Exposure – It does not pay the bills…

At 30 years old I like to think of myself as fairly well experienced in the world of business. I spent 10 years in retail management as well as running my own business for 6 years (3 years full time now) and I think this has given me a pretty decent “apprenticeship” to life in business.

Now this is probably true in all aspects of creative businesses from web design to singing to photography, but one of the great mistakes I see photographers make these days, particularly those new to the industry or those looking to make a name for themselves is; pretty much taking on every single bit of work they can, whether that be paid or unpaid.

Even as I look around the Industry in the North East of England, I can think of a couple of photographers in particular, and don’t get me wrong here I’m not bad mouthing them or saying they’re wrong, who shoot a whole lot. For Free. With the other party commercially gaining from the images.

 

There is a time and a place for this in my honest opinion. You may do this once or twice within your career in order to get some images in an industry or genre you’re not experienced in, to give you a “leg up” for future work. I get the thinking behind that. I have done this myself.

However, the time to stop doing this is when the other party continually gains from your effort and all you have to show for it are images for your portfolio. I ask, “What is the point”

Most creatives these days know that “Exposure” doesn’t pay the bills. I learnt that lesson quite hard a few years back thinking I was going to get fame and fortune working with a big name.

That. Didn’t. Happen.

One of the strongest things you can do in your photography business is to say NO to the stuff that won’t benefit you and concentrate on the stuff that will help you. If you get offered the chance to work for “exposure” its a simple process for me. I ask myself a couple of questions;

Will I enjoy it?

Will it really lead to more work? (99 times out of 100 this is a big fat fuck no)

Do I have something better to do with this time?

If I answer Yes, Yes & No, then its worth thinking about. If I won’t enjoy it, and it won’t lead to more work then what is the point of doing it? Just to show off on social media and say “Look at me I shot this today” when everyone really knows you did it for free anyway?

Now there is a wider issue as to why this happens. Some of it is the fault of photographers and some of it is due to a lack of value in photography as seen by the client.

 

I see it week in week out on Facebook groups where someone will ask for a service, a host of pro’s will offer their services and links to their websites etc and then you’ll get a random guy or gal comment “I’ll do it for free”

FFS- At this point you do really want to give them a swift kick to the lens pouch.

I have to refrain from commenting or messaging these people, not that it would be out of nastiness or anger, it would literally be to ask what were they thinking???

There should be a level of common courtesy around this sort of stuff with photographers. If there are “pro’s” offering their services, they most likely do this for a living, they need that money to pay the bills, put food on the table and live. Why on earth would you jump in there and offer to do it for free and take work away from these people? This is why the industry is getting harder to work in, particularly with charity and event work.

I’m not going to go down the route of calling out charities, but you can guarantee the Executives in these charities get paid, usually a fairly handsome sum. I’m all for raising money for charity but don’t do it by working for free. Go and do a fun run if you want to clear your conscience.

Well thats just my opinion on it anyway.

 

So I’ve deviated fairly widely from my original point, but I guess its because there is a huge spectrum to this issue and so many opportunities to work for that all elusive exposure.

All I would suggest is that you have a look at your photography, whether you be in business or not, and think to yourself. Does this benefit me? Is it worth me doing it? What would be a better use of my time?

Hey, if you do it for the fun of it then do it for that but think of the wider implications you’re having on an already growing industry with a shrinking value against it.

 

 

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What the F*ck Are You doing?….

It’s 7.15am on Sunday morning.

I’m driving through the middle of Newcastle on my way to shoot wedding prep at a venue just over an hour away from my home.

I pull over to the hard shoulder. Head in hands, crying and asking myself;

“Chris, What the F*ck are you doing?”

 

Let me rewind 70 hours.

It’s 9.15am on Friday morning.

I’m sat in the waiting room of the children A&E at the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle.

My youngest son is very ill. He was in hospital on the Wednesday with something called HSP. Some reaction to an infection he had. Over night on the Thursday into the Friday he had got significantly more poorly.

Vomiting blood, screaming in pain, covered in a horrible rash. Pretty much the worst things you could see happen to your 4 year old.

“We need to admit your son..”

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The doctors quickly realise there needs to be some intervention with my son to stop him getting any more poorly. He’s the most distressed I’d ever seen. He even asked if he was going to die. Heart wrenching stuff.

First and foremost I am a Dad. That is THE most important job in my life.

But, what happens when you’ve got to make that decision between being by your son’s side while he’s going through this awful illness or keeping your commitment to photograph a wedding which has been booked for over a year.

This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

On one hand how could I possibly leave my son? What if he got worse? What if he needed me? What if my wife needed me there to support her?

On the other hand how could I possibly let this lovely couple down? How would that impact their day? How would it impact my reputation as a photographer? What If I couldn’t find someone to cover it?

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All day Friday all of this was racing through my head, I reached out to some amazing photographers I know to see who is available if I can’t get there. Luckily four came back to say it wasn’t a problem and they would sort it. Amazing photographers indeed.

 

This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

It’s Saturday lunch time. He’s not really getting any better. His heart rate is up, his kidney function is down and he’s having to have Morphine for the pain in his tummy.

How do you make this decision? It’s not like when I was employed by a big business, I couldn’t have cared less if I was off work then. It wouldn’t even have crossed my mind not to be at the hospital with the boy. But this is different. This is all on me.

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Even though I had great photographers willing to cover the day, how could I do that to my couple? We’ve built a relationship, a rapport and an understanding on how the day will be. Taking that away from them with less than 24 hours notice could have ruined the happiest day of their lives.

It’s Saturday night. I’m still not certain on what to do. I look to the Wife for the answer knowing fine well that she would tell me to go. I look to my Dad. He tells me the same.

I get home. The guilt is real.

How could I leave him?

I cry myself to sleep.

It’s 7.15am on Sunday morning.

I’m driving through the middle of Newcastle on my way to shoot wedding prep at a venue just over an hour away from my home.

I pass the turn off to the hospital.

I pull over to the hard shoulder. Head in hands, crying and asking myself;

“Chris, What the F*ck are you doing?”

I give myself a shake. Take a big gulp of my coffee and get back on the road.

As soon as I get there I check in with the wife to see how he is. He didn’t have a good night and was really unsettled. He was in pain.

I took a minute outside before going to see my lovely bride. I tried to rationalise in my head what I was doing.

Could I actually make him feel any better by being there, like actually physically better? No I couldn’t. He was with my Wife,  very strong, very smart and very much in control of the situation. He was surrounded by Doctors who are doing everything they can to make him feel better.

He is in the best place possible.

 

It’s 10.30pm on Sunday evening.

I arrive back at the hospital to see my son flat out asleep in the bed. I sit down next to him and cry my eyes out again. The guilt is real.

The saving grace is that my couple we amazing. The wedding was amazing. The venue was amazing and we got some amazing images of their stunning wedding day.

Still. This was the one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

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Eight days in and we are still in hospital with the little fella. He’s looking loads better but its going to be a long road to a full recovery.

Those three little words

Those three little words

 

Photography. Like a relationship, requires commitment, time, patience. It requires a strong will and sometimes the ability to backdown when you’re in the wrong.

It can often feel at times, like when in a new relationship, that the whole thing is building up to those three…..little…..words.

How do you know if its time?

Is it too soon?

What if they don’t feel the same?

Am I making a fool out of myself?

If you haven’t guessed yet, those words aren’t “I love you”, well they can be if you want them to be, but for me, in photographer there are three far more important words…

“Here’s your invoice”

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Now read those few questions again;

How do you know if its time?

Is it too soon?

What if they don’t feel the same?

Am I making a fool out of myself?

 

I was going to start this sentence by saying, the truth is only you know when it is time to start charging for your work. But, thinking back to the hundreds of photographers I’ve spoken to about this subject over the years is that they don’t know. They don’t have a clue. Or perhaps, they do know and are too scared to admit it.

I remember at 13 years old, sitting on a swing in a park with my first real girlfriend who was a couple of years my senior, and whispering in her ear so that my friends didn’t hear “I love you..”

She took a sharp intake of breath and almost choked on her panda pop; “Ha thanks Ordy”

Safe to say, I wasn’t expecting that response, but at least it was a response.

 

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I had the same feeling the first time I issued an invoice to a commercial customer. I was nervous, palms were sweaty. I sent the invoice via email and eagerly watched for the reply to ask “Why are you charging me?”, that email never arrived. 9 days later (two days overdue) the payment was made to my bank. That was easier than expected.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all love stories end this way, nor do relationships with clients, particularly when you’re looking to make the transition from Hobbyist to Professional.

Just to note when I say professional photographer, I mean someone getting paid to take photographs. No matter how much or what level.

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I speak to a lot of photographers when coaching and training and I’d say that 90% fall under the same category of “I don’t think I’m good enough to charge”.

They’re answering the wrong question without it even being asked. What they should be thinking is, “Does the client think I’m good enough to charge?”

Therein lies the issue.

I have talked about this time and time again. As photographers we find it incredibly difficult to value ourselves, praise our own work, admit when we are good at sometime. I find it frustrating. Many a brilliant photographer will miss out on a potential long and fruitful career due to self-doubt or a lack of self-worth within the photography genre.

 

So here is my thoughts on when it is time to charge;

  • Would you feel your images were of a good enough quality for someone to use if they received them for free?
  • Do you think you can create better images than a company/client can on their own?
  • Did the client approach you or did you approach them?
  • Is the client going to make money from your images, directly in indirectly?

If you have answered YES to any of those questions then the answer is simple. It is time to start charging for your work….

IF

…You want to go down that line.

 

If you’re not interested in making money or a living from photography then you’ve probably wasted 10 minutes reading this.. Sorry!

 

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The industry is overrun with photographers who will offer their services for free, I’m not going to bad mouth those people or ridicule them or saying they’re doing something wrong. Everyone needs to start somewhere and get experience somewhere. But, If you do fall into that category and you shoot free, then you should re-asses why you do that?

Do you need those images in your portfolio?

Are you actually getting any work from that (and I’ve avoided this word) exposure?

Or is it that you’re too scared to now so to that client, “Actually my time and skill is valuable, if you would like me to shoot this it will cost you £xx”

Now I get this isn’t a one size fits all approach, but another simple way to check its viability for your business would be to complete a very simple DR Pepper Analysis…

What’s the worst that could happen?

All they can do is say no..

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The Imitation Game..

“No Man was ever great through imitation”

Not a quote I really agree with to be fair.

Four Billion people around the world own cameras of one sort or another whether it be mobile, compact or professional DSLR. Over 1 Trillion photographs are taken each year.

Now we know most of those don’t see the light of day and sit on memory cards forever destined to not be seen by anyone other than the owner on the back of a LCD screen. That is an issue on it’s own.

But what about the images people do see? 

We are literally bombarded with images all day every day in social media. With the rise in popularity of Instagram and Pinterest, amongst other image platforms, it is easier than ever to go out and find images of pretty much any subject you want with a quick search. 

Pinterest is a hugely resourceful tool for planning photoshoots, sharing ideas, gaining inspiration. But where is the line between inspiration and copying.  And who really cares anymore?

I’ll be the first to admit, I learnt my trade of photography through seeing other peoples images in magazines and online and then copying them to imitate the look that they achieved. There’s no shame in that, and I’m not afraid to admit it. After all, how else can you learn in a practical form.

I’ll also admit that I take great inspiration from images and photoshoots which will directly influence a body of work for myself. For instance, one of my more recent shoots was based on the Vanity Fair Shoot featuring Benedict Cumberbatch. 

I had seen the behind the scenes video of this shoot before I’d seen the finished images and I loved everything about it. The styling, the background, the use of a dog as a prop to tell the story. I took this idea and ran with it. Not in the literal sense,  but created a Pinterest board to show my creative team what I had in mind and what I thought we could create on the back of these ideas and the inspiration from this shoot. (https://uk.pinterest.com/xtraordphoto/harriotte-shoot/)

The point is that the inspiration I took from seeing a behind the scenes video and then the finished images was enough to get my mind working. Yes, I wanted to create an image very similar to the one featuring in Vanity Fair, but, I only wanted to if I could create my own spin on it. That is the important part to remember. You can take inspiration from anywhere, other photographers, classical art, street graffiti. The fact of the matter is that there are very few truly original ideas or concepts anymore due to the sheer size of the industry. It’s not only prevalent in photography, but, we are seeing this in the music industry also with very similarly sounding songs, whether intentional or pure coincidence. Now as I said before the most important part is putting your own spin on it, or making it your own. There is no way, especially out on location, that I could have created exactly the same image. It’s just not possible. I wanted something similar as a base image to work the full body of work from. This would be just one image in an editorial set which was being shot for a US Fashion Magazine. And although I went into this shoot knowing that that was the image I wanted to come away with, it actually wasn’t the standout image from that shoot.
 
As all of the elements on the day came into play, outfits, hair, makeup and came together we found ourselves with the perfect combination (down to planning with a tremendous team) that delivered one of my favourite images that I’ver shot. This, this is why inspiration is good. It creates, it excites, it allows the evolution of concepts and ideas, it sets you on a path to create something and gives you the opportunity to create something totally different at the same time. 
 
So did I imitate on this shoot. Well yes I did , a little, but I also evolved the concept to create my own images and with the support of the whole team we delivered something we hadn’t planned to at the start of the day, but certainly loved by the end of it.
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Setting yourself up for Success.. or not..

So I’ve spoken before about the importance of “shooting for yourself” to maintain a good balance between shooting the work you need to shoot and shooting what you want to shoot. But……

I’ve noticed over the past few months around the various photography groups on Facebook that there are a lot of photographers looking to break into the industry professionally and work on a full-time, or even a part-time basis. No problem with that.

But what I also see a lot is photographers shooting genres they’re very unlikely to get paid work in and shooting very little if anything of genres they will get paid in. This just doesn’t compute for me.

I guess its a little like a footballer who wants to be a striker, but attends goalkeeper training everyday and thats all that people know them for. Or thats the way I see it anyway.

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I talk to photographers all day long through my 1-2-1 mentoring, my training and the groups I run and its pretty much the same across the board for photographers who are looking to make the jump from part-time “amateur” to a full-time “pro”, a lot of these guys aren’t setting themselves up for success. They don’t particularly understand what it is they want to shoot, but more importantly, what it is they may have to shoot in order to succeed.

In a dream world I would fly around the globe shooting fashion campaigns for big brands. Yes, that’s the dream. Yes I’m taking steps to try to do that, but at this moment in time, that dream doesn’t pay the mortgage and put food on the table. So what do I do?

I shoot the jobs I have to shoot to ensure my family has a roof over their head, food and some of the nice things in life. This is shooting what I have to shoot. Doing this allows me the time to shoot what I want to shoot. Don’t get me wrong I’m still quite strict in the work I take on and the genres in which I work. I won’t accept just any commission but ones that work with my brand and previous experience.

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle

Now shooting what I want to shoot is a bit of a dual meaning. It’s shooting something that is fun for me, interesting and helps me stay creative. But it’s also adding more work, experience, knowledge and depth to a portfolio that is aimed at achieving my goal of working within a specific genre or part of the industry.

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I still stand by my belief that shooting for yourself is essential in staying motivated, trying new things and being creative, but, if the aspiration is to be a full time professional this needs to be tailored in a more direct way. A clothing firm isn’t going to hire you to show off their garments if your portfolio is full of Art Nude or Cosplay images. By the same token a Sporting club won’t book you if you can’t show a degree of competence in that particular area.

My biggest bit of advice would be to find the areas you want to work in, figure out if they’re going to deliver the income you want. The chances are, it probably won’t. Then you need to figure out what else you have to shoot in order to achieve the £X you want.

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I always think back to a photographer in my area whom I’ve spoken to several times online but never met. He set up his photography business revolved around one concept which ultimately became floored. There just wasn’t the demand for this particular type of work in the industry up here in the North-East.

Rather than look for other avenues to work in, and believe me there are 100’s, he pretty much gave up on his dream of being a full time professional photographer. Now its not a case of being a Jack of All Trades, but, you’ve got to be quite dynamic in the photography industry these days. There are very few photographers who are in fact just photographers. Even looking at some of the biggest names in the industry, they shoot across multiple genres, offer training, online courses, books, etc.

So for those wanting to make the jump over to being a Full Time Pro, please think about the work you’re doing, and how it can deliver the career you want. If it’s not adding to your chances its probably taking away from them!

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle

The Land Of Opportunity or You Make Your Own Luck?

I think it’s quite fitting that this blog is written today, given the outcome of the American Presidential Race. I’m currently sitting in Starbucks (as I do at least once a week) editing, writing and generally going about my normal business day.

I see the same people here as I do every week, the window cleaner turns up around 9.05 every Wednesday morning, the same people doing the same as I am sat in the same seats every week. We rarely exchange words but a acknowledging glance and a sort of half-smile is enough to say “yes we are here again..”

It dawned on me, during a workshop I was teaching on Sunday, that this life was accidental, it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t prepped, I didn’t study photography at University, I didn’t dream about being a photographer as a kid.

I have this life I have now by total fluke.

Well, I’ll take that back a little, I am a photographer by a chance opportunity and turn of events. What I do and the way I work is down to me making my own luck.

During my early teens I watched and admired my big brother Sean. 4 years my senior, he was confident with the ladies, had a great group of friends, had a good sense of style (despite his Curtain hair cut) and most of all to me at the time was an outstanding basketball player. He broke the records at the Senior School we attended on scoring and was the first student ever to “Dunk”. Hence the nickname he got Duncan.

Sean was always a better basketball player than me, I always knew it. He was stronger, a better shooter, a better dribbler and had far more self-control on the court than I did.

By the time I was 16, I had played 22 times for England Youth Basketball team. Sean hadn’t. That wasn’t right to me. Here I was, a lesser player and yet I had more perceived success on the court. Why?.

Opportunity. When I attended my first ever Basketball training session at a Leisure Centre in South Shields I was 12 years old. I was 6’2″ at the time. I was absolutely awful, I couldn’t dribble or shoot or do anything except catch the ball higher than anyone else.

I trained on a Wednesday night for a few months, and one month a guy called Alan happened to be there as his daughter trained there too. The following day at school my PE teacher pulled me into the office.

“We’ve just had a call about you playing basketball, they want you to go for trials with England North Team.”

And it went from there, I had the massive opportunity to go to Lilleshall National Sports Centre two years in a row to have trials for England Basketball team. The first year I was a year too young and placed on the Development Squad, in the second year I was picked to be on the team. I still wasn’t a great player, still nowhere near as good as my big brother. The only difference is that Alan seen me play one evening and thought I had enough potential to succeed. If he had not been there that night, I would never had those 4 awesome years with England Basketball Team.

I look back at the start of my photography career, and it came about in a very similar way of chance. I got into photography when my son (who has just turned 9) was born. My Dad bought me my first DSLR, and showed me the ropes. The following year my Brother In Law was getting married and didn’t have a photographer.

“Do you fancy shooting my wedding Chris, your Dad could help too?”

“Sure, how hard can it be” —– It is very hard!!!

So there I was alongside my Dad, and my Brother, shooting my Brother in Laws wedding day. It was great fun. We enjoyed it and it was my first taste of wedding photography.

We sat on the evening after I had devoured the Buffet and a young couple came up to us and asked if we were free on August 28th the following year. Despite the fact they hadn’t seen any of our images from the day, or didn’t really know much about us. We jumped on the opportunity and Xtraordinary Photography was born. 80% of our business was born from the friends and family of that couple over the following 2 years. We we’re receiving the best kind of marketing possible, word of mouth.

 

If I hadn’t of had a son and got into photography, or been asked to shoot David and Caroline’s Wedding, or met that couple on that night. I would not have a photography business. I would be sitting in a Managers Office in B&Q working 80 hours a week and not knowing this alternative life could have existed.

So my path from there was set, and although I worked my photography business alongside a full-time job for a number of years, I finally made the jump a couple of years back to go full time.

That was opportunity. Now its about making your own luck. And don’t get me wrong I still get some amazing opportunities now but they are driving by hard work and putting myself in the right place at the right time.

Creating your own luck or Working to a plan, as I like to call it, is the difference between surviving and thriving. Now, I don’t mean financially, hopefully that will follow. But more so from a development of both skills and business. Because I have put myself in the right place I am now working on some of the biggest commercial projects I’ve ever been part of. That is through Networking effectively.

Because I’ve been a little bit cheeky and assertive I’ve been working alongside Pixapro for over a year now which has massively driven the Training side of my business giving me more credibility across the UK as a whole.

I have a Facebook friend, granted someone I’ve never met, but I am inspired by him daily. He has built a designer watch company from the ground up and driving himself beyond anything you can imagine to make that a success. Hard work is engrained in his body, and a ‘never give up’ attitude is what has made him successful. He has absolutely made his own luck and will reap the rewards of that in his business I’m sure.

 

I still look back at those basketball days as some of the best times in my life, and Sean would travel with me everywhere to watch and support me at every opportunity, but I’ve always felt as though for him it was a tragedy he never had the same opportunity that I did. But, by the same token, playing alongside my Brother for the college team was quite simply awesome!

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Sean has carved himself an extremely successful teaching career now, and as he slowly edges towards the ripe old age of 40, I couldn’t be prouder of his drive, his hard work and him creating his own luck to get there.

 

Commercial Photographer Newcastle

A picture speaks a thousand words, but the right ones?…

We’ve all seen great images while scrolling through social media, newspapers, news or even the old fashioned magazine….

But what makes an image bring peoples emotions to a point where they have to comment, interact or share?

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I recently posted the above picture in a group of 30,000 photographers from around the World. Now if you look at this image, it tells the story of a wedding day with rain and the bride still smiling and enjoying the occasion while hitching up her dress.

That is true, and that is what was happening here. But that aint MY story behind this image. This image is important to me because of the guy on the right of the image, stepping over and above his duties in more way than one. More concerned with the brides’ welfare and eager to help he grabs an umbrella runs in front of the bridal party and shields the bride from the rain. Lifting his camera every couple of steps to capture whatever he can.

This is my Dad, Alec.

Alec has assisted me at pretty much all of my weddings since I first started shooting. He works away from his family during the week, comes home on a weekend and gives up entire days to assist me. For Free. This is MY story behind this image. This is what makes this image important to me.

 

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Now referring back to my question above and what makes people engage. It’s the story behind an image. It’s the emotion that someone feels about the image than can be shared, empathised with even be jealous of.

If I’d of posted this image with no commentary or explanation this image would have been seen but not drawn people to interact. But because I added a couple of lines of text saying how awesome Alec is for doing this, its generated to really passionate comments from people.

Some who have lost their Dad and wish they could have this, those who want to do this for their children, and those who just think Alec is a hero. (I think that too.)

So this got me thinking around some of the more famous images in history and how different they would be if you didn’t know the background or the context of the image. Would they provoke the same level of emotion or outrage. Most likely not. Take for instance  one of the most recognised images ever. The image of the young Vietnamese girl running naked after the Napalm bomb was dropped. If we didn’t know what this image meant or what she was running from, the pain she was in, the fear she was feeling. It would never have become the image it is today and no one would know it.

Now don’t get me wrong some images speak for themselves or you can make a fairly decent educated idea of what is going on. But, that won’t necessarily pull at your heart strings, or trigger anger or fear the way that it would if there was a backstory to it to explain.

So I guess what I’m trying to get at is, do images become more interesting or interactive when the viewer knows the emotion behind it or the emotion that someone else feels about it.

It’s hard to imagine not knowing the motive behind certain images or their importance in documenting the travesties and triumphs or the human race over the last century. But imagine for a minute seeing some of the most famous photographs for the first time, without context, commentary or emotional attachment.

Four men crossing a road.

Someone standing in front of a row of tanks.

A black athlete holding his fist aloft.

I wonder what you’d feel. Would you feel the same about it. Would you feel nothing. Would you even stop and take notice of the image. Would you have even become a photographer…..

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle