This Month's Theme:
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

From Nikon Ambassador Helen Sloan

'A picture is worth a 1000 words' might seem like a broad theme - so what does it actually mean? This month's theme is all about pictures that tell a story, images that capture a special moment in time. So use your imagination, and show us your interpretation of the theme! Helen Sloan shares her top tips for capturing the decisive moment.
  • If photography is all about catching "the moment" then you'd better be ready for it! Be aware of changing light and environment, and adjust your camera accordingly - then when something happens, you'll be ready for it without too much fiddling around!
  • As well as being prepared technically, it's important to be comfortable physically. Have the correct clothing, whether that be a jacket or chest pack with lots of pockets for bits and bobs, or full weather attire. I always carry sun, rain, ice and indoor clothing, and a variety of footwear in my car boot. We never know what conditions we will encounter on a film set - and in Ireland – it’s common to have all four seasons in one day.
  • Sometimes I can be away on location for days or weeks at a time, and far away from camera or supply shops. If you plan on going on a photography adventure, it’s important to be equipped with a variety of spares… cables, charged batteries, tools and cleaning equipment especially. You never know what might happen. Spares can be a shot-saver!
  • Don't wait for a new shooting situation to come to you. Always be practicing and pushing yourself with new techniques. For example, practice high shutter speeds on something like traffic or cyclists, even the spin cycle on the washing machine. Practice slow shutter in the back yard at night. Gain experience with all types of shooting - and then when you need to apply these skills, you'll be ready! Being confident and having used the settings before will help immensely.
  • A good non-technical tip for freelancers of all kinds is to remember that there is often no "ladder" with our careers. It's more like a climbing frame. One day you'll be at the top of the monkey bars, and the next you may be in the mud at the bottom of the slide. Be prepared to climb back up and keep having fun with it, even when it's stressful - embrace the inevitable unknown!
  • In certain situations you may need to be unobtrusive with your photography. Practice your stealth. Insinuate yourself into the environment. Be confident but stay back and don't get in the way. When I shoot on set, I use a piece of equipment called a blimp which dampens the sound of the camera. This technique can also be used for wildlife or theatre, as it means you can get physically closer without disrupting the animals or the performances.
  • When shooting at events, behind the scenes or weddings however, it really helps to be a people person. Stay professional but engage and be interested in what you're shooting rather than just being a spectator. In situations like these it will really help and be more enjoyable for everyone. You've been given an important task - documenting a part of people’s lives, and making memories for them to cherish. Relish that opportunity.
  • When shooting portraits, try to engage with your subjects. Learn about their lives - it could make you both more comfortable. Make a few jokes to put them at ease if it comes naturally to you. Perhaps if they can chat about themselves and be a little more relaxed - you may just be able to snap that amazing "true" portrait that they really recognise as themselves!
  • If you can, always frame "in camera". A good way to practice this is to limit yourself to only one lens for a week. It helps you to "see" differently and become more aware of your frame. Shoot carefully and watch out for unwanted things creeping into your frame - it will save you a lot of time in post and retouching!
  • Stay passionate. Photography can be a pressured and competitive environment. I'm always on the lookout for new things to shoot outside my working life on set. Keeping my appetite for "the shot" alive!
  • With regards to equipment - in this modern digital world, technology is advancing rapidly and it can sometimes feel like a struggle to keep up! It’s easy to obsess about being "up to date". Just master the equipment you and tools you already have. Focus on the craft and your personal style will always shine through regardless of whether you have the latest tech!
  • If you’re trying to find your way into a photographic career, try to seek out people doing the same type of work. Talk on forums, join clubs, or write to other photographer for advice. Often you learn much more quickly through straight forward questions and hands on advice. Just having a chat with other photographers and being shown something "in person" has been brilliant for me - as I find reading the manuals quite a chore!

When Helen Sloan was asked to submit her portfolio for the role of stills photographer on a new TV series being filmed in studios just five minutes from her Belfast home, she had had no idea how big a phenomenon it was set to become.

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