Despite the widespread challenges in the photographic industry there are still many ways of earning a living. The difficulty has often been how to maintain one's livelihood while acquiring the new skills to compete in the new landscape.
The Internet combined with the popularity of digital cameras means that photography has become more democratic, It is now easier to achieve acceptable standards than ever before. The upside is that as everyone becomes more visually literate, professional photographers have had to go one better and as a result, photography as an art-form is getting stronger.
The downside is that many traditional outlets for documentary and observed work are shrinking in number, ambition and resources.
During a difficult year in 2009 I found that one of the few areas of steady growth was event photography. Initially I found the change of gears between photojournalism and events quite hard. Having come from a background of observation I found that creating shots and being more of a catalyst was unfamiliar ground. But as a discipline it still relies heavily on observational skills and anticipation and is therefore and good fit with photojournalism.
Added to which, you often meet interesting people and the variety of challenges offer a chance to learn and experiment with new techniques. In particular, these events often present issues with lighting.
The challenge is this; how do you avoid the dreaded "direct flash look" in locations that are too fluid, too busy or just too small to set-up portable studio lights?
Initially I tried to mix available light and off-camera handheld flash from my Cannon speedlights. This was a good solution for small groups but meant either gelling the flash to the available light of accepting a caste shift from foreground to background - not good. The gelling solution became increasingly complicated as many locations had a mixture of daylight, tungsten and energy saver bulbs. Consequently I found myself spending more time juggling filters than taking pictures which was no good at all.
Manchester-based photographer Justin Slee took on a job for me last year that I was unable to do and his pictures had a wonderful quality to them that was somewhere between magazine editorial and corporate report. This was achieved by putting a Qflash on a small stand triggered with radio slaves and moving it around within the event to get a consistent colour with subtle variations in lighting.
After he explain how he worked I tried to find a way to adapt it for myself. With a bit of patience, some help from friends and judicious searching of the "pre-owned gear" cabinets I managed to put together a Q-flash outfit and Battery for around £250.00 and this has been my mainstay ever since. There are lots of battery powered set-ups on the market that offer the extra oomph needed to light a reasonable sized room full of people and my choice of Quantum was partly because there is a steady supply second-hand and partly because the battery can also be used to power my Canon Speedlights if need be.
The light it produces is very nice too. The hammered reflector gives strong, punchy light that is not too sharp-shadowed and the "coffee lid" diffuser works well to soften in out for closer range. Flipping the head upwards and putting a bounce card behind can be a very effective instant fix for tricky lighting situations where you need a reasonable depth of field and a low ISO.
Of course I have a great deal still to learn about this kind of photography. But I see now that while it is unlikely to set my heart alight with creativity, the rigour, discipline and flexibility required are showing benefits in other work. It just needs to be approached with the right mindset.