Get Better Photos For Nothing

FRANCE. Normandy. June 6th, 1944. US troops assault Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings. Robert Capa © International Center of Photography

We all love a bargain and what better bargain is there when it is absolutely free? There’s no doubt about it – photography can be an incredibly expensive pastime. The cost of a pro body, the so-called holy trinity of 2.8 zooms, and some fast primes could pay for you to do a degree or buy a good car. The real kicker is that as soon as the latest models come out your kit is “made” redundant and stops taking good photos so you have to do it all over again. Insane isn’t it? Well I have the answer for you and it won’t cost a single penny. Actually I have to confess that I didn’t devise this myself, a clever Hungarian bloke by the name of André Friedman is responsible for it and it goes like this:

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Mrs Friedman’s little boy changed his name to Robert Capa because he felt having an American sounding name would earn him more money (it did), he went on to found the famous photo agency Magnum (so named after the size of champagne bottle he was fond of buying), one of the most famous and highly regarded conflict photographers in the world, and one that is arguably the most controversial as many believe that his most famous works are fakes. Chris Boot in his excellent book “Magnum Stories” (and I would recommend any serious photographer to at least read this book or better still buy it) wrote:

“Capa’s photography is all about being there, close. His art lay in risking where to be and when, in how he built and conducted the relationships that enabled him to be there, and in how he shaped and presented the narrative of events he witnessed.”

Boot, Chris; Magnum Stories p.66. Phaidon, New York 2004.

So does it mean that we all have to pack our bags and head for the nearest God forsaken war zone just to get some decent photos? Have no fear gentle reader we at Paul Amyes Photography (PAP) know that pain hurts and death can be fatal and so prefer to find our photographic subjects in safer environments. So what was Capa on about? Well firstly you should be in close proximity to your subject so that it fills the frame. There are times when the subject (i.e. wildlife or sports) may dictate that you use a long lens, but the principle still holds true position yourself so you can fill the frame. Generally the most drama can be had by using wide angled lenses and filling the frame. It gives impact and intimacy. While speaking of intimacy get to know your subject really well and look to capture a side of it that isn’t so well-known. It may be necessary to find people who can help you gain access to a subject and that these relationships may need to be cultivated over a period of time so you can build trust. For quite a while I followed the rodeo circuit around in Western Australia. I just didn’t want the standard pictures of the participants in the ring, I wanted to get behind the chutes to where the contestants got ready. I wanted to experience and so record the emotions that they felt – the tension, the elation, the sense of relief, and the disappointment. It took a lot of emails, phone calls, and offers of photos for publicity to get there, but it was so worth it. Some photographers choose to live like their subjects in order to get that closeness. Magnum photographer Antoine d’Agata is one such photographer. He photographs people on the margins of society such as sex workers and drug addicts and he participates fully in their world.

“It’s not how a photographer looks at the world that is important. It’s their intimate relationship with it. ”
Antoine d’Agata

Magnum photographer Antoine d’Agata giving a floor talk at the opening of his exhibition Until The World No Longer Exists at the Moores Building.

His work is confronting to say the least and his approach may and subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste but the images are arresting and powerful.

So improving your photography considerably won’t require you to spend a penny on equipment, but it will cost you in terms of time, commitment, and perhaps a bit of courage.
Palm Sunday Walk For Justice
As a middle-aged bloke taking pictures of kids in public is fraught with difficulties, but in situations such as this you just have to summon up the courage and ask the parent.


el Caballo Rodeo 11/08/2007
This young cowboy is nervously waiting behind the chutes for his turn in the bull riding competition. Forming relationships with the organisers of the rodeos was the only way I was going to get access to these moments.

Why Do We Take Photographs?

Recently things have made me question why I take photos. Despite our protestations that we take photos to make art the real reason is not so grand. When I first picked up a camera to take pictures in my own right I had no idea that photography was even considered as an art form. When I was eighteen and about to go travelling with my girlfriend and my parents gave me a Kodak Instamatic to take with me. So my first reason to take pictures was to record the things I’d see and be able to show them to people who could not be there. When I returned home and got the films developed and printed I was both thrilled and disappointed at the same time. Thrilled because of the experiences I was able to share and disappointed because they could have been so much better. This prompted me to buy a succession of better cameras and learn a lot more about photography, but my primary focus (excuse the pun) was to document the things that I felt were important. This is by no means unique to me and it is the reason why the majority of the world’s photographs are taken.

“Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees”

Paul Strand

A photograph is a memory in physical form (if it is printed that is). Memories can be fleeting, my earliest ones are very indistinct ghostly impressions in my thoughts. Other memories such as my wedding day are more concrete and fully formed and consistent. Memories can be happy refuges where we can enter a contented almost blissful state when we allow ourselves to revel in them. Other memories are darker and more sinister and they are often repressed as it is too painful to dwell on them only for them to surface at inopportune times. Photos are aides-mémoires, we take them to supplement our view and experiences of the world and share them with others. Gerry Badger in his book The Genius Of Photography describes how the picture itself instantly becomes the subject of memory and provides the certainty that something actually existed. A photograph is capable of transporting back in time or to a far-flung location or establishing contact with someone long since dead. We can experience events that we never lived through, I can vividly recall the Normandy D-Day landings in 1944 even though I was not even born then thanks to the visceral photos of Robert Capa. Photography creates and shapes stories, it helps defines the morals and context of the world we live in. I have in my possession photos of family members whom I have never met, in fact some were only a faint memory for my parents and grandparents. From the photos I can learn about them and discover things that we have in common although we are separated by time and geography. The photos provide me a context for my life and a point of reference.

By all means continue to make photographic art, but do not forget to take record shots of your life and the lives of those who are nearest and dearest to you. Also let others take photographs of you doing what you enjoy and being with who you love as these photos are far more important than any art we may create, they will form part of your families collective memory and allow both you and them to live on.

My great great grandmother with her dog
My step grandfather Ted and his dog Bess. Rochdale, Lancashire, England
My Mother with her Chow Kim
Me aged 7 with my dog Kipper at Headcorn in Kent.
Me aged 16 with Digby. Chichester, West Sussex, UK.
My mother with her Staffy Florence, Chichester, West Sussex, UK 1995
Me and my Staffy Jacko. 1995, Thornlie, Western Australia.
Me and Rosie, Guilderton, Western Australia.


My partner Helen and me with Frida our Bull Terrier. York, Western Australia.