Thursday, August 30, 2007

From enthusiast to professional photographer

A surprising number of photography enthusiasts do not have a clue about the absolute basics. Some of them are taking on commercial work and thinking of becoming professional. It's frightening.

These days it seems like just about everyone wants to become a professional photographer. Thanks to outstanding modern Digital SLR technology, the ability to delete poor images and 'fix' others in Photoshop many enthusiasts believe they can produce professional results without having to learn and understand basic concepts.

What's more the Internet provides a ready made audience of their peers and upload and share community websites ensure they receive a steady stream of praise for their efforts.

All of this helps give them a false sense of confidence in their ability to be a professional photographer. I'm not saying the enthusiast without basic knowledge can't take a good picture but there's a world of difference between going out and capturing something on your own terms, and producing consistent high quality commercial work – day in and day out.

Here are some of the basics all serious photographers should know:

  • What is the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO?
  • What is mid-grey, what does it look like and why is it important for measuring exposure?
  • What is depth of field and how do you control it?
  • How do you quickly work out the shutter speed that is safe for hand held photography? (Don't say when you see the little white hand on the LCD display!)
  • How do you set the hyperfocal distance on your lens? What is it used for?
  • What are the shutter speeds you need to set on your camera with different lenses and different distances to subject to either stop or show subject movement?
  • What is over exposure and what is underexposure and what do they look like?
  • What size file do you need to be able to print different size images at a high enough quality?
  • What is DPI and how does it affect print quality?

There are many basic things you need to know. The above is just an indication. If you can't answer any of the above questions then I recommend finding out as soon as possible. There are thousands of books and websites that can give you the answers, so there's no point in me spelling it all out again here.

Most people have an intuitive grasp of composition but you need to know a lot more than that and it doesn't stop with just knowing the rule of thirds either.

Professional photography is a craft. It has to be learned. A photography enthusiast takes pictures that please themselves, their family, a tame audience on a photo sharing website and they may even sell to the odd magazine editor. However to be a professional photographer you need to take pictures for your customers, when they want them, how they want with a zillion things to take into consideration, from format to where text will be placed, following branding guidelines etc. Nothing is left to chance. Every element and aspect has to be carefully considered and controlled to ensure the image communicates with the audience.

The professional social photographer, doing portraits and weddings may not have to achieve as much technically (the layman is generally more easily satisfied than the professional photography buyer). But in my opinion being entrusted to capture an image which has emotional importance for your customer is a huge responsibility. Being paid and trusted to document important moments in people's lives should not be taken lightly. If you do not know your craft inside out, never mind just grasping the basics, allowing someone to hire you as a professional photographer is reckless and unethical.

I work mostly in corporate communications and besides professional photography I also provide consultancy on photography, hire photographers and buy images from stock libraries. So I operate on both sides, buying and selling photography. Believe me it is hard enough to find a really good professional photographer. It's also difficult to find an image that fits perfectly with a company's brand and communication requirements – yes even though there are billions of images to choose from.

As in any profession commercial photographers vary from poor, to mediocre to brilliant. If photography is your passion and you want to turn pro then I presume you would want to be up there on the higher end of the scale. Compare your work to the very best commercial and social photographers – the adverts you see in glossy magazines, fashion pictures, photography books and the images by recognised masters of photography. Be honest. Can you compete? Do you really want to compete on that level? Do you think you could get the same result, not just once in a while but every working day?

So before the enthusiast thinks of turning pro they had better take a long hard look at the mountain that needs to be climbed; the hard work, the dedication, the knowledge, the talent, the ethics, organisational ability, attention to detail, dedication, communication skills and drive that it will take to be a photographer worthy of being called professional.



Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hold your horses

A horse mane makes an interesting subject for a minimalist composition. I like textures so this was a great subject.

Working flat out at the moment on several major projects. Just not enough hours in the day to get it all done. So hold your horses, I've got loads of ideas for blog articles, but in the meantime just wanted to let everyone know that I'm still about.

Thanks for your visit to my blog. There's plenty of stuff to read on here, check out the archives or do a search for something of interest.

I'll try to add a new article this weekend.



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Street Portrait

I spotted her in the crowd and she saw me. We looked at each other, communicated with a few gestures and as a final shot in the sequence she treated me to this one. Classic attitude.

I wanted a bright colourful image, celebrating an individual's right to self expression.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Highly recommended blog

If you're looking for more than tips on how to take pictures and what equipment to use and you'd like to find out about the soul of truly creative photographer then take a look at Magda Indigo's blog. She's known almost as well for her well researched and informative writing as she is for her photography.

And yes she is my wife, I love her very much and I consider it a privilege to share my life with someone as talented as she is, so if you've not discovered her work yet what are you waiting for?


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The joys of wedding photography

These two little bridesmaids decided they'd had enough of being photographed.

The family watched, highly amused as I battled to get these two little devils to pose. I got the shot later after giving it a few minutes break.

I don't do weddings anymore, mostly corporate and advertising work now, but this wedding could not be refused.

The reportage went brilliantly, the couple are thrilled, and they want this shot too. I find that people often like the off-beat moments. The days of the stiff formal, traditional wedding shoot seem far away, certainly in my neck of the woods. People want photography that reflects real life and has emotion. So although at the time it may seem a challenge that the child bridesmaids don't want to be photographed it is in fact a great opportunity to make a shot that's a bit different.

The picture sums up my attitude to photography and life. Every hurdle and challenge is in fact a great opportunity to make something special. The best stuff in life usually happens when we're well out of our comfort zone.

Ah the joys of wedding photography.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Laura Lippman bestselling author

Best selling American author Laura Lippman.

Here's an extract from her official bio:

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett
and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.

Baltimore Blues* (1997, nominated for the Shamus Award for best first PI novel.)
Charm City* (1997, winner of the Eddgar ® and Shamus awards for best
paperback original, nominated for the Anthony Award.)
Butchers Hill* (1998, winner of the Agatha Award for best novel, winner of the
Anthony Award for best paperback original, nominated for the
Edgar ®, Shamus and Macavity awards.)
In Big Trouble* (1999, winner of the Anthony and Shamus awards, nominated for
an Edgar ® and Agatha.)
The Sugar House* (2000, winner of the Nero Wolfe Award.)
In a Strange City *(2001, a New York Times Notable Book.)
The Last Place* (2002, nominated for the Shamus Award.)
Every Secret Thing (2003, winner of the Anthony and Barry Awards, nominated
for the Hammett.)
By a Spider’s Thread* (2004, nominated for the Edgar, Agatha and Anthony
awards, winner of the Romantic Times Award for Best PI Novel.)
To the Power of Three (2005.) (winner of the Gumshoe Award for Best Novel.)
No Good Deeds* (2006.)
*Denotes a Tess Monaghan title.

I really enjoyed making this portrait of her. She's a charming witty lady who has great patience with her photographer, yours truly.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't use your camera on manual settings

Antwerp successfully preserves a sense of tradition and history, here with the horse drawn carriage and the famous Cathedral in the background, making it attractive to tourists, while at the same time boasting some beautiful modern architecture.

The picture above was a split second grab shot. As usual my Canon EOS 5D was set to AV (aperture priority) and I trusted my light meter to give me the correct exposure. As it happened the background sky was extremely bright and the foreground in deep shadow, so the background was a bit overexposed. Using the RAW file's information I was able to retrieve detail everywhere important.

Read any guide to improving your photography, listen to photographers advice and you'll be told to set your camera to manual. Using program mode is strictly for amateurs we're told. Well I beg to differ and respected photography tutor John Wade shares my viewpoint.

Camera design these days has advanced tremendously and automatic metering has become reliable and accurate 99% of the time. If you used your modern Digital SLR on manual and took the same shot on program mode you wouldn't see any difference. John, in a recent article suggests looking at magazine pictures and asking yourself how many of the images would have required a setting different to the one the camera would have given the photographer if the camera was set to automatic program mode? Very few.

Letting the camera do the technical work frees you up to be creative and concentrate on the important part, taking pictures.

I can just see the die-hards shaking their heads at this blasphemy. Camera on program mode indeed.

So when do you use the camera on manual. Well in my case virtually never. The most important element for me to control is depth of field, so I work in AV (aperture priority). I keep a close eye on my shutter speed to see that it is not going too low, risking camera shake. If I see that there is a risk of camera shake, I up the ISO. I'm continually riding the ISO and changing apertures. The low noise handling of the 5D means I can shoot in very low light. When I do want maximum depth of field and a silky smooth images at 50 or 100 ISO, and the shutter speed would be too slow to hand hold I use a tripod or flash.

On the other hand when I want to control the creative effects I get by using the appropriate shutter speed, for example to blur water in a waterfall or stop sports action, I switch the camera to shutter priority.

But what about situations where traditionally the light meter would be fooled for example a very dark or very bright background? Here I rely on checking the histogram and then using the exposure compensation settings. This solves everything 99% of the time.

Our modern Digital SLRs are fantastic pieces of technology. They're designed to make taking pictures easier and to deliver reliable, high quality results. So my advice is: don't handicap yourself by using your camera on fully manual. Choose program mode for fast convenient results, aperture priority to control depth of field creatively and shutter priority to stop action or allow motion to be visible in your image.

Focus your energy on taking creative pictures not camera settings.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Holiday portraits

Three holiday makers on a bench in Ostend in Belgium. The couple on the right didn't know the gentleman on the left.

I love taking spontaneous portraits of people on the street. The couple didn't know this other chap on the left but by asking to take a portrait of them I brought this little group together for a few minutes. It was great fun. Several hours later I passed the couple in the street and we waved a cheery greeting to each other like old friends.

One of the wonderful things about being a photographer is that it enables you to meet all sorts of people, not only the famous but also folk like you and me and the people in this picture.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back from holidays

Peace. Scarborough, Yorkshire, UK.

I'm back from my visit to the continent and I've got thousands of images to process with hopefully a few real gems. It's been an incredibly busy time but wonderfully refreshing.

I've also got ideas for quite a few new blogs. Watch this space.