Category: Photography Tips

How do I make a business in photography?

I have just read a superb piece by photographer David Noton in his dispatches column. Davids writings are always worthwhile reading. He is a seasoned pro with a ton and a half of experience and enthusiasm. In this article he tells it like it is and I agree with every word. For those thinking about making a living from photography it should become required reading. My experience as a pro is exactly the same as his.

Well, I say ‘exactly’, but that is not strictly true. My career path has a slight difference, but one I think more should consider.

David came out of the Merchant Navy and decided to go to college to study photography before going on to make his career taking pictures. I have never been to college (except to teach photography, ironically). I came at it from a totally different angle and one I imagine many of you will be approaching it.

My background is in sales and marketing management. My college and university studies are in business management. Photography was, and is, a passion. Then came the inevitable plea from a friend to photograph their wedding and this led to more and more job offers. Five years later I earn the bulk of my income from photography. I consider myself a professional. But I am still not a pure professional. I still work for my old firm. I am extremely fortunate to have a boss who allows me time to pursue my photography business. Five years down the line from that first wedding I am at a crunch point. Do I cut my final ties with the business world and take the plunge and become 100% a photography pro?

Read Davids article and consider the risks and challenges. Photography is a precarious profession. The competition from others far more skilled than most of us is fierce. Those paying for our services are paying less and less each year. As a result I have decided to continue as I am for a while longer. It is so tempting to have a romantic view of being a photographer but the whole subject has to be approached with the view of a hard nosed business man, not a romantic. I have a wife who depends on my and a bank who expects me to pay the mortgage on time. My bank manager is not a romantic!

The income from my company gives a measure of stability. I can depend on it and with it comes a car and other benefits (like holiday pay, a phone, sick pay etc The self employed will tell you how much you should value these things if you have them). The economy is unstable at present and as much of my income comes through my workshops I have to be realistic and realise taking workshops is a luxury for my clients, it is something they can quite easily cut back on if things get tight for them. I have managed to wean myself off of weddings and portrait photography. I don’t enjoy it and while it brings in the cash I am pleased to say goodbye to it (my last wedding is next week!… unless people want to pay me a lot more than I have been charging, weddings are the most stressful thing I do and the hourly rate  all things factored in is the lowest I make).

I think  any of you thinking about a career in photography should consider this approach. Maintain a core part time job, whatever that might be, and build a business in photography to run alongside it. At first the money will help you buy kit and get set up. Then it will help pay the mortgage. Maybe one day you will feel secure enough to take the plunge and cut loose altogether and that will be great, but if not, you can do what you love without much of the stress and worry being a full time pro brings. Sure, you can’t say you are a true ‘pro’. Real pro’s will always view you as ‘not quite the ticket’. But they will envy you. You will sleep a little better at night.

Remember, most photographers fail in their businesses. They fail, not because they are poor photographers. Rather they fail because they can’t run a business. As David forcefully writes in his article, you need to be able to sell yourself. Few people are able to cold call. Few can take the rejection. People putting phones down on them. Buyers telling them to get lost or that their work is rubbish. Few are able to cope with boring assignments making ugly things look wonderful. I have had to photograph gas valves. Palletts. Sewers. The romance of photography kind of evaporates when you are stood up to your knees in raw sewerage and then have to plunge your beloved carbon fibre tripod down in to it too… and then try and take images which make it look interesting. Those mornings you imagine standing on some stunning beach photographing the sunrise for money are very rare. More often than not, especially in the early days, you will be on an industrial estate somewhere trying to show enthusiasm to your client whose life is absorbed by magnetic hinge design.

There are few photographers who make it to David Notons position in life. He must earn a considerable amount each year and he gets to go places we can only dream of, but he openly admits he doesn’t feel secure and he now has nine people on his team being at least partly dependant for their financial lives on his shoulders.

I have no doubt I will be taking the big step in the near future, but I won’t do it until I am sure the time is right. I want to do it now. I am a romantic at heart, but I have to be hard-nosed right now. For now having the support of a second income is the best solution. I am patient. I can wait. If you are thinking of building a photography business in whatever field of photography you are keen on, I encourage you to take a similar approach. Have a second source of income until you know the photography business is right for you and that you can survive on what it brings.

How do I put a simple border around my images?

I get asked a lot how to put a simple frame border around images, like this one. It is very simple.

These instructions apply to Photoshop, but also work in Elements and no doubt you can work out a similar way if you use some other software. For Elements and others the menu locations may be different but the commands similar.

1. Prepare your photo as usual – the border is the last thing to add.

2. Click the Image Menu and select Canvas Size

3. Make sure the ‘Relative’ box is ticked

4. In the Height and Width box enter a figure – I work in metric so I usually first put in, say 0.2 cm in each box

5. Make sure the centre box in the icon below this is selected (the one with arrows all round it – you will see what I mean when you are there!)

6. In the Canvas Extension drop down box select a colour – in this example above, I chose White – usually, depending on the colours in the image, white or black work best for this inner pin stripe.

7. Click Okay

Now you will see the fine border around your image.

Repeat the process above to add the thicker, outer frame but increase the dimensions to suit what you want – I often use 7, 9, 11 or even 13cm – I find odd numbers work best.

You can experiment with several borders of varying thicknesses – it sometimes looks good to put a 0.2cm white, then a 0.2cm black followed by a 11cm White and finish the outer edge with another 0.2cm black border.

If you are uploading to Flickr and want a white outer border it is always best to put a fine black border around as the page background on Flickr is white and this fine outer pinstripe defines your white border – otherwise it is lost on the page.

Combine a border with a signature – the instructions for which I blogged here a few days ago, and you are developing your own signed piece of artwork

How do I re-size images for Alamy?

Many people how to get their images prepared for Alamy, especially their request for 48mb images. It is a bit confusing, so here is my method using Photoshop – but if you use Elements or some other software it may help you too.

The file you upload doesn’t have to be 48MB in itself – but has to be able to be converted by their customer to a 48mb TIFF.

This means you have to upscale the size of the file yourself before sending it as a jpeg.

To do this – Make sure you shoot in RAW (although jpeg, may work – it’s just I always shoot in RAW) and work on the image in Photoshop in 16 bit colour (which you will be automatically if you have opened the RAW file in Photoshop via Lightroom or Canon Camera RAW software) , cloning out dust, tweaking the levels etc (For stock libraries, don’t saturate the colours or do any sharpening – they want their customers to be able to do this to their own tastes/needs).

Then, when all is done, click the Image menu and select Image Size

In that dialog box make sure all three tick boxes are ticked and that ‘Bicubic Smoother’ is selected in the drop down box. Set the resolution to 300 pixels per inch (240 pixels minimum)

In the top width and height windows make the longest edge (depending on if the image is portrait or landscape orientation) around 5000 pixels – you will need to play with this figure to get the right length for your camera – the aim is to get the pixels dimensions figure at the top of the box to 96mb or above – but get as close to 96mb – as the higher you go the more chance there is of the quality deteriorating. Click okay.

Now click the Image menu again – select mode and select 8 bits

This will halve the file size (from 96mb to the magic 48mb). Now save in the normal way as the highest quality jpeg. The jpeg will vary in size depending on the type of image, how many colours in it etc and could be 8mb up to 16mb or more – but probably never above 20mb. The important thing is Alamy can now convert it back to a 96mb TIFF or PSD file for their customer.

I hope this demistifies the process for you?

And I haven’t forgotten I said I would do a tutorial on adding titles to your borders in Photoshop – it’s just this question came up from one of my students and as I had written it all down for him, I thought you could use it too.

Happy shooting!

How do I put a watermark on my photos?

I get asked this a lot by students so here is a post to provide the answer – it works in Photoshop or Elements (and the print and export modules of Lightroom have a custom function to add one also).

Watermarking your images is not a foolproof way to stop people using them without your permission. Some will ignore it and use it anyway. Others will spend a few minutes in Photoshop and remove it – with basic cloning skills it is usually not hard to do.

What watermarking your pictures does do is put off some who would steal your images and just emphasizes that it is against your wishes.

More effective is converting the image to 72ppi and reducing the size to say 1000 pixels on the longest side before uploading them. This makes the image unusable in any printed form. It will still display perfectly on a screen as these work at 72ppi – but printing will be useless. If you are using Flickr to display your images you can also switch off the ‘all sizes’ option in your account preferences which will make it much harder for people to steal your photos.

Anyway, on with the tutorial. There are two ways of doing this – by creating an Action or by making a Copyright brush. I tend to use the brush method.

1. In Photoshop create a new blank document. (click file, new). This should put a blank white page in front of you.

2. Next create a new blank layer

3. Select the Type tool to type your text – in my case I would then select a font and font size and type – Copyright 2010 © Doug Chinnery – (you can hold down the Alt key and type 0169 on the number keypad and this will inset the copyright symbol automatically)

4. When you are happy with it select the Rectangular Marquee tool by pressing the M key and drag a rectangle around your line of text.

5. Then go into the Edit menu and select ‘define brush preset’. When the dialog box opens give your brush a name (not a name like ‘Dave’ or ‘Debbie’ but call it Copyright Brush for example.) Then click OK.

6. Now in your brush presets drop down box you will find your copyright brush at the bottom of the grid. It will looked all squashed up but don’t worry, it will display correctly when you use it.

7. To use it, open a photo you want to copyright and add a new blank layer to it.

8. Select either white or black as your foreground colour – press D to set black and white as the foreground and background colours then press the X key to swap them if necessary. I use white mostly unless the image is very bright so white won’t stand out, then I use black.

9. Press B to get the brush tool selected and up on the options bar drop down the brush toolbox and click on your copyright tool brush at the very end of the set.

10. Use the [ or ] keys to make the brush bigger or smaller

11. Click on your image where you want the copyright info to be.

12. The in the layers palette on the blank layer with your copyright brush info use the opacity slider to adjust how the strong the brush is – you can really fade it out so it isn’t distracting or have it more prominent if you prefer.

13. When you are happy, flatten the image.

14. Remember to save the file with a different name so it doesn’t overwrite your master file – otherwise your original file will have your copyright info plastered across it – not good if you want to print it and hand it on your wall!!

I hope this info is helpful?

If you prefer to use Actions then record the above being done but instead of creating a new document just put a blank layer on a photo, type your copyright info, and set the opacity, flatten the image and then stop the action recording. Then it is just a case of running the action on future images – the only problem with this is that it will put the copyright info in the same place and at the same opacity on every image and sometimes this doesn’t look right., but the choice is yours.

High Pass Sharpening

I was so impressed with the quality of sharpening that Chris Upton had used on his images in his exhibition (Masters of Vision, now finished) I decided I needed to re-evaluate my sharpening workflow.

I do not sharpen the psd file I create from my RAW file. I hold that psd file as an unsharpened master. You need to sharpen images to different extents depending on how it will be used. You would sharpen an image differently to be printed on canvas than you would if it was going to be printed on gloss paper. If you were then going to show it on a website it would need a different amount of sharpening also. So I hold my psd as a master and create jpegs from it, sharpen them according to use and then once the jpeg has been used I delete it – there is no need to keep it taking up disk space as I can recreate another from the master psd at any time.

Chris Upton reminded me about ‘High Pass Sharpening’. I had used this in the past but had somehow drifted back to the usual Unsharp Mask (USM) sharpening that most people use. The difficulty with USM is it increases any noise in the image as it works on adding contrast to edges in the image.

High Pass sharpening has the advantage that it is performed on a separate layer so it can be masked out of some areas and it can be strengthened or reduced in effect by using the opacity slider. If you don’t like it, it can be deleted and you can turn the layer on and off to check the effect.

So how do you do it. It is very easy

1. Duplicate your image (press ctrl-J)

2. Select Filter>>Other>>High Pass

3. Set the radius to 10

4. Click OK

5. Change the blending mode of the layer to Hard Light

6. Zoom in to 100% to be able to judge the next step

7. Experiment with setting the opacity slider on the layer anywhere from about 20% to 70% to get the amount of sharpening you are after.

8. If some areas do not need sharpening or need to be softer then use a mask and set the opacity of the brush to remove the level of sharpening to the extent you want.

This sharpening process could improve your images a great deal.

Top ten tips for photographing seascapes

Landscape photographers love the chance to photograph the sea. We love the wide horizons, big skies and the magnification of the glorious light at dawn and dusk reflected in the water. To make the most of your trips to the coast here are some tips for making great seascape images.

1. Go prepared. Welly boots, while not glamorous, are the best footwear on the shore. They allow you to work in soft mud, lapping waves and rock pools without worrying about getting wet, cold feet. Neoprene lined wellies are more expensive but much more comfortable and warmer than cheaper brands. I have also found seawater rots the adhesives and stitching in modern walking boots. I had a pair of new boots fall apart after a trip to Skye due to me wading about in seawater for two weeks.

2. Check the tides in advance. Often the best time to make seascapes is with a falling tide at sunrise or sunset. The exposed rocks and sand will be wet from the receding tide which reflects the light in the sky and adds much more interest than a drier foreshore with an advancing high tide. To find the tide time for your location enter the name of the nearest harbour or port into Google along with the words ‘tide table BBC’. this will bring up a link for the generally reliable tide tables on the BBC website. If you don’t live in the UK just enter the nearest harbour name and the words’ tide table’ and you should get a link for your country. Being aware of the tide times also helps you be aware of not being cut off from the mainland by a fast rising high tide. Very easy, believe me, when you are engrossed in making images.

3. Check where and when in relation to the location the sun will rise and set to find the best time to visit that location. The best way to do this is to download ‘The Photographers Ephemeris’. This free software uses Google Earth and shows on the map exactly where the sun and moon rise and set in any location on the planet on any day. One of the best bits of software a landscape photographer can have on the computer. You will find it here. There is even a version for the iPhone.

4. Take a towel, lens cloth and lens cleaning fluid. You will find, even in quite calm conditions that your lens and filters start to get coated in salt while making images at the sea. This soon ruins images. Keep an eye on this and clean your glass regularly. I also have a golf towel clipped to my tripod for quickly drying off salt spray from the camera and for draping over the camera if the waves start to get high.

5. Wash you tripod legs in fresh water after a seascapes session. Tripods often get stood in seawater to get the perfect shot, and get coated in abrasive sand from beaches. To preserve your kit, wash it off well with fresh water after the shoot.

6. Get there early. I usually get my best seascapes 30, 45 minutes or more before the sun is due to rise. Trust me, that extra 20 minutes in bed is not worth missing the best light for.

7. Stay late. As with the preceding point, at the end of the day i often get my best images up to an hour after the sun has set. Don’t pack up and go home when the sun dips below the horizon – keep shooting.

8. Get the tripod down low. So often photographers fully extend the tripod legs so the camera is at head height for comfort or out of habit. Get down low for more interesting images with a different perspective.

9. Use ND filters. ND filters from 2 to 10 stops help lengthen exposures and create wonderful effects on moving water and clouds. The 10 stop filters, such as the Lee Filters ‘Big Stopper’ enable me to shoot great seascapes long after the best light has gone thus lengthening the shooting time on location. they also enable great images to be had in poor light and cloudy conditions.

10. Shoot details. it is easy to just shoot the wide seascape before you and to miss some of the beautiful ‘intimate landscapes’ of the shore. Rock patterns, seaweeds, shells and pebbles, patterns in the sand, beach furniture and buildings and so on.

I hope you have found these tips helpful. I would be interested in hearing from you if you have tips to add.

If you would like more help with improving your seascape photography, please use the form on the right to add your email address to my mailing list. You will get advanced notice of all of my future seascape and other workshops before they are announced elsewhere.