Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cameracraft - Revival of the 'Real' Photo Magazine

Click here to go the the Cameracraft page
 I was taking a short weekend break with my partner Marj, at her hideaway in County Kerry, Ireland, recently, when I realised that I had forgotten to pack my Kindle.

Now, if you're me, and you've just finished a long photography commission and the light  isn't good enough to snap a few potential stock library images; then you'll need something to read. And, not just anything to read, either. I'm not the sort of person who can while away an hour or two catching up on what trials and tribulations Katie and Peter are suffering right now or finding out how I can lose 10 kilograms in 3 weeks by only eating tofu and baked beans (with some great recipe ideas thrown in).

It had been a while since I'd read a good photography magazine, so I headed for a well-stocked newsagents to get one. But I was out of luck. Oh, there were several titles on the shelf - and some I remembered from the days when I was buying three or four photo mags a month, plus a well known weekly one too (which I admired greatly back in the day). But there wasn't one that I wanted to really read. They were full of "how to" hints and tips (many of which seemed to have been recycled from from last year, and probably the year before that.) "How to take great landscape photographs"; "How to take great portraits"; "How to take great shots of your cat" (I swear that I actually saw that article - or was it just a bad dream?) I came away without a camera magazine and still nothing to read. I don't like the idea of spending good money on recycled, dumbed-down step-by-step guides on things that I knew 20 years ago, and which were not offering me (or most readers, I reckon) anything new. And, more importantly, I think a camera magazine should challenge my view of what photography is all about - and encourage me to get a new persepctive on what is happening in the world of photography, today.

Then I heard about Cameracraft. It's a new subscription only, glossy, high quality quarterly photography magazine published by Icon Publications and Edited by David Kilpatrick in Scotland and associate editor Gary Friedman in Los Angeles. The publishers make the claim that Cameracraft returns to the foundations of good photography. They also claim that their "...invited retrospectives and working project portfolios will set a new standard." And that the "...visual content will open your photographic eyes, our view of photographic technology and history will absorb you, our practical advice and experience will help you." 

Then they make another big statement - which reminded me of the array of dumbed-down "how to" mags currently on the newsagaents shelves". We promise this will not be just another photo magazine and the work we print will not be a repetition of popular themes.

Well, I got a copy the other day and you know what - they have kept all of their promises, and then some.

OK, a small proportion of my own work is in the first issue but, even if it wasn't, I'd still be feeling and saying the same things about this important and very welcome new edition to the photography publishing world. It is a serious, well written, intelligent magazine with a top class selection of imagery, beautifully printed and presented on high quality paper. It's a joy to hold and read - and yes you have to hold a photography magazine in your hands, in my view, electronic versions just don't "cut it".

The publishers have gone to great lengths to make sure that the images are presented to the highest possible standard. David Kilpatrick (who has worked on my many top photography titles, including some of my favourites from way-back-when) told me: "...we...use a very faint blue, almost impossible to see, which makes b/w images appear to separate from the page better. Using these very pale tints let the white of the photo appear brighter, without apparently colouring the page." And the difference is there for all to see.

One thing I tell all of my online photography students is that in order to make good photography, you have to look at great photography. Sadly, the opportunities to do that are becoming less frequent, certainly via the medium of the photo magazine. But in my view, Cameracraft provides a welcome revivial of serious photography publishing and a magazine to read with satisfaction and to keep with pride.

I just wish it had been published before I got to Kerry that wet weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Get New Photography Clients

You may lose the Sale - but you should Never Lose the Client!

  All you need to be successful as a photographer is a good camera and a good understanding of how to use it, right? Wrong. You need to find potential clients -and when you have found them, you need to turn them into new clients - or at least good contacts for future sales. I've become a bit concerned by seeing how some photographers operate with new clients and even with each other, sometimes. 

Giving a sense of professionalism and going the extra mile for a client can make all the difference to winning or losing new business. Even just using a person's name in a message - I frequently get "hey there" or "_______" (nothing) as the greeting line in messages to me - can give a new client a good or bad first impression of how professional or "experienced" the photographer is likely to be, and if they should continue the business process.

Very late last night, just as I was stopping work and heading for the TV, I got an email from the CEO of a well known specialist record / CD label that I recognised, but with whom I hadn't ever worked or been in contact with, previously. In fact, I had always thought, due to its name, that the company was based in Ireland (as I am) and it struck me that they were working over-time in the office. On Googling them, I discovered that they are actually based in the USA, and so the time difference suddenly made sense.

The email outlined the fact that the label was urgently looking for an image to feature on the cover of new compilation CD that they were launching, and they had seen one of my images that "had the right vibe" but which didn't quite meet the criteria they were working with. Did I have any other images from the same shoot? Was I able to let them have some samples to view, as soon as possible?

The fact is that the image they saw had been taken over 6 years ago, and it, and all the other shots taken at the same time, had long since been archived. I wasn't even sure which hard drive they were on - I have several stored away. 

The first thing I did was immediately email the CEO back, thank him for contacting me and tell him that I was aware of the company, and that I had even bought some of their albums in the past (which was true). This set up a rapport with the (now) potential client who came straight back, thanked me for my prompt response and gave me more information about precisiely what they were hoping to see in my images.  

The next thing I did was start looking for the image they had seen. I found it in about an hour, and a few others with it. I then re-processed the images (it's amazing how Lightroom 4 can really make an older processed image look completly transformed) and then went on another search. Within 2 hours I had found 16 images that fitted the brief from the potential client. It was now after midnight in my part of the world.

Then I contacted the CEO again and told him that I had found the images and I would build a web gallery and send him the link by the next morning (his time) so he could preview them.

I then built the web gallery and sent him the link - sooner than he was expecting it: making a promise, then going a bit further for the client always gives a good impression of your ability to provide a top class service. And then I went to bed (close to 2.30am my time).

The next morning (today), there was an email waiting for me, part of which read..."Thanks for your quick action. I am going to show the photos to others involved in the project…great photos in any case..." 

Between then and an hour ago, there were other emails in which I established more connections between myself and the CEO - telling him that I had a new book out on music photography and that I had actually photographed some of the label's artists. He asked about the book and I sent him a link to information about it and samples from it. 

An hour or so ago, the word came that my images did not meet the criteria that they were looking for (and photography is so subjective that unless you shoot to a specific brief, it's unlikely that everyone involved in a selection process will find what they need from 16 images, so I was never that hopeful, really. But, I am extremely pleased with the outcome. The final email from the CEO said: 
...but we really appreciate your response to our query and we'll keep you in mind for future needs! Best regards...PS: will check out the book!

Remember, this is the CEO of a major record label, whom I did not know of until late last night, saying he will keep me in mind for future work and that he will look at my book. 

Would you say I lost a sale? Or that I made an important new contact? And, which is more important? 

Both are obviously important, but in the long term esptablishing good professional contacts and giving new clients a good impression of yourself is vital to professional photography. I'm actually very happy with the way it turned out and I will be sure to make another contact (without being too pushy) in weeks to come. 

OK, my image may not be adorning the new CD cover...but I am now in with a chance of getting the next one!         

Monday, July 2, 2012

Depth of Field Defined

Wide depth of field

I get (mildly) irritated by lots of things...grey skies when I need blue ones for a travel shoot; stale milk when I'm craving a bowl of cornflakes...the way the England soccer team take (or don't take) penalties; a power cut at dinner cooking time in my all-electric house etc, etc.

 There is one thing that seems to be irking me more than usual though, lately. It's when photographers say "great depth of field" when looking at an image that has limited focus in it. Because, that's not "depth of field" at all. It's "shallow depth of field".

shallow depth of field
There is depth of field in every photograph that you take. Sometimes there's a lot of it and sometimes there's a little. Probably the simplest way of thinking about it, is as "the depth of the field (field as in "area") of sharpness". A landscape that is sharply focused from the farmers gate in the foreground of the scene, taking in the cottage in the centre-ground and all the way back to the hills in the background has a wide depth of field. A portait that has only the person's face correctly focused but the trees or wall in the background toally blurred out has shallow depth of field. But they both have depth of field. 

My definition is...

Depth of field is the area in front of and behind the subject that is also sharp when the subject is in focus".  

Depth of field roughly extends 1/3rd in font of and 2/3rd behind the focused point. How far it extends depends on the aperture chosen - wide apertures (low f-stop numbers) give a shallow DoF and small apertures (high f-stop numbers) give a broad DoF - and also on the distance of the camera from the subject (DoF falls off quickly the closer you take a lens to the subject) and the focal length of the lenses (wide angle lenses have broader DoF than telephoto lenses at the same aperture).

When photographers talk about the background being blurred in an image, or objects being more in focus than others, as "depth of field" (as in; "I wanted depth of field in this image so I blurred the background"), this is not technically correct - and it is more accurately described as "differential focus" or "shallow depth of field".

OK, I'm much calmer now that's off my chest. Please; let no one pronounce I.S.O. as "eye-so" (it's an abbreviation - International Standards Organisation- not a word) and I'll have a perfectly relaxed day!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Alamy White Paper on Image Licensing

Alamy, the major international online stock photography agency, have published their "white paper" on possible changes to image licensing issues, following a "round table" discussion (actually, the table was rectangular from what I saw in the photo they published) with "key industry figures" (you work it out - I know I wasn't there).

You can download the white paper by clicking here.

They asked for feedback on their Facebook page and I have offered mine, copied below, for what it's worth to them (probably as much as a "novel use" image fee).

The comments you quoted from Roy Clarke come close to echoing my own long held views. But in addition to "dishonesty" (and I have had over 40 infringements of image use in the last 2 months) I would add the concept of "umbridge", to suggest that some buyers are reluctant to pay above microstock rates for images, as they may believe alternatives can be obtained for free or for less than Alamy rates. 

It may be a problem of ignorance ("why do we have to pay for photographs anyway") and/or a trend towards a devaluing of imagery generally, both by the general public and - sadly - the publishing media. The fact that my own images have appeared unpaid, uncredited and without my permission in printed and digital media published by professional journalists (often members of professional associations) have led me to conclude that photography is sometimes considered to be "cheap" and photographers not even worthy of professional courtesy at times.

What I didn't add, because it may have seemed churlish, is that the stock photography "industry" seems moribund, to my mind, if not dead-in-the-water already. The market is over-crowded, micro-stock agencies sell images by the dozen for a pittance and photography, generally, is losing the status of being a valued commodity - "hey, he published it on the internet, it must be free for everyone to use whenever we like" (everyone in agreement with the previous point please note: "use" is an anagram of "sue"). 

Is this the end of profitable stock photography as we know it? Maybe it depends on what Alamy do next? 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stops in Photography

Lots of beginners to photography hear the word "stop" or f-stop" and become quite confused. So, I thought I would try and explain the theory behind the mysterious "stop".

In photography, "stop" is the word used to mean double the previous amount of a value applied to a camera setting - if the value is increasing - or half the amount if the value is decreasing. It applies to ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings.

The term f-stop refers specifically to an aperture setting - because on old film cameras the ring around the lens that was used to change the aperture values had a notch it in when the next "stop" for the aperture setting was reached.

But, for shutter speed and ISO changes, the term "stop" is also used (without the "f") to signify a change in the value. 

With ISO (which start from 50) a one stop increase is 50 to 100 or 100 to 200 or 400 to 800. Two stops is 100 to 400 or 400 to 1600. So, from 100 to 200 ISO you are making the sensor twice as sensitive to light, and if you go from 200 to 100 ISO, you are making the sensor half as sensitive to light. 

With shutter speeds, a one stop change is 1/30th second to 1/15th second, or 1 second to 2 seconds, for example. Two stops is 2 seconds to 8 seconds (all examples - there are others). A one stop shutter speed change lets in half as much light if the shutter speed is doubled (slower speed) or twice as much light if the shutter speed is halved (faster shutter speed). With most cameras,  shutter speeds start at 30 seconds and go to 1/4000th or 1/8000th second.

For ISO and shutter speed settings, the values are arithmetical - so you can easily work out the change needed for any number of stops - just double or half the previous amount. If you want to increase an ISO by 3 stops and you are starting at ISO 100, you go to ISO 800 (100 x 2 x 2 x2). If you want to increase the shutter speed by 4 stops and you're starting at 2 seconds, you go to 1/8th of a second (2 seconds halved, and halved again, and halved again and halved again).

Just be aware that there are a couple of changes in the shutter speeds that are not exactly arithmetical.Shutter speeds change from 1/8th second to 1/5th second (not 1/16th) and 1/60th second to 1/125th (not 1/120th), for example.

With Apertures:

Depending on where you start, 3 clicks of the dial (on most cameras) is one full stop up or down. If you start at f4 it goes: F4, f/4.5  f/5, f/5.6 (f5.6 is one stop smaller than f4). At f5.6 the aperture is now half as big as it was at f4 and only half the amount of light that was coming through the lens when set at f4 will reach the sensor.

One stop from 5.6 is f8 (f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, f8). Now half the light that was coming in at f5.6 is coming in at f8 (the aperture is only half as big again).

You can also see that there are now 2 stops between f4 and f8 (6 clicks). 4 times less light is coming in at f8 than there was at f4.  If the exposure was correct at f4, it's now 2 stop UNDER-exposed (4 times less light).

The list of f-stops below starts at f4 (and ends at f32) with the full stops in bold.
f4, f/4.5 , f/5, f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.1, f/8, f/9, f/10, f/11, f/13, f/14, f/16, f/18, f/20, f/22, f/25, f/29, f32

Each stop is letting in half as much light as the previous one (or twice as much more - if you work backwards and open the aperture up).

I am grateful to Scott D Coulter for clarifying the mathematical relationship between f-stops. Basically, to find the next f-stop you multiply the one before it by the square root of 2 (1.4 plus some decimal points) and round it up or down. So, to find the next f-stop from f8, you multiply it by 1.4 = 11.2, rounded down it becomes f11. 

The smallest aperture numbers signify a wide aperture. The larger aperture numbers signify smaller apertures. The wider apertures give the effect of what is called "shallow depth of field" (lots of blurring in the foreground and background of the photograph) and smaller apertures give the effect of "wide depth of field" (lots of sharpness throughout the entire photograph).

See the two photos above for examples of a wide and small aperture used on the same scene. 

You can read more about "Depth of Field" in another of my blog posts here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Unauthorized Use of Photography and Copyright Abuse

In the last 3 days alone, I have found - either through looking or by sheer accident - around 20 examples of my photographs being used without my knowledge or permission. These uses include commercial websites, forum posts, email newsletters and the cover of a specialist, internationally published magazine.

In every case, I was not asked if my photographs could be used, I was not told about their use, my name was not used with the photographs and I was certainly not paid for the useage.

I managed to contact some of those who had taken my images, via: email, Facebook messaging and telephone. The responses that I got back have, so far, varied from: no reply; abuse ("we don't want your **** pix anyway"); outrage ("how dare you suggest that I have stolen your images - I will be calling my solicitor"), surprise ("I had no idea that they were not free - I found them on Google images"), apology ("I am genuinely sorry to have caused you upset") and practical reparation ("how's this for a solution?").

One person has taken the webpage with my image on it down, another person has issued a correction giving a link to my website and the magazine has offered free advertising space in the next edition. Some webmasters have not replied as yet, and many of the photographs are still (illegally) on show. Interestingly, although I told everyone that there was a fee involved for using my images, no one has offered to pay hard cash for them.

Before I give some practical tips on how to find and persue the misuse of photographic imagery, I just want to let those people who trawl the web looking for free top-class photography into a secret:

Someone took that photograph you found. And because they own the copyright to it, taking it without permission is likely to be an offence in law. But more importantly, if you go onto a professional photographer's website and take thier images - you are also taking their opportunity to make a living. Professional photographers (like me) only make our money (you know, the stuff we use to get food and keep a roof over our heads) from taking photographs and selling them. Not by letting you use them for free, without asking and without even having the decency to say who took the photograph that you now use to adorn your own website or magazine cover or office wall.

I have spent nearly 30 years honing my craft so that my photography is good enough to be used in books, magazines, websites and brochures. And, (this is really important) it is now good enough to be paid for. Unless I have expressly given my work to you for your own use (only) - often with my thanks for help you have given me - I will expect you to pay for it.

How to Find Your Photography on the Internet

1. Use a reverse search engine such as "Tineye" or "src-img". (click the names to go to the websites for these utilities). They are very easy to use, and basically all you have to do is highlight the photograph that you want to find. The reverse search engine will then show you any uses of the image on the internet. It may only find where you have put the image yourself (say on your own website - or where you have sold the image to others for legitimate use). But it may also find the photograph where you least expected it.

2. Use Google Analytics to narrow down your searches. If you have a large number of photographs on your own website, you may not know which ones to search for first. I use Google Analytics to show me what searches have lead to my own website. If I see a recent visit which has come from a search for "red door" or "coffee cup with hearts" or whatever, and I know that I have an image like that on my website, I go to it and do a src-img or Tineye search on the photograph. I did just that recently and came up with 8 illegal uses in less than 15 minutes.

How to Protect Your Images on the Internet

1.  Put a watermark on every image that you have online. This is easy to do in software such as Photoshop and Lightroom and you can Google tutorials on how to go about it.

2. Make the watermark BIG and OBVIOUS. It doesn't matter what you put - it can be your own name or the traditional copyright symbol or "keep off it's mine" (or whatever - see my example above) just make sure it's right in the middle of the photograph. If you tuck it away neatly in the corner, it will be easily removed as if it never existed. You can make the opacity lower so that it doesn't completely obscure the image (again easily done in Photoshop) but make sure it covers most of the main parts of the photograph to deter others from trying to take it off.

3. If you sell (or give away) your photographs for website use: Ask the webmaster to copyright the image or use a copyright statement which may (hopefully) deter third-parties from lifting the images. This gives less protection than the previous method, but at least you are giving out the message that your work is not there for the taking by all and sundry.

4. Put a clear notice on your website stating that you images are not free and that all usage will involve payment. Put it on every page that you have images. Again, it may ignored, but at least no one can then say "oh, I thought this was free photography!"

What to Do When You Find Unathorised Image Use

This is a very complex area and there doesn't seem to be one clear solution, yet. But there are some very basic things to do in the first instance.

1. Take a screenshot of the unathorized use. With the website open so that you can clearly see the website URL and your image on it, press "prtscn" (print screen) on your keyboard, then open "Paint" in "all programs" on a Windows machine (or similar program on a Mac) and then open a new document and click "paste". This saves the screenshot of the webpage - and you have your evidence that the image was used against your wishes - even if they take it down later.

2. Bookmark the URL of the offending web page. So that you can find it again easily. I have now built up a sizable folder of "illegal usage" bookmarks in my documents directory.

3. Let whoever used your photograph KNOW that you KNOW. There will usually be some form of contact on the offending website. If not, you can go to and search for the owner of the website. Doing that, I have found not only contact emails but even phone numbers and full addresses of the website owners. How you let them know may vary - email is often the obvious way, but I have also used social network site messaging and even phone calls. Basically you need to tell them that you have seen your photographs used without payment or permission and tell them to take it down immediately.  You could also contact forum / website webmasters or social networking sites head offices and report the unathorized usage. This usually (but not always) results in the image being removed or the page being taken down.

Then of course, there is the thorny issue of  getting paid for the illegal usage. I know of some photographers who have done this very successfully - and recouped thousands in a short space of time - and others who have come up against a brick wall and got nothing. I will return to how this can be dealt with in another post.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I must be a good photographer - I have a Good Camera!

I had a brief stint as a wedding photographer, in the mid 1980's, and I was recently reminded of something that happened at that time...

I was photographing the bride and groom in a church garden, in Liverpool, with low afternoon sunlight behind the couple, using a fairly inexpensive TLR (twin lens reflex) with a reasonably good lens. There was basically nothing else to the camera, and so I was using a hand held meter to take a reading close from the bride.

When I got back to the tripod, a guest (a cousin of the bride) was snapping away at the happy couple with a 35mm camera, and so I thought I'd be helpful and said "by the way, have you compensated for that backlight?"

He turned to me with a conptemptuous look on his face and, in a thick "Scouse" (Liverpool) accent said "compensated for the backlight mate? You're joking aren't ya - it's a f***ing Nikon!"

The moral of the story is that when I took the album to the bride and asked about the photographs that the cousin had taken, the reply I got was - "they all came out black!"

Lots of so-called photographers out there today have managed to rake enough cash together to buy a high-end camera, set up a website and hand out a few hundred business cards. But what business do they really have selling themselves as professional photographers, with training or experience.

Have a look at this blog that spells out the dire consequences of hiring a "photographer" with no experience or training, to do a professional job (a wedding). Scroll down to the photos - they speak for themselves - and be warned. You get what you pay for!