In order to get an idea of my intern’s photographic interests and style, his first assignment was to go through all his images and choose just 5-10 images that were his favourites. We then talked through why he liked these images, and what he thought would improve them. I was surprised at the variety in the images he chose. Although they certainly tended towards portraits there were a variety of street images, model shots and a still life. This exercise was super useful in getting to understand what kind of photography he wants to make, and also where he feels he could improve. The latter being mainly about managing light, particularly in high contrast situations, and improving composition and deliberate use of depth of field.
This initial discussion, in which I mainly listened and answered the odd question, has shaped how I’ve structured the internship over the 7 weeks. I don’t want this to be a lecturing, teacher/pupil sort of thing and frankly he’s a good photographer and I wouldn’t presume that I’m in some way worthy to ‘teach’ him about what he should be doing. However, with 10 years of photography experience under my belt I’m perhaps better placed to guide him through the process of finding his photographic style, and to pass on what I’ve learnt on the technical side to make it easier for him to make the images he wants – hence the title here – photography mentoring
Reviewing the 10 images he’d identified and listening to his thoughts on how the composition in many of them could be improved, I identified one factor that I thought might make a real difference – taking time and slowing down. Having just read a book about Cartier-Bresson in which he is described as sitting at various Paris street corners for long periods of time waiting for something interesting to photograph, I decided this sounded like a good idea. So I set him the task of going out on a city photo walk during which he was to choose several stopping points and sit or stand still for at least 30 minutes at every one. The idea was to observe the environment, identify potential compositions, wait for the right moment to make the image and to look at all possible angles on a location before moving on to the next. I wanted to see how this changed the images he made compared to his normal approach of walking around a city grabbing a photo here and there.
I also wanted him to think about creating a set of images that work together rather than an individual image. He’s got many stand-alone single images that are very effective and the constant movement approach has led to great variety in the images. These are perfect for Instagram which is his main sharing channel, but he expressed an interest in exploring other ways of sharing such as submitting to a gallery or making a book and for these I feel it’s helpful to work in a more project orientated way.
We got together to review the full set of images from the day (via a closed Flickr group) and it was fascinating. Already the compositions were more considered and more varied. He talked about waiting for long periods for people to move into just the right position, and about shots that didn’t quite work because you can’t control the street environment. Themes started to emerge and perhaps not surprisingly given that he was working in London on the day our new Prime Minister was sworn in, a really interesting photo-journalistic, current events feel to many of the images. His feedback was about how he’s found it difficult at first to sit and wait, but had begun to enjoy it and was really pleased with many of the images and I know he has shared several on Instagram and they’ve been very well received.
I hope to share some of these images with you soon but as he’s away and I haven’t got his permission I’ll hold off on that for another post. I really liked the way this exercise challenged him but was also fun and led to some images that he really liked. I think it was also a great introduction to visual storytelling and has opened his eyes to the possibility of working in that way being a natural, evolving thing rather than a forced restriction. I’ve suggested that he take some of the images and use Adobe Spark to create a photo essay or maybe 2 essays picking out the different themes of the images. I have encouraged him to take time to identify and lay out the images to tell the story, to make sure that every image contributes to the whole and to be choosy about what gets included. I think this is exceptionally hard to do and when editing down my own work I struggle through the process, second guess myself and change it over and over before I get to a finished set – so I’m fascinated to see what he does – hopefully he’ll let me share it with you!