Friday, 4 November 2011

Steam Trains

For those interested: The Steam train 'Tangmere' will be visiting Margate Station on the 11th November, arriving around 1PM and departing 20 mins later for London Victoria.
 
 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Colour Management

 

I was asked again yesterday by someone to explain why the pictures they display on their monitor, never look anything like the final image they print. Now this is one massive subject, with many areas where it can go very very wrong.  As I have said before, I see little point in rewriting what is already available on the Internet. You will find masses of information out there to read, some of a very technical nature. For you dear reader, lets just adopt the 'Keep It Simple' approach....

All monitors are not identical, what's more they give us lots and lots of things to adjust and play with, brightness, contrast, colour temperature to name just three.

Your friend has just edited photos of a bridal shoot, all the wonderful detail of the dress is present on his screen, the embroidery is superb. They email you a proof copy.  Oh dear, you look at a completely bleached out dress, with no detail, its truly a mess...

Hang on a minute who is seeing the correct representation?

Well, you may both be wrong, or one of you may be correct.  But you cannot both be correct.  With so many variables it is impossible to guarantee your pictures will be seen by others as you would wish them to be seen, or printed, as you would like them printed.

The only way to be sure is to have a correctly calibrated monitor.  How can we do this?

Well, if you are just a 'domestic' user and are not too concerned, there are many web sites which have test images which you can use to approximate the settings. This can be a good place to start.  Do this today.

One good site is Lagom.  Go through the alignment pages which are pretty easy to follow, and you will get an improved viewing experience.

Next step up is to use hardware and software to calibrate your monitor. This does not have to be too expensive with entry level solutions form around £70 such as the Spyder 3 Express. A device sits on the screen whilst software runs through a series of tests to set the screen correctly.  This should ensure that your editing will be accurate.

Now the important bit. If you come to print at home the chances are your pictures will still look wrong on paper. This is because the printer has to be calibrated too, and the range of colours that can be displayed on a monitor are not the same as those that can be printed.  Again various options are available, to get the best match,  but sticking to the printer manufacturers inks and paper will probably be good enough for domestic use. I never print any professional work at home anymore, too many variables, and I would rather be shooting than stuck at a printer!

But, and this is the important bit. When you start to work with a calibrated monitor, you are now working with the best possible  match with your printing lab, who also work in a colour managed environment. This means that you should have no disappointing washed out prints or poor colour reproduction through a fault of your own.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Excuse me sir, do you have a permit for that tripod?



Now I freely admit this is not my idea. I came across it on a good web site called Larry's cheap shots. Larry posts video and blogs on methods to save money on hardware mostly. I highly recommend you take a look.
Larry became tired of being asked by the "jobsworth" amongst us if he had permission to use a tripod in a public place and whether he had a permit. So, he made his own!
The permit is affixed to his tripod and so far has resulted in no further enquiries. Now, I have never had an issue with using a tripod, but this made me chuckle, and for fun I made my own. If nothing else it will possibly be a talking point.
My permit is fully endorsed by TIPPAL the Tripods In Public Are Legal organisation who oversee all manners to do with monopods and tripods on public land :)
TIPPAL


Look Up Larry at  http://larryscheapshots.com/

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Event Photography is not for the feint hearted

 

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who tells you that event photography is 'money for old rope' please, direct them to me for a chat.

Last week was the end of the school year, I had offered to go into the school and get some shots of the year 6 leavers. Now this was not to be a paid job, I was doing it for the school and for the PTFA. Plus I wanted an excuse to check out my workflow.  We had agreed to make a very small mark up on  the prices too, just a contribution to the PTFA fund. So, rather than go in with an expensive printer and all the kit required to 'print on the night' we simply took a grey backdrop, a couple of strobes with brollies for  very flat lighting (Keep It Simple Stupid) and a couple of cameras.

I ran into the school at 4pm set everything up in a class room (after moving all the furniture), had it all tested and functional within 45 minutes, then cleared off to get a bite to eat.

The party started at 6pm and ran through to 8pm The children were a little shy to begin with, but soon got into the swing of it and we had a non-stop stream of children wanting to be photographed in various poses and groups.  It took about 30 minutes to clear away, including putting all the desks back.

Images were then uploaded to a web based gallery for purchase by the parents and children the next day.

So, why 'not for the feint hearted' I hear you say?  Ok so lets break this down into the two areas that are needed to be a successful event photographer. Business skills - and lots of them. This was a 'not for profit' job. As a sole trader, I would have had to consider the cost of equipment, consumables, transport, insurance, taxes, wages, need I go on?
On top of that you have to be able to sell yourself, and your work - before the event, during, and after.  Business skills are key to becoming a successful enterprise - regardless of what you do.

Secondly - it pays to know how to handle a camera :)

A little flippant with the second comment? Not at all. An average photographer can make a lot of money with good business skills, sure, you need to know your arm from your F-Stop, but i can guarantee I could train you within a couple of hours with enough knowledge to 'get by'  The business side though? I am still learning that after three years.

Easy money? No - during those two hours, we worked not stop, 300 shots whilst being upbeat and chatty is hard work. And that was for a small event without the added stress of printing and selling at the same time. Scale that up to a a few hundred and an all day event and things start getting scary.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Corner cutting on branding is detrimental to your business

I had a new follower on Twitter today. A business consultant wishes to exchange information.  They give me advice on how to run a successful business and in exchange, I give them credit or debit card details.

So here is my piece of free business advice for all of you out there in www land who wish to sell your services to me.

If like me, your requirements in the early days of your business are a template site, then yes, that is acceptable providing the content is original.

However, if you wish to offer me professional services, the first thing I will do is check you out. And as a photographer, your images are the first thing I will look at.

Now this particular site has several images of happy workers, busy professionals shuffling paper with immaculate smiles, I am sure you get my drift.

A quick reverse image search discovers that the images crop up in over 183 places.

These people get around, they are media consultants in America, they work out of several Russian based locations, a UK medical practice, sales leads sellers, qualification sales advisors, rent apartments in Liverpool, use the credit union, do something with anti virus protection, have a job site in the Netherlands… oh and they are also featured on Flickr and a micro stock web site, to name but a few.

I cannot take a company seriously who wishes to sell me, a photographer, business advice, when they have so little care on the creation of their own business brand.

My free advice J

Hire a photographer (ahemm cough cough) and get some real photos done. Lets see the real ‘you’ and your team, not some fake models from America whose image has been used on countless web sites. Honestly, would you not be a little peeved if you were running a web site promoting vegetarianism, only to find that the local kebab shop is using the same images?

Be unique – sell yourself effectively.







Monday, 13 June 2011

I am rapidly approaching the half way mark for my 365 project. For those unfamiliar, one picture every day, the underlying idea is to improve your photography. I am not so sure this is the way to do it. Looking back on the last six months,  I am happy with a lot of the images, disappointed with some, and downright embarrased with a few. Amazingly, the ones where I have been up against the wall due to other commitments and have 'made something up', are the ones that others have appreciated the most! 





What it has done though, is give me a day-by-day photographic diary for the year. I can look at an individual image and remember what I was doing vividly.

Another thing, what is a plain boring image today, may be something special in a few years time. It was a snapshot, not very exciting, of the car park and shop front for the local Focus DIY store that is closing down. Will the building be demolished? Will it be refurbished? Whatever happens it will never be the same. In  a few years time this image may end up being more than a snapshot to someone. If I were not on this personal 365 project, I would not have considered taking this picture, let alone posting it.

So at the half way mark, has it improved my photography? Not at the moment.

At the end of the year, providing I complete the project, I will look back again and see if my feelings have altered.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Training with Lencarta and Jonathan Ryan

Last Sunday saw a drive up to Maidstone for the day to take part in training arranged by Lencarta. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, they are the supplier of both mains and battery powered studio lighting equipment. They also have a vast array of light modifiers and accessories at very competitive prices.
Lencarta arrange training days throughout the year for those interested in  having some hands on experience with the equipment. 

On arrival we were greeted by Jonathan Ryan. Based in Canterbury, he is a highly proficient photographer who has created some stunning work.  I recommend you check out his blog and Flickr Stream.

We had just enough time to grab a coffee, before the fire alarm went off.  Imagine ten photographers standing outside with several thousand pounds worth of camera gear half hoping that it is not a false alarm, and wondering who is going to get their images to the press first. 

False alarm over, and back to the course. The morning begins with a general discussion, and some images on the big screen describing various aspects of photography and lighting. We then move on to studio lighting  101, describing the type of stands, heads, modifiers and basic controls.

It was about now that our model for the day, Claire and our make up artist, Holly, turned up.  After introductions, Claire was seated against a white background to demonstrate what Jonathan called 'beige lighting'  Using a single light with a softbox he demonstrated how the angle of lighting will affect the subject and the background.


We then moved on to the use of beauty dishes, and background illumination  and were given the opportunity to try out the lighting set up for ourselves briefly.



After lunch, we were split into three groups of three and given a specific assignment. My group had the task of shooting Claire for a commercial 'businesswoman of the year' image. We were given twenty minutes to set up and shoot from scratch. Following groups were given black back ground and hi key background scenarios, again against the clock.

Jonathans style of teaching was never dull, all of us were humiliated, and had the mickey taken out of us, but it was  all very much tongue in cheek (well I hope it was) and was all part of the fun of the day.



A wind up chat and packing away the kit ended the day off at about 5.30.

In conclusion, was it worth it?  Yes, but not in the way I thought it would be. I already own a couple of Lencarta strobes and various light modifiers so I was fairly conversant with the practicalities of the lights. What it did do for me, was to allow me to try out some of the items I had considered purchasing, and now will. Plus it  gave me other areas and ideas that I had not considered before. I also came away with far more information talking to both Jonathan, Claire and Holly about the business aspects and the logistics of arranging shoots.  The afternoons assignments against the clock only proved one thing - that if you have three photographers working as a team with 18 minutes to set it all up, the chances are you will fail. The only thing I learnt from that... I want to be in charge if it were the real world!

Training is important to us all, regardless of our skill level.  Meeting like-minded people, swapping ideas helps us to grow, so I would thoroughly recommend any training, and the Lencarta day was great fun and great value for money.
At the time of writing, Lencarta seem to be having significant issues with their web site. It seems to be an ongoing problem.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Social Networking and the UK market

Like many photographers I listen to numerous podcasts and read an equal number of blogs each month. Most of these originate from the good ol'  U.S. of A. They hammer home time and time again the importance of the Internet as a medium for 'selling yourself', with some exceptionally good photographers posting daily.

A few nights ago, after spending some time checking all of my on-line persona's I was suddenly aware of how much non productive time I had just spent. In fact since then I have deliberately not logged into any external services until I had completed the image editing for the night. 

I then got to thinking, how much income or enquires had been generated from these various sources?  Genuine enquiries had come in via the web site,  whilst facebook queries were inevitably those looking for 'time for prints' jobs.

This was in contradiction to the recommendation of 'professional bloggers' that we ought to all shut down our web sites and blog for business - as the mighty Google is far betterr at throwing up results from blogs. 

Now my question, is this just a sign that I am a lousy blogger (yes I hear my six followers shout out!) or the UK market is radically different to the American market? 

Twitter and various blogs are ideal for me to keep in touch with my professional contacts, but will they generate meaningful leads?  Are British people more likely to find and hire a photographer via a web search  or via a more personal approach, such as wedding fayres or a retail establishment?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Are you making lasting memories?

If I were to say to you, where are your old family photographs?  What would be your answer?
Are they in the loft? Under the bed? In a shoebox? Bottom drawer?  
My guess would be something along those lines.

Now lets try something more up to date.  Latest child or grandchild? Last memorable event?  
Now if the answer to this is either Facebook or the C drive of the computer, you are in trouble.

Modern technology is wonderful, but for future generations of your family will they have the equivalent of the bottom drawer to delve into and discover lost memories? The vast majority of people are not particularly interested in the technical aspects of photography, many do not see it as an art form. It is purely a recording medium, a means to take a snap of a families life. Not that long ago the mighty Kodak was a leader in the market of selling simple cameras. They contained a snap in cartridge of film in various formats. We then moved on to digital point and shoot. Now, these are rapidly falling out of favour, with the majority of people using a mobile phone. Many high-end phones now have astonishing capabilities for their size. Whilst they are nowhere near the quality of a high-end camera, they are adequate for capturing those special moments.

If however they are only being uploaded to your favourite social networking site, what will happen in 50 or 100 years from now to them?  Will the future generations have access to these wonderful snaps of our history in the making?

I urge you to do something about it right now.

Back up those files (twice) and make sure one copy is kept in a different location if they are really important to you.

Print some of them!  Come on – top up that shoebox while you have time.

For me, I simply love photo-books. The old photo albums were poor compared to these modern creations that give truly stunning results and look wonderful on the coffee table. With many versions and price ranges on the market, it should not be too difficult to find something to your taste.   Simply download the free software, create the layout, upload, and wait for the book to turn up on the doormat.   I personally love the idea of creating photo books for holidays, special occasions, and if you wish to be really adventurous, a yearly journal. If in 100 years time your heirs come across this in the attic, you can be assured that it will still be readable by the human eye, still the most reliable image and data-gathering device in existence.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Lens Failure

Whilst shooting a couple of days ago the camera shut down with a horrible error message. 'Error 01 - loss of communication between the lens and the body" The lens was only a couple of years old. After doing a bit of self diagnosis it was pretty clear that the diaphragm had stopped operating correctly. The motor that drives this could be heard to be struggling. This apparently is a common failing - even to the point that someone had put a detailed description on how to strip down this costly piece of glassware, not for the feint hearted.

I appreciate the complexities of these lenses and know that he smallest bit of grit is likely to cause further problems. So the lens is being shipped off for repair. For a domestic user, some gnashing of teeth, a grumble at a costly bill, the kids go without food for another week.

But what about the pro whose livelihood depends upon it?   This is why it is so important to have a backup when things go wrong.  I have the ability to continue, two bodies and redundancy built in with the other lenses I have. I can also call on others to borrow kit if it was a dire emergency. Also access to the pro service channel means a faster turn around on repairs. So the same gnashing of teeth, and the kids still starve, but at least I keep going.

When booking that all important wedding photographer. Ask the question 'If you dropped your camera and lens on my big day, what would you do?"  If the answer comes back "Use my I phone probably",  then I suggest you walk away - fast.

Friday, 28 January 2011

New Year, New beginning

 

Hi everyone. I apologise in advance,  this is not so much about photography....
It's all about me! 

Over the last year I have shot several events for clubs, and many portraits of friends, family and acquaintances.  I have done all of this for free. In fact 'for free' meant a significant outlay in materials and time for me. Those people have gone away with some fabulous shots, and I hope some great memories. In return I have learnt a lot, met some great people, and gathered some images that I have been able to use for my web site.  The purpose of all of this work was to have in place the groundwork for the launch of my new business venture.

I have become concerned that the offer of my time and services in return for the release of the rights to use an image has been misunderstood. The purpose of  what photographers call a 'time for prints' contract, is one that allows the photographer to offer their services  where their is a 'mutual benefit'. It allows the photographer to gain experience with new equipment or to try out different ideas, while the model has the chance of gaining images for their portfolio etc. It is not meant to be a subsidised portrait session.

It may seem to you, that all that is required to take a great portrait is a decent camera. Not true.  Technical competence, the ability to interact with your client, and the additional hardware makes this a very expensive career to start up in.  Also the image does not come 'out of the camera and onto the paper'. A lot of time is spent on the computer to make that image shine before you see it.

To be completely transparent, I have decided that with the start of the new tax year, Paul Clark Photography will be officially trading. This is a very exciting prospect for me, and we hope to have some super offers. Watch out also for full details and prices to appear on the web site very soon.

All that have followed my progress have given me great support and encouragement. I still want to arrange some walks and meetings as social gatherings for all of you, and any new friends we may make on the way.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Photography is an art form - Discuss

 

Happy New Year! This is my first blog of 2011. I have been kept busy over the past few weeks with family duties and illness, I am sure no one missed me ;)

So is photography an art form? I think so, but I am not too sure.

You see, I had a heated discussion recently with a highly talented water colour artist. She teaches at a local college. When I informed her that my lamentable attempts to draw with a crayon could be bettered by any 5 year old; she told me in all seriousness that I could be taught to draw. Now this goes against my beliefs that certain skills, such as music and art can only be learnt to a crude level, the ability to create truly wondrous things is an inbuilt function of a few naturally gifted people. She argued that this was not true. I think she was trying to be nice.

But what about photography then?  First, we need a good understanding of the operation and function of the hardware. How it is used to capture an image can be learnt. This is not a function of artistic talent.  Second, the nature of light. It could be argued that this is based in the practical world and is a study more to do with physics. This leaves us with composition. Now, can this be learnt to a level that is exactly the same as any of the grand masters of photography? I think so, but, well, this is where it all gets complicated for me.

Give 50 photographers a street to walk down and capture several images, and they will all  capture different moments of time. Our view of the world around us will always be different to another persons. So, is the true art of photography?  The ability to perceive something that your fellow human dismisses?

Another fly in the ointment for me is the big photo shoots.  With huge budgets, the creation of glossy magazine covers for the likes of  Vanity Fair means nothing is too much trouble in getting that perfect image.  But is this art the work of the photographer or a collaboration between all those responsible in creating the image in pre and post production?

So, are photographers born naturally gifted, or is it a craft like any other craft?  One that can be taught to any person given time?

As has been said before, are photographers frustrated artists that do not have the natural skills to draw or paint?