Shoot Like a Pro
24 Feb 2007
How did you get your start?
My first influence in photography was seeing Don McCullin's work regularly featured in The Sunday Times then The Observer back in the UK. I knew from very young that I wanted to be a photographer. Both my mother and father were in the papers back in my home, London. Even back then McCullen was expressing his frustration at photography as a career. More and more editorial self-censorship was becoming a common practice as editorial publications worried about the heavier issues being shown. Advertisers didn't want their products placed next to images of human suffering. So I knew it would be a tough trade to crack. If I wanted to take pictures of wine bars and boutique hotels around the world there wouldn't be a problem. I never really got a first start though, just built on things year by year.
Let's gear geek for a moment. What was your first camera? What do you shoot now?
I have just left a job as picture editor on a regional insert of the International Herald Tribune, here in Bangkok. I was using the firm's equipment then. For personal use I still like my Nikon FM2 or FM3 set on manual. An FM 2 and a good hand torch work wonders. Digitally I sometimes pick up a D200 with Nikon's 14mm f/2.8 lens. Nice lens, that - no aberration at all. Never moved over to Canon even though I like the 5D. A 1.1 ratio is the way to go. My photography friends and I never talk about equipment, by the way. I always find it funny if I look at photography forums with thread after thread being about photography gear. I have a friend who recently won a World Press using a Lomo that he filed down to let a bit of light into each photograph. Photography must have resonance, what you shoot with shouldn't get in the way of that.
Tell us about a day in the life of a professional photographer. What are the best/worst parts of the job?
The best part of being a photographer is having the chance to experience and see so much of the world and its people. The worst part is marketing oneself - I think it is a case of left-hand/right-hand side of the brain thing. Creative people are rarely good at business, too. And often businessmen have no eye for art or photography. Not all, of course, but a good few. The first part of this year I am working on building my Photography School Asia. I have begun teaching regular classes and am now working on my first workshop. There is a lot to organize, but everything is going great and I am enjoying it, too.
Could you share a recent shot and the story behind it?
I was asked to photograph a special police unit in Thailand that helps women deliver babies in traffic jams. Expectant mothers often have trouble making it through Bangkok's notorious traffic jams while on the way to the hospital to deliver their babies. When I said yes to the assignment I expected I would have to wait days or weeks for a pictures of an actual birth. I was with the unit only two hours when the call came in: lady giving birth in a taxi. The police officers and I rushed to the scene on motorbikes and got there just in time to help this mother deliver her son. I have been back to the unit with a French TV crew to cover the same story, and even after three weeks they never got an actual birth. So I was very lucky.
You do a lot of shooting in dangerous places. How do you stay safe? Ever had a really close call?
Safety is an issue with a lot of street photography; the only thing you can do to minimize the risks is to spend time in an area. Learn who is who. Befriend the hardest group you can find - they run the roost - then let them protect you. Never rush a job. Always know your limits and never argue or show emotion. Be professional but empathetic to your subject. Also resist using money or buying gifts to get in. The odd packet of cigarettes or bottle of beer soon leads to a misunderstanding, and you end up paying for everything and not getting your job done. I have had a couple of hairy moments but would prefer not to go into detail.
What's your advice for shutterbugs who dream of going pro?
Don't, unless you have to. It is one of the hardest most competitive industries in the world, so unless you are prepared for the hard slog stay an enthusiast. Of course there is always the option of coming to study with me in Thailand with my new Photography School Asia. I will put you on the right track.
Jonathan Taylor can be found on the web at jonathantaylor.net.