The Camera Looks Both Ways

February 19, 2021

My girlfriend looked amazing. She was bathed in the Portuguese sunshine lying by the hotel pool. I was cowering nearby in a brown polo shirt terrible chequered shorts and the shade of one of those large umbrellas. Rache had some work to do, to get me in to the swing of our first sun-kissed holiday. 

While she enjoyed her book, I alternated episodes of the original BBC radio Four series of Flight of the Conchords with the back catalogue of a podcast called ‘Photo Focus’. I didn’t even own a proper camera and knew very little about the technicalities of photography. Nevertheless, as I learnt about the interplay of aperture, ISO and shutter speed I began wondering if this could be the creative outlet I was seeking, to escape a job that felt increasingly like it should be titled ‘Email Shuffler’. 

A few months later I was dozing on a train back from London. That morning, when I’d arrived at Kings Cross, I’d snuck in a quick browse of a large camera shop, before heading to my one day conference. I still didn’t own a camera and the visit confirmed that I wouldn’t be affording any of the latest and greatest offerings from Nikon or Canon anytime soon. 

As I drifted in and out of consciousness with my headphones in, I heard “our next question comes from Mark Dolby, in Bradford England”. This was the latest episode of Photo Focus and they were about to answer my question. “He asks, how he can get people to relax in front of the camera when taking corporate group shots?” 

Despite my lack of camera and continued email shuffling, I had managed to get my hands on the work DSLR and offered, at every opportunity, to take photos as part of my job. Sometimes, I knew that my photograph of a handshake was more about reinforcing our visitors VIP status rather than the usefulness of the resultant image but with each ‘assignment’ I felt a small step closer to becoming a photographer. 

“I think it’s important for Mark to remember that the camera looks both ways”. 

Fast forward nearly a decade and that  advice has stayed with me.  The host had identified that, as a newbie, while I clumsily fumbled with the cameras settings and second guessed my technique, I had little chance of instilling confidence or indeed eliciting relaxed smiles from the people in front of my camera. Not that I learnt my lesson particularly quickly. I clearly remember adding an off camera flash and soft box to my equipment early in my endeavours, giving me something else to fumble with whilst the subject of the photo was left flailing. 

Today I balance the need for any additional equipment, with which I am now much more confident, with a desire to keep things simple. This approach means that the gear doesn’t get in the way of genuine interaction and connection. It’s this empathy that now guides my creativity and, when it all goes well, it’s what is reflected back at me, straight down the lens. 

Note: The images above are a range of photos from throughout my career where I feel I’ve managed to heed the advice I describe in this post.