Photo Finish: ‘reality photography’

I just finished watching the first episode of Photo Finish on the ABC (Australia). It’s billed as “a unique series where amateur photographers compete head-to-head in themed photographic challenges”. With the rise in popularity in so-called ‘reality TV’, a photography version had to happen sometime. This is not the first reality show revolving around photography. I did see one in the US several years ago (the series name escapes me) featuring young photographers pitted against each other taking fashion pics of the same model and situation, and being judged on the ‘best’ pic.

In episode 1, 3 amateur photographers (a student, an actor and a Mother) were pitted against each other shooting a portraiture of some famous Australians (actor Vince Colosimo, businessman and philanthropist Dick Smith and performer Christa Hughes). Super impressive subject line-up. A big gig for those photographers. Placed in separate studios, each were given a Hasselblad H2, some Broncolor lights, and a tethered PC and some props. It looked each participant could choose a lens from about 3 on offer. Each photographer had about 30 mins to orientate themselves: research their allocated subject (provided in a 1 page brief along with the subject’s name), study their gear and the studio space. Then 1 hour to photograph the subject (who each brought a personal item). There was a classic ‘fish out of water’ moment watching how uncomfortable and clumsy some of them were initially with the gear and lights, but by the end some miracle shots were achieved. I guess the participants had some off-camera coaching about the gear. As the shoot unfolded, it was interesting to see how each participant interacted with each subject (generally with trepidation), and how the lighting and posing choices were made. It probably would have been more interesting if each participant photographed the same subject using the same studio and props, and were judged on the outcome from that situation, rather than picking the best pic from 3 different subjects and situations.

After 1 hour’s shooting, each participant had to choose one photo from the shoot to present for judging. I was surprised by the choices of the presented image and the final outcome. I thought some strong images were overlooked by a couple of participants. There was also some initia input and drop-in visits to each photographer from a guest world-class portraiture photographer (Gary Heery) whose advice was pointed: “KISS” (Keep it simple stupid) i.e. 1 light, 1 lens, and engage the subject.

It was an interesting show for me because it made me think – well, what would I do in the same situation. How would I approach and connect with their subject. One of the subjects, Dick Smith is such an icon: he built a famous electronics retail chain from scratch; he’s done an epic adventure (he was the first person to fly solo unaided around the world in a helicopter); and, is a passionate and generous Australian fighting for Australian farmers (against overseas imports and ownership). So much background to draw upon, but in the end the chosen pic was of him cleaning his glasses. As I watched this episode, I was considering how I could reach into him to pull out some emotion that captured his spirit. How could I better connect with my next subject?

In the end, I think this program served its purpose for me: it makes you think. I’ll be watching the rest of the series (8 episodes in all). Recommended viewing.

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