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Dust spot
This image alone took the best part of an hour to spot out all the sensor dust. Time that could have been much better spent.

Despite my own self rightous preaching on being organised and managing time effectively, I sometimes fail to take my own advice. One of my worst habits when out shooting is not keeping camera sensors and lenses free of dust. It’s all too easy to think I’ll just do it later, or worse: I’ll just edit that spot out.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on post production recently, and while its something I actually enjoy doing, it is good management to complete tasks as effectively as possible and move on to the next income generating activity. I think close to half of that time may have been spent removing dust and artifacts and could have been mostly avoided had I been a little less lazy when on the road and a little more vigilant in cleaning gear regularly.

As this is the first post for 2014, I’m going to make this a new year’s resolution. I will be stricter on myself and make clean my camera gear regularly when on a shoot. I’m going to print a copy of the above RAW file including dust spots and keep it in my camera bag as a reminder of what happens when I don’t.

Hopefully, if you have the same habit you can learn from my mistakes and not your own. Happy New Year everyone.

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Shinjuku pedestrian crossing

The photography industry, and in particular stock photography, is barely recognisable since the introduction of digital. What was once the field of a few elite image makers, is now a free for all for anyone with a camera and the inclination to get involved.

There is so much media around these days that buyers are spoilt for choice and prices have dropped accordingly. Before anyone had ever conceived of royalty free pricing, buyers were prepared to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to licence an image. Now they baulk at having to pay double figures and it is not uncommon to pay only a few cents per use.

With agencies taking their own cut of sometimes over 50%, many photographers have either given up on the stock business or are seriously considering it.

So, is it still worthwhile? Answer: depends.

If we are talking about earning a living purely from stock photography, it is no longer possible except for a select few. Even then, earnings are not likely the be anything more than just a living. Photographers are continually diversifying into less traditional ways of supplementing their income, such as teaching or leading tour groups. Often this becomes their main activity while stock photography becomes the income supplement, and this is where stock photography can still be of some value.

For the photographer shooting assignments, often stock becomes an option for images made either during a shoot, or from personal projects. Rather than sitting around on a hard drive, they may as well be put to use. It also helps if the photographer has a staff to help, as the preparing of images to each agency’s specifications is time consuming and a major factor in weighing whether stock photography is a viable option. Many “one man or woman bands” also choose to enlist the services of a keywording specialist company to reduce their own time spent.

Stock photography, despite all the industry doomsayers, is still a good way to supplement income. It is just not a full time job on its own anymore. The trick is to find a way to move images into the market quickly and easily.

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Photography competitions

Submitting images for photographic competitions isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. It can be a nervous time submitting what you believe is your very best work to be critiqued and rated by others. It can either build or dent your confidence. Photography competitions however, do have some distinct benefits beyond the prizes offered.

Exposure

Photographic Competitions are usually quite public affairs, whether they are voted on by the public or a judging panel, and almost always involve an exhibition. They may be internet based, with a potential audience of millions, or housed in a public space such as an art gallery. Either way is an outlet to show your work to a brand new audience.

Feedback

It is a very difficult thing to critique your own work. You are automatically biased by the experience of creating the image yourself which makes is hard to determine the quality of the finished image itself. Friends and family also tend to be more fans than critics. Someone who has not been involved with either you or the creative process however does not have this barrier. The only opinion they can draw is that of the end product. While it can be difficult to hear others’ point out technical flaws in your images, provided you listen with an open mind you may become aware of some areas to work on to improve your images.

There are so many photography competitions run around the world each year that it can be hard to decide which to enter. From prestigious international contests with huge prizes and recognition to the winners, to locally held exhibitions fought for pride only. Which ones to choose depend on your reason for entering. If you are looking to gain recognition and credibility as a professional, National Geographic Photo Contest would be a consideration, however if your primary reason is to learn and improve your photography, a smaller competition where you have face to face feedback from judges as well as the public may be of more benefit.

 

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Photoshelter Photographers Outloook 2013The good folk at Photoshelter have just released their Photographer’s Outlook for 2013, the results of an annual survey of 5,000 photographers asking about their plans and expectations for 2013.  One of the questions was “In 2013, what will you invest in?” Amongst the usual responses of lenses, camera bodies and other equipment and software, I was happy to read that over 50% of photographers planned to invest in their education. It is worth noting that not all those surveyed were professional photographers. The survey included a mix of hobbyists, students, semi-professional and professional. But from the numbers it is clear that professional photographers also understand and value the need to improve their skills, photographic and otherwise, to maintain a successful business.

Yes gear is important, but not that important. Get the best gear you can afford, but put your time and effort into understanding how to get the best out of it.  New cameras are released so often that whatever you spend your savings on is likely to be obsolete (according to manufacturer’s marketing spin anyway) within 6 months. So why bother to try keep up with the latest and greatest when what you have will most likely do a sound job. If you are a commercial photographer who needs high mega pixels to produce images for large billboards etc then it makes sense to spend big dollars on a D800 or even medium format kit, but if you shoot weddings or family portraits, there isn’t really a need for this type of gear. You would get better value from attending a workshop on working with natural light or how to connect with and bring the best out of your subjects. The end result might be smaller pixels, but better, more saleable images.

In the end, we will all need to update our gear every so often, but the more use you can get out of each piece of equipment, the more value it adds to your business. Business common sense says with each new purchase, you need to earn more revenue to make the same profit. So be careful what areas of your business you invest in and make decisions with your head not your heart. A good photographer with an average camera will create a better image than an average photographer with a good camera every day of the week.

If you’re interested, the Photoshelter Photographer’s Outlook for 2013 is available to download HERE.

 

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photography career

I made some photographs for the first time in weeks recently, and they weren’t very good. To me they seemed unimaginative and uninspired. They were difficult to make. Why, I wondered. Conditions were good, I had all the gear I needed. I had a beautiful location to shoot. The trouble was, I had forgotten what I needed to do. Ideas came slowly, and when they did, it took some time to remember how to adjust the gear to achieve this, and by the time I did, the moment was gone. This frustration was a good reminder of the importance of staying in practice.

If you’re a working photographer, its easy to get caught up in, well, making a living. But it is also important to remember what products you produce that earn that living: photos. Businesses large or small all need to spend time on revising and improving their products. For photographers this means striving to improve the images we produce, and we can only do this by making more images. By practice and experimentation. By remaining familiar with our gear so that we don’t need to think about what settings we need to use to bring a particular idea into reality.

The best way to do this is with personal projects. By taking time to also shoot for yourself, apart from the feeling of fulfilment you achieve, you keep evolving creatively and honing the skills needed for when client’s are relying on you to produce quality images.

So even if it is shooting what interests you with your mobile phone, or carrying around a compact camera if you can’t have an SLR with you, making an effort to just shoot more often keeps the eye in so to speak, so when the moment comes when you are under pressure to create, its not a matter of thinking, just a matter of doing and following the instincts you’ve been honing.

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social media for photographers
Social media can either be a Bermuda Triangle when it comes to your time, or a wonderfully efficient way to gain website traffic.

We’re told that it is the way of the future. That to gain the greatest audience we need to be active in social media. So we spend hours each week blogging, tweeting our blogs, tweeting other subjects, posting to Google+ then announcing all this on Facebook. By the time where finished our social media commitments, there is no time left for actually making any photos.

So is this all worth the effort? How do we measure? Getting lots of Likes and Retweets is great, but do they translate into website visitors or enquiries from potential clients? If not, what is the point, other than a nice boost for the ego?

Social media can either be a fast, convenient way to make your voice heard by thousands or even millions of interested people worldwide, or it can be a whole lot of work for no return. So how do we put together a targeted plan for making the most of social media without it becoming a full time obsession?

Firstly, understand where your traffic is coming from. If you are putting the same amount of time into say Twitter, Facebook and Google+ but finding most of your traffic is coming from Facebook, then why not centre your time around Facebook and spend less on other outlets that are not offering as much gain?

Secondly, understand where your audience is. Facebook has a huge presence within the photography industry, and most find that this creates the bulk of their social medica traffic. This is definately the case for me. When I began using social media as a means of connecting with colleagues and potential clients, I did it pretty blindly. Basically I just picked a few of the better known media and started posting and tweeting blog posts and other news and links that I thought interesting so hoped others would too. It kind of worked too.  There was a notable jump in traffic, but not much else. It wasn’t until I began looking at how those visitors engaged with the website that I was able to see which media could be really powerful in driving potential clients and concentrate my time towards that.

The short answer to the question above is yes, in my humble opinion, provided you work to a plan and maximise your time spent on social media. Tools such as Google Analytics can help you track where your website traffic comes from and how it moves around the site to help you tailor a plan. There are many resources out there on how to do this, including Photoshelter which offers guides for both social media and Analytics amongst their many free guides.

By all means jump into social media. Do it to be heard by clients. Do it to connect with like minded photographers. Just don’t do it for the sake of boosting your ego. That doesn’t produce any income.

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Expanse Photography Twitter

Yep, finally did it. I’ve been putting off joining Twitter for a while but just had to do it. Twitter has become an essential tool for connecting with other photographers as well as potential clients and creating networks and gaining inspiration. The main drawback for me has been not knowing how to use it as a business too. Then I realised, that’s not really what it’s for. Sure you can use Twitter to attract people to your website and sell a product or service, but it’s really about connecting with like minded people.

Since I realised this and stopped taking the whole thing so seriously, I’ve met a lot of great people and discovered some really inspirational photography, as well as picked up some really useful travel advice and suggestions for photographing various locations.

Please feel free to follow me or send me a message at @ExpansePhoto

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Camera? Check. Lenses? Check. Tripod? check. Backup solution? Um…

One of the things that often get forgotten amid all the excitement of packing for a trip is to make sure you get those precious images home. We hear about the unthinkable happening to photographers who have lost images because of memory card failure, stolen equipment or a whole range of reasons. Nothing is fool proof, but there are a few things you can do to decrease the chances of this happening to you.

Computer backup

laptop computerIf you carry a laptop with you on photography trips is a simple solution as it is easy to upload the days images. A laptop also gives you the option to edit images as you go if you prefer. The drawback of a laptop is the extra bulk you will need to carry for the entire trip. Yes, they are becoming thinner and lighter, but it all makes a difference when you have to lug it from airport to hotel and beyond. Computers are also targets for thieves.

Memory cards

compact flash cardWe need them to shoot, but we can also use them to store images until we return home. The chances of losing images to memory card failure can be reduced by changing cards frequently. If, however, you have high capacity cards this might mean leaving alot of empty space that you could otherwise fill with wonderful memories. My preference is to have many smaller capacity cards, rather than a few large ones.

Internet/Cloud Storage

internet photo storageIf you have access to fast internet where you are travelling, uploading images to a server can be a convenient way to store images safely. It allows you the freedom of storing the images without having to carry around a storage device and have them there waiting for you when you get home. It is also reletively secure given the backup procedures server operators have in place. The downside is a lot of places you may go will not have fast or easy internet access, or no access at all. It can be hard to backup regularly and there is the chance of something going wrong before you get the chance to upload again. There is also a time factor to consider if you are potentially uploading 100’s of images each day.

Portable storage

Portable photo storagePortable hard drives such as the Digital Foci Picture Porter and HyperDrive ColorSpace are another convenient way to backup images without adding to your luggage load. These are small hard drives that allow you to store, catergorise and review images without the need to carry a laptop.

As for my preference, I don’t like carrying a laptop on a trip. I’ll take any opportunity to reduce luggage weight. Internet storage is great in thoeory, but just not practical in reality. So I like to use a combination of portable hard drive and memory cards. The usual process is to take lots of memory cards with me so I don’t need to reformat them. At the end of each day, I will backup the card to a portable drive as well as keep the card in a safe place, always seperate from the drive. That way I will have two copies of each image until I get home.

In the end its a matter of personal preference, but I would suggest using at least 2 different methods to increase your chances of coming home with those precious memories.

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Expanse Photography Facebook

After a long deliberation, I’ve finally taken the plunge and started an Expanse Photography Facebook page. Gratuitous plug HERE. The reason for holding off so long is that I was a bit hesitant about the time I would need to spend in updating the page, and driving traffic to it, but now that the page is set up the hard work is kinda done and it’s really just a matter of linking to blog posts and joining some photographer groups. Joining forums and groups is a great way to interact with other photographers you otherwise wouldn’t get to meet and throw around ideas, get advice and share images.

It’s also a great way of keeping clients and potential clients up to date with the kind of work I’m doing and any upcoming trips.

Not that long ago many photographers were coming to terms that they needed a website to promote themselves. Now we need to come to terms with the fact that we not only need a website, but also a Facebook account, Twitter account, Linked In profile, and should probably be thinking about using YouTube as well to open ourselves to more potential clients. No longer are these things thought of as frivolous fun or a handy way to keep in touch with friends. They are now legitimate business tools. How quickly the world changes.

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Andreas Gursky Rheinn II

The photograph in question. Incidentally Gursky will not receive a penny from the sale of his image as it was sold from one collector to another.

I’ve written before about the value of photography, but finding out that Andreas Gursky’s photograph, “Rhein II” (above) has just been sold for $4.3 million at Christies has caused me to consider this again as it relates to photography as an artform.

This is the most expensive photograph ever sold, but why is it worth $4.3 million? What is a fair price for a technically proficient rendering of a moment. Is this photo actually worth this much?  Well, yes it is. Because that is what someone has paid for it. 

In real estate circles they say a house is worth whatever someone will pay for it. I think this applies to photography as well, or more broadly to art. A piece of artwork, be it a photograph or a painting or a sculpture, is such a personal and varied thing that it is almost impossible to give a value to. There is no formula like for example a car, where the maker might calculate the cost of parts and overheads to build the car and also add in marketing and shipping costs and then a margin to come up with a price per vehicle. But while you could take these things into account when pricing art, a piece of art is a one off. Although it may be copied, it is the only one of it’s kind that will ever exist. It may be a social commentary or an expression of some inner conflict, but either way it is something that only that artist could have produced and has much more emotional value than a car ever will.

Most of us can tell if a car is well made, but because art is so subjective, there is no way to tell if a painting is well made (is that line supposed to be there?). We can only tell if it speaks to us or not. And that I believe is the only measure by which we can give art a value. There has been a bit of outrage over the price paid for Gursky’s photograph. A lot of “I could have done that with my Iphone” type sentiment. But one person was so moved by the image that they forked out a $4.3 million for it, therefore it is worth $4.3 million dollars.

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