An experienced BBC photographer once summed up the challenges faced by assignment photographers about as succinctly as I’ve ever heard it put: “Given enough time, good light and beautiful surroundings any Muppet can go out and get a handful of good shots,” he said. “A talented assignment shooter is the one who goes out with a tight deadline, in bad conditions, in un-photogenic surroundings and – through sheer determination and imagination – delivers what the client wanted.”
I founded The WideAngle photographers’ network seven years ago as a rapid-response task-force of assignment shooters who could be scrambled at short notice to shoot the most unlikely and original stories from anywhere in the world. I knew that editors were turning down some of the best stories simply because the limitations of relying on regular stock images meant that they were, to all intents and purposes, “un-illustratable”. The WideAngle has proved that there’s no story that cannot be very effectively shot – anywhere in the world – by a team of sufficiently dedicated and visionary photographers.
It is likely that there is not a single country in the world that has not by now heard the click of a WideAngle shutter. Our photographers have worked through floods in Thailand and Indonesia, and photographed assignments during cyclones in Philippines and Western Australia. They’ve been on patrol in Afghanistan and bombarded with grenade launchers in Sri Lanka. They’ve wiped mud off lenses in Central American jungles and blown numbed shutter-fingers into action on windblown Himalayan passes. They’ve travelled on every form of transport known to man, from Maserati to mule-train. Sandstorms have slowed them down in Algeria and snowstorms in Kazakhstan and, in several cases, they’ve waited until the images have been successfully filed before giving in to attacks of dengue and malaria.
I’ve worked as a writer with WideAngle photographers in some locations: Uganda, Oman, Kenya, Indonesia, Algeria and Brazil. We’ve operated in teams, taking turns to upload images via satellite connection while our partner scans the African bush for the glint of the eyes of local lions. We’ve done our best to fight camera-shake in the face of charging elephants and fighting bulls and we’ve concentrated our minds on the nuances of depth-of-field and focal-point while being circled by sharks or tracking black panthers.
More often than not, however, I’ve held the fort with a feeling of burning envy as our assignment photographers have set out to shoot street markets in Wuhan, highlife in Monaco, safaris in the Okavango, Havana street-life and even a ‘helicopter pub-crawl’ up the east coast of Australia.
Our photographers have already chased the big picture for most of the world’s most prestigious publications. The next seven years is going to be better still.