In focus Friday - The Bognor Busker

08 June 2018

SIG: Documentary

This week, Richard Ryder talks us through engaging with your subject and changing your plan as events unfold. 

Hi, Richard. Can you give us a little background about the shot?

I met Robin earlier this year in Chichester. I had my camera with me with the intent of capturing a different photographic essay. But as I was heading into town I spotted this busker and on a whim took a few quick grab shots and carried on into the centre of the town. On my way back Robin (that was his name as I soon found out) asked me why I’d taken the earlier photographs – so we got talking and I explained the concept of a 5 image photographic essay: Setting the Scene, the person at ‘Work’, A Portrait, some small detail and finally the decisive moment (always the most difficult shot). So this is final image of the essay (The completed essay is on my website link). 

Robin works for a mental health charity in Bognor Regis and this was his day off; during the year he sometimes raises money for that charity. He works by cleaning around the building and also helps with counselling some of the clients – though he did say that he’d not yet been trained in restraint techniques. The passer-by in the shot happens to be a friend of mine who was passing whilst I was waiting for someone to drop some money in Robin’s guitar case. So it is a set up shot and fortunately she is left handed! I spent a very enjoyable time talking to Robin and was pleased to make a contribution to his fund raising efforts that day.

What was your plan for the day?

Since attending the RPS weekend at Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent last autumn and signing up for the stream lead by Janey Devine FRPS, I’ve been inspired to undertake some photo essay work. There is an elderly Salvation Army lady who sits in her wheelchair outside one of the shops in Chichester twice a week collecting on behalf of that charity. She is a well know figure in Chichester and loved by all who come into contact with her. Unfortunately, I discovered that she was ill on this particular day so I headed back to where my car was parked.

What’s your routine just before heading out with your camera?

I always check my battery level and make sure I’ve got my spare battery packed. No battery? No photographs.

While you’re out what makes you press the shutter release?

I guess there are 2 scenarios – when I have a specific subject/project in mind or when it’s just opportunistic. 

  • In the first case I will know what I’m looking for so will have some idea of the depth of field and composition I’ve envisioned – though as they say in military circles “plans are the first casualties of war” so you have to remain flexible. when I’ve found the subject then it’s really trying to see what I’m looking at and to visualise what I now want it to look like on the screen and/or in print. Then camera to the eye, compose and move myself up, down or sideways ‘till I’m happy then, bang! It’s through the lens and on the card.

  • In the second scenario it’s a case of always being alert to possibilities and being ready to grab those shots. Earlier this year I was out walking with my wife at Bosham, a local village by Chichester harbour, when we came across a couple with a loaf of bread feeding some gulls – I didn’t have time to change my lens from my default 16-80 mm kit lens, so I quickly set my camera to AF-C and CH [continuous high speed – 10fps]. Then all I had to do was stand behind the couple as the gulls came in to snatch the bread and then press the release; I took three or four hundred frames in a few minutes but out of that had three or four images that have done well in the competitions at Chichester Camera Club.

Where can we find more of your work?

You can find some of my work on my website hosted by Adobe's Portfolio service (link) on Instagram (link) or, assuming my images get selected, at the free Chichester Camera Club Annual Exhibition at The Assembly Room, North Street, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1LQ which takes place from 10am to 5pm from Saturday 11th August until Saturday 18th (closed Sunday) later this year (link).

What do you think photographers don’t do but should?

I’m far too new in the photography world to give any great pearls of wisdom to other photographers but there are a couple of things I’ve noticed in Club competitions:

  • Too often the mounted image is cropped differently to the projected image that we, as an audience, see. Which means that sometimes judges will make comments along the lines of “it’s a shame that this person’s foot is cropped through” whereas we, in the audience, can all see that it’s there on the projected image.
  • Image sensor dirt or spots on filters haven’t been cloned out and they really show up on a good quality projector.

So in both of these cases the photographer hasn’t done a quality check on their final images before submitting them.

Which camera has been your all time favourite and why?

This is a really difficult question to answer. In the days of film I had a Pentax Spotmatic II which I took everywhere with me and it gave me a passion for taking photographs [colour slides]. I eventually got rid of it because all we wanted to do at the time was to take snaps of our young children and I’d got fed up of carrying around a heavy camera bag! Then there was a very long gap before digital came along and gave half decent results. I had a Lumix FZ150 followed by an FZ330 which I really liked and they got me back into photography. But now the camera I always pickup is my Nikon D500. The D500 gives me some fabulous results. 

So in a way my favourite camera is the one I had with me at the time.

What’s the best purchase you’ve made for less than £100?

No question about this – it’s the NIK Collection – which was free. My nephew recommended it to me a couple of years ago and I downloaded it from Google who owned it at the time. There's a free trial on their website (link). I used it to give the particular grimy golden look to my images. I used Color Efex Pro 4 and in there used Tonal Contrast, Detail Extractor, Reflector Efex, Levels & Curves and Colorise.

And finally, what essential piece of advice would give your novice self?

Join the RPS and a good camera club [shameless plug – Chichester Camera Club has been great in the 2 years I’ve been a member], learn from others, get to see as many different images by different photographers and be curious and experiment.

Thanks Richard, it's always great to surround yourself with people you can learn from.

If you would like your work to feature in a future edition, please email us (docweb@rps.org ).