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Neil Turner

From editorial photography to fast-paced picture editing, Neil Turner has lots of strings to his bow. We talk to him about his career


Fixation: Hi Neil, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. How would you describe the kind of photography you do?

Neil Turner: Editorial photography and corporate photography in a very editorial style. By editorial style I mean stuff that would look at home in newspapers, magazines and news websites. Nothing too staged, unless it’s a portrait, certainly nothing photoshopped at all. If you see a special effect, it was done in camera and not in a computer.

Currently I’ve got quite a lot of stuff that’s getting flipped into black and white – these things go in cycles, at the moment in corporate photography we’re going through an “Everyone likes black and white” cycle.

F: Are there a lot of these kinds of trends in corporate photography?

NT: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Very, very much so, especially with the corporate stuff. We’ve been through lots of phases: before there was the desaturated and colour-shifted, cross processed phase.

I must admit, with these kind of pictures, I tend to let the client do the post-production rather than do it myself. More often than not they’ve got four or five people supplying pictures and they want all the stuff to match. So they can pay for it!

F: So how did you get started in all this?

NT: I was always keen on photography as a kid. It wasn’t my first choice of career necessarily, but by the time I was twenty I was fairly convinced it was something I wanted to have a go at.

I worked for Jessops for a while, back when they only had five shops. This was when it was still run by the family – the old man used to walk in the shop, throw his car keys at whoever was nearest and say, “Go and park my car.” You’d go outside and find a yellow Rolls Royce or a yellow Porsche you’d have to then get rid of.

Then in 1984 I went off to college to do a two-year advertising and editorial photography HND, and I’ve been working as a photographer since.

F: You’ve done plenty of different projects over the years – what are your favourite things to shoot?

NT: I think in terms of shooting, it’s always been getting to go overseas, which is a bit of a luxury these days. I’ve done some nice things with the paper I used to work for; we used to do a lot of things in partnership with major charities and NGOs, including Save the Children. In terms of what gave the greatest photographic satisfaction, probably the editorial portraiture, which is what I was known for back in the day.

In 2008, I took a redundancy from the paper I was working on, right in the middle of the biggest economic downturn the world’s ever known. Which was great timing! I left and threw myself into freelancing. I remember photographing a guy in about 2004 who described what he had as a portfolio career, meaning he did a bit of this and a bit of that, filled his time with five or six different roles. That always appealed to me, and I guess that’s what I’m doing now.

My main job is still photography for sure, and everything else I do is related to photography. I’ve just come back from two weeks at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics – I’m no sports photographer, but I’ve been working as a picture editor with some of the greatest sports photographers you could ever hope to meet. This means choosing which pictures go where; I have two people working for me who do captions, we do grading and get the colours right, get the density right, and get them out to the client.

We do all sorts of events and it’s all run with top class sports photographers – in fact in Norway we had three former Sports Illustrated staffers, that’s how good the team was. The IOC [International Olympic Committee] were paying us to get the pictures out there, get them used all over the world. The pictures were pretty good, it has to be said, and we got them out there in a timely fashion.

F: Sounds like a fast-paced world…

NT: Yes, the photographers are transferring from their cameras the whole time. We had once instance where the time between the picture being taken and appearing on the Guardian website was about six minutes! Five minutes after that, it was sports picture of the day! That’s the kind of speed you have to work at.

I’ve always been a bit of a techie, so I’ve kept up with fast wireless transfer technology. Corporate clients love it too – instead of using their iPhone smudges for Twitter and Facebook, suddenly they’ve got access to what I’m shooting right after I’ve shot it. For one client we regularly shoot events where there are lots of kids. I transmit straight from the camera to the client’s iPad, she then wanders around and goes up to the parents of the kid involved, says to them, “Excuse me, do you mind if I use this for Twitter or Facebook?” Gets a model released instantly signed using an app on the iPad, emails them a copy of the picture as a thank you, and bish bash bosh it’s all done – within a minute or five of the picture being taken.

MiFi devices are getting better and better. 4G is almost old hat! For me it’s a question of keeping ahead of all these things, and I’ve become a bit of an expert on the WFT-E6 and E7 and things like that. Everyone goes on about wanting Wi-Fi built into the cameras – well, the Wi-Fi in cameras is pretty poxy compared to what these things can do.

F: Earlier you mentioned part of your photography involves creating effects in-camera, what sort of thing do you mean?

NT: Not anything particularly sophisticated – we shoot a lot of mixed flash in daylight. All my career I’ve used battery powered flash and mixed it with ambient light. The kind of stuff where I hope you don’t notice it’s been done.

I’ve long been a proponent of powerful battery-powered flash units – in fact I first started blogging about them in 1998, and off the back of that I used to do quite a lot of lectures and teaching. Quite amazing stuff back then, really.

It wasn’t called “blogging” then, it was called “running your own slightly poxy website”. I had a staff job while I was doing it, so I didn’t think about monetising it, and then people like David Hobby came along and started the Strobist and made a fortune doing what I’d been doing five years before! (It’s all right – I know David quite well!)

I’ve also been a board member of the British Press Photographers Association for thirteen years. I was vice-chairman for a while, and one of the highlights of my career was appearing at the Leveson Inquiry on behalf of photographers!

Sadly the video of my appearance sitting in the chair all the naughty people sat in seems to have disappeared. I was talking about the difference between working news photographers and the people with cameras who chase celebrities and piss them off. I talked about the ethics of news photography, and it was a massive high point because it went very well. Weird, weird year, 2008. Had a very strange time.

F: What photographic kit are you using these days?

NT: I use two Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIs and an EOS 6D. I’ve got a big box of L series lenses. All my zooms are now f/4s, so I’ve got the 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. I’ve got the 24mm f/1.4, the 35mm f/1.4, the 50mm f/1.2, the 300mm fƒ/2.8, and a couple of shift lenses, the 17mm and 24mm. I’ve got a whole load of Canon flashguns and the Elinchrom range of Quadra lighting gear. Three Apple Mac computers, some iPads. Though my current favourite brand in photography is probably ThinkTank.

I did win a Sony camera in a local photo competition the other day – the RX1. It takes fantastic pictures, but I hate it. It has no viewfinder, and buying one for it is 300 quid. I also have a Fuji X100S, which I love! I do all my side projects and street photography on it. If only that Sony chip could go in the Fuji body, we’d have a perfect camera.


Neil Turner was speaking to Jon Stapley. See more at dg28.com