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.
August 14, 2012
For the last two weeks everyone (almost) was going Olympic mad and while I was pretty cynical about the whole thing in the build-up, ten minutes into the opening ceremony I was completely won over.
Professionally-speaking, apart from covering the torch relay as it left University of Bath, I’ve had very little involvement in the Olympics. However, I did get to cover the “Triathlon Live” Give It A Tri event in Bristol’s Millennium Square last week, an event held at various locations around England and organised by Triathlon England to bring active sports to the public.
Teams and individuals visiting the event could try swimming, cycling and running, all on machines and in a high-tech swimming pool and against the clock. It was great fun, but the weather tended to keep the crowds away from the open-air seating where they could sit and watch live Olympic events on a giant screen.
It did make for some interesting shots, a couple of which I’ve featured here.
September 27, 2011
Pixelheads is a new and occasional feature for this blog. When the mood takes me and circumstances allow, I will interview a random person about their photography. The interviews will not be with professional photographers – those can be read in abundance elsewhere. I’m interested to find out what makes a non-professional photographer tick.
Here is the first Pixelheads interview:
I asked her about her life, photography, influences and tastes.
What do you do for a living?
I’m an office manager and designer and to progress my designing career I’m interning at a Bath design agency.
When did you get into photography?
When I moved to Bradford on Avon in 2009, the place inspired me to start taking pictures.
What cameras do you use?
I have a Nikon D3000 with 18-55mm and 55-200mm kit lenses, and a 50mm f1.8, which is my favourite lens, a Canon Powershot S90 and a Polaroid 500.
The S90 is my main carry-around camera, with the D3000 being for more complicated stuff. I love using the Polaroid camera, but the new film doesn’t work well through my camera because it’s a bit volatile in daylight, so I need to find packs of old stock.
What kind of pictures do you like to take?
I’m a bit of a mixed bag really. I went through a big macro phase when I had a macro-enabled bridge camera – shooting things like Lego minifigs (Minifigures), but I’ve got into shooting derelict buildings because I like grime and decay. Street photography too, though not so much of that now.
Tell me more about the minifigs shots.
I started with standard figures, then they brought out series of figures (Star Wars, Batman) and I’d buy a handful of those. I’d set up film themes like Psycho, Forrest Gump sitting on a bench, that sort of thing.
No, the arms don’t go out the right way for that, but I did The Shining. But I stopped doing those pics and sold most of the minifigs. I go through phases really.
Why not the street photography so much now?
I enjoyed it, I used to snap away and not care, but had some run-ins with people complaining and I sort of lost confidence. It doesn’t float my boat as much now.
And the derelict building photography; what draws you to that?
I’ve been to a few places; hotels old factories, that sort of thing. Obviously you have to be very careful, but it’s so interesting to capture the essence of a place. Getting a sense of what was there before, the life that was there and what used to happen. One hotel I visited still has a website as if it still takes bookings, which is quite funny.
Which photographers do you admire?
Martin Parr; I understand his approach. I just think his photos are amazing. The New Brighton series especially.
Don McCullin also, his conflict work. The landscapes don’t do it for me, but I understand why he had to do them – to get his brain back together again. Then if we’re talking portraits, it’s got to be Jane Bown.
What’s next photography-wise for you?
At the moment I’m devoting more time to my design work, but looking forward to seeing Martin Parr’s exhibition at the Bristol M shed when I go with the Bradford on Avon Photography Group soon.
August 23, 2011
For some time now photographers have been waiting in hope for the application that would help them track use of their images. Something that, without prohibitive amounts of effort and financial investment would allow them to find illicit uses so they could chase infringers for payment and to have the work removed from websites where it’s not licensed to be used.
Of course photographers are keen to ensure they get paid for infringements, and this is the side of the copyright argument that is so often flagged up by those who would like to be allowed to infringe more freely (sometimes known as freetards). Having photographers portrayed as money-grabbing monopolists is a handy way of demonizing those who merely want to protect the work they create.
What gets mentioned less is the harm it does to a photographer when work they have shot and charged to a commissioning client gets hijacked by someone who is just not in the mood for paying for the stuff they use. If an image is licensed to a paying client, and they see someone else using it for free, it can harm the photographer/client relationship and also cause problems with exclusivity, model releases and further legal issues where a stolen image is being used in a libelous context.
All these are issues faced by the photographer today, and it can take a lot of valuable time just to ensure images are not being appropriated by inappropriate people and used in inappropriate ways (that’s easy for me to say).
So while the tineye service has been around a while, and it can be very good at “reverse image searches” it’s also clear it can’t possibly keep up with indexing every image that gets uploaded to a website every minute of the day. Better perhaps if a service like Google, which seems to have web crawling and indexing off to a fine art, could come up with something more powerful.
Cue Google image search, where you chuck an image from your hard drive into the search box on Google which then returns matches of that image, plus any similar images it finds.
However, if photographers thought Google had the answer, they may be disappointed to discover that Google’s image search function was starting out with a different question.
I’ve been playing with Google’s image search function, and to me it’s more suited to finding images which represent the feel or look of an image you already have, but which might not quite match what you’re after, rather than a tool for photographers to use to find infringing copies of their images.
Having run a few of my images through the system, I found some bizarre and vaguely humourous results, which I’ve set out below. Try it with some of your own images, and see what happens. I’m sure there’s a great game waiting to be invented.
August 16, 2011
I’m going to start by apologising that this week’s posting is late, and that it’s a bit lightweight, but I only got back from a trip away (see below) late last night and have been playing catch-up with work all day.
There’s a certain inevitability that a photographer on holiday still takes pictures, but for me it’s a struggle to take landscapes and holiday snaps that really please me, so when I went up country to visit my brother in County Durham last week, what was the photo I got the biggest kick out of? A bowl of fruit of course. Obvious, innit?
The only camera I took for myself was a Canon G11, and a Yashica T3 Super film camera for my son. We don’t have the photos from that yet, but I wouldn’t mind betting they’ll be pretty good. That camera always had a brilliant lens on it, and my son can spot a decent photo sometimes.
In addition to the G11 I took an ancient Vivitar 283 flash with the thyristor connecting cable, which allowed me to use off-camera flash with the G11. I know I’m getting more technical than usual here, but some of you will be intrigued I’m sure. And it’s with this simple set-up I shot the bowl of fruit one rainy afternoon when there was nothing better to do.
You might think that being a photographer I’d have taken some big flashy camera with me, but we were flying and I didn’t want to lug it about. The G11 is a good camera for what it is (a compact), but I’m convinced it’ll do some kinds of pictures brilliantly, while others are a lot more work. For example, landscapes. It might well be me, but I can’t seem to get a decent landscape out of it. I’ll freely admit I’m not much cop at doing the kind of landscape shot that makes you gasp, but there’s something about the detail in nature which seems to baffle the G11. It’s the grass and the leaves on the trees that just seem to turn into a big greenish blotch.
As for pictures of my son as he runs about, the G11 suffers from the shutter lag that still hobbles a lot of compact cameras.
So here it is, a still-life that reminds me of the holiday without being a typical holiday snap. I hope you enjoy it.
May 31, 2011
The internet is a marvelous thing, but it does seem to make some people take leave of their senses.
A report by an Amsterdam-based organisation called Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations published statistics in January 2010 which claim to show that victims of the “419 Advanced Fee Fraud” paid out something over 9 billion US Dollars (globally, I assume) in 2009 alone. 419 AFF is the name given to those frauds using emails to trick people into handing over their bank details. As an example, I grabbed this one at random from my email trash (edited because she does bang on a bit):
My name is Miss Adilah Elya Adira, I am an only child of my parents, 26 years old, I am a citizen of Malaysia; a computer analyst with Bank Negara Malaysia. (Central Bank of Malaysia) I just started working with this Bank. I came across your payment file and took my time to study it and discovered that15, 5000,000.00 was forwarded to this bank with immediate payment Signal and authentic approval many months ago from an affiliate/mother Bank in Africa as part payment of your inheritance fund….
The only thing I will need to release this fund is a special Hard Disk, we call it HD120 GIG. I will buy two of it, recopy your information, and destroy the previous one, and punch the computer to reflect into your Bank account within 24 banking hours. I will clean up the tracer and destroy your file. As soon as this deal is completed, I will run away from here to meet with you in your country if you are interested. But you must assure me the absolute confidentiality of this deal before I can do anything further.”
Oops! I broke confidentiality. Oh well, sorry Adilah, best try someone else.
Now of course if people fall for this kind of fraud, that’s pretty serious, but are people really so gullible that they give their valuable information away? I fear so.
Now although it’s clearly less serious, and it’s not fraudulent, I believe there is a subtler exchange going on regularly which prizes valuable assets away from the unsuspecting internet user.
Just last week I was reading a discussion on Linked In, posted on a photographers’ forum, which started when the publisher of an on-line photography magazine requested images from photographers who might be interested in submitting their work to be showcased around the world (that’ll be The Internet then).
The pretense is that photographers submitting their work will gain a global audience, wider recognition and perhaps some business through having their pictures published online by the magazine. For free.
Now I know no one is having their arm twisted to give away their work, just as no one is having their arm twisted by the charming Adilah to give away their bank details. And I’m willing to accept that the magazine is a great deal more genuine than the flimflam story of funds being transferred via hard drive to my bank account, but I think if people are going to give their photography away for nothing, they need to think long and hard before doing so.
The internet is a MAHOOSIVE! entity, and like the universe it is constantly expanding. By giving your images away to an on-line publication (which in this case, from my investigations, takes both advertising and subscription revenue), you are devaluing your work, and highly unlikely ever to get the recognition you would like or the leads to future business you might hope for.
I’m not going to name and shame the magazine; we’ll call this a self-imposed injunction, but as an example of how far letting your work go cheap or free gets you, let’s use the case of Robert Lam, who sold his Time magazine cover shot for (reputedly) $30.
This was back in 2009 so I assumed that by now, having got “exposure” in Time magazine, he’d have a swanky website and maybe a Beverly Hills studio. Googling his name though only seems to bring up sites reporting his naivety. Getting the Time cover doesn’t seem to have progressed his career one inch. Even his Model Mayem profile, where he first announced his great Time cover achievement, appears to have closed.
Perhaps Robert became unbelievably wealthy, but then lost it all when he responded to an email from a Malaysian banker called Adilah.
I stand to be corrected, so Robert, if you see this, let us know how getting the cover of Time and $30 changed your life.
December 14, 2010
It’s fair to say that these days there are far more people handling and publishing images than ever before. I’m not talking about photographers self-publishing to flickr, Facebook and the like, but those people within businesses and corporate organisations whose tasks include searching out, selecting and using images within their own publications.
This of course isn’t a problem, except that some (many? who knows) seem not to have had any kind of training for the job they’re being asked to do, and occasionally it all goes a bit wrong.
Classic examples have included a council department getting Birmingham in England mixed up with Birmingham, Alabama, USA on a council recycling leaflet in 2008. There’s some irony in the fact that 720,000 of the leaflets were distributed with the wrong Birmingham on them, but that it would have been environmentally wasteful to have them scrapped and recycled.
Another council, Dover, got its cliffs in a twist when they wanted to use a shot of the White Cliffs of Dover on their website. In an effort to find a “copyright free” photo, whatever that might be (presumably a photo taken at least 75 years ago, so black and white then), the council’s design agency plucked a lovely photo of some white cliffs from the internet and used that. The only problem being that the photo they used was of the Seven Sisters, nearly 80 miles away in another county.
These errors probably aren’t that serious. Silly and embarrassing, and indicative of an amateurish approach to images, but nobody died and nobody got hurt. No, the prize for borderline negligence goes to the Swedish dairy firm Lindahls Mejeri, who bought a stock image of what they thought was a Turkish man in traditional costume to use on the packaging of their Turkish Yogurt. I’m not sure if it was low-fat yogurt, but there must have been some instant weight loss when the firm discovered that the face adorning all their yogurt pots and marketing was that of a Greek man. Those of you not aware of the political faux pas in this situation, just imagine that the feelings a Greek will have for Turkey are enough to curdle yogurt at 150 paces.
In that instance Lindahls are said to have paid an out-of-court settlement to the tune of over £500,000, such was the depth of the plaintiff’s hurt. Personally I wonder what the photographer’s caption read when he/she uploaded the image to the online stock library that sold the image onto Lindahls. Had the caption been misleading? or was it simply ignored?
And that isn’t the most serious case to have cropped up recently. In November of this year, The Guardian newspaper reported how The Independent had managed to confuse a photo of a Croatian film actor in Nazi uniform with a suspected Nazi WWII criminal Samual Kunz (oh the irony of his name!). This would be bad enough, but running the image next to the headline “Wanted for the deaths of 400,000 Jews,” this kind of error becomes serious, defamatory and potentially very expensive to settle. Take the cost of some spilt yogurt, and multiply that a few times.
I used to help run the picture desk of a regional newspaper, and was often required to find library photos of people featured in articles we were running. I was always careful about making sure I’d found the right photo of the right person, but if the story was particularly traitorous, for example reporting on the subject’s criminal activities, I would make sure I had three reasons to know that I had the right perpetrator. If I couldn’t be certain, I didn’t offer the photo for publication.
You have to wonder though if people handling images now have become too blase about the whole thing. Will it take a very high-profile case to make people a little more professional in their handling of images?
I’m going to finish on this rather tragic case of picture research gone wrong. On December 2nd 2010, this comment appeared at the end of an article on photographer Richard Mills:
would you have a photo of a grouse . We are looking for one for a brochure on a walking route in co tipperary .
The article was an obituary for… Richard Mills.
June 2, 2010
You’re shivering, but your palms sweat. You squirm on the unsympathetic chair, and squint into a spot lamp as a voice barks questions at you from the darkness beyond. That’s right, punk, you stole a photo from iStockphoto, and now they’re gonna make you sing like a canary. It’s a fair cop, and no mistake.
For some years now Getty (owners of iStockphoto) have been setting their attack lawyers on business owners and bloggers who have unwittingly (ok, let’s be honest; knowingly) stolen photos from the web to use in their own websites. Normally, a web designer or amateur site builder will trawl Google images for something appropriate to their requirements, mis-appropriate it and use it thinking “well that was easy, so maybe it’s not illegal.”
This is fine and dandy (barring the ethical question of stealing from photographers), until the perp happens to steal an image which should have been licensed through iStockphoto, because that’s when the klaxon alarm goes off at Getty HQ, and the lawyers start booking another expensive restaurant meal based on future incomes from hapless/clueless/amateur website builders.
There was the fairly spectacular case of the removals firm which ended up spending £24,000 on a photo that might have cost around £160 had they licensed it legally, and there’s been a long-running and rather overheated discussion on the Federation of Small Businesses forum which has largely concentrated on how unfair it is that anyone should defend copyright so vigorously against people who were, after all, only stealing what they wanted and couldn’t be bothered to pay for (that’s a brutal summary, but not unfair).
Getty Bad Cop has earned something of a reputation for being belligerent and heavy-handed, and even I would disagree with some of their methods, even though I support the aims of protecting copyright property as I support anyone’s right to protect their own property.
However, perhaps sensing that this approach isn’t getting them much good publicity or winning any new friends, Getty have rolled out a new weapon. Stockphotorights is the cuddly face of the mass image aggregator hell-bent on cornering and dominating the stock image industry. It’s Getty Good Cop.
I have to admit, I rather approve of the aim of stockphotorights which is deigned to educate even the most casual user of images about the dos and don’ts of using photos. I’ve been trying to help people understand copyright and licensing for years, but let’s face it, I’m not Getty and don’t have anything like their resources to reach the masses. Plus where some people will just think it’s Tim spouting off about copyright AGAIN, they might take notice of the message from Getty.
Naturally, the site is aimed purely at users of stock images and only really mentions Getty-related agencies, but the same applies to any image found on the internet, so well worth a read.
So let me get you a glass of water, a more comfortable chair; perhaps turn off the interrogation lamp and offer a call to a solicitor. I’ll ask the Guv to calm down, take it easy. Better yet, take a few minutes to read the wealth of info at stockphotorights and we can all go home early.
May 26, 2010
I don’t much enjoy trying to answer that question (especially when it’s asked like that), but since it’s a question I get asked, well sometimes at least, I thought it might be an idea to do an article on it.
Probably the simplest answer is that I tend to like whichever was the best photo from my most recent assignment at the time of asking. I do tend to prefer more recent work, perhaps because with every brief, with each new location, there are challenges to be met and overcome and I still love to learn something new from each shoot. And maybe it’s that having a press background, I tend to see older work as having passed its sell-by date.
Of my press photography, I’d still say my favourites are my photo of Tony Blair campaigning in Oldham in 2001 and the portrait of Tony Benn in Bath. Those pictures seem to sum up the evangelical character of the former prime minister, while the other sums up the thoughtful, statesmanlike manner of Mr Benn. More recently, the unguarded shot of Richard Noble of the SSC Project pleased me in its informality and got a decent showing in Director magazine
When I look at my recent commercial photography, I’m often drawn to the simple, relaxed corporate portraits, especially where I’ve captured something of the subject’s character, but I also have a fondness for the beekeeper portrait, which was not only tricky to light, but was tricky to shoot since I was in full protective gear and surrounded by bees at the time. The beekeeper was a decent chap too, and gave me some honey after the shoot. Of course, what’s important is how the photo looks, not what was involved in getting it to look that way, but each picture has an emotional attachment for the photographer, which is why we’re often the worst judges of our own work.
Looking at my gallery of public relations photography, I’d single out the portrait of the barbary lion, partly because he’s so handsome and also because everyone who sees that photo reacts with a “wow” or similar, which is always encouraging.
Apart from the lion, I’m quite fond of the PR photo which I took for the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative. The idea of making it look as though the fridges in the middle of a field might actually be working tickles me, and adds an extra dimension of interest to the shot.
There are many photos and assignments I’d rank as favourites, but going back beyond the last 12 years leads me to that period when I was a staff photographer, so don’t have the copyright in those shots, which means I can’t publish them here.
There’s the shoot I did in Norway with the Royal Marine Reservists, which included a striking shot of a marine bursting up through freezing lake water during a survival exercise, his shocked expression and the water droplets cascading from his hair making it almost uncomfortable to view the photo. Or the single frame I managed to get of HM The Queen arriving at Portsmouth Harbour train station on a drizzly night, simple headscarfe and clearly not expecting a photographer, though smiling all the same.
Delving even deeper into the past, I’ve featured here a couple of favourites from the very beginning of my career, when I freelanced for the Bath Chronicle. Now I think about it again, it isn’t just my recent work I’m happiest with. I think I have some pretty cracking older shots too…
How about you?
Whether you’re a professional or amateur, do you have a favourite of your own? Or perhaps there’s a photographer you admire, or a particular photo that sticks in your mind. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
May 5, 2010
I’m quite convinced that when I talk to some clients about post production, they think I’m just a con artist trying to make life difficult, complicated and expensive for them. Perhaps they put me in the same category as a car mechanic, who stands there sucking his teeth, telling you all the expensive things he’ll have to do to your car to make it run properly. Like emptying the ashtray, or fitting a new phalange.
Why can’t I just shoot the photos and hand over a CD of everything and let the client go on their merry way? Well I could, but before I let my pictures go, one of the most important tasks I carry out is to ensure the images are clean.
I don’t mean I check them for naughty lady bits. Hopefully on an average corporate shoot there isn’t even the remotest risk of that. What I mean is the fuzzy blobs that show up on a photo when dust attaches to the camera sensor*.
This is a common problem for digital SLR cameras. Every time I change a lens, I’m letting dust into the gaping mouth of the camera, and the next time the shutter is fired the dust gets attracted by static charge onto the sensor which shows up as a grey mark on the image.
Some SLRs have special cleaning settings which shake the sensor down on startup, in the hope that the dust can be vibrated off. But these systems are only effective up to a point. I regularly clean my sensor manually, but I have to change lenses on most shoots, letting more Hoffman – sorry, I mean Dustin.
So when I get the images onto my computer, in addition to the setting of resolution for print or web use, colour and exposure tweaks, captioning etc ad infinitum, I check each and every frame for those dreaded blobs. If not viewed at the right percentage (size) on screen, they can easily be missed, but they’ll manage to show up nicely on your website, and even more so in print.
To the extent that they’ll look ugly on a photo, they can wreck an expensive print run of brochures, so tell me, do you feel lucky? Do you think you can spot and eliminate The Blob? Apart from anything else, do you really have the time to sit there and take blobs off every photo you use? And what if you miss one?
Next time you think the photographer resembles a shark with the scruples of a politician, just remember the alternative could be worse; a photographer who doesn’t care enough about your project to do proper post-production.
*To be pedantic, it isn’t the imaging sensor which gets the dust on it, but a filter which sits directly in front of the imaging chip. This filter, known as a high-pass filter, is there to reduce the amount of infrared light getting to the sensor, as this gives photos a strange colour cast. Digital camera sensors are very sensitive to infrared light, so the filter is necessary to counteract it.