Photography Advice Get The Image That Counts By Changing Your Approach

Improve your photography by thinking for yourself. Stop following the crowd and take a risk, it could pay off!


As a professional photographer I have often found myself covering big news stories sorrounded by other photographers. In times like this it can be very difficult to get your own picture. It's very easy to run with the pack and all get the same image. Lets face it there's saftey in numbers and if you miss the picture you could always ask your mate for a jpg so you can keep the picture desk or client happy. However a little forward planning can make all the difference.

Richard Branson dressed in a silver suit and wearing wings runs off the pier whilst taking part in the Bognor Birdman contest in West Sussex.

So you're covering a news event surrounded by other photographers. Do you make your life easy and take the same image as everyone else. Or do you work that bit harder and look around the corner, dig a bit deeper and create a image that scoops the rest?

I remember a few years ago the annual International Bognor Birdman contest was fast approaching.  I had covered the event before but on the last few occasions the national press hadn't shown any interest. So whilst I was considering if it was worth attending a contact tipped me off that Richard Branson was due to take part. The annual event involves people building odd flying contraptions, often in their garden sheds and flying (or falling with style as Buzz Lightyear puts it) off a pier into the sea. The person that travels the furthest wins a prize. A typicaly eccentric British way of raising money for charity.

The news that Virgin boss Richard Branson was going to have ago made the event a lot more newsworthy and I decided it would be worth taking some photos. I knew the event would be covered by every freelance photographer in the area so to make it worth my while I had to get a different image than everyone else. I would be offering the pictures on spec to the national press so if my image didn't stand out it wouldn't get used and I wouldn't get paid. So I set about hatching a plan to out do my competition. I contacted my friend Steve who just happened to own a power boat moored just a few miles away from where the event would be held. After a little persuasion and the promise to take some photographs of his boat the next weekend, he agreed to help out.

The day started off well and after a quick coffee we set sail. The boat was ideal as it had a large cabin to set up my laptop in. All being well as long as I could get a mobile phone signal I could email the pictures straight after the event and hopefully stay one step ahead of the other photographers. It took us about an hour to motor along the coast to Bognor Regis and we arrived just before the event started. 

As Steve postioned the boat as close as possible to the pier, I took a few practice shots as some of the competitors lept into the sea. I decide to use my Nikkor zoom 70-200 lens with a 2x convertor. At the long end I could get a nice clean shot of the competitors jumping off the pier and then if needed could easily zoom back to get a wider perspective. It also had built in vibration control which would defiantly help as the sea was beginning to get rough.

Take a leap of faith just like Richard Branson and dare to be a different type of photographer.

The time had arrived and across the speakers one of the organisers announced the Richard Branson would be jumping next. A roar came up from the hundreds of spectators sitting on the beach. As I looked through the camera I could see the man himself dressed in a silver suit and wearing a large pair of wings. He posed for photographs for the many photographers that had joined him on pier. As he did so I must admit it did cross my mind that maybe being stuck on a boat might not have been the best decision I had made. But it was too late now, so I convinced myself that I was in fact in the best place and reminded myself how clever I was to think of getting on a boat. The pep talk kind of worked. But before I could question myself any longer the crowd quietened down and Richard started his attempt. As he ran along the ramp I fired the trigger. I kept firing as much frames off as possible as he flew through the air for all 2 seconds and then fell into the sea. Well, he certainly wasn't going to win the prize but had I got the picture, a quick check and all was well. The pictures where sharp and looked good.

As Richard Branson fell from the pier I fired off as many frames as possible. 

Now the rush was on. I quickly jumped into the cabin and set about downloading the images. Now it was bout at this point the sea sickness kicked in! The boat was rocking side to side, the cabin was hot and stuffy and looking at my laptop screen didn't help at all. You can imagine how I felt. But luckily I wasn't sick and I managed to choose the best images and email them to the picture desks. The following day I was very pleased to see one of my images published in a national newspaper.

Feeling seasick had been worth it in the end especially as I took a photo no one else had got. Not only had I and scooped the other photographers, a national newspaper liked the picture enough to use it. So next time you are covering a story or maybe just on a shoot for a client. Don't be afraid to think out of the box. Sure take the safe shot but then walk around the corner and see what's happening. Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised. Just be prepared for the other photographers to ask where have you gone and how did you get that picture. 

Richard Branson waves to the crowd after leaping off at the pier in Bognor Regis, West Sussex during the Bognor Birdman contest.

Safe in a rescue boat, Richard Branson heads back to the shore after jumping off a pier during the Bognor Birdman contest in West Sussex.

Do you have any interesting photography stories. Maybe a time when you stepped away from the press pack or worked that bit harder to get a photograph. Have you scooped the other photographers covering the same assignment by thinking out of the box? Let me know as I'd love to hear.