Winning streak

Two-time Junior Photographer of the Year, Ben Curran, talks about shooting photojournalism gold With less than three years on the job, young photojournalist Ben Curran has recently scooped the title of Junior Photographer of the Year at the Canon Media Awards for the second year running. The accolades certainly haven t hurt his career prospects —he s just moved from the Marlborough Express, where he shot both of his winning portfolios, up to the Waikato Times —but Curran isn t letting the success go to his head. "I m still just starting out in the industry; I ve got these awards now but every week —every day really —I still take bad pictures," the humble photographer explains. "So often I get back to the office and I look at something and I say the F-word half a dozen times, just because I know I could have done a better job, or I look at the image and see exactly what I ve done wrong." "I think that s probably never going to change, you re always going to do things wrong but that s what makes you better, if you can see the mistakes and work to fix them." The fruit of this trial-and-error process clearly appeals to the judges at the national media awards, earning Curran some of New Zealand s highest honours in photojournalism. He credits a strict adherence to the photographic fundamentals and a natural approach as the key to catching a jury s eyes. "I notice a lot of photographers now, even in journalism, are utilising Photoshop a lot, vignetting and things like that ... I keep the picture clean and I think that s attractive for the judges, there are not a lot of elements there to disturb them." "I mean that visually, artistically and technically as well —keep it simple and do the simple things well." Curran came to grips with those simple things while studying photography at Palmerston North s UCOL institute. Being drawn to photojournalism he found himself at odds with his classmates, who were more interested in wedding and product shoot assignments, but his teachers were nothing but supportive. "It s not the sort of thing UCOL is necessarily focused on teaching you but photography is photography and the lecturers were all really great in supporting me and helping me. There werenreally any barriers there at all." But as any photojournalist will tell you, the training that really counts happens on the job. Curran got his start working casually for the Manawatu Standard before getting his first  proper  job at the Express, where he met photographer Derek Flynn, a mentor who would help him through the difficult early stages of the job. "I was taken aback a bit —at the time I would have used different words than that," Curran laughs. "It was really interesting and fun, but because of my skill at the time, it was stressful because I didn t always feel like I was doing a good job." was off-putting but when you keep doing it, day in and day out, you begin to learn and to not make so many mistakes. But the first six months I was definitely thrown in the deep end." Junior PhotographerThe photographer has certainly found his feet since, adjusting to the hectic life of a photojournalist where a 12-hour workday is just a car crash or police raid away. Equally at home shooting everyday portraits and life-or-death crises (one of his winning images this year sees an aeroplane with malfunctioning landing gear hurtling towards the camera), Curran says the trick to reportage photography that stands out is balance. Be aware of what the other photojournalists on a scene are doing, particularly the more experienced ones, but always make sure a sense of your own personal style comes through. One image that Curran proudly holds up as testament to this formula is of a house fire in Blenheim, part of this year s winning portfolio. Turning up late to the scene Curran knew the other photographers would already have plenty of the standard shots so he dared to go for something different. Having just set up shop in the Waikato, he sees the Times as a nice balance of big city and small town publication. When off the clock he likes to shoot his own documentary-focused projects, many of which have subsequently been picked up by the paper, like his series on local poetry duo The New Millennium Beatniks. With rumours of print media s demise never far from earshot these days, Curran has, like many of his contemporaries, begun to take an interest in video. Increasingly the photographer finds when there s no photo to be found, shooting video on his Canon ID Mark IV for the Times  website can get a result.

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