You can always tell a good photographer from the range of different subjects they take photos of, and with a portfolio containing photos of everything from Sudanese refugees fleeing Darfur to university graduations to selfies from his family holiday, Geoff Crawford is a great example of this.
We spoke to Geoff about what it’s like going to take photos all over the world, his favourite picture and why he doesn’t get the point of #nofilter.
What do you use to take your photos?
For my professional work, I use Nikon cameras; I’m currently using D300 and D800 camera bodies. My basic kit is the the two bodies with Nikkor Lenses 24-70mm 2.8 and Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8.
You’ve got a wide range of different photos. What are you usually looking for when you take a photo? Is it always the same thing?
It’s completely dependent on who I’m working for; A shot for local rag Hackney Today will be different to a shot for the Independent or Christian Aid. The customer is always right! You want a cheesy handshake? You got it! You want a farmer working hard in a field in Uganda? You can have it! I try to work in an observational way, trying to capture what’s going on and trying not to manufacture a false situation.
You’ve done a lot of travelling. What’s it like to be able to discover so many different places? Do you approach a photo differently for different subjects?
Well, I don’t think I’ve ‘discovered’ anywhere yet, but the short answer to this is that it’s an absolute privilege. Some of my photographic work has been the equivalent of the ‘Once in a lifetime’ trips people dream about, so I’ve had a fair few ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. Hill Tribes in Thailand, yes; Taj Mahal – twice; Victoria Falls twice; Travel by dug-out canoe on the Mosquito Coast – done that; Massai Mara in Tanzania, yes.
In case this sounds like a series of jollies, that’s definitely not the case. For everything mentioned, there’s a trip to work with a family who’ve lost all of their possessions in an earthquake in Gujurat, or a talk to a bewildered six year old who has lost all her family in the tsunami.
I’ve sat on the flea-ridden bed of a prostitute in Niger who doesn’t know how long she has left before AIDS comes along. And worse. And for every one of these there’s the farmer whose life has been transformed by the Fairtrade movement or the kid who can now go to school in Liberia because of a local church initiative. As i say, it’s a privilege.
Regarding how I approach a shot – it depends on the subject. A shot of 150 happy, drunk graduates needs powerful lighting and a good sense of humour. A shot two minutes later of the Principal of the same University requires a little more sobriety and a professional attitude.
What’s your favourite picture that you’ve taken? How was it taken, and what were your thoughts at the time, and when you look back at it now?
This is a virtually impossible question but If I had to choose, it would probably be this one.
Taken in Chad, it’s of Sudanese refugees fleeing Darfur during the war in 2004. Under threat form Janjaweed militia in Darfur villagers carrying all they had, headed across the border in to refugee camps in Chad, the original is slightly overexposed and I thought I’d emphasis it for effect. Unusually for me, faces can’t be seen and I think this adds to the drama – just some of the hundreds of thousands of nameless faceless victims of the war.
My thoughts, when I took this picture, were probably along the lines of “It’s bloody hot here and how can I keep this dust from ruining my equipment?” I’ve been in many emotional situations but you have a job to do, so can’t really let the situation affect you. Sometimes it does, but if it didn’t you wouldn’t be human.
Having said that, I quite like this photo too, a family holiday selfie taken last week on an iPhone. It’s all about context.
What do you think of the rise of camera phones and Instagram?
It’s all good. There a lot of dross out there but a lot of undiscovered talent too.
Would you ever completely give up your camera for your phone camera? Why?
At the moment, there’s no way I’d ditch my DSLR for an iPhone, but then there was a time when photographers said digital will never be as good as film. I’m astonished at the quality I get from my iPhone, though only for web use. Print and publishing are a different matter.
Once the iPhone can match my DSLR, I’ll happily chuck all my gear out. I’m definitely not a kit junkie; I have a crick in my neck just thinking about lugging my equipment up a mountain, in stifling heat, in Guatemala or the Lake District, and don’t get me started about the hassle of airport check-ins!
If I’m with family or friends, I almost never have my DSLR, but I always have my iPhone. I think this indicates where photography is headed and I’m happy with that, and, to prove it, here’s an iPhone photo I would never have taken with my ‘proper’ camera. This was on a proper job. For a proper client
What would be your advice for anyone else wanting to take great photos?
Move your feet. Lie down. Climb a tree if you can’t get the right angle. Just do it. If a photo is rubbish, bin it and take a better one next time. If you want to do it professionally, remember that 90% of the work is pitching for work, 80% if you’re very good or very lucky.
What are your favourite apps to edit and share? What do you use?
I’m not a fan of filters for my ‘work’ photography, as I’m a documentary photographer at heart. In my ‘real’ photography, I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. For stuff I post to Facebook, I’m happy to use Snapseed, as it’s fast and effective. I don’t see the point in the ‘no filter’ hashtag. Is the photo any better for the use of a filter? If it is, then use it!