Category: Photography comment

Lessons from Visiting Exhibitions

lessons
Trees

Bastion

I have been very fortunate in the last couple of months to visit three landscape photography exhibitions in London. Landscape Photographer of the Year at the National Theatre, the Michael Kenna exhibition at the Chris Beetles Photography Gallery (both now concluded) and the Ansel Adams exhibition which runs until April 2013 at the Royal Observatory Museum, Greenwich.

The one I really want to focus on here is the Adams exhibitions but I’d just like to make a few comments on the Kenna first.

I think first I must say how important I feel it is for us as keen landscape photographers to make the effort if at all possible to visit exhibitions of the work of others. It is good to view images on websites and in books, but there is nothing like seeing an image in print, especially if the prints are well made and presented.

They have a quality and feel which no web page or book, no matter how good the monitor or print run can get close to matching. To see fine work up close opens up subtleties in composition and light that so often get missed in other mediums. We are seeing the images as the artist intended. Print runs and monitors distort, even slightly, what the artist wanted to portray and so some of the images beauty is lost.

When visiting these exhibitions I felt sure I was going to be seeing print making at its very finest. Both Ansel Adams and Michael Kenna are renowned for being superb dark room workers with extreme attention to detail and levels of perfectionism. I knew I was in for a treat. Mr. Kenna especially is a photographic role model for me. I love his images, his style, his simplicity of composition, his work ethic, his avoidance of crowd following, his genuine “niceness” as a person and his love of the world around him. If I could spend a day with only one photographer, it would be Michael Kenna.

My first exhibition was the Kenna. Held at the Chris Beetles Fine Art Photography Gallery close to Piccadilly Circus in London, this was very much a commercial exhibition. While Chris Beetles is to be very much commended for bringing master photographers work to London for us to see, which is wonderful, make no mistake, it is being done to sell prints, not for purely artistic or historical reasons as a museum would.

The exhibition space is small and intimate, well lit and ideal for a display of Kenna’s beautiful prints. They were crammed in somewhat, but this ties in with the commercial nature of the gallery. For a premises like this to succeed in London it has to maximise sales and so the more prints it can offer the greater the chance of success, so this is not a criticism. I would rather see the exhibition than lose the gallery. In a non-commercial setting I am sure fewer images would have been hung to give each image more space, more room to “breath”.

Kenna’s prints are refreshingly small. Less than 8” square. In a world where photographers seem to think bigger is better these days, I loved the intimacy of his prints. The size requires that you get up close and examine them. I wear reading glasses, and needed them to really view the fine details of the images. I liked that.

His skills as a print maker leapt out from every print. They were exquisite. Delicately toned with just a hint of sepia to warm them, the images displayed the care Kenna takes with composition and the darkroom process.

Many images were well known to me through his books and website but they are SO much better as darkroom prints. The difference is quite marked. Some of his books are printed to a high standard, but his prints here take the images to another level. Prices ran from around £1300 for an image from a new edition through to £6000 or £7000 for an image from an edition close to selling out (he increases the price of images as editions sell out to encourage buyers to get in early). As Mr. Kenna has at least one exhibition somewhere in the world most months of the year plus he is represented all year around by several other galleries (along with his book sales), even taking off gallery commission, I am guessing he makes a very good living which is rare for a pure landscape photographer (especially one who does not, or very rarely, runs workshops etc).

I was, however, a little disappointed with some of the images on display. I felt that some were a little weaker than I would expect compositionally and the subject matter rather “touristy”. That is an unusual term to use, but I find it hard to find another. I can’t use the word “snaps” because they certainly weren’t that. They were just not what I would have expected to see from Michael.

Now Michael has a very distinctive style, which I love, and I wasn’t expecting or hoping to see exclusively long exposure night shots and minimalist images of trees in the snow. I also imagine he is trying to expand the styles he shoots as so many wannabe photographers are going to locations he has pioneered and are copying his style and churning out identikit images. It must be so frustrating for him to have so many copying his work so closely. So, perhaps, the shots I saw, that I wasn’t so keen on were his attempt to show a different side to his work. I don’t know. I just felt there were too many of them, and they failed to excite me. They didn’t shout “Kenna” at me. In fact they didn’t shout anything at all other than “what’s that doing here? It just doesn’t fit”. They were images that if they appeared on Flickr under a name like “Joe Bloggs” (or “Doug Chinnery”) would get hardly any notice at all, I’m pretty sure. These I felt let down an otherwise beautiful exhibition of a photographer at the height of his powers.

Despite this slight issue I had with some of the images on display, the show was exceptional and I was so pleased to have seen it. My love of Michaels work is even stronger as a result. It also heightened in me a growing desire I have to learn real wet room darkroom printing. I have shied away from this due to the cost, space required and mostly the time required for the learning curve involved but I have a feeling that one day I am going to be seduced into the world of making my own dark room prints. This would complete the creative circle for me – from shooting on film, processing the film myself and then creating the prints in a darkroom by hand with no digital intervention, making my creative work more of a hand craft and closer to a pure art form than it currently is. But thats another story.

I couldn’t afford to buy a print from the exhibition so I spent as long as I could drinking in the beautiful prints and studying the details of composition. Then I treated myself to a copy of the exhibition show guide which has been added as a treasured addition to my photographic library. Maybe the closest I will ever come to owning a print from just about my favourite landscape photographer.

And now, on to the Adams exhibition. A more controversial experience for me altogether.

Amongst landscape photographers there is one name which rises above all others, the pioneer of modern landscape photography “Ansel Adams”. There is hardly a landscape photographer who doesn’t list as one of his or her inspirations Mr. Adams (although for many I have a sneaking suspicion they say it more because it is the done thing rather than because they have really studied his work and admire it).

There is no doubt about it, Ansel really understood photography and took it to new heights. He worked so hard, often in near poverty until late in his life, and he created some images which really deserve the overused title “iconic”. He was largely responsible, with others, for getting Yosemite protected as a National Park and he made some quite simply breathtaking images there.

He worked with glass plate negatives (incredibly difficult in the field) and film. He, with others, developed the “zone system” to aid exposing images in such a way as to make superb negatives which would enable the photographer to realise his or her vision for the final print in the darkroom. He was also a darkroom master himself, often spending days perfecting a print.

There is no doubt about it, he is rightly revered and fittingly takes his place in the annals of photographic history.

So, even though I don’t claim him as one of my inspirations, I was looking forward to my visit to an exhibition of his work in London. However, within minutes, I found myself somewhat irritated. Irritated by intellectuals.

I am guessing it is the intellectuals that are at the root of my irritation. I have seen video interviews of Ansel discussing his work and he seemed very down to earth and not at all pretentious.

The exhibition, interestingly, showed images taken by Ansel from a very young age right through his life. It was fascinating to see these images, some never seen publicly before. The irritating thing was the way they were described. Quite frankly, and not surprisingly since the images were made by a young boy with a box camera and no photographic experience, the images were “just snaps”. I am sure there are millions of such images in boxes in lofts the world over taken at the time Ansel was a young boy. However the intellectuals who wrote the labels beside the images had taken it upon themselves to try and see awesome compositional skills emerging in these pictures. They were trying to read (see?) into them what clearly wasn’t there at is stage, and nor should they have expected it to have been. They were trying to make out that he was some sort of photographic child prodigy and that every time he pointed the camera at a lake or a bush something earth shattering happened, which when you looked at the picture it clearly hadn’t. Why they couldn’t just show these images as examples of him playing with and experimenting with early basic cameras like many children do and leave it at that I don’t know. I have a funny feeling Ansel himself would have been rather embarrassed by what they were writing.

As I moved around the exhibition I was also dismayed to find images taken a little later in his life which, again, quite frankly, were just simple pictures, snaps. The kind of thing anyone would take on holiday standing on a cliff pointing a camera at the sea and rocks. Nothing wrong with that, but again these were being trumpeted as wonders of photography. If the curators of the exhibition had been shown these pictures and been told they had been taken by Doug Chinnery they would have been immediately discarded as worthless (and rightly so). The curators were so clearly trying to make out that everything he took was some sort of amazing accomplishment, which is not true for any photographer. It bothers me that some images made by “a name” in photography get elevated and praised when, in reality, if the observer was shown the image anonymously they would view it of little or no merit. (Wouldn’t it be good to have a photo sharing site where images were posted anonymously so all comments were based purely on the image and not on if the poster was our mate or because they were well know?)

Please don’t let photography go the way of much of art these days where everything gets intellectualised and is spoken of pompously. Please let us enjoy images just for what they are and don’t try and make them out to be what they are not. And please, don’t try and make great photographers into some sort of prodigies, trying to imply every time they fire the shutter that something magical happens, because it doesn’t. They make poor images like we all do and there is no shame in that whatsoever.

What I do have to say is, despite my irritations with the writers of the labels and the curators of the exhibition, in amongst the images I felt were unremarkable or weak were those which were simply breathtaking.

It is these which make the exhibition worth going to alone. Surely Ansel took more of these and these are the ones which we want to see, his best work. Let the intellectuals fantasise about his skills as a nine year old in there thesis but let us see and gasp in admiration over the images of which Ansel himself was so rightly proud.

His image of the storm clearing through Yosemite which others have tried to emulate is unspeakably beautiful in the flesh. I was open mouthed and stood for a full ten minutes just drinking it in. His image of the Tetons and river is stunning in every sense. Tucked away in quiet corners of the exhibition were images of flowers and flowing water, images of ice and rocks all just so wonderful in composition and amazing in print quality. It was a privilege to see them first hand.

I really enjoyed both exhibitions, but with reservations. There is still time to get to see the the Adams exhibition so go if you can and see if you agree with me, or not. I also encourage you to visit exhibitions of the work of as many photographers as you can, known and unknown. There is much to be learned from them and they will certainly appreciate your support.

I have no doubt you will have feelings on this subject and I look forward to hearing them.

Silver Light

Silver Light

What filters should I buy?

Landscape photographers fall into two camps. Those who like to get things ‘right’ in camera and, so, use filters to balance exposures, and those who prefer to make two or more exposures on location and then blend them together back in the digital darkroom.

 

Some will insist one way is ‘correct’ or better than the other but in reality, it’s just a personal choice. I use both methods. When the contrast in brightness between the sky and foreground is really high then I will use the blending option. If the contrast is more manageable, then I prefer to use filters.

 

I often get asked which filters to buy to get started in using them so I thought a post on what I would suggest might be useful. Filter systems are not cheap so it’s important to make an informed choice and not to buy items you probably won’t need.

 

The first choice is which system to invest in. This is down to money and is also influenced by how much of your photography is landscape based. If you are only an occasional landscaper (especially if funds are tight) then investing in the best system might not be worthwhile. Even if you do a lot of landscape work, if funds don’t allow, you might not be  able to buy the best but you may still be able to afford a mid priced system which will give you acceptable results.

 

The system I would strongly recommend avoiding is Cokin. They a very competitively priced and this makes them a tempting option. Please resist unless you absolutley can’t afford/bear to wait and save up for a better system. The filter holders are poorly designed, but, worse still, the filters will create horrible colour casts on your images which you won’t be able to correct in software. Most photographers who do buy into Cokin usually end up ruining so many precious images they sell up and get something better.

 

The next system which is an improvement over Cokin and is thus a possible option for the occasional landscaper or those on a budget, are High Tech. This newish brand is readily available on EBay and elsewhere, and is priced well. The filters fit the Lee system holders although they have their own holder available too. The downside? Some of the filters still give colour casts, but nothing as bad as Cokin. Optically they are not as pure as the Lee system. It’s always good to realise that our lenses are only as good as the cheapest piece of glass in the system. So if we have invested in some nice Canon or Zeiss lenses, putting cheap filters in front of them makes them much poorer. We might as well have bought cheaper lenses.

 

This is the reason I don’t have UV filters ‘protecting’ my lenses. Even if you buy the ‘pro’ range filters the glass is unlikely to be as good as the glass used on lenses such as those in the Canon L range. To protect my lenses I use a lens cap. Then I am getting the top performance from my glass. An additional benefit in not fitting UV filters is the reduced chance of vignetting with wide angle lenses when adding your filter system on the front of the lens.

 

The filter system I use and always recommend (even if it means going without them for a while, while you save up for them) is Lee. They are the best filters available. Lee have very tight quality control and each filter is individually hand made and checked. The process is very labor intensive, they even pour the resin themselves. Lee neutral density filters are truly neutral. No colour casts at all with Lee.

 

This explains the cost. Getting set up with the Lee system is going to cost you around £300 to £500, depending on what you buy. However, they will last you for many years (or life if you take great care of them) and will fit any future cameras of lenses you buy.

 

So, what do you need. I will describe the most basic system first. This can be expanded piece by piece as you find what will be of most use to you. Just about everything is available as an individual item so you can build on your starter kit gradually.

 

The first essential is the adaptor rings. These are bought to fit the diameter of your lens or lenses. If you have a 77mm diameter lens, you have to have a 77mm adaptor ring. These aren’t cheap at £30 to £40 each. Lee used to make two types, standard for non-wide lenses and wide angle (for wide angle lenses, funnily enough). I believe they have now decided to rationalise to just wide angle adapters, which fit all lens types and will help eliminate vignetting. I have one permanently fitted to each of my lenses that I use my filters on, so that I don’t have to keep fitting and removing them. I then use the white lens caps Lee make (a pack of three caps is about £7) and these fit onto the adapter ring, protecting the lens. I then write the type of lens on the front of the lens cap so I can see at a glance which lens is which when I open my camera bag.

 

The next essential item is the filter holder which clips on to the adapter ring and holds the filters in position, allowing you to slide the filters up and down to position graduations correctly. You can buy these individually but if you are just starting out it is more economical to buy Lees “Digital Starter Kit“. This will give you a filter holder with two slots in, a two stop hard graduated neutral density filter and a two stop Pro-Glass full neutral density filter as well as a lens cloth. All of these items are essentials and the kit gives you a cost saving over buying each item individually.

 

A good alternative to this is to buy the starter kit Lee produce exclusively for David Noton. It contains the adaptor ring as part of the kit (you select the kit with the adaptor ring you need for your main lens. The only issue has been availability and at the time of writing (19.10.12) they don’t have kits in stock. If it is available it might be a good option for you.

 

You now have enough to make a start in using filters but you will soon find the limitations of the starter kit. Your next addition will be a three stop neutral density graduated filters for higher contrast scenes. These can also be ‘stacked’ with your two stop grad to give you five stops, but this is rarely needed and if you do need this much filtration I would strongly considering making multiple exposures and blending them in Photoshop rather than using too many ND grads stacked up.

 

The question I am always asked is ‘should I go for hard or soft grads?” you will notice Lee give you a hard grad in the starter kit. This is because, in reality, the hard grads have quite a soft enough graduation when using digital SLR’s due to the sensor size. The filters were originally designed for medium format cameras and so the soft grads are very softly graduated on a DSLR. So if you are going for one type, go for hard.

 

Having said that, I carry both. I use hards mostly these days but if I have a scene with lots of things intruding into the sky (like trees, hills etc), it is sometimes best to use softs to really blur the change from the neutral density effect to the clear part of the filter. I would avoid using soft grads at the coast or anywhere you have a level distinct horizon as the graduated area will make the foreground a bit too dark. (a tip when positioning your grads is to hold in the depth of field preview button as you slide it into position. This will make sure the positioning is spot on as you will be seeing the shot as the lens will capture it

Do you need one stop graduated filters? If you want to perfectly balance some exposures, yes. But this is my least used filter and if you need to save cash you can do without it. Some times you may need to use the graduated filter tool in Lightroom later to adjust the exposure of the sky if the two stop filter was a it too strong but this is easily done.

 

The next filters I would add are the three and ten stop full neutral density filters. The three stop is very useful, as is the two stop you got in the digital starter kit. For extending exposures. They will enable you to make light trail images, to blur waterfalls, create blur effects in breezy woodlands and a host of other great effects.

 

The ten stop filter, named by Lee the “Big Stopper“, is a tool I use a lot. They will enable you to extend exposures to several minutes to produce the minimal, ethereal shots which have become so popular in recent years (although they are becoming. bit of a photographic cliche). They enable me to make striking images outside of the golden hours when I wouldn’t have been shooting in times past due to the quality of the light.

 

You need to be aware that although they are thought of as ten stop filters it is impossible for Lee to control the manufacturing process that accurately. So your filter could be anything from about 9.25 to 11 stops in strength. This explains why your exposure times in identical conditions to a friend working beside you with a Big Stopper using identical settings can be quite different. A stop difference in filter strength can mean a two minute exposure for one person and the other needs four minutes to get the same exposure result. Please also note that Big Stoppers are very fragile, made of glass. I am on my fourth! Not a cheap thing to break at around £110 each.

 

The final filter to add to your arsenal is a polariser. In the Lee system this means buying another adaptor ring which screws on the front of your filter holder. This allows the polariser to be fitted on the outermost position of your stack which is important as it needs to be rotated to get the polarising effect. The adapter ring is another £30 to £40 but his pales into insignificance when you realise the filter is over £200. It is 110mm in diameter which reduces vignetting. It also means you can use one polariser with every lens you have to which you can fit your Lee system. The quality of the filter is very good.too, but nonetheless it’s an expensive item – but one I feel is essential (and I write as someone who has lost one on a mountainside and had to bite the bullet and buy a replacement.) the effect of the polariser is something that no software can replicate and will transform the quality of many images.

 

A slightly cheaper alternative is to buy a B&W 110mm LINEAR polariser. For digital cameras we should use a CIRCULAR polariser. This doesn’t describe the shape, it describes the way the glass is treated. Linear polarisers are of a older design and can affect the auto focusing of lenses. The lens may not be able to auto focus. I always focus manually so I was able to buy one of these and save myself about £50. Don’t buy one if you might need to auto focus with the filter fitted. The B&W filter fits the Lee holder ring.

 

The Lee filter holder comes with two slots so you can stack two filters. A useful and low cost improvement of the holder is to buy an extension kit which enables you to dissemble the holder and add one or two more slots. This allows more options for stacking filters. I have three slots in mine which is generally enough.

 

I also use the Lee filter cloths, they are very good quality and wash beautifully. I keep my filters in the three slot soft filter wraps from Lee and then have a three section Lee pouch. One slot has my hard grad filter wrap, the second my soft grad wrap and the final slot holds my wrap with my two, three and Big Stopper ND filters. I write on the wraps what each wrap holds so I can grab the right one quickly.

 

Lee do sell filter cleaning fluid which is fine. I, however, buy my cleaning fluid for my filters and lenses from Specsavers. They sell a 250ml bottle for about £3 (compare that with around £5 to £7 or more for the ‘proper’ cleaning fluid sold by lens and filter manufacturers) and I can’t tell any difference from the ‘proper’ fluids. They also sell a pump bottle with about 50ml which I refill from the big bottle and carry with me in my bag for lens and filter cleaning in the field. It works beautifully. I am sure some optical engineer will email me about particulate size or some technical reason I should use the over priced fluid from manufacturers but I would take some persuading to change.

 

That pretty much covers what you need to get set up with Lee filters. The cost is high, but the results justify this. I hope this helps you get set up. All you need now is one of my workshops to show you how to get the best from them 🙂

 

If you buy items using the links in this post I will receive a small referral fee but you will not pay more. This helps me in my business and is much appreciated.

Adventures in Polaroid

Polaroid

Avast, Me Hearties!

 

As many of you will know, I do like quirky photographs! Among the styles I love is the Polaroid. My dad had one when I was young. Being keen on holding on to his cash, he resented having to pay Boots or Bonusprint to develop his films and so thought Polaroid was the answer. He soon realised the costs were similar, you, in effect, paid up front for the instant development of Polaroids in higher film costs and so once the novelty had worn off the camera rarely came out to play.

Ever since, I have loved the washed out images the Polaroid film produces. There are digital tweaks you can make to imitate the look, but nothing really compares to true Polaroid for that sixties/seventies feel. Like many, I was so disappointed when, in 2008, Polaroid announced they would no longer be making the film – again economics took priority over art. However, a small group of dedicated European Polaroid lovers put their faith in the medium and with great foresight bought the old Polaroid film making machinery that was being sold off. They had no idea how to make the film. No idea of the chemicals involved. Oh, and they had no money.

Kippers by Post

Thus started the ‘Impossible Project”. The name came from the fact that whet they were trying to achieve was deemed ‘impossible’ by everyone they asked but this just seemed to make them all the more determined to succeed. To raise money they started a website along the crowd-funding principle. They asked Polaroid lovers world-wide to commit to buy a certain amount of film if they could make it. Once they had enough pledges they called the money in, bought a load of chemicals and put on the rubber gloves. I am sure it would make a great movie, because, against all the odds they succeeded in making  batch of film. (you can read the full story here). From there, the team have gone from strength to strength and employ 25 people, many of whom originally worked for Polaroid.

Fishing Boat - Whitby Harbour

A few words about the film itself. They make a colour and a mono film. Both are, shall we say, very unpredictable. VERY unpredictable. But it is this unpredictability which makes them so good in my eyes. The film has to be shielded from light in the first few seconds after shooting and can take half an hour to develop (best done in one of the film boxes). In fact, it can continue to develop for the next 24 hours. Sometimes the chemicals don’t mix correctly. The exposure can be all over the place. Flare and other aberrations abound. I am currently using some of the early close to prototype film which they sell at a reduced price and so am experiencing extreme quirkiness. The new generation films they have released this year apparently show greater consistency.

I bought an old Polaroid camera from eBay and adore it. The film packs are expensive (think, about £1.50 an image once postage is factored in) but the packs are well made, quite complex and contain a battery to power the camera and flash, so there is a lot going on. You get eight shots per pack and it is best kept in the fridge (DO NOT freeze the film). The camera is totally retro and I feel like a seventies Dad walking about with it. I used it in Whitby earlier this week sand people were stopping and staring 🙂 It got a great reaction. The Impossible Project have plans on the drawing board to make a new Polaroid camera, so exciting times lie ahead. The project has been such a success that they are opening Polaroid shops in capitals around the world to service customers. I got my film, from Germany, via UPS in a couple of days.

Camera meets Camera

Today I put a pack of the Silver Shade mono film in the camera and am blown away by the results. The tones are beautiful. I can’t wait to use the new generation of mono film they have released. I have one pack but am going to use up the old batch film first. new products in the pipeline will please large format film users as they are working on 10 x 8 and 4 x 5 versions of the film which was used by many large format camera users to test exposures and for quick client approval shots. The possibilities are endless.

On My Desk

 

I am keen to get out with the camera as soon as possible to continue experimenting. Ideas I have in mind are a trip on a train with just the Polaroid to see what it brings. Also, I would like to try some urban decay as well as ‘seaside’ photography. If you decide to give it a go, be warned, it is addictive and could be expensive but the results can be wonderful. Even the ‘spoiled’ frames can become happy accidents that in their own way are works of art. I enjoy the lack of precision and unpredictability of the Polaroid. I love the retro feel of the images and the tactile nature of holding a Polaroid in your hand to admire it. I already have some which I will frame for my walls. No doubt you will be seeing more of them from me in the near future.

If you fancy dabbling in film photography to see if it is for you, why not consider joining Jonathan Stead and myself on a film based workshop in September. We provide the camera (if you need one), a roll of film and show you how to develop the film cheaply and easily at home (without any need for a darkroom). You can get full details here — Go on, come and try some ‘real’ photography and enjoy the pleasures of analogue.

Me, myself and I

What should I charge for my pictures?

What should I charge

I get asked this question on a regular basis, so I thought it was time to put up my answer for all to see, to save me typing it each time. This type of information is hard to find as most photographers shy away from revealing anything about current market prices for images. I don’t agree with keeping such information so secret. After all, if a buyer wants an image from a photographer they are not taking business from us. In most cases we won’t have an image which fills the brief. I take the same approach to this as I do to location information and techniques, I like to share information and be helpful, not put up the barriers and protect my own little kingdom. I think the world is a much nicer place when people help each other. In fact, if the market price was better known then companies who buy images would be less able to pull the wool over photographers eyes about the value of their images. The information I do keep confidential relates more to contracts, licensing agreements and so on. But helping keen photographers get a fair price for an image is something I am happy to do.

The first thing to say in answer to this question is that there is no answer. Sorry. There is no ‘price’ that is fixed for images, there are just too many variables and in the end you will have to weigh all of the variables up and quote a figure. Ideally you want to gets  price which is fair to you and is set at a level where the potential customer places the order with you feeling they have got a fair deal too. What you are trying to avoid is being paid a pittance for an image from which the buyer profits hugely at your expense or, conversely, quoting a price which is higher than the buyer is prepared to pay and so you end up with nothing. So, beware. In the vast majority of cases, your image is not worth as much as you think it is. Sorry, but thats a fact. If you lose the sale you end up with nothing. We have to have in mind that usually a buyer can get a similar image from someone else. Few images are unique and most image buyers have an idea of what is ideal for their purpose but won’t pay over the odds for that image if another which is almost right is available at a fairer price. They don’t want to have to shop around because time is money for these people, they have found yours and it fits the bill, but if you want too much for it they will move on to someone else.

It is also vital to say these people work to very tight deadlines and won’t wait three days for you to answer an email or send them a file. they expect you to respond and quote within hours in most cases and to be able to ftp a file to them without hassle in the format they need. When it arrives they expect it to be free of dust spots with no chromatic aberration or over sharpening/saturation. Their standards are very high. If you can’t deliver the image as they need it  it is better to say so straight away. Also, don’t expect payment before you send the file, it almost never works that way. In fact, be prepared to wait several months for payment (welcome to the world of the pro-photographer!). Rarely will you get paid in less than three months and it could be longer. You also have to be prepared to trust the buyer. Our whole industry has to work on trust and you may get let down. We have to send our precious full resolution files off to companies we have never heard of and there is little chance of us ever being completely sure how they are being used. You may have been told  the images was going in to a company newsletter when in fact it is off to China and being printed onto a 100,000 T-Shirts or posters for sale. Happily, though, the vast majority of buyers are honest and only use the image as described and pay in full. You probably won’t get a contract for a single image sale. The only evidence you have of the transaction is the email correspondence. You may get a purchase order, but this is rare. However, in reality, what are you going to do if you don’t get paid. Take legal action? I doubt it. We can’t afford to and often the firm you have sold the image to is on the other side of the world. It is just impractical. We have to work on trust and it usually works out well.

So, what about price then? Firstly, you will get approached from time to time to give images for free. They will tell you that they ‘don’t have a budget’ for buying images for ‘this project’. They will tell you they will give you a credit to your website. They will tell you it will lead to ‘great exposure’ for your images. They will tell you they have other projects coming up and will be in touch to buy images for real money soon. They are lying. I only give my images for free to genuine charities. Other wise I ask them if they are getting paid? If they are getting paid, so should I. The ‘credit link’ to your website is valueless. They have no incentive to remember to do it. If they do put a link in, it will be feint and tiny. No one will notice it. (Ask yourself, how often have you noticed and followed a link beside an image in the press? And if you have, how often have you bought an image from that persons site? Exactly). They will not come back with paid work. You have shown you give images away so they may come back for another freebie but in most cases you will never hear from them again. I urge you, never give your images away for free.

The next type of approach comes often as a result of seeing an image of yours on Flickr. Companies have learned they can trawl Flickr and find great images made by keen photographers who will accept a lower rate than a pro who depends on image sales to pay his mortgage. Thats fair enough in a commercial world. It is very flattering to be approached by someone offering real money for one of your images. The fact they are approaching via a site like Flickr means they are probably after a bargain. For most uses, and by this I mean firms who want to use your shot on their website or in a newsletter, a newspaper or magazine or a smaller firm wanting to use an image of yours for an advert or on packaging or perhaps a hotel wanting to make a print of an image local to them, you will rarely get an order if you quote more than £40 or £50 (that’s GB Pounds) in my experience. Some buyers will walk away if you quote that high. They are looking for a bargain. Bigger companies  and publishers might pay more (and I have made £650 for one image from a London marketing firm, but that was a rare deal). try asking them what their budget for the image is. Don’t be afraid to say you are an amateur and have no idea what to charge but make it clear you want them to feel they have got a good deal but at the same time want a fair price yourself. Most image buyers will give you a hint. If the image is to go on a book cover or on product packaging you can ask for more but in all these negotiations I urge you not to be greedy. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The image sat on your hard drive is making no money and in my mind it is better to walk away with £50 than hold out for £200 and not get a reply to your email. If you really wan tho get the market price and the image is on Flickr then make sure you have Getty licensing switched on on your Flickr account. then you can forward them to Getty who will price the image for you based on the customers usage and they will handle the transaction, but you will just get 20% of the sale fee.

Sometimes firms will offer you a price. If it is fair, take it. It will never sound high enough to you and, indeed, they are after a bargain but if you try and negotiate up they are more likely not to even reply to your email. There is a strong chance they will just move on to the next photographer on their list. They don’t have the time or inclination to mess about. If the offer is obviously derisory then ask for what you think is fair (and again, by fair, I mean fair to them as well as you). They may not reply, but like the guys who want free images, it is better not to be taken for a mug. Just remember, offers over £100 for an image use is rare. Once buyers get to that level they will often prefer to deal with stock companies who have the files in high resolution and give a professional service with no hassle. the direct approaches based on your Flickr stream usually come from firms looking for lower value images and you need to accept a lower fee accordingly.

This is the same philosophy I have about stock photography. Many older pro’s knew a time when they could earn six figure sums from stock photography but have seen this plummet with the advent of micro-stock and other internet based stock sites. They complain vociferously that stock is no way to earn a living. However, if we adapt to the market and realise we can make thousands more images now for selling via stock that those guys working in film could never have done, stock is still a viable way to make a complete or partial living for photographers. The market is now a world wide one too. Access to buyers is so much easier and buyers are buying many more images than they used to, they are just paying a lot less for them. Those images on your hard drive aren’t making any money so I feel it is far better to be making small amounts from them that add up than nothing at all. I get emails from photographers complaining that selling via the Getty/Flickr deal only gives them 20% of the sale price – Getty taking 80% – but I feel that if Getty wasn’t selling those images for me I would be getting 0%. I can’t get in front of the image buyers that Getty can. Those images just wouldn’t sell. As a guide I think you can expect to make £1 per image per month that you have with a site like Getty. get 100 images with them and you could make £100 a month. get 1000 images with ten and you could make £1000 a month. Simple. 20% doesn’t sound so bad when you are getting £12,000 a year from images which are just filling your hard drive, does it? The very difficult part is shooting 1000 images that are so good Getty want them and buyers buy them 🙂

There will be photographers who feel you can ask for more than the figures I have mentioned. There will be some who think the figures are too high. As I said at the outset, there is no right answer to this question. Just remember, your image is probably not unique, these guys want a bargain and the image is usually not worth as much as you would like to think it is and there will always be someone who will do it cheaper. These buyers are not big on negotiation, you often have one email to pitch the price right. Don’t be greedy but be fair to them and you. respond very quickly and don’t give the buyer any hassle.

I hope you get the order because it is a nice feeling to get paid for doing what we love and knowing someone liked our image enough to hand over hard cash.

 

 

 

 

The Best Photographer in the World

It seems that most photographers are men. I have never really understood why, because, on the whole, those women who do make images seem to be very good at it. I think I am on safe ground to say that men tend to be more competitive than women too. So we have large group of male photographers bursting with testosterone all with an eye on the competition. So the question arises, can there be a photographer, male or female, who could rightly claim to be ‘the best photographer in the world’?

No, I don’t think so. How could you possibly go about measuring such a thing? Even if you were to try and become the best landscape photographer in the world, or the best fashion photographer, wildlife photographer it would be impossible to make a decision. Would you base it on income? Or output? Number of books published or exhibitions held? Would you measure it by Twitter followers or number of Facebook friends? I can’t think of any measure that would work. I can’t see why anyone would try to establish themselves as ‘the best’.

Photography, like all art forms, is subjective. I know who I feel are the best photographers in the world, but they only get that accolade from me – it is my view, dependant on my taste. Others may agree with me, many would vehemently disagree. None of us would be right. In some ways, trying to improve as a photographer is like playing golf. Golfers while out on the course in a tournament can do nothing to affect what the other players do. They just have to play the course to the best of their ability. If they get round in the fewest number of shots they win. (this is where the illustration breaks down! Because if they win more tournaments than any other golfer that year, they do become ‘number 1’). As photographers, all we can do is our best. We need to strive to hone our skills with the camera and develop our abilities in composition (and, today, in the digital age, increase our skills with software too). We can build a reputation as a good photographer. We might make some great images. Our sales might increase. We might exhibit or be published. Others may view us as an authority or as an inspiration. From a personal standpoint, we can measure our growth as a photographer and have a gauge we apply to ourselves as to how we are doing. But, like a golfer, it is pointless comparing ourselves to the competition, because there is no competition.

Some photographers seem to see our ‘game’ as competitive. Photographic societies and clubs foster a competitive spirit. Some photographers jealously protect location knowledge or technique skills. I can never understand this. I have much greater admiration for those photographers who freely pass on knowledge and encourage others to develop. I believe if we do this we, ourselves, benefit as others will likely help us too. I see little joy and satisfaction coming from being a ‘Scrooge’ amongst photographers. I once emailed a photographer in the Lake District to ask him if he would mind giving me some help on the best place to park at a location. His reply left me stunned as he basically told me to ‘bog off’ – why should he help me to get an image that might be better than his? What drives a person like this?

You sometimes experience it on location. There you are on some beach or hillside in the pre-dawn light and another photographer turns up. You wave, smile or try to initiate a conversation and they just ignore you and give you the cold shoulder. Been there? I have, many times. What is their problem? Wy do they seem to resent our presence? What is wrong with being polite and friendly? On the there side of the coin, I have heard stories of other photographers who have met men most of us admire and look up to as being at the top of our game – men like Charlie Waite and Joe Cornish. They have met them in the field and these leading lights have been friendly, helpful and complimentary. Not aloof and distant. What a much better way to be.

I have experienced so much help on social networking sites from other photographers. Twitter is a great place to help and advice from respected leaders in our field. I have asked for advice on kit and within a minute had several replies which have been so useful and saved me so much mine and hassle. I have had location advice and help with technique. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for these guys. Hopefully I am able to the same for others because social networking is not a paces for leeches who just use it to promote themselves and suck stuff out of others. It should be a medium to be used primarily to give rather than take and then occasionally we can use it to promote ourselves. I soon stop following individuals who only want to blow their own trumpet and expect me to follow and fawn over them. Whereas those who try to offer something, even if it is just links to useful websites or to photographers sites worth looking at, I follow avidly and try to help them in return.

So, what is the point of this rant?  Forget trying to compete. none of us can be the best in the World. Be happy when others sell a picture, have an exhibition, get something published. Help them do it. Share information. Give advice when needed. Promote what others do. Hit that retweet button. What goes around, comes around. Help others and we will be helped. Be friendly and contribute something. Don’t be a misery only looking to feather your own nest. What’s the point?