Saturday, December 28, 2013

Photographer's choices for 2014

Talented cellist performing in the street
What are your goals and aspirations for your photography in 2014? Or put another way, if you don't know where you want to go, how are you ever going to get there? Here are some thoughts on the choices facing today's photographers and my personal guidelines.

At the start of 2014 most photographers are doing one of the following:

  • Authentically capturing reality. 
  • Manipulating reality using software to create digital 'art' works.
  • Creating commercial images that use some aspects of reality but actually portray a world that upon closer inspection could never exist.

What path will you follow? For me the only photographic path that has any long term value is to capture reality.

What this means is following a strict code so that my audience knows that what they see is real, the way I saw it.

My guidelines

Image treatment

I will not digitally enhance images beyond basic darkroom corrections such as burning, dodging, white balance and lens distortion correction. Digital darkroom techniques will only be used to adjust the dynamic tonal range and colour balance of an image so that it looks like the scene I saw, and conveys the mood I experienced.

Ethical behaviour

I will accurately represent the subjects I am photographing, taking care and showing respect for the welfare of people, animalsand the environment. I will not harm or manipulate the subject or its environment for the sake of creating a photograph.

Image captions and supporting articles

In order to have any credibility as a photographer I need to ensure that captions are accurate and fully disclose the reality of the situation. I want people to know they can trust what I write as well as what I photograph.

A word about digital techniques

I think that HDR is okay if photographers state that it was used and the photographs were taken in rapid succession, almost the same moment. However, I have chosen to not use a composite of more than one image. By the way, few people seem to get HDR right. Most HDR looks awful and cartoonish and certainly not like any reality I ever saw!

The same applies for stitched panoramas. I think they're okay if done as a series of shots in rapid succession, and clearly labelled as a digitally stitched panorama.

I will not use any gimmicky filters or digital effects.


These are the parameters/guidelines I follow as a photographer. I hope that the images I make now and those that may survive in a 100 years from now help people to understand the world we live in today. That they show reality and communicate with authenticity.

So what are the guidelines you will follow for your photography in 2014? Will you create your own digitally enhanced world of images, playing to your heart's content in the image manipulation playground, or will you show the world as it really is today.

Whatever your choice, I hope you have a great New Year and until soon,

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Always carry your camera

If you always have your camera with you then you're going to be able to capture those interesting moments that happen around you. Here's an interview with Jay Maisel's perspective. When you have your camera with you, you're ready for any adventure. If you have to go out specifically to shoot something it's more like work.

I've had this interview in my favourites for a few years now. Hope you enjoyed it too.

Till soon,

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sebastião Salgado: The silent drama of photography

I wanted to share this inspirational TED Talk by one of the world's most renowned photographers, Sebastião Salgado.

"Economics PhD Sebastião Salgado only took up photography in his 30s, but the discipline became an obsession. His years-long projects beautifully capture the human side of a global story that all too often involves death, destruction or decay. Here, he tells a deeply personal story of the craft that nearly killed him, and shows breathtaking images from his latest work, Genesis, which documents the world's forgotten people and places.

Sebastião Salgado captures the dignity of the dispossessed through large-scale, long-term projects."
 Source: TED.

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.

Till soon,

Saturday, October 12, 2013

National Geographic editor on choosing images

I found the conversation between National Geographic magazine senior photo editor Elizabeth Krist and Kathryn Keane, National Geographic’s vice president of exhibitions interesting and wanted to share it with you, especially about how the final images are selected for publication.

The movie above shows some the images selected and we hear from the photographers themselves.

"One of my questions for Elizabeth would be about the editing process. In any given assignment you can get thousands and thousands and thousands of photographs, and only a few appear or are selected to illustrate a story. I don’t think people understand how difficult that is. How does that work?" asks Kathryn Keane, during a conversation recorded on October 4, 2013.

Elizabeth Krist answers, "By the time we actually start looking at pictures, we’re so immersed in the story that we have a deep understanding of the research and the themes that we have to convey to the readers. So that by the time I start looking at all the images—you know, just flashing across my computer screen—my brain is going to a much more subliminal level.

"I’m just looking for the perfect convergence of light and composition more than anything, because I trust that the photographer has already honed the subjects by what she’s shot. And then I just go through and pull whatever speaks to me at a really deep, visceral level. Then I go through on a second round and get that down more by the actual content and the storytelling and what is really required to construct a visual narrative for a reader who might not know anything about the story.

"So for every picture, I’m looking for a convergence of information, some sort of revelation, something I didn’t know. The other element that the picture has to hit is some kind of visual impact—something that’s so striking, whether it is the light or the composition—something that’s really graphic that just hits me so hard at a gut level that it jumps out."

I think that sums it up very well indeed because it is the way we photographers should be thinking; the light, the composition, impact and of course the story we're telling.

Women of Vision is a landmark project, part of National Geographic's 125 year celebrations.

Till soon,

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Choosing the sharpest aperture for your lens

Amazing architectural detail in Antwerpen-Centraal Station.

I think photographers tend to be slightly obsessive by nature, particularly when it comes to equipment.

One regular debate revolves around the sharpness of lenses and photographers spend a fortune on a particular brand’s most expensive, best quality lenses. Is it worth it? The short answer is ‘yes – in a laboratory. But in real life there are a number of other factors to consider.

What do you do if you can’t afford a full range of prime lenses; or if you travel a lot by air and need to travel light, or in environments where carrying a selection of heavy lenses is not practical?

The answer is to get the best quality possible out of your lens. This applies of course whether you’re using kit lenses or prime lenses.

A kit lens, when used at its sharpest aperture, can deliver excellent results that rival far more expensive lenses.

The next logical question is what is the sharpest aperture for my lens? Most photographers will tell you between f5.6 and f11. The logic is that at wide apertures (eg f1.4-1.8) and very small apertures (eg f16-f22) you’re pushing the limits of your lens. At small apertures diffraction can seriously affect lens sharpness. Received wisdom is that F8 is often the sharpest aperture as it sits nicely in the middle. However the only real proof for the sharpness of your lens is to test it out for yourself. It could be f5.6, f7.1, f8 or f11. Ask yourself what the manufacturer envisages the lens being used for. If it is for portraits then wider apertures (eg f5.6) are more likely to be the sharpest and if it is a wide angle for landscapes then logically the smaller apertures (eg f11) would be the sharpest. But this is just a generalisation.

The distance to your subject and focal length you use a zoom at will also affect which aperture is the sharpest. Take a photograph of a subject at your favourite working distance with your lens. Use a tripod, mirror lockup and a remote release to ensure that other factors such as mirror bounce do not affect your results. You’ll be amazed at the variation in sharpness that your lens produces at different focal lengths (if it is a zoom) and different apertures. Each lens has its sweet spots. Identifying them can help you get the most out of the quality your lens can produce.

Now I mentioned photographers’ obsessiveness in the first paragraph. Returning to this point I feel bound to emphasize that making a great image has very little to do with picking the sharpest aperture on your lens. It’s all about emotion and how you interpret the moment. You may need minimal depth of field to isolate your subject or maximum depth to keep foreground and background as sharp as possible.

It’s good to know where the ‘sweet spot’ is for your lens but you shouldn’t be a slave to any formulas. Just go out there and have fun and create. Few normal observers of your photographs are going to examine them obsessively for sharpness. What the image shows and how it communicates with the viewer is far more important.

However if you are able to choose an aperture, then knowing the sweet spot of your lens and being able to benefit from that extra bit of sharpness could give your image an extra edge.

Till soon.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

Monday, September 09, 2013

What photographers and brands need to focus on today

Authentic and real imagery. Chocolate in Brugge.
We're all rather cynical these days about advertising promises and can spot an image that's fake a mile away. What does this mean for brands and companies that want to advertise to us and the images they choose? And on the flip side what does the demand for real emotions and real imagery mean for photographers?

Studies have shown that people are far more positive toward  an advert with an emotionally powerful and authentic image than one that looks like a set-up studio piece or standard stock image. Getty commissioned independent research from the agency Brainjuicer in the UK and used a sample of 600 people to test a set of three adverts. One advert used an image that was authentic and emotionally powerful, the second advert was a standard stock type commercial image and the third advert only contained text. The results show a far more positive attitude by the public toward authentic, emotionally powerful images.

In other research conducted by IPA DataMINE it was shown that emotional campaigns, as well as improving brand awareness and commitment to buy, were also more effective in achieving typically 'hard-to-achieve' positioning and perception elements such as fame, quality, trust and differentiation. 

So what does this mean for photographers. Without going into all the nitty gritty of the results of various experiments, I'll cut to the chase.

Authentic images that show real emotions are going to be increasingly sought by brands and companies. The reason is that brands are beginning to realise that overly manipulated 'fake' images and images that are clearly and obviously 'set up' and created to market products do not appeal to people. You and I apparently want to see real people, real situations and real emotions.

Photographers still need to shoot with high production values. Technical quality, good lighting and complete control over every aspect from location to casting is essential. However the key to success will be to create a situation where real emotion can flow, that looks authentic but does not look absolutely perfect in every sense - there has to be a slightly random element, which we term 'perfectly imperfect'. 

Professional photographers know that to produce an image that at a glance may look like a spontaneous snap, takes an extraordinary amount of work but this is the type of image we should be striving for so forget about your overly manipulated and clearly Photoshopped images.If you want to succeed, keep it real. 

Our audience will relate to and identify with images that are real, authentic and emotionally powerful.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Till soon

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Lighting and controling colour advice with Joe McNally

When it comes to dealing with tricky lighting situations National Geographic photographer Joe McNally has seen it all. In this video he shares his advice on using flash and dealing with diverse light sources.

I would take a similar approach to Joe, although I'm more inclined to go full manual from the start as he also does later on in this video.

So here is how I would do it:

  • Assess the scene and establish my camera viewpoint (as Joe does).
  • Measure the ambient light (deciding what I can let blow out and what to keep).
  • Using the settings for ambient light I would then manually set the flash to balance and blend the subject into the scene.
  • Work with reflectors to fill and help shape the light

Note: in a 'normal' shoot Joe would go straight to the solution but here he is shooting along the way to show the process.

Hope you enjoy the video.
PS. There's a wealth of material out there on the Internet covering just about everything but if you're interested in a personal one to one Advanced Flash Techniques course delivered by me online, then get in touch for pricing and further information.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Direct from the artist

Don't get left in the steam age. The digital revolution is here and it affects the future of image buying.
The digital revolution offers agencies, art buyers and designers unprecedented direct access to photographers. However the old fashioned business model of using stock libraries persists.

Stock libraries have tried to adapt to the digital revolution and market themselves around technological tweaks such as facilitating different types of searches using keywords, emotions, colours...

This type of tinkering can be compared to putting rubber wheels on a horse cart. Yes, it makes for a smoother ride but the reality is that there's a revolution happening. To continue the metaphor, the automobile has arrived consigning horse carts to history. That automobile is social media, refined website SEO and sophisticated image search engines. It has never been easier to find an image and identify the artist.

Of course we're not quite there yet. But artists need to start acting now because the digital revolution is moving at warp-speed.

Why buy direct from the artist?

  • Great work and talented photographers are getting easier to find. Take a look at sites like 500px, Flickr, Facebook and  Google + (keyword, titles, locations, lots of ways to search).
  • Most images today are bought for display on screens, so quality control is easy.
  • Surely it is preferable to reward the talented individuals who produce remarkable work. They should get 100% not 10, 20-30% royalties!

Why photographers should sell direct wherever possible

  • In the past it was perfectly reasonable for large corporations and stock libraries to take a percentage of the sale of an image. They were performing vital business tasks on behalf of the photographer such as providing storage, admin, marketing and ecommerce functionality.
  • Today online storage is cheap (free on Flickr), ecommerce websites are easy to setup and cost virtually nothing and marketing is shifting to building a dialogue through social media channels and understanding your audience and attracting them with great visual content, which suits photographers extremely well!
  • Why make big corporations richer and give away 50, 70 or 80% of the revenue for your hard work and creativity? 

What next?

I believe that in less than 10 years all but a few niche stock libraries will still be around. Their business model is broken, obsolete. Photographers that create remarkable images and have built relationships with image buyers will thrive.

If you're a photographer or a buyer and you agree with the above then please help spread the word. The time to take action is now. Buyers, please give it a try when you next have a project and photographers start building your profile and looking into alternative ways to sell your work direct.

I sit on both sides as I both produce images and buy them. If you would like to chat about the future please get in touch.

Thanks for you time,

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Master Series: Greg Heisler on Photography Techniques

Great feedback and lots of views on the Greg Heisler interview I posted last week so here's another one in the series.

It's interesting that when photographers get to a certain age and have earned their stripes they say very similar things. Magda Indigo and I have always, from day one, fought to be as independent as possible from  being influenced by other photographers. You can admire other photographer's work but when it comes to your own work, the only way is to follow your own path. Greg Heisler eloquently  makes this point in the video.

Learning from others is good. Slavishly copying or imitating the work of other's is not the path to take.

Be original, be creative and Greg Heisler says, go in with your eyes wide open.

Till soon,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Inside advice for pro photographers

Renowned pro photographer Greg Heisler gives an insider's view on what it takes to make it and last in today's fast changing professional photography marketplace. This is a superb summary of the state of the business right now.

Hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, June 08, 2013

On selling images

"You never know," says Magda Indigo on selling images. In this clip she tells a great story about how one of her images she least expected ended up on a book cover.

Photographers often find themselves in a challenging position. In this case, low light and no tripod. At times like these good practical technique, experience and a 'just go for it' attitude are all required to make the image but what you'll really see shining through in this interview is Magda Indigo's passion for photography. After the work is done it's doubly rewarding when a publisher buys the image.

Hope you enjoy it,


Friday, May 31, 2013

Exclusive interview

Well known brands including Samsung, Microsoft, Google, MTV, Harper Collins and American Express use photographer Magda Indigo's images, and her work regularly features in magazines and online publications. She is also well known and popular on a number of photography websites. In a little over a year she racked up 1.49 million views on 500px!

Until now she has never given a video interview. Sit back and enjoy this exclusive interview with Magda in which talks about her photography, lighting, cameras, technique, inspiration and some of her favourite images.

I recommend clicking through to YouTube and watching full screen in HD.

Hope you enjoy!

To see more of Magda's work visit

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ethics in street photography

Stopped to chat to a lovely elderly lady enjoying the sun and watching people pass by her bench.

She kept asking me whether my picture would appear in the local paper, the Zeewacht, although I had explained that I did not work for the paper.

As I said goodbye and left, I heard her say to her bench friends in Flemish that maybe the picture would still appear in the Zeewacht.

Next time I am Oostende I will look out for her and give her a copy of the picture. One thing my wife and fellow professional photographer, Magda, and I do is often go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that we keep our word, and when people have asked for a photograph, make sure they get it. It's the least one can do. We've met a number of people on our photo-travels who say they have been promised a picture by a photographer and never received it.

That's sad and makes it just a bit harder for the next photographer to build a relationship. Basically, if you don't intend to do something then don't promise it.

Till soon,

Friday, April 05, 2013

Challenges of using film

Magazine cover shoot on film

You could argue that professional photographers have it really easy these days. Let me explain why.

I shot this absolutely ages ago on film for a magazine cover. Great fun. In those days we checked exposures with Polaroids, except for this shoot I didn't have them.
The shoot was a real challenge. I had to balance ambient light in the casino with flash and the lights built into the table. The client invested budget, we hired the model and the first time we saw the results was when we got the transparency film back from the lab. Sigh of relief.

In retrospect I wish I’d added some back-light on her hair but the idea was to make it all a bit mysterious rather than kitsch and over-lit. So it worked out fine and most importantly the client was happy.

Digital has added an enormous safety net for photographers where you can check everything during the shoot, and on a big screen, if you shoot tethered. What a luxury!

See you soon,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tips for good travel photography

National Geographic photographer, Bob Holmes, offers advice on how to take better travel photographs, actually his advice applies to pretty much all photography.

In this interview with Marc Silber he says something which I have often mentioned in this blog, it's not the equipment, its the your photographer's eye and the key to getting good images is 'access'.

Bob specialises in using natural light.

Hope you enjoy the video.

Till soon,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Photojournalism: World Press Awards 2013

Photojournalism is alive and well with photographers producing incredible work in 2012. The selection of work by the World Press Photo Awards show cases some of the best stories and images selected by the judging panel.

I highly recommend you browse the website galleries, which are packed with interesting information as well as the images.

It's not only about still images. The multimedia work is equally impressive. Here is the winning story, particularly interesting to me as I recently met several people who had migrated to South Africa. They were more fortunate than the people in the story "Into The Shadows" but also faced daily difficulties and challenges.

Two ladies originally from Zimbabwe,  Sharon the hairdresser and her friend Blessing who works at a hotel in Cape Town, chat while braiding photographer Magda Indigo's hair.
Sharon opened her stall on the Cape Town parade. Life is difficult. She has to pay for the stall as well as for storage of her materials. Every day she hopes to earn enough to have something over after paying her costs.

Comments welcome. What do you think of the level of work chosen by the judges?

Till soon,

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Combining photojournalism and commercial photography

The line between photojournalism, commercial photography and art has become less and less obvious. I am not surprised. Photography is a medium we use to express things and communicate, like a pencil and paper, and it should not be confused with the reason the image is created.

Commercial photography is all about selling something and photojournalism is about bearing witness. One photographer with an eye for creating powerful images can bridge these different worlds. Steve McCurry is a great example as you will see in the two videos below.

Before any photographer picks up a camera they do need to know why they are taking the picture. That mental focus is just as important as physically focusing the lens.

Here Steve shares the stories behind some of his most famous photo journalistic images.

2013 Pirelli Calendar. A totally different mission. I notice he prefers continuous light to flash.

Given how poorly photojournalism and humanitarian photography pays, I'm also wondering if more and more photographers are resorting to shooting commercial work to support their other work. Not saying this is the case for Steve McCurry but just a general observation. Another route photographers are taking is to use crowd sourcing, like kickstarter, funding for personal and non-commercial projects.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Comments welcome.

Till soon,
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to fight procrastination

I guess we all have trouble with procrastination and, maybe I'm generalising, but I think artists are particularly  susceptible. Creative minds tend to fight discipline and jump from one thing to another. So when I read the post below by Oliver it struck a cord. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The other challenge we often face is overcoming creative block and one of my earlier blog posts is often quoted, so if you've not read it before do take a look.

Read Quote of Oliver Emberton's answer to Life Advice: How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating? on Quora

Thank you Oliver. So now we can tackle creative block and procrastination...let's crack on.

Till soon,

Monday, January 07, 2013

Live Street Music from Cape Town

I combined raw street footage of musicians performing in Cape Town with stills shot at the same time and one or two other images to set the scene in this short video (view on YouTube full screen in HD).

The video shows what the camera outputs natively and you'll see from the stills how I enhance the images using a touch of flash while shooting and Lightroom to process the final images.

Hopefully the video captures the relaxed fun spirit of Cape Town. Plenty more images from the Cape being added daily to my South Africa portfolio.

Thanks for looking.

Till soon,