A review of the Adorama TV’s new photography show
Photographers have officially arrived. Photographers join cops, lawyers, and doctors as professions who can see themselves on the big screen. With Top Photographer, we have our own glitzy reality TV show, even if it isn’t technically on TV.
I watched the first episode a few times to dissect it for you. Is it worth your time? And if so, what will you learn?
Listen to the episode
Show set up
Adorama teamed up with photographer Nigel Barker to host a five-episode reality competition series on AdoramaTV. Five finalists are competing in a series of photography challenges to become Top Photographer. The show is broadcast on Adorama TV, the camera retailer’s Youtube channel.
What do they win other than internet fame? Prizes valued at $50,000. Canon sponsors the series and showcases their gear during the competitions and provides the grand prize.
Barker says they are testing not just the photographers' technical ability but also their eye.
Watch Episode 1
You know him from his 17 seasons as photographer and judge on America’s Next Top Model and Oxygen Network’s modeling competition series, The Face.
Canon Explorer of Light David Bergman is a New York-based music, portrait, and sports photographer. He has been Bon Jovi's official tour photographer since 2010, documenting the band on stage and on the road in more than 30 countries and 6 continents. Bergman has also toured with Barenaked Ladies, Lilith Fair, and Gloria Estefan, and worked with celebrity clients including Drew Carey and Joss Stone.
With 13 Sports Illustrated covers to his credit including his image of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees raising his son over his head after winning the Super Bowl.
Ben Lyons is a Television, Radio, and Online host and producer from New York City, who covers pop culture and sports like nobody else. Based in Los Angeles, Ben is a special correspondent on EXTRA!, a regular contributor for ESPN LA radio and was just named Chief Content Officer for Derek Jeter's Players' Tribune.
Grand Prize Package
Grand prize, valued at $50k, includes a photography equipment package as well as a photo exhibition in New York City with Nigel Barker. All items subject to change.
- Canon 1DX II
- Canon 70-200 2.8L Lens
- Canon 24-70 2.8 L Lens
- Canon 50mm 1.2 L Lens
- Canon 16-35 2.8L Lens
- Canon LP-E4N Battery Pack
- SanDisk Extreme Pro CFast 2.0 Reader
- SanDisk 128GB ExtremePRO CFast 2.0 Memory Card (QTY 2)
- Canon Professional Bag
- Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT
- Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT
- ProOptic Complete Optics Care and Cleaning Kit
- Profoto B2 250 AirTTL Location Kit
- Manfrotto 3 Light Stand Kit w case
- Profoto B2 Location Bag
- Canon WFT-E6A Wireless Transmitter
- 3Pod Orbit 4 Section Carbon Fiber Tripod
The first episode - the challenge
The first challenge was specifically — action photography — was designed to expose technical weaknesses and strengths. The photographers had 30 minutes to create an “action” shot of Miles Charley-Watson — a fencer on the US Olympic team — in a studio setting.
David Bergman challenged them to capture "the essence of his athleticism and personality and see how your capture it both technically and creatively."
Photographers could choose between a Canon 1DX Mark II or the Canon 5D Mark IV. They could also use accessories from Canon Professional Services and lighting from Profoto. Contestants also had access to Nigel Barker’s personal first assistant.
The first episode - my thoughts
This was fun to watch — both the cameras they chose and what they did with the gear.
Andrew started with the Canon 1DX
He thought he was done while the clocked showed he had 14:40 to go. Nigel encouraged him to keep shooting and that’s when he started to click with the talent.
Chris followed with the Canon 1DX.
The judges loved that he asked Miles if he had a lady friend. Felt like a made-for-TV reaction. I like that he asked if it would be out of character.
Scott chose the Canon 1DX
He came in with specific ideas about what he wanted.
Scott didn’t shoot for about 15 minutes. He started with side lunges and realized that they weren’t dynamic. Flat is never dynamic in photography.
David remarked that it was a pretty picture, just two stops underexposed.
Roxy was the first to select the Canon 5D Mark IV.
She started by making a point of asking questions about the talent.
Jamiya followed with the Canon 5D Mark IV.
Nigel leans over and touches Jamiya’s shoulder. "Trust yourself. You’re looking at the back of the camera a lot. The clock is ticking. Just shoot.”
Nigel assists in one place by putting his leg behind Jamiya, so he could lean back against the host. This let Jamiya lean way back while he shoots.
They all edited the images together, as the photographers delivered raw, unedited images. It looks like the photographers got to select their final image for judging.
The photographers presented their photos to the judges. David Bergman gave insights on the technical details. Ben gave feedback on the story.
Some other thoughts
- I thought they'd go to the Fencer's location. If they really wanted an action shot, I would have wanted them to go to the action. This was a glorified portrait. I hope they really do other genres and don’t make everything a studio glamour shot.
- Interesting watching the photographers react. The typical kinds of reactions you might expect from any random photographers. One guy froze up for half the time, staring at his camera. Another was warm and open. One came in with his own ideas and forced them on the subject. Another started shooting without talking to the subject at all. It reinforced that they really found five random shooters.
- It looks like they created an interesting range of photos. It would be great if we could go to a site and see all the images as shot. Maybe even some EXIF data. Lighting geeks might even want to see their lighting set up.
- I know Canon is sponsoring, but in a contest with 30 minutes to shoot, I’d want to use my own camera. The last thing I want to have to figure is where in the menu system I find specific controls.
- I agreed with the choice of winner. It clearly was not only a great shot, but it clearly answered the challenge.
- I was surprised at the loser. There was one guy who was consistently shooting underexposed — and didn’t lose. If shooting underexposed didn’t expose a technical weakness, I’m not sure what else would.
- Which leads me to this question. Who is this for? Is this for photographers to make us feel good about ourselves? Get us lusting at more expensive gear?
- Is this to expand the audience of photographers? Maybe it can be useful educating potential clients. Now when they ask how hard can it be, we can point them to these fearless five.
- Overall the show was entertaining. It was very much in the same vein as the other Mark Burnett family of reality shows. High production value worthy of broadcast TV. The contestants live together. They compete for a project. There is a boardrooms scene where we evaluate each person's work. And someone gets voted off the island. At the end, we will crown our American Idol.
- The format doesn't provide any surprises. I'm looking forward to getting to know the personalities. It is interesting to see photographers get the spotlight. Overall, I think this will be interesting, even to more than just photographers.