May 14, 2013
One of the things I love about my work is meeting interesting people and finding myself in interesting places. A fine example of this was an unexpected assignment for Centreline Air Charter, based at Bristol Airport, where I was asked to take a portrait of Centreline’s CEO Phil Brockwell for European Business Air News, who were to run a front page story on the company. Centreline didn’t have a suitable image and called me up to help them.
EBAN might very well not be a publication you’re familiar with unless you happen to own an aircraft operation in Europe, Russia, the Middle East or Africa. You don’t? Fair enough. To be fair, I’d not heard of it until the call came, but I strongly believe that all publications, even trade ones, deserve decent photography.
Phil is one of the friendliest CEOs I’ve ever met and it’s not every day I’m asked “where would you like the jet?” I suggested the South of France, but Phil meant where on the runway apron. Maybe next time, eh?
One of the difficulties I had with this particular portrait was that the sun was especially harsh, in the wrong spot (it almost always is, ask any photographer), and we needed one of Centreline’s shiny white aircraft in the background too.
My choice was either to have Phil squinting into the sun, or silhouetted against the bright backdrop. I had one other trick up my sleeve; bright backdrop but with tricksy fill-in flash on Phil (or Phil-in flash if you will… ouch) so that both background and subject would look good.
Having had the jet moved to where the shot would work best, I set up Phil where he needed to be and set my flash and camera to mitigate the sun, took a few test shots, made adjustments, took some more test shots until I could see we were getting close, made further slight adjustments, then got on with the real deal.
I knew I couldn’t spend a ton of Phil’s time getting things right, but it was nice to be given enough time to set things up properly and also get a variety of shots so that Centreline’s public relations handler would have a choice of images to put over to the magazine.
Apart from having to come off the runway for a coffee break while another jet came into land, the whole shoot was done in under an hour. More than 10 minutes is a real luxury when shooting CEO portraits and I was grateful for the time, but I also think the results were worth it.
The same day I delivered the images to Centreline’s PR, captioned and ready for publication. Their (and my) preferred shot made it to the cover of EBAN as planned and you can see the result below and read more of Centreline’s story here. A good result I’d say and a very satisfying assignment. I certainly didn’t wing it (ouch, again).
May 7, 2013
Five years ago I covered an event for University of Bath which celebrated the granting of sponsored scholarships to students. Certificates were given and a group photo consisting of around 50 students was organised.
Last month I covered the same event which has grown hugely since its inception. This time the group photo was of almost 150 students.
It’s sometimes interesting to look back on assignments which have repeated down the years and see how they’ve developed. This scheme grew very quickly, and I won’t bore you with every group shot I’ve taken, but the contrast between 2009 and 2013 is certainly pretty stark.
The first photo was taken using a stepladder, the latest using a mezzanine floor overlooking the foyer of the building where the presentations took place.
I don’t know if the event will grow even more, but maybe in a few years’ time I’ll need a crane lift and a fisheye lens if I want to get the entire scholarship contingent in the frame!
April 30, 2013
On February 26th I wrote about the Economic Regulatory Reform Bill and its likely effects on the ability of photographers to control where and how their work is used and whether or not any payment is exchanged for that use.
Sadly I must tell you the ERRB, including the clauses on orphan works and extended collective licensing, is now law. I say sadly because this has happened even though the moral rights of the photographer to be identified as the creator of their work has not been reinforced ahead of this change in law.
In case you’re not aware, an orphan work is any creative work of which the author cannot be found. Extended collective licensing is the selling of the use of orphan works without the creator’s knowledge or consent.
In relation to photographs, the problem with orphan works is they’re being created every second of every day on the internet. The problem with ECL is that it takes away the photographer’s right to set or negotiate their own fees based on the value of the work, or to limit use of the work, especially where exclusivity has already been sold to a client. It also ignores the rights of people within photographs not to be associated with businesses or causes with which they do not agree.
Now, before we all hit the panic button, the ERRB is primary legislation and will be subject to regulations which are yet to be drafted. In an ideal world, the orphan works and ECL clauses of the ERRB will be regulated to only encompass works held in historic archives, of which there are many and whose archivists would like the ability to digitize and ultimately make money from works held in storage whose authors have long since passed on or vanished.
Even within that framework there will be grey areas, but to gather in ALL orphan works wherever they reside would be a grave mistake, and would almost certainly result in legal actions, especially from photographers in the USA who are allowed to claim exemplary damages for breaches of their copyright. In short, it could get very messy and very expensive very quickly.
Photographers both professional, amateur and occasional all need to be very wary of what follows. It would be a good idea to write to your MP in the first instance asking what the intention of the regulations will be and whether it means any photo you take can ultimately be used by all and sundry, without your say-so and with no opportunity for you to say no or negotiate a fee.
Another area of the law which needs attention is the moral right to be identified as the author of your work. This is currently part of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act (1988), but it is weak and with too many exceptions. To be fit for the digital era it is imperative that identifying data, either in a watermark or as data embedded within the image file is protected by law.
Of itself the ERRB could be benign, but that we don’t know what the regulations and restrictions will be and the fact it can be amended without recourse to Parliament are dangerous factors and should worry everyone concerned with protecting their own creative property.
I’ve merely outlined the issues here. Far more detail needs to be worked out to ensure the ERRB doesn’t cut off the ability of creators to make a living, nor to exploit the works of amateurs in ways they could never have imagined or wanted. The creative industries in the UK are too important to our economy, and too easily harmed by badly-framed legislation.
April 16, 2013
Twice a year, Frome Wessex Camera Club hold a camera and photographic fair at The Cheese and Grain in Frome. Twice a year I miss it. In fact I must have missed it about 14 times by now, but I was determined to take a look this time.
I’ll confess I expected to find The Cheese and Grain stuffed to the gunwales with old guys in multi-pocketed photographers’ vests nerding over Leica MIIIs and Summicron lenses, or Nikkorflexollamas or whatever. Let’s just say, the gunwales were stuffed, the men were numerous and old and there was the buzz of nerding in the air. I even spotted one or two men wearing multi-pocketed vests, but they may have been anglers who’d wandered in by mistake.
To be fair, my age, gender and nerding tendencies mean I was in excellent company. I took the precaution of bringing my son who was going to have “none of that”. He stayed close and pulled me back from the abyss whenever my eyes glazed at the sight of a classic rangefinder camera. A tough task for any 12-year-old boy, but he did a super job and a coke in the cafe soon revived his superpowers.
The fair itself is a broad mixture of ancient oddities (by which I mean the cameras, not the visitors… mostly) and present-day technology, but the emphasis is geared more to collectibles than modern equipment. I did speak to one chap who’d just acquired a very current and expensive lens at an excellent price. I was a little jealous, I must admit, but my son detected an evil glint in my eye and tugged my arm as he saw me starting to follow the man with the lens. It could have turned nasty.
There were one or two actual women there too and they didn’t appear to be there under duress. They were enjoying the fair too, and I spoke to a young woman from New Zealand who was there to enquire about adapting older lenses to fit her modern digital camera. She was impressed with the level of knowledge available from stallholders and seemed to be having a great time. She hadn’t come all the way from New Zealand just for the fair, but it would be nice to pretend she had.
For me the fair was an opportunity to find something fun to write about this week and to test a (nerd alert) Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L USM MKII lens which I’m reviewing for Wex Photographic. I know you’ll all be dying to read that review when it’s published, so I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s up.
The next fair is in November and I’ll probably pop along if my son will be my nerdguard. It might require two cokes next time.
April 9, 2013
I must admit I was struggling for a topic this week. Then Margaret Thatcher died, which threw me into a quandary. I knew if I wrote about her it wouldn’t have much to do with photography; many great photos were taken of her, she was a great subject for press photographers, but I never got the opportunity to photograph her so can’t regale you with fascinating (snore) stories of the time I met Maggie.
Equally, I can’t bring myself to write about a corporate portrait session the day after such a big news event, so I find myself putting down a few, brief thoughts on Thatcher. I cannot deny, writing a political piece on my photography blog makes me nervous, but nothing else seems appropriate right now.
Ok, I never was a fan, but I won’t gloat over her death. And perhaps it would be trite to observe that she passed away at The Ritz. You may detect I’m struggling to not just “come out and say it”, so perhaps I should just say it.
The inescapable fact is she destroyed industries to an unnecessary degree. Granted, the country was a mess when she took over. I remember the power cuts, the terrible cars, and I’ll accept that British Rail was a basket case, though I was too young in 1979 to remember much about public transport, the steel industry and so on, but the headlong rush to lay waste to everything that could have given this country a sound future was frankly distasteful in its zeal, shortsighted in its goal.
Likewise, the unions were in dire need of reform, but now we’re left with very little in the way of organised help for workers finding themselves in need of a protective hand when they need it. Unfortunately, the unions were their own worst enemy and gave Thatcher the perfect excuse to have them crushed.
We could have replaced the broken, semi-Soviet economy with compassionate capitalism. This would have been achievable with patience and care, but what we’re left with 23 years after she left Downing Street is capitalism without a care, just the individual pursuit of personal wealth, resentment of success, resentment of failure, resentment of the disenfranchised and the poor.
I don’t rejoice at the passing of Margaret Thatcher because her death won’t change the route we’re on. The industries she broke can never be repaired, but maybe the next prime minister to be called genuinely visionary will be one that finds a way to nurture genuine industries and innovation (as opposed to the making of money by moving money around), make us all more understanding of each other, more genuinely compassionate and less self-absorbed… and I include myself in that criticism. There isn’t anyone in the current political class with such potential, so we’ll just have to hope hard for a future generation and spend the meantime striving to be better people despite the prevailing climate.
March 26, 2013
It’s an exercise in stating the bleedin’ obvious to say that a computer is an integral part of most photographers’ equipment, unless perhaps you’re Bill Eggleston, though it’s possible even he uses one now, I don’t know. Bill? Billy? If you happen to be reading this, why not drop me a comment at the end of this article to let me know. That’s if you have a computer with which to read this post of course.
Back to the plot, I certainly do have a computer. In fact I have a relatively prehistoric Apple MacBook Pro which must be getting on for four years old (that’s 50,000 computer years, 1.3 trillion if it’s a PC) and I was starting to worry it wasn’t up to the task any more.
Over the time I’ve had this computer I’ve asked ever more of it. The files from my cameras have doubled in size, I’ve upgraded to Lightroom 4 and PhotoMechanic 5 on top of all the regular software anyone uses when they have a computer and I’d become increasingly aware of the fan noise that would start up whenever I worked on images. Lightroom in particular seemed to get the fans working hard.
Sometimes it was as if there was a DC10 on my desk getting ready for takeoff, and I had been wondering if some harm was coming to the processor, which is what the fans are there to cool. I say fans, there are two in my machine, and a nifty piece of software called Fan Control tells me what the temperature of my processor is in ºC, what speed each fan is doing in RPM and I can adjust various settings to dictate when the fans kick in and what temperature they’re trying to maintain.
I was alarmed to see my processor running at around 80 ºC or more on a regular basis, the fans straining to reach their top speed of 6,000 RPM presumably to stop the laptop catching ACTUAL fire. And then I had a brainwave…
When you open an older MacBook Pro, the hinging movement of the screen reveals a long slot along the back (see photo) and this slot is the air intake which the fans use to draw in cold air and expel the heat. So I got my vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment and gave the slot a good clean out. What a revelation! Where my laptop would routinely be running hot on even basic tasks like writing a blog, it is now silent. Running Lightroom still causes the fans to kick in, but instead of around 85 ºC, the processor runs at anything up to 20 ºC cooler.
The laptop doesn’t run any faster, but it’s quieter, cooler and will be using less power. Plus the processor and other gubbins are less likely to fry and I’m less likely to be hit in the head with the shrapnel of an exploding fan. That really would be a disappointing way to die.
March 12, 2013
I’m thinking it would be too easy to write yet another tale of woe about a small business getting caught with unauthorised images on their website, and if you read my blog regularly you won’t need me banging on about copyright yet again so I won’t. Of course if you want to know more about this, read The Guardian consumer column which will enlighten you further.
Instead I’m going to tell you a new and surprising fact; Photography is more crucial to the promotion of business than it has ever been.
That I’m saying this isn’t perhaps all that surprising. What IS surprising is that it’s been said by John Owens in PR Week. If you’re a photographer, you might be peeling your eyebrows off the ceiling after reading that. Yes, an organ of the public relations industry is extolling the virtues of photography in brand awareness. I utterly commend the article as essential reading to all PRs who either don’t know, or who might need a reminder of the importance of good quality, engaging imagery for their campaigns.
The piece even concludes with an immensely useful check list written by Matthew fearn, picture editor of The Daily Telegraph, for PRs wishing to get exposure in national newspapers, but which is also a perfect outline of good practice for PRs sending images to trade and local press too.
There are one or two points in the article where I would advise caution, as you would expect me to (knowing what a cynic I can be), but I think they’re worth a little extra consideration.
The author sites a couple of examples where big name brands have engaged the goodwill of their customers to help with social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. In one case Lego asked customers to send in creative images of their models for use in what was a highly successful Facebook campaign. Lego’s head of social media Lars Silberbauer says, “At Lego, we are at a stage where we would rather build a stage around our customers’ content than a campaign using fixed assets.”
I say, “Yuhuh I bet you would.” Fixed assets are expensive and customer-supplied content is free. I’m not actually saying brands shouldn’t do this, but it must be done in good faith and brands need to be aware that crowdsourcing can backfire.
In the case of Lego, where customers knew exactly how their images would be used, the campaign was a success. In the case where Instagram wanted to grab rights from its users for unspecified use, the exercise blew up in their face. I wonder how many times a brand loved even as much as Lego could use this exercise. People are increasingly aware of the commercialisation of their non-commercial photos, and while I don’t condemn crowd participation per se, I would urge brands to ensure their use of freely-offered images is circumscribed and boundaries are clear.
You might conclude I’m worried about the public taking PR work away from me, but that isn’t such a concern. As long as the public aren’t being taken for fools and brands play fair, I’m comfortable with this. Any business doing PR properly will have a range of different avenues for exposure, including social media and low-end imagery alongside higher-end imagery, press PR and advertising. It shouldn’t be treated as a one-or-the-other equation.
PR is vital to any business of any size. It’s bad PR to use other people’s images without permission, it can be good PR to ask for pictures if the deal is fair, and a good photographer with real newspaper training and experience can help you get exposure at a fraction of the cost of advertising. So go hunt goodwill, just don’t shoot Bambi’s mother in the process.
March 5, 2013
If you haven’t already seen my review of the Fuji X10 over on the Wex Photographic website I suggest you get there post-haste and read it without further delay. War and Peace it isn’t, but what you will get is a camera reviewed in working situations and which shows what the camera is capable of when you delve deeper than the auto settings. What I discover is that the X10 is a little gem.
Although I’ve only ever reviewed two cameras (the aforementioned X10 and the Canon G1 X) I can honestly say I enjoy the experience and of course Wex know I’d like to do more.
It’s one of those tasks which is kind of scary but also exciting; I know I have to deliver a coherent critique of a camera and I need to get it done within a reasonable period of time, while of course I enjoy getting to try out new equipment.
Wex give me the freedom to decide what images I take, but I’m always looking for pictures which don’t just show that a camera can take pretty snaps in Auto mode, but that it can be pushed and stretched (figuratively of course) to show what it can and can’t do. There’s no point me just stepping outside the office and taking pictures of buildings and pretty scenes. Any camera that can be called a camera can pretty much do that standing on its head, albeit the pictures will be upside down.
With the G1 X and X10 I wanted to see if the camera could take sellable pictures. In the case of the G1 X I sold a flood picture which I took on my first outing with the camera. With the X10 I used it on an assignment and mixed the results in with photos taken on my main camera as it proved very useful working in a situation where shutter noise would have been distracting. The client was happy, and it gave me another chance to show people what the camera could do in less than ideal conditions.
In both cases I tried the cameras out with my portable studio lighting, and both worked incredibly well. And although I don’t class myself a Street photographer, again both allowed me to have a go at this tricky genre and I was pleased with the results.
Wex already know I’m champing at the bit to have a go with the X10’s successor, the imaginatively-named X20, as soon as I can and of course I’ll publicise the article widely if/when that happens and of course you’ll read it, won’t you?
February 26, 2013
Here we go YET AGAIN! I’m starting to get just the tiniest bit annoyed* at attempts by government to destroy copyright law while claiming it’s progress.
This time it’s the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) showing a distinct lack of intellect on the issue.
Last time this was tried, back in 2010, we were at the cusp of a new government and the Digital Economy Act was being hammered out in Parliament. The clause of contention for photographers was Clause 43 which would have allowed the use of orphan works (photos whose author could not be traced) without the copyright holder’s permission.
Luckily for us, after intense lobbying by photographers, the Stop43 campaign and others, the Conservatives (then in opposition to the Labour government) agreed to pass the act only if clause 43 was removed.
Now it’s back, but this time it’s even worse and it’s now part of a bill, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is unrelated to copyright and therefore fewer people are aware of its existence. Even worse, if passed as primary legislation any future changes to the act will be permissible as secondary legislation without the need of a return to Parliament. Didn’t I previously say democracy was being undermined?
Clauses 67-69 effectively strip the automatic right of copyright from anyone who creates a work including photographs. Within those three clauses you lose the right to control your images if they are found on the internet but not easily traceable to you, you lose the right to say whether or not a photo can be used in any given context and you lose the ability to negotiate your own fees should you decide to sell rights in your photo. In addition, the bill extends exceptions to copyright so more people can use your work, including commercially, with no need to ask permission first.
Of course this is a dire situation for photographers whose livelihoods are built on copyright, but it will affect anyone who takes a photo they wish only to be used in limited ways. Amateurs and professionals alike will be affected.
The clauses also ride roughshod over the rights of the subjects within photographs to decide the limits of use of their likeness. It breaches international copyright laws, though apparently the IPO don’t know enough about copyright to understand this. In short, it is an ill-conceived mess reminiscent of reforms to the NHS, education, just about anything ministers decide to change before they’ve properly considered the issues involved.
What professionals and amateurs need to do is lobby their MPs, lobby the Lords and make it clear these clauses do not belong in this bill. Copyright may well need reform, but it’s too big an issue to shuffle past our noses disguised within another bill, and these clauses are not the answer. If the question is how do we stimulate growth in the UK economy, the answer has to be better planned than this.
Further reading and guidance on how you can get involved:
*My entry for Understatement of the Year Awards 2013