In Conversation with Alex Coppel

What is your current position and job title?

Full time photographer with the Herald Sun since 2000.

Working at the Herald Sun as a press photographer has granted me some amazing access and also placed me in some fairly precarious situations. I’d love to call myself a photojournalist although the tabloid nature of the Herald Sun ensures we cover a very wide gamut of subject matter, from race riots to three legged puppies. I’ve learnt to adapt and shoot very quickly as a result of working for the paper mostly due to my subjects rarely allowing much time to be photographed.

Who (or what) inspires you?

I guess originally what drove me in photography was lighting. I’d study a National Geographic image and completely scrutinise how it was achieved; lens/aperture/exposure/flash/no flash/time of day etc. I would then set out to try to achieve a result that I loved. I loved and still love the experimental side of photography such as time-lapse or painting with light. Back then it was all slide film so trial-and-error was part of the learning process. My biggest inspiration now comes from imagery that is captured, and has impact that is immediately evident. That usually comes from the emotion of humans as a subject. I’d look at a picture and ask why I felt moved by it, why did I think it was good? How was it achieved?

How did you get your first break?

I started at the Herald Sun working one day a week then moving on to getting a few more shifts, usually covering social events at night for the celebrity pages. That taught me both to work quickly and to talk people into doing things they didn’t want to do; invariably the best trait you can have as a photographer, I think. Because I wasn’t getting day shifts I would show some initiative by shooting things that were on during the day such as a protest, then submitting the picture. On hot days I would take my Nikonos to the pool and generate an underwater picture, then when I started at 4pm I would offer them the image. That attitude and approach seemed to help me secure a full time position when one photographer left on maternity leave. At the time I was juggling a newborn baby and completing my third year at RMIT.

Funniest moment as a photojournalist?

Some interesting jobs I’ve been sent include riding on a tram with The Queen. It was a pool position, which meant my pictures would be made available to all media outlets in order to have fewer photographers on the tram. So there I am riding on the tram with the Queen, there was a moment where I had to stop and pinch myself. Victoria Police were fairly happy with some images I created on a stakeout that they nearly offered me a job. Given the task of capturing drugs deals occurring in broad daylight I talked a local business into letting us use their office to shoot fairly covertly through a slightly ajar door, all the deals taking place in Victoria St Richmond. I hid under a black blanket shooting stills with a long lens and also video for any backup we may need should any legal complications arise from what we published. The journalist took my images to Victoria Police and they were subsequently used to place multiple arrests.

What are your biggest obstacles as a photojournalist in 2017?

There continues to be many redundancies at the Herald Sun, and as of the end of this financial year we are seeing 75% of our staff photographers leave and move on to other careers altogether. The advancement of what’s been labelled ‘citizen journalism’ sees professional photojournalists struggling more and more to acquire the antiquated full time staff positions. The onset of digital news also means print publication is struggling as people can access their news anytime, anywhere on their tablets. I can be grateful for the Herald Sun to be keeping a core of nine photographers for the time being, and I’ll continue delving in the amazing experiences the job offers me.

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