This weekend I set out to document the official start of Oxford’s Christmas celebrations – the turning on of the Christmas lights in the town centre. Traditionally it’s an exciting time for any town , especially for kids, and provides an opportunity for some great candids. But we missed it. We got there too late and didn’t really know where to go. None of us had actually ever been to it before. The first rule of photojournalism is to be on location, ready and in place, so when something happens you can capture it. A second rule is to have been in said location long enough to get a feel for the place and capture a few test shots so you can get your settings right. Again, I didn’t do this, so ended up with a load of blurry images where I got my settings wrong.
I managed to get a few shots, but it was long after the main ceremony had taken place. Still it was fun and I learned a very important lesson about planning and preparation.
As of 2012, I will be in my 4th year of shooting photos and studying the art of photography properly. At the end of 2009 I decided that 2010 would be the year I dedicated to pushing further with my photography hobby and push towards making something close to a professional career. I held my very first studio session and offered an open invitation for anybody to come down and get some portraits for free. In those 6 hours I learnt so much, and got the opportunity to put a lot of theory into practice. I even squeezed 11 slots into 6 hours. The experience was incredible and I ended up with a very simple-but-instant portfolio and it lead to other work.
At the end of 2010, having shot a wedding (then turning down 3 other weddings), a couple of corporate events, and another few studio days, I decided to push forward still in 2011. These experiences showed to me my strengths and weaknesses, highlighting what I needed to improve upon. Firstly, I needed better, faster and more reliable kit. There’s a reason why Canon’s L series lenses are so ridiculously expensive and it’s because they are beautifully made, produce razor sharp images, open wider, have much faster focusing speeds and are much more quieter in operation. In situations where catching the moment matters, like at weddings, these are important. I upgraded my kit to include a Canon 5DMkii because I wanted a full-framed sensor. It was a choice between this model and the Canon 7D which offered a slightly more refined video mode, but it didn’t have the full frame. Since I was already shooting with the Canon 500D, it wasn’t that much of a step up. Well, it would’ve been, but it shared the same sensor and IMO didn’t really justify the money so opted for the 5DMkii. The difference was mind-blowing and has raised the quality of my work hugely.
Here at the end of 2011, I’ve decided to continue with photography. This year alone, I’ve done more than ever before. I’ve done lots more studio days, where brilliantly, the spaces fill up really quickly now. I’ve had work published on the front page of my local newspaper, filmed and shot an England international sports team, and had those images used by Sky Sports. I’ve started to find my own style which is important and my confidence, knowledge, passion and for the art continues to grow. And I finally got around to re-launching this website.
In 2012 I plan to do even more. I’m hoping to hold my studio days more frequently throughout the year. I also intend to master off-camera flash and practice some new lighting techniques. Here’s the bigger news – I’ve decided to enter competitions, starting with the London Street Photography Festival. I’m confident enough in my work to put it under the noses of judges for their scrutiny. Who knows what will happen, but you got to be in it, to win it. Or at least become a runner up!
In the last few months I’ve been really trying to improve upon my photojournalism and street photography skills. Having ventured into the streets of Oxford a few times on a Friday or Saturday night to capture some images, I’ve always had two problems. The first is that I’ve not been out late enough for the interesting stuff to happen, typically going out about 8pm or so. The second is that I tend to skirt around the town centre, shooting at buildings or the many landmarks the city has. I’ve always wanted to show the real Oxford and not the Inspector Morse/University town/heavily romanticised version.
The real reason why I’ve not gone into the town centre is because, ultimately, I’m scared. Apart from over-coming the usual fear of people that a street photographer normally has to deal with (which is massive), it’s about a million times worse when you’re out with hundreds of pissed-up angry types, sticking your nose into their business. No matter how interesting it would be to document, I don’t really fancy having my camera smashed up. Or my face for that matter.
With this in mind, I set out into Oxford’s busiest area for clubs. At 1am.
Admittedly, I didn’t last long – only about an hour because it was freezing cold. And I got scared because I got noticed too often.
But I did sit and speak to a homeless man which really made my evening as it’s always something I’ve wanted to do. I asked him all of the questions that I’ve always wanted to ask – how did he get there, where does he live, where did he live. He was happy to tell me. His dog is called Jake and they live in a tent in a field, next to other homeless people. It’s not so much of a community, more of a co-existence but I got the sense that they looked out for each other. “Most people have front doors, but I’ve got a tent.”