In Focus Friday - Tram Stop

02 February 2018

SIG: Documentary

This week David Pechey talks us through this perfectly timed shot in the mancunian rain, which graced the cover of December's Decisive Moment (link)

Hi, David. Can you give us a little background about the shot?

For some time I've been interested to record a fraction of the history of Manchester through its architecture which is evolving from the disappearing remnants of its glorious and wealthy industrial past towards a modern high-rise metropolis. But over time I recognised that the hard landscaping is only an enabler of this transition. The real drivers and markers of change are the people who use the city as their home, their workplace, their playground and their destination. More recently I have been focussing on the living landscape and the Tram Stop outing was part of this. On that wet November evening I found two or three interesting subjects around the Piccadilly Gardens area and these "Information Ambassadors" were a new phenomenon to me that I wanted to capture. I took some photos as they interacted together and with some passing tourists while sheltering from the legendary Mancunian rain under broad umbrellas. However, the brightly lit shopping street background was too distracting and stealing the eye away despite my changing the viewpoint. So my plan was to wait for a tram to pass behind them, blurred by a slow shutter speed. That was deliberate but good fortune intervened as well when, just as the tram appeared, the "Ambassador" helping the Chinese tourist looked over his shoulder to speak to his colleague and tied the whole composition together. I couldn't have posed it better.

What was your plan for the day?

My plan was capture life in the city centre with the shoppers, tourists, workers and dispossessed after dusk. It’s the best time with so many groups mingling together on different trajectories.

What’s your routine just before heading out with your camera?

I have suffered enough embarrassments arriving at a photographic destination with a dead battery, no SD card, no remote, wrong lens etc. So to cater for my carelessness I prepare my camera bag for the next trip as soon as I return from an outing. I keep all the accessories in specified pockets so I can find them even in the dark if necessary. Then all I need to do for the next outing is decide which lenses I need, grab the bag and go. If I’m visiting somewhere I don’t know I research the location to find potentially interesting places but I usually avoid seeing what other photographers have done so I can approach it with a fresh eye.

While you’re out what makes you press the shutter release?

Always I’m looking for a story. Many shots end up just being record images and this was mostly true for the Tram Stop outing. But in this particular shot the elements came together to make a story with the tourist, the tram and the enquiring look. Even in landscapes I want to find the image that brings the viewer into the scene following the elements and finding, I hope, something to capture their interest that may not be immediately obvious

Where can we find more of your work?

I don’t yet have a single location for my images. There are some on the Documentary Group’s Facebook site and in the Decisive Moment collections. Most of my work is in a closed Facebook page for the Photography Group I run on behalf of the local branch of the University of the Third Age. One of my images won the Digital Splash Landscape Award in 2016 (link) and last year I won the Inntravel Slow Moments Competition (link). Creating a web-based photo collection is a new year resolution!

What do you think photographers don’t do but should?

Photography has long been a Cinderella art-form, often disparaged by “real artists”. Now with a good camera in any smartphone everyone thinks they’re a photographer. I wish that those who work hard at their photography would more often speak out for its artistic credentials and be prepared for the 30 second elevator pitch on the difference between a photographic image and a snap.

what essential piece of advice would give your noviceself?

Get the best quality lens (or camera) you can afford. Buy second hand if necessary. Now in my dotage I look back at some of my early images and while the compositions may be OK the quality often lets them down. When eventually I bought my (second hand) Olympus OM-1 in 1980 I was blown away by it’s 50mm f1.4 Zuiko lens and wish I’d taken the plunge sooner.

Which camera has been your all time favourite and why?

I still yearn for my Olympus OM-2n which replaced the OM-1. It sat so neatly in my hands, it was light and compact yet it did the business with its TTL metering that seemed, at the time, to be miraculous. I had a friend who disparaged my OM-2n as being too lightweight and insubstantial compared to their Nikon F2 which could "stop a bullet" apparently. I never had to test my OM-2n in that way but in every other way it was my best friend. Sadly it was stolen along with my other cameras and lenses just as the digital revolution was gaining sway so I went digital - but I still miss it.

What’s the best (photography related) purchase you’ve made for less than £100?

My Inova Microlight LED torch has been a lifesaver - almost literally. It’s tiny and clips into a key ring or any loop in a camera bag. It has three light programmes: low level (useful for checking camera settings or looking for kit without blinding you or ruining night vision); high level (which has helped me get off a hillside or across a field in the dark after taking photos in the “golden hour”); a bright strobe warning mode (which has more than once brought oncoming traffic to a halt when trekking home on narrow country roads at night). It costs about £7-8 from Evaq8 (link) or eBay/Amazon. I’ve tried several different types of LED torch, large and small, but found they sometimes lose power quickly or decide to give up just when you need them. It’s not the cheapest but my Inova Microlight is robust, has stood up to rough work and damp and has already served a long time on its initial batteries.

Thanks, David. I'll start work on my elevator pitch now!