Many pros start out as generalists, shooting all sorts of subjects, but most come to find a single specialism. Not always though. Take Terry Donnelly, a Sony Alpha user, who shoots diverse subjects ranging from architecture to sports, and from commercial to wildlife. Despite his varying specialisms, he’s managed to excel across these multiple genres, gaining clients and winning numerous awards along the way. It’s a success story that’s based on one simple but vital thing – his love of making great images.
I've always had many interests, photographically, and that just stayed with me right through developing into a professional. I never wanted to give any one thing up, but while that doesn’t work for some, for me it meant that I picked up different skill sets from diverse jobs. That let me hop easily from one to another. So if I’m working for a news agency I can give them they type of image they want; and if it’s a job shooting hotel interiors, I can swiftly turn to that style, too.
As diverse as his subjects are, Terry’s work is also defined by a common aesthetic, so “although I may be looking at very different subject matters and skillsets at work,” he explains “the actual core value is still the same, to make something that has artistic merit.”
For Terry, the most important thing that enables him to achieve this is composition. “Whatever the subject,” he says, “I’m looking to offer an unusual viewpoint, something that’s striking. That could mean shooting from an unusual height or angle, or by picking a wide or telephoto lens. Then I make sure to pack the frame so it has impact.”
Something else Terry always applies to his shots is “good separation, so that the subject stands out from its surroundings.” He achieves this in a number of ways, just a few examples being his lens choice, shooting position, how the subject is lit or by using a wide aperture to blur the background and isolate the subject.
I find any of these things can make a good image from the most mundane subject.
Covering different subjects is an approach that keeps his work fresh, and also lets him transfer skills from one discipline to another. “It’s impossible not to take the learnings from one subject into another,” Terry explains, “so I find myself applying landscape techniques to architectural work, or methods of shooting interiors in portrait work. Ultimately, I find that the same core values work across a whole range of styles.”
It’s fair to say that a photographer working across multiple genres needs a camera that can adapt to virtually any situation. And for that, Terry primarily uses his α9 body, though also employs an α7R III if clients want to benefit from the higher resolution output.
“The α9 has everything I need, and I feel I can rely on it completely,” he says. “So for example, there’s the 20fps burst mode that means I can get the perfect expression on a sportsman’s face, and the AF system that’s going to keep a moving subject in focus every single frame, so it’s no longer a case of wishing the best pose was the one that was sharp – they all are!” Being able to rely on the α9’s class-leading AF also means Terry can shoot with wider apertures and get the subject separation that runs through all of his work.
He’s also a convert to shooting with the α9’s silent shutter, citing in particular the ability to shoot golfers on a back swing, something that you simply can’t do with a DSLR unless you want to be thrown off the course, and “in terms of ISO performance I can push it higher than ever before to get the shutter speeds I want for action. Then there’s the in-body image stabilisation that, at the other end of the shutter speed scale, means it’s easy to add motion effects like panning.”
Finally, Terry says, the α9’s viewfinder and rear screen has made a huge difference to the way he works.
Being able to see the image before you take the shot is absolutely incredible, as it helps me work more quickly and intuitively than I ever have before, but that also means I’m getting a better connection with the subject or the client I’m working with. Unlike when I was using DSLR, I no longer have to hammer the playback button to make sure it’s the exposure I was looking for. I can now just look at the client or what I’m shooting and I can keep that connection, which is what good photography is all about, no matter what the subject.
"Although I shoot different genres of photography I find a cross over of skill set between them which makes my work stronger"