Photographer

In every walk of life the way you deal with people is incredibly important and can determine how successful you become. Photography is a people business. Even if you primarily take pictures of inanimate subjects – cars, food and architecture – you will still be dealing with a lot of people to make your shoots work.When it comes to photographing actors and models your people skills are even more important.I’d like to share a story with you that made me quite sad and inspired writing this blog. We’ve recently been doing headshots for actors, like Leanne above, and I kept hearing the same thing.Most actors wanting headshots need them for a casting, for their book and their headshots have to be regularly updated. This means they experience different photographers. Sometimes they work with a photographer provided by an agency and other times they search for a specialist headshot or portrait photographer who knows what agents and casting directors are looking for and how to present the actor in an honest, useful way that will catch the eye of casting agents.The actors we photograph all said the same thing; how comfortable they felt, how patient and easy going we are and how enjoyable the photo-shoot had been. You may think actors are comfortable in front of the lens but when it comes to stills and they don’t have a script and they are not acting, they can feel as vulnerable as next person.The stories I heard were about how some photographers treated their models and actors as objects. They were often abrupt, rude and sarcastic, and in some cases reduced the models to tears. In particular this happened with photographers working for a modelling/acting agency. The photographer saw their client as the agency feeding them a conveyor belt of actors and models to photograph.These photographers probably took very good care of their agency clients but forgot that their subjects, the actors and models are real people. I think this is appalling. Now I know that sometimes models and actors can be ‘difficult’ but there is absolutely no excuse for not treating people right.Photography is a service industry, and like a hairdresser, restaurant or high street retailer we have to ensure our customers, the people we photograph, have a good and rewarding experience – before, during and after the shoot. And that goes for the whole team on the shoot too – make-up, hair, styling and assistants.Treat people right and you’ll go a long way in this business.

Do we violate people when we photograph them?

Whenever you pick up your camera and take a picture of someone you have to realise that your image is a record of a moment that will be passed down through history.Your picture can have a profound effect on the life of the person you have photographed, their family and the public. One example that illustrates this is Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph “Migrant Mother”. Jeffrey Dunn has written a great article about the affect of this picture on all concerned.I find it fascinating when people who played a prominent role in a famous photograph are rediscovered, often unaware of the role the image made of them played in history. A recent example was revealed in the BBC Wales TV documentary where Professor Dai Smith traced a miner who described how he and two colleagues had met renowned photographer W. Eugene Smith on their way home from work at the pit and had been instructed on how to pose for one of the photos published in Life in 1950. The miner remembered the day he was photographed quite clearly and that Smith offered a little guidance as to how they should stand and where they had to look. Smith was trying to communicate his story. The village backdrop, the miners, the light, their gestures, all contributed to the story he was building.Smith used the miners, as Lange used Migrant mother to visually communicate the truth about a situation. In a sense photographers direct the action and their subjects become actors playing a role, which may or may not reflect their actual personal situation. The photographed subjects may be quite unwitting in their complicity and indeed the photographer may not fully realise the truth they are communcating in that moment. It may come out in the brilliant clarity afforded later by history.I do not agree with Susan Sontag’s statement, “To photograph people is to violate them,” in her book On Photography. The word violate is far too negative. Art and journalism are always an interpretation of reality. Through this interpretation we hope to uncover the truth. I do not think that most people who have been photographed feel that they have been violated. They are usually willing participants in the story and like the miner do not feel strongly one way or the other. Some will feel the truth of their story has been misapropriated but like the Migrant mother’s family eventually they may come to realise the role an image played in history was important.Photography is an incredibly powerful medium. My wife and fellow photographer recently got back in touch with a famous dancer she had photographed twelve years ago. He saw the portrait she had made and he became emotional. He said his whole life since that moment flashed in front of his eyes. The image had a profound effect on him. He has asked Magda to make another portrait.Photography is about time. The split second the image was taken and the way that image resonates through time. Pick up any book of historical images and you can feel the ghosts speaking to you.This power to communicate through images means that as photographers we have to realise that we have moral duty to treat our subjects with respect and dignity. We should tell the truth of their situation as well as provide our audience with the the wider social truth of their circumstances. This extends to the way we present our images and caption them and most importantly we should feel the heavy hand of history resting on our shoulders every time we push the shutter with another human being in front of our lens.

Do you think professional photographers love their job?

Pierre, framer and artist, Ostend, Belgium. “Photography is my passion,” is an often used phrase. I’ve noticed that many amateurs are particularly enthusiastic about being photographers and dream of turning professional.But when you look at a survey like the one done by jobsrated.com the reality of being a professional photographer hits home. You may be forgiven, after reading professional photographer’s blogs that every single one of them is as happy as pig in the mud. However in the survey which rated the top 200 careers photography only came in at number 125 behind jobs like bookkeeper (39), librarian (43), typest/wordprocessor (54), cashier (110) and telephone operator (115).“Moving further down the rankings reveals an eclectic mix of jobs which either suffer from intense physical demands, such as veterinarians and construction machinery operators, or, as in the case of photographers, post mediocre scores in work environment and stress while offering exceptionally low pay,” writes careercast.com.So having established that once you become a professional photographer life is not necessarily a bed of roses let’s take a look at what I think is the essential difference between those in the profession doing a job to put food on the table and those who are living the dream.For me the fundamental differentiator is loving what you do. Through circumstances you may currently be doing wedding photography and you’re stressed out, tired and doing your best to deliver high quality work, but deep down you’re not loving it, and you’d far rather be photographing your favourite sport or fashion, or something else. Or it may be the other way round and you’re currently shooting fashion but long to get out of that slightly unreal world and work with ordinary people and share their emotions on the biggest day of their lives, their wedding, so you like to be a wedding photographer.Every one of us is drawn to something in particular and the trick to being happy in what you do is to recognize what that is and then work towards making your job all about the photography you love to do.The benefits are exponential because once you’re doing something you love you’ll be more enthusiastic, more dedicated and you’ll get better at it and more clients will want your work.If you’re a professional photographer and you don’t love it then for heavens sake go and do something else. Follow your dream! And of course the same goes for photographers not currently shooting what they love. I urge you to do everything you can to rekindle the passion and love for what you do on a daily basis. It will bring you enthusiasm, energy and enhance the quality of your work.Take the first small step soon. Go make a picture of something you love.I don’t follow trends. I don’t chase after the latest money making ideas. I do what I love. It’s the only way to get ahead. I’d rather be making trends than following them.

Photo sharing site grabs rights to sell images

Photographers are concerned their images posted to a group of social photo-sharing sites will be sold without their consent following a change in the site owners terms and conditions.Internet Brands which acquired Trek Lens, Trek Earth and Trek Nature has used its Terms and Conditions to cynically grab the rights to sell and adapt the work of photographers who upload images to its photo-sharing sites.Here is the relevant paragraph from their T&Cs:By displaying or posting content on the Site, you hereby grant us a nonexclusive global license to publish the content submitted by you to the Site. You also grant us global nonexclusive adaptation and resale rights over any content and material submitted to the Site. These nonexclusive publishing license and resale/adaptation rights extend to any materials submitted \”for publication\” within the Site, including both message board postings and content submitted for uploading and subsequent publishing within non-message board portions of the Site. Neither we nor our staff will be responsible for any misleading, false or otherwise injurious information and advice communicated on the Site or for any results obtained from the use of such information or advice. We will not be liable for any loss or damage suffered by a user through the user’s reliance on information and advice gained on the Site.Photographers who upload their images have expressed concern on the Trek Lens forums but so far Internet Brands has not responded.We have seen efforts to grab the rights of photographers before, for example when they enter a picture in a competition, but I do not recall seeing anything on this scale where thousands of images uploaded by photographers in good faith over many years have been grabbed for resale by the website owners.As with most sites the owners reserve the right to change their T&Cs without notifying members but surely when it comes to copyright work which may have commercial value this kind of thing cannot be acceptable. Yet legally as far as I can see members who not agree to hand over the rights to sell their work have only one option. Delete your work and leave the site.I sincerely hope the media picks up this blog and brings pressure to bare on Internet Brands. If they do not change their T&Cs I feel sorry for all the photographers that have spent so many hours lovingly working on their images, uploading them and writing informative and useful notes. So much good work will be lost if they have to delete their porfolios.

How much photographic equipment do you need?

Part of our old Hasselblad system in its caseMany of us photographers get a little carried away with all the cool gadgets, equipment and cameras. We end up with lots of stuff – sometimes causing mild distress to our partners. Fortunately my wife is also a photographer although she takes a very practical approach to equipment. I’m definitely the Magpie in our family.So I’ve ended up with truck loads of cameras and gadgets. And guaranteed when I open a photo magazine tomorrow I’ll see something else that ‘I need’. I’m sure that many of my readers will be nodding their heads wistfully at this stage. All sounds a bit familiar eh.But sometimes all of this stuff can get in the way of good photography. I remember seeing a photographer in the street a while back with a backpack, a camera bag in each hand and a tripod, and two cameras dangling round his neck. The poor chap could hardly move, never mind capture the action on the street. He decided to go for a tripod shot and then spent 15 minutes struggling with various bits and pieces on his tripod and changing lenses – opening this bag and then that one, shifting things around. In the meantime several really interesting people walked by but he had his head down busy with his stuff. I stood there and shook my head in wonder. After 15 minutes of watching him fussing and not taking a single shot, I gave up and wandered off.So what should you take with you on a photo-shoot. Well it very much depends on what you want to do. If you’ve got a big production ala Annie Liebowitz then you’ll need an articulated lorry. If you’re into flash and bringing your own light to the party like David Hobby or Joe McNally then a few bags of flashes and lighting paraphernalia are the norm. For photojournalists like James Nachtwey a camera and a 28-70 F2.8 will do nicely, or Steve McCurry – travelling light with his camera and three fixed lenses. Cartier Bresson famously took most of his images on his Leica with a standard lens.The key questions to ask yourself are:What type of image am I after?What is the environment going to be like?Will I have somewhere to leave my equipment safely or will I need to travel light and move fast?What is going to cause me more hindrance than it is worth?If I leave xyz behind will that kill my chances of getting a good shot?Am I going to swamp eBay with all my stuff now? Nope. I’ll be keeping it just in case, ahem… but I do think very carefully whether I need to take something with me and I go through the questions above every time I pack my bags.Here’s another tip for you. If you’re travelling and don’t want to risk lots of expensive equipment in the aircraft hold then you may want to investigate hiring stuff when you arrive on location. It can save a lot of headaches.

Eye return

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }Keeping an eye on you, originally uploaded by paul indigo. I photographed this fish eye in the studio using my Horseman 4×5 technical camera with a 6×9 film back on Fuji colour negative. The neg was then scanned and converted to black and white in Photoshop. It looked a bit grim in colour with the blood in the eye. This way it becomes more abstract.I used one overhead softbox with a Godard flash head. Luckily the job was completed relatively quickly and after opening the windows the smell of fresh fish soon left our studio.I know I’ve not been around for awhile now. I’ve been swamped with work. However, I’m ready to take up the blogosphere again and normal service will resume.

Do you speak how you see the light?

The prow of a fishing boat is caught in evening sunlight, as dark storm clouds approach. Note the warmth of the low sunlight, the contrast against the sky, the texture of the hull and the interesting shadows on the mast. This is a straight shot from the camera, without any enhancement in image manipulation software.Light is the language of photography. To express yourself well and communicate you need to be able to speak with light.Light determines what you see (and what you don’t see); the mood of an image; colour and tone. Light can be loud and brash or soft, gentle and soothing. It can wrap around something or cut across it as hard and sharp as a Samurai sword.People have probably been writing about the qualities of light and how to use it in relation to photography from the moment the first print was made. Google “light in photography” and you will get millions of hits (well actually 68,800,000 hits to be entirely accurate).In the past I’ve been complimented for explaining things clearly in plain language. So here goes on the subject of light…Things to consider about lighting when you are about to make a photograph:What do I want to communicate about my subject? Consider, personality, mood, clarity, what you want to emphasise?What do you want to show and what do you want to hide?Pick your view point with the light in mind. Can you control the light within your frame? Can you make it say what you want it to say about your subject?How can you improve the light? By adding flash, using constant light sources, bouncing light, using reflectors, covering windows with a translucent material, using black cloth to absorb light, using Gobos and flags between the light source and subject, using gels, waiting for a different time of day etcHere’s some layman’s science to help you understand lightThe size of the light source and its distance to the subject affect how hard or soft it is and how deep the shadows will be. A larger light source like a softbox, large window, umbrella flash or bounced flash will produce a softer light. The smaller the light source the harder the light and stronger the shadows. Diffusion simply comes down to making a light source bigger in relation to the subject.Light always hits your subject at an angle, whether it is straight from the front, at 90 degrees, behind, top, bottom or from many angles simultaneously. The angle of the light dramatically affects the look of the subject.Light has colour, specifically it has a colour temperature, which means it can be warm, cool or neutral. The colour we see depends on the wavelength of the light reflected off the object we are looking at. Colour deeply affects our emotions. Warm colours seem to come forward while cold colours recede. Using colour of light in this way is a classic way to create a sense of depth and visual tension in an image.The quality of the light will be affected by its intensity. For example the same flash reflected off a silver umbrella has a harsher quality than if it were reflected off a white umbrella surface.So if you want to speak the language of light here’s a quick checklist you should run in your head:How intense does the light need to be?What is the best angle for the light?What colour/s do I want?What size light source?What can I do to control and enhance the light?Just remember every element above needs to contribute to the emotion you are aiming to communicate. Think of light as the language you are using to describe your subject; quite literally to show the viewer what you want them to see – nothing more and nothing less.Controlling light and getting it do what you want it to is a technical art. It is not easy. But with perseverance, determination, close observation and loads of experience you will begin to master it. After all my years as a photographer I am still learning the language of light every day and this journey will continue until I shoot my last frame.As ever, I hope you find my blog helpful and your comments are always welcome.

Beware of wide-angle distortion in beach portrait photography

The traditional wisdom is to shoot portraits on lenses ranging from 85mm to 120mm focal length when using a 35mm film or full frame DSLR camera. The reason is simple. You avoid distortion, and because of the slight compression produced by a telephoto lens the portrait tends to be more flattering.However, in the world of photojournalism and reportage style photography wide-angle lenses are commonly used to give the viewer a feeling of being right in the middle of the action.Nowadays in everything from weddings to corporate work, photographers reach for their wide-angle lenses and because we see so many images in magazines, books and online most people have grown accustomed to wide-angle distortion. It has become more acceptable to see celebrities, politicians and people featured in news stories looking slightly distorted.I say more acceptable because we’ve gotten used to it. But at the same time I’d like to urge you to be cautious about how you use your wide-angle when it comes to photographing people.I work with a business communications company and the company was in the news recently. A national UK newspaper wanted to run a story and they sent their own photographer to take a portrait of the Managing Director. This was a well respected, highly experienced photojournalist with many a story under his belt. He opted to shoot with a really wide-angle lens, capturing the MD in the foreground and his staff at their desks behind him. The newspaper ran the story and I’m sure that the readers just saw it as another typical news photograph.However behind the scenes the staff of the company, family and friends all hated the picture. One of the directors commented that the MD looked like he’d been “photographed on the back of a spoon”. His face was distorted and anyone who knows him in the flesh would say that the image did not really look him, and it certainly was not very flattering.Now if I had shot that portrait for the company’s annual report, do you think I would get another job with them? Of course not.So the message of this blog is to use your wide-angle with care when photographing people. In certain circumstances you can get away with it. But overall if you want to take corporate portraits, or family portraits, wedding reportage etc do be careful about putting people’s faces close to the edge of the frame. That’s where wide-angle distortion tends to be worst.The trick to using a wide-angle for a portrait is to keep your subject close to the centre of the frame, and also don’t press the lens right up against their nose. Play to the strengths of the wide- angle and let it do its work by showing the context around the person you’re photographing. After all that’s what wide-angles were designed to do – show everything in the scene while working reasonably close to your subject.Unless of course you want to do a really wacky humorous image and your aim is to make it look like you photographed someone through a ‘door spy’ lens.One of the greatest photojournalist portrait photographers in the world, Steve McCurry uses a few prime lenses, the widest is a 28mm and the longest is 105mm. Many of his famous portraits were shot on a standard 50mm lens (a 35mm gives you approximately the same focal length on a digital camera with a crop sensor). Others were taken on his 85mm and 105mm lenses.As with all things photographic there are no absolute rules that we should slavishly follow. All I’m trying to say is beware and think about distortion. If you want to take a flattering, authentic portrait then the old conventional wisdom of not using a wide-angle holds true in most cases.Also do not be afraid to put your subject in the middle of the frame. Many people harp on about the rule of thirds, which works a treat when you’ve got a scene and you want to control the viewer’s eye and get them to look at your focal point in the scene. But if you’re photographing a person and they are clearly the subject of photograph, then there’s a definite logic that says they have every reason to be in the middle of the frame. Don’t take my word for it. Just look at any master portrait photographer’s body of work.

Do you think the internet has affected our appreciation of photographs?

Seaside, Whitby, UK. An invitation to discover the subtle details from the crack in the paving to the pink crocs. Click on the image to see a larger version.Seaside conversation – interrupted, Whitby, UK. Click on the image to see a larger version.Most photographs are viewed on screens at low resolution and quite small pixel sizes. Is this affecting the way we look at photographs in general and in particular our ability to appreciate the finer nuances in images?The way we experience images in different media affects our perception. When viewing photographs on the internet we click through very quickly to the next image. Pick up a large beautifully produced photo book and you are likely to spend a lot more time looking at each image.High resolution prints entice the viewer to look at the detail and explore an image. Large photographs hung on a gallery wall invite the viewer to spend even more time discovering every aspect of the image. Nothing beats a beautifully produced original print. Despite the proliferation of online images I still think the ultimate measure of a photograph is how it looks in print.On screen with typical dimensions ranging from 500 pixels on the longest side to 800 pixels, and screen resolution at 72 dpi it is impossible to convey all the subtle details that a full resolution image holds. The images that work at small sizes are bold, dramatic and full of immediate visual impact. Subtle images are therefore not popular on sites which invite fellow users to comment such as Flickr.I hope that this does not discourage those photographers with a quieter voice, who load their images with layers of detail and subtle nuances, waiting for the perceptive viewer to discover them.I love looking at images and nothing gives me a bigger kick than to go beyond the big main statement to find a subtle element, carefully included to add wit, humour or a poignant statement that enhances the overall image.For me a lot of the joy in photography and indeed the essence is the extraordinary detail, subtle colour and light we can capture with our extremely high resolution cameras and lenses.On the internet I see an increasing tendency to produce highly manipulated images, using texture layers, high contrast, blurring and other filters to strip out the detail. And I understand this trend in the context of viewing images on the internet where bold images stand out. Sadly the initial impact often does not last very long. It’s fast food for the brain. Compare many of these images to a picture like an Ansel Adams landscape, which will keep you discovering new things for years because of the richness in detail and the subtle interplay of light on the subject.We need both types of image, and like music there is a place for contemporary and a place for the classic.I hope that readers of my blog will take a moment to think about, discover and enjoy the quieter images that go beyond the obvious, the images that reward the viewer who is prepared to take their time to discover and enjoy the tiniest detail. It is the discovery of these tiny details that ultimately helps the viewer to take the image into their heart and make it their own to treasure.

Linux photography

This image of a seagull was processed out of RAW using UFRaw and Gimp, running under Ubuntu Hardy Heron (Linux).I’ve been using Linux OS and free Open Source software to process my pictures on and off for a week now. There’s a lot to learn and I’ve only scratched the surface.My early impressions are that it takes a lot more effort and fiddling about to get the results that I want. Using Lightroom and Photoshop is like driving a Bentley to get from one place to another. Everything is comfortable, fast, smooth and easy. The Linux image editing tools I’ve used so far are more like driving a very basic small car (not naming brands here). It will get you to your destination too but you are going to feel the potholes more, you’re going to have to top up the oil, the windscreen wipers aren’t great…well I am sure you get my drift.Sadly from a professional photography workflow point of view Linux is too cumbersome. It is possible to use and to generate high quality beautiful professional images. And I know that there are several professional photographers who use Linux applications exclusively. But for me the process is not slick enough and would harm productivity. So I remain enslaved to Windows.However I am going to work with the Linux community and one day we will get there. I do prefer the OS (particularly Ubuntu) GUI. Open Office is superb and it does everything that I could possible want. All the other applications, surfing the net, music, video etc are excellent. The answer for me in the near future will be to run Windows and Linux side by side.I will keep you posted on any further developments in my experiments with Linux.