Publish and be Damned

Many years ago, I gave up a pretty good job in the insurance market to become a full time photographer.

Part of my job then was to organise events for the insurance industry in Manchester, and we employed photographers to cover events. At one event, I actually sacked the guy on the spot for being – shall we say – inappropriate with the ladies….. it gave me great pleasure to tell him where to stick his lens……

I digress….. after this, I started to shoot the local events myself, and from there, I expanded what I did, to shoot dinners, presentations, and other events around the area, eventually giving up insurance completely, and started photography freelancing as a job.

I was introduced to agency work, and was sent to all sorts of places to shoot people and ‘things’ – the idea then was to get the images back to the picture desk as quickly as I could for print. I didn’t edit, other than maybe a quick crop. Images for news editorials must not, and should not be altered.

Alfie Boe

The great thing was being able to meet so many people – but it was hard work. Some celebrity folks were wonderful and co-operative. Others not so much, but I enjoyed the challenge.

Standing in the rain, waiting for people (or things) to come and go – waiting in the dark (in the rain) – uploading images whilst sitting on the floor of a shopping centre, or in one case, whilst being driven home.


Would I have changed it? – not for one second. It was a job I loved, and cursed in equal measure….

Which brings me to the purpose of this post…. There’s a lot to be said for being freelance – there’s a lot of joy and excitement – being in the right place at the right time – getting involved in Britain’s Got Talent, and the X-Factor finals.

Lord Sebastian Coe KBE – signs his book “Running my Life”

What I do find frustrating is photographers who think that being freelance is an easy option.

It’s much harder these days to make good money. At one of the last dinners that I shot – one person told me candidly that he would just screenshot my website – and wasn’t bothered about a watermark.

Never mind – let’s let the matter rest, and move on…..

On being a Judge……..

I’ve been reading a lot of comments on social media recently about judges generally.  What they say, what they do – what they ‘might’ be thinking…

It got ‘me’ thinking.. what can we do to keep camera club members happy – and after much debate, inward thinking, and maybe 5 seconds later – the answer came – and it’s ‘nothing’….. there is nothing we can do.  Whatever a judge does or says, it’s going to upset / offend someone.  Even if it’s just the person who didn’t win that night.

I’ve written before about emotional ties to photographs – YOU, the photographer know exactly what went into the shot – you know what you did, what your thoughts were – you know the story behind it.  The judge doesn’t know any of that.. they come at it cold from the freezing wastes of wherever to see an image on which they have to pass some comments.

The comments they DO pass are usually the technical ones, about white balance, blown out areas, composition etc…. and the rest can be more personal ones, like how the image actually resonates with them.

I’ve been known to make some assumptions about how a picture was made, but usually qualify it with something like ‘but I don’t know for sure, this is only my idea’ – to try and get myself out of the hole I’m probably digging myself into.

However, we also judge emotionally – though I read somewhere today that judges apparently shouldn’t do that.  It’s hard not to…..  I’m pretty sure that if a picture came up of a hunter smiling over a dead giraffe – I’d find it really hard not to say something about how I didn’t approve of wildlife hunting…. and I’m pretty sure a lot of you would too.

So, why would that remark be OK (maybe) and not others about creating photographs.

The judge is a human being – with human ideologies, and personal feelings.  I’m pretty sure these will come out in the course of talking about photographs whether they mean to or not.

A camera club competition is not the end of the world – it’s supposed to be a hobby for most of us – not life and death, and your career certainly isn’t going to fail or collapse because one judge somewhere didn’t like your image, or incorrectly interpreted it.

There is normally no-one out there at a club anxiously waiting to reward your genius, because photography is art for which most of the general public have no interest, apart from maybe likes and loves on social media.  Which in my mind and observations has become more of an anti social media.

The photographs we make are mostly looked at by only a select few.  A small group create, promote, exhibit and may decide the success of an image, but social media opens it up to the world.  Once you exhibit your images, either here or in a camera club, you are, by default, opening it up to criticism.

Whether you like the critique or not, is up to you – but in the end it’s only the analysis of one person, on one night – and on the next outing, it might be loved…..

In spite of my ill-concealed conceit about such things (and the list grows longer the older I get) – the end result is that I reach a rather languid acceptance rather than a passionate objection.

Keep taking your photographs, stick them into competitions but please don’t judge bash – if if you feel you must – then get up there yourself and do it…..  You’ll find it’s harder than you think.

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The Golden Bullet

This week, over the Christmas break, I’ve been able to sit down and read ..  and something I noticed, in fact have been noticing for a long time, is the number of articles that offer photographers the Golden Bullet which will make them more successful – make their business take off – improve their photography – and all at the touch of a button.  The right camera body, the right lens, or the right software….  and not many of these articles ever talk about the right attitude, or the right skill sets.

Here’s a few headlines from this week:-

“Hack your Smartphone and become a better photographer” – really ???

” Five weather sealed lens that will improve your photography” – please explain this one to me..  It might let you get out in bad weather, but just how does it improve your photography?

“Why natural light is best for portraits” – absolutely……

“Why flash is best for portraits” – absolutely (but if you are a new starter, this could be a bit confusing..)

“Lightroom / Photoshop presets to take your photography to the next level” – yes, bolt on that preset or that filter – you don’t need to learn how it all works….

“5 of our favourite lens for environmental portraiture” – 5?  Can’t we use just the one?

“Secrets of sports photography” (insert any genre at this point) – because after all it’s good to know a secret isn’t it?

I read one or two articles about building a business, and working on accounts, and keeping clients, but mostly they’re about getting new cameras, lens, computers, and software.

It’s such a shame that photographers can get sucked into GAS (gear aquisition syndrome), so much that everything sensible seems to leave their heads.

With a constant bombardment from your favourite camera brand telling us what’s new – or what’s coming soon, it’s so easy to get sucked into this strange new disease..  This obsession we have with getting the ‘next best thing’ in camera tech leads to a vicious cycle and will continue to distract us from our art if we don’t find out what it is we really need to focus on.

Education is a photographers most powerful tool when it comes to progressing, and being successful.  Sure, improved gear can be a great help – but there’s nothing to beat a good course on accountancy and business management – not as exciting to be sure, but an absolute essential if you want your business to succeed.

We all love our toys though, and it’s great to have the ‘latest’ thing, and if you can afford it feel free to indulge.  For those of us though who max out the credit card just to be able to say “I bought this”,  you should probably reconsider things.

BUY BOOKS – NOT GEAR

Having gear can make it easier to capture the type of image you want, but won’t make you a better photographer.  Buy books, look at pictures, attend gallery exhibitions, listen to podcasts.

Books are expensive yes, especially good quality photo books – but compare that to the price of a new lens.  Every time I go to a talk by a photographer that I admire – I buy the book they are selling at the end.  It’s not often I’ve been disappointed, and I’ve had some brilliantly creative images put in front of me that I can stare at for as long as I want without the computer being switched on.  Sometimes, there’s little or no text, just pictures.  It’s brilliant, and inspiring.

If you are serious about taking your photography to the next level – buy books.  Buy lots of books, buy tutorial books.

Again I reiterate that having good equipment will help you create the images you seek, but it won’t make you a better photographer.

I hope that you’ve all had a happy and relaxing Christmas, and that the New Year will bring all you wish for – be it gear, or books, or both…….  enjoy……

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“Contemporary” Art / Photography

This might turn out to be a bit of a rant, but I’m going to try and restrain myself …….

When is Contemporary photography art?  And when does a well taken image denegrate into “just a photo”?

This question has been nagging at me for a couple of weeks now – since an exchange with a photographer online led them to deleting some comments that had been passed on an image.  I’d been able to read it all before it was taken down, but it hit hard at the art side of imagemaking, so please bear with me.

Photography is becoming an ‘easy’ target.  It’s easy for everyone to engage in – and that’s a good thing.  The hard part, I feel, is that something of a disaster is happening around us.  Cameras have become (and I quote here from another blog I read) “optical machine guns, mowing down everyone and everything with carefree abandon”.

What has this ‘freedom’ done to photographers? – well I think it’s made some of them lazy.  (I’m talking generally here, and not relating to those who curate their images, and I’ll come back to that later).  Point and push, slap on a filter, push it onto Instagram, or Facebook, and call it Contemporary Art.  Far too many photographers seem unwilling, or unable to learn – they are told on a daily basis how good they are, what incredible photographers they are – they live in a thumbs up, thumbs down world – where no-one challenges, and when they are challenged they delete the posts.  They’ve already had lots of ‘likes’ so that’s that.  It’s the difference between rhymes on greetings cards, and Milton, to treat them the same is just insulting to both.

The audience says it’s good, so the artist abandons exporation, and repeats what worked before – it requires a strong will to deviate from the norm, and explore into the unknown.  The artist has a choice now, carry on doing what they were doing, or see what’s happening, and change their view, make real art that has come from the photographer, not from the filter.

I gave a talk a little while ago at a camera club – I offered a half dozen of my images round, and asked them to critique them.  I’m thick skinned, and said that if they hated them, or loved them, that was fine, but I’d be asking them how they arrived at that conclusion.  What was it about the images that made them like or dislike?  It was a hard exercise for them.  They couldn’t just ‘thumbs up’, or ‘thumbs down’.  The comments afterwards were that they overall liked the images, (thumbs up) but the discussion in the end wasn’t about the image itself, they were more interested in how I made it in the first place – which wasn’t really what I really hoped for.

And this is what we’re getting sucked into.  It’s less about the end result (which is easy – like or not) and more about, how did the author achieved it, and what camera they used, if indeed it gets that far.

Now, I’m not against asking – I do it myself (I did it this morning in fact), but I ask after I’ve considered the image, and decided on its merits, (well, I’d like to think so anyway).

Too many people don’t edit, in the way that I understand editing.  Composition is something of an anathema to (mostly  younger) photographers.  They want to make something new and fresh – which is great – till we realise that their idea of new and fresh, is the filter I referred to earlier, and which more mature photographers have seen before ad nauseum.

Really ‘good’ photographs are never the product of laziness.  If the photographer puts in enough effort, and thought, then their images should be worthy of more than a quick look (thumbs up). It should not rely on a quick filter trick, which requires no real effort, or thought.

I am still of the opinion that if you put your ‘art’ on Facebook, Instagram, or any social media platform, you are saying to the world “look at my images”, and as a result you must be prepared for people to question your motives, and your artwork, and not get upset when someone comes along who doesn’t like what you have done.  You can’t please all the people all the time…..

Most photographers feel that their images aren’t good enough – that’s the whole challenge, frustration, and joy of photography.  We are all our worst critics, and that generally, is what drives us to improve.  I’ve said before in my blog that it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to take bad pictures, and it’s OK to apply unexplainable filters. What’s not OK, is a failure to learn, to develop, to fail to explore and engage with others who may not like your work for a reason.

And nearly lasty (and you may be pleased I’m getting to the end of what has in fact turned out to be a rant), curation.  Photographers who share EVERYTHING…. Maybe they think the world wants to know what they had for dinner, or see the 25 variations on the same picture.  Photography is like going to a restaurant – they serve you the best meals, offer a menu of choice – the menu says, this is the best this place has to offer, you choose.  They don’t show you the failures, the repetitive dishes.  They hide their junk, they paint the front of the restaurant to attract you in.   They draw attention to the good bits, and let that define them as a business.  They don’t ask you to choose between identical dishes, one colour and one black and white.  Nor do they ask you what colour plates to use.  They define their style.

So to those photographers who keep asking what colour camera they should buy (and yes it’s happening more and more), and which image looks best (colour or black and white) – I say make your own minds up….. be brave, sort yourselves out, but for goodness sake stop showing us your bad bits, stop thinking you’re amazing, and produce something that isn’t a shallow nothing with no story.  Tell a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.

Finally, a message to the people who think that they want to make Contemporary Images and ‘not just a photo’, please think of something more creative to say……  The photo IS the image.

Than you for bearing with me.

Planning and Volume

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about shoots – planning, and creativity.  I had in mind a certain character that I wanted to portray, and spent some considerable time finding the right person for the shoot.  Once I’d found that person, I had to decide on what I wanted them to wear, how I wanted them to act and so on.  Finally, I had to find the right place to shoot.

All of this took months of preparation, and I think that in the end it all worked out, and I ended up with a handful of photographs that I am pleased with.

During the shoot itself – I spent more time setting up lighting, than I did actually taking pictures – and I see that as part of the creative process.

In this world of rush, rush, rush – I see photographers who have a massive output of imagery, some of which leaves a lot to be desired, as though thought fell out of the window, in the hurry to make pictures – pictures of anything, with no planning, and no imagination.

I see instagram, and Facebook pages full of mediocre work, in an overwhelming volume, with no sense of organisation and heavy, often poor, editing – almost as though the urgency to produce an image immediately after a shoot is in preference to waiting a while and being selective in what is published.

There are two kinds of  photographer – those who think, and those who don’t.

Those who do, tend to be slower, more thoughful, and use locations and also models in a more respectful way.  They plan, reconnoitre, judge safety and legality – get paperwork in order, use the right people, at the right time – and edit afterwards slowly and images appear sometimes weeks after the shoot.

I watch groups of photographers pile out of cars, rush to the same spot, and start shooting – the odd person will walk around, take in the view, inspect what’s there – and then take some images.  Rushing the planning makes for a poor result in general.

Ignorance shows mostly in comments passed …  by ‘photographers’ (and I use the word in inverted commas intentionally), who don’t know the history of photography, or how the process began.   Ask one who their favourite photographer is,  and I’d expect to hear names like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier Bresson, Mann Ray, Annie Leibovitz, Dorothea Lange, or Robert Capa – to name but a few who inspire me, but I bet I wouldn’t.

We’ve all made the same mistakes at the start, but we need to grow up – and stop being disparaging of those who want to take it slow and get it right.

Let’s do the right thing – the input and planning is far more important than the output – get the first right, and the other will follow as a matter of course.

Enjoy your image making.

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The ‘Technology’ Wars

Thinking about buying a new camera?  Maybe getting a new one for Christmas?  A simple question, but one that assumes you know what you are doing.  Plus it assumes that you are not simply upgrading, for the sake of it.  How many times do people change their gear, because getting a ‘better’ camera will give you better images….

I’m using the Canon 1D MK4, bought in 2010 – but I see a LOT of people now who are more than happy with their mobile phones, or tablets for their images.  Does this mean the death of the DSLR?  I’d like to think not, but it is true that some newspapers have removed all their photography staff, and given the journalists an iphone or other ‘smart’ gadget.  Maybe the ethos of ‘better images’ is starting to vanish, and we are experiencing a new boom of quantity over quality.  The sheer amount of visual images on the internet now, through flickr, facebook, and so on, means that you are seeing far more poor quality images than ever before;  and the sad thing is that the more poor quality things you see, the more you get used to seeing them, and the more you accept that as a standard.

That’s not to say there aren’t the great photographers out there – they are there, and they are putting an enormous amount of energy and skill into producing some outstanding images. I use Google+ and Flickr to share pictures I have made, and they are great places to experiment, and see what sort of reaction there is to new stuff that I produce.  In the end analysis though, it’s still social sharing, and maybe it’s not as real as showing them in the ‘real’ world.  What is the value of strangers ‘liking’ an image if they are not prepared to explain what it is they like?

Has the ease with which images are captured actually devalued their credibility?  Have images become worth so much less since the advent of the mobile phone?

I ask myself this more often these days.  For example – at a dinner I was shooting the other month, a chap came up to me and asked why I thought I needed such a big camera – he himself had his ipad mini – and was more than happy to show me his ‘brilliant’ pictures that he had taken with it.  I’m not saying his images were bad, but he what he really wanted to show me was that I didn’t need the gear I had.  Somehow though I think that if a ‘professional’ photographer turned up at his wedding with an ipad, he might be just a little underwhelmed !

The whole value of images is reducing almost on a daily basis – I get asked to work for free all the time “for exposure”, and that I should be grateful to be asked, because, after all, they could have done it with their compacts, or phones.  (Try asking the plumber to come along for free – see how he or she reacts to that one…..)  On the other hand, with the better cameras, and powerful software, why shouldn’t they try it for themselves.

My own thoughts are that photographers have to move with the times.  I’ll confess to having taken images with my ipad, during a conference where the lens I had with me would not fit the whole lecture hall in.  My fault I admit, for not having the right lens with me.  The ipad image though was quite acceptable, and the client didn’t even bat an eyelid.  I just added that one shot in with all the others, knowing that the images were only going to be used on line.  The problems arise when a print is required and you can’t get the image quality.

I would say though that just because there are more people out there taking photographs, doesn’t mean that there are more ‘good’ photographers.  I think there are about the same number of people producing good images as there were before – it’s just that they are somewhat overwhelmed by all the other ‘stuff’.

It’ll be interesting to see in the next year or so, where we go with the new DSLR type video cameras, from which you can capture one frame as a still.  Why worry about taking individual images – video the whole event and pick your shot.

Next year’s technology could be worth looking at…..

 

 

From Photographs to Paintings

Some two years ago – I met a lady called Diane Huxley.  I was out with the dog, and my camera, and we fell to talking, as you do.  She told me that she was a local artist, who painted animals – mostly pets, and was looking to paint more birds; but was having some small difficulty getting good images to paint from.

After some further talk, I said that I would send her some of my bird images for her to look at, which I did – and then – to my embarrassment, forgot all about it…..

Fast forward those 24 odd months, and she sent me an email to say that two pictures had been completed.  I’ve been trying to track down the original photo files, and have only found one (though I’ve not looked on my backup drives  yet to be honest)

Here’s the first, of a heron, taken at Reddish Vale Country Park


And below, is a copy of her painting of the same bird

I did also send her a photograph of a white tailed fish eagle, taken at our local bird of prey centre – and whilst I have photographed this particular bird on a number of occasions, I can’t quite track down the original file – I’ll post it when I can – but in the meantime here is her wonderful painting.

Diane has her own website – http://www.animal-portrait.co.uk/

The detail is amazing, and the paintings attest to her great talent.  Have a look at her site – she comes highly recommended.

SEO – Part deux……

Although there are many sites out there, and people who are willing to sell you their SEO expertise, I’m now of the opinion that with some careful reading, and work on your site, you can improve your ratings immensely.

Keyword research is very important – it acts as a navigator for your site and blog, and allows you to see what items are actually being searched for.  I suggest you head over to Google’s Keyword Tool.   Search each keyword to check how many websites turned out on the search engine result page (SERP) – these are your major competitors.

There are sites that will generate keywords for you, but mostly these are not free…. a good one is Word Tracker – and they do offer a free trial.

As Google Webmaster Tools, crawl the Oaktree site – they are coming up with keywords – and I can now identify these and amend them within the site itself.  I’m slowly amending my keyword page titles, so that the bots can group pages into the correct categories. Search engines will put your keywords in BOLD in the listings, which is good, in that will attract extra attention from people who are searching.

Engines also pay a great deal of attention to inbound links to your site.  I see that Google is already finding a number of links from sites I didn’t realise were linking to mine.  The key here is not to have links from spam sites, or from other low ranking ones, but to have them from credible businesses where-ever possible  – emphasise quality over quantity when you are looking for these.

Lastly in this post, Robots.txt – I noticed this on the Google Webmaster pages. It tells search bots, what to search, and what not to search – it also helps prevent irrelevant items being linked to your own site, which is good.

Don’t forget that people search the web for information, and SEO is only the beginning … I’m moving onwards with this – but for the moment, it’s back to work, taking great images for next year.

Image Credits

From time to time, I’m asked for images, which are to be used for various purposes, such as a blog or calendar – typically these are not for profit, or charity organisations who want a nice image to use.  It usually is a short run of something, or an image for a website, which will be small – and then I’m offered a credit, or link back to my own gallery.  Sometimes I’ll do a trade for goods, or services – such as stationery, or being helped with my SEO (which I’m really bad at….)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes though, I’m asked for images that are to be used by people who will be making money in large quantities, and still want the image for free… usually I won’t have any truck with them.

Lately though, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion for images that I have taken commercially, for commercial use.

A good number of requests come via Flickr – running on the lines of “we think your images are wonderful, and we’d really like to use one on our blog/website/newsletter etc…. however we have a low/zero budget, but we will be prepared to credit you on our site/newsletter whatever…..  ”  Sometimes they even tell me what the print run will be with the image being used, but they still don’t have a budget for it.

Can someone please explain why it is, that these people do have a budget for production, publicity, advertising, printing etc.. but none to get the images in the first place.  So here’s the deal…. it actually costs money to get these pictures.  I have to buy the kit, learn how to use it, buy the computer, the software, the car (to get me to the locations), the fuel to put in it – and all the time it takes me to produce the image at the end… and for what?  A credit, that will simply ‘drive’ traffic through to my website…..

When was the last time you picked up a greetings card or calendar, and was curious enough about the author to look them up on Google, or wherever, and view the rest of their images…???  Some photographers might, but the general public…. I’m not so sure about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, the deal is that every time an image is given away for a credit, the market for the legitimate photographer shrinks.  More and more companies are asking for images for free, because to an extent now, they know they can get away with it.  If they can’t get them off me for free, they’ll turn elsewhere… and everytime they get an image it reinforces their mentality.  Image credits don’t put bread on the table on a Friday night.

After all, when was the last time you got diesel for you car, and said, “Hey, I can’t pay you right now, I don’t have a budget for fuel,  but if anyone asks, I’ll tell them I got it from this great garage in Stockport,  just think of all the extra trade you’ll get”….  see what I mean…????