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Donkin's World: Out To Lunch

"When I started in journalism the hacks and the snappers were different breeds. We got on fine but there was little overlap. We reporters stood back while they took their shots or they stood back while we got our words; or just occasionally in a longish interview the photographer might be crawling all over the interviewee, snapping away, making him feel important,'' writes Richard Donkin.

I've been a keen photographer a long time now and it's always struck me as pretty straightforward if you know how to frame a picture. I think some people think the same about writing. Well recently I've been doing a whole lot more photography and my respect for the professionals has grown. It's not at all easy, even with all the extras you get these days when taking digital images.

Yes, good digital cameras and processing software such as Photoshop have transformed the industry, but not necessarily for the better. For a start, the sheer numbers of people now taking good pictures has diluted the market for professionals. How the hell can you charge a decent rate when newspapers and magazines are drawing stock images at a fraction of the cost? Often these images are taken by people who believe it is reward enough just to be published somewhere.

It's no good saying that the amateurs don't know what they are doing since many of them do. But the amateurs usually stick to certain genres. They love landscapes or still lives or anything that is not going to be potentially controversial or that will earn them a sharp reprimand from people who don't care to have their picture taken.

Press photographers, on the other hand, have become hardened to taking shots of people. It's probably true to say that an easy way with people has always been the hallmark of a good press photographer. Much of that is born of competition. When there's you and two dozen others waiting around outside the High Court you can't afford to be shy about saying "Look this way".

I think that's why I admire candid shots so much. I know I'll never be very good at taking them. I'm just too damned shy. It's not so bad with family. I'll dragoon them and harry them in to co-operating. But that doesn't do it either. The knack is getting people to forget that the camera is there. That, truly, is a rare skill.

I've started processing my pictures more and I still have a lot to learn, but I'm sure of one thing about processing and that is: less is more. Too many people start using Photoshop and behave like kids in a toy box. It's good to play with the stuff available but it's important also to have a feel for what you are trying to achieve. I positively hate images where people have used a filter that produces dramatic clouds in scenes that you simply know are not the slightest bit dramatic. It's the photographic equivalent to hamming it up on stage.

But to criticise, I know, is to risk censure since photography, like art, is subjective. Once you have achieved the various technical requirements covering exposure, sharpness and depth of field you can soon be in to the wonderful world of filters and special effects.

I don't pretend to be a great photographer - there is an awful lot to learn - but I know my images are improving and it's not just the addition of processing. Sometimes these days I'm torn between the two - the need to write and the need to get out and take photographs. Joining the Blipfoto community has helped a lot. http://www.blipfoto.com/Earthwatcher All kinds of people of varying degrees of competency and commitment, are going out and snapping away every day, whether using their top-of-the range digital SLRs or their iPhones. There is some real talent there and it confirms my long-held belief that lots of people, unable to express themselves creatively at work, have extraordinary talents but have simply never been given the opportunity to showcase or develop what they can do.

One woman on the site began painting and taking photographs after her retirement until she became assured enough and confident enough to describe herself as an artist. Sometimes you have to do that. Don't wait for others to say who you are. Tell them. So I'm telling you now if you want to know who I am, I'm a writer and a photographer who is well travelled, knows plenty about game angling and quite a bit about sailing. Oh no, he's the guy who writes about work and HR isn't he? Yes that's my pigeon hole. There's a sign on the hole that says: "Out for lunch."


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