Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No need to shoot RAW anymore

Intimate portrait of an orchid (jpeg cropped). Exif data.

For years the jpeg v raw debate has raged. Advocates of both formats defended their positions and ‘wars’ were waged in internet forums.

A Google search will bring up thousands of hits on the topic and you’re welcome to wade through all of it but if you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary.

Proponents of shooting jpegs say:
  • The files are smaller and don’t clog up your hard disk.
  • The quality is just as good as RAW or so close it doesn't make a difference in the real world.
  • Saves time as there is no RAW post processing to be done.
Proponents of RAW say:
  • RAW gives you all the options to tweak your images to your heart’s content, while jpegs lock you into the processing decisions programmed in by your camera manufacturer.
  • You can easily correct white balance mistakes.
  • You can retrieve more detail, particularly out of highlights.
  • The quality of the final image is superior to a straight jpeg.
There are many more ancillary points that both camps make but I think that captures the basic differences.

The thing that bugs me is that a lot of self-styled internet photography gurus tell enthusiasts that shooting in RAW is a more professional approach and something to be aspired too; that the results of shooting in RAW will be infinitely superior to the bog standard jpeg that comes from your camera. They offer spurious arguments and image comparisons. Amateurs spend (waste) hours upon hours trying to perfect their workflow and learn how to develop their images out of RAW.

It’s time to dispel these myths. I agree that until recently some cameras were not entirely up to scratch when it came to producing perfect jpegs out of the camera. Now days though if you make the right photographic decisions regarding exposure and white balance your images will be spot on, without having to sit behind a computer for hours processing RAW files.

Here’s why you should shoot jpegs instead of RAW:

Camera manufactures have come a long way and modern DSLRs are in fact amazing computers processing thousands of bits of information to deliver you the perfect jpeg image. Ignoring the clever in camera processing decisions of your DSLR makes to generate a jpeg these days is like insisting on using a handheld light meter instead of your camera’s advanced matrix metering system. Camera manufacturers provide you with a wealth of tools to tweak white balance, exposure and colour in camera.

Save time, electricity and effort wasted on processing RAW shots on your computer.

Save space on your hard drive. Think of all the space used to store large RAW files (not forgetting your backup space too). But do remember never to save over your original jpeg after you work on an image!

Free time up to go out and take more images or perfect your best images in your favourite image manipulation program.

Many photographers will not be able to work a RAW file to a point where it is superior to the out-of-camera jpeg. Why give yourself all that aggravation?

Professional photographers in most disciplines shoot jpeg unless specifically asked to shoot RAW format by a client. One example is my wife, pro-photographer Magda Indigo; she never shoots RAW with her Nikon DSLRs. Her images are sold through stock libraries like Getty and used world-wide by agencies and publishers.

These days auto white balance and presets together with in camera adjustments give you all the scope you need to ensure you have a good white balance. The LCD screen on the back of the latest cameras has also become far more accurate and gives you an excellent idea of what the final jpeg will look like. Trust it. If you’re still unsure you’re getting it right you can use a white balance target or a neutral white piece of paper to take manual WB reading. Easy. Get it right in camera.

When to shoot RAW:

  • If individual colours need to be finely tuned for a colour critical fashion, product or reproduction shot.
  • In a very high contrast scene where you’re trying to retrieve every miniscule detail out of shadows and highlights, and your shots will be printed extremely large.
  • You want to heavily manipulate your image and need to reduce the risk of blowing out colours.
Most of my images have been shot in RAW over the years although I am confident that clients, the public and even experts will not be able to see the difference in final prints or on screen between an image shot as a jpeg or one shot in RAW.

UPDATE: March 2012 - I never did quite transition to shooting mostly JPEG. Although I know that JPEG will deliver great results the added 'safety net' of shooting in RAW and the potential to adapt images in the digital darkroom, together with a slick workflow have kept me shooting RAW.

This blog post remains valid as each photographer should continually challenge their assumptions and the way they work. This is the only way to progress.

Till soon,

Friday, December 10, 2010

A new way to sell your photography

Professional photography is competitive.

If you ask a lot of professional photographers about their job they seem to have a love/hate relationship. They will often tell young photography students that photojournalism is dead, the profession as a photographer will not exist in a few years time because stills will be extracted from videos and you'll not be able to make a living as a professional photographer because everyone who has a digital camera these days thinks they're a gifted photographer.

The same kind of thing has been said to creatives in all media for centuries. When photography first appeared on the scene, many said that painting was dead. But painters reinvented their art with surrealism, cubism and abstract painting, and now for many years there's even been a movement of artists who paint in a style of realism that mimics photography.

The perception that excellent photography is important has been eroded from publishing, with ever lower professional fees, access to cheap images through micro-stock and the market being swamped by competent amateurs aided by the technological marvel of the modern digital camera.

Professional photographers can no longer differentiate themselves as easily by having professional equipment and craft knowledge. It has become far easier to take and develop an image that is technically of a high enough quality to be used in a publication (whether it will really communicate with the audience is another question).

I think photographers themselves have undermined and undersold what it is to be photographer. As I wrote in my previous blog, most photographers are not marketing themselves very well. They cling to the old formula, defining themselves by their equipment and craft knowledge rather than by their ability to communicate and touch people's emotions.

We all know the impact that great photographs have on our lives. How they keep treasured memories alive, how they influence politics and public opinion in a very direct way. And in the commercial world how a good series of advertising images can make or break a campaign and will directly affect the balance sheet and the brand.

Images and words are the two most direct and persuasive ways of communicating. A single news image can have huge impact on public perception. Long after all the rhetoric has died down the image remains, etched in the mind's of the audience. By the way one of the strengths of a great story teller is to create an image in the reader's mind so they feel they have seen and witnessed something. The photographer's approach takes a far more direct route to achieving the same result.

Photographers are visual communicators, story tellers, with the ability to connect directly to an audience's emotions. They by-pass the mental filters that get in the way of written and verbal communication.

We need to be telling people this. As photographers we need to play to our strengths and develop strategies to increase our value in the eyes of our customers. Not whimper about how unfair the market is, lower our prices, bemoan the competition and discourage young photographers.

There's a world of opportunity out there for those photographers who find new ways to communicate, to influence, to stand out from the crowd. Go find your niche. Go reinvent yourself. Think about new ways to get your work in front of people. Make art.

Magda Indigo is a photographer who has done this. There are billions of images of flowers. It must be one of the most popular subjects in the world. Yet her images stand out. Agencies, stock libraries and publishers seek her work out, recognising that she creates something special. Proof that it can be done. You can still stand out from the crowd.

Till soon,

Monday, November 29, 2010

Marketing yourself as a photographer

One of the harbour cats making her presence known in the hope of getting some fresh fish, Fuengirola, Spain. And it worked. See series here.

Most professional photographers do not know how to market themselves effectively. In this blog I hope to offer a few thoughts to get your creative juices going and help you differentiate yourself as a photographer from your competitors.

I'm a photographer but I am also a pretty successful marketer. So I straddle both worlds and see professional photography from both the seller's and buyer's viewpoints. I don't have all the answers but I think I do have a few pertinent questions.

First set of assumptions. You will be a successful photographer if:

  1. You are better than your competitors
  2. You offer something different that prospects value
  3. You are cheaper (but this is downward spiral as someone is always cheaper until they are so cheap they go out of business, and possibly drag you down into an unsustainable position)
So realistically it's better to focus on the first two options.

Now let's look at what everyone values. Something that is scarce. I think scarcity is the quality that underlies most things we value. How do you make what you offer something that is scarce?

Most photographers take a rather primitive view of marketing themselves along the lines off:
  • I've got professional camera gear
  • My portfolio shows well composed, well lit images (I'm competent technically)
  • My post shoot processing is good and you get high quality image files
Others go a bit further and say:
  • I'm well organised
  • I get on well with people (subjects, art directors, clients etc)
But who goes further?

In essence a client hires a photographer to do more than take a picture. The client is looking for someone who can help them communicate an emotion, a feeling, a brand - someone who can persuade and influence the audience.

All photography is about problem solving. You've got the technical problems (lighting etc), the logistics (getting everything and everyone in the right place at the right time) and most fundamental of all you have to bring your creativity and ability to solve the problem of how to use what you're given to communicate and tell the client's story (whether wedding or advert) in the most effective way possible.

The photographer's ability to communicate through her/his medium is at the heart of what we should be marketing. From all I have seen this is the scarce quality that really differentiates photographers. Can you tell a story, put ideas together in a unique way that has an impact on the audience? Can you solve the client's problem of how to communicate visually?

I think to market yourself on the basis of your equipment and ability to make a technically competent photograph is to sell yourself short. Good photographers do far more than that. They touch the hearts and minds of the audience and make people see and think about the world in a different way, connecting directly to their emotions in a way that words and sound, and even moving images do not.

In the same way that knowing spelling and grammar does not make you an author, knowing how to use a camera and process an image does not make you a Photographer (photojournalist, professional, documentary, fine-art etc).

So how are you going to become better, different from the rest and produce work that is scarce? And how are you going to tell people about what you really do?

Till soon,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

An opportunity for you to help make the world a better place

How do you turn a picture of sea water into drinking water?

Help make the world a better place. Upload up to three photos every day.

As Mike Corso at Cool Site of the Day says:

"Our aim is to generate 30,000 photo uploads before the end of the year. If we can achieve that, the total impact will be:

  • 4.8 million gallons of fresh, clean drinking water through the building of fresh water wells.
  • 1,700,000 hours of solar light for families in need.
  • 45,000 kw hours of wind turbine powered electricity.

When your readers arrive at the photo upload site, they will be able to upload 1 of 3 types of photos relating to either Wind, Water, or Light. We’ll turn those photos into real donations."

So get uploading and spreading the word.

Till soon,


Sunday, October 24, 2010

14 professional flash tips

Here’s a concise list of 14 tips for using flash to enhance your images. I jotted down a few notes based on my experience and the result is the ‘idea storm’ below.

Seems obvious but it has to be said: the first thing to do is to establish your point-of-view, where are you going to put your camera; then look at the available light. If the natural light is good, don’t mess with it. If you do decide to use flash then be careful not to ‘over light’ your subjects and make them look unreal and garish (unless unreal is what you’re trying to communicate of course).

Always remember flash light is balanced to be the same as bright daylight. You can alter the colour of the light when using your flash by applying different coloured gels over the flash head. Gels come in two basic varieties. Those used to correct colour balance (matching flash to tungsten lighting, TL lighting etc) and those used for special effects.

I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible. If you have any questions just get in touch and I’ll do my best to answer.

1. White balance

Control the colour in your image by using your white balance settings. For example, if you set your camera to tungsten WB, then the overall tone when using flash will be blue. But here’s the thing. The brightest parts of the image will be more neutral because the brightness of the flash will ‘wash away’ the blueness. Adding other flashes gelled with an orange tungsten correction filter (CTO) or tungsten lights you can add warm accents back into the overall scene. One of the fundamentals of colour photography is playing with the balance between warm and cool colours (it’s key to controlling the mood and psychological impact of the image).

2. Flattering portrait light

An age old trick to produce flattering light is to use a ‘clam-shell’ setup. The top flash, diffused and softened is set up to be 1-2 stops brighter than the fill flash (also diffused) which is aimed upwards from below your subjects face. The camera sits at the narrow end of the clam-shell (cam< mod) and the model is at the mouth of the clam-shell.

3. Don’t light your subject

You can use off-camera flash to light the surroundings rather than the subject. This can help isolate the subject and make it/him/her stand out. You don’t always have to light the subject. Think about it. Every image has a foreground, middle-ground and background. Think about using your flash to separate these zones in the image.

4. Rim light

You can create a dramatic effect by using your flash to rim light your subject. This will separate them from the background. Place your flash to one side and behind the subject. If you have two flashes you can place them on either side of the subject. This setup is often called ‘hatchet’ lighting. Be careful of lens flare when you try this.

5. Touch of light

When using your main flash off-camera, don’t forget that the little pop up flash on your camera can be used to add an extra touch of pleasing light, for example to put a sparkle in your subject’s eyes, and it helps to separate the subject from the background. Don’t overdo it or you’ll destroy the effect of your main off-camera flash. The touch of extra flash should usually be -1 to -2 EV of the ‘correct’ exposure.

6. Zoom your flash

When you use a cable or dedicated wireless control on your off-camera flash, modern technology is clever enough to enable the lens and flash ‘speak’ to each other. The flash knows that it should zoom the flash to match the lens on your camera.This is not always something you want. Because sometimes you need to take control and use the zoom on your flash to change the quality of the light. A 200mm zoom setting on your flash will produced a more concentrated and harsher pin point of light, while a 24mm setting will disperse the light across the frame. When is this important? One example: if you’re imitating the setting sun with your small flash you’ll want to get the flash as far away from your subject as possible and zoom it to 200mm; and also gel it with an orange (CTO) filter. This will imitate the bright point light of the setting sun.

7. Balancing light in offices and non-domestic buildings

Fluorescent lighting is a nightmare. It’s greenish and when you have to use flash you need to reconcile the two different WB requirements. The easiest way is to gel your flash with the appropriate green colour correction filter and bounce the flash off of the ceiling, while using a white card on the flash or another commercial light shaper to chuck light forward at the same time. The Canon 580 EXII flash has a built in white card to throw light forward. You can also use a number of commercial products which aim to bounce light up and forward, approximately in a 80:20 ratio.

8. Intense colour using flash

If you’re after theatrical effects and you want to try using coloured gels on your flash, you may find the results disappointing because the brightness of your flash will wash the colour out. To get those intense, reds, blues and greens, you need to dial down the power on your flash. You can also increase the intensity of the colour by doubling-up with the same colour gel. Make sure that the gel seals the flash because any white light leaking out will ‘bleed’ the colour.

9. Lighting a group of people

Using one small flash for a groupshot is a challenge. If you use your flash at the height of the camera from the front, inevitably the foreground people are brighter than the background people. The best way to deal with this is to get your flash up high and aim it toward the back of the group, and then diffuse it (shoot through material eg an umbrella, or bounce of a reflector etc). The light will wash over the foreground people and evenly light the group. If you can use more than one off-camera flash, all the better. Aim for the the back of the group and to create the biggest swathe of light you can get.

10. Controlling ambient light

Using flash is not just about pointing your flash at the subject. You need to control the ambient light as well. Think about blocking or diffusing ambient light to reduce it’s effect on your subject. This then gives you a fighting chance to dominate your subject with your flash lighting.

11. Bouncing light

When you’re in an environment look at what the natural sources of light are and see whether you can enhance them. Place your flash outside a window (to imitate daylight), bounce it off a mirror or a white wall, through a doorway, off a reflector, off a sheet/reflector on the floor. In any environment you have to look at all the light sources. Light is bouncing around from everything. You can also put your flash inside or next to a light fitting to imitate light from it. Always remember there should be a logical reason for light to be coming from something or the viewer will have trouble making sense of it.

12. Controlling the light from your flash

There are hundreds of diffusers, reflectors and devices to alter the light coming from your flash. When you use your flash to shoot through an umbrella, think about using things to block and shape the light (the black covering on many shoot through/reflect umbrellas), gaffer tape, a jacket, your hands etc. Make sure the right amount of light is hitting your subject where it counts. Each subject is different. The key to subtle lighting is to shape your light by using masks (gobos, flags, cutters, cookies or whatever you want to call the things that you put between your light source and your subject).

13. Using camera controls

When using flash think about using your camera controls to produce interesting effects. Use different white balance settings (or filters on your lens), and filters on your flash and think about ways to combine both to enhance the overall colours of your subject. Use your shutter speed to vary the effect of ambient light in your image. Try second curtain flash. Experimentation is the key. You’ll build up your own bank of knowledge with everything you try.

14. Using flash controls

Your flash controls are: power settings (+/- EV values); distance from subject; angle of light; diffusion; flash zoom setting; bounce angle; ambient light balance; iTTL/eTTL etc; aperture setting; manual override; high speed sync; strobe/multi-flash etc to name some of the main ones. Get your flash off-camera for more natural results and to really control your overall lighting.

I hope these tips prove useful. Feel free to share yours too in the comment form below. I’m always keen to learn more.

You may also be interested in these blog articles which explore elements hinted at above in more depth:

Till soon,

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Selling you camera dissatisfaction

No-entry sign shot in Seahouses, UK. Shiny and new is not necessarily beautiful or interesting. Taken with a Canon 5D and 17-40mm L lens.

The Christmas period is coming up and there’s lots of new equipment to put on your wish-list. New cameras, new lenses and lots and lots of new gadgets are going to be thrust at you by the marketers.

For those people on a budget for Christmas, not able to afford all the amazing stuff that is being raved about in magazines and on the internet, I hope the rest of this article will help you side step the marketing juggernaut.

The message underlying all of this marketing is that because the new Brand X camera has this or that feature it is far better than what you’ve got at the moment and if you really want to reach your potential as a photographer then you just have to buy it.

By implication, all the photos you took with your current equipment are not as good as they could have been. So maybe you should delete them and start again. Of course I’m just kidding about deleting your work, but seriously, the whole marketing story is built on creating a sense of dissatisfaction with what you’ve got in your camera bag at this moment. So long as you desire the latest camera etc you will never be happy with what you’ve got.

Meanwhile, across the world, great advertising, documentary, social, fine art and photojournalism images are being made with exactly the equipment you’re using and five years ago great images where being made with the equipment which you’d turn your nose up at right now and discarded long before you bought your current equipment. The images I shot with my first DSLR are selling and in demand with clients just as much as my new images and some of my strongest images in my ‘life portfolio’ were shot 20 years ago on Ilford HP5 black and white film.

It’s been said before, so many times (and it will be said in the future many more times), great images are made by great photographers, not great equipment. The gear can make it a hell of a lot easier to get an image. Nowadays you can take a usable picture in near darkness but, having said that, if you want your subject to be well lit, you’re still going to have to light it properly.

Photography is all about light and controlling light. That’s never going to change, no matter how quickly your camera can focus on a subject moving a zillion miles a hour in minimal light or how many million pixels you have to play with.

If you really must buy something then do shop around make sure you get the best deal because next year you’ll be doing it again.

Till soon,

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Three steps to great images

Vincent shows the model he is working on of Leonardo Da Vinci's "Flying Man". Vincent is an artist, musician, sculpture, maker and repairer of musical instruments, a "renaissance man" himself.

Firstly, I think I should apologise for the long absence of new blog articles. To say I have been busy of late would be, to put it mildly, an understatement. All good things. But I really felt it was time to get into gear and ship my blog again.

So how can I make it up to you? Well as usual I hope to provide some food for thought.

If you want to make great images you need to ensure that three steps have been taken. Miss any of them out and your image may be good, it may be interesting for awhile but it will not be remarkable.

The magic only really happens when you:
  1. Have an authentic reason to take the picture.
  2.  Want to use the image to express something, to communicate with your audience.
  3. And you actually make the picture happen, using your knowledge and expertise to turn the idea into reality

Miss any of these steps out and you end up with nothing special. Or nothing at all if you miss step three.

In essence the process above involves creating a story using your image, built around a central interesting idea which lies at it's core. That magic ingredient in every great image is a single idea that with a mental 'snap of the fingers' your audience 'gets'.

You could put the three steps a different way and turn them into the following questions:

  • Why do you want to create the image?
  • What do you want to say?
  • How are you going to say it? 

Once you have the answers clear, you have to make it happen!

Till soon,

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Best camera for a learner

Regular readers know that I very rarely write about cameras and equipment. However as a photographer I am often asked, “which camera should I buy?” The follow up question from me is how much are you willing to spend and what do you want a camera for...there are hundreds to choose from?

This summer I helped a number of friends find cameras which means I had to do some serious research. So why not share what I found out on my blog.

If you’re serious about learning photography and giving yourself room to take it to the next level then you will want a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR). Yes, they are heavier to carry around than a compact but these days the entry level DSLR models are pretty light and portable.

There are numerous small compact cameras that deliver excellent quality, so long as your subject stays quite still. The moment you’re confronted with a relatively fast moving subject (people at a party, sports, street photography, active kids) you need a DSLR. It’s simply the best type of camera to do everything photographic, although admittedly you can’t slip it into your shirt pocket.

Compact cameras do have their uses, and I’ve got one to carry around with me. But as a serious learner photographer you will probably get frustrated with a compact camera’s limitations within a few months. So take a short cut and go straight for the DSLR.

Modern DSLRs deliver amazing quality, more than most people will ever need, and far better than compact cameras. You can literally shoot images that are billboard quality with a 10mp DSLR.

After lots of investigation and getting my hands on some of the popular models, I have to say that the most impressive camera out there at the moment is the Nikon D5000. It’s light, fast, quiet to use and packed with features. I’ve used it and I found it intuitive and easy to navigate. The picture quality is excellent. The camera also features a movie mode but that’s more for fun than serious film making. The swivel screen viewfinder is great for getting shots at different angles, low or high, where it’s virtually impossible to put your eye to the viewfinder. Great fun to play with.

It’s important to remember that when you buy a DSLR you’re also buying into a camera system. Once you’ve got a few lenses and a flash etc, you’ve invested and then switching brands can be a costly business. Most of my life I have used Nikon and my wife and fellow professional photographer, Magda Indigo, continues to use the Nikon system. What can I say? They make excellent cameras.

Sadly Nikon took so long to bring out a full frame camera that I switched to Canon when they brought out the first reasonably priced full frame camera, the Canon 5D. So I went through the expense of changing my whole system. Don’t get me wrong. I love my Canon and the quality is outstanding. But to me the Nikon’s feel better to use and certainly in my hands better than Canon’s offering in the entry level/enthusiast range. Admittedly there’s an amount of subjectivity here.

Nikon now offer the wonderful full frame D700. If money is no object and you want the best of the best (besides the very heavy top pro DSLRs) then that’s the camera to go for, but to start off with the D5000 does everything a learner could want. As a step up from D5000 you may also want to consider the Nikon D90 but then you’re getting into advanced enthusiast territory and you’ll need to see whether the extra features really justify the extra cost.

For more detailed technical information I recommend DP Review’s excellent analysis and for a subjective and heartfelt commentary on the virtues of the Nikon D5000 take a look at Ken Rockwell’s endorsement. When you are buying a camera keep in mind that you can often save some money, I found this deal which may help

Now next time I’m asked which camera to buy, I can just send the person a link to my blog article.

I hope you find my recommendation helpful. Next time I’ll be writing again about the serious business of taking great pictures. Feel free to delve into my archives as well (tip: use the search box on the right). There’s a wealth of material that will improve your photography.

Till soon...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On the road

Mr Hewitt, a traveler, rests his horses on the way to a fair in Yorkshire.

These images are from a series I recently shot with a group of travelers encountered on one of our road trips. We were made to feel very welcome and it was easy to come away with a series of interesting portraits.

Looking after the horses.

The Hewitts.

Young Hewitt with his tattoos.

Resting in the bow top.

More can be seen on my Flickr account.

Till soon...


Monday, July 19, 2010

How much should you charge for a photo-shoot?

Working out how much you should charge is one of the questions most frequently asked when setting up as a professional photographer.

I’ll endeavour to answer the question but it may not be the answer you expect. I have a view that breaks with industry tradition.

Traditionally photographers charge for a shoot by applying half day or full day rates. The rate is the same, no matter how their images are being used or what value their images add to the client’s business. I think this is wrong.

We are expected to charge by a fairly arbitrary system based loosely on the time we spend at a photo-shoot. It’s a pretty archaic way of working things out which originates from a mass production factory mentality. As photographers we’re not cogs in a machine. Our uniqueness, our approach and the value we can add through our creativity and ability to solve problems should be reflected in the amount we charge.

I live and breathe to deliver the best possible work. I use my insight, creativity, unique vision and technical ability to solve a problem for my client; how to create images that communicate exactly what he/she needs for a campaign, a website, a brochure, a report, a magazine etc... I work with heart and soul for every client, large and small because I cannot bare to deliver work that is not my best.

Using time as a measure of value is ridiculous. I could take a great shot within three minutes of arriving on location or it could take three days to produce an equally good image. It takes as long as it takes. I bet a lot of photographers get the images they need quickly and then spend the rest of the day just filling the time because they know the client would think that somehow they had not got value if the photographer left after an hour on a shoot booked for a day.

To be able to work out what to charge you will need to know a lot about your clients, their business and the benefits your photography can deliver directly to them. Calculating how much to charge can only be done on a project by project basis. You will need to educate your clients about the value your photography brings to them.

Many photographers will not find this a comfortable way of working. But imagine the benefits if you can persuade your client to share both the risk and reward. Hypothetically, if the advert to which your image is integral results in 10,000 sales you will earn X and if it achieves 20,000 sales you will earn Y etc.

It’s not an alien concept to the creative industries. Musicians and writers get paid in-line with how many albums or books they sell. Why shouldn’t photographers get paid according to the results they help achieve?

Yes it is difficult to measure and it is difficult to implement. You have to listen to your client and understand them and they have to understand you. But all of this creates a fertile ground for better photography. I want to work with clients willing to recognise my contribution and reward it. They appreciate good photography and don’t see me as a cog in the machine being paid an hourly wage.

I don’t charge according to how much time I spend, or how big my client is; I charge according to what I think I can contribute toward the success of my client’s project. How important are my images to what they want to achieve?

Reward in relation to results. What could be more natural? Yes I am aware all of this sounds idealistic and impractical. For one, pricing by project is more time consuming and it makes it difficult for potential clients to compare prices at a glance. A client ends up buying a photographers services, not because their daily rate is cheaper but because that particular photographer shows they understand the client’s  requirement and can deliver the images they need. The circle is complete. Isn’t that how it should?

Clients and photographers need to understand and trust each other, to communicate and to challenge the status quo; working together to create images and campaigns that sweep the mediocre aside.  There will be circumstances where a traditional method of charging works out best for everyone but a new way of working out what to charge seems to me a worthwhile challenge.

Your comments are welcome.

Till soon...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Art happens when you bend the rules

Interesting art is new and different from everything that has gone before. It's impossible to break new ground and produce something fresh if you follow the rules and imitate other people's styles and techniques.

We all learn from the past, our mentors and the giants who have gone before us, but true art only happens when you break free from them.

Don't get me wrong. I think it is valuable to study the masters and to be aware of what your contemporaries are doing but how can you ever hope to stand out if all you do is repeat stuff that's been done before?

There's a big drawback to doing innovative new stuff. If you break the mould people will not immediately associate your work with stuff they've been told is good – art that follows the rules and can be neatly categorised and classified. You lose the 'recognisability' factor and you don't fit in until the rest of the world starts to catch up.

However once the world does recognise your ability, you'll be seen as a leader rather than a follower and you can help shape the way we see the world in the future.

I urge you to engage with your subject matter, release the voice inside yourself and create something new, fresh and different. Use your camera, your writing, your artistic vehicle, whatever it may be to communicate what you see and feel in a unique way.

Till soon,


Monday, May 24, 2010

Why we need more creative photojournalism

To tell a story visually is difficult as any picture editor knows. You have to grab attention, communicate the essence of the story in an image and engage people so they follow through and read the article.

There's the old saying that a 'picture is worth a thousand words' and it keeps being used because it's true.

Getting people to pay attention relies on three elements working together - picture, caption and headline. Two of the three most important elements relate directly to photography. Pictures sell magazines, newspapers and website content.

Unfortunately editorial departments are under siege, often drained of human resources, budgets and under increasing pressure to take the 'safe' creative option as editors fight to keep the wolf from the door. There are many exceptions and numerous editors who will take risks and put their necks on the line to support good photography – thank goodness. Most editors are just trying to maintain the status quo. This is not good enough.

In the face of fierce competition they should be enabling their creative team to produce art that is going to win readers: images that stand out, that are more creative, that will be remembered.

For example rather than an image of a poster or screen showing the faces of missing people, which is the same old tried and tested safe option, why not do something like this...

275,000 people go missing every year in UK

Missing People, the charity that helps both the disappeared and those left behind, told the Independent Newspaper that more than 250,000 missing persons reports are filed each year. The Independent's sources suggest the total in 2009 was closer to 275,000.

The Independent reported: "This, the equivalent of the entire population of Plymouth being spirited away, means that, across the country, one person goes missing every two minutes.”

Most are found or return soon after they have been reported missing but as many as 20,000 disappear completely, sometimes for decades, many forever.

My image is an artistic/editorial interpretation of the story. It was taken in Kings Cross, one of the locations where CCTV cameras sometimes provide the last glimpse of an individual arriving before they disappear.

The idea behind the image was the 'footfall' of thousands of passing people every day and how they can just disappear – graphically illustrated by feet and ghostly figures. The monochrome blue toning helps convey mood and emotion.

A still image can have layers of meaning and a depth that video does not have. Still images confront the viewer with the essence of the story in one split second. Photojournalism and still images in particular offer editors an extremely rich opportunity to gain and hold audience attention. The challenge is to find the creative talent that can go beyond the obvious and stimulate, intrigue and capture readers.

Hopefully my creative efforts demonstrate the point I am trying to make in this article. Your feedback and comments are welcome.

Till soon,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How do you measure success as a photographer?

What signs should you follow?

If you upload pictures on social media websites you will know there is usually  some form of audience judgement of your success as a photographer.

How good you are is supposedly measured in votes, clicks, awards, views, badges...

This is a good strategy for website owners because everyone likes a pat on the back and so visitors keep coming back to their website for the rewards and little treats. As they say in website terminology it makes the site more 'sticky' and more visitors equals a bigger audience share and more revenue.

Photographers fall into the trap of trying to please broad website audiences and they let this cyber-gang steer and even rule their creativity.

Do you really want to let people who breeze past your image barely giving it a glance or pausing to comment, vote or paste a badge determine the direction of your creativity and influence your vision as a photographer? Most visitors are hoping you'll return the favour and visit their offering. It's a sad cycle to be caught up in.

If 'popularity' is not a measure of how good your photography is then what is a good measure?

  • Do people contact you out of the blue wanting to buy your work? 
  • Do people want to publish it and share it with others and exhibit it and talk about it? 
  • Does your work change opinions or even people's lives? 
  • Does it communicate ideas? 
  • Has someone sent you an email saying that your photography is incredible and it moves them deeply? 
  • Has anyone ever said to you that what you do has changed the way they see the world?

If this has happened to you then you're on the right path. Keep going. If not then you need to work harder on your art and focus on your creative vision rather than the hollow lure of popularity.

Being popular is wonderful so long as your fans genuinely value and love the work that you do. If your audience on the other hand has a different agenda for praising you and you fall into the trap of believing that their accolades mean you are making worthwhile art, then you are playing a fools game.

Till soon,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Whose opinion about your photography really counts?

Every photographer wants to improve. But how do we know we are getting better? Besides looking critically at our own work we listen to the opinions of others.

Allowing other people to judge your work is essential. But you have to be cautious about who's opinion you value. It is human nature to give a negative opinion more weight than praise. The bad comments tend to stick in your mind. So be careful of giving the following people the power to influence your art:

  • There are plenty of great photography teachers that just love sharing their knowledge and are very good educators but there are also some who teach photography but may harbour regrets and be a little bitter about not making it to the top. You have to spot the difference. You'll know the ones to avoid because no matter what you do they will always seek the minor faults and flaws and you will never be able to please them.
  • People who knit pick on small things but don't really help you develop your vision.
  • Someone who may have set themselves up as the font of all knowledge but all they do is parrot formulas and rules without real understanding. The best way to unmask these people is to look at their own photography. You'll soon see if they know what they're talking about.
So who should you listen to:
  • People that have no agenda and have made it to the top, acknowledged masters. They are often the most generous with advice too.
  • Those rare people who see your potential to develop and can identify the strengths in your work and can advise you on how to develop your art as a photographer. People who can help you with your creative vision for the future, not just technical advice.
Once you know the direction you want to go in you can easily learn the technical stuff.

Just learn what you need to know to realise your vision. Put your effort into creativity rather than into trying to learn technical manuals.

Beware of whose opinions you listen to. Learning who's opinion to value and who to ignore is a life and death decision for artistic success.

Till soon,

PS. Picture above of a Flemish Heavy Horse. More about this amazing animal weighing over a ton here.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Fleeting expressions and picking the moment

Taking a photograph that tells a story requires patience, knowing what you want to say and then picking the right moment.

I noticed this lady selling jewelry on the market. She was chatting to customers and showing them her merchandise but nobody bought anything.

She was aware of me taking pictures and didn't mind. I kept an eye on her and picked the moment that I thought told the story of her day on the market.

There are still many businesses struggling with the recession and people have certainly tightened up their budgets, even on items like market jewelry.

I decided to upload this image to illustrate how waiting patiently and picking the right moment can produce an image that communicates the story.

A few seconds later her expression changed and the brave sales face was back on again.

Sometimes photographers take a lot of images in the hope of getting one good one. Seems too hit and miss to me. The real key to getting that good image is figuring out what needs to happen in front of your lens to tell the story. Then with patience and timing you can photograph the moment, a split second that nails it.

Till soon,

Monday, April 26, 2010

Photographers: reasons to be thankful

Emiel is a horse breeder. He also helps out in his community doing things like driving the school bus. Here he listens to an amusing anecdote his wife is relating during a chat with friends and family at his kitchen table.

Emiel amused.

Emiel day dreaming.
As a photographer I consider it a great priviledge to be allowed into people's lives. When someone chooses to share a few moments of their life with you in front of your camera it is a gift.

I have the impression that some photographers think that owning a camera gives them the right to take photographs of anyone they come across. I do not share that view. To me every smile or glance that says, "Yes, it's fine; you can take a picture of me," is a precious gift, to be treated with respect and care,and to honoured with the best photograph that I can make.

It's sad that when someone says "no" to a photographer they go away in a huff, feeling angry and rejected, as if their camera has given them some sort of blank cheque on people's time and presence in front of their lens. The world and the people in it owe us nothing as photographers.

My feelings extend to professional models too. Sure they're earning money and paid to pose for the photographer but what they choose to give us is up to them. If you treat a model with respect and enjoy the art they create in front of your lens you will achieve far more than you would shouting orders like a mini-dictator. Now some of you may be thinking of a really difficult model and session...but if a model really does not want to work with you then move on and find one that does want to create art together. Your best work is unlikely to happen in an environment filled with anger and ill will.

But I digress. Certainly for photojournalists and documentary photographers being able to share people's lives, often during difficult times is a privilege.

Till soon,


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Photographing with available light

Belgian sculptor Willem Vermandere talks about his work at the opening of his exhibition in Poperinge, 31 March 2010.

I wanted to capture the atmosphere and not to disturb the event with flashes going off all the time; so I used available light (gallery spots).

It was a challenge as Willem can be quite animated and he was moving in and out of the light all the time. Trying to get everything together, expression, the moment and the light wasn't easy.

Multi-talented artist, Willem also gave a speech and played his bass clarinet.

Till soon,


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Photojournalism: to take a picture or save a life

10 minutes after it happened.
What do you do first as a photo journalist if you see someone in grave danger? Take a picture or help. I know the answer 100 per cent, from personal experience, because that's the situation I was in on Sunday 4 April 2010.

As a photojournalist I've been in many tight spots and when it's your own life on the line you just take risk as a given. In certain situations you expect danger. But when you're out for a walk on a beach in Belgium, taking pictures on a clear afternoon, you don't expect to be plunged into a life and death situation.

Magda, my wife, and I were photographing near the harbour in Ostend. As photographers we often venture into areas not open to the general public to get more interesting images. So we went under the rope cordon and crossed into a construction area.

20 minutes later I heard a shout for help and to my horror 10 meters away I saw Magda sinking into quicksand. I rushed over and managed to stay just on the edge of the patch. When I saw my boot starting sink as well I knew I had to act really quickly. Magda was already waist deep. A few more minutes and it would have been over. A grim death. I grabbed her wrist and yanked her out. I knew speed was of the essence as the further she sank the harder it would be to get her out.

We both remained calm. Magda did shout, "My camera, my camera!" Afterwards we thought that was really funny.

"You should have taken a picture of me in the quicksand. Some photojournalist you are! Although at the time I would probably not have been amused," said Magda later.

So there you have it. I'm a trained and experienced photojournalist but when it came to seeing Magda in grave danger, I didn't get the shot.

If you would like to read Magda's version of the story then check out her blog. She also has photos of where it happened.

I know many of you go out photographing by yourselves. Do please be careful.

Please feel free to follow me through the Google widget on the right.

Till soon,

Sunday, April 11, 2010


To me photography is all about speaking with light to tell the world about the reality I discover in a person, place or subject. I seek truth and authenticity because these are the only things really worth pursuing. Without integrity there can be no love and without love there is no passion.

My images are gifts to you. Perhaps they will make you smile, feel warm inside, nod as you recognise something real. Some of my images may not touch you. But my hope is that I will make an image that does move you, that does touch you and shows you something more than you expected from a mere photograph.

Till soon,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Buy something

Wagon wheel in Normandy, France.

Regular readers of my blog know that I'm generally against buying equipment unless it is absolutely essential. There's a lot to be said for keeping things simple and focusing your attention on creativity rather than lugging equipment around and fiddling with it.

Give me any camera, with any lens and I'll come up with a shot that's interesting. It's a bold claim but I have every confidence in following the creative process. Each photographic opportunity can be approached in a million different ways. It's up to the photographer to find their own artistic interpretation with the equipment at their disposal. If my image is not all that it should be then I certainly will not blame the equipment.

Now having said that; buying a new piece of kit can unlock a new creative experience. A good macro lens can open a whole new world to you as a photographer or a reflector panel can inspire you to explore doing different things with light.

So yes. Buy something new. But buy it for the right reasons. Not because it is the latest piece of kit to receive a rave review, or because it's this year's must have accessory. Buy it to stimulate your creative vision, to play with, experiment and learn until you master it and it becomes just another old friend in your camera bag that you can pull out when the time is right.

A new piece of kit can be that fresh ingredient that does far more than just adding something new to a tried and tested formula. It can lead us to come up with a completely new vision. Happy shopping.

Till soon,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Railway men

Two railway men in driver's cabin of their steam engine, Pickering, UK.

Till soon,

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Life changing at the speed of a shutter click

Watching the Winter Olympics I was constantly amazed by how small the difference was between the top athletes. Less than three seconds separated the top three in the men's Olympic 30-km Cross Country skiing where Marcus Hellner of Sweden finished first, with a time of 1:15:11.4; Tobias Angerer from Germany placed second, at 2.1 seconds behind, and Swede Johan Olsson took the bronze, just 2.8 seconds after the winner. That’s over a 30km race lasting one and quarter hours! In most of the Olympic sports only 1/100’s of a second separated the winning contestants.

Take a typical shutter speed of 1/60 second. It could mean the difference between winning or losing a race in the Olympics, or the difference between getting a great shot and an average one. If you think about it most photography is about picking that perfect moment, when light, subject and all elements fall perfectly into place.

It takes a lot of work (and a bit of luck) to either make those moments happen or allow them to happen in front of your lens. The harder you work the luckier you get. Just like an athlete you have to train, practice, know the fundamentals inside out and develop your technique. Pay attention to every detail as it unfolds in fractions of a second. With preparation, effort and perseverance, when you get a chance to grab that gold medal of a shot you will capture the perfect frame and life could change at the speed of a shutter click. You could produce that iconic image that helps define you as a photographer - the image everyone thinks of when they hear your name.

Till soon,

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Photography and visual plagiarism

In layman's terms photographic plagiarism occurs when one photographer copies the work of another photographer, by making a new image that is so similar to the image being copied that any viewer looking at the two images is struck by their overwhelming correlation.

You'll soon see what I mean when you look through the examples in the articles below. Having seen blatant plagiarism of my wife Magda Indigo's work on Flickr I decided to write a blog on the topic. However I soon discovered that the subject of photographic plagiarism has been covered extensively, so I refer you to a selection of articles which I found interesting...

There is nothing better than coming up with something new. To stand out from the crowd you need to do something different, carve a new path. Be a leader, not a follower. As the old saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before us, so by all means my advice is to look and learn from the masters, but then do some original with that knowledge. To slavishly copy and then pass other people's creative ideas off as your own work is not flattery, its the last resort of the creatively bankrupt.

Till soon

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The value of a good freelancer

Take this to the bank. A good freelance photographer can make all the difference between getting a press release published and having it disappear forever at the click of an editor's delete button.

Why? Because the photograph that accompanies a press release often determines whether the story gets published.

"A good freelancer is worth his/her weight in gold to a company. When we look at press releases the photograph is often the deciding factor whether we publish a story. We 're always looking for good pictures for the newspaper. That's where it starts. Sometimes a story which is not as strong may be chosen because there's a good picture. And once we have a good image in the library we may use it again for another story at a later date," I was told by the deputy business editor of a large newspaper.

And he's the guy that makes that decision. Keep it or delete it.

He fails to understand how time and again companies send in press releases accompanied by poor quality or unimaginative photographs.

“Please don't send me a picture of men in suits all lined up together, or someone sitting behind a computer in a boring office,” groans the editor.

He also complained about the poor quality of images sent in with press releases, “clearly taken by a company staff member who is 'into' photography,” and thinks they're a good photographer because they have an expensive DSLR.

Businesses are under pressure to cut budgets but they should think very carefully about where they make those cuts. Creating a press release in the first place is not cheap. It takes people's time, often the CEO is involved, approvals need to be gained internally and from clients and if a PR agency is involved then there's their fee to pay as well. Hopefully though the PR agency would have the sense to hire a good professional photographer. To have all that effort, time and money go down the drain because nobody thought about getting a decent photograph is an absolute waste. The company may as well not have bothered in the first place.

Photographs sell newspapers and magazines. Simple as that. If companies want to get their stories into magazines and newspapers then they have to provide high quality photography. The only way to do that is for the company to hire the most talented photographer they can find.

As the editor says, “A good freelance photographer is worth her weight in gold.”

I think we need to emphasise the value of good photography to the agencies and companies we work with. We have to educate them about the difference a good image can make. Many marketing departments and PR agencies are too focused on the words of a story or press release and under value the images.

If you would like any marketing advice feel free to drop me line.

Till soon,


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Light and time - the essence of photography

I had no idea when I was making this portrait, that Mrs M only had eight days to live before she passed peacefully at the retirement home.

She had a full life and was one of the pioneering Belgian woman photographers, specialising in social photography. She used a large format, bellows camera. While I made the portrait we chatted happily about the changes in photography.

Her hair was in slight disarray but she would not let her son touch it, leaving the sea breeze to play with the strands. That's how she was.

At the moment I took the image she was staring out to sea, seeming to look past her mortal existence.

When I look at this image and think of that sunny afternoon it touches me. I hope it moves you too.

Photography is all about light and time - that particular, never-to-return moment we freeze forever in a picture of light that becomes an 'aide-mémoire'.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Favourite black and white portraits

I decided to publish a collection of my favourite black and white portraits in a slide show. It's a really subjective choice. Sit back and enjoy and please feel free to write a comment or ask a question.

Click through to YouTube to see a larger version.

Till soon,

Monday, February 01, 2010

Slide show of some of my black and white work

I am building my portfolio on Lightstalkers and have so far created a gallery with a selection of black and white images. Here's a beta version slide show...

[Edit ...whoops that didn't work in this blog format]

You can hopefully see the slide show here.

Feel free to comment.


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Give your portraits some space

Looking through photo-enthusiast's portrait photographs on the Internet I notice that nearly everyone goes for a very tightly framed shot with prominent head and shoulders or face.

If there is any space in the frame the photographer often gets a comment along the lines, I would have cropped the top or side or whatever.

The purpose of this blog post is to suggest that while Robert Capa's maxim, "if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough," is definitely worth keeping in mind, you can really enrich a portrait by using the environment to help tell the story.

I'm not saying anything new here and anyone who studies the work of the "father of the environmental portrait", Arnold Newman, will immediately see that his sitter's face is often quite small in the composition - stuck in the bottom right corner or off to one side of the frame. Arnold intelligently and creatively used the whole context to enhance the image.

Editorial photographers and photojournalists use the environment around their subject to tell the story. Magazines and newspapers would be dead boring if all we ever saw were head and shoulder portraits.

So next time you want to shoot a portrait, don't be afraid to leave some space, no actually make that a lot of space, around your subject. And when that guy comments on your picture on flickr and says you should have cropped it tighter, smile and think of the great masters of photography like Arnold Newman.

I'll leave with a quote from the master himself...

"There are no rules and regulations for perfect composition. If there were we would be able to put all the information into a computer and would come out with a masterpiece. We know that's impossible. You have to compose by the seat of your pants."

- Arnold Newman (1918 - 2006)

Till soon,

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

RAW software update

Portrait of Vincent, a real craftsman who makes and repairs musical instruments with enormous care, love and dedication. And he doesn't use any software to do it. Click the image to see a larger version.

The topic of which RAW converter to use for your digital images files is as hot as ever on the Internet. A while back I wrote an article comparing different packages and I've seen that the article is regularly read.

So for those of you who are curious here's a little bit about my latest experiences.

I used Lightroom 1 from when it came out and quickly became a big fan. All my digital workflow went through Lightroom and Photoshop for the final processing. About a month ago two things happened. I got a laptop and I've ended up using it for most of my work. And I decided to give Lightroom 3 beta a try on my new laptop.

Now I know Lightroom is Beta and all that but the slowness of opening an image, waiting for it to render sharply on the screen and run through each process started driving me nuts. So when I was in a rush, which is usually the case, I opened Adobe Bridge and used it to organise my images and then from there opened RAW files straight into Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and then into Photoshop itself if the image needed more work.

Processing images in this way has speeded up my workflow tremendously. For example when I click the magnifying glass in ACR I instantly see the enlarged image. I don't have to wait a minute for the image to clarify and become sharp as I did in Lightroom 3. Each operation is much faster. And the development engine is essentially the same as in Lightroom so there are no differences in quality between images developed using the two different forms of software.

Lightroom is prettier. It's got additional features and tools. But for the way I shoot there's nothing that I feel I'm missing by using Bridge, ACR and good old Photoshop CS3. I can achieve the same or better results a lot faster than when I used Lightroom 3 Beta.

Everyone has their own workflow and way of doing things and I'm just sharing my personal experience here. But I think it is wise to always ask questions and to never assume that because something is new it is going to be better for you. And you could save yourself some serious money by not rushing ahead to get the latest in everything. I'm sure people using very powerful machines will not notice any speed issues with Lightroom 3 but on my laptop I certainly did.

Hope you find this article useful.