Local (very) professional Alistair Campbell was our guest speaker last meeting before the Xmas Social and a very engaging one at that. A videographer and photographer, Alistair presented a structured but loose format evening with plenty of Q and A and plenty of engagement from club members.
The takeways from this evening were, in no particular order: understand but don’t obsess about things like camera settings (the light, unless totally artificial isn’t going to be the same if we go back and shoot again, or even, sometimes from a different angle); travel light and get to know your gear; find your background first, then put your subject in it; and the talent that comes before any other is the one we can all develop – putting in the hard work.
One of the things that Alistair put forward was the idea of a personal project. That might sound a bit like a busman’s holiday for a professional photographer but it allows Alistair to do what he wishes with the photographs. For hire there is a certain amount of tooing and froing when working with clients, the results have to be satisfactory to them for them to pay up and also place repeat business (the cheapest sort of business to get). They get a say.
A project is a good way to concentrate on skills and styles, maybe favourites maybe new. They are something that can be allocated a specific time or something that we pick up and put down. And about anything.
When a subject has been hit upon, then comes the technical bits. We may be learning new techniques but it is very unlikely that the entire project is new to us. At the very simplest level, it is still all about ISO, shutter speed, aperture (or controlling light) and composition.
What it does is give us a chance to look at getting as much right in camera as possible, another of Alistair’s themes. This saves time in post, of course, but in this context teaches us something about using our equipment to the best advantage. If the equipment is new or unfamiliar it is a great chance to learn how to get the best out of it.
Start with the end in mind, something we have visited before. The purpose that this infers, doing the things we enjoy deliberately, enables us to put some markers down as we progress, points that become important when we review what we have achieved. It doesn’t matter what the end looks like – documentary, images over time a multitude of possible outcomes are viable – as long as we know what it looks like.
Intent is one thing, actually doing something can often be quite another. This is why keeping the outcomes limited but definitive is important, so that we can visit and revisit the project frequently. Under this same heading if the thing we are photographing happens on a regular basis then we have more of a chance of being able to connect with it, photograph it.
It also makes sense that a subject with some variation to it makes for more opportunities. This means there will be different if related challenges involved. It could mean applying a lot of patience in getting the effect we are after, maybe several visits. That doesn’t mean other opportunities should be overlooked, but keeping focused on an outcome means we are more likely to engage our problem-solving skills.
And if photography, taken seriously, regardless of skill level, is anything, it is a system of problem-solving exercises linked together in pursuit of a goal. With a nice picture at the end of it.
With the Christmas festivities nearly upon us there are plenty of opportunities for Christmas Light Bokeh, portraits of the family (assuming you can get them to co-operate!) pets dressed as Santa, shop window decorations, festive light trails, the list goes on and on, with just a simple tweak – theming these opportunities and, of course, taking them – we can sharpen the tools we have and take on some new ones.
So, the logic goes as follows. Tools build things. We control the light and the composition to build our photographs. Skills take practice. We all need practice regardless of the level of mastery we think we are at. The personal project gives us the head-space and the focus we need to practice the skills that sharpen the tools that build better photographs we make.
What you sitting there for? Get on with it!
Finally, following the review in the previous post and, hopefully, a few more goes and more understanding of some of the reasons that our photographs look like they do. This last exercise is an important one to do regularly and the personal project is an excellent vehicle.
As with the running theme in these mini-tutorials, the essence of things is to keep it short and simple. Aim to get things as best as they can be in camera. This teaches you a lot about the capabilities of your camera and how to get the best out of it without thinking (too much) about the things that can be achieved, often, more than one way.
This leaves you free to concentrate on the second half of the equation, the composition. Having secured control of the light arranging things in the frame is the thing that, in almost all photographs we are likely to take that will make or break.
Make one of these your personal project over a day or two with your camera and (very importantly) review. The more you do this review thing deliberately, the quicker and more effective it becomes.
We’ve done landscaping (an excellent evening by Stephen Spraggon, highly recommended if the comments of members after the session are anything to go by: and they are) and portrait lighting (members Gerry Spencer and Steve Dyer putting up an excellent show against recalitrant technology – again set members abuzz) since the last post (plus the Sun has made an appearance, at last, but rain still predominates) and that gives just a taste of the variety that there is to be had in the club programme. If members have a contribution they can make or a suggestion for the programme then please get in contact with Myk Garton, either at the meeting or via the club closed group Facebook page.
Interesting article on Petapixel this week, about the merits of relative sensor sizes (and other bourgeois concepts – see last post) where it matters to a professional. Pictures sold. Photographer Chris Corradino finally sold more of his micro 4/3 taken pictures than his full frame, rather underscoring the point made here countless times that when looking at a photograph no one can tell you what it was taken on. Even if they could, and maybe there are some people that can, or think they can, in the end it does not matter. The viewer isn’t the slightest bit interested in brand, sensor size or manufacturer (often not who you think), lens, weather sealing, menu options, filters or the colour of the photographers woolly hat (mine is black by the way). They are interested in, engaged by, the image. OK sometimes a few of the 2.6 billion estimated photographers (probably the hobbyists, pro’s and semi pro’s) on the planet might occasionally think “How did she do that?” but the answer is usually on YouTube, the web or in a book (old fashioned and distinctly analogue concept I know, but irreplaceable in my far from humble opinion).
Novelty aside, if megapixels, maximum apertures, brand name, cost of glass were more important than composition, the exposure triangle and actually pointing the camera at something remotely interesting in the first place, then you could simply buy your way to success. This is one area in life, though, where you can’t replace the (hopefully metaphorical) blood sweat and tears of learning a craft. For sure you can spend 20 hours or so getting a firm grasp of the rudimentaries and turn out some decent pictures if only more through accident than design, but, as the ever quotable Henri Cartier-Bresson pointed out: “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst”. And he was talking in the days of film where the cost of your next frame was a consideration in pressing the shutter. Maybe it is now our first hundred thousand pictures that are our worst.
So what is the point of top end equipment? Essentially it is about flexibility and durability. Specialist requirements aside, such as tilt shift lenses and medium format cameras, it is about being able to go one stop further because you have to, it is about the ability of the equipment to take constant rough handling and still work; it’s about eliminating design and manufacturing flaws in optics which most of us either live with or don’t even know exist; it’s about built in redundancy whilst still being able to function. It is as much about confidence in the equipment working as anything else. What a professional pays for is not to worry about the kit working so that they get paid, not sued – and have a spare to hand anyway. And that is worth the premium as a professional photographer who gets a reputation for not delivering does not remain a professional photographer for long.
Then there is that old saw, “The best camera is the one you have with you”, which may be what the philosopher Daniel Dennett called a “Deepity”. A Deepity, according to Dennett, is something that sounds important and true but is really false and trivial. In this case the point is that which you have will freeze the moment in front of you before it disappears, that which you desire cannot. True but not very helpful. What it implies is more important though, and that is learn to use what you have to hand. The question is how does this handle the exposure triangle not what does this do?
Take the example of the camera most people have with them all the time these days. The one on the mobile phone. Yes they are subject to the same financial restrictions as making any other camera and once they were just an add on. Today they form part of the buying decision, certainly they are a big consideration in the makers marketing processes and therefore manufacturing decisions. Some professional and semi-professional photographers shoot on nothing else. There is even a hip term for it iphoneography, named after the Apple range, long held to mount the best cameras in a phone, but that is constantly under challenge from other manufacturers, such as Samsung. Huawei have gone so far as to link with Leica, who were part of the design team for their P9 and P10 cameras.
The basics stay the same as hinted at above, just altered a little. Get to know how your camera app (there are lots to choose from on both Android and iPhone) handles the exposure, ISO and aperture. The tools of composition don’t change. You are going to have to choose between digital zoom (reduces quality) and getting closer/further away by walking (reduces shoe leather). You can buy accessories to snap on your phone cover to act as wider angle or more telephoto (at a price) then you have to carry them and unless you are deliberately choosing the mobile phone as your camera of choice they are as likely to be elsewhere when you need them as to hand.
OK so in order to make the phone camera useable by a wider audience you might get some scene modes, like fireworks, portraits, indoors, HDR, slow shutter and so on. This is a, maybe I should say was a, big feature on compact cameras (still prefer mine to my phone, not least for the optical zoom). There is a trick to using these outside of the do-what-the-icon-says-to-take-pictures-of. Basically you need to experiment on controlled light conditions. You can then apply these camera settings as short cuts in the wild, so to speak. That’s before you get to the editing stage.
Editing on smartphones too often appears to be of the smear on variety (possibly because of the nature of the touch screen, more likely a love of the ready made), and is as subject to fashion as anything else. That is not to say that it cannot be used to add to the image overall, but it too often ends up looking like an amateur production pantomime dame made up in a hurry because he picked the kids up late from school. And there is the whole JPEG thing to yawn about. Yes you can shoot RAW on (some) smartphones and yes the same reasons exist to choose whichever you want according to your need. Same applies to this as to the pro-equipment remarks above, not least RAW cannot save a badly composed or otherwise uninteresting image.
Just because you have the latest and greatest smartest phone EVER, doesn’t mean that you are going to get an acceptable result simply by waving it at something vaguely interesting before going click. You are still going to have to work the scene, use different angles and shooting positions, get closer, get further away and so on. Consistently good images demand work as well as an eye for a picture and taking multiple images is no more expensive than on a stand-alone camera. Keep shooting until the moment is done, then and only then, move on.
N E X T M E E T I N G
ROC Round 3 Judging.
Grateful as I am for the legion of share-minded posters on You-Tube – you make writing a blog like this so much easier and I thank you all for it – and their willingness to help, Marko Nurminem‘s excellent evening on some of the things you can do with Lightroomtm (and Photoshoptm ) where even the most experienced users in the club I talked to afterwards said they had learnt something from, just went to prove that a live event has a quality of its own. It helps that Marko has a practiced, easy delivery, is an absolute master of his craft and has something to say. It was a very interesting evening for Adobe users and non-Adobe users alike (and I am in the latter camp).
The Adobe suite aka “Creative Cloud Photography” is far reaching in its capabilities. I remember having a conversation with a graphic designer a couple of years ago who quite cheerfully admitted that, of the Adobe suite, he had an extensive knowledge of the bits he needed but doubted there was anybody, including at Adobe, who knew it all. I can believe it. But it goes beyond photography, indeed it is, in its entirety, designed for “Creative teams in large organisations“. Scaling things back a bit, say to your average photo-club user (whoever s/he may be) some post production is going to be involved in the hobby. Indeed it seems to be a necessity in most people’s minds I have talked to about the hobby and although I am going to talk about the getting paid element below, most camera club members are hobbyists. Of course post production is not limited to Creative Cloud, there are free editing versions, like Picasa, or Gimp among many, but the Creative Cloud is designed with professional image production in mind. This explains the integration between the individual programmes in the Creative Cloud, the breadth and the depth. And there is a lot of breadth and depth. It takes a lot of time to get to know them and there are usually three or four different ways to come to the same result in any given programme.
Using them efficiently is something else. Workflow – the processes an item passes through from initiation to completion – determines this. Merely because someone talks about workflow when processing their images does not mean that it is an efficient or effective use of their time/equipment, there is nothing automatic about it. The idea behind workflow is that by isolating the steps in and between each process in the course of producing a result, in our case an image, it becomes possible to identify the most effective way of getting to the finished product. It goes back a century to the works of Frederick Taylor and Henry Gantt, though neither of them would have recognised the term. There is also a very important distinction to be made here between efficiency – which people will tell you they are after – and effectiveness. Efficiency is about getting the maximum work done (output) for the amount of time and materials used (input). What could be better? Well being effective. Being effective is about doing the right thing, you can be ultra-efficiently doing the wrong thing. You can get to hell in a hand cart in land-speed record time by straightening out all the corners and a firm pavement of good intent, it isn’t usually a destination of choice. As Marko put it: “… Be subtle, because rescuing pictures is hard work. Really!”
Presets are a key to executing an efficient workflow, Marko illustrated with a very rapid editing of a low contrast image into one with considerable pop. For editing Marko insists that using RAW as a starting point makes sense as the processing of JPEG files, though perfectly feasible, starts from a smaller base of information, some of the processing having already been carried out and is irreversible. Presets can be made and stored to suit in most of the editing suites that consider themselves more than basic. Essentially a preset is like taking the town by-pass. You get to that roundabout on the other side of town that much quicker, though you still have some twists and turns to negotiate before you reach your final destination. When you only have one or two images to develop then you most likely have time to fiddle. When you have 500 to work through – and you have deadlines and your getting paid depends upon making those deadlines – then 30 seconds saved on each one adds up to hours when you could be doing something more productive instead. Also matters of personal style and taste can be base lined, by making presets they can be easily standardised across an oeuvre over time. The merits of this particular arguments are for another day.
The messages that I got from this enjoyable evening, and it is a sample of one, other than outlined above was that post production is more or less inevitable so concentrate on what you capture on your processor (JPEG or RAW is irrelevant to this), get it as best you can and tweak it in post so you can get back to taking your next set of images. What all these post production packages in the digital age have done is not, most definitely not, invented post production, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had to develop his image and that was the first, but it has democratised it and photography. Against this there are questions of how images should be executed and presented and that is by far mostly a question of fashion. Marko showed us, most importantly, that there is more than one way of looking at an image.
A good shot tells a story. That is timeless. There are more photographs taken now then ever, most of them with little artistic merit but a lot of personal investment. Camera club membership and presentations like Marko’s and Adrian’s last week and Rich’s and Mark S. and Gerry’s before them (and all the others) the wide range of activities, opportunities and connections that this presents is one way of closing that gap.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
12th February is the deadline for ASK REFLEX. Please submit your questions by close of play Thursday night.
It is also the ROC open “Creative” round judging night. Be there or be square!
Mr Painter’s Most Excellent Patent Circulars Reveal All By The Magik Of The Hyperlink: This week:
Woodland Photoshoot Blaise Castle, March, see Myk.
Wingardium Leviosa! Trick photography need not be tricky, if you see what I mean, as long as you know the trick to it. There were books. surfers and people flying everywhere, macro photography on water sprayed cd’s, there was certainly enough to keep people busy and there were quite a few of us there. Levitation photography doesn’t seem to lack for fans. Your images will require some planning and some post production.
The trick of course is to combine two or more images specifically using a feature you will find in most if not all editing programmes known as layers. For this you will need an editing programme like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Gimp, and so on. The idea behind layers is that it is building a composite image by putting details on different levels (layers) to make an overall picture. It is rather like making a picture out of a wedge of transparencies on which you put different details on different transparencies then view the whole picture by looking at all the transparencies stacked together. The advantage of this is that it is non destructive to the original picture, that is you can take them all away and the original image is left unaltered. Although each programme has a slightly different way of handling layers the principle and the effects remain the same.
We had books levitating and people surfing, the way to make the final image is the same. Combine your images and get rid of the detail that doesn’t belong in the final image you have in mind. There are a whole stack of levitation tutorials on the web, including this one from Practical Photoshop. Though it uses Photoshop the principle remains the same and their are only slight tweaks as far as the specific software operations.
We also had some close up photography using a mirror, black background, cd’s, water, a Mk 1 Ford Escort (model of) water and some LED lights and a little imagination! All together it was a fun evening and I look forward to seeing the results. Club thanks to everyone who helped organise this.
Meanwhile the Getty Image controversy gathers steam. Why does it matter? In a way it isn’t to do with the images it is everything to do with the intellectual property. Back last year Johnathan Klein, CEO and co-founder of Getty Images started a media campaign calling for new economic models. This argument has already been taking place in books and music. Income generated by images sold through agencies has been declining as the traditional markets, especially print, have been impacted by the growth of digitial publication. The argument is increasingly around, not just the licensing of a particular image for another to use in a publication of some description, but also there is now a question of a whole set of revenue being generated by the use of that image as part of an article, blog, etc. For an example of this look at what Google have done via You Tube by taking the space they create for others to post videos to generate revenue via paid for advertising and the notion of fair use.
Getty are going down this route for very specific type (Not for Profit) customers with some 35 million images. This is not a storm in a tea cup. Photography as a profession is being transformed by digital platforms no less than any other industry with the added dimension that cameras are nearly as ubiquitous as mobile phones, thanks to the integration of the two technologies. Some fear it will force a lot of photographers out of work, some think that this was always coming. The other big agencies may well follow suit, Alamy, Corbis, along with Getty (who also own iStockphoto) form a very large part of the market. Individual photographers will, some think, have to move from being producers to being brands, with associated costs in time effort and money that would otherwise have gone into the business of taking and selling photographs going into not just marketing but into property rights management. No longer selling photographic services professional photographers at a basic level will have to sell their brand a lot more effectively because they will be directly in competition with the brands of the likes of Getty Images, from whom, it is feared, the income will decrease.
This week (20th) Judging of the photo marathon – Your camera club needs you!
24th March visit to the (military) camera club at Shrivenham.
Subjects to do with or beginning with or having to do with the letter A are the subject of the Flickr competition (and no that doesn’t mean A camera, A car, A sandwich – well not necessarily).
Consider this. In the field of consumer magazines alone, there are around 3,500 titles in the UK market. If the average publication is monthly that means 42,000 issues a year. Take a nice round figure of 100 photo’s an issue – for no better reason than it makes the maths easy but a quick and dirty survey of Issue 5 of the free Photography News suggests not an unfeasible number – that makes 4.2 million photographs published a year. Add in other print media, that is anything that gets published for a general or specific readership on paper, then that figure shoots up enormously. Before we add in the World Wide Web. They have to come from somewhere. Now I am not suggesting that everyone can make a living out of photography – it is a crowded market and as much if not more, a lot more, time goes into getting and organising work as taking photographs. It is a BUSINESS and therefore both technical and competitive – but there are people, picture editors and alike, who spend their working days looking for suitable material. Not all of it is the result of a direct commissioning processes.
Four club members, Myk Garton, Mark Stone, Simon Caplan and Mark OGrady, who have had their work published, took us through some of the how’s and why’s, the cold approaches from picture editors and the direct commissions and showed us some of that work..
Myk was first up and he talked about being approached about work that he had on his Flickr account. The first and foremost point is that if no one can find your photographs then no one is in the position to approach you about using them, for love or money. The key is tagging. I don’t mean running around in a hoodie with a spray can of paint, though the effect is the same in announcing to the world that you were (are) here. Tags are labels giving directions as to content including an image, webpage, blog, file etc. Its technical name is metadata, in the sense we are using more accurately as descriptive metadata. We are going to stick with Flickr because that was the example that Myk, Mark S, Simon and Mark O all referred to but it applies to most sites that you can upload content to that are more serious about your content than simply-monetarising your content for their own purposes – Facebook being a big exception, and also one where you have to very careful because of the license you grant simply by uploading any image to it. Myk underlined the importance of accurate tagging. If Kate Middleton isn’t the subject of the image, then don’t use the tag. It might appear in a lot of searches but when it turns out to be your hamster in a tiara or a picture of your birthday cake it isn’t going to get taken seriously. Most probably. It won’t get a second glance from someone looking for images of HRH visiting locally.
What makes a good tag? If you want to know about a situation there are basically six things that you need to know about it. What, where, who, when, how and why? This is not a bad place to start. What do you see when you are looking at your image, basically what is it a photograph of? Where was it taken? (Myk’s picture in the Angling Times came from that piece of information. Your camera will provide some technical data as a matter of course but even if it is GPS connected a Blagdon Lake tag is more use than 51.337063, -2.703268) Who is in it (if you know, of course)? When can be a time of day, or is the location connected to a specific date or period (Battle of the Somme 1916 for example – as in the Musée de Somme 1916 in Albert, France)? How is usually provided by the camera (Exif data) but might be a description in itself such as bokeh, and the why can either be something like an anniversary, for example Golden Jubilee, or a formal occasion, investiture of the Bishop of Pie. Some or all may be relevant. They should be kept short and you should cover alternatives (World War 1, World War One, WW1, WWI all relate to the same event) . All this helps with the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) about which I shall say no more.
Myk also pointed out the importance of joining and being active in Flickr groups, such as the Reflex Camera Club Group (a hint to those of you yet to join). There are thousands, no tens of thousands. A search on Bristol in groups brought up 4,455 references on Flickr – that is groups, not images. Flickr groups shouldn’t be confused with the sets and groups options where you can – wait for it – organise sets into themed groups – wow! – as they are groups of contributing individuals to themed photo streams. That doesn’t mean you cannot post one image to more than one photostream as each account is treated separately. This gets your work – with its tags, of course, to a wider audience and this more likely to get your images noticed.
Mark Stone was next up. Mark talked about the difficulties in protecting images from freeloaders, thieves, pirates, borrowers, elves, goblins and the ill-informed, especially good quality images on fora like Flickr. Mark related that watermarks can be removed in seconds and may not be worth the effort, at least though, you have shown the effort and intent to protect your intellectual property rights as the thieves signify their intent by removing it. He suggested using low resolution images that can still look good on the screen (as with the club competition 1400 x 1050 maxima for projected images) again not fool proof as interpolating software can be used to increase the resolution to a certain limit. Mark suggested around 50% of the original. This can easily be done in a lot of photo editing programmes and if you want a quick and easy online version you could do a lot worse than picresize – 54 million+ images resized (they say) and counting. That said a combination of the two at least makes more effort for the would-be looter. Also, you should make it clear that your images have all rights reserved unless you are giving them away and even then there is such a thing as a creative commons license. These are options on Flickr and can be varied from image to image, though All Rights Reserved is a good start.
Mark underlined Myk’s point about the importance of tagging your images – if they can’t be found then they can’t be used which is a good thing when you are talking about copyright, but a distinctly bad thing when you are talking about selling your images. The latter tends to outweigh the former and if you take reasonable steps then at least you have made the freeloaders, thieves, pirates, borrowers, elves, goblins, aliens, drug cartels, blaggers, the ill-informed, psychopaths, sociopaths and the generally ill disposed job slightly more difficult. Tags, watermarks, licensing, low res images, generally “A good thing”.
Simon took up the reins and talked about a commission that took him all over the country, but was more complicated than it need be because the client didn’t really have a definitive idea of what they wanted. Indeed they didn’t have much of an idea at all. He described the key thing in putting together a bid for a commission is tying the client down as far as is humanly possible. It is important that the photographer knows to what end and use the client is going to put the commissioned images, how many they expect and expect to use and what shape. These are all factors that have a physical impact on how the images can successfully be planned and then get every possible angle of the subject. Pricing is difficult in any trade. It is a Goldilocks problem. Too little and it will not pay the bills. Too much and it will not get the commission, but just right has to be at the highest point the client says yes but still remains competitive. There are hidden traps for the unwary. On a geographically dispersed commission like this one, which pretty much seems to have taken up all four corners of Great Britain, a lot of time is likely to be spent travelling. That time needs to be accounted for and charged at a reduced rate or the commission can become unprofitable. There may be production hidden costs so some agreement has to be made over those. Mileage, hotel bills, wear and tear, insurances, post production, food and other consumables, paperwork etc. are all part of the total cost.
Simon extended the discussion on copyright, which was also something that Mark O took up on. You must protect your copyright or your revenue stream will dry up and you can be out of pocket. Never sign away the copyright, make sure that the client is aware that you retain it and exactly what you are licensing them to use the copyright for. There are some common misconceptions surrounding copyright, especially around what constitutes fair use and what that applies to. Everyone who presented agreed that you need to be explicit on the terms of credit and the uses to which the images can be put. Simon recommended the Association of Professional Photographers book “Beyond the Lens” available here, at a hefty £30 + p&p. There are others you might look at/use at your own discretion, they generally cover three areas:
You must get these type forms, not necessarily the forms linked to, filled in as part of the process. Finally Simon pointed out that you are taking photographs for someone else and that they can butcher them in any way they please – they are paying for them after all and they are paying you for precisely that privilege.
Mark O finished the evening on getting known. As with everything else in this world what you know isn’t as tradable a commodity as who you know. Doing free work can lead to paid work later, networking is the important thing. His big break came via the company his girlfriend works for. The footwork is always necessary if you want to make a living and the world of image editors is fairly small, in any given area they are likely to know each other pretty well. This can work for you or against you, but however they treat your hard graft it is as well to remember the old maxim, “The customer is always right”. Repeat business is many times cheaper to get than new and the relationship and understanding that you build over time helps you interpret what it is they are looking for. That said you must make clear what the terms of the trade are, make sure release forms are in place and accessible, and get as much detail from the commissioning editor as possible.
All in all a very informative evening and thanks are given to all who made it possible, particularly to Myk Garton, Mark Stone, Simon Caplin and Mark OGrady for their time and materials.
Next meeting we have a visiting speaker, Ian Wade on Landscape Photography.