October 23, 2012
Here’s a sneaky look at the challenges sometimes facing a photographer in what might otherwise be a fairly standard assignment.
Last week was Biology Week, but you knew that already. You’ll also know the purpose of Biology Week was to raise awareness of the role of biology in the 21st Century with debates and events catering to all ages.
I was commissioned by the Society of Biology and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to cover an event at the House of Commons designed to celebrate the week and spread the word of the importance of biological study to understanding our environment and the opportunities for innovation from new discoveries. My pictures would be used for press release material and the Society of Biology website news page (see link above).
The event was held in the Churchill Room where the great and the good of the biological sciences community mingled with MPs, peers and Chris Packham (BBCs Springwatch and Autumnwatch presenter).
My task was to cover the speakers giving their addresses, people networking and enjoying the evening and anything else that presented itself. It wasn’t an easy task as the room was packed to bursting, which made moving around quite tricky and often made it difficult to get clear shots of specific people.
The lighting was pretty poor too. Very warm colour tone, which when added to people’s hot faces made orange something of a theme for the evening. My best bet was to use a mixture of flash and slow shutter speed to try to have people properly lit without it looking like I’d blatted them with flash, then cool down the warm cast in post-processing to get skin tones looking more human.
Despite the tricky shooting conditions and the extra post-processing involved, as it was my first shoot inside the Parliament building I was thrilled to be there. I highly recommend a tour if you’re ever in London because it really is a fascinating building.
November 16, 2010
Photography on the internet is so pervasive that we take it for granted. But it’s worth remembering, it wasn’t always thus, and need not necessarily ever have been so at all had it not been for parallel developments. A potted history:
In the very early days of the web, most of what you saw was text-based. Then came porn. Then came interactive Web 2.0 when you could upload your own content, and BAM! Photos absolutely everywhere. More porn than you could shake a pink stick at. More photos of kittens, sunsets and dandelions than you can find grains of sand on the beach. In fact, for every star in the Milky Way, scientists believe there are at least 16 photos of orange-faced, bleach-toothed, American executives sitting in the Getty/iStockphoto archives right now, and this figure is set to double by 2020. OK, I made that up, but believe me there are a lot of photos on the web now. A lot of them of men in suits standing randomly in a field.
But for there to be photos on the web, there had to be some way of capturing photographic images digitally, and here’s quite a coincidence.
Around 20-odd years ago, someone built a machine which allowed press photographers to turn their processed film negatives into a digitised version which could then be transmitted over phone lines from anywhere with electricity and a phone connection. The (extremely expensive) machines were built into a sort of suitcase, weighed a ton and the whole process from scanning to delivering a single digital file took about an hour, not including the processing of the film. You needed a jamboy to keep insects out of the workings.
Then came portable film scanners and Apple Macs, which replaced the old suitcases. Then came Kodak with the first digital film backs for press cameras and the ball really got rolling. By now (circa mid-1990s) you started to see photographers shooting photos on fully-integrated digital cameras and transmitting photos from their laptops, via mobile phones back to the picture desk.
For consumers, compact cameras started to hit the market, with giddying resolutions of 800,000 pixels, and costing upwards of £450, but the die was cast. Canon developed their own digital SLRs, hotly pursued by Nikon, pixel wars followed and here we are today. Film is almost extinct, but digital cameras have coincided perfectly with the advances of web technology.
The two were made for each other. People love taking pictures, and they love boring their friends and complete strangers with them, so the internet is the perfect way to self-publish. Everyone wants to be a photographer now, many people think they are and supply their photos of autumn leaves and rainbows to the likes of Getty for a fat 8p fee for each photo sold, or they share them for free on sites like flickr, where unscrupulous web designers and bloggers can trawl for photos in the hope they won’t get caught when they nick them for websites.
And this is where the marriage between the internet and photography is getting shaky. You see professional photographers and the likes of Getty have always known the value of copyright, whereas most people have ventured, utterly un-prepared, into the arena of taking and publishing photos with precious little inkling of the meaning of copyright.
Any idiot can give a photo away for free, but getting paid a respectable fee for supplying a photo, well that’s a black art. An art which Getty et al wished professional photographers didn’t know so much about, and are thankful most amateurs don’t understand. Because if Getty, Google, Corbis, Facebook, flickr (whoever, you get the gist) could make money out of all the “free” photos on the web, they’d be laughing all the way to the Canary Islands for a very comfy retirement.
Unfortunately for internet entrepreneurs, not only do professional photographers understand the value of copyright, but the general public are starting to twig too and are asking questions like “why did I wear my camera out taking 40,000 photos of butterflies, and all you pay me is some copper pennies and a half-eaten Werther’s Original?”
This marriage is starting to strain, and there could be some shouting, door slamming and plate smashing to come as the UK and US governments come under pressure to re-jig copyright laws so that web entrepreneurs (sometimes flatteringly referred to as freetards) can start exploiting everyone’s photos without all the bother of having to ask permission, let alone pay for what they want.
The next year or so will be critical to this fledgling marriage between the web and digital technology. The offspring of this unsteady alliance might turn out to be the bastard son of a badly re-drawn piece of legislation, and all the fun of the web will be replaced by sad bickering, litigation and exploitation. Suddenly I’m craving a roll of film.
This article was originally published as a guest blog on the ECRM website.
July 8, 2010
Since the start of the recession, many businesses have had to adjust to a new reality. Everyone is in competition with everyone else and the only growth sector has been the printing of money as the Government bailed out banks to prevent a crisis in the luxury yacht industry.
For most of us though it comes down to hard decisions on what we invest in to help grow our businesses and what we cut back on to save the bottom line. Do you lay off the chauffeur and spend the money you save on a new website? Sell your children’s kidneys to fund an advertising campaign? All difficult decisions. Since my children don’t smoke or drink and can function perfectly well with only one of each vital organ, it’s been a bit of a no-brainer for me (which is handy since I sold my brain), but some of you may have tougher choices to make.
So when it comes to deciding on whether to refresh the photography on your website, or buy a new iPad or new leather-faced office chair, let’s think about which of those things will help your business the most.
The chair is lovely to sit on, meaning you’ll spend more time at your desk fielding crank calls from angry customers or playing solitaire on the PC while pretending to fill in the forecast spreadsheet for next year. What good is a forecast anyway? You predicted 18% growth for the last financial year, only to have to revise it last-minute by adding a “-” to that figure so forecasts are as useful as business plans or bets on the dogs.
You’re not sure why, but in your heart you know the iPad will help grow your business. Ok, in your heart of hearts (the one that isn’t real so can’t be sold on the black market) you know you just “want” it because you do, but you’re desperate to justify the silly cost on what is essentially half a laptop with a solitaire app built in. Now you can pretend to fill in spreadsheets while on the move. Amazing.
This is the bit where I say tah-dah! and announce that what you really need is some top-notch photography because that is what will help your business in a very positive way, and right now your business needs all the help it can get.
So there I’ve said it. Get some decent corporate photography. It sounds self-serving for me to say it, and not as fun as a new executive chair or an iPad, but if you look back to the start of this piece I said that everyone is in competition with everyone else. If one truth can be truer than another, this one is: You’re not just in competition with other businesses in your sector. You’re in competition with every other business out there since most people only have a finite amount of money to spend, and more often than not they’ll spend it on the shiny things. Every business is in competition with every other business, and nowhere more so than on the web.
How can photography help? By using professional photography, in a professionally-designed website or brochure with well-written copy, properly set up for search engines, you can make your product or service more findable and desirable than not only your direct competitors offerings, but also all the indirect ones competing for the same pot of money.
After all, what was it made you desire the iPad and the shiny office chair? Was it the rubbish photography and the cheap-looking ad campaign and website?
April 29, 2010
I’ve recently introduced a new system for presenting and delivering images to clients. I haven’t shouted about it to everyone yet because I felt it needed to be tested with some trusted clients first, but it’s proving so popular that I’m offering it to anyone I think can benefit from it.
Here’s how it works, but a little history first:
It used to be I’d shoot an assignment, then make a web gallery from the images before any post production was carried out on them. The client would choose images from the gallery, send me the image reference numbers, and I would carry out post production and send the photos via CD, email or FTP.
The client would either have an agreed number of images included in the price, or would pay an hourly post production fee according to how many images they needed.
This was all well and good, except that most clients would end up choosing 30 images from a 30-image deal (for example) when they only needed maybe 12 images to start with. The rest they were picking just to make up the package, when they didn’t necessarily know how they might use those photos.
Now with the client-specific, interactive gallery, I do the shoot, edit the pictures, do post production on all remaining shots and upload them to the client gallery, from where the client can download the files they need, when they need them. The files are all ready to be published when the client sees them, and they don’t need to download the entire package of photos in one go. The gallery remains for as long as the client requires it, and indeed the client can have me add to the gallery with subsequent shoots.
This development has also allowed me to put together a more formal pricing structure for all those assignments which don’t have special, extra requirements in either equipment, travel or licence to use the images. In other words, standard corporate shoots.
You can download the rates card here Tim Gander Fees to see how it works. I put together three packages to suit different business sizes, types and picture needs, from an all-in option for the busy client with a need for quick access to lots of images over a period of time, to the startup that might just want to have a bank of images sitting safely there for them to buy as and when they need them, thus managing their cashflow better.
Of course there will be times when clients need more extensive rights to the images than my standard terms allow for, and there will be clients with a much lesser requirement, or shoots will be more or less complicated or expensive to run, in which case rates will be negotiated according to the assignment and the client’s needs, but this system will suit the majority of standard, corporate assignments.
I welcome feedback on this, so have a look and tell me what you think.
Tim Gander is a commercial photographer shooting corporate photos for businesses in the Bath, Bristol, Swindon and Salisbury areas of the South West of England, and has a habit of talking about himself in the third person.
Contact Tim on 07703 124412 or email@example.com
March 9, 2010
Hooray! You’ve decided to blow the dust off your aged and failing website, spruce it up with a refresh or redesign, and you’re planning on getting some genuine, original photography shot just for your business. What should you look out for?
Perhaps the first and most obvious thing to think about is the style of photography and photographer you’re after. If you’re promoting your business, you’ll need a specialist commercial photographer. Look at the portfolios of different photographers, and think about whether any given photographer can deliver the quality and style you need. Don’t just pick at random or use the friend of a friend who happens to have a nice camera. Remember, this is your business you’re promoting. How you present it will influence what people think of it.
Budget sensibly. Again, this is your business you’re trying to promote. If your website is your shopfront, it needs to reflect the quality of your business. That needn’t cost a fortune, and making enquiries about likely costs is free.
In my last posting I dwelled on some of the pitfalls and legalities of using stock agency photos (often referred to as microstock because the payments are very small). It’s only right then that I highlight the same for commissioned photography.
- Don’t assume you, your staff or your business aren’t photogenic enough:
A good photographer will do everything to ensure you and your staff look good, and probably better than you thought possible! Also remember, business isn’t a beauty pageant and people don’t see you the way you see yourself. The same goes for your premises and processes. There may be details and angles you’ve seen a million times and never had a second thought about, but a decent photographer will make them look interesting, and use them to help tell your story.
- Watch the price:
As with stock imagery, you need to know what the cost will be. It’s tricky to estimate this without some idea of what will be involved in shooting pictures for you, but draw up a rough brief of what you’d like photographed, how many images you hope to achieve and what the pictures are to be used for (internal comms, external PR, corporate publications and web, advertising etc) so the photographer can give some idea of likely fees. Make sure the time required to shoot the images is sufficient, and make sure the photographer’s estimate includes permission to use the images. I work out my fees based on a combination of the likely time and resources needed for the shoot, the likely number of pictures required, plus the uses the client will require of the images. I combine these elements to give an over-all figure.
- Check the T&Cs:
Again, as with stock, check the photographer’s T&Cs and that the agreed uses match your requirements. My T&Cs are based on standard UK ones, but the uses agreed vary according to the client’s requirements.
- Get references:
Ask for references from other clients. I’m certainly happy to offer references if asked (and no, it isn’t my Mum that I’ll put you in touch with!)
- If things go wrong:
The great thing about working with a specific photographer is that should anything go wrong, you have a human being you can take up the problem with, not a faceless agency. The advantage of a professional is that they will do their best to foresee likely problems and tackle them in advance, and will do their best to keep you happy if there are any issues after the shoot.
The next article in this series will look at the issues involved in taking your own business photos, or getting a friend or relative to do them for you. You can hazard a guess at what I’ll be saying about that…
March 4, 2010
When was the last time you gave your web site an overhaul? Or does it sit there, Miss Haversham-like, gathering dust, all dressed up for the big day then left to decay, alone and unloved.
Maybe it’s time to pay the old dear a visit and see how she’s doing. A neglected web site will do nothing to help your business. Dust and cobwebs building up, broken old links. Oh, and that “designed by a toddler” look, just doesn’t cut it any more.
Naturally, when it comes to a spruce up, you’ll want to add some fresh photos to the site, so this and the next article will shine a little light on your options.
As a professional photographer, I’m always going to promote the benefits of proper, bespoke photography for your site. Not just because this is my blog and I’ll say what I damn well like (though it is and I will), but because it’s true.
However, I’ll start with stock images as it is still quite a popular choice. For all its faults, I can’t single-handedly convince the entire Universe that using cheap stock is a Bad Thing, so instead, for those of you hell-bent on using the cheesiest imagery you can lay your mouse on, I’ll give you some tips on how to get more out of it, and how to avoid some common problems.
- Avoid the Generic:
You know what I mean. Those pictures of Californian business clones in suits, in executive board rooms, laptops and mobile phones at the ready, teeth shining like polished piano keys… Try to think beyond the obvious, and dig a little deeper into the archives of the stock image sites. There are only about 40 million images to choose from.
- Watch the price:
The headline price of most stock sites will tell you you can have photos for as little as £1 each. This may be true, but you’d need to be buying around 750 image credits a month to get those prices. The average stock image will set you back £10 – £20. Prices are creeping up too as the libraries struggle to turn a profit.
- Check the T&Cs:
You must read the small print before buying! Royalty Free doesn’t mean copyright free. There are very tight restrictions on how images can be used. In most cases, Royalty Free refers to the fact that you don’t have to renew image licences over time, but you will need to pay again if you want to move or duplicate an image from one project to another, or one media to another. When updating a web site, check if you need to pay to bring old images into the new site.
- Beware bogus libraries:
Sites which offer very cheap, or even free images, may not be legitimate. They will trawl the net for pictures, gather them up, and offer them as licensed images when in fact they are stolen. Make sure you know who you’re buying from, because you will be liable for any breach of copyright.
- Google Images is not a stock library:
Google images is great for getting to see a photo of just about anything you can imagine, but you need to assume that everything on the internet is covered by copyright, and using “found” images on the net is theft and you can get caught.
- If things go wrong:
If a picture on your web site turns out not to have been correctly licensed, it will be you that will get the legal letters, the court orders and the hassle. Regardless of who put the site together, it will be you and your business that will be treated as the beneficiary and publisher of the offending image. It’s then up to you to litigate against the web designer (or whoever put the site together) for any losses caused by their negligence. Seek early legal advice from a specialist copyright lawyer. It could save your business from fatal damages or court costs.
February 26, 2010
You have a digital camera, you have a mobile phone, you know they have a few million pixels in them, but the latest models have more. Do you need them? Will your photos come out better if you have them?
YAWN! The camera manufacturers pixel race has been the most boring competition since the last World Paint Drying Championships held in 1957. Ever more astonishing numbers of pixels in their cameras, but does it make that much difference?
This is an idiot’s guide (that is to say a guide written by an idiot) to what a pixel is, and how many you need.
Since film has been outlawed by the Japanese, we’ve all moved to using electricity to capture images of everything from kittens to sunsets. In fact, the entire photographic gamut from K to S is now recorded using digital cameras.
A pixel is basically a tiny diode thing, which records light and converts it into a digital signal which the camera’s electronic brain can store for later viewing on porn sites the World over.
Each pixel has a microscopic lens in front which focuses the light onto it, and which stops light that hits one pixel influencing the neighbouring pixel and making your photos fuzzy(er).
Each pixel also has three teeny tiny amplifiers connected to it, which boost the electronic signal and record the light as being either red, green or blue.
So aren’t all pixels equal? Well no. You see when a manufacturer makes an imaging chip, they can decide what size the chip will be, and then how many pixels they’d like to pack onto that chip.
A mobile phone might have 3, 5 or 8 million pixels on a chip the size of a baby’s fingernail. A compact camera might have the same number of pixels on a chip twice that size, while a professional SLR might have 12 or 18 million pixels on a chip the same size as a “old skool” film negative (35mm).
How this works is by making the individual pixels smaller and bunched closer together for smaller chips, and larger and more spaced out on larger chips. And perhaps surprisingly, bigger pixels are generally better. Smaller pixels packed densely onto a small chip tend to suffer interference, which messes up the photo.
If you want to know what interference looks like, take a photo on your compact camera or mobile phone using its highest ISO setting (this is the chip sensitivity and equates to the old film speeds), or take a photo without flash in a darkish room.
When you look at the shadow areas of the photo, you’ll see digital grain, or noise, and lots of messy red dots which is where the pixels are starting to have a bit of a fight with each other. Those red dots are in fact, tiny pools of blood from the scuffle.
So when you look at a mobile phone that claims to have 8 million pixels, remember those pixels are very, very small compared to the ones in an SLR. And small doesn’t mean more detail. In fact, if you have the choice between 5 million and 8 million on a mobile phone, you really won’t get any benefit from the higher pixel count. It’s just manufacturers want you to think you need the extra pixels so you can take better pictures and they’ll happily sell you the next model up.
Really all you need to know is that around 3-5 million pixels on a mobile, and maybe 8 on a compact camera, is ample for all those pictures of kittens, sunsets and drunken mates.
New technologies are coming through which will make these smaller chips work better, but then the same technologies will be introduced to larger-chipped cameras, and the quality will improve relative to that, so you’ll always be better off with a modest pixel count or a much larger chip.
So there you have it, the definitive, incontrovertible guide to pixels, which will remain current and authoritative until about next Wednesday, when no doubt a manufacturer will announce a 30 million pixel chip the size of a pin head which will capture fine detail in total darkness. The phone they put it in will still drop the signal every time you walk from your car to the front door…
February 12, 2010
My Friday Thought – A new feature which will rapidly become a rod for my own back, but let’s see how it goes.
There’s been an interesting, and very noticeable shift in the nature of the conversations I’ve been having with designers recently, especially webby ones.
In the past, whenever I asked web designers about the photography needs of their clients the reply came back, as if transmitted by mental osmosis from one designer to the other, “Oh they don’t have a budget for photography so we use cheap stock photos.” Always different web designers, always the same line.
The fact is, no client has a budget for anything until somebody explains to them why they need a budget for it (ie improved sales!); in this case, original photography which sets them apart from their competitors and communicates more honestly with their clients. After all, my clients have a budget for photography so what do they know that so many web designers’ clients don’t?
Part of the problem has been a misunderstanding of how budgets work. In the case of photography, it isn’t part of the web budget because the images are used in more than just the web site; it comes out of the marketing budget, of which the web site is a part, but many web designers will look at the photography fearing it will reduce their budget to do the design work. It shouldn’t.
I know selling photography isn’t easy. While every business now understands they have to have a web presence of some sort, beyond that it’s not easy to explain that apart from what the web site does in purely technical terms, it also needs good content to convince the viewer of the value of the product or service on offer. It’s the content, in harmony with the structure, which ultimately makes the sale.
And this is where web designers are starting to wake up and smell the cappuccino. There’s a growing realisation that good photography, as well as good copy and design, helps the site to pull together and deliver the message the client wants to transmit. Photos need to be more than just eye-candy on the page. They carry valuable information and can also be used to direct the viewer’s eye to key texts and links.
What kind of business in the UK needs a photo of a chisel-jawed American male in a suit clutching a laptop in a steel and glass office with angelic lighting and a patronizing smile? How many more generic stock images of non-people in non-places does the internet really need? And what do these images say about a business any more? Stock images used to be far more expensive, so a business using them tended to look more polished. They’re too cheap and ubiquitous now, and the shine has come off the novelty.
And the cry I’m now hearing from every designer I speak to is, “I am so sick and tired of having to use stock imagery.” Designers want to be proud of the results of the hours and days they spend designing a top-notch site, but having expended blood, sweat and weeks on the site, they are then forced to ruin the entire project either with photos the MD’s wife took, or with stock pictures of someone they’ve never met, taken in a place they’ve never been to, that has little or nothing to do with the business they’re meant to be promoting.
I’m encouraged by this change of voice, and I’m helping web designers by explaining to their clients how real, unique photography can work for them, doesn’t need to cost the earth, and yet will contribute to the growth of their business.
So designers everywhere! Talk to me, I’ll talk to your clients, and before you know it there will be a budget for photography, and the web site you designed will look as good as you know it should.