Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Photographer Joke

Two photographers were chatting at the camera club...

First Photographer:
I saw a terrible sight the other day, a beggar was sitting on the steps of a church, wasted with hunger and his clothes all ragged and torn. He was holding out his hands, pleading for a few coins.

Second Photographer: What did you give him?

First Photographer: f8 at 1/125th of a second.

Shane MacGowan Snapped

It's not an especially well-kept secret that, for four years I owned a small shop, in a very pretty Irish village, that sold traditional Irish musical instruments and Irish music on CD. I didn't really make any money from it, but a major perk of ownership was that I got to meet a lot of musicians - including some very well-known ones. That was great for me, as I'm a bit of a muso-groupie, and I was (and still am) a keen music-gig photographer.

And not just Irish musicians, either. Amongst others, American Country star George Hamilton IV visited the shop one summer, and came back a few days later, with his son George Hamilton V, who was carrying his small son George Hamilton VI. I kid you not! I nearly ran out of Roman Numerals!

On one memorable Autumn evening, about 5 years ago, we were holding a Bodhrán (bow-rawn) class, and I had brought in an expert to teach a group of people (about 10 on that occasion) to play the famous Irish drum. During the class, a raggedy, tall youngish man came into the shop and started playing some of my large collection of whistles and low-whistles (which play like a whistle but sound like a flute). I have never heard those instruments played in such a wonderfully melodic way as I heard him play them. It took me a while, but I finally realised I was in the presence of greatness, and it turned out to be Liam O Maonlai, singer, songwriter and actor - of The Hot House Flowers fame. He was on his way to play at the Fleadh Ceol in Listowel and I still have no idea why - or how - he manged to grace the shop with his presence. he even played along with some of the bodhrán players from the class - and made their nights, if not their year.

We got chatting and he told me that his wife had been talking to a very famous Irish female rock and pop star, who told her that Shane MacGowan, of the Pogues, was seriously ill, and may even be at death's door. Naturally, I was very concerned and stayed that way, expecting to hear the bad news on the radio or TV news for a few weeks.

A few months ago, I was coming out of a hotel in Portlaoise, Ireland, where I had collected a press pass to photograph The World Fleadh, when I nearly fell over a man giving a radio interview on the steps outside. It took me about 20 seconds to realise that it was none other than the great (and not at all late) Shane MacGowan. I hung around until the interview was over and asked Shane if I could take a few snaps. He graciously subjected himself to 5 minutes of posing against a wall of the hotel and I'm very proud of some of the shots. We also had a very pleasant chat afterwards. But I didn't mention talking to Liam!

Monday, September 29, 2008

How to Make a Living as a Stock Photographer

Stock photography is one of the few areas of professional photography open to non-full time photographers and those with little experience (or even skill, it has to be said) in selling their images to professional markets.

Any salable photograph, that is technically adequate can be supplied to a Photography agency or library - such as Alamy - and it will be presented for sale, along with another 12 million or so images (in Alamy's Case and probably more with agencies like Getty and Corbis) and could be sold to a wide variety of top-notch publications and corporate bodies that even some top full time photographers can only dream of working with. Once the image is sold, the agent takes their cut anywhere from 35% to 60% of the fee, sometimes plus other deductions, and you get your money (in due course).

But, there's a big difference between making a sale via a photo agency, and making a living from shooting only stock photography.

Some of the key elements in making that quantum leap seem to be:
  • Consistency Take a lot of photographs and supply them regularly.
  • Quality Supply the highest quality files possible taken with the best equipment that you can afford (or afford to go into debt for)
  • Niche Market There is no subject under the Sun that has not been photographed. But some subjects may in more demand by the agency than other. The easiest way to find this out is to decide what you are going to photograph and then do a search for the subject on the website of your chosen agency.
  • Good Keywording Before an agent's client can buy (or more correctly: purchase a license for the use of your image - because you never actually sell the photo outright, you only grant the use of it for a specific purpose and time) they have to find it. This is done through keywording. You Match the image with words (Ireland, Raining, Weather, Bad etc) that tell the client what the image is about. The more accurate and precise these keywords are, the more likely you are to have the image seen, and then sold.
I'll be adding to this list, so if you have any suggestions for it, please add them in a comment.

One of my most regularly licensed stock images is above left. It was a simple, quick snap, taken at a café in Rome, Italy. No fancy lighting or equipment, and it has earned enough to keep me comfortably in cappuchino's for many years to come! So, it just goes to show what can sell through an agent.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Simple Color Popping Technique

A currently very popular digital imaging technique is that of Colour (or Color) Popping. A colour image is converted to monochrome (black and white) and then part of the colour is restored to the image. This can have a very powerful effect and convey more to the viewer than if the image had remained all colour, or was converted totally to monochrome.

My two images above, both demonstrate the effect, and actually use a similar dominant colour - but the techniques employed to create them were completely different - and one was far more complex, and time-consuming than the other.

The "Copper Kettle" shot (Winner of the 2007 Guru Award for Photoshop Excellence from the American NAPP organisation) was taken in the kitchen of a friend's house, in Tipperary, Ireland and the final image produced in Adobe Photoshop CS2. It took about 10 days to complete, with me spending about 2 hours a night on it.

The basic steps included: Adding a layer mask before converting a colour image to greyscale inside CS2. I then used the plug-in software "Exposure" to give the black and white image a 'look' of Ilford HP5 film, which gave those deep, rich blacks. I then tidied up the background, removing marks and spots on the wall, pipes coming from the back of the stove and blemished on the metal itself, using the clone and heal tools. This gave a nice, clean "studio" look to the background. I then painted away part of the layer mask, over the kettle, to bring back the 'copper' colour, which I then enhanced using levels, saturation and contrast. Removing the layer mask was the most time consuming and painstaking part of the process, especially over the very thin handle, and I had to restart the process several times.

The second shot (Jane Holding Foot) is a very successful exhibition print (in terms of sales) and was made in Adobe Lightroom. it took about 10 minutes to complete. I simply selected a "Preset" called Wow-c_HSL_ONLY_Brown, which instantly converts the colour image to black and white, but leaves the brown tones in place. Because Jane's Red hair is effectively in the "brown" colour space, it stayed pretty much as it was when I took the shot. I did enhance the saturation slightly, and increase the black tones to improve the monochrome look. I also slightly increased the red tones, to give Jane's skin some colour. It's a very easy and simple technique that requires very little skill other than knowing where to get the presets from, and where to find the selective colour sliders in Lightroom.

The selective colour sliders are about halfway down on the right-hand panel in the develop module of Lightroom.

WOW One-Click development presets for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom were created by Photoshop Hall of Famer and renowned Photoshop educator, author and photographer Jack Davis. These presets expand the creative control that photographers have when processing their images.

You can get a full range of WOW presets for Lightroom BY CLICKING HERE and they are free!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Announced

Adobe have announced details of their latest version of the ground-breaking digital manipulation software, Photoshop, in the form of version CS4 (Creative Suite 4). This is effectively Photoshop version 11 - as Adobe added the "Creative Suite" suffix after Photoshop 7, and increased the purchasing options - including "extended" version of the software package.

The previous version (CS3), was something of a disappointment, at least for me, in that it didn't offer as many innovative new tools as I would have hoped for, as a photographer, and it seemed to be aimed more at designers and graphic artists.

I didn't upgrade (from the excellent version CS2) partly for that reason, but also because Adobe simultaneously launched the photographer-specific Lightroom - which I believe is the best stand-alone digital photography-related software ever published. I am now on Lightroom version 2, and I haven't changed my mind about it. I do very little editing in Photoshop nowadays, and work (almost) exclusively in Lightroom, apart from the occasional noise reduction or "levels" in the "Mothership".

But, Adobe, being very clever, seem to have realised that they had put all their photographer eggs in one basket (Lightroom) and have worked hard to ensure that the new version of Photoshop includes some goodies to entice the snappers back to the fold.

Two very interesting tools for photographers, in the new version, are "Content-Aware Scaling" and Depth-of-Field Blending."

According to British photographer and Photoshop (and Lightroom) expert Martin Evening, Content-aware scaling is "probably the star feature of Photoshop CS4, yet also the most controversial since it invites Photoshop users to tamper with photographs in ways that are likely to raise the hackles of photography purists...." It basically allows an image to be dragged into a space where it would not ordinarily fit. For example, taking a square-shaped photograph and fitting it into a rectangular space, without affecting the proportions of the content. So a tall photo of a building, could be slotted into a shorter, fatter space without the building looking flattened or squashed.

Depth of field blending
allows the photographer to "blend" together a series of images that may be sharper at different points, and produce one image that is sharp from front to back. Adobe's sample image is a film reel, with the film unwound and extending into the distance. Imagine photographing that subject, three times. In the first shot, you get the film reel sharp, but the middle and end of the unwound film is out of focus. So, you re-take the shot, making sure that the middle part of the film is sharp, but this time the reel goes out of focus, as well as the end of the film. Then you take a third shot, making sure that the end portion of the film is sharp, but the reel and the middle are now out of focus. Photoshop CS4 will blend all of those images together and produce one photograph that has all the parts sharp and perfectly stitched together, and properly colour balanced. You'll look like either a) a photographic genius or b) a photographic genius with a very expensive shift perspective lens.

If you would like to read more about what Martin Evening says about Photoshop CS4 you can CLICK HERE to read his excellent blog.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


A nun - in full habit - was selling trinkets, mainly knitted nick-knacks and small hand-made wooden crosses, out of the back of her car, as I passed through the car park at Donegal Town Quay, this morning. I went over and thumbed a few tea-cosys and knitted crosses (for hanging from the rear view mirror - apparently they are very popular in Donegal) and tried to strike up a conversation - leading, of course, to the dreaded "can I take a picture of you" question.

I quickly ascertained that the Sister, was from the Holy Order "Sisters of Grace" (that bit was easy, because it said so on the jars of jam and honey she was selling) she told me that there were 300 Sisters in the order, all over the world, but only one in Ireland, her good self.

Anyway, I got the question out fairly quickly, and timed it for just when the Sister was handing me my change and the jar of honey I bought. "Oh no" she said "I can't have a photo taken" it's against my religion". "What religion is that?", I inquired. "I'm a recluse, in fact I was a hermit for 20 years."

"A duck got loose in the car park last week", she told me, her tone becoming increasingly stressed, "and a photo of me trying to catch it, was taken by a press photographer and ended up in the local paper!" (I felt the urge to duck myself, just from the sheer venom with which she said the P words). "I'm still wondering what to do about it. I might sue the newspaper."

"Oh, that seems a bit drastic, surely there might be some good publicity in it, for the Order" I offered, at the same time wondering if I might have snapped her accidentally, previously, and if so, did she have my car registration number.

"No" she said firmly "we don't seek publicity. "In fact, I only come out at all to sell things."

I was beginning to see a slight flaw in that particular piece of logic, but I let the thought go and made my final bid to bail out my already sinking boat of a conversation, and sail out of the quay car park as unscuttled at possible.

"It must be interesting being a recluse" I said, "it reminds me of the book 'Ring of Bright Water', and how Gavin Maxwell took himself from London to live in a cottage on a remote beach in Scotland".

"Oh, that's not the same at all" she rebuffed, "anyway, Gavin Maxwell was seriously weird", she declared, firmly. "He was homosexual".

Wondering what my youngest brother would say to that (and feeling somewhat offended on his behalf) I did what all the best press people do (in the tabloids)....I made my excuses, and left.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mill Houses Ramelton, Donegal

Longest day of the Donegal / Sligo section of the book shoot, so far, today. Up at 7am, Weetabix at 7.15am and on the road at 7.30am. About 350km travelled, up the north west coast of Donegal, as far as Malin Head and back down the middle of the county, via Letterkenny, to Donegal Town, for dinner (the Abbey Hotel's excellent Clam Chowder) 14 hours later, at 9pm.

The light was dull, again, up until about noon, but then the sun broke through, and by 5pm, it was becoming a typical Autumn evening, with strong blues, dappled with reds and pinks in the evening sky. Ramelton, was slightly out of my way - but, because it was such a strong subject and the light had been flat and grey on my first visit two days before, I detoured and went there before heading for Letterkenny.

I didn't regret it. I got there at about 6.3pm, and the low orange sun was making the Mill houses absolutely glow and vibrate with life. The strong blue evening sky set them off a treat too it along real.

A local man, taking his 3 month old pup for a walk, stopped to say what a glorious sight the Mill Houses were - and told me a lot about the town itself and pointed out some great vantage points from where to get other good shots of the town (of which he was, rightly, very proud).

Some people can be very friendly. And, the Donegal people are right up in my top-ten of friendly Irish people - so far!!

Here are two shots from Ramelton, that I took tonight. If you'd like to see bigger versions - click the link to my photography website (Adare Images, near the top of the left hand column) and look for them in the "places" section, under "Galleries" - or wait for them to appear on the home page.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Asking Permission to Take a Photograph

The only difficulty I had with the shoot at Donegal Crafts village (see above) was turning up and asking if I could take photographs there. And, once the question was asked, I could not have wished for more helpful and considerate people.

In one case, (artist Johnny McCabe) I went into the gallery and talked around the subject for 5 minutes ("yeah, I was just photographing Brendon...artists make really good subjects for travel photographers...this is a really photogenic studio...etc, ad naseum) before he said - probably in a fit of desperation -"so, do you want to photograph me then?"

I'm not sure what it is about me that makes me so nervous about asking people if I can take their picture. I sometimes joke that I was disbarred from the ranks of the paparazzi for being too polite. It's bad enough that I don't ask often enough - but the thought of just sticking up my camera and shooting away at a complete stranger without their permission sends me into paroxysms of anguish!

Don't get me wrong, I do ask people if I can photograph them, and I ask a lot of people (it's certainly increasing as I get older and my opportunities for photographing become increasingly finite.) I just don't think I like asking - maybe in case they say the dreaded N word.

I should be pachydermous really, like the elephant. A bit more thick-skinned. But not too much - or I'd turn into a dreadful Pap!!

Environmental Photography

Another washed-out shooting day in (not-so) sunny Donegal.

I went into the excellent tourist information office in Donegal Town to ask where I might go to take photographs indoors. Well, I figured that as I'm here to take photographs, I can't be put off by a little thing like persistent precipitation. And, it was kind of using my initiative (for once), too - and if I'm honest, being a bit braver than usual (see Asking Permission to Take a Photograph, below).
The extremely pleasant and help information officer directed me to the Donegal Craft Village, 2 kilometers out of the town, on the Sligo road.

I made my way there, and spoke to Elaine McGonigle, of "McGonigle Glass" who specialises in eye catching glass jewelery, large glass sculptures and functional dishes. All the glass was in the kiln, and would be there overnight - so, there it wasn't possible to photograph her working, but Elaine helpfully pointed me in the direction of the other crafts people - and even introduced me to some of them. I spent about 3 hours there, photographing and - better still - engaging in interesting and often hilarious discussions with some very talented and artistic people.

I had a great time photographing Niall Bruton, a metal worker, who went out of his way (as did everyone) to help me get the best shots, even if it meant having to move half of the equipment in his workshop!

Stone Sculptor Brendan McGloin is a young, vibrant and very talented man, who has just finished a 30 month long commission to replicate (in stone) a full sized version of the Cross of the Scriptures, from Clonmachnoise, for the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, in Portland, Oregan, USA. He was leaving for Portland, the next day, to "set" the piece. I photographed Brendan at work in his yard and he showed me photographs of himself with the piece, before it was shipped to Portland, in 3 parts, and the Irish President, Mary McAleese. He also offered to stand next to (actually, he climbed onto the base of) a full size model of the cross, made from polystyrene foam, in his studio.

I finished the craft shoots with painter Johnny Mcabe, who has some fascinating portraits of figures from popular culture - like Bob Marley, a young Johnny Cash and Elvis and two versions of portraits of Samuel Beckett, one of which was my personal favourite.

It turned out that Johnny and I had a lot in common, including our accents, previous career choices and above all, the internal belief that we were destined to be the thing we always wanted to be (in his case an artist and in my case a Lothario - sorry, photographer) and it was just a case of finding a way to make it work. In Johnny's case (judging by his boyish visage), I reckon he got there a lot sooner than I did. And very good luck to him!!

Photographs: Sculptor Brendan McGloin (top), Painter Johnny McCabe

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday Tip

Never leave a bar of chocolate next to the laptop's a/c power supply when it is switched on.

If you forget about it, and work on your Blog for half an hour (or so) the chocolate will have melted into a gooey mess, just when you feel like a bite.

Ramelton, County Donegal

I'm now on the Donegal / Sligo leg of the travel book shoot. I had planned a five day stay, basing myself in Donegal Town, and travelling out to various, and frequently far-flung corners of the very extensive County Donegal, and then into North Sligo (the southern, neighbouring county) and finishing in parts of South County Sligo, on my way back to County Limerick.

It was my first full day for shooting today and I spent over 10 hours on the road and covered about 400km. The light wasn't great (where I have heard THAT before?), and there are the ubiquitous grey-white sky shots filing up my 8 megabyte CF card, as usual. It's a strange thing, how, when things get really stressful, most people actually become calmer. So, I'm " Cool and the gang" as Samuel L. Jackson says in "Pulp Fiction".

But, I have seen a shot (or at least a potential one) that deserves a good sky. There are a row of 45 Mill Houses on the river in the picturesque town of Ramelton (12km north of Letterkenny, and once the county town of Donegal, before Letterkenny - not a lot of people know that!) that have really caught my eye. I photographed them this evening, but the grey sky doesn't do them justice.

So, I've booked an extra day at the hotel (the Abbey) and I'll go back on my extra day and elsewhere, light permitting - to see if can get a stronger shot of them (possibly with reflections in the river).

It's an interesting debate, whether to go back to a site to get it in the right light - especially if you're chasing a deadline. I know of some travel photographers (my all-time personal favourite being the great Michael Bussell) who will stake out a particular location for hours (or days even) to get the perfect light.

But, when chasing a deadline - as I am - there simply isn't time. Which is a great shame - because it's not as if I'm shooting the front of houses for an estate agent - but at the moment, it does feel a bit like that. Ok, this is Ramelton, I got the shot move on! Well, not until I get the light, not this time!!

It'll be worth getting back a day late (and catching up) just to get that one shot.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Composition: The Rule of Thirds

Imagine the viewfinder of your camera. Now imagine two horizontal lines placed on it, so that they divide the shape into three equal sections. Now imagine another two lines, this time vertical ones. So your viewfinder (or image frame) is now divided into three sections, vertically and horizontally.

Use these lines to position your subject, or part of the subject for the most impact. The "rule of thirds" dictates that the eye will be drawn more to the areas of the frame where the lines intersect. This is never at the dead centre of the image. So, putting auntie Mabel right in the middle of your shot, with lots of space all around her, is a no-no. And, yet the dead centre of the frame is probably the most common place to position a subject.

The other no-no is to place an object too close to the edge of the frame. This can make the overall scene look unbalanced. Also, when placing people in a frame, if they are looking to one side, it often works best to give them "room" to look into in the frame. So try to avoid placing someone at the edge of the frame looking out at it - unless you want a "I'm about to bang my head on this brick wall" effect. 

It's the same issue with horizons in landscape shots. Where do a lot of photographers put the horizon? In the middle of the frame, giving a perfectly even and balanced amount of sky and land area. Boring! When following the rule of thirds, the horizontal lines (or horizon lines) are one third up from the bottom or one third down from the top. Try that for landscape and you'll either get lots of rolling hills, or vineyard (or whatever the main subject) and a thin strip of sky, or huge expanses of billowing clouds, or fiery red sunsets, and a strip land. Either way it'll be a lot more powerful (and the choice often depends on the subject itself and what you are trying to convey).

In my beach scene (above) the yacht is placed close to the intersection of the top horizontal line and the right hand vertical line. The horizon is close to the top horizontal line. The front line of rocks starts close to the bottom horizontal line.

Let me know what you think - and send me some of your own examples and I'll post them!

My email address is on the comments page (click "comments" link, below this post).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Meeting a Deadline (or Parkinson's Law **)

I wonder what it is about a deadline that encourages me to plan to complete it with two minutes to spare?

Why, if I am told that I have three weeks to submit some pictures or copy to an editor, don't I do it in the first week, and have the other two off, in the South of France (OK, I know the answer to the South of France bit...it starts with the words "lack of" and ends with the word; "money".)

But, the principal is the same. Even if I don't go to the S of F (or even Ballybunnion) I could do some extra work, or look for more work, or...you get my point. I was no different at school. I crammed for exams the day before I sat them and tidied up the house just as my mother was coming down the garden path!

I'm sure I'm not alone in this. In fact I'd go so far as to say I'm fairly "normal" (or, at least, "average".)

Anyway, I got a deadline for some text for a book 5 weeks ago and it closed two days ago. My editor's a nice guy though, and he gave me a bit more time - until tomorrow. I really must get on with it and stop bloomin' blogging for a while!

** "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Cyril Northcote Parkinson: in "The Economist", 1955 - which just happens to be the year I was born. So, that might explain everything!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Police Harrassment of Photographers

Today, the NUJ (the press union of which I am a member) releases a video highlighting some of the problems faced by journalists in the UK covering public demonstrations.The nine-minute video, called Press Freedom: Collateral Damage, includes examples of the British Police obstructing journalists in their work. You can see the video and read the full story if you CLICK HERE

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Journalism is facing grave threats in an age of intolerance. Whilst on the streets dissent is being criminalized, independent journalism is being increasingly caught in the civil liberties clampdown.”

My own photography work isn't subject to some of the constraints and (if you accept the views expressed in the video) illegal procedures executed by the UK Police. But, while photographing an animal rights demonstration in Essex, way back in 1995, I was told: "stop taking my bloody picture" by a member of the "Forward Intelligence Team" (a surveillance unit of the British Police Force). The F.I.T. are more commonly used to record the presence of known trouble-makers at soccer matches and demonstrations, or those suspected of terrorism, but they have recently been accused of making legitate members of the press their targets for videoing and photographs.

Thankfully, the situation between the Press and the Police (Gardai), in Ireland, is somewhat more relaxed. I have always been treated with total respect by the Irish Police, and allowed to get on with my work. I've even joked with some members of the force about whether they were good-looking enough for me to photograph them! Admittedly, I don't do any press work in Dublin and I haven't photographed a protest for a long time, but so far, so good!

In fact, during the "World Fleadh" (say 'flar' - it means festival) music event in Portlaoise, Ireland during the summer, I was approached by a Garda Sergeant, who had seen me photographing in the town, and he promptly took me on a guided tour, showing off the best buildings - and some interesting locals - for me to photograph.

It's like another world here, sometimes!

Economic Down Turn - Cynicism Up Turn

Me (on telephone): Hello, I'm writing a travel guide book for a major UK publisher and we wanted to include your hotel in the book, as it is close to Portumna, a town we are featuring in the guide. Can I get some information from you about the hotel, please?

Hotel Manager: How much will it cost me?

Me: Nothing, it's a travel guide book, from a publisher that sells books by the million. There is no charge to include the hotel, I just need to check some facts.

Hotel Manager: And then you'll tell me how much you want to charge me for it.

Me: No, there's no charge, it's a guide book, not an advertising brochure.

Hotel Manager: I don't believe that. There's never something for nothing.

Me: This is something for nothing.

Hotel Manager: I doubt it.

Me: Bye, thanks for your help.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Floccinaucinihilipilification **

I got a text from a friend who sings in a choir. "Are you still a tenor?" she asked

"No", I replied, "I'm only a fiver...Half as good as I used to be."

Which, brought me around to thinking about my photography. How good a photographer am I? Is my work really any good at all?

I can be prone to serious bouts of "confidence crisis", when I seriously wonder about the value of my work. Then, at other times, I feel really confident about it. Winning awards doesn't help, as I can easily dismiss the prize as an error of judgment - or if I do tell others about the award, I can be subject to cries of "poser!" from the begrudgers!

I have settled for accepting that if people tell me they like my work (or, better yet, buy it) then they know their own minds and it is, at the very least, good enough for them!

To avoid sleepless nights struggling to solve the riddle of my creative value, I think I'll try and work on gaining a sense of: "I don't know what art is - but I know what I like. And I like some of what I do."

**The longest, legitimate, word in the Oxford English Dictionary. Definition: The estimation of something as valueless.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Learning Curves

When my interest in photography began (about 30 years ago), I told a friend that I wanted to read as much as possible on the subject. He reappeared a few days later with the biggest single pile of photography magazines I had ever seen in one place (and to this day, still have yet to see - including any magazine store you care to mention). His uncle had been storing the magazines for several years, and his aunt had finally issued the "they go or I do" ultimatum. My friends' uncle was assured that they had gone to a good home.

I read those magazines from cover to cover, one by one, and then I read them again. What I found was that some articles used technical language that I didn't understand, so I had to find out the meaning of say: "depth of field" or "focal length" or "aperture" before I could fully understand the context in which it was being used. I did that, mainly, by reading through the magazine "problem pages", where photographers would write in and ask "what is the best focal length for portraits?", or "how do I keep the landscape sharp from front to back?" or "how do I tell my girlfriend that I'm Gay?" (wrong magazine, sorry!)

Later on, when I began a university teaching career, I came across the phrase "pre-requisite knowledge", which basically refers to the idea that in order to understand a certain subject, the student would have to study something else first.

From what I see on some photography forums, the importance of "pre-requisite knowledge" is lost on some beginning photographers - especially those working with the digital medium. They write things like:

"I see interpolation on my image, but I haven't increased the image size" (no, you don't - "interpolation" means increasing the image size, maybe you see "noise"?) and:

"When I convert a RAW image to 8-bit TIFF in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (software), it comes only to about 35MB. Photoshop (software) is only just as good. A 16-bit TIFF on the other hand is around 69MB." (Yes. First of all, one software package will produce the same size 8 bit image as another - why wouldn't it, it's the same image - and, secondly a 16 bit image file is about twice the size as an 8 bit one, so the overall size will be increased by that amount).

It strikes me that these questions would not have been asked if the photographers had read around a bit more. But, no they seem to want instant answers, and instant solutions. Good photography, whilst it may be digital, is certainly not achieved instantly.

Get on the learning curve - you never know, you might learn something!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


My internal jury is still out on whether the human race is intrinsically selfish or intrinsically altruistic.

Are we generally pleased when we see another person do well for themselves, or do we actually feign goodwill, whilst secretly bemoaning that so-and-so's good luck, or talent, or both and wishing that it was us instead?

I find this question especially puzzling when I consider it in the context of a group - people who come together with a common interest or cause. I, perhaps naively, expect more from a like-minded group of people by the way of being pleased when something goes right for one of it's members - but that's not always the case.

A member of a forum run by a photographic agency that I contribute to, recently posted a message saying that a single shot of his had earned $8000 for use by a publishing company. He wasn't boasting, and was using the information (he showed us the photograph and told us exactly where it was being used and by whom - insomuch as he had been told himself) to encourage others to have high hopes of a big sale themselves.

The majority of replies to his post (so far) have been positive and encouraging. But not all. Some of the meaner spirited replies (oh, I know - they were only joking!) are:

"I thought that I had much better pic somewhere."

"Jeez, I probably wouldn't even have bothered to put that one in."

"It just goes to show harsh editing and removing the more ordinary photos does not always work."

"I am actually amazed that a client will pay &25,000 for such a picture when they could have hired a professional photographer to go out and shoot a similar picture for a fraction of the cost." (my personal favourite - partly because he got the amount wrong, partly because he didn't use the correct symbol for dollars and partly because the photographer IS professional)

"Well done Colin - really great sale. may you have many more. Straighten the walls and you might get $20000 next time!!" (I posted that one myself)

There was also the poster who told us how much he made from a single shot (about $6000) but refused to show it to us, as it was "easily repeatable" by others. Oh, heaven forfend that we might all go and photograph the same subject and make some money, too! I had better not tell everyone that I sold a shot of the Eiffel Tower recently, oh, and Times Square, oh and Big Ben oh and Stonehenge.....or they might go there too!

I doubt that you'd get the same sort of reaction from a group of painters or potters or scultors. I think the mean-spirited photographers out there let their jealousy take over because they haven't realised that there is art and talent to photography, as much as there is to painting and sculture. So, you get the sense of "oh, why didn't they use MY shot of Windsor Castle", rather than - what a good shot of Windsor Castle.

As for my puzzling question at the top - I think the short answer is: it's a bit a both, and altrusim is certainly helped by self-awarness and some internal sense of personal security.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rain Check

Apparently, the origins of the phrase "I'll take a rain check" are in the the practice of giving a free ticket to the next outdoor event - especially sport, and commonly Baseball - because the the one you had booked has been cancelled due to bad weather (especially rain).

Here I am, still in the Dun Laoghire hotel, back in my room, having had more dried up food - this time, in the restaurant. Even at 8.30am, the chef managed to make the "full Irish" breakfast look and taste as if it had been cooked the day before and kept warm (just) in a moderate oven! My bet is that he did!

There is one predominant sound, other than the clicking of the keys as I type. And that is the rain beating against the windows. It looks like my plans for a day's shoot in the County Kildare villages is well and truely washed out!

Still, the Irish weather can change faster than I can change a CF card - and almost as fast as some of the women I've known can change their minds - so I'll head in that direction and hope that the sun breaks though!

p.s. A friend just sent a text (SMS) message from Limerick. He says:

"You could photograph ducks drowning down here - in fact a selection of them, if you could keep your own head above the waterline!!"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

All's Well That End's Well

See previous blog for my location at time of writing

Room service just brought my food. Once again, it's far too late to be eating, I still have to clean the sensor and the lenses and change the batteries for tomorrow, and every muscle in my substantial frame is aching!

The food is not appetizing, to say the least. Dried up breast of chicken, with cold mashed potatoes, smothered in thick, globby gravy and a pint of 7 Up to wash it down!

Still, it was brought to my room by a tiny and exquisitely beautiful Eastern European woman.

So, all's well that ends well!

Chasing the Light

9.55pm Rochestown Lodge Hotel, Dun Laoghire**, County Dublin, Ireland

The end of a the second of two long days shooting for the travel book - with a third to go tomorrow, before I can head home for a short rest - and camera clean (and card downloading, and image captioning and editing) before setting off again on a much longer jaunt up the west coast.

This stint was photographing the beaches and coastal resorts of North Dublin, and then the City itself, then moving into the villages of county Kildare, tomorrow.

It was my first time ever in places like Howth, Malahide, Portmarnock, and Skerries. I wouldn't say that they are off the tourist maps, altogether, but the feedback I've been getting from the locals, is that they could do with a bit more exposure. I'm here to help! I've been bracketing my exposures like a mad thing!! Seriously, they are very pretty places, most of them with beaches and the only thing that has been lacking to make them a big summer success is...the summer!

I was lucky though. The light came out for three hours at about 5pm last night evening, and I worked hard to photograph as quickly as possible and then drive onto the next place, with one eye on the road and the other on the quickly setting sun. I got most of it done and by the time I got back to the B&B is almost too late to eat! The driving and scurrying around must have worked up my adrenaline, because not only didn't I eat well, I hardly slept, either.

So, tired and with aching muscles, I finished the coastal towns this morning, and moved on to the "big smoke" (Dublin) this afternoon. The light was great all day, and I spent about4 hours in the city, and shot about 200 images. It's amazing too, how friendly the Dubs are! One lady walked along the streets with me, pointing out important land marks for about 10 minutes, and all I did was ask for directions!

On to Kildare tomorrow. The forecast is for heavy rain!

*for the undinitiated, the seecond word in that place name is pronounced exactly the same way as the word that is often used to described certain kinds of photographers - "Leery"!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bleepin' Beepers

There I was, poised precariously at the edge of the roadside (which has no footpath) close to Adare village, a beautiful spot, in County Limerick, Ireland with the 70 - 200mm Canon L zoom, on a monopod and pointed at the newly restored Desmond Castle.

A few cars passed me. I took a few shots. A few more cars passed behind me. I bracketed my exposures and took a few more shots.

Something was missing. This didn't feel right. I bent down to look through the viewfinder again, just as another car drew level with my back(side) and...


there it was, right on cue, the "oh, look there's someone taking a photograph, won't it be good if we beep the car horn to make them jump and miss the shot" joke. Bleeping hilarious.

The really funny thing is: It's never going to make me jump, as I start to expect the beep if more than 5 cars pass me without beeping. And, of course, it's a digital camera, so nothing is ever wasted (only deleted) - if they only knew how many shots I "waste" when I'm NOT being beeped, they'd probably not raise their horn hand at all!

I wonder if it's just Irish drivers that find this a really funny joke? Let me know how many beepers you've met - and where!

Dates for the Diary

These two consequetive events might be of interest to those of you who will in the Manchester (UK) area in October 2008.

National Union of Journalists - a talk by Brian Harris

Brian Harris former photographer with The Times and then chief photographer with The Independent newspaper will discuss his work as it appeared in context on the printed page before showing some more recent projects including work from 'REMEMBERED' a major book and exhibition for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

He will be open to Q&A and argument about the state of Newspaper photography today, but will not be discussing mega pixels or any technical Tosh!!

Date: Thursday 16th October

Time: 4.00pm - 6pm

Place: Calumet Manchester

Price: £25 Inc VAT

National Union of Journalists - Exhibition of Photography

The first National Union of Journalists Exhibition of photography put together by the Union's photographers on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the NUJ.

From street photography to war zones, social disorder to great sports events, NUJ photographers have photographed the world. This exhibition is a showcase of their work, demonstrating the quality produced by dedicated professionals.

Date: Thursday 16th October

Time: 6.30pm -8.30pm

Place: Calumet (Camera Store) Manchester

Price: FREE

For Further Information on both events, Please contact:

Francesca Munden, PR & Events Co-Ordinator, Calumet Photographic Ltd
tel: 01908 843006, fax: 01908 370615, mob: 07990 562879
email: Francesca.Munden@calumetphoto.co.uk