Being a surviving member of a once thriving community, I am qualified to comment on whether it is worth pursuing a career in press photography.
The history of my professional photographic career starts back in 1987 when I started volunteering to do the Slough Town FC games for the local Observer newspaper. The digital transition in 1999 saw me being approached by the same newspaper, who I was a regular freelancer for now, to become Chief Photographer of the new digital era. I have been the Chief ever since in various guises with a quick switch to the Slough Express Group for a year in 2004 before returning to the Obs’ in 2005. Since then the group bought the Reading Chronicle and the Bracknell News Groups and in 2015 were taken over the massive group that is Newsquest.
Careers in Newspaper Photography: I would reckon that I am probably one of the last staff photographers to work as a full time employee for a newspaper group due to the change in the industry. A lot of sceptics think that the ‘unloading’ of photographers into the freelance market is a financially driven action. Although there is a financial aspect to it, I believe it has more to do with the introduction of the smartphone and it’s interaction with the internet that has seen the demise of these full time employed positions.
All those former staff photographers are now out there in the freelance market competing not only with each other but also with everyone with a smartphone camera, which believe me is everyone. Newspaper groups having instigated and seen the saving made by making the staff positions redundant are of course keen to hang on to the money saved and get free images from everyone else. This ‘everyone else’ is called user generated content (UGC). Newsrooms will now prioritise free UGC over the cost of employing a freelance with a proper camera kit most of the time. This is of course frowned upon by ex and current newsroom staff as not being professional BUT it is difficult to compete with someone that is on the scene with a smartphone camera, that in 2019 give a very high quality image, when full time staff professional photographer is 20 minutes away from the news story on another job.
A career as a photographer employed by a newspaper is no longer an option for anyone starting out and looking for a direction to point their camera. The smartphone is now the tool of choice for reporters to take out with them when they go out to a story. Cut backs in reporting staff has however reduced the photographic input from these staff over the last couple of years and it has opened up the pages of the newspaper to the citizen photographer. A person who likes to see images in print and is fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time or in the right position to hear about something worth photographing for the papers readers.
As the Chief Photographer my job has changed over the years into a better job than it was before because now all I have to do is the big important jobs like the breaking news, Royal pictures and the top football matches in my area. The rest of my day is now the administration of other peoples pictures that I have commissioned or freelancer photographers (normally former staff) who have been on duty at the weekends.
In summary I would not advise anyone to expect to find a full time job as a local press photographer. Make yourself available for freelance jobs that are newsworthy and use the newspaper to promote yourself to other clients as a photographer available for all types of photography work.
The dangers of being or using a photographer volunteer
A great way for an amateur photographer to get some experience or get their name out there is to volunteer with an organisation that will offer you an outlet and some exposure for your photography. The benefits to the organisation is that they get your photography for free. Good examples of places to do this are charities, schools and non league local football clubs. There will however come a point where you have learned your trade and invested in thousands of pounds worth of equipment. Your pictures are the quality of a professional and you are still working as a volunteer. The organisation is getting even more benefit from free use of the images but the photographer is feeling a bit of a chump and that he is having the mick taken out of him/her when one of their expensive lenses breaks and they ask the organisation for a contribution. The answer is nearly always no to this request and any request for payment for images or even travelling expenses and the relationship between organisation and photographer breaks down.
The reasons for this are not a simple as at first view. The photographer does owe the organisation something for the opportunities allowed from them to be in a priviliged position and carry their endorsement at events. The organisation owes the photographer for increasingly better free images while they learn their trade. At some point in time the organisation will feel themselves very lucky to have that photographer and that photographer will understand that they have become a different level of photographer. This is the time to have the conversation regarding moving on. Perhaps recommending another ‘green/young’ apprentice to the trade that can start where you did.
A recent example that I witnessed and admittedly benefitted from myself was a local football supporter who had spent 10 years volunteering his skills and photographic equipment (£15k worth) and had become a really good sports photographer tied to a local non league club. He had asked his club to make a contribution to his equipment and/or travelling expenses (Home Counties to Cornwall being an away game that he would have covered). The club said no and that he was a volunteer. The reason I benefitted as Chief Photographer of the Newspaper Group that covered both his and all the other teams in a 20 mile radius, is that he approached me as asked if I would pay him to cover games. He was good, he had all the equipment and he was not asking for an unfair fee for a game so I would have been stupid to turn him down. I explained that if he worked for us he would have to cover the games I wanted which would not necessarily be ‘his team’. The club in question accused me of ‘poaching’ him and it all got a bit heated. I ended up in a conversation with the club chairman who was demanding photos, as per the League photo agreement, for the clubs website and programme cover.
In the end it was all settled amicably and I did get caught in the middle of the photographer vs organisation trap mentioned above. Now I hear all photographers chomping at the bit saying the now excellent sports photographer should be paid and there is no free photography etc etc. I was on that line of debate myself. However the Chairman of the Football Club is one of the nicest and most reasonable blokes in the game and his point was that if he paid one of the volunteers, then the other 40 odd people who did stuff for free to help the club survive and prosper would be asking to be paid too. A very good defence to the issue I have to admit and I can see his point.
I can only conclude and advise ALL volunteer photographers to recognise that point in their relationship with the organisation where you see the benefits of working for free to learn your trade and the point where you have moved to the next level. It is not fair on the organisation to just pull the plug and demand payment, as it is also not fair for them to refuse to pay anything once you have pointed out to them the fact you you are now a good sports photographer and could earn money providing the same service to others.
The photographer in question still volunteers (in other non photographic ways) for the club he loves, when I am not paying him to cover the team in the next town, and as a newspaper group I am letting the club have some of our (and his images when I send him to their game) so as to fulfill the agreement with the league to allow us in. However the relationship with him and the club is a bit soured and will take time to heal. Basically, he just volunteered for too long.
Moral of the story: If you need to stop volunteering your photographic services to an organisation of any kind, do it nicely, at the right time and offer another solution to them losing you, then you can part with each other on great terms and both appreciate how the relationship has helped everyone concerned out.
Mike Swift – www.360swift.com
A two week holiday which was to include renewing my wedding vows in an Elvis Chapel in Vegas a week before a madman shoots it up from a hotel window, a trip to the most gun friendly state in America to shoot a Glock in the biggest gun club in America and my first time using AirBnB and Uber done in New Jersey. Added to that a few days in the Big Apple and you have a busy 14 days. The Challenge was to document it using two fixed lens cameras (with the same lens) and not alienate the family you are traveling with. The Fuji X100T and the iPhone 6S plus were the tools of choice on this mission.
It was not my first trip to the US as I used to work for American Airlines in the late 90’s and we had various trips out there on standby for ridiculously cheap prices. It was however the most interesting. A throwaway comment in my living room in front of my wife and step daughter about renewing our wedding vows in an Elvis Chapel in Vegas .. just for the crack, sparked intrest and with Kathy (the Bride), myself (The Groom) and Jeni and her friend Hannah ( The witnesses, bridesmaids, best men and youth and energy of the trip), we were off.
Four days in Vegas with the wedding and all the razzmatazz of Sin City blew past in no time and then it was off to Arizona for 10 days R&R which we are no good at so we ended up at Goldfield Ghost Town, drove the whole Apache trail via the Superstition Mountains, shot Glock 17’s at the Scottsdale Gun Club went to a cactus plantation, saw the Arizona Diamondbacks make the post season by beating the Miami Marlins and bought loads of crap in Walmart to name but a few ‘R&R’ expeditions
Thne it was off to stay in New Jersey and Jersey City for the last couple of days. It is just across the Hudson River from New York so we had a day or two there before United Airlines kindly flew us back to Heathrow.
The challenge for me on these fixed lens cameras was twofold. Practice using the fixed lens where there is no option to zoom and the 23mm (35mm full frame) lenses on both the X100 and the iPhone were fantastic. The iPhone did suffer from the very small sensor but made up for that on the fact that is was always a second or two away from being able to take the pic where the Fuji would have been off and in a bag. Did I need the zoom lenses ? Over the two weeks there were a couple of shots that would have benefitted from the longer zoom lens but the extra weight and loss of portability carting ithem round was really never ever worth the effort.I challenged myself to take a random photograph of an American person every day on the iPhione and then show it to them. The test to make it a successful photo was for them to ask for the picture. I took 14 (one a day) and they all asked for them. Challenge complete and I was very pleased with myself. Sticking an iPhone in the face of a Hells Angel from the North Phoenix Chapter and then explaining why was only possible because I had the front and nerve after all the street photroigraphy I had done in London.
The moral of this story is that you need to enjoy your holiday AND your photography and most importantly enjoy spending quality time the people you travel with. The cameras were with me all the time, discreet cameras working with me discreetly. The photography challenge was great and it did not interfere with the other people I was with as they were not interested in my photo projects but just in enjoying the trip and having a great time. I have to say it was the best trip in ages.
Have a look at the images in this gallery
STILL NOT ROOM TO GRAZE A COW
FIRST EXHIBITED in Slough in October 2016 at the grand opening of The Curve, a new arts and cultural centre in Slough. The exhibition was installed for just 3 days for the event. From Monday 4th June it will be installed again for nearly 2 months in the main exhibition space at the front of the building. The project philosophy is described below but in a twist on the original theme, I will be setting up a pop up studio for two hours on each Saturday (exact timings tbc) so that visitors can take part in the next stage of the project by having a picture taken as a visitor. I will post more information shortly. The non use of capital letter in the piece below was how the original script appeared in typewriter font at the opening in 2016 so I have left it like that for posterity. MS
still not room to graze a cow – people of slough
there really is no other town like it that i have worked in. it has everything from over 100 languages that are spoken to the largest trading estate in europe.
but what makes slough tick is the people. they are of every colour and creed, from every place around the world and everyone just seems to get on. there are rich, poor, great houses, run down terraces. people live in them and people live on the streets.
i have worked the place as a photographer for the last quarter of a century and i am still learning how the place fits together. it is like a complicated movement in a watch, every part that moves affects another part that moves something else and so on and so on.
i decided to photograph the people that make this place tick. it is a place that does not run by the clock and those that live there will know what i mean. i could have spent the next 20 years waiting for the people, no matter how organised they were, to come to me. instead i took the bull by the horns and went out to a number of different organisations that covered what in my view was a cross section of the population of the town.
these are the pictures
the title of the book comes from the poem by sir john betjeman – slough (come friendly bombs and fall on Slough was the first famous line) – a poem now acknowledged, even by the author himself to be a little unfair although there are parts where you can see where he is coming from. but these parts could equally apply to many towns in britain at the time the poem was first published in 1937.
the third line of the first verse – there isn’t room to graze a cow’ was one of thse lines that might have had a ring of truth about it and it is still true to this day.
the organisations represented here are shoc (homeless hostel), the hangout (ymca run kids club mainly used by roma children waiting for school places in slough), slough town fc (football club), slough foster carers, aik saath (youth conflict resolution group), cast (amateur dramatic society)
the project was inspired by seeing last years exhibition of david bailey portraits in london for the stardust exhibition.
i had never really been into bailey as he always hacked me off in the 1970’s trying to sell me that olympus trip that i was never going to be able to afford.
i hope you enjoy the images in this exhibition and i hope you’ll agree that slough is and more importantly has always been ‘ fit for humans now.
mike swift august 2016
THE READING CHRONICLE 12th April 2018
A young photography student from Portsmouth University approached me at the Newspaper looking for a bit of work experience during the Easter Holidays in Photographic. Easter being a quiet time I thought it would be good to show her how useful the iPhone camera could be in the job of the newspaper photographer.
The humble smart phone is actually much more than that. As most of the papers readers already know, it is also a state of the art digital camera. Yes, it has limitations but as long as you know what those limitations are, you can adapt your photography to accommodate it. It is a powerful tool for any photographer.
With this in mind and ably assisted by Katie Novell, who is the work experience student, we went out last week to complete a mission. So we opened a random book at a random page and did a smart phone photography shoot on the number of that page, which was 26. Obviously to a man with a bus driver’s license, that could only mean one thing in Reading, the 26 bus from Calcot IKEA to Reading and return.
Using only smartphone cameras, we rode the 26 Reading Buses Yellow bus from Sava Centre down to the town, had a coffee and then rode it back again, all in the pouring rain. After a bit of training Katie took to this genre of photography immediately and contributed images to the final newspaper spread (pictured above).
Katie said “It was an enlightening experience and I learned many things about the iPhone camera I found useful, including how to use the editing software called Snapseed. The aim of the ‘iphoneography’ challenge was to take 10 photos each that revealed our journey from start to finish on the 25 minute (each way) service.”
Personally I have been using the iPhone to complete assignments for the newspaper for over 5 years along with professional DSLR equipment and I reckon that the iPhone’s camera is still the best Street and Documentary camera available due to it’s ability to blend in to it’s surroundings and not be caught taking pictures as everyone thinks you are just sending a text or online. Sneaky yes, but also very effective.
Tonight I had the pleasure of meeting some of the new editorial team at fLIP which is the relaunched magazine of the London Independent Photographers. A Magazine I first came across for sale in The Photographers Gallery a couple of years ago. It was very good and most of the contributors are members. It is produced to a very high standard and I was most impressed.
It has, however, taken me over two more years to actually join the LIP group and I have to say I have no regrets after chatting tonight to two stalwarts who have been with the group for many years. Peter Jennings and Kevin Newman made me feel very welcome and I look forward to being part of the organisation for years to come. I am also going to try and get some of my images into that fine magazine.
This just published edition’s theme was ‘Memories’ and I had thought about taking an image of an aged Aunt of mine that was in a dementia home and sending it for consideration. I ran out of time to submit in the end but one of the other photographers (Astrid Schultz) has taken exactly the image I had in my head and the subject looks really like the Aunt I was going to shoot. It is the picture in the magazine that epitomises the word MEMORIES for me.
Next editions subject is NOMADIC so I am going to have to start a bit of lateral thinking for that one but I am determined to submit something this time, even if it doesn’t get published.
You don’t have to be a member to submit stuff and you can find details of how to do that and indeed join on www.londonphotography.org.uk
A good evening with some talented people even though I couldn’t stay long.
Having been a professional photographer and Nikon user for over 30 years I have recently completely switched to the Fujifilm X System. I had dithered for a number of years with the CSC’s but never really made a conscious effort to change the whole kit. The reason being the same old one, that once you have thousands of pounds of perfectly good lenses, why change to a body that none of them will fit on.
I have tested all the Fuji stuff in the shops and at the shows but what actually convinced me to change was two things. 1. I have had Fuji X10,30 and X100T cameras for travel and documentary photography when I don’t want to hump the whole bag around with me and understand the menu structures. 2. I found myself telling a work experience photographer at the newspaper I work at that it shouldn’t matter what equipment you use as you should be able to get a front page picture on anything available to hand be it a £6000 D5 or a 24 frame throwaway film wedding ‘camera’.
So all the little things I thought about the Fuji change I wanted to make dropped into place and I just went and did it. The change cost me around £750 as I spent £5500 on a two camera Fuji system with 4 lenses and 2 flash guns and traded/sold Nikon equipment and made £4750.
Now the Fuji is not as good as the Nikon at Sport and the focusing, although very good, is not quite the same as the DSLR yet. However I used to use a Nikon F3 and F4 with manual focus lenses so the Fuji X-T2 is certainly usable to cover fast moving sport. I have to cover everything from netball to swimming and football to ice hockey.
Where the Fuji is better for press photography is that with electronic viewfinder (EVF) on a sunny day outside you can dump the viewing screen into the viewfinder and clearly see the images you have shot without having to put a black bin bag over your head or go into the nearest dark place to view your images. Also I like the real time view of the shot I am taking so as I change the aperture, shutter speed or ISO, or ASA, as I still call it from habit, I can see the change it makes to the exposure to the image before I shoot it. This is useful as you don’t need to take it away from the eye to see if you got it right and that is not easy anyway on a sunny bright day if you have a DSLR.
Am I pleased I changed? Yes, I do not regret it in any way. The Nikon system for me was getting tired and is full of third party electronics and very expensive to repair. Lots of moving parts to get the light past the mirror system and through the shutter. I have no idea on the resilience of the Fuji X System yet as I have only been on it for a few months but I have already changed the way I do business shooting with it to accommodate the different pros and cons and as an older bloke now, the weight loss (camera equipment only unfortunately) is worth the change on it’s own.
Moral of the story. If you are any sort of decent photographer either amateur or professional and you fancy and can afford a change, do it. It won’t make any difference to the final images if you can just change your systems to accommodate the new system’s systems, so to speak.
Mike Swift – April 2018
Latest drawing of Friar Street in Reading just after it reopens after roadworks. Shot this image on the return journey while doing a spread feature for the Chronicle on the 26 Bus Service from Calcot IKEA to the town centre and then drew and coloured it from the image. Check out the newspaper spread when I get it and scan it tomorrow.
The second image in the IN HER ELEMENT series is Chlorine and was shot using a synchronised swimmer in the public pool in Bracknell. Andrea Holland who is now commentating on the sport on BBC TV. I wanted to do an underwater shot and bought a waterproof case for an iPhone. It was really difficult to get a focus underwater. I needed movement to try and visualise the invisible chlorine as a blur.
I have also created a (PB) Lead image but I am not sure if the link to the Element is strong enough. The mother is a heart surgeon and she is dressed in a Lead apron and waistcoat to protect her from the lasers used. The child is protected by her mother because her mother is protected by Lead.
Today I launch the IN HER ELEMENT project and I am looking for models that work with elements in the periodic table.
This new project follows the successful Exhibition from 2016 called STILL NOT ROOM TO GRAZE A COW, a portrait project on the people of Slough and the 2017 Exhibition called INHABIT. This was an exhibition on the Sisters from Stanbrook Abbey, a monastery on the North York Moors and currently showing at The Old Court in Windsor until 14th April www.oldcourt.org
IN HER ELEMENT will be the first project I have shot NOT using Nikon equipment in my 30 years as a professional photographer. Earleir this year I switched to the Fujifilm X system which I am very pleased with.
Contact me via this website if you would like more details or are interested in taking part. I have completed two of the 20 planned elements so far and they are FE-Iron and CL-Chlorine.