Saturday, 25 February 2012

Photo Competitions - and why sometimes they are not what they seem

I am certainly not the first to write about this, in fact I probably rate waaaayy down on the list, somewhere in the darkness of the Internet (or is it the cloud now?)  So, what do you think is the modus operandi of a competition? Well to my mind its fairly simple:

1. Competition opens.
2. Person enters competition.
3a. Person wins competition and receives prize amidst applause and trumpet fanfare.
3b Or, person does not win competition. Returning to a life of drudgery.

OK, so what does the company running the competition get out of it?  Well, normally publicity. That's it. The reason for a competition is to raise awareness in your brand,  unless its the National Lottery where the purpose is to raise money for good causes, with a few million left over for me. I live in hope...

Photo competitions however have been transformed over the  years into something more sinister. Not always - but sometimes.

Lets be honest here, we are all guilty of ticking the 'I have read the full terms and conditions' box without reading those pages of gobble de gook. We have a life, we are not solicitors, and we really do not care. But with photo competitions, I cannot say this any other way, READ THEM!

Once upon a time, pro photographers would be employed or commissioned to create images for advertisements etc. Then, someone came up with the idea that if they were to run a photo competition, and put in the small print that any photographs you enter, regardless of whether you win or lose, became the  property of the company running the competition, then they could save a lot of money on those profiteering professional photographers who dare to charge money to cover the trivial things in life, like food.

These clauses normally allow any image entered to be used for any purpose, without any payment or any mention of the person who created it. They may even state that if they get sued because you did not have the rights to the image - then its your fault and you can have the lawsuit. Nice of them.

So, you lose the competition, but wait, that image is terrific, perhaps you consider selling it to a stock library to earn some money, or maybe approach an advertising agency. One of the first questions asked will be 'Do you own all of the rights to this picture?' And of course - you do not - you signed them away. No sale, no one wants to buy your picture.  Worse still, the image did not win, but turns up in the Sunday supplement, advertising some brand - it may not even be related to the original competition. For example, a picture of your child, advertising birth control products. OK far fetched, but possible. Plus you will not get a penny for it.

I bring this up because another competition has just plopped onto my Facebook Page, the terms and conditions are just as I describe. I posted a warning to others, and had a reply, that the terms are only their to 'allow them to post images to Facebook and they would never do such a thing as selling or using the images for anything else'.  So, why have the clause?  Admittedly 'The suits' in charge can get over zealous when writing up these terms, but they are still there.
So what do you do? Simple. My recommendation is not to touch competitions of this type with a bargepole. Cases have been documented where public opinion has caused a hasty re-write of the rules.  In fact, its now so much of an issue that a dedicated web site lists the good and the bad competitions - The Bill of Rights.

And - no, this has nothing to do with me wanting to protect professional photographers from being done out of a job. This is more about all of us being taken for a ride by people wishing to grab your work for free, whilst making a huge profit out of doing so.

Happy Snapping

Monday, 13 February 2012

It’s all about experimenting..


Whenever I go shopping, I keep a lookout for interesting materials that can be used for backdrops. It is not always necessary to spend a fortune on specialist materials to create artistic and cool effects.

I came across some semi-opaque plastic sheeting with an etched design, described as shower curtain material, in The Range at Broadstairs. I purchased 3 metres of the stuff and still had change out of ten pounds when I headed home.

The material was hung on a background support with natural light illuminating the rear, I then set up a Lencarta EP300 with a standard reflector gelled green and lit it from the front at a sharp angle to give some variation to the reflected light. Once satisfied with the background, I then used another EP300 with an 80 cm octagonal softbox to the left. This was placed close to the subject to make it as diffuse as possible. A couple of white reflectors were set to the right to throw a little bit of light back for fill. The lights were individually metered for a working aperture of F4, with the background tweaked for effect once I saw the results.

This first attempt was not too successful, and was softer than I wished, the light filtering through diminishing what I was aiming for which was a punchier look.



By placing a black cloth behind the background it immediately increased the effect of the gelled light. This time I tried a blue gel that gave a pleasing effect. Notice how the light interacts with the plastic sheeting’s etched pattern and the black background. I am not sure if I like the light bleed on the left, I could have flagged it, but thought it added interest by breaking up the background.



Lastly I fitted a full cut of CTO or colour temperature orange. I also removed the softbox and replaced it with a standard reflector for a much harder light. With so many other light modifiers on the market to play with it often gets overlooked as being a wonderful tool in its own right.



By altering the colour of the light source we can create a wide range of effects with ease. Although I ran out of time to try, I am sure that altering the colour of the backcloth would also have an effect upon the pattern.

This was shot with studio lights, but a similar effect could easily be achieved by using speedlites, constant source lighting or a combination of the two. It only takes willingness and time to experiment to create something special from everyday household materials.