Young blood

00001Oliver Rose

Kelly Lynch talks with three young photographers who made waves last year within the challenging fashion and commercial environment

Coming up roses

Personable young photographer Oliver Rose has based himself near central Auckland’s trendy hub, Ponsonby Central — the ideal spot to meet clients and discuss image ideas over a strong cup of coffee. Working in close proximity to your requisite caffeine fix is just one of the invaluable tricks the 23-year-old has picked up while working predominantly as a fashion and portrait photographer for the past two years.

In that short time Rose has built up an impressive list of clients, and enough of a reputation that he’s now eyeing up the international market. Rose says he has managed to stay ahead in the highly competitive market because he is eager, passionate and driven, which people notice and like. “Agencies are always looking for something fresh, the new kid on the block,” he explains. 

But it is bigger than that, Rose spends time understanding what he calls his client’s vocabulary, getting to know their brand. He researches trends applicable to them, what medium their message will work well in, and he shoots stills and/or video to match.

6 Oliver Rose

A diverse interest in visual arts has helped Rose establish his distinct visual style. His passion for oil painting was kindled in school, where he produced artworks drawing influences from cinema, particularly early German expressionist films from the 1920s to ’30s. His photographs unsurprisingly now echo this cinematic feel, too. 

His time at Auckland’s Elam art school was focused on film-making, with stints assisting on music videos and an independent film to bolster his practical experience. After he finished school at 19, an opportunity to shoot during New Zealand Fashion Week opened doors for him, igniting a career in fashion photography.

He says he spent three years killing himself doing jobs. He lived on two-minute noodles, and would spend nights learning, upskilling in areas like post-production, studio shoots and business acumen to further his prospects. Now, despite now having a healthy number of key clients who keep him fed on more substantial fare than packet noodles, he still regularly spends evenings in the studio, further developing his know-how by trialling lighting and different shoots. 

The effort has resulted in a style Rose can claim as his own, and one he is very protective of. Instead of working a shoot he feels wrong for, he says he would rather turn down a job to ensure the client hires the right person.

It’s a work ethic that ensures business has been very good, so much so that next year he is expanding to Sydney while still maintaining his Auckland business, returning regularly for shoots. There is no hesitation in his voice when he shares his future ambition to make imagery in the fashion worlds of New York and Europe. 

Elena Stejko Sacha Stejko

Turning heads

Finding a niche is always solid business advice, and Sacha Stejko has done just that — in the last three years the young photographer has taken close to 450 head shots. Over the past two years, since she turned 21, Stejko has become the go-to photographer for actors’ head shots, a reputation gained from working with the country’s chief acting agencies and a healthy dose of word of mouth.

Stejko’s photographic beginnings include a scholarship to Auckland’s Whitecliffe College, and winning a Sony-sponsored competition at the age of 18. Her prize was the opportunity to shoot during New Zealand Fashion Week, which opened her eyes to a career path that she then knew she was bound for.

Six months later Stejko took a trip to Switzerland, with the opportunity to photograph Russian actor and clown Slava Polunin’s world-famous production, Slava’s Snowshow. The resultant images were published in the show’s promotional material and book.

IMG_3862 Sacha Stejko

Back in New Zealand she did a few assisting gigs for fashion photographers Sam Crawford, Garth Badger and the late Craig Owen, learning vital tricks of the trade. Before long opportunities to photograph for agencies and theatre companies arose, and Stejko branched out on her own, establishing her distinctive niche.

Having grown up with a mother who was an actress, director and acting tutor, Stejko is no stranger to the business. She has witnessed hundreds of casting photos pass by the casting director’s gaze, and recognizes the looks that cause the page-flicking to halt, from which leading roles are won.

joel Sacha Stejko

Her familiarity with actors and their world allows her to easily relate and offer insight. “A lot of actors are pigeonholed into one look,” she says. “I photograph the presence of the actor, take a range of shots, if the person is a bit cheeky then I want to show that and give them an edited selection.”

Stejko takes shoots in a naturally-lit space in her home, creating a relaxed environment for clients to unwind and trust her. Because she wants to capture authentic imagery, she must be genuine and able to connect with those in the industry. She sees her work as a huge responsibility, directly related to her clients being able to generate income, but it’s also a source of pride as she watches clients gain roles time and again.

IMG_3368 Sacha Stejko

While head shots make up the bulk of her work, Stejko also shoots PR shots for theatre companies and, like many, is increasingly asked by clients to supply video. Ultimately she sees herself doing more fashion photography, and she’d also like to direct and produce films in the future, but for now she is in her element.

Fashionably early

Karen Ishiguro is a 20-year-old fashion and beauty photographer who has attracted a lot of attention in a very short space of time. She has quickly earned her stripes on the photographic assistant track, and is now blazing a trail of her own, already catching the eye of one of the country’s top fashion designers.

Karen Ishiguro Photographers Mail Karen Ishiguro

Ishiguro’s work was published in the Platform feature in Remix magazine late last year, a space where up-and-coming photographers collaborate with Kingsize Studios to produce a spread. This issue was seized upon by Trelise Cooper, and Ishiguro’s images are now front focus of the Trelise Cooper website, and her 2013–2014 collections.

Without any formal photography training, Ishiguro launched into practical assisting work right after high school. She assisted the late fashion photographer, Craig Owen, on a two-week Farmers Trading Company shoot, and was impressed with his know-how, professionalism, and the high esteem in which he was held. In awe of Owen’s work and the shoot, the experience left her hungry for more. 

She emailed other fashion photographers whose work she admired, and feels extremely lucky to have worked for the likes of Jessica Sims, Guy Coombes, Caroline Haslett, Stephen Tilley, and Monty Adams. The assisting experience taught her teamwork, punctuality, how to deal with stress and, most importantly, to have fun and be inspired by other creatives. 

Karen Ishiguro Photographers Mail 2 Karen Ishiguro

Though her career as a photographer has quickly been established, Ishiguro will still assist other photographers if available — only these days the photographers come calling on her. 

In addition to Trelise Cooper, the photographer’s clients include fashion labels Ruby and Liam, Showroom 22 PR agency, Taylor boutique, Meccano clothing, and magazines like Remix and Element. For such jobs she is happy to mix things up, and shoot in hired studios or on location.

Asked what inspires her photography, she points to biannual Dutch magazine, The Gentlewoman, saying she’s moved by articles containing strong, confident women in the workforce today. “The photographs are absolutely beautiful to look at too; the lighting is always very simple but very powerful,” she explains, “with minimal retouching and often containing many black and white images, which I love.”

Ishiguro works on shoots from beginning to end, keeping control of the whole process and, like others, sees the value in doing the hard yards between shoots — researching ideas, scouting locations, retouching images, working at her business. She balances the intense work with travel as a way of expanding her horizons, and hitting the reset button. I talked to her as she is returning from a trip to Iceland, where she was stirred by the colour and dancing movement of the Northern Lights. Now she says she’ll hit the ground back in Auckland refreshed and ready to work. 

Links of interest:

Oliver Rose

Sacha Stejko

Karen Ishiguro

Mob mentality

Rachel Callander, Tymon, Super Power Babies Project

Adrian Hatwell explores the local options for crowdfunding photographic projects, and the clever creatives putting them to work

In the last five years the idea of crowdfunding has increasingly gathered steam. For many creative endeavours across the globe, crowdfunding is now the first and only port of call necessary to get a project up and running. Uptake has not been quite as vigorous in New Zealand as other parts of the world, but a slow and steady build in popularity has local crowdfunding platforms set to hit a tipping point soon. It’s something the world’s biggest crowdsourcing website, Kickstarter, seems aware of, having opened shop in New Zealand recently.

With its launch in November 2013, Kickstarter joins such local platforms as PledgeMe and Boosted as online destinations for creative Kiwis to float their ideas and vie for the public’s dollar. Internationally, such services have been a valuable tool for photographers in producing a wide array of products — books, exhibitions, films, tours, prints, collaborations — anything that might catch donor attention.

Things like video-game, film, and design projects have traditionally been the biggest successes in the crowdfunding realm, but Kickstarter reports having raised US$9.73 million for various photography projects to date. Our local variants don’t have quite such impressive numbers, but there have been a number of small-scale successes and a few rather sizeable ones too. Anna Guenther, founder of PledgeMe, says the site hasn’t had a huge volume of photography projects come through, but of those that have, 49 per cent have been successfully funded, and she sees New Zealand as particularly ripe for crowdfunding to flourish.

“I think we build communities and connections quicker [in New Zealand], because the degrees of separation are less. If a story is sticky, it’ll spread like wildfire through a community — like the photography community.”

Success stories

One recent local campaign certainly backs this up. As reported in Issue No. 197 of The Photographer’s Mail, Timaru-based photographer Rachel Callander launched a campaign on the PledgeMe website with the aim of raising $70,000 to create a photo book featuring New Zealand children with chromosomal and genetic conditions. It was one of the website’s most ambitious funding goals to date, but Callander’s worthy goal of “changing the way we in New Zealand see and talk about people with disabilities” ended up netting over $85,000 during its four-week campaign.

Rachel Callander, Romy, Super Power Babies Project

“We were very optimistic, we did a lot of planning before the campaign; a whole month of market research and figuring out how many people we could get involved,” Callander explains. “But it was a huge punt — PledgeMe said the average successful campaign was only around $3000.”

Callander was originally inspired to crowd-fund the project after hearing about the success of her cousin Chris Thomson and his business partner, Ben Ryan, at their Queenstown company, Syrp. Last year they managed to raise over US$636,700 for the ‘Genie’, a motion-control and image-capture device for film and time-lapse photography.

“When we began developing the Genie we always had Kickstarter in mind for launching our product,” Ryan says. “At the time Kickstarter was becoming very popular, and it seemed like every week there was a new highest-funded project. We thought it was a great fit for our project, since there are a lot of creatives on there and people getting excited for new products.”

Spreading the word

The beginnings of these two successful campaigns were very different — Callander was looking to pre-sell her book before going out to create it, while Syrp had already sunk a year and lots of money into developing the Genie before launching its Kickstarter initiative. Despite the differences, both took similar steps for publicizing their campaigns from the outset, with a hard emphasis on web-based promotion.

“The plan was to just hit every related blog and website that we could; social media also played a huge part in spreading the word,” Ryan says. “We also spent a lot of time just creating new footage with the Genie, and making films that would not only get shared among the tech sites but also more creative websites.”

Callander says Facebook was initially her main driver for publicity, but soon discovered the demands of constantly keeping the campaign in front of suitable potential backers meant a more diverse strategy was needed.

“We have this graph, and it plays out like a one-day cricket match. You go in hard at the start. We Facebooked all our friends and family and got heaps of pledges on the first day. Then it kind of waned a little bit. Then it waned a lot.”

With the initial momentum dropping off she turned to the more conventional media release, sending the story off to newspapers and TV stations, which proved very effective. When it came to marketing reach, the Genie campaign found most of its backers in the US, whereas the Super Power Baby Project had an extremely loyal local following, with people all around Timaru throwing fundraising events to pitch in.

Regardless of whether you want to take a very community-focused approach or are hoping for more geographically broad appeal, the advice echoed by the experts is to speak to your backers as a community, and engage them in on a more personal, conversational level.

“Crowdfunding backers are not your regular customers; they want to be a part of your project and come along for the journey,” Ryan advises. Similarly, Guenther says the biggest mistake she sees at PledgeMe is people not tapping into their own networks successfully. “Crowdfunding is really about engaging your crowd, and if they like what they see it’ll spread further afield.”

Which platform to choose

That is precisely why Mark Michel, Boosted’s manager, thinks the platform is ideal for photographic artists to launch projects from, despite its slow start in the medium.

“Boosted is about helping a project to raise money, but it is also about helping to nurture the artists, no matter what stage of their career they are in. We endeavour to sit down or at least talk to every single project that comes through.”

super power baby project

As part of The Arts Foundation, the website is a way for artists to benefit from the organization’s 13 years of experience of managing private funds, building partnerships in the industry, and leveraging sponsorship, which Michel would like to see more photographers take advantage of.

Callander, however, says she was very happy with PledgeMe’s community-focused vibe and website design, though when it came to advice she had to go outside the organization to a friend for business-minded mentoring. Kickstarter’s more global saturation definitely has its advantages, says Ryan, but the company itself will not help with marketing your project, and its size can also detract from its efficacy.

“There are a lot of projects on there now from large companies basically trying to pre-sell products — these guys don’t really need to raise the funds, they are just wanting to utilize the large audience to sell things, and I’m surprised Kickstarter allows it. It has sort of moved away from just a couple of guys in a shed trying to launch something for the first time.”

Regardless of which platform you’re looking at, there’s undeniable potential for local photographers to begin using crowdfunding more frequently. The concept is definitely gaining traction in New Zealand, and savvy photographers willing to put the work in will likely discover it to be a rewarding new avenue for funding in an environment where traditional opportunities are becoming increasingly hard to come by.

What is ‘crowdfunding’?

Anyone can attempt to raise money for a project by creating an online campaign on one of the many crowdfunding websites. These platforms provide a space where creators can pitch their idea to the world, along with a simple mechanism allowing interested backers to pledge money to the campaign, often getting rewards based on the amount pledged.

If a campaign reaches its funding goal within the allocated time frame, those pledges are turned into actual funds and the project is away; if not, then there’s no money for the creator, no money lost by the backers.

Different websites have their own particulars, but this is the basic concept behind them all.

Top five tips for successful crowdfunding

PledgeMe’s Anna Guenther gives us her best pointers for raising the money you’re after on a crowdfunding website:

1. don’t just promote the campaign, promote you

2. make it a journey, not just an ask

3. individual emails are gold

4. sharing photos works really well on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

5. get help, and make the promotion part fun (e.g. a working bee with beers)

Links of interest

Kickstarter PledgeMe Boosted Super Power Baby Project Syrp

Images: Rachel Callander

The troubleshooter

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Peter Bush catches up with Dean Pemberton, the man who’s one-part local sports photojournalist and one-part globetrotting IT wizard

We had enjoyed a late-afternoon coffee at Clark’s cafe in the Wellington Library building when Dean Pemberton checked his watch, and said it was time he hurried off to the Chinese Embassy to pick up his visa for a coming visit. While I congratulated him on it, he in turn reminded me that he would miss the opening games of the ITM Rugby competition and the Wellington test between the All Blacks and Australia. My offer to swap places was met with a wry smile while he reminded me he was visiting China to work.

Dean is first an IT professional who travels widely, teaching the mysteries of the internet and allied technology in many emerging countries. This year alone his visits have included a rare one to Myanmar (Burma), a country that only recently lifted the bamboo curtain after 50 years of military rule, followed by Tonga, which despite being our Pacific neighbour has yet to access the submarine fibre-optic cable connecting the region.

Most recently he visited Tanzania in East Africa, as one of a six-member team sent to tutor and work with 80 students new to the IT world. He found it quite an exciting and different experience. The teaching staff was drawn from Denmark, Chile and the US, a real miniature United Nations.

In terms of a camera, Dean went with the bare minimum, a tiny Canon S100 point-and-shoot. A good photographer doesn’t let gear limit them, and Dean set out to document the trip with optimism. “I took inspiration from all the photographers to go before me and made the best of it.”

I think he and the Canon S100 make a good team, as the pictures here demonstrate.

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With all this international travel and technology wrangling you might get the impression of a lofty guru removed from the daily routine of the average photographer, but Dean is far from it.

A few days before our coffee-bar meeting we had both been at the Hutt Recreation Ground to cover a late-afternoon All Black warm-up game. Dean was harnessed up with his two Canon 1D Mark IV cameras, one carrying a 300mm f/2.8, the other a 70–200mm f/2.8, with a 16–35mm in his belt pouch. Despite being fully loaded to shoot Dean was helping sort out problems for both older and younger photographers, including myself, before the teams even took the field. This IT wizard gives freely of his technical expertise.

So how and where did this globetrotting IT pro /photographer start?

Dean was Wellington born and bred, and grew up in that singular valley suburb of Wainuiomata, where he rubbed shoulders at school with Tana Umaga, among other sports personalities. A diligent student, he was given his first small computer before he was a teenager, and had already inherited his Dad’s old box Brownie camera. In-between taking pictures with roll film and waiting forever to get the results back, he played rugby for a local high-school team and later took up skiing and snowboarding.

From school to Victoria University saw him graduate first with a science degree, later earning his Masters. His first job was with the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington, helping build its digital network, and making sure it all held together. He says it was a job he enjoyed, in a good environment, and it gave him the opportunity to travel around the country.

A move to Australia saw him working out of both Sydney and Melbourne as an IT troubleshooter for a US-based firm, and while he covered most of Australia he also spent a good deal of time outside the country working, also travelling to the United States for training schemes. Dean says he found it a very different, challenging experience. After a number of years he came home to New Zealand.

4 Pemberton  Sprinbok grazing on the open veldt.Pemberton Pic

As well as holding down a top IT job Dean slowly made his way into the world of the professional sports photographer, initially through old friend, Peter McDonald, who invited him to attend a course on digital photography he was running at Lower Hutt Technical School.

In short order he went from being a pupil to joining Peter, covering sporting events for the local Hutt News paper. His first assignment was an off-road bike race, and some of the resulting pictures were published in the paper — that was five or six years back, and they are both still covering the Wellington sporting scene for the Hutt News. Sports events range from First XV rugby games through netball to swimming.

When I quizzed Dean on his favourite sporting assignment he paused before answering. “Maybe I will upset a few fans when I say that netball comes out on top.”

He says he enjoys the game’s fast pace with few stoppages, that it involves loads of kids and, best of all, the great warm, friendly, family atmosphere at the big games. “I really enjoy it,” he states simply.

Of his rugby coverage Dean finds it a game of two halves; half the time he is a photojournalist trying for new camera positions, the other half he’s submitting and filing on the fly. He feels the latter comes as naturally as the former. “After all that’s my day job,” he says with a smile.

He loves the deadlines and the pressure that come with digital coverage of sport, especially rugby, and can comfortably have all his 20 to 30 shots fully edited and filed half an hour after the full-time whistle.

“I can then shut the lid of the Pelican case and go home to my family, always my first priority.”

Images: taken by Dean Pemberton on his trip to Tanzania

Enlist in photography boot camp

IMG_2828A new boot camp to hone specialised skills in particular realms of photography has been developed for passionate photographers. Following the success of educator Bring Your Own Laptop's initial Intro Photography course, a series of workshops has now been developed under the Bring Your Own Camera umbrella.

With four one-day courses available, including Intro Photography, Night Photography, Street/Travel Photography, and Landscape Photography. These can be taken individually as one-day courses or you can be a part of all of them to create a full four-day photography course.

The Photography Boot Camp comes about due to the increasing demand of amateur photographers wanting to undertake courses to enhance their skills.

The training company is Auckland- and Wellington-based, and director Daniel Walter Scott initially underestimated the passion New Zealand amateur photographers had for their art.

“I’ve been impressed by the community that has developed amongst our photography delegates. Our photographers want nothing more than to be on their journey together with their fellow learners — they want community as much as they want new skills.”

To encourage this community feel that he acknowledges photgraphers desire, a social media space has been created that is dedicated to photography. Free email support is also available for course participants for six months after the course is completed.

You can find more details on the series of workshops and pricing by visiting bringyourownlaptop.co.nz.

Learn to love Lightroom

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Adobe's Lightroom is a deceptively complex tool and getting to grips can be a frustrating exercise in information bombardment, but a new series of workshops has been developed to ensure photographers can now learn the exact set of skills they need for a chosen creative path, in an easy to digest format.

The reformatted and relaunched post-processing series  comes from photography educator Paul Petch & Co. The teaching is overseen by commercial photographer (and regular D-Photo contributor) Paul Petch, who has more than a decade's worth of experience to share, working with such companies and clients as Tourism New Zealand, Emirates, and John Key.

Instead of a full day of cramming as much Lightroom knowledge into your head as possible (like most workshops), with not a lot sticking, this series of three-hour monthly sessions has been developed to ensure you learn the most useful aspects of the program as efficiently as possible. You can learn what you want.

The beginner's “Taking control of your images” workshop will teach you about setting up folders, basic post processing, and backing up images is set at $149, and once you've mastered those tools you can dive deeper into the pool of knowledge to the in-depth workshop series.

These in-depth workshops cost $199 and will guide you through post-processing for action sports, portraits, weddings, and landscapes. No matter what sort of photographer or creative you are, there will be a technique taught that will relate to your passion.

Then there's the advanced series of Lightroom and Photoshop workshops for pros and aspiring professionals, teaching image licensing, working out client delivery and increasing workflow — you can be a part of these for $299.

These workshops are all about giving you the chance to define and create your own processes to form result that are unique to your style of creativity.

The workshops also include a bonus video overview of what you've been taught, so you'll be able to review your new set of skills at any time.

If you're interested in booking in for these workshops, head to paulpetch.co.nz to find out how.

The adrenalin photographer

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Jesper Storgaard Jensen speaks to renowned Italian stuntman photographer Massimo Sestini who specializes in spectacular, often risky, aerial photographs

“I’m often told it’s impossible to take a certain photo, or forbidden to go into a certain area to take photos. At that moment, when I hear the words ‘not possible’, something clicks inside me. It’s like waving a red cape in front of a bull. This prohibition becomes a challenge and I have to prove that it is actually possible to take the photos.”

Massimo Sestini, renowned as the so-called ‘stuntman photographer’ from Florence, is sitting relaxed in his studio. That peacefulness contrasts starkly with what he was doing the day before our interview. A storm had ravaged the Ligurian coastline, causing massive destruction. The 49-year-old had sent himself on a daring mission: to photograph a natural disaster while it was happening. 

“I heard about the storm and widespread destruction early in the morning, so I rushed to Florence’s small airport. I managed to find a small chopper and a pilot who was willing to take off immediately. There was a strong wind, it was raining, and it felt like the chopper was made of cardboard. So it was not exactly a joyride. We took off a total of three times and we were spinning around in the air for several hours. It was so bloody cold. Near the end of the shoot, I was so cold I couldn’t keep a grip on my camera,” recalls Massimo with a chuckle.

However, the frozen fingers and risky ride paid off. The next day, when the natural disaster appeared in the headlines of all the Italian dailies, the accompanying photos bore the name of one person: Massimo Sestini.

Michelle Hunziker in the first official release from yachting team Mascalzone Latino, (Valencia, Spain)

From a different angle

A completely self-taught photographer, Sestini’s interest in photography was sparked when he received a Miranda DX camera for his 13th birthday.

“From then on, I was focused on photography. I set up a darkroom in the family bathroom where I developed mainly black and white photos. Later on, in high school, I shot all the annual photos of the school’s various classes. At 17 I started to shoot lots of photos during rock concerts in and around Florence,” he explains.

His first real job as a photographer was with the local daily, La Nazione. He learned how to track down important news, but it wasn’t until he left the paper to become a freelance photographer that he quickly discovered another key aspect to the business — there are only two categories of photos; those that sell and those that don’t.

“As a freelance photographer I soon learned that to sell your product you need to be able to offer something extraordinary. You have to be able to tell a story with your photos and, if possible, from a totally new angle. Remember, many dailies and news magazines are able to get their images at a low cost from news agencies such as Ansa, Reuters, or Associated Press. They will only spend money on photos if they can get something really special.”

This philosophy prompted Sestini to go airborne in 1991. He began shooting photographs of VIPs from a small airplane. One of his most lucrative and memorable paparazzi shots is of a bikini-clad Lady Diana on board a luxury yacht in Italian waters. He nabbed this shot from a two-motor sports plane. It was published worldwide and no doubt earned Sestini a king’s ransom.

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Soon he added feature photos to the paparazzi shots. In 1992, he went to Sicily on a feature assignment on the day after the Mafia assassinated prosecuting magistrate Giovanni Falcone, who for years had investigated organized crime.

“The day after the murder of Falcone, Palermo was totally packed with photographers. Falcone had been killed by a giant dynamite explosive hidden under a road in the small town of Capaci, just outside of Palermo. He had to take this road to get to the airport. The deadly explosion made headlines worldwide and the photographers present were elbowing each other to get good shots. I was becoming fed up with the situation and, at that moment, it came to mind that I had to do something to get a shot that was different than those of my colleagues,” Sestini recounts.

He found that different angle — from the air. He rushed to Palermo’s airport, where in record time he managed to find a small Piper airplane and talked the pilot into taking off. Sestini’s aerial photos allowed the entire world to see how the Mafia bombing had left an enormous crater in the road.

Not work, passion

Sestini speaks with unbridled enthusiasm. He seems to be drawing figures in the air as he speaks. It’s obvious that photography is not a job, but a passion, especially when he has air under his wings.

“I love taking photos. It’s my job but also my hobby. But, as you know, in any job routine inevitably sneaks in at a certain point. However, after many years of photography, shooting from the air has not yet become routine and probably never will. It’s still fantastic,” he says thoughtfully.

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Over the years this passion has become his artistic trademark. He’s capable of creating photographic art like few other photographers. An excellent example is the April 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome. Hundreds of photographers from all over the world were present to immortalize this important event. But Sestini couldn’t be spotted among them.

“I knew beforehand that many photographers would be present, and it would have been difficult to work. They were all crowded on top of the colonnade circling the piazza. So it was obvious that I needed to be airborne that day,” he says, laughing.

He adds that this shot is probably the one he’s most proud of. You see dark clouds hanging heavily over the Italian capital above hundreds of thousands of mourners overflowing from the piazza that’s surrounded by Rome’s many brown and ochre-coloured buildings. At the end of the day, Sestini was the only one of hundreds of photographers who was able to showcase the funeral event from a bird’s-eye view.

When you look at Sestini’s collection of impossible images, it’s clear he’s a master at improvising and getting that important shot, even when he faces obstacles. Look at his amazing shot from another funeral, this time for the victims of the April 2009 earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy. During the funeral, a total of 287 coffins were lined up on red carpets. Many photographers, including Sestini, weren’t permitted to enter.

“The mass funeral in Abruzzo that year was such a huge event that I simply had to cover it from the air. I flew with one of my friends, who has a licence to pilot a chopper. Obviously, we didn’t want to disturb the ceremony in any way, so we chose to fly at an altitude of almost one kilometre. I used my most powerful teleobjective, a 500mm that weighs about three kilos.”

When you see the photo (above), you quickly understand why it has made its own personal trip around the world. Despite the sadness and horror of the event, Sestini’s photo has terrifying beauty, because it manages to give the viewer a clear idea of the event and its emotional implications that would have been impossible to understand through an ordinary image.

Aerial view of the ship Costa Concordia (Isola del Giglio, Italy)

Juiced up

Sestini’s passion when he speaks about aerial photography is tangible. Asked if he gets an adrenaline rush when going up in the sky with his camera, the answer comes quickly: “Oh yes, definitely.

“Shooting from the landing skids of a helicopter really gives you a crazy rush. Finding a chopper or a small sports plane can be a difficult job in itself. Keep in mind that often you have to act really fast. And before you leave, you really don’t have a 100-per-cent guarantee that the trip will go as you plan. You don’t know if you will actually be able to get the needed shots. It depends on the circumstances, especially the weather. So when you occasionally manage to get the dream shot that makes the paper’s front page, that’s a great moment,” he says with a wide grin.

But how does he actually do it when he’s perched on the chopper’s landing skids, is there a special technique?

“Very often I am standing outside the cockpit attached to the chopper with wires. I need to have both hands free to manoeuvre a 500mm lens. It therefore goes without saying that you need to be strapped in very well. I almost always shoot without a lens hood, to avoid the wind grabbing the hood. Apart from that, I usually try to point the camera lens directly toward the ground. This allows me to focus on geometry and search for frames to my photos.”

An example of this geometry is Sestini’s photo in the airspace over a beach in Ostia, outside Rome. It’s a shot of five rows of sunbathers on the beach. The lines and colours are so perfectly aligned that you clearly perceive the humour in this photo — a definite Marin Parr touch to it.

Trip inside the shipwrecked vessel Costa Concordia, with Navy divers (Isola del Giglio, Italy) [2]

It’s not easy to put a photographic label on Sestini. Over the years, he has worked in a wide range of genres — paparazzi, features, portraits, news, and the risky, off limits shots. So you’d think that would be enough, but recently Sestini has expanded his repertoire again. He photographs on land, in the air — and now underwater. Last year he joined professional divers exploring the wreckage of gigantic cruise ship, Costa Concordia, which capsized close to the Italian coast in January 2012. The photos complement his aerial shots in which the Concordia cruiser looks like a giant floating toy ship.

Trip inside the shipwrecked vessel Costa Concordia, with Navy divers (Isola del Giglio, Italy) [1]

Danger on the job  

Today Sestini runs the photo agency Massimo Sestini News Pictures. He has 10 employees covering Italy. On a daily basis he sends his photographers on various assignments around the country. They must be masters of many genres, from features to classic portrait photography. They also have to be able to handle some unusual tasks, including dressing up to sneak into off limits, high society events, such as weddings.

“These undercover challenges are the situations where the real art is not to get caught, to avoid a sharp kick in the ass,” he says, laughing.

The true danger, however, is when Sestini decides to go airborne for a photo.

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“In recent years I have experienced some rather dangerous situations. Once I was returning to Florence after a shoot, we were over the Majella National Park in the Abruzzo region. Due to a violent storm we ended up in a gigantic cloud. When we eventually came out of the cloud, we were too close to a mountain. We just barely avoided a disaster because the pilot managed to make an incredible manoeuvre.”

In another incident he climbed up a small tower to take some photos. When he climbed down, the railing he was holding onto broke loose and he fell four metres with a huge camera around his neck.

“I hurt myself quite badly, especially my left foot, which was almost totally smashed. I couldn’t walk and I had to stop working for nine months. That was really a bad experience. But when you are out on an assignment, you really can’t think about the potential danger.

“You need to focus on the right shot. The good shot from the right angle,” he concludes.

For more of Sestini’s work visit massimosestini.it

Gear talk: Shooting in Program mode

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There’s nothing more tragic than a lovely DSLR camera that’s forever stuck on auto mode — D-Photo and Dion Mellow from Snapshot Cameras explain program mode as your first step to creative freedom

If you have recently stepped up to a DSLR camera then you’ve probably already noticed the decent results you can get using Auto mode. But no matter how fancy automated features may get, you’re always going to take better, more rewarding pictures once you take manual control of the camera. Knowing when and how to use the many different features of a DSLR can be confusing to begin with, but switch your dial from Auto to Program mode (P on the mode wheel) and you’ll be taking a simple first step towards truly mastering your camera.

All camera brands and models do things slightly differently — if anything here doesn’t make sense for your camera, consult your manual

What is Program mode?

Program mode is a type of automatic setting that gives you control of some, but not all, of your camera’s settings. According to Dion Mellow, professional photographer and equipment expert at Snapshot Cameras in Hamilton, the main reason to switch to Program mode is to gradually increase your control over the camera.

“In Program mode you can adjust your exposure, ISO, white balance, flash, and focusing area — you can’t adjust any of these in Auto.”

In Program mode the camera selects an aperture and shutter speed combination based on your chosen focal length, with the rest up to you. So let’s take a look at what you can do with these adjustable options.

Flash

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In Auto mode your camera will asses the scene and decide if the flash should be fired or not (unless you put it in auto-flash-off mode, in which case it will never fire). In Program mode that decision is up to you; if you want it, simply push the flash button on the side of most cameras and the unit will pop up, ready to fire.

By controlling the flash you are able to use it in creative ways that the Auto mode would not have thought of, such as using fill flash outside on a sunny day, Mellow explains.

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“It is also useful any time the background is significantly brighter than the subject of the photograph, particularly in backlit subjects.”

Mastering flash techniques can be a very fulfilling aspect of photography, and the control and experimentation you can experience in Program mode is a great introduction.

ISO

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Program mode automatically selects the aperture and shutter speed of a shot (the elements that dictate how much light gets inside the camera), but you can control how much light the camera needs by adjusting the ISO value.

As Mellow explains, the ISO value tells you how sensitive your sensor is to light.

“The higher the ISO, the less light you need to capture a photo, so in turn you will not need as long a shutter speed.”

If you wanted to shoot in a darker environment where a flash would be inappropriate, and at a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold the camera, you could dial the ISO value up to, say, 800 in order to correctly expose the shot. Just hold down the ISO button and rotate the command dial to make ISO changes.

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However there is a downside: the higher up you go with ISO the more electronic ‘noise’ — random, strangely coloured little blips — will be present in your image (see above).

Exposure compensation

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While Program mode automatically chooses your aperture and shutter speed values many cameras will let you tweak these slightly using exposure compensation — kind of like the kiddie pool of manual control.

Depending on your camera you will be able to push the exposure up or down slightly (usually in increments of a half or full stop), making the resulting image lighter or darker through adjustments to the aperture and shutter speed.

Exposure

“You would underexpose (darken) an image when your subject is brighter than your background or overexpose (lighten) an image when your subject is darker then the background,” says Mellow.

“If you’re shooting landscapes with a lot of sky that’s getting overexposed (white instead of blue) you can underexpose to bring the blue colour back into the sky.”

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To adjust your exposure compensation settings in Program mode hold down the +/- button and rotate the command dial.

White balance

White balance

If you have ever taken a photograph of something and had it come out with colours that appeared different from how your eye saw them then you’ve encountered the need for white balance adjustments.

As Mellow explains, not all light is the same colour and it varies based on the temperature of the light source.

“Tungsten lights are warm and give an orange colour cast to photos whereas fluorescent tubes are cool and will give your images a green colour cast.”

You don’t tend to notice these colours in person because our eyes do a good job of compensating — we see whites as white. In much the same way your camera’s auto white balance feature is pretty good at automatically removing colour casts, but not always.

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When you do run into shots that come out with a colour cast you can adjust your white balance setting with a bunch of preset compensations — tungsten for hotter light, fluorescent for cooler, flash to adjust for the temperature of your camera’s flash, daylight, cloudy, shade, etc.

Your camera’s preset white balance settings will likely do a pretty good job any time auto white balance lets you down. You can also manually set the white balance on most cameras by entirely filling your frame with a colour (many use a purpose-bought white card or grey card) so your camera can ‘learn’ what that colour looks like under the specific light conditions and adjust all other colours accordingly.

The above adjustments should give you plenty to play around with now that you’ve cast off the shackles of Auto mode, but Program mode can still be very limiting, says Mellow.

“In Program mode the camera will choose your shutter speed and aperture so you cannot control depth-of-field or movement.”

 This article originally appeared in D-Photo no. 53

Spirit of the street

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Adrian Hatwell talks to rising star Camus Wyatt about creating candid, meaningful street photography

An apostle of Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’, Wellington-based photographer Camus Wyatt likes to roam the streets as a spectre, unnoticed as he goes about creating his art. That obscurity does not extend to the other end of the creative process however; the 26-year-old photographer’s beguiling black-and-white prints have attracted rather a lot of attention.

The young street photographer is a two-time recipient of the annual Ronald Woolf Memorial Trust Grant for photographers under 30, 2011 winner of the National Photojournalism Competition, and has three solo exhibitions under his belt — not bad for someone who only picked up a camera six years ago.

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“My dad is a former journalist and photojournalist,” Wyatt explains. “One evening he and I watched a documentary film, In Love and War, about the combat photographer Robert Capa, which presents a powerful message about photographs and their potential for meaning.

“I was seeing some amazing imagery and I was fascinated by the ability of photography to convey feeling and meaning, to affect people on a singular and personal level. I experimented with taking photographs and, like many photographers will understand, it’s been an exponentially [increasing] interest.”

It is an interest that has, by and large, been dominated by black-and-white photojournalism and street photography. With an inquisitive eye for graphic geometry Wyatt has roamed his home city extensively, occasionally casting his lens further afield, capturing spontaneous expressions of life against the urban landscape.

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“In these areas, photography has an advantage over other forms of visual communication — the ability to portray what was in front of the lens at a single moment. Compared with this I don’t think that posed or ‘Photoshopped’ images have much meaning. They don’t add anything to our knowledge of people, the way they live, the way they interact with their surroundings.”

Echoing the romance of street photography greats, Wyatt explains he is attracted to the style for its celebration of ordinary life and its claim to authenticity.

“If I was interested in landscapes or still life I would go for painting, which presents a more personal view, in my opinion. Good street photography is candid, the images it produces are as real as a photographer can make them, and at the same time it can capture elements of wonder present in an everyday moment.

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“Considering the everyday as a very important and sometimes amazing thing — this is what I love about street photography.”

In pursuit of that truth and beauty, Wyatt’s approach is very inconspicuous, hardly ever approaching his subjects, even after taking the image.

“When I shoot, people only seldom realize they’re being photographed — that is important for a truly candid view. If I talked to them I would be capturing a reaction to the presence of the camera, which is not what I want.”

The photographer’s reverence for spontaneity goes beyond simply taking the picture; he’d rather allow a moment to naturally unfold without disruption instead of interfering to show his subjects the image he has created.

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“People are photographed how they are and then they continue the way they are. A couple kissing, a person walking over a particular shadow, or an elderly man standing on the steps reading a newspaper — I don’t want to interrupt that. I like to move on before I’m noticed.”

Wyatt says he does not really have preconceived ideas in mind during his travels — instead he wanders the streets ready for moments of inspiration to strike.

“There are two ways to shoot street photography; you can wait in a spot with great light and geometry, and see what happens. The scene is set for any characters to arrive.

“The other way is to shoot on the move. Walking and shooting any immediate interest provides a different view and the only important aspect of the location is some light.”

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It was this ever-vigilant approach to his craft that brought Wyatt to the attention of James Gilberd, owner of Wellington’s Photospace gallery where the photographer held his first exhibition, Street Light, in 2011.

“Anyone who walks in with a camera out of its case, and ready to shoot with, immediately has my attention. One look at Camus’s photos was enough to see that here was a major talent in the making.”

Gilberd says one of Wyatt’s greatest strengths as a photographer is his awareness and appreciation of the art form’s history — an attribute that is not shared by many of his contemporaries.

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“Photographers are unfortunately unique in this regard, as artists in almost any other field are very aware of the history of their medium. It is super important, and it is both ignorant and also somewhat arrogant to ignore it, I believe.”

Wyatt’s relationship with the gallery continues to strengthen: another solo exhibition, a collection of some of the photographer’s favourite works from the past few years entitled Ephemeral Joys, has recently closed.

With technology becoming ever more convenient and lazy photography becoming endemic, Wyatt’s drive to fully apply himself makes him an encouraging bastion of diligence that the gallery is happy to support, the owner says.

“Anyone can get a lucky shot or two, but he gets shot after shot that seem to defy probability. It is dedication to the craft and being ready, both physically — your camera in your hand, ready to shoot — and mentally, to take a photo,” says Gilberd.

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“I have hardly ever seen Camus without his camera. He has a good eye, but this is at least as much from constant work as talent, and from feeding his mind with inspiring images.”

Though grateful for the support he has received from Photospace and the Ronald Woolf Memorial Trust, as well as feedback from other photographers, Wyatt frankly acknowledges he has picked a difficult space to work from.

“I think New Zealand is definitely a small market, dominated by other forms of expression that get priority over photography. It’s always great to see photography in galleries, but then it doesn’t tend to be candid or people-based imagery, which I prefer within photography.

“The most challenging aspect is probably making a body of work particular to New Zealand, which is a small but unique place, deserving of the attention. There’s a tradition of documentary imagery in New Zealand and, even though it’s a small thing in many ways, people can find the images produced really mean something to them.”

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Wyatt’s advice for those looking to make a living from this kind of photography is grim — “maybe choose a different genre of photography” — but he salutes those with the courage to follow their passion. He recommends learning as much as you can from other photographers, but never at the expense of your own voice.

“Shoot how you feel … The best thing to do is learn how to react to your environment in your own way — then you have the potential to create something new and meaningful from your own experiences.

“Candid photographs are a feeling — by reaction — frozen in time. It’s a question of whether you have something meaningful to show people. It’s a great adventure of indefinite length.”

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Camus Wyatt’s big 5

The erudite street photographer shares his top five photographic influences:

Henri Cartier-Bresson

He counts the father of modern photojournalism and founding member of the Magnum Photos agency as his biggest influence, calling his work “simply genius”.

“His delight in geometry combined with candid life within a frame is one of the main tenets of a lot of great photographers.”

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 Robert Capa

One of the great early combat photographers and another founding member of Magnum Photos, Robert Capa was the photographer responsible for pulling Wyatt into the life.

“The importance of being there, and when you’re there using your skills to do justice to the scene and people in it, that would be a great lesson.”

James Nachtwey

Nachtwey is an award-winning conflict photographer and associate of the legendary Bang-Bang Club, and his work was the focus of the Academy Award–winning documentary War Photographer in 2001.

Wyatt says Nachtwey is, in his opinion, an almost-unrivalled photojournalist and one of the biggest influences on this kind of documentary photography since Cartier-Bresson.

Robert Frank

Influential Swiss-born American photographer of the ’50s and ’60s, Robert Frank brought a sceptical, outsider’s view to bear on American society through his images, which Wyatt appreciates.

“Frank’s ‘messier’ and timely series The Americans conveyed a very personal view of American society.”

Josef Koudelka

Koudelka’s early conflict work in post-war Europe and later examinations of society and culture in Central Europe put him in the same influential boat as Frank, says Wyatt.

“What they achieved is, perhaps, what any photographer would hope for — a type of photography that creates images of substance, a particular subject photographed at a particular time that really means something and is added to by being photographed.”

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This article originally appeared in D-Photo no. 53.

Podium position

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Adrian Hatwell talks to Mark Taylor, dubbed one of New Zealand’s top sports photographers

It’s not a new story; those in front of the lens bathe in fortune and glory while the craftspeople behind the camera toil away thanklessly to make the stars look good. In New Zealand there’s no shortage of hero worship when it comes to our top athletes, and the artisans responsible for capturing those split seconds of excellence that create idols tend to remain obscure. But each year The National Sports Journalism Awards roll around to shine a welcome spotlight on the hidden heroes of the sports world, such as Waikato Times photojournalist, Mark Taylor.

A passionate sports enthusiast, in 2012 Taylor picked up the Nikon Sports Photography Award for best sports portfolio at the Sir Terry McLean National Sports Journalism Awards, a title he’d been after for twelve years.

“It’s something I’ve been chasing for a while and put a lot of my time into,” Taylor explains. “I’m a big sports guy, so winning what is pretty much the big sports award for the year was really great.”

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The photographer was awarded the honour at a special dinner, attended by a notable array of media and sporting celebrities, including Olympic athletes who had won their medals some 40 years ago, through to those who’d taken home gold in 2012. Ironically Taylor beat out many of the photographers who had been lucky enough to shoot last year’s Olympians with his selection of much more local content.

“My portfolio didn’t really have any massive events in it, it was all shot in the Waikato. I thought that was nice, especially with it being an Olympic year,” he says proudly. “It’s normally Aucklanders that take out the big awards, so it’s good to bring the award slightly south.”

Working on the Waikato’s most popular daily paper, the deputy chief photographer had plenty of opportunity to travel to all corners of the region and capture a range of sports over the year. The result was a vibrant portfolio comprising images of diverse sporting events, including BMX biking, surfing, boxing, rowing and bareback rodeo riding. Taylor believes it is this eclectic mix — eschewing the more obvious and well-covered events — that caught the jury’s attention.

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“I think it did have a slightly different variety of pictures than a lot of portfolios, a bit more thought had gone into it — different angles, not just straight on and flat, waiting for the moment. It’s obvious there has been a bit of pre-planning, I think the judges see that.”

Taylor has had a fair amount of experience in what attracts the awards judges’ eyes. For over a decade the photojournalist has participated in the Sir Terry McLean National Sports Journalism Awards (named after New Zealand’s patron saint of rugby reportage), snagging many finalist spots and four times winning the best provincial photographer nod.

When choosing images to submit from the huge amount he snaps on a day-to-day basis, Taylor says working for Fairfax, the company that owns the Waikato Times (and the majority of other papers in New Zealand), has its advantages.

“Every month we have a competition between all of us Fairfax photographers where we enter our best pictures, so you kind of know what you’ve got throughout the year, from month-to-month in the back of your head. I get 90 per cent of my points in the competition from sports, as that’s what I enjoy the most.”

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Working under the Fairfax umbrella also puts Taylor in contact with a lot of the country’s other working photojournalists, though he says he doesn’t show his work to many of them due to the old ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ dilemma. He does however have a core brains trust he relies on to point him in the right direction, including the Times’ chief photographer Peter Drury, Fairfax’s Auckland director of photography Peter Meecham and renowned international sports photojournalist Tim Clayton.

Whatever advice Taylor has chosen to take it certainly served him well; his distinctive approach has earned him a place as one of New Zealand’s most prominent sports shooters working today. The photographer says the drive to capture sports with a fresh perspective is what keeps him motivated to push his craft.

“A lot of the time we’re photographing rugby in New Zealand and that’s bloody hard to get something different. You don’t often see a rugby picture and go, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ It’s all challenging.

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“I like capturing images that people have not really seen before. You know when the light is right and you’ve got something a little bit different — I think patience is the key. You go to an event and spend the whole day there. You might get something in the first five minutes, you might not get anything out of eight hours.”

The nature of photography for a daily newspaper means many elements of an image are out of the photographer’s control. In particular, Taylor says when documenting an event there’s not much you can do about lighting conditions.

“When you’re shooting something like soccer in the middle of the day, between 11am and 1pm, it can be pretty harsh and ugly. But you just take what you’ve got and make the best of it, the sport is on when it’s on.”

If there is some wriggle room with the timing, however, he says knowing what to expect from natural light at different times of day can help out your images immeasurably.

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“I suppose evening light would be my favourite, or in the morning, when there’s a bit more shadow. Sometimes at cricket you can get that nice evening light shooting through gaps in the stadium onto the field.”

Chasing the light will sometimes lead Taylor to put his shots together off the clock, such was the case with his portfolio favourite, a shot of BMX  rider Paul Langlands flying through the air with his bike over a dirt jump (above). The rider told Taylor he practises after his dinner around 6pm; a time the photographer knew would be perfect.

“It’s ideal lighting after work, so I went out then and it just made such a difference to the picture, having some nice light.

“I like the complete space of the image. A lot of times you see those shots and they’re just tight on the BMX, I think the space around it makes it work.”

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Despite the award validating his fondness for the shot, Taylor admits it is still hard to be completely happy with any photo. But he enjoys trying to improve and take his work in new directions; one new technique he is experimenting with is shooting using the wearable HD camcorder, GoPro.

Particularly good for shooting action sports, Taylor is looking to the latest GoPro model, the Hero3 black edition, for its ability to shoot 12MP stills at 30fps as well as being controllable via a smartphone.

“It’s an amazing little camera for stills as well as video, I don’t know why other photographers haven’t got into it more.”

Working with video in addition to stills is one of the major changes the photojournalist has seen in the industry in recent years. When he was starting out, about 15 years ago at the Ashburton Guardian, photographers were hired for their still skills alone, but Taylor says those days have long passed.

“In the last two or three years it has become so much more multi-talented, especially towards video … you have to be multi-skilled to keep your job.

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“There will always be a need for photographers but I don’t know how the suit-and-ties think … the days of hiring a photographer are gone, to be honest. If you can do video you’ll get a job, if you just take pictures you’re pushing a rock up hill,” Taylor laments.

“It’s pretty scary but that’s just the way it is, changing faster and faster.”

Though he may miss the days of still image primacy, Taylor is also happy to change with the times. The rise of online news consumption and trending towards video content has seen the photographer take up creating multimedia documentary projects for the Times’ website.

Nonetheless, the photographer’s passion remains in shooting sports, citing a trip to India for the 2010 Commonwealth Games as one of his career highlights.

“It was a great place to do a Commonwealth Games, it was just bizarre and out there — a lot of fun … though you do tend to forget about the bad times, and it was hot and a lot of hard work.

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“People think you’re going to these events so obviously you’re going to get these really great pictures, but you’re shooting inside a pen, you can’t really move. It’s not like shooting school athletics, where you’ve got room to move around the whole stadium and can go wherever you want.”

While he may still love shooting the smaller local events that help him reel in the awards that doesn’t mean Taylor is immune to the dazzle of the international stage either. When it comes to plans for the future, this photojournalist has his eye firmly on the gold medals.

“My major goal is still the Olympics — four years time, somehow, some way.”

This article originally appeared in D-Photo no. 53.

Light in darkness: Neil Silverwood

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Adrian Hatwell chats with Neil Silverwood, one of the country’s very few dedicated cave photographers

The lightless void of a subterranean tunnel system may not immediately appeal as the best place to go exploring with your camera, but to Neil Silverwood nowhere is as ripe with as much photographic possibility as an uncharted underground cave.

“It’s something no one else is photographing, it’s my own little niche,” explains the South Island photographer. “The marble cave systems are quite remote and hard to get into — if you’re photographing in there you know it’s the first time that it’s ever been shot by anyone.”

The first thing the caver wants to make clear is he’s not talking about tourist-friendly caves like Waitomo, but rather the expansive and forbidding systems running through the South Island’s marble mountains — caves that can go as deep as 1000 metres and run to 70 kilometres long. Not the sort of expedition where a packed lunch and camera bag is all you need.

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“You go in for a week at a time, taking all your camping gear and photography gear and sleeping there, going days at a time without any sunlight. It’s a tough environment.”

However, for those with a spirit for adventure, these untouched regions offer a unique pioneer thrill, as there is still a lot of cave system yet to be discovered. “Last year alone we found about 15 kilometres of new cave,” enthuses Silverwood. “It’s amazing to be the first person through a new section of cave, it’s not something everyone gets to do.”

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In fact the photographer and his band of caving compatriots believe they are on the brink of a big find. Two years ago they discovered a new caving system in the Mt Arthur region, labelled Stormy Pot. Having put in many dark weeks exploring the cave, which is 14 kilometres long and 800 metres deep, the team is confident it will eventually link up with another of the region’s systems, Nettlebed. This would form the deepest cave in the southern hemisphere, at some 1200 metres deep.

And while traversing these days-long cave systems is an arduous task to begin with, choosing to go down to take pictures of these inaccessible caverns is a whole other challenge entirely. The pitch-black conditions are problem enough when it comes to photography, but simply getting around with photography gear takes exceptional effort, says Silverwood.

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“You’ll often be going through very tight squeezes where you have to take off all your gear, pass it through, unpack your pack, pass all the stuff through and then squeeze through yourself. So that’s quite limiting.”

The lights that cavers take down into the claustrophobic depths are generally of a purely functional variety and not particularly helpful when it comes to photography. So it’s up to the diligent cave photographer to load up his own, rather intensive, lighting kit if he hopes to illuminate these underground mysteries.

“I usually carry five flash guns with radio triggers and one slave, because you can’t use triggers underneath the water. I also generally have half-a-dozen flash-bulb firers, which are quite different — they put out an enormous amount of light.”

Though the technology might sound antiquated, flash bulbs can give off up to five times as much light as a modern flashgun and have a much slower burn time. Combine this with the excellent low-light performance of modern DSLRs (Silverwood uses a Canon 5D Mark III) and you have the ideal set-up for lighting up the total darkness of areas over 10 metres wide. Of course using the more obscure equipment presents its own particular problems.

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“I buy up all the old bulbs I can find on Trade Me because on an average trip I’ll fire off 100 to 200 bulbs underground,” says the subterranean photographer. And he’s always very happy to hear from anyone with flash bulbs to sell.

As effective as the bulbs are for taking photos they aren’t exactly a solution for general visibility, something most photographers would agree as being rather important when  contemplating composition.

There are things you can do to mitigate the darkness, says Silverwood, but in the end there’s just something of a sense you need to develop down in the black.

“You carry massive lights to get an idea of what it’s going to look like but it is really challenging to imagine how the final image is going to come out. You pretty much just set up your camera, you can’t see anything through the viewfinder, and you try and work it out as you go — imagine how it might look and shoot.”

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Though juggling light and composition in the trying environment of an underground cave would send your conventional photographer running for the escape rope, Silverwood says these unusual challenges only serve to make him a better photographer.

“You start with a blank canvas and go from there, you have total control over all of the variables so you can really create the image rather than going out to find it,” the photographer says.

“Caving is the only time light is taken away from you. In a strange way it helps with photography outside of caves as you can really see the beauty of the world after being underground for a week.”

Even in the relatively obscure field of cave photography Silverwood strives to go beyond traditional caving images and develop a sense of scope, dynamism and elements of the human experience in his shots.

“For me it’s about trying to create a sense of movement. A lot of the cave photography you see is quite static, with people holding flashguns in a row; I try to go away from that and have cavers moving in the shot.

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“Working with a team of four, I can have two people holding flashes, another couple of flashes stashed around the place and then I’ll have the other two cavers moving through the shot, doing what they do.”

Further developing this idea, the photographer says he has started experimenting without flash, shooting the cavers as they dig, explore and catch their breath — a photojournalistic style that gives the viewer a glimpse into what conditions are really like down there. Windows into a world most will never see.

And even with the enthusiastic cave photographer bringing back his marvellous captures of the world below there are still not as many people experiencing it as he would like. Over the last two years he has been doggedly submitting his caving work to magazines but would more often than not run into rejection.

“Editors would say their readers would not be interested in something so extreme, I think caving is hard for people to relate to. It has been a lot easier to get more mainstream work published such as landscapes, tramping, kayaking and skiing. This has helped a lot financially.”

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But one demographic where Silverwood’s images are definitely hitting home is with the cavers themselves — even if getting them on board to help create the pictures was a hard slog in the beginning.

“One of the tougher things is just finding people to go with you, because it involves a lot of standing round. Most of the shots I’m doing now will take 35 minutes to two hours to shoot. That’s a long time to stand around for a single shot, getting cold.”

Once the cavers started to see the images Silverwood was emerging with, however, they soon came around on the creative process. It was the first time they had been able to bring a piece of the beguiling underworld out into the light with them.

“In a way these images mean a lot more to cavers than non-cavers. They have been going through these places for years and they really connect with them and this is the first time they ever see images of those caves.

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“When you’re caving you can’t actually see a lot of these places because our lights only go four or five metres and the passage might be 50-metres wide. So when you shoot a photo using flash lights it’s the first time you can really see that whole passage.”

And in return Silverwood is just as appreciative of his caving friends, not just for the help they lend in getting the pictures made but in keeping the photographer safe while he does it. Being in untouched terrain means dealing with lots of loose rocks in a demanding landscape.

“We’re on and off ropes all the time — especially in the deep systems like Stormy Pot where we’re going down to about 800 metres, so you’re probably abseiling up to 500 metres a day and ascending it at the end of the day.

“I guess as a photographer you’re so fixated on what you’re doing it’s hard to focus on your safety at the same time. You have to stop and remind yourself to keep safe.”

D-Photo Caving Submission  (1)

While Silverwood has been fortunate so far as life and limb go, he can’t say the same for his photography gear. “Each trip I’ll destroy at least one flash and one bulb firer, it’s amazing. Gear gets dropped in the water, dust and dirt gets into it. It’s a real challenge to look after your gear — I’d say a camera only has a lifespan of one or two years in those sorts of environments.”

But for this cave photographer that’s just the cost of doing business and the risks are starting to pay off — next month he’ll set off again into the system on Mt Arthur, but this time funded by New Zealand Geographic with the aim of creating an article on what could be a momentous caving find. Just another step in Silverwood’s grand plan to bring the majesty of the caves into the light.

“Most people have a perception that caves are dark, nasty places like coal mines and what I’m trying to do is show people what the caves really look like and how beautiful they can be.”

This article was originally published in D-Photo no. 52.

Upskill at the Auckland Zoo

Beginners photo workshop trial 22nd March 2014 059_edited-12If you fancy the opportunity to shoot some photos of exotic animals you wouldn't usually capture in your everyday life without braking the bank on international travel, the Auckland Zoo has some fresh workshop offerings that can scratch that itch.

Bring your DSLR along to the zoo and professional photography tutors can help you lift your game, whether you're an auto shooter or more experienced enthusiast, in a recently relaunched workshop programme set amidst the collection of native and exotic wildlife.

There are three types of  workshops available through the Auckland Zoo — the beginners' workshop, the intermediate workshop, and the young photographer's workshop.

Beginners' workshop:

If you've got a DSLR camera and you want to learn how to use it to its full potential, this workshop is for you. You'll receive a run down on all the basics of your camera and how to use your camera beyond its automatic modes.

Two photography tutors will take you round the zoo and help you understand how to use your camera like a professional. There are plenty of opportunities and challenges you'll face when taking photographs at the zoo so it's a perfect environment to get your fingers tapping at that shutter button.

The next workshop is coming up on Sunday, April 6 from 9.30am–3pm with only a few spaces available, otherwise the following workshop will be held on Saturday, May 17.

Intermediate workshop:

If you're already confident in using you DSLR, or have graduated from the beginners' workshop then taking part in the intermediate workshop will be the next step. You should ideally understand the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and you may consider yourself a bit of a serious amateur who's looking to take their photography further.

If taking professional photos is your next step, enrol for this workshop now. You'll spend the day with two photography tutors and you'll be guided around the zoo to take photos, with tips and advice to get your photography to the next level.

The next workshop will be run on Sunday, April 20 from 9.30am–3pm. Make sure your battery is fully charged and dress for a lot of walking.

Young photographer's workshop:

For the younger generation interested in photography this workshop will teach you how to use creative scene modes and how to compose photos while snapping photos of animals, nature, or people. If you're 10–14 years old, sign up to be guided by two photography tutors around the zoo.

An experienced zoo guide will also accompany you to tell you some cool stories about the animals. The next workshop is scheduled for Sunday, May 4 from 9.30am–2pm.

These workshops run all year round, so if the current dates don't suit you can always make plans later down the track, or contact the zoo to arrange a half or whole day of bespoke one-on-one tuition at a time that suits you. To enrol in any of these workshops call the Experience Products team on 09 360 4700, or email experiences@aucklandzoo.co.nz.

Win tickets to hear from world-class talent

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 2.44.16 PM With Semi-Permanent creeping up fast, it won't be long before a pair of world-class photographers arrive in Auckland to discuss their impressive careers with the city's creative community – and we have tickets to give away.

Kayt Jones, a highly awarded LA-based fashion photographer and Ashley Gilbertson, an Australian documentary photographer with the prestigious VII Photo Agency, will both be attending the Auckland leg of the global creative festival to be held May 2–3.

D-Photo has 20 two-day passes to Semi-Permanent, worth $200 each, to give away to those who subscribe or renew their subscription to D-Photo before April 22; click here to get your entry sorted.

British-born Jones is renowned for her strongly feminine, cinematic imagery, regularly published in international fashion magazines like VsElleEsquire, and i-D.

Gilbertson has won many accolades for his coverage of dangerous conflict zones across the globe, including the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. He was a recipient of a National Magazine Award for his series in The New York Times Magazine, Bedrooms of the Fallen, in which he shot the empty bedrooms of US soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

To find the festival's schedule, visit www.semipermanent.com.

Image: © Kayt Jones

 

 

He shot rock and roll

Prolific British photographer David Corio talks to Adrian Hatwell about shooting some of pop music’s biggest stars

The Specials performing at the Hope & Anchor, London 1980

The Specials at the Hope & Anchor, London, 1980, © David Corio

Few would argue that rock and roll reverberates beyond mere sound; its impact has always been just as inextricably linked with image. That’s what makes music photographers the unsung heroes of the rock revolution — they brave ravenous fans, risk life and lens in mosh pits, and put up with stroppy celebrities to bring us the images that make icons.

Veteran music and portrait photographer David Corio has been at it for over three decades, shooting a huge range of live shows and portraits of some of the most important names in the business. His love of music began at an early age, with a particular fondness for the blues and early British R&B, and once he came to the conclusion that his guitar skills were never going to make him the next Clapton he dove into photography.

“I went to art college doing photography in 1976 when I was 16, and left after two years and thought I would try and make a go of it straight away. I worked in various jobs — restaurants, liquor stores — in London while I shot concerts at night.”

Tom Waits 01

Tom Waits at the Victoria Apollo Theatre, London, 1981, © David Corio

Proficient at printing his own black-and-white images thanks to an 18-month stint in an industrial darkroom, Corio took a very self-motivated approach to breaking into the publishing industry, despite having few contacts to begin with.

“I would drop off prints at New Musical Express from the previous night’s gig that I had been to but would be going to my day job so it would be too early to meet anyone. I would develop and print the film in my bedsit through the night so must have managed on only a few hours’ sleep for quite a while I guess.

“The money was never very good either so you really had to have a love for it and not think you would be making your fortune.”

He might not have made his fortune, but Corio certainly made a name for himself. From his early success with New Musical Express he went on to shoot an array of the period’s most exciting acts for the likes of The Face, Time Out, and Black Echoes. His distinctive, candid black-and-white style has earned him a place amongst the greats of music photography — three of his images are featured in the exhaustive visual history, Who Shot Rock and Roll, currently exhibiting at Auckland Art Gallery.

Throughout the years he’s shot in every conceivable type of venue, from mammoth orchestral stadiums to tiny sweaty dives, and as a music fan he’s enjoyed them all — but each has its own set of challenges as photography goes.

“The big festivals tend to have very high stages so you end up shooting up people’s noses and having to use long lenses, which I don’t like. And you tend to get a lot of photographers that get in the way,” recalls Corio.

Grace Jones

Grace Jones at Drury Lane Theatre, London, 1981, © David Corio

“Cramped punk gigs would often mean you were getting banged around by crowds pogo dancing and that is not good for camera shake either. I used to wear a hooded jacket sometimes as when punks were spitting from further back towards the stage I would be in direct line.”

For him the ideal venue for shooting is something mid-sized with an orchestra pit and good lighting, citing the Hammersmith Odeon and Lyceum Theatre as personal favourites. But he says you can make do wherever you are as long as you pack wisely.

“In small clubs I will travel very light with a canvas bag with one camera and a couple of lenses. At festivals and bigger shows I’ll probably take more equipment but I have never been one of those photographers that have four cameras hanging round my neck.”

An ardent film devotee, Corio shot most of his well known images with a Nikon 801S or Nikon FM2 on Tri X black-and-white film rated at 800 or 1600 ASA. He shot exclusively with fixed focal length lenses: 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 85mm, 135mm and 180mm. With aperture wide open he could get good handheld results at shutter speeds around 1/15s.

One of the most difficult elements to manage when shooting live music is problematic lighting, though Corio says with good technique and a sharp eye you can make most situations work.

“I always use manual shutter and aperture settings, as even though cameras are far better now than when I started, try shooting a black performer in a white suit and hat and you can guarantee the exposure will be wrong if it’s set on automatic.”

Peter Tosh performing at The Rainbow, London 29 June 1981

Peter Tosh performing at the Rainbow, London, 1981, © David Corio

He advises keeping away from over-saturated red light, as it makes images totally flat — try and use any backlighting to add some ring lighting to the head and body of a performer.

“I like to try and use the beams of light if there are any, although now that you can’t smoke in venues anymore those strong beams of light you once got at jazz and reggae clubs have become a thing of the past.”

That’s not the only change to the industry Corio has seen in his time, the very nature of shooting live music has undergone substantial shifts. “In the mid ’80s all the major venues changed their policy to only allow the first three songs to be shot and then invariably you get thrown out of the venue. It’s really irritating as it doesn’t give you long to get a good shot and the performers normally start warming up by the fourth song too.

“Small venues often won’t allow photography at all now.”

As a result Corio no longer shoots many gigs, but live music was only one chord in the accomplished photographer’s repertoire, he is also renowned for his rich, candid approach to portraiture. Corio has built a career around getting up close and personal with some of his idols, though starting as young as he did meant meeting living legends was a touch intimidating.

James Brown at Hammersmith Odeon, London 26 May 1985

James Brown at Hammersmith Odeon, London, 1985, © David Corio

“Initially I would get nervous but as you become more confident with your own ability it becomes easier most of the time. A lot of them were my musical heroes so I would be in awe of them but most would be friendly as long as you worked quickly and didn’t try to get them to do stupid poses.”

The photographer says bringing out something natural in a rock star is not so very different from any other subject, the best way to get them to relax is to show a personal interest and get them talking comfortably about themselves.

“Other times if I feel they aren’t interested in chatting I may do an entire shoot hardly speaking — maybe just asking them to turn a bit this way or that. Sometimes these can be the best shoots even if they only last for a few minutes.”

Regarding any memorably troublesome subjects, Corio recounts a shoot with legendary soul singer James Brown that was scheduled to take place at noon but didn’t end up happening until midnight.

“He had his hair done at least four times that day and when I finally met him he had his hair in red hair-rollers and said he would throw me and my cameras out of the window if I tried to take a photo — we were on the third floor backstage at Hammersmith Odeon.

“Just before he was due onstage I said the photos would only take a minute to do and so after the show he took me literally and timed me — 60 seconds and then I was thrown out!”

The Pretenders performing at the Nashville Rooms, London on March 9 1979

The Pretenders at the Nashville Rooms, London, 1979, © David Corio

Asked what he thinks his career prospects might be if he were just starting out today Corio echoes the same, slightly despondent sentiments of Gail Buckland, curator of the Who Shot Rock and Roll exhibition — a feeling that the golden age of rock and roll might have passed us by.

“Record companies have complete control and there is very little access to artists who are entirely controlled by management and agents, etc. There is more competition as everyone thinks they can take a photo with their phone and fewer music magazines. They never paid well, but pay less now than when I started.

“Also I don’t see that there are the artists with the character, pedigree or longevity that there used to be. Maybe I’m just old and out of touch though.”

But just as rock and roll will never die, music photography has virtues at its core that can’t be eroded, regardless of the industry — the opportunity to hear good music, meet interesting people and make images you’re proud of.

“Every shoot is going to be a different challenge and sometimes problems arise that are out of your control so seeing a good image appear in the darkroom tray is always a good feeling at the end of the day.”