10 March 2009

Featured 'tog Tuesday - Chris Neill

This week is the turn of Chris Neill, who recently turned professional to be our Featured 'tog on Tuesday. We asked Chris about his background and how he became a professional before rolling out some of blabpictures finest questions.

CN: I grew up in a small village in Kent where people either worked on the farms or down the local coal mine. That was not a life I imagined for myself, so at 16 years of age I joined the Army. I first started photography as a hobby during a tour of Northern Ireland in the late 70s. Despite the obvious travel restrictions imposed on me I was inspired to try and capture the natural beauty of the country and not the troubled times it was suffering.

BLAB: It's possible Chris and the last Tuesday 'tog Joe Fox saw similar things in Ireland but maybe from different vantage points; strange these kind of coincidences.

CN: In a career spanning 23 years I travelled to some amazing places with some amazing people. Consequently, taking photographs of where I’d been and who I was with was almost a natural thing to do. Some years I did more photography than others but I was always taking pictures so that I could return from my travels and share images of the life I was leading with my friends and family at home. On ‘retirement’ from the military I moved into General Management, the transition from ‘Army life’ to ‘Civilian life’ also meant that photography took a back seat for a few years, the need to share images with family no longer applied.

Not long after the Millennium my brother in law decided he was going to sponsor a rider in the British Superbike Championship. This introduced a whole new world to my wife and I, we soon became avid fans of the series going to as many races as would could.
Of course I would take my camera and as our interest grew so did my interest in capturing the action. I bought a new ‘digital’ SLR camera an EOS 400D, and an EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens. I talked to as many other photographers as I could at the circuits (and still do) trying to learn the secrets of motorsport photography. I’m now a regular at the circuits throughout most of the series and my images have been used by some of the teams, so I must be doing something right. I also found I had a knack for taking pictures of people, starting with simple portraits and progressing to weddings and then commercial style fashion photography. I also found I was competent at taking pictures of ‘things’ so another progression has been product photography.

In June last year I was made redundant and decided that I would have ago at photography full-time. It’s been a tough 8 months and my timing of starting a business just as the economy crashed could have been better. But I’m still here although it is getting tougher each week to find enough work to keep going.

BLAB: Time for the blabpictures questions; What colour would your Ferrari be?

CN: Perhaps the question should be why would you want a Ferrari in any colour but red? If you must have a Ferrari (and it would not be my first choice) then it has to be red!

BLAB: What's your best bit of advice for a new photographer?

CN:Assuming the new photographer is a complete novice my advice would be
  1. Read the manual that came with your camera; learn how to change the controls and what each change does to the pictures you are taking.
  2. Take loads of pictures; take pictures when you are out and about with friends or family, when you’re on the bus, nights out, long walks with the dogs, everywhere and anywhere.
  3. Then check the results; notice how the light in your pictures change throughout the day, how different exposure settings affect the picture, how different angles of the same subject can change the picture from a ‘snap’ to an image to be proud of.
  4. When you have a good image try to work out why it’s good so that you can do similar shots another time with a similar result. Conversely try to analyse why some of your shoots did not give you the result you were looking for so that you don’t repeat the mistake.
  5. Don’t expect to become an expert overnight and even having the best equipment money can buy will not make you a great photographer. Like all skills practise makes perfect and I for one am still practising.
BLAB: If you had been paid ten thousand pounds for being our 'Tuesday tog', what photo equipment would you spend it on?

CN: An easy question for me; A new Canon 5D Mark II to replace my 5D Mk I, a Canon 50D, a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM & Extender EF2x II. Not much change from £10k there & if you made it £20K I could go on...

BLAB: You can't have seen the latest list prices for the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS, that'll be most of the 10k gone!

BLAB: What would your dream photo opportunity be?

CN: I’d love to do a portrait of the Queen. I was lucky enough to be awarded an MBE in 1998 and it was presented to me by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. She is tiny, but has an aura about her that just makes her special. Now if I could capture that in a portrait... Seriously it would be the ultimate portrait session, the pressure to get it right in the small amount of time that would be allocated for the job would be immense. It is certainly not a job you could afford to get wrong.

BLAB: Natural light or flash and why?

CN: Without doubt flash, I’m a self confessed control freak and I like to control the light in my images. Purists will argue you cannot get better than natural light but it is difficult to get right and you have to learn to compensate or compromise on the image you wanted.

BLAB: Which photographer's work do you most admire and why?

CN: Another easy question... Paul Sutton of ‘Postscriptphoto’. This guy is a master of landscape photography and he has a real gift for processing, giving his images the right amount of light, colour and toning to provide atmosphere. Landscape photography is a skill I have yet to master to any degree but one day...

BLAB: So how about some photos Chris?

This is my current favourite image of the moment. Taken at the Adrian Pini Studio in West London using a single light, high to the right to simulate a street light. It was taken as part of a series of images to demonstrate the differences in make-up and style through the decades 1950’s to the present.

Canon 5D, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, ISO 100 f/11 1/80s

One of those images that is guaranteed to get an ‘Ahh’. Taken at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Ashford, Kent. My wife had bought me a ‘Big Cats Photography Experience’ run by Peter Davey, it was cold and wet but it did not stop the lions from posing as if it was all they had to do all day. A great day out!

Canon 400D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, ISO 100 f/5.6 1/100

Canon 5D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, ISO 100 f/9 1/200s
Taken at Druids Bend Brands Hatch in October 2008, the last round of the British Superbike Championship. ‘Druids’ is one of the most accessible places to take unrestricted photographs at Brands Hatch and is popular with amateur and professional photographers alike. I have developed my own ‘panning’ methodology which means I can get shoots like this on a consistent basis

An example of my ‘things’ photography, in this case a thin slice of apple. The apple slice was placed on a sheet of glass; I placed a light under the glass as well as lighting the subject as normal.
Canon 5D, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, ISO 400 f/5.6 1/60s

Thanks indeed to Chris for some valuable thoughts and pictures on a Tuesday. If you have a need for a photographer do stop by Chris' website www.chris-neill-photography.co.uk.

If you want to be here one Tuesday, and wake up to a whole new set of fame, then leave a note in the comments and we'll be in touch.


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