in the lovely weather we have had but I’d be lying on both counts. The weather has been terrible and the boats engine broke down. Thankfully the engine went as we were casting off so no harm done other than 3 weeks waiting for parts to come from America that didnt work! I then couldnt get the boat in for repair due to bad weather and only having the backup engine to get the boat from the marina to the harbour ramp. Eventually I got one evening when I thought it was calm enough to get the boat in and you know when you utter something incredibly stupid and know you will live to regret it? Well when asked how I would get the boat in I replied ‘by being assertive’. Well let me tell you no amount of bravado or assertiveness can make an 18 foot boat go into a 15 knot headwind with a 4hp backup engine. Its at this point you know bringing a fresh battery for the emergency VHF was a good idea and that you hope the liquid running down the back of your legs is only sweat. All was well though and I now have an expensive driveway ornament until work calms down a bit and I get the chance to work on it. I do have an engine manual but following some of the steps would have required a wetsuit and flippers whilst still in the marina. It reminds me of the time I replaced the engine in my old fiesta car. Followed the haynes manual to the letter through all 200 steps of engine removal, seal and gasket replacement and putting back in again. Step 201 of course had the ‘note – remember to put the flange between the engine and gearbox correctly’. Oh that would be the thing left lying on the floor there. 399 steps to go…
Speaking of car repairs, I got the Alfa up and running again….
In the very few times it hasnt been pishing out of the heavens Ive also managed to get out and get some stock photography work done. Bit unfortunate for this whole radharcimages project that Ive had 20 days of good weather in 2 years and been working for clients for most of them! The Irish side of the project is well and truely stalled and this is the primary reason.
Ive more usuable images from USA/Canada in a month than the whole of Ireland in probably the last year. Still there should be some good crisp clear winter days to get some work done but with limited daylight it might not be economically viable for more than a full days journey.
I eventually got all my Canada/US travel images edited, captioned and uploaded so now Im looking for a new project so I’ll be off on my travels again, this time I’m going back to Hong Kong for a week. Ive been there twice before. Once before the British handover and again the year later. Two completely different trips but not for handover reasons. The first time I went for a week and I had booked the trip with my then girlfriend. Of course by the time we came to go on the trip we werent boyfriend/girlfriend any more. I dont really need to explain too much more, do I?
The following year I went out there with two mates for the weekend. Yes the weekend – £250 quid flights and accomodation from Belfast, out on Thurs night, back on Tues. We drank the whole flight there… I dont really need to explain too much more, do I? I’ll go into that trip more when I cover the next one but I must have been drunk the whole time as my house is full of chinese furniture!
Whilst the total rainfall in Hong Kong for November is about the same as the total rainfall in my garden this morning, I have been thinking about getting the place ready for winter. Whilst out doing some stock photos of barley crops I got talking to some farmers who say we are in for some snowfall later in October. So Im prepared this time with the snow shovel, snow chains, gloves, hat, spare clothes, etc for all those car emergencies, or alternatively I’ll just light a coal fire, crack open the bushmills and just look out the window.
Its been a while since my last blog but in my defence Ive been busy and its been a bit of a career landmark.
In my previous life I was a software engineer and I studied at Queens University Belfast for four years, first doing a BEng (batchelor of engineering) degree and then an MSc (Master of Science) degree.
My first job was in a local software company and I then went on to work in 2 more software companies before a change in circumstances brought about a change in Career after 9 years as an Engineer. In 2001 I took my first photography job working for a local photographer before going it alone a year or so later.
So in late September 2010 I am now a photographer longer than I ever was a Software Engineer yet I have just completed part of a commission for companies involved in Software Engineering. Not quite poacher turned gamekeeper and yet not quite a busmans holiday either. It was good to catch up with old colleagues and catch up quickly, far too quickly, with the old profession and its current issues.
Deep down Im still an engineer, I’ve always been an engineer which is a strange thing to say in this profession, but Ive always had an artistic side as well. That was never able to manifest itself fully in my previous career yet the era of digital photography, website generation, online marketing, email, ftp, image editing and distribution and all those good things keep the engineer in me happy.
Ive always been a problem solver and one of my first jobs in software was in a team tasked with ‘firefighting’ the ‘hot issues’ of the day. Now I dont miss the management speak, particularly as since then I’ve taken photos of real firefighters and whilst Im not wishing to denigrate my previous profession, the words used are incongruous with the job.
Through my later jobs I got involved in recruitment, customer bids and processes, corporate training, writing specifications, interpreting client briefs, investigating client issues and dealing with clients across the globe. I cant really say my job as a photographer is any different to that with all those skills being very portable indeed and just applied to different areas.
Perhaps thats why I have grown and progressed the business, because I brought those skills with me and adapted them. Maybe its just coincidence but either way it didnt do me any harm.
The access all areas press, red carpet and general swanning around with the gorgeous people isnt really the image you think of sitting outside a hotel in dublin in the snow at 1am as you try to wire your photos into an office on the west coast of the states.
Bit like my last couple of software jobs were we had US offices and you were on call until 2am in case any problems arose. Of course in one job we also had offices in the Phillipines and Australia. What do you mean you arent available 24/7? No different to now when people from all across the globe who are on deadlines and who want photos asap dont really care what timezone you are in. ‘Im just ringing to see if you are in?’ ‘yes its 4am, where else would I be’. ‘Can you email me this photo?’, ‘Yes, as soon as I get my eyes open I’ll be on to it – oh and you will need to pay in advance by paypal’. Sounds very glamourous indeed
When I tell people what I do, particularly those in IT professions they say they long for a job where they arent sitting in front of a computer all day and dont have to pull all nighters. Wishing away the long winter nights sitting at 2am trying to find a pizza place open in Belfast…
Well sorry folks I have news for you, I was up at 8am and its 12am now and Im still at the computer, writing a blog no less During that time I had to run to the doctors as I did ankle ligaments in at the weekend. Sorry, no sick leave or sick pay here its put up or shut up.
One of the biggest wrenches for me was the leaving a very well paid, stable job with holidays, and sick pay and healthcare and overtime and… …and then I remember being paid to take photos of naked women on a beach in Tenerife mid January…. …money isnt everything.
I love my job and I hope that shows. I loved being an engineer, I just didnt particularly enjoy the environment but looking back on it I had had my time and it was time for something different. Im now at the same stage in my photography career but I dont have the same urges. Maybe its got to do with reinvention and changing business approach every few years.
Some photographers try to blame the GWC idea – guy with camera. It appears that anyone with a camera can call themselves a professional photographer, couple of hundred quid on a camera, 6 quid for printable business cards and 30 quid for a cheap website and away you go, you are doing weddings but I remember people who had a home computer calling themselves computer programmers and asking if I could sort them out with a job. No different and that doesnt give any credit to clients who should be able to look at a photographers website, look at the images, the craft in the photos and the message behind the photography to differentiate between the chancers and the people who will build a relationship.
I learned that in my IT days when dealing with clients, it was about building relationships, getting a bond of mutual trust instead of trying to sell them something. Yes you are still selling but you are selling them something that will benefit them, which in turn will benefit you, everyones happy. I try to do that with the photography and that has been borne out by the number of long term clients I have and equally the long term relationship they have with me. They know they can ring me at 11pm and that I will take their calls because its probably important, important to them, their business and ultimately their families and lifestyle. You do go the extra mile for people you have a relationship with and its that closer bond I like with being self employed rather than working for a large corporation. Of course I could have got that within the IT industry by setting up myself there, but then again Ive seen people in tears holding their daughters wedding photos or getting their baby to smile on camera or a public relations person ringing me to thank me for getting their company in the paper with a good photo. No-one ever congratulated me on a line of C code, or a good subroutine in COBOL or sorting out a java error.
I started radharcimages because it interested me, right at the start of a recession when the market for the type of photos I was producing for it had started drying up, so its on hold, not cancelled. It will be resurrected occasionally although if climate change has its way all the pictures will have to be retaken to reflect our monsoon seasons.
Ive no idea what the next 9 weeks will bring never mind the next 9 years. In 9 years time if Im still here I’ll be approaching 50 and who knows I might have bought myself a pair of braces, grown a big belly and taken up wedding photography full time. Maybe I’ll actually buy a euro millions rollover ticket next week, win it and then head off round the world in a very big boat.
It really is up to me, its about trying to predict the future, I will live or die by my own decisions and I have no-one to blame but myself. Perhaps thats the key, thats the reason why Im still up writing a blog at 12am, or maybe Im just nuts.
Either way its going to be interesting…
…and isnt that what its all about.
..its been 4 weeks since my last blog post.
What can I say, I’ve been busy! Firstly, the world cup has been on. I’d love to say its been a classic but it hasnt. England overachieved (again). Honestly guys, you arent as good as you think you are.
The French self destructed and went out in the first round – sorry have to snigger at that one.
At the time of writing, we have just had the quarter finals and finally the tournament has sprung to life, teams actually trying to win games instead of not losing them. Argentina were taught a lesson in football by Germany, Brazil outplayed, Paraguay only just beaten by a lacklustre Spanish side.
I remember standing on three countries corner in January (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) and thinking in the last couple of weeks that all three places would be going completely daft and surely at least one of those would make the final. Nope.
At the minute its very hard to see past Germany. No worries about dodgy offsides, ball going over the line cameras, vuvuzelas…
… nope scoring 4 goals a game will sort it out for you. (thats probably the kiss of death for them).
So what else have I been up to – oh yes, bought a boat, more on that in a later post (if I havent drowned).
Its been a busy time with ‘normal’ photo work as opposed to stock photography. Ive been involved in a number of dance photography projects as well as general tourism PR photography for one of the local tourist agencies – maybe more on that in a later post.
The Dance projects are interesting. One was to document all the work that a particular organisation does, from teaching to performances to providing working and conference facilities. It was a long project with a lot of quite interesting aspects but again more on this later as the photos are still embargoed until the new projects launch.
Once again I had the opportunity to work with local company Maiden Voyage. They are currently producing two portable dance productions to incorporate into various aspects of the community and the upcoming cultural life of the City.
The pieces are designed to be portable so that they can be performed anywhere and everywhere in limited space and on the fly as well as incorporated into larger productions and street or internal displays.
This provides a challenge both to the production teams and in terms of PR photography given the vagaries of the Northern Ireland weather. The crew just love it when the drizzle starts and I shout for them to continue as it puts a nice sheen on the roadway!
The first piece is entitled ‘Bubblegum’ and choreographed by Omar Gordon with dancers Ryan O’Neill and Fania Grigoriou. The piece is inspired by the idea of sharing our space and embracing the differences. As this was the first piece to be completed the venue choices for the photography had to really be something linked to the cultural aspects of the city.
The official description is ‘Set in an intricate self-made world of barriers and conceived with the idea of sharing a space and embracing our differences, BUBBLEGUM is an exploration of mania’s, idiosyncrasies and two comic characters attraction to each other.’ Thats pretty much the brief.
Maiden Voyage is based in the Cathedral Arts Quarter of the City so the first set of photos was to be in and around there coupled with a later set featuring the River Lagan which everyone from Belfast would recognise.
Sounds like a plan…
Of course to ensure clean backgrounds, quiet streets, good light and uninterrupted staging of a couple of run throughs of the piece, we would really need to be ready to go for about 8am on a Sunday morning. Sorry, we thought you said meet at 8am sunday. Yes I did, see you there.
As with everything tied up with deadlines, the weather was the key and we had an hour of good weather window to get the shots. As Id never seen the complete piece before we did a run through then I ran around like a maniac getting the angles for the PR photos. Even at this ungodly hour of a sunday morning there were some brave tourist souls who didnt realise that Belfast doesnt open to after midday on a Sunday! I hate staging Dance photos, I avoid it at all costs so for me its a case of running through the piece once, marking my spots then maybe one or two more runthroughs before isolating small sections for repeats. I let the dancers get on with it, they are the experts and minimal intervention from me except the odd stop and repeat that bit sort of thing. Its also important to get the choreographers input, listening to what they are trying to achieve and blending that with the options available in an essentially uncontrolled environment (that big yellow for sale sign wasnt there yesterday) and also producing images that can be used for PR purposes, that have impact, meaning and appeal visually to a range of audiences, not just those involved with Dance.
I can set a dozen images down and I know which ones the dancers, choreographers will like, the ones I like, the ones that are good for PR, the ones that will get published and the ones that will stick in peoples minds. Rarely do all of those intersect.
The final two shots selected try to accommodate all that, one in Hill Street and one on raised ground at the Lagan with the Harland and Wolff shipyards in the background.
The second piece ‘Dream a Little Dream’ choreographed by Suzannah McCreight with dancers Ryan O’Neill and Jen Thornton was a different prospect, both technically and aestetically. The official description of the piece ‘Tired of everyday life, a couple embark on a red carpet fantasy as they try out a celebrity existence invoking an era of old Hollywood glamour.’ For someone who also specialised in red carpet photos, how hard could it be?
Well tell that to the Northern Ireland weather.
We initially wanted to contrast the first shots with the idea of the pieces being extremely portable so we came up with a few ideas for primarily big sky outdoor locations. Our first choice was McArts fort on the top of Cavehill with the city spread out below, another early morning shot and second choice as the likes of Stormont with a final idea of some truly red carpet shots at dusk some evening with the city lights twinkling in the background. We had a deadline for the photos so just had to wait for a weather window.
That left us with some more river dusk shots but the only weather window was at the same time as the local maritime festival so that was a no-goer as well.
Back to the drawing board and we decided for this set of PR pictures to focus in on the red carpet aspect of the piece and shoot it again in Cathedral Quarter but this time surrounded by the modern architecture and clean buildings and lines of the urban renewal section of the quarter. This contrasts with the old cobbled streets of Hill Street and the river which the city grew up around.
On reflection it suited the piece more to have this as the background given that the couple in the piece were trying to get away from everyday life and develop a new modern existence with a stylised view of an old era.
As a consequence of having to wait for weather windows we ended up putting on the first public performances of the piece. It was Sunday afternoon by the time the weather cleared for a Monday deadline. At first passers by asked if someone famous was coming along due to the red carpets and the photographer and videographers with multi light setups but everyone that passed by stopped to watch at least one of the run-throughs. Playing havoc with window reflections, but hey, how hard can this photography thing really be?
As with Dance Photography Music photography is another passion of mine.
Its very similar to dance photographically technically, you have a few people on a stage moving at times quite quickly under mixed lighting with no scope to say ‘here hold on a minute, can you go back a sec and repeat those lines’.
With larger bands/acts you tend to get better lighting but not always the case and in recent years the move towards led lighting which seems to be just above candle power in output has meant that gig and band photography remains technically challenging. Saying that of course the latest range of digital cameras almost turn nighttime into day and if they have a live view mode you could almost use them as night vision cameras. It makes sure that any student with a half decent camera and half decent lens will get a useable concert photo. Saying that at todays current prices for gig photos, even students with high street off the shelf equipment would still find the prices too low.
So you have two options, get smarter and shoot better pics, or give up. Well I have sort of done both. The market isnt enough now to sustain top of the range kit, ability to wire in onsite within seconds etc etc. Occasionally you do get ‘big’ events (Id the first UK pictures of the Arctic Monkeys after they hit it big and Id shots of Boyzones first night comeback) but in general theres someone beside you who will be happy to see their name in print and a willingness with most mags to be happy to accept a straight up and down shot because they dont have to pay a penny (or very little in subscription).
It means that the majority of shots arent by specialists any more and those that do submit have little or no imagination compared to those shooting every day. It was always going to be a hard sell anyway in Ireland because you can spend your life shooting every upcoming band for none of them to ever make it or get that middle of the tour shots, which unless stand way out from the crowd wont be much different from the 20 photographers in 10 countries before you.
Thats not to say there isnt merit in it or indeed money to be made but promoters dont really want photographers to cherry pick who they will shoot and theres always some give and take to help promote new acts in return for inclusion on the wish list for lady gaga or whoever is hot at the minute.
Add into that the current recession in the UK and theres less gigs about, people cant afford the 50-70 quid for a concert ticket that they used to spend only 2 years ago maybe once a month or in concert season, once a week.
People also have this glamourous idea that gig and concert photography is one of the best jobs in the world. Well the realities are somewhat different. The three songs and you are out rule applies. In some cases you dont get three songs, you might get 2 or one. One group came out recently to a video as their first song. So that leaves about 6 minutes to get the banker shots and try to get a good folio of shots that will spread across a range of publications. Quite tight going. Then after that theres the mad dash to get 3G or wifi connection to get your edits into the agency before everyone else does. Thats a lot of adrenaline and quite often it can be totally exhausting.
Try shooting a festival where its shoot, edit, wire, shoot, edit, wire, etc etc for maybe 6 or 8 hours. Add that over 2 days and just give me a sleeping bag in the corner.
Having said that some of my most loved shots come from this type of environment. Often you are in a pit of 4 maybe up to 10 or 20 photographers and in order to eat the following month you have to make sure every single shot counts. Trying to get interesting angles, tell the story, show the emotion and tie the images together really gets the cold sweat down your back going. I remember one act who I wont name was slightly under the weather coming out on stage and out of 400 shots of one band member I got 2 with their eyes open, and thats with them using a prop to keep them vertical during the show.
Another one I distinctly remember was lit by one single red spotlight, which by itself was enough to give a half decent exposure. Thats assuming they werent swaying backwards out of the light most of the time. Looking at the photos it reminded me of those old kids tv programmes where the clown with the big shoes was nailed to the floor and swayed backwards and forwards because of it.
With some groups they seem to go out of their way to make things difficult for you. One group who are notorious with photographers deliberately keep most of the stage lights off for the first three songs and once the lead singer said to us ‘right thats the freeloaders gone, we can get on with the show’. Charming. Hope you dont do anything stupid in your private life in the future… Another keeps the photographers at a huge distance away, takes your kit bags off you and has one security person for each photographer who ‘escort’ you ‘quickly’ out of the arena…. yes…. Particularly galling as you sit on the cold stone ground wiring pics in to see people with cellphones and compact cameras in the crowd uploading to flickr with impunity. Again the old maxim of being nice to people on your way up as you may need them on your way down.
I’ll not even give credence to the travelling pr company who thought it would be a good idea to put us in the crowd with all our equipment at a rappers concert. I have to say Ive never laughed as much as at the skinny white boys from belfast with their calvin kleins falling down round their arses getting down with the boyz in the hood. No seriously lads, take a long hard look at yourselves.
Then theres the concerts where you pray that the golden liquid flying towards you from the crowd is cheap lager beer and not the end product of an afternoon spent drinking that beer. Newcomers often ask why some of us at festivals shoot with our hoods up on sunny days.
Compare that with the hard working PR companies who get you spots in the press room, sort out wifi, keep you fed and watered and see if theres anything you need. Ive even had Louis Walsh sitting over my shoulder helping with photo selection. Normally something you try to avoid when you are sitting wiring away and someone over your shoulder is saying ‘oh thats a nice pic’, ‘ I like that’, ‘lovely’. I was just about to turn round and tell them to foxtrot oscar when I saw it was Louis so told him to pull up a chair.
As you can probably tell I wouldnt classify the most of it as fun so when a friend of mine Stephen Maguire mentioned to me that he was doing a gig in Belfast in support of Nanci Griffith I jumped at the chance to photograph it. I’ve known Stephen for a number of years now and we have become friends. Ive done a lot of static work with him for posters, album covers general PR, headshots etc but as most of his concert touring is in Canada I rarely get the chance to see him live never mind photograph him. In fact I’d never seen him live and was worried that I’d be too busy looking through the lens that I wouldnt even hear the gig. Its one thing that people ask after a gig, ‘what did they play’. ‘I dunno’ is invariably the answer as you are too busy concentrating on the job in hand then you are out.
Stephen was playing in quite an unusual and intimate venue, the May Street Church. I’d photographed it a few years earlier for the local press as it was rumoured it was closing due to dwindling attendances due to population movement out of the city centre. Its trying to regenerate as a venue and coffee shop downstairs as well as the church. Stephen was supporting Nanci Griffith as part of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival.
I have to say Ive never been as nervous photographing a gig in my life. Id never done it for a friend before and chatting over a coffee minutes before the gig I dont know who was talking the bigger pile of shite, me or Stephen. I stuck to my 3 songs rule and then slid up the aisle into the gloom to enjoy the rest of the show. I know Im biased but you know the way it is with friends, you will give support regardless of how you think they did. Well I thought Stephen was superb, great audience interaction and a great buzz during the set. I hate the phrase but its probably the one time you will hear me say it, Stephen, you rocked! (invoice is in the post).