Free content vs free publicity. by Alex Bamford


Yesterday, I was very happy to have the Observer newspaper publish a picture of mine - lightning striking the West Pier. Last week they had called out for photos under the theme of "Storm" for the reader's photos section in their News Review.

There was no money involved, which led to a couple of my photographic friends to question the morality of giving out images for nothing. It's a question that has been keeping photography online forums in hot debate for years now. Photographers are losing out as newspapers find cheaper ways to illustrate stories and fill their pages. 

Having recently switched from working in a long career in advertising, I am well aware of how clients' decreasing budgets have affected both agencies and magazines. But as a fledgling photography business I need to get my pictures out there by every means possible. Even at the risk of shooting myself in the foot.

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Guardian readers' photos.

The Mother of all storms. by Alex Bamford

Last July, an epic thunderstorm hit Brighton. I'd had a go at photographing the lightning a few weeks before but I managed to miss the brunt of the action and just got soaked instead. This time there was no missing it. It was active enough as I set up my tripod to make me think I'd missed out again but it carried on raging for another two hours. 

The shots below are 30 seconds long (at f9 and ISO 200 for the techies) which on a moonlit night would leave the sea in a milky calm but the lightning acts like a large flash gun, freezing the action so you can clearly see the waves and even the odd daredevil seagull. 

Depending upon the sort of flash you get - some light up the whole sky above the clouds rather than fork down beneath them - you get different colours. In my second shot below, the sea is a rich turquoise. I could see it as the lightning struck so I was really pleased it came out on the photo.

The rains came by the time of the third shot, and they were torrential. Fortunately the wind was offshore so the lens stayed relatively dry. I'd also grabbed a plastic bag and a rubber band on my way out so I could fashion a makeshift raincoat for my camera. It meant I couldn't see what I'd just shot but I could keep shooting for longer.

Shooting lightning is very hit and miss, I took well over a hundred exposures over two and a half hours to get these three images and I was completely drenched by the time I got home. I would do it all again though. That was a most exhilarating experience.