Watched: Top Photographer with Nigel Barker

I admit, I have watched some episodes of the various versions of "Next Topmodel". Not because I was forced, but because I enjoyed it. No, not the bad scripts, the teary life stories, ridiculous fights or the most holy supermodels saying "There can only be one Next Top Model" with an important, deep voice while dramatically and sometimes melancholically staring into the camera.
I watched them for the photo shoots. Sometimes they were pretty simple setups, sometimes they were colorful, big scenes, sometimes they took place underwater. I found them inspirational in terms of ideas but also the process. Can you please ignore the whiny and self important model and show me what the photographer is doing instead? (Also, I always wanted to know more about the retouch, but we never got to see that.)

I actually wished there was something similar for photographers. And then again - how would such a show look for photographers, where photography has so many different genres, styles and is much about taste.

Well. It seems my wish came true nonetheless because now you can watch (for free on YouTube): Top Photographer with Nigel Barker

If you had the same guilty pleasure as me, you might recognize Nigel Barker from "America's Next Top Model" where he participated as judge and photographer. Now, he also hosts his own reality show aiming to find the one and only Top Photographer - because there can only be one, obviously.

As I have often wondered whether it would be possible to produce a reality show about photography, I of course was excited for the show and watched it for you (the last episode is still to be published, in which the one and only Top Photographer will be announced).

Summary

The show consists of five episodes, the same number as the number of contestants.
They are:

(Yay for having at least one woman!)

The contestants are professional photographers which means that they make their living by taking photos. However, it's pretty clear that they aren't experienced in all the styles and actually prefer to stuck with the area they are most experienced in.

In the five episodes, the contestants get different photography challenges in terms of motive and time. Afterwards, their photos get judged by various people (usually not from the field of photography). At the end of each episode, one of the contestants that the jury didn't seem fit, has to leave the show.

The challenges are:

  • An action photo shoot with fencer Miles Chamley-Watson
  • Fashion shoot for designer Pamella Roland
  • Landscape photography from the top of the Empire State Building
  • Shoot whatever you want

My opinion

Yay for finally creating such a show, nay for this production.

It seems like Nigel Barker never really left "America's Next Top Model". Sometimes, it feels like I'm watching "America's Next Top Model" - with the dramatically staring into the camera, bedroom talks and weird runway moves. It's all about the drama, not so much about photography. This show is produced by Adorama (among others) and published on YouTube - it has nothing to do with "America's Next Top Model" and could thereby have been new and a kind of its own.

To be fair - I liked the challenges and to be able to see how the contestants either struggled or succeeded with them. I liked the different types of challenges, which is only fair for the art and craft of photography which can be so many-sided. However, it still felt like watching a shoot for ANTM.

It seemed like Nikel Barker himself wasn't quite sure whether he wanted the contestants to take photos for the sake of photography or for the sake of business. At one moment, he tells Roxy to keep her style in mind, in the next he criticizes her photo for being too Roxy.

Also, it all feels very predictable. The reason for this might be that there are only five contestants and only five episodes, with actually only four challenges. What is the meaning of this type of reality show, where contestants are voted out, if there is no room of improvement and development? With only that small number of contestants and episodes, it might have been much more fun to watch if all five had the chance to take part in all challenges and in the end, there would have been the voting. The contestant with most upvotes would have won.
No drama, more fun. With more contestants and more episodes and more challenges even more fun.

Some YouTube comments ask for more focus on tech details. I understand that, but could also imagine that too much tech (and the judges voting because of that) could make a bad impression on photography amateurs that could think that you can't take a good photo without shooting in M mode.
However, technical aspects are still an important part of photography as a craft, so some more information or discussions could have been nice and educational. For example: which lenses did the contestants pick and why, why did they arrange the flashes like they did or chose to shoot with natural light. A challenge that focuses on technical aspects could be fun, too, where the contestants have to take a very specific photo that needs a lot of knowledge, or where they have to take a lot of different photos to prove that they are able to switch.

Conclusion

Try one more time - it seems there are a lot of people watching the series. However, this time get more contestants, maybe change the premise and layout of the show, drop all the drama, bedroom talks and runway scenes, and give us more time on locations and sets. Also, freshen up the challenges - maybe some more artsy styles (long exposure, light painting, smoke), some more documentary and journalistic. Give us a little more information about the technical details of the photos and shoots, and what the goal is with the show. Do you want to teach photographers how to shoot for magazines, or to create their own style and learn to see motives and light?

Watch it here.
Official website here.

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