Michael Turner - Speakers' Corner - part 1 of 1

by Michael Turner Published 01/12/2009

We don't believe there's ever been a speaker line-up quite like this before at any photo convention - anywhere. At the pioneering eight-day long 2011 gathering, our broad church of professional and aspirational photographer visitors will have a truly enormous choice of seminars to be delivered by 100 top-rated experts from across the globe. (We just wanted to make quite sure we had covered every subject under the imaging sun!)

Of course it would be impossible to produce personal profiles for every single speaker given obvious Imagemaker pagination restrictions, so we've drawn some of these key names out of the hat to give you an exclusive 'cross-section' profile snapshot. We asked them all similar questions - and here's the result.

Imagemaker: Tell us a little about your background, your first camera and photographic experience and your subsequent emergence as a pro.

MT: In 1982 I completed a degree in animal and plant ecology (which of course has proved very useful in my career as a portrait photographer!). Four years later I became a freelance photographer working for local papers and PR agencies. I discovered I really just enjoyed meeting people and photographing them. I worked from a tiny office at the back of my father's business premises and had use of a darkroom there.

Over the next couple of years I shot over 200 weddings for my father's business but this was the only connection between the two businesses. I started my own portrait studio in 1992. Studio baby promotions were great fun but very hard work - but eight years of baby shoots have provided ongoing repeat clients and referrals ever since. Today's babies are tomorrow's lifestyle shoots.

For the past two years I have been giving seminars for The Societies.

My father was a very keen black and white enthusiast and I had my own Agfa Silette camera to use on holidays and school trips. Once, at the top of Snowdon we were actually above the clouds - I was so excited I used up almost all of the film in about five minutes.

Why photography?

You get to meet the nicest people.

Film or digital? Is there still a place for silver halide?

I'm 100% digital now - but it took a while for me to be completely convinced.

I didn't think I would ever say this but I can't see any point to film now - except maybe for nostalgic reasons.

Now all the old darkroom effects can be replicated in a similar way digitally without the need to lock yourself away in a room with noxious chemicals.

Tell us about your capture and output devices.

Currently Nikon D200s. I am undecided about upgrading to the D300 or D400 - or maybe going full frame D700. The D200 does me just fine at the moment.

On location I'll use 105 Micro Nikkor VR, 50mm, 1.4Nikkor, Sigma 18-50. I shoot almost exclusively with available light, hence fast lenses usually wide open. I'll stop down as far as f4 for groups. In the studio it's Sigma 24-70 and Bowens lighting on a Hi-Glide system. I'm PC-based and I output on Epson 3800 and archival fine art papers for framed portraits.

Bit of detail about your own studio set-up/staffing. Why (as a customer) would I choose you?

It's a niche business specialising in children and young families and it's housed in a single-fronted terraced shop property on a busy main road. We open by appointment. Staff-wise it's just me and my wife, Janet, with occasional student help for mailshots and admin.

People come to us for great photography and friendly service with no hard sell.

The problem with professional photographers today is...

They see photography as an easy way to make a fast buck with very low start-up costs and no qualifications or training needed. But anyone who refers to clients as 'punters' and is only interested in their cash is in photography for the wrong reasons and won't (in my view) stay the course.

What's the worst commercial error you have made to date?

Possibly not taking on more help in the early days to help grow the business.

Aiming to keep the business small and manage everything ourselves is difficult at busy times but taking on staff can create a whole new set of problems and pressures. Janet and I still debate this one after 20 years in business.

Also being tempted to shoot weddings. We found the total time needed for each commission was having a detrimental effect on the portrait business.

How did you rectify the mistake(s)?

We are currently looking at ways to get help with the admin and processing.

And we gave up doing weddings.

The lessons learnt?

For a small business it is better to concentrate your marketing efforts on getting work you really love doing.

Are you excited by the evolution of imaging? The future: is the (imaging business) glass half full or half empty?

Digital has re-kindled interest in photography generally but standards across the board vary wildly. The images shot by enthusiasts in amateur photography magazines are superb for instance. However, the standard which is readily accepted for brochures and web is very low. Companies see it as a cost-cutting measure to do it themselves - ''you've got a camera-phone - go and take the boss's picture'.

My glass is (almost) always half full. Sometimes it does seem though that the buying public regard the pro photographer as obsolete, whether it be for weddings, pictures of the children or for a company brochure. On the plus side, people are much more visually aware these days so any pro who can excite the public with their images will get plenty of work (as long as they're also good at marketing of course).

Is it getting harder or easier to make a decent living?

There does seem to be a drop in demand for pro photography and at the same time more photographers coming into the business, so I would have to say harder. Many photographers are diversifying into other areas of photography, but that works both ways as more photographers come into their particular field.

How do you stay ahead of the game?

By doing more marketing, more networking, more promotion and looking after our previous and current clients.

How do organisations such as The Societies help?

The Societies provides a central resource of knowledge, whether through seminars, the Convention or the forum. It's amazing how many photographers will share knowledge and expertise with others.

Why is The Societies Convention such a big deal for photographers? Is it primarily about the chance to learn from the experiences of imaging icons?

Learning how others do things, how NOT to do things, keeping up to date with trends, keeping up with new's not just about the seminars, the exchange of ideas and experiences in the bar afterwards is equally valuable. Phil and Juliet pack so much in to the Convention week, and with a limited budget (contrary to popular opinion), that it is difficult to see how they could improve the formula.

Your own mentors (living or dead)?

Apart from my dad of course, who got me interested in photography in the first place, my first 'hero' was Eamonn McCabe the then sports photographer for The Observer. As I moved into social photography and children's portraits I was inspired by Kevin Wilson, Brian Ollier and Ian Coates. My biggest influence over the years, for his timeless black and white portrait photography, is a photographer perhaps not so well known in the UK, Ron Oliver - he was photographing children's portraits in a natural style long before 'lifestyle' became a buzz-word.

Who today is leading the way in creative social photography (other than you) and why?

I would have to say the photographers most visible in social photography today are the ones currently at the forefront of photo training: Trevor and Faye Yerbury, Damien Lovegrove, Damien McGillicuddy, Brett Harkness, Bjorn Thomassen, CPT and Mark Cleghorn.

If you could pick just FIVE seminars (other than your own of course!) to attend at The Societies Convention whose workshops would you attend? Why?

That's a hard one. So many to choose from, so many new names. I find it amazing that several photographers I talked to last year complained about their lack of business and yet they weren't going to any marketing seminars, only the Photoshop or lighting ones.

So, first of all:
Catherine Connor - The ultimate motivator.
Michael Redford - Down-to-earth marketing advice.
Mark Ashworth - Honest, no-nonsense approach.
Sandy Puc - Fantastic reputation in the USA for children's photography and understanding marketing/client care.
Tamara Lackey - Ditto.

An extra

indulgence: Joe Cornish. Breathtaking landscape photography. It pays to learn and take inspiration from masters in all aspects of photography.

What do you think will be the next big thing in the industry?

A more controlled classical approach to wedding and portrait photography (though I can't see brown backgrounds and potted plants coming back just yet!).

HD multi-media also seems to be the 'in' thing.

Would you want your own children to take up the reins of your empire (or have they)?

We don't have children, but if we did...they would have to demonstrate a real passion for photography and a love of people to get them through the downs as well as the ups in business. If money was their only motivation I would say do something else - there are easier ways to make money.

Your plans for the next five years?

Nothing specific. Over the next few months we will be trialling a few projects that will help us to decide where we are going for the next five to 10 years.

We are currently going through a re-branding exercise and taking advice from various business sources (not photographers).

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1st Published 01/12/2009
last update 21/07/2022 10:41:59

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