Rankin and the BBC, The Great British Photography Challenge

Somewhere between Allen Funt and Survivor season 245, reality TV has become the most popular genre of television. We’ve seen a handful of shows focused on photography, but not enough. Frankly, even I got tired of watching America’s Next Top Model drama just so I could watch 10 minutes of photography. Thanks to Rankin and the BBC, we gave something much better.

The great challenge of British photography promises to be something more than just reality TV During the TGBPC race, we’ll see famous photographer Rankin mentoring six amateur and semi-amateur photographers.

Where Rankin and the BBC excel

There is a dire lack of mentorship in the world of photography. I have been a part of several different industries over the course of my life, some of them notoriously fierce. Despite being a lawyer, I have never seen the kind of apathy towards fellow practitioners like I have seen in the photography industry. A chance to see Rankin’s feedback process is, not to brown the lily, a spot of sunshine.

Comments and mentors

From the start, I needed to know why Rankin had decided to get involved in a BBC reality show. Rankin’s immediate and unequivocal response became the topic of our conversation. Doing something positive for photography was the key to his involvement.

Rankin has been quoted in the past explaining that all criticism of a photograph is based on immediate feeling; basically, that all comments related to photography are subjective. I was curious, if the feedback is so subjective, why go on a show that creates drama from the feedback? After all, why is subjective feedback really so valuable for objective growth?

Rankin did not shy away from his previous statements. He still believes that any criticism of a photograph is subjective. In fact, Rankin insisted that he is not a taste maker. But, and that’s a big but, Rankin believes his background in the industry puts him in a position to help budding photographers. Of course, after decades of photography Rankin has mastered the technical elements, so he can always point photographers in the right direction technically. More than that, however, his 30 years in the photography and magazine publishing industry place him perfectly in helping photographers understand the ins and outs of the photography process and business.

A look back at the photography process

Rankin’s goal in providing support to emerging photographers like those at TGBPC is to help them understand the process and requirements of running a successful photography business.

Preparation, preparation, preparation. . .

For Rankin, the maxim: prepare, prepare, prepare is not just a cliché; it is in fact the key to success. Rankin strives to point out to new photographers that when shots are planned, when the photographer has done their best to visualize and consider the inevitable blockages and bumps before the shot begins, there is much more to it. room for creativity. Avoiding complications and shooting with intention allows photographers to see their commissions or projects in a clean and hopefully new and creative way.

Photography is a business

Passion is important, hard work is the key.

Photography is a very competitive industry that requires photographers to be artists while also being successful in sales and business. As Rankin points out, there is a lot to learn about the craft of photography beyond just clicking a shutter. If passion for photography is a critical requirement to be a good photographer, being able to overcome the obstacles and pitfalls of handling an order, brief or customer requests with grace and efficiency is everything. also essential for running a successful photography business.

Passion is important, Rankin says, but hard work is key.

Learn how to provide feedback

While discussing the importance of feedback to the principle of the TGBPC, I asked Rankin if he was still as good at providing feedback. Rankin explained that he wasn’t always comfortable providing feedback. Giving feedback can be difficult. As a photographer, Rankin sees himself as a communicator, using images to persuade. As a mentor, Rankin believes it’s essential to persuade people to be confident in their own skills and creative impulses.

As a seasoned photographer, Rankin favors brutal honesty when receiving comments. However, his approach in the TGBPC is to provide honesty in a productive manner. Honesty is essential, but building trust should be the goal of any mentor.

. . . building trust should be the goal. . .

According to Rankin, developing the skills to be a mentor can actually make all of us better photographers. Being a better mentor means understanding how someone can receive your feedback. It means developing the skills to productively get your point across – effectively becoming a better communicator. If as photographers we are communicators, why not work on all facets of these skills.

Get feedback

Rankin is also quick to mention that his early successes brought him an arrogance and a level of self-confidence that surpassed the development of his own wisdom. For Rankin, that meant learning to be your own critic. Evaluating your own work with an open mind will help you consider other challenges with an open mind.

Work on being your own critic.

If you are able to open your mind to comments, to see from multiple angles, you will become better at problem-solving, improve yourself, and see potential problems in commissions before they arise. It will make you a better photographer.

Rankin also believes that receiving feedback with an open mind will also make you a better contributor. After all, collaborations are all about working with other artists. Being able to take their feedback and build a collaborative vision will likely end with superior work.

Be a sponge, you will be a better collaborator

Rankin notes that the best leaders are those who listen to their team’s feedback before making a decision. So, looking to the future, learning how to receive and provide productive feedback will make you a better leader on bigger sets.

In stages the BBC

With a productive feedback process in mind, Rankin hopes his participation in TGBPC on the BBC will inspire photographers.

It is not so much a competition as it is a trade fair.

While helping to develop the TGBPC, Rankin was adamant that no one should be excluded from the show. For Rankin, the goal is to educate stronger photographers and allow the audience on the show to see the process and effort required to move forward in our profession. Rankin sees no room for the false risk of being dismissed in his vision of mentoring. I tend to agree. As Rankin says, it’s not so much a competition as it is a show.

Rankin wants the TGBPC to encourage viewers to have a conversation about photography. Rankin would consider TGBPC a success if viewers use the show to begin their own photographic journey, to embark on their own adventure.

Mobile phone challenges

The mobile phone challenges used to start the shows are meant to entice viewers out on their own to turn the commissions. Rankin is a proponent of the idea that we all contribute to the development of the language of photography. Rankin believes cell phone photography has moved beyond selfies and plate photography. He hopes the show can excite viewers about photography and that the accessibility of cell phone challenges will cause viewers to rush to contribute to this growing language.

More series?

I would love to see the TGBPC transformed into an annual series. I suspect Rankin would, too. I pressed him on the rest of the show, but, expressing his humility, Rankin mentioned that he was tempering his expectations as the BBC reflected on the success of the show.


Having Rankin on the phone, curiosity got the better of me and I asked Rankin what he was working on during the lockdown. Rankin took advantage of the lockdown to work on a personal flower-focused project. You can find his new work on: @florabyrankin

Rankin images provided by Rankin Photography Ltd. Press images provided by the BBC.

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