Sunday, September 25, 2011

Real value of social media to photographers #1

Street musician, France
Photographers can get their work seen by thousands of people across the world and receive instant feedback on their images. A socially popular photographer can reach a larger audience on the internet than a major printed magazine. But what is the real value in that to the individual artist?

I watched a French street musician performing (see pic), putting his heart and soul into every song. He was doing classic Edith Piaf. He stood in the street between two restaurants, moving from one terrace to the other, focusing his attention on individual tables for 15-30 seconds at a time during the song, working the largest audience possible.

Some people looked up appreciatively, nodding, while others did their best to ignore him, perhaps afraid that if they did look at him they would be morally obliged to give him money for his efforts.

It struck me that this man had to earn his living by performing so well that people were prepared to pay for his art there and then. The age old custom of people handing over their spare change to street performers provided a set of expectations between performer and audience - a social contract without obligation.

On the internet we do not have this tradition. It's very much a culture of giving everything away for free. Millions of beautiful images are uploaded for people to enjoy every minute of the day. Artists perform for the masses with no expectation of financial reward. For someone who wants to make a living from their photography that's tough competition.

Social media facilitates the culture of giving everything away for free. It's phenomenally easy to share images,  a single upload can go viral and proliferate around the world. In no time your image can appear on hundreds of websites, shared on Facebook and blogs.

While it may be flattering to the ego to have hundreds of Likes. +s, views and votes what is all that really worth to the creator of the image. It's not going to help you buy a new camera, lighting equipment, pay for your travels or put a meal on the table. If you were the street musician you'd be playing your heart out with not the slightest hope of anyone chucking a coin in your hat.

Photographers are happy to share their creativity for free. In years gone by if you wanted to see a photographer's work you had to buy a magazine or book and the publisher paid the photographer - a neat business model. That model still exists but is rather tenuous, with demand and rewards rapidly diminishing because of the ubiquitous availability of free content. Value and rarity are directly proportional and beautifully crafted images are certainly not a rarity any more.

So how do you get a return on your investment of time and effort sharing your work through social media and on the internet. I plan to explore this in my next blog.

In the meantime feel free to comment and share your ideas.

Till soon,

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Three ways to make more interesting photographs

It's not the camera, it's the photographer. I completely agree. However these days cameras are so good at ensuring images are sharp and well exposed that most of the 'technical' edge that serious photographers used to differentiate themselves from the masses is gone. Anyone can get a sharp, well exposed, professional quality image, with no more effort than pointing and pushing the button. Add to that a little knowledge and effort in Photoshop and just about anyone can produce interesting 'creative' work.

No wonder so many cameras are sold and photography has become such a world-wide phenomenon. I think it is  fabulous that so many people are enjoying making and sharing images.

With the difference between photo enthusiasts and professional photographers constantly narrowing, I asked myself what separates professional photographers from the masses, if anything. Here are three things that spring to mind...

The men's locker room at  the AELTC  where players like Djokovic and Nadal change for the Wimbledon Championships. See my photo story 
One of the key differences between professional photographers (this applies especially to photojournalists) is that they gain access to places, subjects and people that most other people do not. Gaining access is probably the hardest part of being a photographer and it usually takes considerable effort.

Pro photographers make sure they're in the right place at the right time and they will go to extraordinary lengths to achieve this.  It's simple. If you're not there, you're not going to get the shot. There's an old photojournalist saying, "F8 and be there."

Once you've gained access to your subject, you'll most likely find you're not alone. Other determined photo-journalists have been there and done that before you or they're right there next to you.

You're under pressure to come up with something new. The first thing you need to do is to get your camera somewhere different. Pick a unique viewpoint. Find a different angle of view on your subject. Lie on the floor, stand on a ladder, climb a tower, go to the other side of your subject...get something unusual.

When you're a photojournalist you don't always have the ability to control the light as you have to react to fast changing situations. However on editorial assignment, a skilled approach to lighting your subject will help you set your images apart from the work produced by other photographers.

Light is at the heart of making beautiful images.

The three steps to making extraordinary images are: get access to somewhere or someone unusual; pick a unique viewpoint and then use light to make your subject stand out.

Till soon,