Times Square, the Empire State Building, yellow taxi cabs, Central Park: New York City is home to so many iconic images. Photographer Patrick Batchelder has spent more than two decades capturing this great city on camera. Patrick explains his fascination for the sights of NYC – and reveals the art of taking a good picture.
It’s hard to escape images of New York City. They are everywhere: in newspapers, magazines, guidebooks, calendars and brochures, to name but a few. Travel and architecture photographer Patrick Batchelder has had thousands of NYC images published across the world. He has even created a stock photography website devoted to his photography of the city.
So, what sparked Patrick’s interest in photography? “My father inspired my interest in photography when I was a kid,” says Patrick. “He would take photographs of us and then set up an enlarger in the bathroom to make prints, and I would sometimes watch how he made them. I found this very interesting.” Patrick’s mother also inspired his interest in travel and adventure when she encouraged him to take a bicycle trip one summer. This led to yearly trips which included Canada, California and Alaska. “I really enjoyed taking these bike trips with other kids my age, and it’s mostly on these trips that I began to take a lot of pictures.”
Patrick studied French and geography at university (both in the US and France) and during the early 90s worked as a photo researcher for a picture agency. This experience proved invaluable when Patrick began his career as a photographer.
“Working in a photo agency helped me learn about the business of licensing photography. The terms and conditions of licensing stock images can be very confusing for independent photographers, but after working in an agency, concepts such as rights managed versus royalty free, editorial versus advertising, model releases and usage fees, these are all second nature for me now. This makes it easier when negotiating picture use with a client.”
Although Patrick specialises in travel and architecture, he never set out with the aim of focusing (no pun intended) on these subjects. “I have always been interested in travelling and I used to be somewhat of a travel magazine addict,” he says. “In fact, most of what I have learned about making travel photos came from studying pictures in travel magazines.”
“I never really ‘decided’ to specialise in anything in particular,” he adds. “I think we all start out taking pictures of everything around us – friends, food, landscapes, trips to the beach – and over time, our eyes just gravitate to what we find interesting. I have always found urban environments interesting, so that lends itself perfectly to travel and architecture photography, and over time that’s what I have enjoyed photographing the most.”
Patrick’s travels have taken him all over the world, from Shanghai to Mexico City. His first trip to Asia – which included Hong Kong, China and Japan – was an eye-opening experience: “The colours and lights, the noise and activity: they are all on a different level from American cities. New York City sometimes feels like a small town compared with these places!”
Although Patrick still travels for pleasure, most of his photography is done in New York City. This might sound like limiting your horizons, but as Patrick explains, nothing could be further from the truth: “Being based here is terrific for someone who shoots travel and cityscapes, because there is always material just outside your door. There is a huge demand for New York City pictures globally. New York remains one of the top destinations in the world, and thanks to that, my pictures have been published worldwide.”
In fact, the demand for New York City images is so great that Patrick has created Cityscape NYC (www.cityscapenyc.com), a website dedicated to his New York City images. Cityscape NYC started life as a website for potential clients to view Patrick’s images, but has now evolved into a fully functional stock photography website, holding hundreds of images, arranged in various galleries (such as people or neighbourhoods). “Clients can view, download and license images directly from the site. They can also use it as a resource for ideas that we can discuss further to tailor to their needs,” explains Patrick.
Patrick adds: “No matter how well an independent photographer can market his work, he will never have the far-reaching network of an agency like Alamy. So, it's nice to be able to have my own marketing tool to go along with a global agency such as Alamy.”
In an age where vast numbers of New York City images are being posted on websites such as Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram, what separates the professional photographer from the amateur? “I think there are two questions we have to ask,” says Patrick. “First, do we care about viewing our pictures in books, museums and other printed media for decades to come? And second, do we care about a consistent body of work?”
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, adds Patrick, then the difference between the professional and amateur photographer is not only the aesthetic quality of their images, but also the technical quality, as well as the ability to consistently produce great photographs.
“A great photograph can be made by anyone, with any number of devices. There are thousands of interesting pictures all over the internet, but what is the underlying quality of the image?” asks Patrick. “Can it be printed at a high quality; can it be viewed other than online; will it be around in fifty years? And can the photographer consistently come up with interesting pictures every day to form a coherent body of work? These are the challenges that the professional photographer will overcome.”
So, what is the art to taking a good picture? “The ability to see in the ordinary something interesting, and then wait until it becomes more interesting,” says Patrick. “It’s not hard to take a good picture from the edge of the Grand Canyon, but what if you’re on an ordinary street? Can you see something there worth photographing? And then, can you wait for the right moment, when the light or movement or colour in that scene come together to form a great picture?”
A good photographer will not only spot a potentially interesting picture, but will also appreciate the need to be patient while the elements come together, in just the right balance, adds Patrick: “That’s why you often see great photographers just standing on street corners looking creepy!”www.cityscapenyc.com