Creativity

Choose a theme to take a giant leap with your creativity

A friend and I were looking at the picture of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon’s surface. Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar lander are reflected Buzz’s visor. It’s an evocative, powerful and unique image.

My friend then pointed at a Bamburgh sunrise photo and said, ‘Do we really need to see yet another photo of that?’

Searching online for Bamburgh Castle sunrise images we found 110,000 results. This is not surprising; it’s a beautiful view and the most liked image on the Northumberland Gazette’s Facebook page is often of that very scene.

Bamburgh Castle

Yes, I’ve been there to photograph it too. There is something special, even spiritual, about watching the sun rise or set over the sea. Many photographers want to capture it to relive that moment.

Is there anything wrong with capturing a photo of something that has been shot so many times before? Of course not. Studying and copying what others have done before us is a super way to learn creativity.

Furthermore, to create our own art that is good enough to hang on the wall for ourselves and others to enjoy is a goal worth aiming for. It’s relatively easy taking photographs of beautiful scenery at dusk and dawn as those times provide perfect light for landscape photography. Almost any photographer of any level of skill can get an okay sunset shot, even with a camera set to auto.

“But, they are clichés!“ my friend said.

I understood the point, although didn’t agree with the sentiment. If people enjoy shooting that scene and others like looking at them, then that’s fine. What was really bothering my friend was revealed in the next question. “How do I get originality into my photos?”

To achieve uniqueness and a photographic style is a challenge for anyone, but not impossible. You can learn creativity.

photographing the unexpected.
Try turning the camera in a different direction. This was shot within minutes of the picture of Bamburgh Castle above.

Start a project to hone your creativity

Come up with a story you want to tell and take a series of photos to illustrate that story. Try concentrating on one theme, or a group of related subjects, and stick to photographing that for a few weeks or even months. Shoot that same subject from different positions and angles in changing light. Adjust the focus, aperture and shutter values. With each press of the shutter release button you will hone your skills, learning from each photo you take. You will create an interesting collection of images.

If you have another hobby then record what you enjoy. Many ornithologists photograph birds. I’ve met wood-turners, gardeners, hill walkers, painters, needle-workers and an engineer who created still life images, photographing both their products and the tools they use. Perhaps you are interested in the people living on your street, or the way wildlife thrives in a local cemetery. Do you have a particular political view? Maybe you care about the environment and want to record a conservation project.

Working with others is also great for inspiration. Try bouncing ideas off each other and even sharing a project.  Take risks and experiment. With small steps, you can make a giant leap with your creativity.

How else can I get inspiration

Top photographers are always learning. So, look at studying a new area of photography you haven’t tried before. Read, watch videos, go on a course or workshop.  Photography is often a lonely pastime, but I can’t emphasise enough how shooting with another person, helping each other to get a great shot, can  improve your work. I am lucky, because I teach photography I spend a lot of time with photographers of all levels, and get inspiration and learn from them all of the time.

Creativity
Shot on a trip to Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland, in the company of a couple of other photographers.

Planning a shot is important, but sometimes the unplanned works too

An unplanned shot on a  trip to the Farne Islands

I always enjoy a trip to the Farne Islands, getting up really close to the wildlife there. It’s always worth looking for the unexpected and pointing the lens in another direction and creating an unplanned image.

unplanned shots result in us caturing the unexpected

The same happened on an early morning trip to Bamburgh. I ended up pointing  my camera in the opposite direction from everyone else.

photographing the unexpected.

Zen and the Art of Wildlife Photography

I find photography Zen-like. Concentrating on the subject, composing the shot and making fine adjustments to the settings is totally absorbing. It distracts me from the troubles of the world. I also love the experience of encountering creatures in their natural habitat, something I can find spiritual. Putting together those two elements together – wildlife photography – should be my idea of bliss. But,  photography can detract from the experience of an encounter with wildlife. Even on a photo-shoot, there are times to put the camera down and just experience life.

Wildlife photography and the art of leaving the camera behind.

It’s sometimes important to put the camera down and just be in the moment. I’ve been lucky enough to stroll through the African bush with a Samburu guide,  camped in the shadow of Kilimanjaro  in close proximity to a pride of lions, stopped the engines of  a small boat while a whale circled and swam beneath me, dropped the sails on a yacht to stop and watch a kingfisher dive into the water, seen elephant and rhino roam the savannah, climbed a mountain and come face-to-face with a stag, watched golden eagles sore on the Isle of Skye, and scuba dived on coral reefs off Zanzibar and Australia. On most of those occasions, I didn’t have a camera with me.

Elephant, Wildlife Photography
Elephant, captured with an Olympus Mju 35mm compact, on safari in the Masai Mara 1999
Lion, Safari, Olympus
Lion, also photographed in the Masai Mara in 1999 using an Olympus Mju compact film camera. The simplicity of the camera gave me more space to enjoy the experience of being there.

I don’t understand people who go to a concert and watch it through the screen of their mobile phone. Likewise, seeing a lion in its natural habitat is best experienced without a lens between you and it. Take a photo, but put the camera down too.

When you do pick the camera up…

Do I consider myself a wildlife photographer? Not really, although I really do enjoy capturing images of wildlife. True wildlife photographers spend huge amounts of time studying animal behaviour. They also tailor their equipment to achieve first-class shots. It’s an expensive, technical and time-consuming hobby. I would need to put in a lot more work, money and time before I awarded myself that title.

That doesn’t mean I don’t ever photograph wildlife. Where I live now, on the coast in Northumberland, there is a scattering of islands giving good opportunities to get up close to sea birds. This is great as, besides taking photographs and seeing wildlife, I love being on the sea.

Capturing reasonably good images of wildlife is achievable with relatively basic equipment and by learning a few techniques. That is something that more of my clients seem to be asking me to teach them. It’s a treat for me as it often means trips out on the water.

Black Headed Gulls
Black Headed Gulls over Coquet Island

When I do take my camera…

In my home town is Puffin Cruises. If you are ever in this neck of the woods, you should try them. They have a converted fishing trawler and a former lifeboat. You’ll see from the water a whole array of sea birds that nest on Coquet Island, as well as the huge colony of grey seals that live on its far side. You may get to photograph dolphin too.

Dolphin, Puffin Cruises, Amble
Bottlenose Dolphin shot from one of Puffin Cruises boats in July last year.

During the summer, you are guaranteed to see puffin.

Puffin and Sand Eels, Olympus E-5 with a 150mm lens f/8, 1/1250, ISO 250 Flash.

Seascapes on a Puffin Cruise

Being at sea offers excellent photographic opportunities and not just of wildlife. Apart from seeing the puffin, you’ll get some close-up views of the Lighthouse on Coquet Island.  The trip is great value at £10 per head for adults.

black and white, Coquet Island
Coquet Island, 2018, Olympus OM-D E-M5 ii.  26mm, f/3.4, 1/2000, ISO 200 CPL filter.

Photographing The Farne Islands

If you want to get very close to the sea birds, then a trip to the Farne Islands is worth considering. A more intense trip than the Puffin Cruise, it is worth the £70 in fees – if you can cope with the noise and smell of guano from thousands of birds. That money pays for the boat ride and landing charge made by the National Trust (the landing fee is waived for members). You’ll spend 5 hours between Staple Island and Inner Farne. Shorter trips to just one of these Islands are available too. I have just booked a day again with Billy Shiel.

Each visit I learn more and improve on the images I took the year before.  I don’t take a fraction of the kit I carried on my first visit and I don’t fire the shutter as much, knowing what images will work and what won’t. I always take time to speak with the excellent resident wardens and learn a lot from them.

I am planning another trip to the Farne Islands in a couple weeks. Equipped with the knowledge of where to stand to get the best shots, what settings I should use on my cameras and what’s not worth shooting, I am hoping for another improvement on the previous years’ photographs. Photographers can and should always improve their techniques and their images.

Puffin showing wing movement
Even at 1/1000th of a second, the flapping of this puffin’s wings still shows movement blur. Inner Farne 2016.
Puffin, Inner Farne 2016
Guillemot on Staple Island
Guillemot 180mm
Razorbill on Staple Island 200mm
Shag on Staple Island
Shag 300mm

If you fancy a guided trip to the Farnes or on a Puffin Cruise, or even a pre-trip lesson, give me a call.

 

Professional Photographer – Are you Thinking About It?

Thinking about becoming a professional photographer? Some tips for you.

A few weeks ago I posted an article about engaging a professional photographer. Aimed at members of the public, I didn’t anticipate the emails and private messages on Facebook from amateurs who wanted to earn money from their images.

This post isn’t here to put you off becoming a professional photographer. Working as a professional photographer is rewarding and fun. You get to meet lots of great people in happy situations who really appreciate the work you do. Furthermore, professional photographers are important (the reason why will be another article). I have written this to help you think about some on the hurdles  to leap and make you question whether you are truly ready. Turning professional is something you need to be realistic about, or your business will fail.

This is not a step-by-step guide of how to set up a business. It is  advice to help you through the fog of planning to set up a photography business and to help you think whether you have the resources to do that.

Finding our way through the fof of starting a business

Business Acumen

Before you even consider whether your photography is good enough to sell, you need to know whether you can run a business – not everybody can. Do you have the drive and determination to keep on task. Will you be able to put in twice or three times as many hours than would be legal as an employee. It’s not unusual for me to start work at six in the morning and finish at nine at night, work at weekends and on bank holidays.

Have you got the finances behind you to build your business? Most businesses don’t make a profit in their first year or two. Many professionals hold down another job to pay the bills, although not all employment contracts will permit you having a second job.

Don’t expect to get rich quick

Eddie Cantor (a popular American  comic actor from the 1920s)  said, “It takes twenty years to make an overnight success.” In photography it takes years of hard work, years of learning and years of investment in quality equipment to become a successful professional.

Professional photography isn’t as lucrative a  business as many imagine it to be. It is appealing earning money at what you love doing, but not everyone wants to employ a photographer, and there are already a lot of people fighting over a limited market. Is there room for you? Can you offer something above and beyond your competitors and make a living out of it?

Remember that income doesn’t equal profits. Lots of people say to me that wedding photography seems a way to earn lots of money in a short time, but a whole day’s photography will take at least a week to develop properly. Then there’s  the cost of the equipment, insurances, album, prints, travel and all the incidental costs to be deducted from the nett income.

Slow shutter, low ISO
It’s easy to get lost in the fog when setting up in business.

Business skills and resources

Besides being able to hand a camera well, you’ll need non-photographic skills and resources too. You’ll also need to meet many statutory and desirable requirements when going into business. You may need to be able to:

  • keep accurate accounts
  • write a business plan
  • budget
  • work out pricing
  • write effective advertisements
  • build and promote websites
  • form business networks
  • manage social media presence
  • risk assess your activities
  • keep personal data secure
  • acquire business insurances you must have and those that are highly advisable
  • carry critical illness insurance in case you cannot work
  • find out the level of insurance venues often insist on
  •  statutory registrations  (e.g. HMRC, ICO etc.)
  • know whether your mortgage lender will renew your mortgage if you become self-employed…

That list is not exhaustive. Some of those things may be beyond you and you may have to contract them out. I build websites, but that’s not a skill everyone has.

Most of all, do you have a product that people want to buy? Do your market research before setting up. It’s no use crossing the bridge from amateur to professional if it is empty of customers on the other side.

Crossing over to becoming professional

Are you good enough?

Just as they would write a Shakespeare play if given sufficient typewriters, an infinite number of monkeys with cameras would produce images worthy of Eve Arnold or Ansel Adams. The 1.2 trillion images taken last year resulted in many great photographs taken by chance. How much luck goes into creating your photos?

Before turning pro, do seek the honest opinion of your work from someone already doing it. Your friends may tell you how great your photos are, but do they have the knowledge to critique your images properly? They are nice people and won’t want to hurt your feelings even if an image is below par; they’ll say your pictures are great no matter what. An unsatisfied customer will not be so polite.

A judge at your local camera club isn’t the best person to ask either. Matching the likes and dislikes of  a skilled photo-enthusiast isn’t necessarily the same as asking customers, or someone who knows the market. Show your photos to a professional and ask their opinion; you may have to buy that service. Don’t just share your best images with them, let them see an entire photoshoot that they set for you. Share with them the images that went well along with those that failed. Can you explain why they failed? Are most of the shots good enough to sell?

Have you got the knowledge?

It takes a lot of knowledge to be able to use a camera well. The many years spent progressively learning  both technical and artistic skills is why so many love the art.

Do you know your photographic speciality? You may be a fantastic landscape photographer, but not so great at portraits. Do you need training in a particular field where there is a market?

Workman on scaffold
Just as a brick layer might not be a joiner, being highly skilled in one field does not equate to having the skills in all areas of photography

A photography test

Here’s a little test for you that should let you know whether you have the level of knowledge that would be expected of a professional photographer.

Imagine a bright sunny day at the beach. Your subject is a woman, with dark brown skin, wearing a white dress, standing in front of the sunlit sea. How would you expose that picture?

ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/5.6. If the light did not change, what shutter value value would you have at f/16 and ISO 400?

What is the complementary colour of orange?

A child is running obliquely past a waterfall and towards you. You want to stop the movement of a child running, keep her in focus and show the movement of the water in the fountain behind. What technique and shutter value would you use?

What is the slowest shutter value at which you can hand-hold your longest lens?

At what aperture do your lenses give the sharpest resolution?

How much can you crop your photos and be able to produce a top quality A3 print?

A flash with a guide number of 52 at full power, how far away would the subject be at f/4?

Take five photographs that demonstrate the golden section in their composition.

What is the primary adjustment in your raw development programme to affect mid-tone contrast?

What is the hyperfocal distance of your prime portrait lens?

Did you get 10 out of 10 without having to think too hard or Google the answers? Even if you looked up the answers, would you be able to answer another ten different questions without difficulty? That’s the degree of knowledge and skill I would recommend you should have before embarking on a career in photography. You should be able to spot that girl running by the waterfall, set the exposure then quickly and accurately focus and know you have the shot.

Is your equipment good enough?

An entry level camera with standard quality lenses are great for day-to-day shooting. But, to capture low light images, or be able to focus fast enough to capture action, or have your images published in some magazines you do need professional-quality gear. You also need two sets. If one fails, you have back-up. Imagine being commissioned to photograph a party, the shutter or the lens aperture mechanism fails and you have no reserve. Not only is the customer really unhappy, but your reputation is ruined too.

Puffin showing wing movement
Making the artistic decision whether to stop, show or give a hint of movement is something a photographer needs to control.

Some examples I know where the professionals got it wrong

Julia sought the services of a baby photographer. She didn’t accept the prints and demanded her money back, because the quality was awful.

Steve commissioned a photographer to take images for his business website. He rejected all of them because of the colour cast and he didn’t pay. They looked wrong because photographer’s screen was not calibrated.

The worst offenders seem to take up wedding photography. One I know of failed to get a photo of the bride’s mother. Another left stray hair running across the brides face in her main portrait and a road cone on its side in the background. A third shot at a public venue and someone photo-bombed most of them by deliberately walking into the background of all the shots.

During a chat with another reputable photographer a few weeks ago, they told me that they had been approached so many times to try to get corrected wedding photographs taken by poor quality photographers . It’s a familiar story; I’ve been asked to do the same. Photographing a once-in-a-lifetime event is a huge responsibility and getting it wrong can have massive repercussions for the photographer and the customer. I can end up in court. Could that happen to you?

Being an amateur photographer doesn’t usually risk ruining someone’s wedding, although a retired minister told me that inexperienced wedding photographers were a nightmare. Once, he was in the middle of a ceremony with the couple kneeling before him when a shadow fell across his shoulder. A family member who was asked to take the photos had climbed on the altar to get the shot!

Do I really want to become a professional?

There are amateur photographers good enough to become professional but don’t want to turn their hobby into work. Amateurs can shoot what and when they want. They can take dozens of frames to get one good shot. Professionals don’t have that luxury. You need to deliver sufficient photographs that you have been employed to shoot that are really good.

And finally…

I hope that does not put you off. Doing what you love for a living is fantastic and rewarding. There’s nothing better than having your customers phoning or writing to say thank-you and how pleased they are with the art you created.

It’s hard work, but it’s worth every penny you don’t earn!

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

Is your camera strap properly secured?

Make your camera strap safe

Is your camera strap safe? I see so many that are threaded so that they could easily come loose. I have heard of cameras falling to the ground because the strap had slipped through the buckle. One of the first thing I teach on my courses is this simple little trick and just spending a few moments rethreading your strap may save you from loosing or breaking your camera.

If your strap has a loose tail flapping about it’s at risk and here’s how to thread it much more securely.

Securing your camera strap

  1. Take the strap off the camera. This image shows strap end, the band keeper and the top side of the buckle.

    Remove the camera strap from your camera
  2. Thread the strap through the whole from the bottom, recessed side of the buckle, over the bar and back down  through the second hole,Thread the strao through the buckle
  3. Thread the band-keeper onto the strapThread through the band keeper
  4. Make sure there are no twists in the strap. Thread the end through the eye or bracket on the camera and then back through the band keeper.
    Thread through the strap bracket on the camera
  5. Now loosen the strap on the buckle and feed the tail of the strap back through the buckle in the same direction as when first threaded, i.e. towards the camera body.
    Thread towards the camera's body
    Threading through both sides of the buckle
  6. The tail of the strap should now be enveloped in the loop and not loose. Make sure there is plenty of tail and then tighten the straps on the buckle. Finally, slide the band-keeper towards the buckle and over the tail. It should be quite hard to do this. The tightly sandwiched the tail should stop the strap from slipping through the buckle.Completed buckle
  7. Do check that the strap has not slipped once every few weeks.It was so much easier when we had 35mm SLRs. I had one of these on my old Olympus OM2m camera when I was 18, so my eyes lit up with nostalgia when I bought an OM10 for shutter demonstrations on my courses. I am contemplating swapping it onto my retro-looking Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark ii.OM2 Camera strap

Hopefully, you found this useful. If you did, then please comment below. Do also share the post with your friends either on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Please let me know that you’ve read it and rethreaded your strap as a result. It will be great to hear from you.

General Data Protection Regulations (and Bill) – what we think we know so far!

GDPR – Something restrictive this way comes

While the Beast from the East batters our land, it’s a different storm worrying photographers : the new General Data Protection Regulations, or GDPR.

GDPR
“The Beast from the East” is not the only storm affecting businesses.

There are a lot of loops that self-employed photographers, like me, have to jump through. One of those loops, the Data Protection Act, is changing shape and name. The General Data Protection Regulations, or GDPR, come into effect on the 25th May. However, the General Data Protection Bill (which turns it into British law) does not get it’s second reading until 5th March 2018, so it is not sure it will be implemented at the same time.

How will GDPR affect photographers?

I should start by saying that I am not a legal expert and this is how I am interpreting the state of play at the moment after lots of reading and contacting the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). There is plenty of other information for small businesses out there about the changes in the law, but not much clear information about photography. So this post is purely about that.

Is my work purely art?

Under the current Data Protection Act exemptions exist for photographers for images taken as art and for journalism.

Speaking with the Information Commissioner’s Office they said, “The GDPR allows member states to introduce exemptions/derogations. These will be set out in the Data Protection Bill – it’s likely there will be a similar exemption for personal data processed for the purposes of “journalism, literature and art” but as the Bill has not yet been approved and adopted by Parliament, we can’t yet confirm what those exemptions will be. ”

Out with the Old

Under the old Data Protection Act 1998, there was definite provision for art and journalism.

32. Journalism, literature and art.

(1)Personal data which are processed only for the special purposes are exempt from any provision to which this subsection relates if—

(a)the processing is undertaken with a view to the publication by any person of any journalistic, literary or artistic material,

(b)the data controller reasonably believes that, having regard in particular to the special importance of the public interest in freedom of expression, publication would be in the public interest, and

(c)the data controller reasonably believes that, in all the circumstances, compliance with that provision is incompatible with the special purposes.”

In with the new

The proposed GDP Bill is worded differently.

“Journalistic, academic, artistic and literary purposes

24 (1) In this paragraph, “the special purposes” means one or more of the
following—
(a) the purposes of journalism;
(b) academic purposes;
(c) artistic purposes;
(d) literary purposes.

Schedule 2 — Exemptions etc from the GDPR
Part 5 — Exemptions etc based on Article 85(2) for reasons of freedom of expression and information

150
(2) Sub-paragraph (3) applies to the processing of personal data carried out for
the special purposes if—
(a) the processing is being carried out with a view to the publication by
a person of journalistic, academic, artistic or literary material, and
(b) the controller reasonably believes that the publication of the material would be in the public interest.
(3) The listed GDPR provisions do not apply to the extent that the controller reasonably believes that the application of those provisions would be incompatible with the special purposes.”

Am I exempt?

That’s a lot of legalese, but I interpret that as, if produced for purely artistic purposes, photography will continue to be exempt from data protection laws.

So, an amateur street photographer taking candid shots in the street will be exempt from the the Regulations. The arts are free of constraint, according to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

(I should point out that the current government are making noises about removing us from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. So things may change in the future. Our current freedoms of expression may change or disappear altogether.)

If I am reading the law correctly, and I reiterate I am not a lawyer, photographs would only be able to be used without the law applying if used for journalistic/academic/artistic or literary purposes.

So, if I took a photograph of you on the street and published it as art, then it would be exempt. I would be carrying out my freedom of expression. But, I do need to limit the use of that photograph to just that purpose. If I were to use your image for advertising, or I sold you copies in return for you letting me use your image, then that becomes data and the GDPR rules come into force.

Carrying out the ICO’s online test, I have to be registered for my work. I would be hard pushed to see any circumstances where a professional photographer would be exempt.

Incoming Tide - The GDPR
The GDPR is going to be bringing a tide of changes to how we handle customer data. Perhaps if we just photograph landscapes and don’t keep any customer data, then maybe we would be exempt. But could we run a successful business with those restrictions?

Commercial Shoots

The exemption is unlikely to hold if you enter into a contract with the subject. Therefore, wedding photographers should ask the couples to make their guests aware of who the photographer is and individuals should have the option of not being photographed. That makes life really difficult for documentary photographers. Permission should certainly be sought before wedding shoots are used for publicity.

A contract does not necessarily mean the exchange of money. Just promising to send a copy of a photograph to someone in return for letting you take their photograph is a contract. Then the photographer should get a model release form signed.

Be extra aware of photographing children. Always seek written parental permission before using a picture, sharing it on Facebook or Instagram, even in private groups.  If you attend a youth event and promis photographs of the children for a club or organisation, then that is entering into a contract. The new regulations are –quite rightly– very strict regarding children’s data.

Are street photographs of people biometric data?

This is a regularly debated topic and the answer from the ICO is no.
“In relation to street portraits of individuals; these will not be ‘biometric’ data.” Even so, I would be cautious about uploading to public sites photographs that contain people’s names or other information that may be sensitive.

Occasional Professionals Beware!

Most professional photographers will be prepared for GDPR. Some won’t.

Those who should worry are all the ‘semi-professional’ or ‘semi-amateur’ photographers who just shoot the occasional event, or sell the odd print. These are often not even registered as self-employed and are not insured. They are unlikely to comply with the current Data Protection Act. The new fine for failing to comply, which includes registration, is jumping up from a few thousand pounds to €10 million.

The ICO have been quite good at giving guidance instead of fines to date, but the new laws are stricter. One complaint from a parent whose child’s photo was shared without permission, or you sending an unsolicited email to a former client without their permission, could start an avalanche of penalties. Will HMRC or DWP look at people investigated by the ICO? Will they jump on those who try making an untaxed income from selling photographs? Will they also be studying the lists of people who are registered with the ICO to see if they are registered as self employed?

Now is a good time to either legitimise your business or step away from it altogether.

For those businesses and individuals who use photographers, searching the ICO database  is a good guide to whether the photographer is a legitimate and trustworthy business.

Finding a professional photographer

If you walk down the street and see a shop window that is an untidy mess, would you go in? Or, would you visit the shop selling the same products a few doors along that has a stunning window display? Photographs of your business are like that shop window, and there are very good reasons for using a professional photographer to create those images.

I  recently looked at websites of local businesses I considered using. Poorly written with photographs both composed and exposed badly, I wasn’t inspired. They sold services costing between £600 and £3000, a similar price range to cameras. So, I compared them with a well designed Olympus web page. Then, I looked at a cheap high-street retailer’s website. Like the camera manufacturer, they too had a crisp, tidy web presence with great product photos.

If  businesses don’t put as much effort into promoting their own products as that low-end shop,  are they saying that they don’t value their own goods as highly  as Primark does a £3 T-shirt? It’s probably not their intention, but from a customer’s point of view, it does look that way.

The customer will walk on.

Red Shoes Walking past a scruffy building
A scruffy shop front will make many potential customers walk by.

Isn’t professional photography expensive?

Go to Google and type in “Why are professional photographers” and look at the suggested predictions. At the top of the list is “… so expensive.”

Google Search results Why are professional photographers

I would argue that photographers are not expensive. You are paying for a high quality service, an outstanding product and a lot more time than the couple of hours spent shooting the photos. A professionally shot photograph is a valuable product.

What are you paying for?

A photoshoot takes much more time than the ¹⁄250 second click. Hours, or even days, can be spent developing and editing the pictures.

You buy into some of the photographer’s running costs too. They pay for various registration fees, advertising, web space, National Insurance and pension contributions, income tax, travel, plus endless other running expenses. Like any business, they have to earn those costs back, building them into their fees.

Also, you access the fortune invested in at least two sets of professional-grade equipment. Two sets? Imagine the photographer’s camera failing at an event. A friend’s DSLR stopped working halfway through a wedding service recently and they had no back-up.

How would you feel receiving blurry, grainy images because the lens was too slow and the camera’s low-light performance not good enough. Professionals own good quality equipment.

You are also contributing to their insurance costs.

If you only read one section of this post, read this one!

Some amateur photographers rush at the opportunity to photograph an event without considering whether or not they are insured. This is a big risk.

Business Insurance is costly. My private home insurance doesn’t cover me for developing commercially shot images in my house. If my business computer caught fire and burnt the house down, it would be my business insurance that pays. Nor will the private insurance cover the cost of replacing my camera equipment if it were lost or stolen while I was working.

Social, Domestic and Pleasure car insurance won’t cover driving to and from a commercial shoot. I need business cover for that too.

There is another insurance that is even more important that so many people don’t even consider, and it’s one that you should check if you are employing anyone to do work for you. That is Public Liability Insurance.

Photographer’s household policies won’t cover accidents when they are  working. There is no legal obligation for a business to have this insurance, but it is foolish in the extreme for them not to. It is something you should check before engaging a photographer.

Accidents can and do happen. Studio lights fall over, battery packs catch fire, valuable items get smashed, cameras break or get stolen, memory cards lose all their data and people get hurt. You might end up with no photographs and want compensation for that.

It could be worse!

While researching for this article, an insurance broker told me a horror story.  A couple of years ago, a  photographer raised his camera to his eye, stepped backwards to take the shot and knocked into someone who fell, banged their head and suffered brain damage. Although insured for £1 million public liability, it was not enough to cover the £1.5 million claim made against them. They were left £500,000 shortfall.

Don’t be afraid to ask to see an insurance certificate. If a photographer has £5 million public liability insurance, you can be certain that they take their profession seriously.

How to choose a professional photographer

Perhaps not since the dawn of time, but certainly over the last 100 years, businesses employed professional photographers to promote their services.

Photograph circa 1900 of a building contractor with a horse and cart.
My great grandfather used a professional photographer to promote his business over 100 years ago.

There are excellent professional photographers in this world. Most are friendly and well versed in the artistic and technical aspects of photography. As with every trade, there are some whose work doesn’t meet up to the exacting standards you expect. Choosing the right photographer is a minefield.

What should I expect from a photographer?

As I pointed out above, if you are advertising your wares, you need high quality photographs to reflect their worth. If you are getting married you will want a photographer who will produce an album of photographs that you will look at with joy and not disappointment.

Professional photographers need to deliver exactly what their customers expect every time. They need to guarantee great images that illustrate their customer’s identity. A folk singer’s promotional photos will be very different from those for an accountant, which, in turn, will be different from wedding portraits.

Folk singer Karl Robins
Publicity photographs for folk music legend Karl Robins are very different from the head and shoulder portraits for an accountancy firm.

It’s not just the photography that counts. Photographers must get along with everyone, yet also become invisible and blend in with the crowd.

Is the photographer reputable?

There are hundreds of fantastic professional photographers. There are some that are not so fantastic. Six people in as many weeks told me how disappointed they were with photos they had commissioned from what they discovered were rogue wedding photographers; they had all of the equipment but lacked the skills.

Were these charlatans trying to make a quick buck? If so, they picked the wrong trade; it’s hard work being a professional photographer and the outgoings are enormous. Or, maybe they were misled into thinking their photography was good enough when it wasn’t. That happens a lot.

Digitally fixing another photographer’s failed images is something many professionals, including me, have been asked to do. I’ve seen wedding photos with a host of rudimentary mistakes, including a bridal portrait with a road cone lying on its side in the background. I’ve been shown children’s pictures with blown-out highlights on sweaty faces, pets with crusty eyes and important family members missing from wedding albums. This is sad both for the clients and for the photographers whose reputations are forever tarnished.

Going through the trauma of getting a photographer’s fees refunded at a small claims court does not bring back a wedding day. Choosing the right photographer for you will guarantee great results.

How do I find the best photographer for me?

If you are commissioning a photographer you want them to provide photographs that tell your story or reflect your feelings. A photographer should know what you are looking for and choose the correct lighting and camera settings to achieve that.

Moody black and white phoot
A photographer should choose the right lighting and settings to reflect the mood their client wants.

Websites and portfolios can be a good guide to the quality of the work, but they only display a small selection of of the photographer’s work, images they choose to showcase. They are not a true record of the overall standard. Furthermore, can you be sure that the photos were taken by that photographer? Plagiarism is commonplace.

Personal Recommendations

Personal recommendation is often sited as being the best way to choose a photographer. A lot of work comes my way through word of mouth and I get a lot of return custom. I am grateful for that, but not everyone who gives a recommendation is necessarily qualified to do so. A friend was raving over her wedding photos. In truth, they were not that good. In several of the pictures she had stray hairs running across her face, a rudimentary mistake that should have been fixed before the shoot and, if not then, certainly afterwards during editing. Horizons were wonky and unwanted distractions were in many of the shots. She paid £3000 for that album.

Membership of a trade body may be a measure of quality, but some fantastic photographers shun these establishments.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Most professional photographers are good and, even if you choose one at random, you are most likely to get a skilled artist.

The best way…

The best way of deciding whether to employ a photographer is getting a first-hand experience of them at work. Any photographer worth their salt will take you on a pre-event photoshoot.

Apart from seeing if their images are any good, you will discover if this is someone you want at your event, or associated with your business. You’ll also get to know whether their photographic style is to your taste.

On a pre-event shoot, the photographer can also decide if they want to work for you too. I am lucky, all my clients have been great. I do know photographers who have turned commissions away because the clients’ expectations were unrealistic, or simply because they could not get on.

Good luck finding the right photographer for you.

Be Prepared

Be Prepared for the worst the weather can throw at you

Be Prepared for whatever the weather throws at you
Suffering for art is not something I believe in; I like being comfortable. Most of my favourite images happened in atypical weather. The first sign of fog or snow and I’m out with my camera. Even rain can bring interesting light and unusual sights. Fortunately, being comfortable usually equates to being safe. If heading into the Cheviots or a remote stretch of the Northumberland coastline, preparing for bad conditions can save your life. Without proper equipment and knowledge, mishaps become disasters. As the Scouts say: Be Prepared. Even benign landscapes on sunny days can jump up and bite you.

The day I got blown off the hill and ended up in hospital!

Hillwalking in Scotland one winter, the weather changed abruptly. A violent squall accompanied by a deluge of freezing rain and snow knocked me off my feet. Furthermore, visibility completely vanished and the ridge turned white. I grabbed the bothy shelter from my rucksack. Huddled beneath it, I opened my flask of hot chocolate and waited, cosy and dry, until the elements improved. Without proper preparation, the outcome of that trek could have been very different.

When I got back, I told a friend what had happened. That evening I went to the village pub and someone came over to ask if I was okay. They had heard I was in hospital after being blown off the mountain. Chinese whispers!

Proper Prior Preparation Prevents…

Accidents can happen on a deserted beach, in the open countryside and especially up hills. If you are heading out, especially on your own and even in summer, give someone a copy of your route and you planned return time. Also, write it down. Don’t rely on them remembering the details for the Coastguard or Mountain Rescue teams.

Good quality, layered clothing is essential. Avoid cotton, it absorbs moisture and feels cold against the skin. Prepare for heat as well as cold; heat stroke is just as dangerous as hypothermia. Wear a hat and good walking boots too. Carry water and high-energy snacks. Pack a basic first aid kit and learn how to use it. Check the weather and, if photographing the coast, the tides and sea state too.

A call for help

Mobile apps can use GPS to log your location so your family can see where you are. Make sure your phone is charged, but don’t rely on it to get you out of trouble. I have problems getting a signal in my kitchen and service cannot be guaranteed in the shadow of Helvellyn. Much of our coastline is without a phone signal too. Take a whistle to call for help. Six blasts repeated every minute is the recognised distress signal.

Can you read a map and navigate? Would you be able to find your way off a hill in poor visibility? Walking to the top is easy; it’s upwards all the way. Coming downhill, a multiple of possible routes lead in different directions to the bottom. The quickest descent – plummeting several hundred feet in a few seconds – isn’t what you want. People fall off the north face of Ben Nevis because they cannot navigate in thick cloud.

Enjoy the snow, but Be Prepared for it

Enjoy it!

Of course, we are never prepared for every eventuality. However, we can reduce the risk of coming to harm. But, remember why you went there. Alone or with a friend, there’s no beating the tranquillity of the great outdoors. Not able to see or hear any sign of human life is an experience like no other. Cresting a ridge and coming face-to-face with a stag is amazing – not getting your camera out in time is frustrating. Not Prepared! For that reason, I missed the photo of a stag, so here’s a tree sparrow instead!

I was prepared for this tree sparrow
Tree Sparrow

Reality?

There is no such thing as reality

Happy New Year! A purely human arbitrary concept, chosen in the past by our ancestors, it doesn’t correspond with an annual astronomical event of any importance that dictates when New Year’s Day should be. In reality, it is only 365 and a bit days after the last time we, in the West, set the daily counter to 1. Other cultures choose other dates. Our ancestors could easily have chosen any other day in the year. Perhaps we should wish each other a happy New Day every day instead.

Really! There is no such thing as reality

I really enjoy challenging what we perceive. Our perceptions are not reality, they are all a contrivance of our brains. Interpreted partly from the data sent along the optic nerve, much of what we think we see is actually invented in our minds. We use more stored information to create the world around us than what our eyes detect; what we already know about the world contaminates everything we see. We also perceive the world half a second after events occur.  What we think we see is not reality at all.

Sunrise over the Sea shot with a telephoto lens changes reality
A telephoto lens makes the rising sun appear enormous

Our anatomy and memories trick us too

Furthermore,  our eyes’ construction is limiting. Detecting only a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, most light we cannot see. Also, the structure of our eyes are as unique as fingerprints. How you see the world may be quite dissimilar from how I see it.

Like old, fading photographs, memories blur over time too. Suggestions change what we recall and other events intermingle with what we remember. There is no absolute truth in what we remember seeing.

Photographs distort reality

Can we apply this same fluidity to reality when creating a photograph? We do it all of the time, often unintentionally. When viewing pictures, we subject them to the same filtering and corruption by our eyes and brain as when we view the rest of the world. Furthermore, the photograph itself is not reality, just an interpretation of it.

A telephoto lens can make the sun seem huge in a frame. A fifteen-second exposure smooths out water and makes flashing beacons appear to be lit all at the same time. This is not how it appeared to me standing there taking the shot.

15 second exposure of Coquet Island with the smoothed sea. This is not a reality we would perceive.
A fifteen-second exposure. The flashing beacons appear permanently lit and the ripples on the water are smoothed out.

JPEG vs Raw

Your camera’s internal computer processes raw data from its sensor. If it is set to take JPEGs then the processor will be pre-programmed – probably by a technician on the other side of the world – how the picture should look. If you apply a digital filter in camera, the processor alters the data.  Applying differing luminosities to the millions of red, green and blue coloured pixels making up your image, the camera then adjusts them according to whatever filter you choose.

Throwing away the redundant data in a process called compression, the camera records one usable, shareable and widely compatible JPEG file onto the memory card. All modern cameras can produce great results in this way.

Moonrise above Coquet Island lighthouse from Hauxley Beach, Amble, Northumberland/
A path of golden moonlight across the sea

The camera always lies

A talented photographer I know takes amazing photos. Setting to record only JPEGs, her finished images straight from the camera look great, almost every one a wall-hanger. Her work-flow takes me back to my youth, entrusting my rolls of Kodachrome to a local laboratory to develop, process and print. Her methodology emphasises the importance of getting the composition and exposure just right.

Another option is ‘shooting raw’. The camera records the all raw data from the sensor into a file on the memory card without any processing. That gives more versatility. It lets you make the adjustments instead of the camera. Raw file developing, using tools like Lightroom or On1 Photo Raw, is non-destructive; anything you do to the file can be undone. Nothing is thrown away or lost as it is with a compressed JPEG. Akin to creating prints from a film negative, you can produce any number of different-looking JPEGs from that raw file without damaging the original.

Each result is your interpretation of reality. Every one is different. Yet, none of them a true or complete record of the event.

Although more versatile, shooting raw has its disadvantages. File sizes are larger and raw file previews are not universally compatible.

Changing reality: to edit or not to edit

There is a school of thought that a photo should always be untouched and a direct record of what was seen when it was taken. For reportage, I agree; the picture must be an honest representation as possible. News photographers – quite rightly – lose their reputations for editing pictures to deliberately mislead.

In portraiture and art shots, I have no qualms about removing a spot from a face or adding blur to soften wrinkles. In most photography, we are trying to create something aesthetically pleasing. If a lamppost detracts from a landscape I can’t physically remove it as I do litter. Is there anything wrong with deleting it using a computer to make a stronger composition? After all, our brains do it all the time.

When photos are changed…

Editing changes reality
Besides removing a lamppost, I edited this picture to convert it to black and white. We don’t see in black and white and yet, whether you like monochrome or not, converting it doesn’t raise an eyebrow in the same way that other editing does.

For me, creating photographic art is very different from just recording an event. I do my best to remove a distracting object that would otherwise spoil the shot; I’ll pick up litter and put in the bin when making the photo and compose the shot to exclude distractions. In the above photo it was a lamppost that unbalanced the shot. There was no way I could fix it while shooting, so I removed it with digital editing.

It’s art, it doesn’t matter that I have changed it. Saying that, it isn’t something I often do, using the clone or other editing tools; I rather get the image right in camera. But, the above image is far stronger with the lamppost removed. It doesn’t hurt anyone by my removal of it and I am not deceiving anyone by doing so.

I could crop the image above to exclude the lamppost or used a longer lens as I did in the following shot. But, would that loose the feeling of isolation? I think so.

… they become art.

When creating a photograph, unless using a lens of the same focal length and depth of field as our eyes, we step further away from our usual perception of reality. Maybe, that is why we like unusual angles, very short and very long exposures, hyper-real imagery and high-contrast monochrome in our photography. By seeing the world in a new and unusual way that our eyes and brain cannot perceive, it looks new and unusual.

It’s that difference that can make a photograph compelling. It’s what makes it art.

Walking across the pier in Amble Northumberland