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The fox on the tube – and what photographers can learn

This is such a fascinating story – on many levels. But for photographers there’s one crucial lesson, which I’ll explain in a second. A few days ago Kate Arkless-Gray, also known as @RadioKate, took this picture of an urban fox at Walthamstow tube station. It was late at night, the station was empty and the fox ran down the escalator only to be chased back up. And this is when Kate took the picture. With her iPhone. (She took another one with her Canon Ixus, both of which can be seen on her Flickr page).

Within hours of posting the image on Twitter, it went viral and captured the imagination of thousands of people worldwide. I read Kate’s updates on Twitter as she got more and more excited about the prospect of breaking yet another unexpected record number of views.

However, nothing has prepared Kate for the subsequent media reaction to this picture. Everyone, from the BBC to the Daily Mirror, from Metro to the Daily Telegraph picked up the story and ran the picture. Many bloggers – like Annie Mole or myself – picked it up too.

BBC Breakfast presenters had a chat about the fox and Japanese and other foreign media chase Kate for some more details and interviews. You can listen to the whole unbelievable story on Kate’s AudioBoo here:

But as a photographer and journalist I was fascinated by – and reminded of – one thing. It’s not the camera that counts, it’s the picture. Yes, it’s pretty obvious, but often forgotten.

In our endless pursuit of bigger, better cameras we forget that they won’t always necessarily give us pictures which capture our imagination. The tool almost doesn’t matter. Kate’s picture technically is far from perfect, but it hardly matters. Good photographers can take stunning pictures with almost any camera. Sometimes obviously they’re helped by the situation. (Although often even being the right person in the right place at the right time doesn’t help if you don’t trust your journalistic instincts or the sixth sense or whatever you want to call it – or simply can’t use the camera).

Earlier today I was looking at some of my early pictures taken with cheap, sometimes disposable cameras and I couldn’t help, but feel that they made me look at the world in a different way. They almost forced me to be more creative as – unlike all the modern gear, they didn’t offer that many fall-back options, if you know what I mean.

So let’s not obsess about the latest and the best – let’s think about what we can do with what we’ve got.

Kate’s fox also shows (again) the power of Twitter (as if we need another proof of its capabilities) in spreading information and reaching diverse audiences across the globe fast. A lot can also be said about media editors’ insatiable appetite for all things quirky and “fun”, but that’s probably something for a separate post.

The whole story with the picture reminded me of a quote I published months ago on my Tumblr. I cannot remember where I found it, so if you are its author and I can’t credit you – my apologies – but it succinctly captures the essence of what I wrote above:

An amateur photographer was invited to dinner with friends and took along a few pictures to show the hostess. She looked at the photos and commented “These are very good! You must have a good camera.”He didn’t make any comment, but, as he was leaving to go home he said “That was a really delicious meal! You must have some very good pots.”

Image © Kate Arkless-Gray, used with author’s permission

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