Photography Advice - From 1941

Press Photography For the Freelance. Kip Ross 1941

One of the vintage photography books that I have on my bookshelf is Press Photography For the Freelance by Kip Ross. The book was published in 1941, and is mostly a technical manual for press photography at the time. The bulk of it is discussion on topics regarding the photographic technology of the period which is largely irrelevant now in 2011. Negatives for engraving. Flash Bulbs. Benefits between a 4×5 negatives vs 3.25 x 4.25 negatives for a reporter. That kind of stuff.

However, once I ignored the dated technology talk, I found quite a few gems of advice that are still very applicable seventy years later in 2011.

Magic Qualities

Too often, however, photographers are inclined to attach some magic qualities to camera equipment and to feel that if a famous prize-winning news shot was produced with a certain kind of camera, their own possession of similar equipment will enable them also to obtain great pictures.

Kip Ross p.32

My gut instinct tells me that this truism has only become more and more tempered over the past seventy years. I mean, really, this was written more than a decade before the Leica M series was introduced.

Cry With Them

If you like to watch others, like to laugh with them, cry with them, joint with them in things they do, and at the same time can retain a little of the feeling of being a bystander in sensing the dramatic possibilities and angles in what they are doing, then you’ll have no trouble in press photography.

Kip Ross p.12

I like to swap street photography in for press photography on this quote. I feel that it compliments my recent positioning of working as a visible street photographer instead of one who sneaks in the shadows.

Moving unaware is one way to shoot a subject candidly. But to gain their trust, and then having them forget about your presence provides an incredible freedom to search for a much deeper level of candid photography.

Normal and Natural

Usually these dramatic actions are the most normal and natural under all circumstances—so normal, in fact, that only the alert photographer will see the picture values in them, while others are going after the more theatrical angles of the event.

Kip Ross p.91

My longstanding sound-byte about shooting any event has been “Find where every other photographer is pointing their camera at, and then walk in the opposite direction to find the true soul of the event.” This is more or less the same sentiment.

A Simple Air of Confidence.

The passport to the inner circle where events are taking place is generally a simple air of confidence and a camera in the hand.

Kip Ross p.25

To modernize this one, I’d probably change it to say “…and a serious looking camera in hand.” Given that this was written in 1941 when everyone didn’t have a small point & shoot or camera phone on them at all times, just having a camera was probably an indicator that the photographer wasn’t just a gawker. Now that everyone has one at all times, we need something that stands out from the crowd.

But really, I’ve experienced this first hand plenty of times. Switching to my medium format Fuji last year has been opening this door quite frequently as it looks very serious and intimidating to the layman. A few months back at one event I realized I wouldn’t get any photos I’d like from the spectator’s area. My camera was the biggest one there, so I just confidently walked up to where the newspaper photographers had access to and stayed out the way while doing my thing. Not a single person questioned me, and I ended up with much more satisfying set of images than I otherwise would have gotten.

I’d love to say that appearance doesn’t matter, but many times it just does. I don’t think I could have stayed that close for the entire event had I been nervously using an iPhone.

Even aside from situations where dodgy gate-jumping ethics are involved, developing an air of confidence is probably one of the best things a street photographer can do for their work. No matter the situation, projecting a feeling that you are supposed to be there goes quite a long way.

Category Vintage Media