Six photographers give their take on our digital future, social media and more.
HOW WILL YOU ADAPT TO READERS MOVING FROM PAPER TO DIGITAL DEVICES?
The digitisation of content has changed little of what I concentrate on. As a group, photographers are fairly used to change, as we are so reliant on ever-evolving equipment. The media we use to get images to viewers has always been in constant flux. It’s a common misconception that the big change for photographers was going from film to digital cameras. In reality it was barely a blip on the radar when compared to the transition several years earlier of working with enlargers in a darkroom to then scanning negatives in Photoshop.
Simon Schluter, photographer, The Age
We have all been evolving since the day we walked out of the darkrooms. At Fairfax the photography department has evolved from black and white to colour, and then around 2000 to the digitisation of photography: digital cameras, digital pictures, changes in the environment and in technology. It’s a constantly evolving process for us.We shoot for iPad, for smartphones, for smh.com.au and also shoot for print. We shoot a lot of photos these days and a lot of what I call packages of both stills and vision. It is an evolving process for us and, for me, a gradual process since 2000. All the evolving for me has been, as a press photographer, surviving. It’s meant I’ve had to constantly adapt, year-in year-out, to survive in this industry.
Brendan Esposito, chief photographer, The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald
The "digital revolution" has created an amazing opportunity for photographers to provide additional content in support of the traditional photo in print. We now have the scope to share multiple images online to highlight an event that can even expand into galleries. We also now have the ability to shoot video, which is becoming more prevalent as we embrace digital platforms and, of course, all of this can be shot and filed for online at any time of the day or night, from anywhere in the world.
Stuart McEvoy, photographer, The Australian
I cut my teeth as a photographer in the days before digital cameras, but being a tech-head, the digital world is something that really excites me. I think the digitisation of content will allow photographers to tell a truer story. It’s not just one photo being printed in the paper any more – with every job there is the opportunity to tell a more detailed story via slideshows and video.
Dan Himbrechts, freelance photographer
My entire professional career has been online for News Corporation, but curiously much of my work has ended up in print and that’s solely a by-product of the way I worked, rather than the publication I worked for. I discovered when I was starting out that I could rarely beat the wires and other press photographers in getting my images filed first, so decided to go in the opposite direction. Rather than busting a gut to get the same frames as everybody else, I spend longer on each shoot, took a wider range of images and in pretty much every case, used my time to create a photo story that would be displayed as a gallery. Taking the idea of photojournalism and applying an online feel to it – I really enjoyed it and the readers did as well.
Charles Brewer, news.com.au picture editor and photographer, 2007–2012
HOW DO YOU COMPETE WITH USER-GENERATED CONTENT (THAT IS, AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHERS) AND SOCIAL MEDIA?
Over the years there has been some fantastic content provided by readers simply because they were in the right spot at the right time. The advent of the phone camera especially has seen this spiral, but I don’t see it as competition. You can’t be everywhere at once but the fact that someone else is, I think, is a welcome bonus. It gives us a starting point from which to expand a story. Sometimes you can get lucky with a shot but the majority of our job is going into a known situation and working to capture the essence of the story by using your own knowledge and experience.
I think the increase in user generated content makes the photography game all the more exciting. User generated content is democratising news photography, especially when it comes to spot news photography. But your average punter with an iPhone isn’t going to get intimate access to politicians, CEOs or large events where accreditation is required. So I don’t really think of user generated content or amateur photographers as "competition". I think photography social media apps such as Instagram have helped connect photographers, professional and amateur, and in turn having that feed of images at your fingertips at any time of the day then becomes inspiration to make more pictures.
After 25 years in the business, I am still employed because of my brain, because of the way I can intellectualise photographs, how I conduct myself on the job, and because of my ability as a journalist to be able to convey a message visually.
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO GET OUT OF BED IN AN INCREASINGLY COMPETITIVE PHOTOGRAPHY WORLD?
I think if you asked any photographer why they did it they would probably say it was because they loved photography. Personally I enjoy meeting different people and trying to capture a snippet of their lives to share with the rest of the world. Working on The Australian has given me the opportunity to go to incredible places and meet some amazing people, not only within the state but nationally and internationally as well.
I get enormous satisfaction from submitting a picture that I’ve spent time assembling the elements for and then executed. It’s a buzz that hasn’t worn off, especially when you’ve created the concept from the ground up. I try to turn off emotionally as soon as I’ve hit the send button, as my baby is out in the ether or in print and how it’s treated is beyond my control. Savage crops, clashing adverts, a lousy run, etc, can be soul destroying so I tend to avoid looking at how they’re run if possible – it can get ugly on the drive home. The competitive nature of photography occasionally finds you in a melodramatic tailspin of self-doubt, swearing "I’ll never shoot again" after stumbling across some piece of brilliance shot by a 16-year-old with an iPhone. But ironically, it’s often that which keeps you going.
I see each day shooting pictures as a chance to try something new, or try to do something better than I have done it before.
The travel photography market is oversaturated, but knowing this helped me get away from even considering trying to take, say, a perfect shot of the Taj Mahal. Instead, I concentrated on learning local languages and gaining the kind of rapport and human interaction that make a different kind of travel photo. For example, I could find a tiny village of artisans in a desert, spend a few nights there sleeping in a hut and helping cook and getting to know people, etc. Then write a story and take a series of photos that have value because it’s something different. Once I spent a month living with a Tibetan family over the Tibetan New Year period. We drank homemade barley wine every night. Yak herders and monks often dropped by and performed some traditional singing. I rarely pulled out my camera during these things. But then one night a young boy was asked to sing. He went to a Chinese school and had forgotten their traditional songs, so he started singing some Chinese pop songs that he learnt from watching TV. The older nomads in the room were upset. I think I only shot one or two frames, but I feel this quiet moment told so much about their lives and the sadness of what’s going in their culture, in a way that still has a place in travel stories.
April Fonti, deputy picture editor, AAP
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE OUTSOURCING OF PHOTOGRAPHY WORK BY MEDIA COMPANIES? DOES THAT SCARE OR EXCITE YOU?
This is a hard one for me to answer because I am a freelancer, however I do most of my work for a single masthead (The Australian). What worries me about the outsourcing is I think the photographer needs to have a connection to the masthead, be across the news cycle and know intimately the way that masthead tackles stories. I worry about the model some British newspapers have rolled out, using only agencies for their news content. It doesn’t give the paper a chance to have its own unique take on a story. They become limited to telling the story through one of the pictures available on the wire, pictures that several other media outlets may also be using.
I think that companies have always outsourced photography and used wire services for less critical jobs as a way of freeing up resources for the more involved ones. I think that if you want to retain control and integrity of your publication you would always lean towards staff photographers that are in sync with the company’s direction and dedicated to achieving the desired result. More than ever, the time-sensitive demands of breaking news on digital platforms calls for a response from people that are not only prepared for the task but focused on the end result, and no-one can do this better than a staff photographer.
Outsourcing is something that I think we have to become comfortable with. It is the economic climate that’s really dictating this, because of staff levels. But a good photographer will always be employed. Someone who is a true believer and pushes themselves to be the best they can be every day will always survive.
WHAT RECENT EVENTS DO YOU WISH YOU HAD PHOTOGRAPHED?
Aceh during the tsunami is something I wish I’d photographed. I still have a desire to go to Afghanistan to photograph the conflict there. There are some images that will stand the test of time and if I could take one of those photographs, then I will have had a successful career. Images have the power to bring about awareness and, as a collective, the photographic fraternity has the power for change.
The one event that stands out recently was the prime minister and opposition leader being rushed out of the Lobby Restaurant in Canberra by their security detail. You definitely don’t see that every day and there are some cracking news pics as a result.
I rarely find myself wishing I’d shot an event gone by. There are a million pictures in my head, so I sit and wait till the right subject comes along. Usually it works but occasionally I find myself having to explain to editors or the talent themselves why I want to shoot them dangling from a hook holding a tuna!
WHO OUT THERE IS INSPIRING YOU?
Tracey Nearmy. She can take the most ordinary photo op and turn it into something mysterious and beautiful. She’s also one of the most humble photographers you could meet, which makes her a photo editor’s dream.
There are many master photographers that have inspired me over the years. I have had some association with photographic agency VII: James Nachtwey, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil. And local photographers of world acclaim, particularly Tim Clayton and Steve Christo, also inspire me.
Hand on heart, I am bowled over by Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado. But from a historical perspective it was Martin Parr and Nick Waplington. Out of the contemporary photographers, I would say Kate Geraghty, Phil Hillyard and Ashley Gilbertson.
I get inspired by many different people. I spent nearly 10 years working in action sports (snowboarding, skiing, skateboarding) before shooting news, and I still find the people shooting those sports are still pushing the boundaries of creativity – finding new ways to shoot something they’ve been shooting for years, reinventing. I find that in itself inspiring. I also get a lot of inspiration from users on Instagram – most of whom aren’t professional photographers.
Websites like Tumblr and Flickr are a treasure trove of fresh ideas and originality. The tidal wave of user generated content and social media is a very healthy injection into photography. It cuts out the bull and gets to what’s important. Photography can tempt you (as a photographer) into styles and techniques that distance you from what’s important, the visual transmission of emotion and awareness. Like punk in the ’70s, the rawness of social media imagery can occasionally take the piss out of the gimmicks you sometimes use to alleviate the boredom that can creep in when you shoot every day, day after day after day. Similar to the introduction of the Kodak Brownie, the advent of the digital camera’s rear viewing screen has given everyone unparalleled ability to experiment and turned learning curves skyward.