About 12 years ago, I met up with a wandering Swedish photographer in Pattaya, called Gerhard Joren. At that time, Gerhard had been a pro shooter for 16 years, taking shots all over the world. On his website he now admits that he has been wandering the globe, taking photographs for the last 28 years, so he hasn’t got it out of his system yet.
In many ways Joren is an example for all weekend photographers with any ambition. He has arrived where he is, an internationally known photographer, by learning at the feet of the greatest teacher in the world – experience!
After deciding to be a photographer he did a six week night course in Sweden. He then went to America and talked his way into a job with one of New York’s top professionals. “After two weeks when they found out how much I didn’t know, I was sacked! But I soon got another job after I said I had worked for the first chap,” said Gerhard with a laugh.
Manny Pacquiao by Gerhard Joren.
In those early years, Gerhard says he took many dreadful photographs – his “worthless images” as he calls them, but he feels an exhibition of these would be beneficial. It could show to people that you can still take good pictures later on – if you persevere. And let me assure you, Gerhard takes good pictures.
He also believes in the old adage that it takes the same amount of time to take a bad picture as a good one – so you may as well apply yourself and do the best you can.
He had some advice for the amateur photographers in the world, and here it is from the professional himself … “Learn exposure from slide film. Look at other people’s pictures and ask yourself, ‘How did they do that’? Thirdly, move in closer but respect your subject.”
Expanding those very important pieces of advice, let’s see what he means. Taking exposure, yesterday’s print film had a lot of “latitude”. In other words, you did not need to get the exposure 100 percent correct to still get a printable image. However, to get the BEST image possible you should expose correctly. Slide film has no latitude, so when you can shoot slides correctly, you will have the best exposures. By the way, slide film is cheap and quick to process – just ask the lab not to mount them and you can place the strips on a light box and compare all the different exposures side by side. Tip: if you haven’t got a light box use a fluorescent light fitting! You will also need to have written the exposures down, so you can see what the result is compared to the settings used. But now in the digital age, correct exposure returns the best results. OK?
All photographers look at other’s work. In fact, when Gerhard and I started chatting we both mentioned J-H Lartigue (those of you with long memories will remember we covered Lartigue’s work a few years ago). Gerhard said that amateurs can learn just by studying photographs and working out how the photographer got that particular image. Was it the time of day? Was it the angle it was shot from? Was it the placement of the people in the shot? Ask and try for yourself.
The last piece of advice you have been given here many times – walk right up and make the subject the “hero”. The main item of interest being too small is the most common reason for photo failures.
Gerhard Joren has learned from his own early “worthless images” and is in the process of compiling a book of poignant Black and White photographs. I have seen some of them and they are brilliant examples of true photojournalism. “I am the messenger, not the prophet” is Gerhard’s description of his work.
He spends ten months on the road and two months recovering. He has no favorite from the 45 or 50 odd countries he has visited in the past 28 years. “I am where my stomach is.” It was a pleasure to break bread with him while he was in Pattaya.