Category Archives: On Being a Photographer

On Being a Photographer, Bill Jay and David Hurn

On Being a Photographer, Bill Jay and David Hurn

I have recently finished reading the Kindle version of this book, which takes the form of a dialogue between the two authors.

Hurn, an internationally renown Magnum photographer and Jay, an author of photography, frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities across Britain and Europe and photographer in his own right, have been friends for 30 years.

The conversational style of the book made it easy to read and the very practical nature of the years of wisdom imparted made it easy to understand.

The book begins with describing Hurn’s route in to photography, by route of Sandhurst then a job at Harrods. A chance encounter with Michael Peto, a leading British photographer, gave Hurn the opportunity to share his work and learn the business side of photography. Hurn describes his career as being ‘about a succession of bizarre coincidences’, which, when I considered the hard work and drive he has demonstrated to be an extremely modest statement.

I found the section on Selecting a Subject to offer some particularly good advice. Hurn advises the need for forward thinking and planning, to be specific about what you are looking for when planning a project and shooting it. This is advice that I will heed as a few months ago I visited a busy event with my camera and with no definite plan in my mind, I became quite overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of the event and eventually returned home with only a few photographs, of which, there were none I was happy with.

Practical advice offered by Hurn, that I will to consider when planning my next assignment, is to ask your self, is a subject-

  • Visual?
  • Practical (and accessible)?
  • Something that you know ‘enough’ about?
  • Interesting to others?

On Shooting the Single Picture Hurn advises that the photographer has two basic controls, where to stand? and when to release the shutter? Having spent a lot of time since beginning TAoP course working through my camera functions and fiddling with various buttons I found this quite refreshing. As I am now more familiar with my camera controls these are the two questions that I should now, perhaps, consider as a priority, rather that spend too much time setting controls and missing a potential shot.

When discussing The Picture Essay, Hurn recommends that avoiding visual boredom should be a key consideration. Establishing pace and changing the rhythm within a set of photographs can achieve this.

This will be a key consideration for me as I prepare my photographs for assignment two. Hurn mentions photographs taken from different distances help establish pace. I also imagine changes to composition; colour, dominant shapes and page orientation would be factors to consider. On discussing rhythm in Elements of Design the course notes advised that for visual rhythm to be established there should be repetitive elements. I wonder if this is considered to be true in a picture essay? For example, 3 horizontal format photographs followed by 4 vertical? This would seem to offer a rhythm without being too distracting for the viewer. Out of interest, I have just had a browse through the layout of Stephen Shore’s, The Nature of Photographs (2012). While it predominantly has text on the left page and a black and white photograph on the right hand page, the pattern does break to include double page colour prints and a few large images which cover a whole page and a section of the opposite page too. Perhaps this is what Hurn would describe as avoiding visual boredom?

The book comes to a close with both Hurn and Jay debunking what they describe as Some photography myths. The myth that stood out for me is that ‘photography is about talent and instinct’. The authors argue that no one is born a photographer, but that rather photographers have to show fierce single-mindedness as they commit themselves wholeheartedly to their chosen discipline.  I found this of interest as I have often heard a photographer described as ‘having a good eye’ and to me this implied a natural talent. However, having read this chapter it has made me realise that the ‘good eye’ is not a natural god given gift but a result of many years of practice, research and debate.

At the time of writing On Being a Photographer by Bill Jay and David Hurn was available from for Kindle download for £3.82.

Jay, B and Hurn, D. (1997) On Being a Photographer, 1st Kindle Edition 2010. Washington: LensWork Publishing

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs, 2nd edition. London: Phaidon Press Limited