What can photographers learn from taking time out from their day jobs to learn a completely different genre? Can shooting new subjects bring practical and creative ideas that photographers can incorporate in their own work? Those are the central questions posed by the Canon Ambassador Exchange, in which one photographer invited several others to try their job for a day.
In the first event of the series, which took place at the beginning of 2019, landscape specialist David Noton invited four Canon Ambassadors to a shoot on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, England. The participants were sports specialists Marc Aspland and Eddie Keogh, family photographer Helen Bartlett and wedding photographer Sanjay Jogia.
All four spent 24 hours far from their comfort zone, getting to grips with unfamiliar subject-matter and genre-specific techniques involving long exposures, the use of tripods and filters and lots of patience. “It’s a totally different set of skills to understand,” Eddie commented at the time. A year later, we caught up with all four photographers to find out what they had learned from the experience and what effect it had on their work after they returned to their own fields.
Their experiences show that taking time out or using your downtime to stretch outside of your comfort zone and learn about a new genre – whether it's landscape, macro, portrait, video or something else – can bring enormous creative benefits in all manner of ways; some more unexpected than others...
Eddie Keogh, a pro sports photographer for over 30 years and the English national football team’s official photographer, says his day shooting landscapes has helped him see different sorts of sports shots and has added a different dimension to the work he produces.
“I guess the big lesson I took away was to look a little wider at times,” he says. “My job as an editorial sports photographer is to tell the story, and that often means getting the picture of a winning goal at football, or the winning try in rugby. But since the day out with David, if I think I can get something more scenic without missing an all-important moment, I will take that chance and move to a different or higher viewpoint.
“For example, it worked when I was photographing England training in Portugal as they stretched before training. Their shapes, the lines of the beautifully manicured grass and the surrounding hills made for a sporting landscape. Another time, just going wider on a standard action picture during an international match worked well, as the stadium behind was full of colour from the England fans.”
Helen Bartlett, whose specialism is shooting children of all ages and family groups, says the main effect of shooting landscapes, on her work, was to encourage her to experiment with the use a Canon tilt-shift lens. It’s often used in architectural and landscape work for correcting converging verticals or manipulating the plane of focus, but is an unusual choice for family portraits.
“The thing that has had the biggest impact on my photography was the inspiration to try different lenses and to use focus peaking markers on the Canon EOS R when doing that,” Helen says. “It was one of my big discoveries on our trip and meant I could immediately see exactly where the focus was.
“After the Ambassador Exchange day, I was inspired to try tilt-shift lenses and see how I could incorporate them into my portrait work, as well as taking more landscape pictures in my time off. I have a Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 lens and I started to use that in my newborn shoots to give a different feel to some images. Using focus peaking, I could get a clear indication of the plane of focus which allowed me to make some creative images that my clients have loved.”
Sanjay Jogia specialises in Indian weddings and the images he shoots range from close-up portraits to shots with the wedding couple as part of a much wider scene. He says shooting landscapes has taught him to make more use of the surrounding environment and has reinforced his use of landscape photography techniques for controlling exposure.
“The key thing I learned was David's approach towards people in his landscapes,” he says. “A lot of photographers, not just landscape photographers, would tend towards trying to remove people from their images, or use long exposures to ‘motion them out’ of the shot. But David's approach is that they form part of the landscape. So now, when I'm creating a portrait with a couple that involves a landscape in the background, it's made me reconsider the elements that make up a landscape and to embrace what’s going on around me.
“It has been fascinating, because it's allowed me to step back and free up my thinking a little bit, and not just restrict myself to having a completely clean background to a shot of a couple.
“In terms of exposure, shooting on the Ambassador Exchange with graduated filters reinforced my own approach when I use flash for outside portraits. By using graduated filters, I reduce the brightness of the sky and achieve a more balanced exposure in-camera for sky, landscape and people, and my flashes don’t have to work so hard.”
Of the four photographers on David Noton’s landscape shoot, Marc Aspland, who has been the Chief Sports Photographer on The Times since 1993, was perhaps the most affected by the experience.
He explains that although he has spent his career shooting action at the highest shutter speeds and immediately filing the pictures, the process of slowing down and really taking his time to photograph a scene has made a lasting impression on him. He’s now shooting black and white landscapes in his spare time.
“Shooting on a windy Dorset beach and having David put his hands on my shoulders and say ‘Slow down, Marc’ was the moment my world changed,” he says. “It was like I had to step away from the very photographer I am. If I miss the decisive sporting moment, it is gone forever. But the landscape at West Bay never changes. Nothing changes and yet it is constantly altering. The light changes with infinite subtlety, like the waves which hit the pebbles on the shoreline. Standing there, my planning became meticulous and thoughtful.”
Since then, Marc has been photographing landscapes – getting up for the dawn light, using a tripod and filters and shooting long exposures. He began shooting images at Lake Windermere in Cumbria, England, and has since photographed on a beach on the south-west coast of Scotland which he has visited for over 25 years but has never photographed before.
“Finally I have found patience, and have been rewarded with landscape photographs which hang on the walls at home,” he says. “I still feel David Noton’s presence today when trying to capture a world of photography very different to the pictures I shoot in my working life.”