What is the landscape photographer’s role in climate change? How can images help us to reconnect with our world? Fotospeed photographer Joe Cornish talks about the perceptions and realities of landscape photography.
On creating images that reflect the realities of the landscape…
I studied fine art at Reading University back in the 1970s. We were encouraged to use photography to record our work (painting, drawing, sculpture, alternative media), but the moment I started looking through a film SLR it felt like much more than simply recording things. Once I figured out how to process film properly, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
The personal statement for my Finals show focused on the energy in nature through pattern, gesture and symbols. Nearly 40 years later these preoccupations remain, and have developed to embrace the cycles of life and death, flowering and decay. I’m also concerned with human domination of the earth’s environment, seeking out wilderness which remain free of it, as well as landscapes which epitomise this domination.
I intend to make photographs that are immersive, that feel physically connected to the light, textures, colours and tones that we experience in the real world. My motivation to make pictures this way is because I see photography as a search for beauty and meaning based in the experience of real life.
On which landscapes are important to him in demonstrating the coexistence of man and nature…
I can genuinely find interest in all landscapes - even ugly ones - but the most important to me are the wilder places close to home. Absolute wilderness is my benchmark of what is beautiful and real, and so the wild margins that prevail in the north of England and elsewhere in the UK are a reminder that nature can still redeem things once rampant exploitation recedes. These places give me hope that wild nature inevitably adapts and returns, however grim the circumstances. The wildlife reserves that now occupy abandoned industrial wastelands at Teesside, close to where I live, are an example of this. I find inspiration in the contrast that can exist between an abundance of self-seeded wildflowers in the foreground and an industrial or urban backdrop.
On the paradox of an indifferent universe and our dependence on the earth…
The landscape is fundamentally indifferent to us, and it helps to learn a certain reciprocal detachment when studying it. This indifference forces us to be philosophical, to accept our impotence in shaping events. Perhaps counter-intuitively a detached, analytical approach allows us to be more effective as artists. This might seem at odds with living in a culture where our emotional response to everything is emphasised above all else.
Yet if landscape is the earth, air and water that’s all around us, we are utterly dependent on it. Perhaps because it usually appears passive we have yet to really accept just how dependent we are on its balance and cycles. In my lifetime as a landscape photographer there have been notable changes in the weather, and these weather patterns reflect a warming climate that could ultimately prove catastrophic if human societies fail to change course.
On the relationship between the landscape, the digital world, and print…
The physicality of the print appeals to human instinct – to our need to touch and hold. While an on-screen image has utility, the print has more permanent meaning and represents a moment in the creative process, a commitment to the image and the way it looks. Its permanence gives it an additional value and beauty that an on-screen image can never have.
Photography’s illusory connection to real life is its strength, but also a problem; the relationship between the landscape and the image must be understood as incomplete and (metaphorically speaking) highly filtered. The photograph is not the landscape, it is simply a considered, selective and partial representation of it. My pictures inevitably reflect my prejudices, preferences and aesthetic judgement. The print is likely to tell the sophisticated viewer as much about the photographer as it does about the landscape. The camera may be a machine, but with a RAW file as the ‘score’, the photographer is undoubtedly still a very human, and therefore subjective, ‘performer’.
On balancing the contradictions of being a landscape photographer…
As someone who has done more than their fair share of travelling, my carbon footprint is heavy and I feel ashamed of my transparent hypocrisy; but without travelling, how do we bear witness? In addition to the climate crisis, I see all too much evidence of another diabolical by-product of our civilisation - plastic waste accumulating in the high tide line. It seems we are now waking up to the disastrous consequences of this type of pollution, and here at least there is scope for optimism, thanks to awareness raised by the BBC’s Blue Planet II, and many environmental campaigners. However depressing is the news on the environment, the resilience of nature and its ability to return with abundance each spring is inspiring.
On how photography can help appreciation of the environment…
Photography is a medium which encourages me to go outside, to walk, see and engage with our world. It can be a positive, therapeutic pursuit for those whose lives have become too inward-looking, because it does the opposite.
Photography has already played a key role in both scientific understanding and an aesthetic appreciation of the world, and a political one too when used in campaigns to protect cherished landscapes from industrialisation. Wildlife photographers would no doubt point to the enormous inspiration and advocacy that great wildlife photography has given, especially in recent decades.
On creating meaningful landscape images…
What makes a photograph timeless and meaningful is often the result of a passion for a theme that has encouraged the photographer to go further and deeper into nuances of interpretation. Admittedly, luck and circumstance play a role in photography, but the lucky photographer is usually the one who has worked that bit harder, spent a bit longer, researched a bit more than the rest of us. Like beauty, perhaps meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so what is symbolic, powerful and significant to one person is shallow and pretentious to another. But there seems little doubt that the relatively few who are able to consistently produce genuinely meaningful work have a burning commitment, especially to their photography, and expressing their world, intellectually and emotionally.
So, improving your landscape photography is, in a practical sense, mostly a matter of devoting more time to its study. In this context, no time spent outside with a camera is wasted time - it should feel valuable to be there, whether or not it’s a successful session photographically (and in my case it often isn’t!). Without a true appreciation for nature it’s hard to find the willpower to stick with the time-consuming task of being in the landscape.
In summary, the landscape photographer seeking to make meaningful landscape images probably needs to spend more time practicing their photography; to engage their minds and hearts totally in what they are doing; to be tireless in their research; and to have a deep philosophical and emotional commitment to this great theme.
And did I say they should spend more time in the landscape practicing their photography?
Joe Cornish has been a professional photographer since 1983, living in North Yorkshire since 1993. He is an honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, currently Chair of its Fellowship Board, and a Fotospeed Signature Photographer. You can find out more about Joe’s Signature paper, Platinum Cotton 305, here.
Vincent Peal is clearly a man who is deeply moved by the plight of outsiders. His portfolio includes photos of the homeless, drug addicts, transgender women, the disabled and protestors, and each image has been taken with the upmost care and respect. If his images could be ever considered sensationalist, that is solely due to the nature of who he photographs.
With the refugee crisis once again in the news, Louise Carey sits down with Vincent, to discuss both his images of the Calais jungle and his thoughts on this political hot potato...
How would you describe your work to someone that’s never seen it before?
Wherever I go, I want my work to bear witness to what I’ve seen. I went to the Calais jungle as I wanted to see exactly what was going on for myself. The press came to Calais at first, to see what was happening, but after a few days they left and just stopped covering it. The French newspapers said that everything was very calm and that nothing was happening. However, when I arrived I saw just how terrible it was – it was 2 hours away from my home and it was absolute war. There was burning and rioting, but the press just wasn’t reporting it. I knew that I wanted to document it all in order to show the reality of life for the refugees living in Calais at the time. It was incredibly difficult to see everything that was going on, but I’m a photographer – documenting these atrocities is my job.
What do you want to achieve with your photographs?
I want to be able to open people’s minds. The sad reality of the world is that terrible things happen to people every single day. But I want to be able to show people that helping marginalised people is worthwhile. They may live differently, but they’re interesting and beautiful. Everything looks the same here – the cars, the people and the fashion. But the refugees are people from a different culture, with new ideas and experiences that we can learn from. I think we just need to be more open in general.
What are your thoughts on refugees coming to Europe?
It almost feels like an impossible situation. In my home country of Belgium I saw a TV report talking about people’s attitudes to refugees versus our own native homeless population. For some reason, I think people tend to be more giving towards the refugees, but our homeless need support too. I would like to help everyone, but it’s difficult. Can we accept everybody? I would like to, but can we actually do it? I don’t know.
When you’re shooting situations like the Calais jungle do you ever feel ethically compromised?
Yes. Sometimes when you’re a photographer you feel like you’re a peeping Tom. But this is my work, and I want to show real life. In WWII, there were a lot of Jewish people in the camps in Germany. But there were also a lot of journalists documenting it and showing what was happening. I feel that when I took these pictures I was showing that the Calais Jungle exists. The French press didn’t report it, so it was like they were denying its existence – just like some people try to say the Holocaust didn’t happen. But we have pictures from these journalists that prove that it did take place.
Has anyone ever asked you not to take their photo?
Of course. I do sometimes get people saying that they don’t want their photo taken. However, if that happens then I just say ‘Ok, no problem’, because I respect their wishes. Sometimes I’ll ask someone if I can take their picture, but if they say no then it’s not a problem for me.
What is the most difficult image you’ve ever taken?
One day I was at home with my girlfriend and we were at the window smoking a cigarette. Suddenly she screamed, and I turned my head to see a guy standing naked on top of the roof of the house opposite. He stepped off the roof and fell to the ground. He’d committed suicide because he wasn’t able to pay his rent, he didn’t have the right papers to stay in Belgium and he was completely alone. For almost two weeks afterwards the sound of the body hitting the ground was in my head. On that evening, I decided to go down and take a picture because I wanted to show that even in Belgium people are sad and disappointed, and suicide becomes an option for them.
That must have been very hard to see - why did you take that photo?
Taking the picture helped me to work through the trauma of what I’d witnessed. A lot of people are surprised that I did so, but I always say ‘Yes, why not?’. We know that there are problems like this in Brussels, and I feel that it’s my job to take pictures to show the world that these issues exist, even though doing so is difficult. I always try to talk to the people living on the street, to the people in Calais, and ask them what’s happening with them and where they come from. I like talking to people with different experiences, and feel that it’s very important for opening my mind.
Do you have any advice for documentary photographers who are just starting out?
Don’t think too much about the technical side of photography. Keep going and try to get close to who you’re photographing. I often work with a small camera, because that requires me to interact with my subject. Love and respect the people you want to take pictures of, because they feel it, and that’s how you’ll get amazing shots.
Vincent Peal is an award-winning documentary photographer who has captured hard-hitting images in locations such as New York, Paris and Berlin. See more of his work here.
Passionate about capturing all of the intricate details that nature crafts so beautifully, Alberto Ghizzi Panizza is an international award-winning photographer and a member of the Nikon School. We caught up with him to discover how he captures such amazing macro images...
How did you first get into photography?
I started to take pictures when I was a child. My father was an amateur photographer and he bought me my first film camera. However, my real passion developed when I purchased my first digital camera in 1998. It only had 0.06 megapixels but it meant I could take pictures of everything I wanted to without worrying about the developing costs. After years of using compact cameras, for example the Nikon Coolpix 990, I finally invested in my first digital reflex in 2004 – a Nikon D100. It was love at first sight, and from this point, I have been lucky enough to turn my passion into a career.
What made you interested in capturing close-ups of insects?
Throughout my 20 years as a photographer, I’ve embraced all forms of the art, from weddings and wildlife to landscape and astrophotography. However, macro photography is my true passion. I have always been fascinated in nature and the world around me. In fact, one of my favourite hobbies is heading down to the meadows at dawn, as at this time of day, the fields are alive with interesting subjects to snap; from dew drops through to unusual little insects. I find macro photography offers me the opportunity to showcase extraordinary levels of detail the naked eye just can’t see – a hidden world waiting to be discovered.
What equipment do you use for your macro shots?
There are a lot of equipment combinations you can use for macro pictures. Body-wise, the new Nikon D850 is a game-changer. Its resolution and speed are like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Plus, as the first Nikon camera that can take focus shift images without any mechanical movements, it’s perfect for macro photographers where every little movement and vibration is a potential problem.
Having used them for over 12 years, I’m a huge fan of Nikon’s Micro lenses. While their precise and long focusing ring allows you to easily concentrate on the subject, each lens has its own unique way of working. Favourites include the AF-S DX Micro 40mm f/2.8G, AF-S VR Micro 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED, AF-S Micro 60mm f/2.8 G ED and the AF-S DX Micro 85mm f/3.5G ED VR.
What’s a typical insect macro shoot like?
Macro photography requires plenty of patience and attempts before that perfect picture can happen. There are lots of factors you need to consider if you want an extremely sharp and detailed image, especially when shooting a moving subject like an insect. To combat vibrations which can cause your images to blur, you need a trusty tripod, and depending on which camera you use, you may need to use a cable release or remote controller to manage those vibrations caused by clicking the release button.
You also need the support of good macro lenses that will help you take a picture without going too close to the subject and disturbing it.
How do you find suitable locations?
It takes lots of research to know where and when certain insects will be visible, but I find the best time to go out is at dawn on a cloudy and fresh day where there is minimal wind. Insects are cold and numb from the night so in the early morning, it’s easy to find them resting on a flower or a shrub. In wet lands we can also find them covered in dew drops as they wait to dry themselves before the day begins. At sunrise and in the following minutes, the light is warm and well diffused, which offers the perfect moment to take pictures.
What’s the best shot you’ve ever taken?
Funnily, some of my favourite pictures are ones I took very close to my home in Parma, Italy, despite having travelled several countries of the world. There are two images that mean a lot to me. One is called 'Take my Hand' where two small damselflies seem to hold each other’s hand. This picture has become one of my most recognised. The second is titled “daisy reflections”, where dew drops on a blade of grass reflect a daisy in the background. This was my first successful photo trying out this technique, and I have used it many times since, including in a recent Nikon project called ‘The Beauty of Rust’, which explored the hidden wonders of rust up-close.
What’s your favourite story from your time photographing wildlife?
This has to be in Manitoba, Canada, where I captured an image of a polar bear which looks like he is praying. I was tens of meters away from him when I took the picture, lying on the ground with my Nikon to try and get a more impactful image. The bear woke up and looked me in the eye. At that moment, I felt the blood freezing through my veins, snapped lots of pictures and quickly got back in the car (in fear of my life!). The bear seems to be praying, but I believe he is rubbing his hands admiring the beautiful prey in front of him... me.
Focusing on macro, one image I had always wanted to capture was one of my beloved damselfly with drops of dew on its head. I tried for years, but the images never turned out right. Two years ago, I finally managed to create one I was pretty pleased with, but this year, thanks to the speed of the D850 and its automatic staking focus, I managed to capture several, including one of a pair of damselflies side by side with a drop of dew between their heads. A very interesting picture that I had never been able to capture before. I hope to snap many more in the future!
What would be your typical settings for a macro insect photo?
Settings tend to vary depending on what lens you use. Longer lenses, like the AF Micro 200mm f/4D IF-ED, have a greater working distance with the subject, whereas with shorter lenses, such as the AF-S DX Micro 40mm f/2.8G, you need to be closer. Assessing this distance to capture an image at an effective reproduction ratio is key.
When taking pictures of moving creatures with a single shot, it’s important to ensure the sensor of the camera is parallel with the subject to get it all in focus. This can be difficult when capturing very small, multidimensional objects, so I would suggest focus stacking. This technique involves taking a progression or sequence of shots from the nearest to the farthest point of the subject and then blending them together in post-production to create a crisp result.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
Alongside the Nikon D850, Nikon D810 and Micro lenses, I find that extension tubes are key if you want to increase the magnification capabilities of your macro lens, especially to go beyond the limit of the 1:1 reproduction ratio. Another useful accessory is a macro flash, such as the R1C1 kit, which allows you to freeze the moment with a very balanced light.
Do you have any tips for budding macro photographers?
To take successful macro images, a good knowledge of your equipment and how it works is essential. Understanding the depth of field and how aperture, focal length and focus work in tandem is the first important thing to master.
I would also encourage all budding macro photographers to get out there and experiment. Explore an area at dawn where you know there will be interesting insects or beautiful flowers you can capture. It’s an old age saying, but practice really does make perfect.
Alberto Ghizzi Panizza is an Italian photographer specialising in wildlife and landscapes. His clients include The Discovery Channel, Men's Health and Panorama. See more of his work here.
Often caught roaming around city suburbs to catch glimpses of urban wildlife, Sam Hobson is an award-winning conservation photographer. We caught up with him to discover more about his unconventional work capturing shots of UK wildlife...
How did you get into wildlife photography?
My first venture into wildlife photography wasn’t exactly conventional. I grew up in a busy city and had a passion for wildlife and the outdoors from an early age, but unfortunately I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income, or access to any decent camera kit. I didn’t want to let that stop me though, so I did as much as possible to learn about photography and how to get close to the animals in my neighbourhood.
Once I got my first camera (a hand-me-down Nikon SLR with a 20mm lens) I developed my knowledge of field-craft and my local environment. This allowed me to experiment with a different style of wildlife photography, which was getting close and personal without using long lenses. These early lessons helped me develop a style that has stayed with me ever since.
What made you interested in photographing urban foxes?
When I started working professionally, I was very much focused on developing the story behind each project and image. I had plans to explore an idea on the UK’s perception and relationship with foxes but I became weighed down in research. I eventually decided to put off beginning the project until my ideas were more solid.
Then I stumbled across a location in Bristol. For once, I decided to forget about the story and just take photos for fun, not getting too bogged down on where the image could lead and who might want to buy it. This was when my interest in photographing foxes really grew. It made me realise that with wildlife photography, you have to be an opportunist and shoot when the moment presents itself. Just like that, urban foxes became my magnum opus.
Can you explain the process behind photographing the foxes at night?
Don’t be a bull in a china shop. Don’t go in to a shoot with big lenses and bright flashes chasing foxes all over the place, because they’ll disappear and then know to avoid you next time. Instead, observe and think of them as individuals. You’ll soon work out which foxes are bolder than others and who might make good subjects.
After you’ve found a location, spend the first few visits letting the foxes get to know you. Once they become accustomed to you, you can then introduce the camera. This can take a day or even a week (it depends on the animals), but it’s really important to establish that connection first.
Once you find a fox happy to be photographed, consider using a mid-length zoom lens like the 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. In urban locations, there’s often enough ambient light to photograph at night, even with a full-frame, hand-held camera like the Nikon D750, paired with a lens like this which has a quick burst mode. Know your equipment and push it to its limits, using the highest ISO that will still produce a high quality image.
Another technique is to use a tripod or place the camera on a wall (perhaps with a battery grip) to change the vantage point. Set up everything manually beforehand, testing exposure and focus and working out where the fox needs to be in the frame. When you’re ready, move away from the equipment to encourage an inquisitive fox to investigate. When the fox is in frame, use a remote release to capture from a distance. If you keep your ISO high, you only need a very low-powered flash burst, which means the fox will not scare as easily. I tend to use an external flash to reduce disturbance and prevent red-eye.
How close were you able to get to the foxes?
I was able to get pretty close, but that only came from putting in the time to get to know them beforehand. The more wildlife photography you do, the more you understand animal behaviour. This is the difference between good and bad wildlife photographers – those who can sense an animal’s willingness and don’t just get the kit out straight away. Of course, you don’t want to miss opportunities, but I always find the best shots come with patience (and perhaps remote releases!).
How did you figure out where the best places to photograph the foxes were?
Keeping your eyes and ears open when you’re not out with your camera is the best way to get to know your local wildlife. You could be walking home from work one evening and spot an area that could be home to urban foxes. Mentally logging all these little moments and coming back at the right time is key.
And don’t forget to speak to people. Everyone has a story about an encounter with a fox, and they can provide goldmines of information.
What’s the best shot that you never got?
The limitations of photographing at night means missed opportunities are quite common, unfortunately. No matter what kit you have, sometimes there just isn’t enough light to facilitate a fast shutter speed, so my main struggle is capturing fox action, like play-fighting for example. If you find foxes that are happy to come out in the day time, make the most of it and photograph as much as possible.
What’s your favourite story from your time photographing wildlife?
I love the planning stages – getting to know the animals and then using their personalities and behaviours to help develop an idea. Also, in a world of emails, taking two hours out of your day to slow down and get back to nature is awesome.
What would be your typical settings for a fox photo?
My main setting is to push the ISO as high as possible and the aperture as wide as it can go. Even if you’re on a sixth of a second, the fastest shutter speed you can achieve within those settings is key. Once you’ve got that, it’s just a case of observing the animal.
Of course, there are moments when foxes freeze suddenly, whether they hear a car drive past or detect a person walking close-by. Use your senses to predict when they’ll do that. If I’m focusing on a fox walking across the street and I hear footsteps, I’m ready to capture that moment.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
The Nikon D750 is just great. With a tilt-screen monitor, compact body, full frame and unrivalled ISO, it’s the perfect body for the work I do. That combined with my Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF is my ideal set up, as you can focus nice and close and include plenty of background as context.
The 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II is the perfect lens for capturing mammals that are keeping their distance. It’s sharp and versatile, so you can quickly zoom out if the foxes start to get a little nosier.
It’s good to use a fast all-rounder, and for that, I would recommend the 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. With this lens, you can crank open the aperture as wide as possible and let in tons of light, which is great for when you’re working at night.
Do you have any tips for budding wildlife photographers?
Don’t be a jack of all trades. If you’re trying to get noticed, taking ten great pictures of something local to you will stand you in better stead than ten random pictures. Young photographers often think they must build a portfolio and photograph a wide range of animals, but this can lead to a mediocre set of images. Instead, really focus on a subject and get to know it until you have the best possible pictures you can achieve.
Don’t focus on what other people are doing either. Although it’s nice (and important) to take inspiration, don’t compare your work with theirs. Original imagery comes from your own story.
Sam Hobson is a professional wildlife photographer, based in Bristol, UK. He's won numerous awards in major competitions including Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Bird Photographer of the Year and British Wildlife Photography Awards. See more here.
From derelict asylums to dilapidated gothic castles, award-winning artist Gina Soden has explored hidden abandoned buildings across Europe, creating an incredible portfolio of work. We caught up with her to find out the secret to her success…
How would you describe your work to someone that’s never seen it before?
I photograph abandoned buildings across Europe. They’re all quite grand in style and I try to focus on composition, with straight lines, symmetry and leading lines. I’m also really quite obsessed with texture. If I can combine all of those elements then I’m perfectly happy.
Why are you interested in decaying environments?
I’m not really quite sure where the obsession came from. It was definitely more to do with the adventure side of it when I first started out. The locations themselves were so interesting with their stories and histories, and being rebellious and sneaking into them was also a big draw. However, now it’s all about the photography.
How do you get into the houses?
The majority of buildings have their windows and doors open because there’s not enough money to spend on securing them. I never break in, so if I can’t get into a building then I just leave it. It’s not worth the risk, so I just rely on doors and windows being open.
Urban Exploration has a thriving community. Did you start off by going into the buildings with other people?
I started doing it by myself because I found a local abandoned dairy farm. I didn’t really realise that it was a real thing until I started googling a bit and found a forum with lots of like-minded people. I actually found my boyfriend through that forum and I still drag him along on shoots now. It was all about the experience at the start, with the exploring and the parties, but I luckily made a career out of it.
I’m so impressed that you went in by yourself to that dairy farm!
I still actually go into the buildings by myself. Recently I flew to Prague and then I drove to parts of Germany alone and that was amazing – although it was probably the wrong time of year for it because it was freezing!
What’s the most difficult place that you’ve shot?
At the time this was incredibly difficult, although with my experience now I’d probably find it easier. It was an asylum in London and the problem was that there was 24-hour security, cameras and sensors that would set off an alarm if you walked past them. What I occasionally had to do was crawl on my hands and knees through a tunnel for a few feet and then stand up. It was a tunnel network, so I had no idea where I was, so I had to use a tunnel map. It was really quite disorientating! I finally got to the end and I had to crawl up through the floorboards to access the wards. I actually heard the security walking above me at one point and he was shouting, “hello! I know you’re down there!” and it was such a thrilling feeling. I was so scared at the time, but I look back on it now and laugh because it was just ridiculous.
There was another point where we wanted to get to the east side of the asylum. But to get there we had to go through the tunnel and come up to the main hall, crawl through a window into the wards and then back down into the tunnel again. The security guards were always walking through that section, which made it such a great adventure.
Did you ever have the James Bond theme playing in your head at these moments?
Haha, not really! It was more just hearing my heart thumping in my ears! I wasn’t afraid of getting caught; I just didn’t want the adventure to be over. I do this full time now, but I feel like I come across less and less security, but maybe that’s because I’m choosing places where there aren’t any. I’m not doing that deliberately; I think it’s just that I’m going to locations that no one cares about. I found that especially in Italy and Germany there’s a lot less security generally.
Who owns these places?
A lot of them are owned by foreign investors, who have control over the land but just don’t do anything with them. I’ve rarely come across an owner, but when I have it’s been quite a scary experience. If you do want to get into this I’d advise you to just be careful, especially in the UK. Occasionally I come across locations that are impossible to get in so I’ll seek permission, and luckily because a big chunk of my portfolio is made up of images that I’ve been commissioned to take or sought permission for, I can send them my CV and usually it’s okay. Sometimes I’d rather do that, because it makes my work a bit easier.
Have you ever had any trouble where someone’s recognised a building in one of your photos as their house?
I don’t want to jinx it, but that’s never happened – touch wood! If I’m shooting the kind of place where I think that could happen then I’ll seek permission first. It really depends on the location. I used to shoot a lot of houses where belongings had been left behind, but I don’t really do that anymore. It felt like I was trespassing, but in a much more significant way than, say if I was shooting a swimming pool owned by a town council.
Do you ever look into why these buildings were abandoned?
Sometimes I do if it adds to the story of the location, but most of the time it’s because they can’t afford to renovate it or the person that lives there dies and then there are arguments between the family members and they can’t decide what to do with it so the place gets left abandoned. However, sometimes I like my viewers to make up their own minds.
Do you ever try to have a message or deeper meaning into your work?
I do sometimes, but, like I said before, I mostly like my viewers to form their own opinions. But, that has started to come across my mind recently and I think I’d like to delve deeper into that. Why do we have so many abandoned buildings? Why do we have so many housing shortages? All the recent stories about refugees have really made me start to think about the fact that I’ve slept in a lot of these buildings, so I know other people can quite safely. I think we’re now just so obsessed with red tape, bureaucracy and health and safety, which really does annoy me. I’d like to think that one day my work could inspire people to start a project and help others out. I’d like to be the Leonardo de Caprio of housing shortages!
What’s been your favourite place to shoot?
It’s probably a castle in Belgium. It was used first as a family home and then as a boarding school. It’s my piece called ‘Blue Orphanage’. It was a gothic castle that was absolutely incredible with huge sweeping staircases, 60ft clock tower and massive gardens. Getting there was really interesting, as you had to either scramble up a big hill, or trek along a long path through enchanted woods until you arrived at a drawbridge. It felt like a fairy tale. It was such a cool place to shoot, it had so much decay and it was just amazing. But unfortunately it’s being demolished, which is so disappointing. But because it’s being demolished it almost makes me even more fond of it, because I captured that building at that specific time. I probably won’t see a building like it again because it was so unique.
What do you think makes a good Urban Exploration shot?
I think one of the most important things is composition. There should be strong lines to lead your eye into the frame, or if there isn’t, then there should be a striking object of interest in the foreground. Try and avoid using too heavy HDR, because it can be distracting and take away from the location. People are so obsessed now about technology and what equipment you’re using, when it should really be about the place. If you want to shoot old buildings like this then it’s worth looking into symmetry. The architects back then weren’t so interested in glass and concrete, it was more about interesting features on the wall.
Do you have any advice for photographers that are just starting out?
Generally, I’d say try not to shoot anything and everything. Try shooting a few things and see what you enjoy. I think people can start out and get overwhelmed. Try not to get too obsessed with social media likes, just enjoy what you’re doing. While the gear is important in some aspects, finding a subject that you really enjoy shooting and fine-tuning your skill is key. Look for advice from other people and don’t be disheartened by any criticism – it’s the only way you can move forward sometimes. If you want to get into urban exploration then make sure you use your common sense. If possible, try to go with someone else and don’t think you’ll get into every location because it’s not always possible.
Gina Soden is a London-based fine art photographer who specialises in abandoned structures and locations throughout Europe. See more of her work here.
From rank amateur to acclaimed pro in just four years, Jason Miller has combined his love of music and photography with impressive results. Having notched up over 500 gigs and festivals, we thought it was time we found out Jason’s secrets…
Why live music?
Having grown up playing in a hair metal band and working in the music industry for more than a decade, I’ve always loved music and going to concerts. When I quit the music business, I wanted to stay connected to the industry, so I started writing a music blog. This led to my first photo pass and concert shoot. It’s all about the music for me and every show I shoot is my opportunity to showcase an artist to the world through my unique perspective.
Describe your first live music photos?
I was writing concert reviews for a weekly newspaper and got offered to cover Mötley Crüe (an all-time favorite band of mine). I’d never picked up a DSLR in my entire life, but that day I went out and bought a Nikon D3200. I stayed up all night learning how to shoot with this camera by giving myself a crash course. On the day of the show, my shots were awful. After that experience, I vowed to master concert photography.
How did you improve?
I’m completely self-taught. While Nikon cameras are easy to use as they cater for all levels, I learned a tremendous amount from the Nikon tutorials, as well as expert tips and tricks and also from following Jared Polan. Immersing yourself in photographic communities is a great way to learn very quickly, as you can share your experiences with one another. Beyond that, I practiced with the DSLR every chance I got and did a tremendous amount of experimentation and research until I felt comfortable shooting in manual.
What are you trying to capture and what makes a good gig photo?
The general rule for concert photographers is that you’re allowed to shoot the artist for the first three songs, but only without flash. A DSLR is particularly beneficial in these low-light circumstances, offering the combination of a higher ISO, larger aperture and slower shutter speed to let more light in. My D810 is great for this. The first thing I try to do is capture a story within those three songs, along with the energy of the crowd and the general atmosphere. I’m looking to do two things - capture the moment for the crowd to relive later, and share the experience for those who couldn’t make it. I’m more focused on capturing that one standout image.
How many gigs/concerts/festivals have you photographed?
I’ve probably shot around 500 gigs and concerts since I began in 2012. I’ve also done quite a few festivals, but I really like the smaller theater and club shows.
What have been the highlights?
The highlights have been many, including Guns N' Roses in Vegas, Roger Waters at AT&T Park, AC/DC twice in one year, Kiss, Sam Smith kicking off his first US tour in Boston, Metallica on Super Bowl eve, and my all-time favourite band The Cult multiple times. I could go on forever - I have so many great moments.
Any lowlights? Broken cameras, beer showers, stage divers etc…
I had a crowd surfer fall on my head while shooting Taking Back Sunday. Another time, the singer of Yak reached off the stage and hit my DSLR with the head of his guitar. I also got covered in fake blood and God knows what else while shooting GWAR. Beer, spit, water, vodka, whiskey, sweat; you name it, it’s been on my camera and me more than once.
What are the challenges of live music photography?
The challenges are many - unpredictable lights, unpredictable movements, little to no light, shooting in a crowded photo pit (or no pit at all), stage divers, artists who don’t particularly like photographers, and having the right gear in place with the right settings for the right show. You often need to be able to capture those split-second moments, with harsh lighting. These perfect moments are so fleeting that you need reliable equipment, like the D810, so you’re prepared to capture them when they present themselves.
What skills (photographic or otherwise) does a live music photographer need?
I think the most important skill is being able to shoot effectively in full manual. The only thing that I set to auto is the AF, since it’s virtually impossible to focus manually on a singer or guitar player flying through the air doing an epic leg kick. DSLRs have lots of AF points, so utilise these and press the shutter halfway to find your desired focus. It’s also essential to anticipate the lights that are constantly changing while focusing on composition.
Has being a marketing manager helped your photography in any way?
Absolutely. The fact that I can capture the visuals, write the story, market the content and optimise it to be found on the web, gives me an edge. In addition, being a photographer on a marketing team can be incredibly helpful for content creation. I use my DSLR at work almost daily to capture team photos, stock photography alternatives, video interviews, product shots etc. It adds an entirely new level of originality and unleashes the constraints on creativity that would be in place if I had to rely on others to interpret my vision. I think being an expert in only one thing in today’s professional world is limiting for anyone.
What advice would you give you to a budding live music photographer?
Find a DLSR that you love and get a couple of starter lenses (Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8G lens is a beauty, and a kit zoom lens is fine for starters). Then get out of auto immediately. Take a class on composition and lighting then go and experiment. I would also advise making friends with some local bands and go and practice shooting them - just remember the ‘no flash’ rule unless you have permission in the location you’re shooting. Once you get the hang of things, then I recommend finding a music publication or blog to shoot for so you can request your first photo pass and take the next step.
Jason Miller is a marketer and global content marketing leader at LinkedIn by day, and a rock ‘n’ roll photographer by night. Check out his blog here.
From Ned Stark's gruesome death to the infamous Red Wedding and Jon Snow's resurrection, stills photographer Helen Sloan has documented every moment of HBO's massively popular TV show. The best job ever? Certainly sounds like it...Read More