What’s the real worth of a photographic image?

A few months back, I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work. There’s nothing unusual about that – but this one was episode 125 of This Week in Photography, featuring an interview with Michael Corsentino, who is a California-based lifestyle photographer.

Listening to the interview, it was clear to me that Michael has made some hard business decisions about the way he packages his art (which is the way he refers to his photographic works) and the options he gives (or doesn’t give) his clients in order to ensure that he is able to cover the time and effort he puts into them. That’s fair enough when someone does do the best they can to turn images into art but now I’d like to put forward an alternative view.

Photography is one of my great passions and I like to think that I’m someone who appreciates great photographic images but is not prepared to be taken for a ride. When my wife and I got married, our photographers did not charge us an extortionate fee for a “wedding package”. Instead we paid for the (fantastic) images, both formal and journalistic, on a time and materials basis. Our lead photographer, the late Brett Williams, brought in one of his associates to assist on the day and I have all of the prints and most of the negatives for safe keeping.

On the other end of the scale are two examples that I experienced through my eldest son’s school.

The first was a school portrait, captured by H Tempest. As proud parents, of course we paid for some prints but I also looked into the quality of the images that I could have bought digitally. I don’t know what cameras were used to capture the image, but when I called Tempest to see what quality the image they were selling for unlimited printing was, the answer I got suggested it was a a fairly low resolution (2304x1536px) JPEG image. As that image is unlikely to be suitable for quality reproduction at any larger than 8″x10″, it’s not what I call unlimited, so I decided not to spend the (I seem to recall quite large) sum of money that they were looking for, opting for a few small prints instead (I have my own “first day at school” images anyway).

Then there was the case of Richard Kerber Photography. Richard came into the school to create family portraits and we attended, as did many other families, one weekend last November. The images he created in our short session were great – and we did buy several prints; however I was still disappointed by the lack of flexibility and attention to detail. In common with many photographers, the packages offered were intended to encourage us to buy sets of photos but, in these days of digital SLR capture, I see no technical reasons (only some commercial ones) to restrict the ability to mix colour and monochrome images. There was also a hefty fee if we wanted to pay for the images on CD (with printing rights, but copyright retained by the photographer); and, apparently, no post-production effort at all.

No post-production? Well, I know nothing of Mr Kerber’s workflow – I’m sure there was some post-production – but, in one of the images, part of my foot is missing from the smaller prints, despite being visible in a larger version (albeit a little too close to the edge of the frame – given the amount of white space, some basic editing may have been in order to balance up the shot).

It seems to me that what we have here is a photographer who clearly has the talent to create lovely images of my family (no mean feat with two “active” boys and two tired parents!) but who, for the lack of a little care and attention in his workflow, is not delivering the standard of work that warrants the pricing. Furthermore, whilst I can see that photographers need to set digital image pricing so as not to cannibalise their print sales, the prices charged for a CD with a license are extreme. £295 is a lot of money for a few minutes in a school hall (remember, there are still print costs to consider)… oh yes, and he used a portrait of at least one family on his website without permission (as far as I can tell, no model release was signed, and whilst the copyright is his so there is no. Legal reason not to use the images, one might consider that he was morally and ethically bound to ask permission first).

So, what’s the point of my rant? Well, I guess what I’m saying is that there’s money to be made by those who charge a fair price, without devaluing the overall effort involved (after all, it still has to be profitable – not everyone with an SLR is automatically capable of producing quality work). If you are a fine art photographer, then by all means charge a fee that reflects the value of the artwork but, if your approach is one of a production line, then your pricing should reflect that too – looking to make a fast buck from parents or newly-weds is just not on. If you want to charge me for something really special, then you need to put in the associated effort.

[Incidentally, I originally wrote this post back in February but wasn’t sure whether to publish or not… after sitting on it for several months, I still think it makes some important points, so I’ve edited the original post and committed it to the web!]

Karma

I recently spent a couple of weeks on holiday in Dorset with my family. Being August, the weather was best described as “variable” (May, June and September are the best months for good weather in England) but we had a few sunny days and, the on last couple of evenings, I managed to get out and take some pictures.

We were staying in Swanage, which is a pleasant seaside town (a bit run down but not too spoilt) but, because Swanage Bay faces east, it’s not the best place to take sunsets (and I’m not too great at getting out of bed for the dawn shift). I decided to try and catch the last of the golden hour, as the low sun reflected off buildings and boats but it wasn’t really working out – there wasn’t even any cloud interest (although the clear sky was great for our holiday, it’s not very interesting photographically!). I did, however, bump into a fellow photographer on the beach (Scott Howse), who provided me with some inspiration for a return visit the following evening.

Once the children were in bed, I sneaked out and dashed around trying to find a suitable location, snapping some quick shots as I pulled up on double yellow lines across the town but I was struggling to find the right location. As a last resort, I headed for a point half way around the bay, where I thought I might at least get some beach shots. As I pulled into a side road to park, an SUV approached from the opposite direction and headed for the same space. I could have nipped in front but I chose not to, shrugging my shoulders to indicate that the other driver could have the space, before driving on to find somewhere else to park.

As I walked back down the hill, I considered that perhaps giving up the space might result in some positive benefit to me – call it Karma if you like but I really didn’t expect to get large chunks of beach and a pier to myself for a whole 10 minutes or so! Admittedly, it was the evening on a bank holiday Monday, so lots of people would have been heading home, but I consider myself incredibly lucky to have captured the shots below with no-one else on the pier.

I settled down with my tripod and, taking Scott’s advice from the previous evening, I knocked down the ISO to my camera’s lowest calibrated setting, as well as making use of my Lee Filters ND grad to balance the bright sky with the foreground. A few minor tweaks in Lightroom (cropping, removing dust spots) and these are the resulting images.

Banjo Pier 2
Banjo Pier 3

Later this month I’m off to the Lake District for a long weekend dedicated to photography and, if I manage to capture images like these, I’ll be a very happy punter.

(The images in this post are ©2010 Mark Wilson, all rights reserved and are therefore excluded from the Creative Commons license used for the rest of this site.)

The importance of getting your images online early

Last Saturday, I spent a wonderful afternoon and evening at a friend’s wedding.  As usual, I had my camera with me and, as usual, Mrs. Wilson understood when I kept dashing off to take yet another photo.

When I saw the official photographer pointing a camera in my direction, I joked that I take the pictures and don’t appear in them (at least not if I can help it) but I was totally unprepared for what came when she saw me using my medium telephoto (70-200mm f2.8) lens to take a shot of the Groom and Best Man - she rushed up and asked me about the gear I was using and, although I don’t remember it, others who were there later said she asked if I was a professional.  The daft thing is that gear doesn’t matter – so I was using a Nikon D700 and she was using a D90 - the D700 is weighty and, if you prefer a lighter camera (or want to shoot video) then the D90 might be quite a good choice.  I’m sure that she took much better photos than me because: a) I was shooting in Program mode with auto focus (so the camera was doing the work not me); b) I consumed a significant volume of wine during the course of the afternoon.

The best part of it though, was that I was there to enjoy myself, so I didn’t have any of the pressures of being an “official” photographer – organising people and needing to make sure that every shot was spot on, because there are no second chances at shooting a wedding.

This was the first wedding I’ve been to in a few years (pretty much since the switch from film to digital) and I thought it was brilliant to be given details on the day of where to go to view the official pictures.  I was surprised though to see that it said “images take approx 2 weeks” as that seems a long time to get some digital images online (even with post-processing) and others around me thought perhaps that was the time it takes for fulfillment of orders.  Well, it’s now more than 48 hours since the photographers left the venue and, the official site says that “photos have not been uploaded yet, please check back soon…” so I guess it really could be a while until the pictures go up there.

I remember from my own wedding how pleased we were to see a few prints before we went on honeymoon – the official ones took a while but that was because they were negatives: there were several hundred 35mm images and a load more medium format ones to be processed and printed.  Back then, the few digital images we had were not that great (over-sharpened JPEGs at around 3 megapixels with over-saturated colours) but even consumer cameras create 10 or 12 megapixel images today and the in-camera processing has got a lot better (as has the availability of affordable software for post-processing).  Maybe the official photographer is waiting for the Bride and Groom to return from honeymoon before releasing the images but, in these days of social networking, Facebook and Flickr have potentially taken away some of the her image sales because friends and family have already shared their pictures from the day.

I know that, technically, my shots were far from spot on: I should have paid more attention to the aperture I used on some of them, for example, and I should have used a longer lens for the wedding speeches (by then, the 70-200mm zoom was back in the car and I was using a 24-85mm zoom) but I was really, really pleased with a message I received tonight praising my pictures (from the Bride’s mother, no less).  As I said earlier, I didn’t have any of the pressures of being an “official” photographer - and I’m sure the official images will be fantastic when we see them.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m surprised that professional wedding photographers don’t try harder to get their images online before the amateurs get in there. Within 24 hours, I saw three online albums from friends and family – and there were some great images.  Professional photographers work hard to make a living – this one has a great portfolio on her website and some very reasonable prices too – it seems crazy to throw away image sales by missing out on the guests’ post-wedding excitement.

Shoot more images = learn and develop new skills = achieve better results

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a keen amateur photographer and, as a result, a fair number of photography-related posts appear around here (generally timed to go live on weekends). In addition, I recently spent a fortnight in northern France and my Flickr photostream is full of new images including one I took of l’ÃŽle Louët, Château Taureau and the surrounding estuary in the morning mist (which I’m particularly pleased with, hence the reason it is currently the header image for this site):

La Phare de l'Île Louët et le Château Taureau dans la brume matinale (2)

I’ve also started to enter some competitions and, whilst I’ve yet to enter one that earns me any money (to pay for the Nikon D700 DSLR I bought a few weeks back when the card slot packed up on my D70), I’m pretty chuffed to have scored some points in my local camera club’s print competition of late. The results are pretty subjective (I think I’ve entered some better shots than these but the judges decision is final!) but, back in February I picked up a second place in the Open category with this image of London’s St Pancras International station:

St Pancras International (2)

I also picked up a 3rd place in April’s Food category for this shot of some artichokes which is part of a set taken courtesy of Matt at Much Ado Catering:

Artichokes

This shot of a steam locomotive cooling down in the evening scored me a second place in the Open category for May (and print of the evening):

80078 at 71B (2)

And this shot of a mother duck and her duckings, scored me a third place for New Life in June:

Follow me...

Then, just to add the icing on the cake, one of the group admins for MK Flickrites saw this wild flower meadow shot, suggested I entered it in the June challenge for Natural Landscapes) and it won (by a very narrow margin – my vote would have gone to Negative Vibes’ Summer Grass entry has I been online to vote at the end of the month):

Wild flower meadow (3)

I’m not the world’s greatest photographer (you should see some of the shots I haven’t showcased here!) but entering competitions like this is making me get out there and shoot more images. And, guess what, the more you shoot, the more you learn (and the better you get). So, if you’re a keen photographer, I recommend entering a few competitions. I’m sure my run of luck will end soon (and it took me a while to get over my bruised ego when some images were sent back from a magazine competition a few years ago with a 5-tickbox comment card that said they “lacked impact”) but I get a real buzz when someone enjoys my work. It’s definitely worth a try!

(The images in this post are ©2009 Mark Wilson, all rights reserved and are therefore excluded from the Creative Commons license used for the rest of this site.)

Photographic filters

In these days of digital photography and post-production, the need for photographic filters is greatly reduced (polarising filters cannot be emulated in PhotoShop through and I still find my Lee Filters 0.6 ND grad useful); however, as I was clearing out my office last weekend, I found a useful list of the various filter types (possibly supplied with an old Hoya or Cokin filter) and I thought it was still useful information although some of the descriptions were a bit odd (so I’ve modified them slightly based on some Internet research):

Filter Description
Skylight Absorbs ultraviolet rays (and blue/green). Often used for lens protection.
1B Used to eliminate blue cast in distant scenes and in shade.
UV(0) Absorbs only ultraviolet rays. Makes distant scenes sharp and clear.
80A (blue) Colour conversion filter. Allows daylight-balanced colour films to be used with 3200°K lamps (tungsten bulbs).
80B (blue) Colour conversion filter. Allows daylight-balanced colour films to be used with 3400°K lamps (professional studio lamps).
80C (blue) Colour conversion filter. Allows daylight-balanced colour films to be used with 3800°K lamps (clear flash bulbs).
81A Light balancing filter. Allows Type B (tungsten balanced) colour films to be used with 3400°K (studio) lamps.
81B Light balancing filter. Eliminates strong blue cast when buildings, trees, etc., are photographed in daylight.
81C Light balancing filter. Prevents blue cast in cloudy or rainy weather.
82A Light balancing filter. Allows Type A (studio-balanced) colour films to be used with 3200°K (tungsten) illumination.
82B Light balancing filter. Type B filters can be used with 2900°K illumination (home bulbs).
82C Light balancing filter. Reduces the reddish cast found when shooting in early morning or late afternoon.
85 Colour conversion filter for use of type A (studio-balanced) colour films in daylight.
85B Colour conversion filter for use of type B (tungsten-balanced) colour films in daylight.
85C Colour conversion filter. Used to convert 5500°K (daylight) lighting to 3800°K.
FL-D Eliminates green cast when daylight-balanced films are used under fluorescent lights.
FL-W Eliminates green cast when tungsten-balanced films are used under fluorescent lights.
ND Used to lower intensity of light striking the film to enable larger -apertures for shallow depth of field, slower speeds and special effects.
K2 (yellow) Absorbs part of the spectrum between ultraviolet and violet. Makes clouds stand out. Also used for natural rendition of colors in black and white tones.
G (orange) Absorbs part of the spectrum between ultraviolet and bluegreen. Provides stronger contrast than K2. Especially effective for distant scenes.
25A (red) Absorbs the spectrum between ultraviolet and yellow. Provides the strongest contrast. Makes daylight scenes appear as though photographed at night. Also used in infrared photography.
XO (yellow-green) Transmits green and absorbs part of the spectrum between ultraviolet and blue. Natural rendition of skin and lips of female models. Highly effective for outdoor portraits.
X1 (green) Absorbs more red than XO. Effective for reducing the reddish cast of lights for indoor photography. Suitable for photographing green trees and colourfu! subjects.

This table just lists the technical filters but special effect filters are also available from the major filter manufacturers. For more technical information, check out Ken Rockwell’s post on how to use camera filters.

Gorilla-like camera grip from a flexible tripod

GorillapodAmazon ad tracking imageI’ve just got home and found that my latest Amazon purchase has arrived… a Joby Gorillapod (Original)Amazon ad tracking image. If you haven’t seen the Gorillapod – it’s a small and incredibly lightweight tripod made up of lots of ball and socket joints so it can be twisted into a variety of shapes to stand up or to wrap around something (e.g. a fence, or a signpost). This one is too small for an SLR (there are other models available for larger cameras) but it’s great for my Canon Digital Ixus 70 – the camera that I’ll take out with me to the type of places where I might actually want to be in the picture myself with some friends or family.

Launching the “buy Mark a new camera” appeal

As couple of weeks back, I started a digital photography course (evening classes) at my local college. I’m been taking pictures for about 25 years and I’ve attended courses before (when I lived in Australia I signed up for a black and white darkroom techniques course – it is truly amazing to see images come to life in a darkroom – as well as a photography course with pro photographer Naomi Burley which looked at everything from the basics of aperture and shutter speed to form, composition and generally taking good pictures) but I’m hoping to fill in the gaps between my traditional photography experience and my IT skills. Then I’ll finally pull my long-overdue portfolio together!

I’m not sure if there is something about IT that attracts people to photography – or if it works in reverse but, over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that many of the people I know in the world of IT are also keen on photography. Take for example, James O’Neill, IT Pro evangelist at Microsoft in the UK – I haven’t seen any of his photos but I know (from his blog) that it’s something he’s really into. Then I got a Flickr invitation from Atila the Hun… at first it seemed suspect, until I realised that it was Windows Server guru Austin Osuide‘s handle.

For the last week or so, I’ve been working with an experienced IT Architect by the name of Sean Mantey and it turns out that Sean is also a very talented photographer (check out his Flickr photostream, coverage on the BBC website, and his own website). And then he showed me his camera.

I always lust after the latest toys from Nikon but having held the camera that Sean uses and taken a couple of test shots, all of a sudden I knew that my trusty D70 is due to be retired… in favour of a D700. The D700 is, quite simply, fantastic. It has a decent, weighty body, a huge screen (big enough for a preview, histogram, and technical data all at once) and, most importantly, a full-frame (FX) format sensor with 12.1MP and stunning light sensitivity – so I can use my lenses (which mostly date back to my F90X film days) to their full effect. In short, the D700 will undo all the compromises I made when I switched to digital and give me back even more.

Then there are the lenses – I already have an AF-S 80-200mm f2.8 IF-ED lens so, although a modern VR lens (i.e. the AF-S VR 70-200 f2.8G ED-IF) would be nice, its the AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED that I desire in order to capture some full frame landscape photography goodness when I’m on holiday in France this summer (instead of stitching frames together in Photoshop, as I do with my DX sensor and a AF-S 24-85mm f2.8-4D IF lens).

So, this is the deal: I need to save around £2800 for my new kit but that’s a lot of pocket money (more than the family holiday will cost!). This is where I get cheeky because there are a lot of people who read this blog and if I work out how much I earn from it, it’s quite depressing (let’s just say it’s well below minimum wage). If you subscribe to the RSS feed you don’t even have to look at the ads so, if you find what I write useful, how about sending me a PayPal donation? I don’t ask for much but if I’ve written something that’s saved you some time, effort, even some money, a contribution towards my camera fund would be really welcome. In return, I’ll keep on writing a mix of (hopefully useful) IT and photography-related articles whilst I try to take some good pictures and publish them on my Flickr feed.

Photography is not a crime

In the current climate of political correctness and anti-terrorism legislation, there have been a few situations recently where photographers have found themselves falling foul of the law – for example the US photographer who was arrested whilst taking photos for an Amtrak competition at a railway station (of all places!) – and the UK Home Secretary caused controversy last summer when she suggested that legal restrictions may be placed upon photographers.

A petition was lodged at the Prime Minister’s web spinning site and this week a response was published.

There are no legal restrictions on photography in public places. However, the law applies to photographers as it does to anybody else in a public place. So there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations, inflame an already tense situation, or raise security considerations. Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace, to avoid a public order situation, or for the person’s own safety or welfare, or for the safety and welfare of others.

Each situation will be different and it would be an operational matter for the police officer concerned as to what action if any should be taken in respect of those taking photographs. Anybody with a concern about a specific incident should raise the matter with the Chief Constable of the relevant force.”

[Number10.gov.uk response to photography law e-petition, 12 January 2008]

So, there you have it – Photography Is Not A Crime – although an overzealous law enforcement agent may think it is until you take it up with his or her Chief Constable…

Take a view: Landscape Photographer of the Year 2008

Earlier this evening, I dropped by London’s National Theatre to take a look at the free exhibition of images from this year’s Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. Promoted by renowned landscape photographer Charlie Waite, this exhibition features images of the highest standards that highlight the very best of our varied country. With everything from London skylines made up of 15 images stitched together (and almost a year of effort to capture them) to the Glastonbury Festival captured on a mobile phone (demonstrating that excelling at photography is about far more than just the equipment), I was captivated by the vistas, seascapes and iconic structures featured in the exhibition. I had to laugh too when I read the photographers’ captions and my long-suffering wife should draw some comfort that she is not alone in being deserted for a photo opportunity – Adam Burton tells of how he searched for the ultimate picture of Bambrough Castle on a trip to celebrate their first wedding anniversary and Ian Cameron told of how he “begged his wife for a few minutes to photograph [hoar-frosted fields at dusk]” and “returned to the car, an hour and ten rolls of film later, grinning from ear to ear”.

Landscape Photographer of the Year - Collection 2 (book cover)There’s also an accompanying book (Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 2), published by the AA (available from the National Theatre bookshop for £25).

In addition to the free exhibition at the National Theatre, Charlie Waite will be giving talks on Seeing Landscapes at the theatre on four dates (11:30 on 8/9 December 2008 and 5/6 January 2009). I’ve heard Charlie speak before and found him inspirational so I’ll be there to hear him speak again – tickets are £5 from the National Theatre box office.

Calling all photographers – stand up for your rights

For a while now, it’s become increasingly difficult to take photographs without suspicion and stories like the one of the father-of-three who was branded a pervert for photographing his own children in public park are extremely alarming. Admittedly this story was reported in the Daily Mail (a fine example of balanced reporting – not!) but nevertheless it is a perfect example of political correctness gone mad.

I’m a parent too and I have to admit that I am always very self-conscious when I photograph my children playing with their friends. Thankfully, their parents take no issue (indeed some find it strange that I even check with them first). I even have some great pictures of my kids that were taken by other people. But unfortunately it’s all too easy to accuse someone of wrong-doing – generally being a pervert or a terrorist – and the authorities will generally act first and reason later.

There are very few restrictions on taking photographs in public places but it won’t take long for that to change. Indeed, the current UK Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith has stated in a letter to the National Union of Journalists that:

“[…] there is no legal restriction on photography in public places […and…] there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.”

That’s sounds good until she continues by writing:

“Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation.”

Basically, she’s said that it’s not illegal but that the authorities will act if they feel it is appropriate and that, even though Chief Constables will issue guidance, the decision is down to local officers.

I spent a large chunk of my formative years watching trains and, whilst I realise that the social stigma that is attached to such activities will make readers think I’m weird now, that’s practically outlawed these days (the police will soon move people on who are seen hanging around a major railway station). Then, when I flew to the States last year, I took some pictures of aeroplanes at Heathrow (my young son has only seen them high in the sky – he had no idea what the plane Daddy was going to fly on looked like) – thankfully no-one tried to stop me but it won’t be long before that is considered a security risk.

The UK Government’s petitions site is little more than a publicity exercise but nevertheless it is an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of public feeling on this. If you are a UK citizen and you would like to see a public statement on clarifying the law as it relates to photography then I urge you to sign the e-petition on Photography Law:

Through history, we have documented the world around us, whether through written word, art or photography.

Photography in particular has provided fantastic insights into the past and present, and is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people worldwide.

But today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take photos of our surroundings, particularly in cities like London.

In recent years, the price divide between professional and consumer equipment has blurred, and it’s quite common these days to see amateurs and hobbyists carrying around tripods, SLR cameras and a backpack full of equipment.

Yet, we are constantly harrassed [sic] by security guards and police officers in the name of preventing terrorism. They seem to be operating under a different interpretation of the law to the rest of us, believing that somehow the length of your lens, or size of your camera is relevant.

We would like clarification by the goverment [sic] on the law regarding photography of buildings and landmarks from public locations.

If you don’t, then you’ll only have yourself to blame when the current power-hungry administration forces through the next phase of nanny state laws that restrict an individual’s ability to capture a photograph in a public place.