Game for a laugh-photographing humour

They say that laughter is the best medicine. I’m hoping that’s true as I’ve been ill for a week and tomorrow I have a shoot with an old friend, Kevin Nicks.
The owner of ‘The World’s Fastest Shed’, I spent a day with him making a video a while back and it was pretty much a day of laughing  at people’s reactions to his amazing creation.

I have a sense of humour which sometimes surfaces in my writing and in many of my photographs. Conveying that in my photography seems to me to be a natural thing on my part and like composition and lighting experience, it grows with you over time.

A model T-Rex being painted in a factory. Photo by John Robertson.
(NOTES…Taken for and used by The Guardian in the 1980’s. The dinosaur model was propped up on trestles as the painter applied spray from underneath it.This was shot from way above using a cherry picker right up to the ceiling of the factory and a 100mm lens to compress the subjects).


Truth be told, humour changes from country to country and like photography itself, it is very subjective. What I find amusing may to someone else be totally unfunny. Cultural differences, as well as personal ones, are at play here as are your life experiences, age, gender and other factors. A master of the genre who provides inspiration on how it should be done properly springs to mind. Elliott Erwitt –whose images have the ability to make me chuckle, no matter how many times I look at them. The heron near an outside tap, the little dog fully airborne above it’s own shadow. The woman playing a one-arm bandit machine shaped like a life-sized cowboy in a Las Vegas casino.

Beautifully observed moments with what must have required a sixth sense to capture the right moment exactly.

Henri Cartier-Bresson is another with photos like one of the first he made using the new 35mm Leica camera way back in 1932 in Brussels. Two men behind a rough canvas screen, one in a flatcap peeping through a hole at some unknown spectacle. The other with a bowler hat and splendid moustache looking rather furtive as he waits his turn for a peep at whatever is beyond.

Spotted at The Game Fair 2017.Photo by John Robertson.

Out and about on a job I will almost instinctively react to anything funny that I notice. It has to be like that with many humorous situations. Hesitate and you are too late-you’ve missed it!
Sometimes a funny idea will occur to me and I will set up a photo but try to make it look as if it just happened right in front of me.
It hardly ever works as well as if you merely observe and react to situations but sometimes you can speed things along a little with some anticipation.
The Cartier-Bresson puddle photos come to mind here. Lurk by one long enough and something is sure to happen eventually. The trick is in recognizing that opportunity when it does come along and then reacting to it REALLY fast.
The vacuum cleaner museum man is an example of the former and the lightning strikes twice shot nicely illustrates my puddle-lurking theory.

Dancing on the ceiling…. The curator of Britain’s only museum of vacuum cleaners. Photo by John Robertson
(NOTES-James Brown admits to vacuuming the ceilings to remove cobwebs. Around 120 machines are kept at the museum. NO PHOTOSHOPPING !! He actually is up in the air,(jumping off a chair!)
Lightning strikes twice-a flooded road during a thunderstorm. Photo by John Robertson.

Having a quick eye for details and the ability to react very fast are essential but perhaps even more important for many humorous picture opportunities is a fast shutter speed and a quiet and unobtrusive camera!

You will need to be really in tune with what is going on around you to succeed. My friend Paul Treacy shows this in his work and goes by the name ‘Photohumourist’ on his Instagram feed. Dublin-born, he has a theory that as you get older your frame of reference for what might be amusing expands. “I can’t move as fast as I used to, so now I let things come to me more” he jokes. Certainly he notices things most people would pass by without a second thought. Like this adult and child photographed from the top of a London bus he was travelling on.

Like mother like daughter. Photo by Paul Treacy.

Paul shoots most of his work on the little Fuji X100 cameras and prefers the immediacy of digital so much that he has no desire to use film cameras as he did in the past. “For me it’s just as exciting to see my digital images pop up in Lightroom as it used to be to watch them appear in the developer” he says.
He has many film images in his archive though- like this image taken with his wife,his mother,(a dog breeder), and their two dogs on a car journey in the early nineties.

On the road in Ireland. Photo by Paul Treacy.

A photo he credits with being a pivotal moment in his life is this one of a cat inside a window , shot on his way home with his children when Paul was a ‘stay at home dad’. He anticipated what the cat would do next and caught the moment perfectly. He realized then that he had to get back into photography and that he should produce a book from all the similar moments he had documented before. SE26 is the title of his latest book and is about the area he lives in.

Hanging out in Sydenham. Photo by Paul Treacy.

“You have to be confident on the streets” says Paul. He learned a lot about that from his time with National News and Pictures, a press agency where Jeff Moore,(mentioned next), also worked.
“I’m always reacting to the light, changing the exposure to compensate and only ever shoot in manual” he tells me. “I like the look from the X100 at around 800 ISO. It gives a little bit of grit to the photos and I will often try to shoot at f5.6 or f8 to get some depth into my images”.





Superman cigarette break. Photo by Paul Treacy.

“It’s the mindset, the weirdness of life going on around you and I enjoy using my camera to make sense of it all”.  It takes acute concentration to capture such brilliant fleeting moments like the hand of a child on the door of a ferry to Ireland. To spot a funny moment as a man in hat appears to be observed by the subjects of a famous Rembrandt painting.

Bon voyage. Photo by Paul Treacy.
Double take-Rembrandt exhibition, London. Photo by Paul Treacy.

Sometimes it can be a fine line between taking a funny photo and making one which ridicules the subject. People have feelings and you should show respect for that and not treat them as mere objects presented in front of you for your photography! My friend Jeff Moore has very definite views on this. “I don’t like mocking people” he said, “with the exception of politicians who I consider to be fair game”. He makes the point talking about a recent photo he took at one of his favourite places to visit- a vintage car boot sale.
“I don’t stalk people or chase after them he says. “I just walk around and wait for the right moment. I never ask if I can take a photo of somebody. Because once you do that the moment has gone and all you get is a second rate posed image”. He spotted the man in the pink hat who noticed Jeff’s interest and asked if he’d like him to pose for a photo. Out of politeness Jeff agreed and as the man adjusted his tie for the posed image-bingo! An un-posed image that says far more than the image he shot afterwards.

The man in the pink hat. Photograph by Jeff Moore.

I asked Jeff what camera and favourite lens he prefers for his amazing photos and his answer was quite a surprise. You see he doesn’t have one favourite.
He confesses to even trying 5 x 4 film on his walk arounds. Then there is his ‘Texas Leica’- a Fuji GW690 medium format film camera. A Rollei TLR, his Leica M3 film camera or M-P 240 digital often with a 50mm or 28mm lens fitted.

Dogs of New York. Photo by Jeff Moore.

Jeff says his work is all about the content. It’s about knowing the tools you are using really well so that you can work very fast and instinctively react to situations. He often uses zone focusing and an aperture and shutter speed combination that he knows will have everything sharp from 8 feet onwards.

Farms not factories protest. Photo by Jeff Moore.

Jeff Moore is a photographer through and through-“it’s who I am, he admits”.
His wry eye sometimes gets him into trouble though- “I always find it best to work on your own” he says. “When I’m working I’m totally focussed on what I’m doing so if I’m out with my wife and I spot an image I simply must take, she gets annoyed with being left to wait around for me”.
Sounds familiar I think to myself!

Lunch on The Strand. Photo by Jeff Moore.
Using the bus. Photo by Jeff Moore.
An astronaut on Times Square. Photo by Jeff Moore.

We all have different perspectives on things and from my point of view photography should be fun -perhaps we should all lighten up a little once in a while and remember that life doesn’t always have to be so serious.


Bishops share a a joke as they arrive for a service. Photo by John Robertson.

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John Robertson is a Manfrotto Ambassador and freelance photographer with the UK National and International press. He also works for commercial clients and produces both editorial and commercial videos.

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