February 19, 2013
I was listening to Billy Bragg being interviewed on the radio the other day and while he was never one of my favourite artists, he has always made a fair amount of sense. On this occasion he was even good enough to admit his voice was never his strong point. Perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an apology for his vocal on Between the Wars.
During this interview Billy was talking about the state of the record industry and the difficulty young working-class singers and songwriters face when trying to get a big break because of the way the industry has changed. The interviewer suggested that surely the market would seek out the best talent, regardless of background, to which Bill replied, “You know what happens if we leave it to the market, you get horse meat in your burgers.”
The wider point Mr Bragg was making was that the record industry no longer has a filter in the form of the likes of John Peel who would have plucked an artist from obscurity on the basis of a few good songs regardless of background. Billy believes it’s often the privileged kids from public schools who get the break and as he put it are “clogging up the charts.”
This “class” issue is an interesting one affecting photojournalism, and has lead to a situation where photographers have to self-fund coverage of events, then hope to sell the images to publishers who can force prices down because as they see it the pictures have already been shot and the photographer will be grateful to claw back some of their costs, never mind make a living. Success is now more to do with whether you can fund your shoots rather than pure talent.
I rarely shoot editorial in the purest sense now. Newspapers rarely call me up to shoot assignments for them (my previous post explains where they get pictures from since the collapse of their budgets), though I still shoot PR pictures in a style to suit newspapers. I won’t fund assignments in the hope of selling something later. I do shoot personal projects and if I sell something from those that’s fine, but it’ll be at my own prices and on my own terms.
In the corporate photography sector there is also downward pressure on prices, but I decided a couple of years ago, even in the grip of a deep recession, to set my rates and stick to them. I have to say I’m glad I did because when I see some of the work being churned out by photographers charging significantly less than me, I’m happy to boast that their clients are not getting what I offer. I don’t think I’m some David Bailey of the corporate photography world, but I know what I do well, I stick to doing it and I charge what I believe is a fair rate for the quality and service I offer.
I genuinely believe if a corporate client is only interested in getting the cheapest photography they can find, they won’t get anything worth having. Newspapers have already proved this theory. Their imagery is more horse meat than beef right now. Businesses wanting to avoid the Findus fate will invest properly in their images because people aren’t stupid. They can spot bull in photos and they don’t need a DNA test for that.
December 18, 2012
This being the last blog post for 2012 it seemed like a good excuse to do a round-up of some of the photos I’ve taken for clients this year – one from each month except July for which I’m posting two images just because I have the power and I felt like it.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my clients without whom I wouldn’t be in business and I would very much like to thank all my blog readers for putting up with my drivel over the last 12 months and for being patient when I didn’t get time to post anything some weeks. I’m sure you were grateful for the breaks anyway.
I do hope you enjoy this selection of photos, have a very happy Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you again in January 2013.
August 7, 2012
Last Tuesday I was asked to cover a photo-call on behalf of Premiership Rugby in the build-up to the Rugby 7s final taking place on the Friday.
This was going to be a quick-turnaround job, but the shots also needed to look polished, so I arrived in plenty of time to set up portable strobes on the rugby pitch at the Bath Rec (recreation ground, home to Bath Rugby Club) and have the trophy arranged so that when the team captains came down for the photo, I’d be good and ready.
The shoot list required pictures for the website, a shot for each of the captains’ home newspapers (consisting of a group shot each, with each captain taking it in turns to be nearest the cup and then individual captains with the cup), and a programme cover. I probably had less than half an hour to shoot the whole thing, including time for the photographer from The Bath Chronicle to get his shots too.
Having got all the shots I needed, I got the images onto my laptop, captioned, edited and sent off to the agency that was going to deal with the distribution of the images to all concerned. From starting the shoot to delivering the images was about 2 hours.
Despite the rain, the shots turned out fine and the Premiership Rugby website was updated with the new group photo and the regional papers all had the shots they needed. And on Friday when I arrived to cover the corporate hospitality aspect of the event, there was the programme with my cover shot on it. It’s challenges like that which get the adrenaline going and keep me keen. More please
March 26, 2012
I recently blogged about photographers who profess to use only natural light (ie they hadn’t figured out flash, so why not hide ignorance and pretend flash is for some sub-species of photographer), but another trend that’s been getting under my skin recently is the over-use of something called Clarity.
In case you’re wondering, clarity is an adjustment photographers can make to their photos from within Adobe’s Lightroom application. What it does in (really brief) layman’s terms is increase contrast in the mid-tone areas of a photograph. It doesn’t do much to the brightest and darkest areas of a photo, but it can improve or make a real mess of the in-between tones.
I use Clarity on many of my images just to add a little more ‘punch’ than is in the original RAW camera image, but the rule I apply to the Clarity slider is the same one I apply to many image-processing effects, that is; if I can see the effect, I’ve probably gone too far.
And too far is what I’ve seen a lot of recently. Especially on portraits. I first noticed the sledgehammer application of Clarity in a Sunday Times Culture magazine portrait of Jack Nicholson last year. I wish I could show it here so you’d see what I mean, but I can’t find it now, so instead I’ve demonstrated the over-Clarity effect below with one of my own photos.
You’ll see this effect used on some corporate portraits too, and to be honest I think it looks ghastly. It ages all whose portraits are touched by it. It gives everything a kind of super-digital weirdness and makes skin look bruised and like badly dried-out leather.
I thought it worth writing this article because if you’re looking to commission portraiture for your company and would like to avoid the DFS-face-effect provided by the Clarity-hammer, you might want to recognise the signs of its use in the portfolios of the photographers you’re considering using. Then decide if that’s the look for you.
March 6, 2012
“I specialize in natural light photography” is a statement you’ll see on some photographers’ websites, but what does it mean? What is ‘natural light’ and does it make these photographers special?
Let’s get any pretense out of the way first; I’m rarely convinced by such statements. To me the subtext of what they’re saying is, “I don’t know how to use flash, flash scares me so I’ll pretend I don’t need it. I’ll just say I’m a specialist at not using it.”
In essence natural light is any light which isn’t man-made. Sun and moonlight is about it, but looking at some of the ‘natural light’ photographers, they’ll happily pull electric light into their lighting armoury, regardless of the strange colour casts you’ll get on people’s faces under this lighting.
Sometimes the photographer will fix this by turning their pictures to black and white. Which is fine if the client wants black and white. Not so clever if the images are for a colour project.
There are very few photographers around who can genuinely limit themselves to only taking pictures using natural light and nothing else. William Eggleston springs to mind, but I’m not sure you can hire him for your wedding or commercial shoot.
Brian Harris is a working English photojournalist who very rarely uses flash, but can get away with it because of his talent combined with the kinds of commissions he takes on.
As for myself, I often have to work in difficult lighting conditions but make the pictures have a particular style and look. This might mean daylight is sufficient, but often means I have to supplement the daylight (or even replace it entirely) with portable, battery-powered studio flash.
This may not be as simple as pointing and shooting using whatever light there is, but for me the results are worth the extra effort.
If you’re looking at hiring a corporate photographer who “only uses natural light” or “never uses flash”, chances are they just don’t know how to use flash. This isn’t a skill or specialism, it just means they haven’t learned the basic requirements to do the job. It’s always best to check their website first, look out for a dominance of black and white, or strange and inconsistent skin tones. For your projects it’s often important to get a consistent style across all your imagery, and that’s where portable studio flash can help. Oh, and someone who knows how to use it!
October 25, 2011
The Law of Flickr dictates that for every opinion applied to the subject, there will be an opinion of equal and opposite force. Despite this, I’m going to ask the question, “Should I be on flickr?” and hope for some kind of definitive response.
In truth, I already have an account there, but like many internet things I’ve signed up to over the years, I’ve never got around to doing anything with it.
This is due to a number of reasons. Perhaps the primary reason is I can’t see the point. The secondary reason is it probably doesn’t suit the work I do. Flickr strikes me as the kind of site where you upload a picture of a flower, kitten, sunset and wait for the heaps of praise to come in from your fellow flickrati.
Occasionally I’ll shoot something just because it’s fun to take pictures. My weirdly-lit, low-angle fungi shots are just that. It gets me out into the woods, gets me in the fresh air, experimenting with light, but I don’t shoot them in the expectation some large corporate organisation will licence the pictures for fantastic sums of money (if you’re a large corporate organisation, do please get in touch). They would be perfect flickr fodder though.
Before you ask, no I’m not posing this question because I’d like to sell my snaps though the flickr/Getty deal. I’d rather sell my soul to someone likely to pay a fair fee than licence any images I take for 6p a download.
If I use flickr at all, it would be with a view to attracting the corporate commissions I rely on as the mainstay of my business. I want to know if flickr adds Googlejuice to my website, if people looking to commission new work (as opposed to buying stock images) use flickr to find someone who shoots the kind of work I shoot, or if it would just be another account to maintain and feed with no real benefit beyond the fun?
Is flickr only (or best suited) to the keen snapper or professional selling prints or stock?
This week, I’m asking you, my loyal and beautiful readers, for your opinions based on the parameters I’ve set out here.
I fear I’ll end up on flickr posting endless corporate headshots and wondering why no one is telling me I’ve got nice bokeh, it’s a “cool capture” or a great use of light. It might be a lonely time there, but if it gets me more enquires for paid commissions, you won’t find me complaining.
September 6, 2011
Sorry to bang on about this, but I’m still hearing designers say “our client wants to use stock images for their site because it’s cheap,” and what the client wants, the client gets. And that’s usually where the designer/client conversation regarding photography ends.
The designers tell me they’re frustrated, that they put all this effort into designing a brilliant site only to have to drag the project down by slapping cheesy grins and ever-so-serious-but-utterly-anonymous business faces all over it just to fill the gaps between the boring text. Or how about some pictures of flowers? Or a tree? Or a business man looking at a tree? That’s soooo inspirational.
Hey! Business people! Here’s the news! STOCK SUX! It makes your site look generic. It makes your service/product look exactly as enticing (ie not at all) as all your competitors. Stock has become completely blasé and unconvincing. It may be cheap, but it WILL cost you in sales. So while you’re busy chasing the bottom line, someone else is creaming off what would have been your top line. The less you pay for your photography, the fewer sales your business will make. End of.
I hate all that management-speak about top and bottom lines, but if yours is the kind of business that uses stock imagery for your branding, then you’re the kind of business person that goes to a lot of management and motivational seminars in dull hotel conference suites in Swindon to hear a “guru” tell you lots of buzz words you’ll never quite understand, but which make you think you’re at the “bleeding edge” of your envelope, box, bag of mushrooms or whatever. Yes, go thread the needle of success and let’s make this kite fly, but you’re not convincing anyone, least of all the clients you’re working so hard to win.
So to designers, I suggest turning the conversation around and asking the client if their website is meant to please them or please their clients. If they just want a pretty site to show their mums to make them proud, fine, but if they want to seriously gain market share in an increasingly competitive world, they’re going to have to feature what’s great about THEIR business, not use the same old images that everyone else is using for a million other sites.
If you hide your business behind a wall of fake images of models doing fake stuff, you send out the message that you don’t trust your real business to live up to the expectations of your clients. It also suggests you don’t trust your clients, so your clients won’t trust you. And if that happens, you lose sales.
Or as a business guru might say (if they had a clue about these things), “get real photography to get real business.”
May 17, 2011
Another trip down memory lane this week, and this time I risk accusations of blatantly fishing for blog hits by featuring this photo of former Page 3 model Leilani Dowding. She’s modeling a bikini which Swatch wanted to promote at the time (no pun intended) as there was a watch incorporated into the design.
There is a reason for this picture being here though, because it’s been fascinating to see that although my website is dedicated to corporate, press, PR and commercial photography, this is the photo which has had the most views out of all the pictures on my site.
I don’t mind revealing that it’s had 138 views to date. That isn’t all the people that have seen it, since you can see it without clicking on the website thumbnail. That’s how many people in about 18 months have gone to the trouble of clicking on the thumbnail image to see it larger.
Bearing this statistic in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Marilyn Monroe comes in second with 103 views, but then my Skinheads picture scores 89 to achieve 3rd place. A slightly worrying top three, but of course the hits aren’t necessarily related.
Now I should be pleased that some of my pictures are so popular, but this rather odd bag of stats highlights that just having a picture seen a lot isn’t going to bring in business. Indeed, I think I can categorically say that none of those three images has ever pulled in a genuine client. My examples of corporate portraits and the like, with much more modest hits in the range of 30-50 have done a better job of bringing in work.
It just goes to show that pretty photos don’t always bring in work. A popular picture isn’t always going to bring in business. For businesses using photography, if it’s shot well and is relevant to your business it’ll have a much bigger impact on income than something which is just “very nice to look at.” This thought should guide how you present your business.
In the meantime, I can’t bring myself to take the Leilani photo down. It’s obviously bringing pleasure to some people, and she certainly adds a splash of glamour to the gallery.
As for Leilani herself, she was lovely to work with. Utterly without pretense, and of course, thoroughly professional. We’d previously done a shoot together to promote a gardening kit giveaway for the News of the World, but that picture isn’t half as glamorous!
I understand she now lives and works in Los Angeles. I doubt she remembers me
May 3, 2011
The parallels between the photographic industry and farming aren’t as obscure as you might think.
Imagine Getty are the Tesco/Asda/Sainsburys of the picture world, where the suppliers of the produce they sell have little control over the price they’re paid for their goods, regardless of the cost of production.
There are only so many outlets for farmer photographers, owned by some very powerful businesses that will set the selling price to wherever they think they need to in order to gain market share and make a profit.
I mention profit, but I’m not sure if Getty (who also own iStockphoto) are in profit for their stock photo portfolio of businesses, and reliable figures seem elusive, but they’re certainly good at spending whatever money they have on expansion plans.
One advantage farmers have over photographers is that they are paid for their produce by the wholesalers or retailers who then sell it on for a profit, while stock photographers give their work to the libraries for free in return for a commission, but only if a photo sells. And a photo might never sell, or might only sell for a few pence, of which the photographer might get a few pennies.
By way of leaving the farming analogy to one side, I’d like to say I have the utmost respect for farmers and I’m glad they do a job many of us couldn’t cope with.
The news that Getty have now acquired the Australian stock image library Photolibrary, close after the announcement that they’ve also acquired image-tracking firm PicScout, means Getty are still aggressively expanding and consolidating their business, but you won’t see photographers jumping for joy and I think in time neither will picture buyers be especially delighted.
Getty will want to see a return on their investments, so it may be we can expect them to switch the PicScout phaser from stun to kill as they target image infringers and recoup their money through either higher or more numerous payment demands.
As for their buying up yet another image library, what possible advantage is there to a business or a designer that they can now choose from an even larger library of the same old same old? Surely once you’ve seen one sterile business picture, you’ve seen them all. Getty can’t claim to have extended buyer’s choice any more than Heinz can claim to have extended our choice of baked beans by making more tins of the same beans.
It also appears that Getty are looking to turn the screws once again on their contributing photographers by introducing terms that mean Getty will be able to move images from Rights Managed to Royalty Free licensing, with no mechanism for contributors to opt-out of such a scheme. This leaves contributors with less control over how their images are used and the prices set. For buyers, it will mean even less exclusivity, making stock imagery even less attractive than it already is.
That final point probably explains the rise in enquiries I’m getting from businesses that are wanting to break free from the herd and be noticed (back to farming!), but I’d rather Getty used less aggressive tactics anyway because they don’t reflect well on the industry as a whole.
It’ll be interesting to see where all this activity leads. If Getty want to take a lion’s share of the market with a view to pushing up stock image prices, they may find this is a very long game indeed. I’m sure they have a plan, but in this world of over-supply and finite demand, it’ll have to be a very cunning plan or a game with infinite budget.
UPDATE: ASMP makes thinly-veiled suggestion to American photographers that if they contribute to Getty, they should consider other means of distributing their images (in other words, quitting Getty). More at PDN.