Tuesday 30 March meeting: Cafe Nero Photo Assignment in Ethiopia with James McCormick

Cafe Nero Photo Assignment in Ethiopia with James McCormick


James ran through over 500 images – the good, the bad and the indifferent – he took on a three-day shoot in Ethiopia for his client, Café Nero. He talked about the thought processes behind the images and gave expert tips and tricks throughout.


His main message was to keep it simple. To help with simplifying things is to reduce as much as possible any technical decisions so that you can concentrate on your photography. First thing is to take as little equipment with you as you can. He takes just one camera and two lenses and he always shoots on manual to get the best exposure. His tip for exposure was:


  • use the lowest possible shutter speed (rule of thumb is twice the focal length of your lens ie a 50mm lens therefore 1/125sec shutter speed),
  • select aperture for the desire effect (depth of field)
  • ISO is the answer and the setting to change.


If the light changes, for example from shade to bright sun, then use what he called the ‘speedy finger’ technique, which is to rotate the shutter speed to the desired level – two to three stops in the case of moving from shade to bright sun.


With all the technical issues out of the way he then could concentrate on what he is there for – taking photos that his client wants. This means understanding his audience first and foremost, but he also must be creative and confident at the same time. To help get himself into ‘the mood’ he shoots as soon as he gets to the location. These shots are not with the audience in mind but for himself. It builds his confidence and he is ready to go.


To help him get the shot he needs he has three fundamental questions in his head:

  1. What are you trying to portray and who will be viewing it?
  2. Is anything in the scene likely to change rapidly?
  3. Get the shot in the can!


He works like a hunter relentlessly on the prowl – he sees the shot, takes it, moves closer, takes another and hovers until another opportunity comes and takes that and carries on documenting what is in front of him, composing his shots as he goes along, getting different perspectives, a reaction from his subject and avoiding ugly depth of field whenever he can, and on and on.


Colour was an important part of his visual style. His main protagonist in this assignment was a coffee buyer who he had advised to wear a red checked shirt throughout. This meant that the coffee buyer always stood out no matter where he was.


His images were designed to capture ‘community and happiness’ and to instil in the audience’s mind ‘what it is like to be there’. He certainly achieved this and was very generous in sharing his tips on how to get these types of shots.

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Oxford Photographic Society