Friday, November 27, 2009

Theatrical & Stage Photography Assignment

All the World's a (Photographic) Stage

I got a call late on Friday evening from the marketing manager of a professional Irish theatre company - Druid Theatre in Galway - who asked if I would be interested in photographing some of the cast in their current play.

The only thing was that the play was moving to Dublin in a few days time, from it's current run in Siamsa Tire theatre (the National Folk Theatre of Ireland) in Tralee, County Kerry. They needed the shots for press and PR syndication before the play opened in Dublin. So, I had to be there on Saturday evening, and I would have about 30 minutes to photograph 3 members of the cast, both singly and in 2 different pairings, in scenes from the play - "The Gigli Concert", by Irish playwright Tom Murphy.

There's something about photographing live theatre or music that really appeals to me. Maybe I'm a frustrated thespian, or something. But I really am in my element in a theatre or a concert hall with a camera - and better still, official permission to be there, which brings with it (sometimes) the cooperation of the venue officials. So I was, quite literally, thrilled to be taking that call.

I was also quite anxious about it. Not only was I teaching portrait photography class until 90 minutes before the shoot, and the drive would take 70 minutes; the weather had been appalling and many of the roads along the route where likely to been flooded, if passable at all. So, just getting there on time would be a task in itself. Not to mention the difficulties inherent in taking the shots themselves.

Theatre photography is one of the most demanding of all the photographic genres. Actors, singer and dancers move quite fast and unpredictably, light levels can be quite low and constantly changing. So, it's important to be able to focus accurately and quickly, and use shutter speeds and ISO ratings that will give sharp, blur free images that are not too "noisy". Colour balance is also a consideration - as the stage lights are seldom white (or colour balanced) although I've never really worried about this for music photography (especially rock) as it can add to the style of the image. It also helps to shoot if black and white - if appropriate - but that's something of a "cop out".

This commission though, required well colour balanced images of the cast in scenes from the play and in portrait-style poses for publicity shots. I was very fortunate to have the assistance of the stage lighting person, Pat, who boosted the lights to a workable f5.6 (while I took light readings reflected from my assistant, Marisol, who stood in for the actors at different areas of the stage). I decided to focus manually, and although this is slightly more time consuming - and only works if you don't panic from trying to rush the operation - and I set the ISO at 400, to avoid any semblance of noise and improve the definition of the images (I was using my trusty EOS 1Ds II - which will cope with higher ISO but I prefer to say as low as possible).

The real asset in getting these shot right, though, was the generous cooperation of the actors themselves. Although time was tight - from arriving onto the stage after we had arranged the lighting, they had about an hour before "curtain up" - but they stayed as long as I needed them to, and went into lots of different poses and scenes from the play to give me as much variety in the shots as possible. So, all-in-all I was very lucky. But it was important to for to be clear with them in terms of what I needed, and the purpose of the shots. Communication is everything in photography, especially when photographing people.

I also found it helpful to ask the actors a bit about the nature of their characters and that helped us to decide on the poses - when we were shooting the PR portraits.

The 2 shots above show (in descending order) Derbhle Crotty (as Mona), Denis Conway (as The Irishman) and Mark Lambert (as JPW King).

There are many more images from the shoot on a special web gallery here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Not to be a Wedding Photographer

The Scary Truth About Wedding Photography

Question (edited version):

Hello Stephen, hope you are doing well. Firstly let me say, I am a huge fan of your work. It's so beautiful and fresh.

Secondly, I am emailing you in regards to one of your posts about scams. Recently, I was looking through different photographers' sites with my friend, who is getting married, and stumbled upon a somewhat shady-looking (ie. unprofessional-looking site).

I found the following red-flag rising facts:

  • None of the photographers/owners are professionals. I found out that they have only done a handful of weddings and therefore, are charging people $300 dollars per hour essentially for practice.
  • Neither have any solid credentials in photography. On their photography site, they don't disclose this and don't inform anyone that they've just started and have done only a few weddings. Also, they don't put any professional credentials in photography. They just said, in an email, they've done workshops.


Thank you very much for your email and your very kind comments about my work.

I can’t advise you on whether to report a website, or a photographer, as that has to be a decision that you make yourself. What I will say, though, is that the wedding photography market probably has the largest percentage of non-professional (and often very inexperienced) photographers working in it, than any other sector of the photographic profession.

This is due to a number of factors including:

a) Low start-up costs

Wedding photographers don’t need to have a studio, or a lot of expensive camera and lighting equipment. They just need a reasonable camera (and many underestimate this, and buy what they think is a good camera, but actually it’s not nearly good enough in terms of the reproduction quality of the image) and a flash gun – and again, many beginning photographers don’t even know what fill-in flash is, or why they might need a flash gun – and how to use it properly.

b) Previous Experience

If I want to get a job as a magazine photographer, or a commercial photographer for a large company or a press photographer for a newspaper, or a travel photographer for a guide book – all of those potential employers will ask to see examples of my previous work. If I don’t have the work to show, I probably won’t get the job.

Also, some particular work, like press photography, will (sometimes) require me to hold membership of an appropriate organisation – like The National Union of Journalists (UK & Ireland) or the Association of Photographers. This is because many employers won’t consider a photographer without those credentials.

Wedding photography doesn’t work like that, though.

All you have to do is find someone who is getting married and convince them that you are the best wedding photographer in town. A few shots from the wedding you took of a friend, when you attended as a guest, might be enough to convince them – as a lot of people wouldn’t appreciate the skills involved to separate a snap shot from a great photograph.

They might also be swayed by the cost element, so if you’re less expensive (and by that I DO mean “cheap”) you might get the job.

c) Regulation Against Sham Wedding Photographers

It doesn’t exist. Anyone can set up as a wedding photographer – and the market is flooded with part-timers trying to supplement their income by working on weddings at the weekends. There are certainly more part timers than full-timers out there. Some are actually quite good at what they do – and some that I have seen are criminally bad.

Occasionally, the Law comes into play and Brides & Grooms sue their wedding photographers for poor work and a ruined day – there is an example of that happening in the UK here.

Also, I've found that on forums where wedding photographers show their work to each other, they are often supporting each other from a base of misinformation. By that, I mean that some wedding photographers are not as experienced or skilled as they should be and examples of poor work - or at least "mediocre" work is being complimented and praised instead of being criticized.

The result of that, is that the standards never get any higher - and those photographers keep on producing the same low standard work as before.

d) Should you report a wedding photographer?

Well, maybe after the event (admittedly a bit late), because people are entitled to set themselves up in business as a photographer, if they want to do so – even (unfortunately) if they are incompetent!

Before the event, you should ask to see a lot of their work, in person, not on a website – and also ask for the names and phone numbers of the last 3 (or more) couples whose wedding they photographed.

Because, the decision to book them is yours.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for – and experience always counts. And the old Latin phrase “Caveat Emptor” – Let the Buyer Beware – still holds as true today as when it was first coined.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rock Concert Photography

Dusting Off Old Images

I've been getting my head around building flash web galleries via Lightroom 2.

I now have 3 galleries up and running via a page called latest images on my main website - Adare Images.

The latest one Rock of the Eighties is a small collection of 6 B/W and 1 colour print of rock concert photography that I took in the early 1980's. All of the images were taken at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, UK which, for a few years, became a regular venue for rock music - and especially 'heavy metal'.

The two great passions in my life have always been music and photography. I got to be a slightly better photographer than musician - and so the opportunity to photograph truly great musicians has always been a labour of love for me. I still photograph live music today - and welcome every opportunity I get to do so. That time at the Royal Court theatre was extra special though. I was well known to the theatre management, and usually had freedom to go backstage and into the (empty) orchestra "pit" and lean on the stage at times! I met a large number of famous - if not legendary performers, too.

Extremely memorable was the visit to Liverpool by the Rock 'n Roll icon Carl Perkins (see Rock of the Eighties Web Gallery) who wrote "Blue Suede Shoes", but another singer - someone called Elvis Presley - went on to have a much bigger hit (and career) than his own. Mr Perkins and his management were extremely helpful to me - and I found myself shooting from every conceivable angle - including from behind the stage backcloth!

My most successful image of that period was probably the one of Bif Byford (above) vocalist with the British rock band Saxon. This shot appeared as full page spread in the 1983 Photography Year Book and also on television - including an appearance on Top of the Pops.

I have moved house about 8 times since I took those images - and the other many hundreds I shot at the Royal Court and somewhere along the way, the original negatives and transparencies got lost! All I have left are these 7 prints - from over 4 years of regular rock concert photography work.

So, let that be a lesson to you. Don't lose your originals! In this digital age it's important to backup your files at least once, and then to make sure that your storage facilities (most people prefer external hard drives to CD disks) are safe.

I hope you like the images and I'd welcome your comments. They haven't seen the light of day for a while!

Rock on!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Take Great Portrait Photographs

Wonderful Weekend Workshop

My "How to Take Great Portrait Photographs" workshop ran as scheduled, yesterday. We had 6 enthusiastic photographers participating (4 men and 2 women) and a beautiful model on which they could practice their new-found skills of portraiture.

It was a long and intensive day - peppered with plenty of coffee breaks and a lunch of sandwiches and cakes that I lovingly prepared myself early in the morning (actually, I bought the cakes - but I did butter all the bread and carefully craft all of the ham and cheese sandwiches!) but also very relaxed and greatly enjoyed by all.

I gave an hour's refresher course on the theory of portraiture photography - lenses; aperture; compositional rules - all that good stuff, which doesn't have to be boring or as much fun as root canal work - using examples of my own work. I followed this with an explanation of basic lighting theory - basically the differences between direct light, bounced light, reflected light and diffused light - using my assistant as the victim (sorry Sarah, I mean...model ) to show the affects of all those lighting techniques on the model's features.

After a quick lunch (with everyone now starting to get the buzz and chatting animatedly amongst each other) our beautiful model Allise had arrived, and I arranged a low key-lighting setup, with two lights and a black background, and recreated a "Rembrandt Lighting effect", which stunned a lot of people with how simple and beautiful it can be - and the shutters were clicking while everyone took turns to shoot Allise - using a remote transmitter to fire my lights while they roamed around the large studio.

After that, I took everyone outside to a yard next to my studio, where I demonstrated the use of apertures and fill-in flash with outdoor portraiture. You can see part of the unusual set that we used in one of the shots here! Many people thought that this was the best part of the day.

But the best was yet to come, as I arranged a high-key setup back in the studio, using a large Octagonal softbox, another large rectangular soft-box, two background lights and a hair light with a white background. I added a wind machine for good measure - you can see the result of one of my shots from that setup, above.

Seven hours after we started many of the group were still sitting and chatting about the day. And, I was very happy that everyone got what they came for - and more besides, from what I was told!

This workshop will run again Next Month. See here for details.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Practical Photo Walks

Thinking Outside the Boxed-In

A friend came over to the house yesterday evening, to show me his new camera. He nearly didn't get there at all, because I put him off so vehemently when he first tried, in the morning.

It was very odd. I had woken up remembering something I'd said to a group when I was teaching Lightroom 2, a few days earlier: "When your Hard Drive crashes, you'll regret not using Lightroom's back-up on import option. It may not crash today, or even next year - but, trust me, it will crash eventually." I probably remembered it because it was, for me, such a bold (and not entirely factual) statement.

No sooner had I brushed my teeth, I began to wonder about my powers of clairvoyance. My hard drive had crashed!! Well, actually, the local profile directory had become corrupted, and I was left with a cleaned-out desktop: no emails, or addresses, no web browser bookmarks and dozens of files vanished into thin air! I was in the middle of a blue fit when my friend called and asked if I'd like to see his new G10 and some other amazing gizmos with which he was down-laden - they don't call him "Gadget Mike" for nothing!! I put him off and set about following the instructions I'd somehow managed to find and copy from the Microsoft website on how to fix my ailing computer. Two and a half long hours later - they worked and I sent Mike a text to tell him I was genius - and several years older than when he last called.

So, he brought the G10 over at the end of the day. When I say Mike is a friend - he is most definitely that - but he's also a photography student of mine, and my accountant. That makes our conversations interesting, if not a little complex: "You get manual focus by pressing, am I on the 21% VAT rate or 13.5%...did I tell you about my new teaching idea...I've always wanted that spirit level thing that sits on the hot-shoe - no Mike, I can't take it...oh, thanks very much...etc."

I got to telling Mike that I was going to run some "Photo Walks", where I would teach a small group of photographers as we walked around a local Irish location (to start with Adare Village in County Limerick) but, I was stuck as to how to make them interesting.

In some ways, I was stuck inside my own "box" - thinking that nothing I did would be appealing, or have good value for money.

Mike, in his usual helpful and considerate manner was telling me that I'd already said a few things to him about the G10 (which I'd never held in my hand before today) that were worth a few of anybody's hard earned - and increasingly scarce - Euros. "What you need to do" he offered "is to tell them what it really is - not just a Photo Walk, but a Practical Photo Walk".

In that one sentence was all I needed to know about marketing and thinking outside the box. Tell it like it is. Give the customers what they want - or what they would buy.

See the right-hand column for the fruits of Mike's lateral thinking.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reflecting on my Photography Business

Happy Birthday To Me!

It's my birthday today (all say "ahhh") and It's almost exactly a year since I made my first blog post. So, I thought it was an opportune moment to reflect briefly on where I was going with the blog, my photography business - and indeed my life (but I won't bore you by dwelling too much on that aspect here).

There's a been a bit of a hiatus (of nearly 2 months) since my last blog post and there's a reason for that - well several really. I wasn't sure of what else to say here - too many blogs are nothing more than free advertising space for a photographer's latest wedding shots (I don't do weddings, or else I might have joined in) - or just a place to deposit pointless, badly-written ramblings and not-so-great images. I set out to write something of interest and useful, in a lively and informative style - but I think I lost my way in that endeavour, so I gave up for a while.

I lost the muse really. Or perhaps I started to wonder if anyone was even reading my recalcitrant rantings. I don't suppose I'm alone with those thoughts either - there must be hundreds of thousands of bloggers out there putting font to screen in the vain hope that at least one person will see it and perhaps leave a comment.

So, I suppose blogging is about laying it down without worrying too much about whether your audience is there or not. Just doing it because you want to do it. I might try that!

Which brings me to my business. I opened a brand new photography studio and teaching facility in the middle of May 2009 and in the middle of a world recession. This is a bit different from doing something for the sake of it, and not worrying if the general public like or care about what you're doing. There was a large capital outlay - on the refurbishment and the equipment for the studio; there is monthly rent to find; advertising bills to pay; and food to put on the table.

So this is not "if you build it - who cares if they come" - it's "When you build it you'd better make damn sure that they come!"

The teaching work is picking up - and have a very enthusiastic core band of students who take every opportunity they can to pass their kind thoughts about my teaching skills - word-of-mouth is by far the best marketing tool, and it works very here in Ireland (just be sure it's good things they are saying!) I've even been doing other kinds of marketing: like sending out posters and brochures to advertising agencies; businesses, magazines and PR companies, and also running some events without payment. I was heavily involved in Scott Kelby's World Wide PhotoWalk which took up at least 2 weeks of my time, with one thing and another, for no payment but the feedback from the participants and the interest in my own work and photography teaching was payment enough. Self promotion is one of the keys to success.

What I'm learning, though, is that I can't be a Jack-of-all-trades and there's not enough time in my day to be a photographer, a teacher, a marketing manager, an accountant, a chef (I have to eat) and a blogger. Something has to go!

But, I have to find the work before I can do it. Catch 22. (I think it's Catch 22 - I definitely have no time to READ BOOKS).

Yesterday, a young woman who was looking to do a photography course with me (she was highly recommended to me by word of mouth) came to the studio. She has a background in marketing. She is currently unemployed and doesn't have enough money to pay for the course. I need a marketing manager and don;t have enough money to pay for one. A business arrangement made in heaven - or sent by the Gods. Anyway it wasn't long before I found her a place on my next course - on Saturday - and she agreed to work one day a week for free for a while.

I'll keep you posted - the urge to blog again has suddenly resurfaced!

(Thanks to G. for the wonderful Birthday cake!)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Scott Kelby & NAPP World PhotoWalk 2009 (Ireland)

Adare Here We Come!

Scott Kelby - the world's best selling author of digital imaging books, and President of the American National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) has announced the second annual world-wide Photo-Walk to be held on Saturday July 18th 2009. The event is to launch his upcoming new book: The Digital Photography Book, Vol. 3.

Basically, groups of photographers (up to 50 people per walk) will gather together in desiginated locations and spend 2 hours or so, walking, chatting and snapping. Usually the walks end at a bar or restaurant where walkers will share their images - presumably by swapping cameras!

Registration is free to all participants - and there is no charge to join any of the walks. Last year’s PhotoWalk was a huge success with more than 6000 participants in 241 cities in 43 countries. There are prizes to win - the walk leader will award a copy of Scott Kelby's new book to the best photo taken on each walk - and there is a grand prize, for the best photo taken on all of the walks, wordwide. This is also a fun social event where photographers get together to shoot photos and connect with other photographers.

As a NAPP Guru Award winner, I have been asked to lead a walk in Ireland.

I have chosen Adare Village in County Limerick. It is one of Ireland’s oldest, and “prettiest” villages. A two-hour circular walk around the village, and along the river will take in some very special scenery including a medieval castle, a 17th century manor house (now a famous hotel – Bill Clinton stayed there and Tiger Woods played on the golf course); rows of quaint thatched cottages; two ancient churches; a ruined monastery and a walk along the River Maigue, made famous by poets and writers – not to mention several authentic Irish pubs!

The walk starts at 5pm, when the light will still be strong, but not too high in the sky. As we near the end of the walk, the shadows will have lengthened adding colour and shape to the already majestic buildings that we will visit along the short, but very scenic circular route.

We will end our walk at the very authentic Irish “Pat Collins Bar”, where the larger-than-life landlord serves the best Guinness in Town and, if you’re hungry (and why wouldn’t you be?) there is a wide array of mouth-watering dishes on the menu, to enjoy while we review the photographic fruits of our walk.

If you are interested in participating, go to the PhotoWalk home page to sign up and to search for a walk in your area.

If you would like to join my walk please go to my walk page - by clicking here. Three of my recent shots of Adare Village are above. Hope to see you on the walk!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Studio for Hire - Ireland

The Deception Area

How was your weekend (for those of you in Ireland and the UK - read "long weekend, due to the public holiday). Mine was incredibly busy. It was a nice idea, building the studio - but ideas have a tendency to become reality (well, sometimes) and the reality is that a new business means very hard work!

My "long weekend" was spent travelling up and down County Limerick looking for office furniture. Once found (and that wasn't easy, as the office furniture shop that I was heading for decided to close over the holiday weekend), it had to be assembled, and positioned, in the newly built reception area - or as a friend of mine put it "oh, I see you have a deception area". I pointed out that those are only found in banks and firms selling double-glazing, but he wasn't entirely convinced.

I then decided to frame and hang some pictures of mine on the walls - some of which scratched the newly painted walls as I clumsily hung them - and so I then had to re-paint the walls.

I then thought of telling the world about the finally finished studio, with a posted mail-shot, to some local business, schools and colleges. And 70 envelopes later - not to mention dozens of printed information sheets - I awoke to find that the long weekend was over.

And now the real work begins!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Studio Images

My new photography studio is now open and ready for business.

I've taught two photography classes in there, to date, and had one photo-shoot, mainly to test the lighting set-up. The reception area (not shown above) needs a desk and some more pictures on the wall, and the printing room and changing room needs a coat of paint on the wall (same quite large room - also not shown). I hope to get photos of those areas - and the nice new sign on the wall outside - posted very soon.

What is shown, is one shot of the very spacious teaching area - complete with screen, laptop and LCD projector - and two shots of the main "people shooting" (or, more formally, the portrait photography area - one angle has the teaching area in the background). This area has 3 Elinchrom 500Ws wireless flash heads, which can be fired and adjusted from a remote unit, the size of a matchbook, plus another 400Ws head, on a boom stand, for back-lighting. Isn't technology wonderful!

The heavy-duty wall-mounted background roll holder has white and black 9ft wide (2.7m) background paper rolls and a cloth roll for more formal portraits. There is also a large selection of soft-boxes, umbrellas and reflectors - including a very large (6ft tall) silver and gold reflector panel, and an 135cm octagonal soft-box - certainly the largest I've ever used - which is ideal for beauty portraits. I have a large assortment of other accessories and I'll be picking up more as I go along, no doubt.

I need to get a better assortment of tables and chairs - especially for the reception area, and to put up some nice shots on the wall. But, I'm certainly happy with what I've managed to do in four short weeks.

Now, those customers...where are they?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

First Studio Shoot

Well, it's been a while. And a lot has happened in the month or so since I last posted. For example, the day after I last posted here, I sent my favourite lens (Canon 24-105mm L zoom) to a Dublin-based "agency" for Canon Cameras, so that they could forward it to Canon in the UK, for calibration. I was told - no, I was assured - that it would be away from me for not more than 10 days. Well, I'm still waiting for it to come back, nearly 1 month later! I am also assured that I will have on Friday. I'll believe that when I see it.

Just to show what can be done in less than a month, I have made huge changes to the empty space that I leased a few days after I sent my camera for calibration. I have had a reception area built. I have had a toilet built. I have had a kitchen area built with wash basin, cupboard space sink and appliances (well, sockets for a kettle and microwave). I have created a teaching area complete with carpet, LCD projector, screen and chairs. I have created a "people shooting" area, with wall mounted backgrounds, lights, reflectors, fans and wireless and tethered shooting to a laptop. I have had a letterbox cut into the door and ordered a sign for the wall outside. I have taught my first class in the teaching area. And, today, I took my first shots in the shooting area.

Without the wide zoom, I can't, yet, take any photos of the inside of the studio. But, I have some shots taken in it, on a Canon 70-200mm zoom, of model Diana Storozuk, this afternoon (above).

I still need to build the "product shooting area" and the reception area needs a desk, a carpet and pictures on the wall. I also need some customers. But they will come, with time.

He said, hopefully!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Photography Studio

If You Build It - Will They Come?

People starting a new business in the midst of a recession might be likened to firefighters. They run into a burning building, when everyone else is running out! The big difference being, of course, that firefighters know what they are doing, and carefully consider their actions - and the risks - before making a move.

Earlier this week, I signed a lease agreement on an 800 square foot premises in The Old Creamery Business Centre, in the small village of Ardagh (I say arr-dah), County Limerick, close to where I live. The village is probably best known for the the discovery, in 1868, of The Ardagh Chalice, which is thought to have been made in the 8th Century, and is one of the finest examples of Celtic art ever discovered. I can't swear that what will be found in my studio will equate with the Ardagh Chalice, in terms of its artistic value, but I am hoping that it will be deemed valuable - to some degree!

It's a strange feeling signing a contract to rent a commercial premises. There is no guarantee that the business will succeed - and some pundits claim that only about 1 in 3 start-up businesses turn a profit. And, that's based on figures taken when the economy was a lot healthier than it is nowadays. So, I'm feeling very nervous - but I'm also feeling very excited. And, I've never been one to shy away from a challenge - well, hardly ever!

The photograph above, which I took today, shows work in progress on the reception, toilet and kitchen areas being built inside the main studio. My basic plan for the remaining floor space is to divide it up into "People Photography", "Product Photography" and "teaching areas".

I'll keep you posted with new progress photos in the next week or so. I should be ready to open by early April 2009 - and if you're on my email list, I'll be sending you an invitation to the studio-warming party! If you'd like to come - send me an email and I'll add you to the mailing list, just to be on the safe side!

Oh, I don't have a name for the studio as yet. A friend suggested "Chalice Studios & Photography School" (after the Ardagh Chalice). But, if you have any other suggestions - let me know. I'm even considering offering a prize to anyone who suggests a name I use - if I didn't think of it already! (hints: my surname is Power; it's a photography and teaching establishment; it's in Ardagh, County Limerick, Ireland).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Working for Photography Magazines

Blogger Hits the Jackpot

When I was 16, and on the verge of leaving school - with very few exam qualifications to my name - a friend spotted an advert in the local paper for a business that was recruiting for an apprentice. I went for an interview, mainly because I didn't really see myself as having any other options.

The decision to employ me or not was probably made after the first question: "What are your ambitions?" and my reply: "I want to be a journalist". I doubt that went over well in the office of a firm that made false teeth - and my glorious career as a dental technician was over before it began.

And, so in some ways, was my career as a journalist (it was only later I realised that what I really meant was "photo-journalist"). I tried working freelance for a while, and even joined the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) in the late 1970's. But, My lack of academic qualifications meant that local newspapers wouldn't even interview me, and the "freelance" option wasn't something that my mother would consider "a steady job". So, for many years, I followed a different career path that provided a PPP (permanent, pensionable position) - and even the qualifications that would have got me the local newspaper interview.

But, by then, it was too late to change horses in mid-stream. I climbed the clinical and academic ladders of my steady job - and pursued my photographic "hobby" when I had the time. This included working for local newspapers, magazines and picture agencies during my days off "work" - and I found myself doing the sort of work that full-time professionals are offered and wearing more "access all areas" passes than a part-timer should expect.

In the last few years, my personal and financial circumstances were such that I could jump off the PPP wagon and finally try to fulfill the ambition that I proudly declared to the false-teeth maker when I was a lad. I've had some success - and I'm slowly starting to feel like a real photographer. Of course, the economic downturn hasn't exactly helped - but I'm just seeing that as bad timing, rather than a bad decision.

Yesterday, I got an email from Ian Farrell the editor of Professional Photographer Magazine, in the UK. He offered me 3 writing jobs for the May 2009 issue, a promise of a bigger feature in June and a regular Blog spot, the first of which appeared this morning, at this link. It's an edited version of my previous post on The Snappy Snapper - but in future I intend to vary the content of both blogs, where possible.

I've been emailing Ian Farrell, his publisher and the web editor since the middle of last year, telling them that I can take a photograph and write and that I'd like to work for them. Not very much happened until yesterday. Normally I would have given up ages ago, a bit like I did shortly after my visit to the tooth factory.

There's a lesson there somewhere. The tooth fairy won't make ambitions come true. But maybe persistence and holding on to the dream, will.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spotting Photography Scams

Beware Laurence Smith

I got a message, yesterday, directly from my photography website - which read as follows.

I am Laurence Smith, UK. I have a Fashion job (Assignment) for you. My client wants to update her Catalog with her monthly release Fashion outfits and i am interested in you for the shooting. I am a Model Agent by profession with about a few years experience. Find all details of the job,once you mail me with your interest ..
Laurence Smith

Even at first reading, it seems a bit "odd". The grammatical structure of some of the sentences is a bit strange - "I am Laurence Smith, UK", (and not, based in the UK - or WHERE in the UK); "catalog" is the American-English spelling, rather than English-English ("catalogue"); the "i" in the 3rd sentence is lower case; "for the shooting" is not an English turn of phrase and "with about a few years experience" is not exactly "the Queen's English" , either. I could go on, and you may spot a few other oddities for yourself.

My alarm bells were ringing fairly loudly - so I sent off an email to a professional photographer's group to which I belong, NVJ Photo which is an off-shoot of the now-closed mailing list for the National Union of Journalists.

It wasn't long before I got a number of very informative replies. It would seem that Laurence Smith (obviously not his real name) is already well-known to the professional photography community, as an "advanced payment scam" monger. The widely-acclaimed Scottish Press & PR photographer Nick McGowan-Lowe sent me a link to the "Fraud Watchers" website, where there is a forum thread entirely dedicated to Laurence Smith and his nefarious activities.

It would appear that the basis of this particular "overpayment scam" is that Laurence Smith will agree a fee for the Fashion Assignment (which doesn't exist) - of usually €6000 - and agree to pay you in advance. He then sends you a cheque for MORE than the agreed fee, and asks you to send the difference on to a third party (him, in another guise, I presume). The original cheque bounces and you have sent several thousand euros to a confidence trickster than you'll never hear from again.

From reading messages on that forum, it would seem that the hoax is quite elaborate. Laurence Smith will reply if you respond to the first email, even telling you about his client (in one message I read, he refers to his client as a wedding dress shop in county Tipperary, which I found on the web - although the phone number was out of order). He even talks about the shoot being in Connolly, Dublin (which is an area of the city and the name of a railway station).

My guess is that the scam would be modified according to the location in which you are based. Because it was relayed to my email address from the website, it must have been submitted by a real live person, rather than an email robot of some sort, which is equally disturbing.

So, be on the look out for Laurence Smith (or whatever he may call himself) when a too-good-to-be-true job offer lands in your email box.

And watch out, generally, for the tell-tell signs of a scam. If it feels "fishy" - it probably IS fishy!