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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
This isn’t a new years resolution post. It’s a bit early for that and I don’t make them anyhow, but I came across an article online this week that asked the question: what do you want to learn about photography in 2012? Not: where to you want to take your business, or how much money do you want to make? but what skills do you want to improve to make better photos? It’s a question based purely on the love of photography and a will to improve, and it reminded me on the need to constantly work on getting better at your craft, rather than simply getting better promoting, invoicing, filing etc. So I made a list of things that I want to improve on in the next year. It was a long list, but here are a few of the big ones:
Lean to use off camera flash. There are some images that I know I can relly improve by adding some extra lighting, but often I’m just not sure how to go about it. I think knowing how, and when, to use off camera flash better will help me interpret these scenes much more clearly.
Lean to light better. Most of my photography has always been outdoors and on the road. It’s just what I’ve gravitated to and it’s made me pretty handy at working with what nature provides, but I want to be able to branch out and lean to create and control light in a wider range of settings. First priority is to understand studio lighting better and learn how to create mood and depth with artificial lighting.
How to take more natural portraits. I still feel nervous about approaching strangers and asking to photograph them. I think that’s something that will never go away. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing it, but I feel that people can sense if you’re nervous and so don’t fully relax themselves. So I want to learn how to help them do this in order to make an image that reveals more about the person.
Learn to be more intuitive with the camera. The less you have to think about where various controls are on the camera, the more time you have to concentrate on your subject. You can devote more time to composing the image that you see. Learning your gear so well that you can forget about it is the key to this.
So these are a few things that I’ll be aiming to improve on next year. Some I’m really only a beginner at, others I practice constantly but feel I can always get better at. It’s important to have these goals because in photography, as in life in general, you can’t achieve anything if you’re not really aiming to achieve anything.
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.
The good folk at PhotoShelter are offering up yet more great photo business advice. Apart from offering a image storage and website solution for photographers, these guys produce e-books by the dozen and run a great blog that often includes webinars featuring art directors, photographers and people in the photography and publishing industries that provide some useful insight on how photographers are hired and how to construct a portfolio amongst other things. And they do it all for free (except for the storage and website bit).
Their latest offer is the Photo Business Bootcamp. A 5 week course that you can receive by e-mail to help you in starting up or growing your photography business. The course covers finding inspiration, designing and using your website effectively, online marketing and selling your services and your photos. I’ve signed up and am looking forward to getting started.
Putting your feet up is the last thing you should be doing between photography assignments.
Continuing on with what has become a kind of accidental theme on this blog over the last few weeks, I thought I would post some thoughts on another important part of operating a photography business: the actual making of money. In particular, ways to make money besides making photographs. Because times are tough in the photography industry. Microstock has brought down prices for stock photography and magazines and such publications are hiring assignment photographers less, and when they do, their budgets tend to me much smaller than they used to. Travel photography has never been a job where you can make your fortune, but these days it is increasingly difficult just to make ends meet. So rather than simply sit and wait for the next assignment, there are other avenues to earning a living in photography than simply making pictures.
Taking on photography students by teaching classes or private tuition or mentoring is a great way to fill the downtime between assignments. And just as importantly, you’re likely to gain from it as much as you’re passing on. Having the chance to interact with people who may be new to photography and enthusiastic about learning helps to renew your own enthusiasm and creativity. Passing on the basics to someone else is also a good way to keep yourself in practice.
Leading tour groups and workshops
Taking instructing to another level, you could consider planning and conducting photography workshops. Depending on your schedule, these could last anything from half a day in your local city, or 2 weeks anywhere in the world. While there is initially quite an outlay to plan and set up a workshop, you get to spend time with other like minded people and discuss and dissect image making in a location, pretty much of your choosing. You may even have a chance to photograph for yourself a little bit as well.
Words and pictures go together perfectly, and you may already write articles to go with your images. If you enjoy writing you might think about expanding this to include instructional articles to submit to websites and magazines. This is also a great marketing strategy as it puts your name out there in more places and adds to your credibility.
Get a sideline
Ok, I admit this one is cheating since it centres around making more photographs, but it is still worth consideration. It’s easy to pigeon hole yourself as a “travel photographer” and stick to that one field, but aren’t you just limiting your own opportunities? Why not find a sideline to work on in between travel assignments ? Love to eat? Look for food assignments. Love animals? Shoot pets. This could also involve working on some personal projects and marketing the results as prints or stock images.
A typical day in the life of a working photographer
If you’re a working photographer, you’re almost certainly self employed. And chances are you’re a one man or woman band and are struggling to get your head around juggling your time and getting all the business-y things done that allow you to keep making photos for a living. For most of us, this side of the business isn’t something we enjoy, but it’s something that needs to be done, and it’s too easy to get bogged down in office work when what we really need to be doing is getting out there and producing work. When most people hire a photographer though, they do so not just because they like what they see in a portfolio. They are hiring the whole package, multitasking, business skills, professionalism and all. There are many wonderful photographers that fail because of a lack of business skills, and many average photographers who succeed because they do have the attributes needed. So if you think you fit into the first category, or if you need to somehow find more time in your schedule for shooting, it might be time to look at getting some assistance for your business.
If you have a great portfolio, but shudder at the thought of selling yourself to potential clients, why not hire an agent. Agents work on commission so the more successful you are, the more successful they will be. They have a great incentive to find you as much work as possible, and also should have solid industry contacts and a good understanding of the clients who are looking for the kind of work that you do. This can free up hours of research and phone calls. Alternatively, if you have a partner that is great with people and has some business skills, they may be able to look after that side of the business while you concentrate on the artistic side.
Another area that takes up much of our time is accounting. If all you’re doing is sending and paying bills, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to take on new jobs. An accountant or bookkeeper can be hired by the hour for even a single hour per week to come in and take care of these things for you.
It makes sense to outsource some of the work to people who are good at it, so that you can get on with what you’re good at: making photographs. There is an additional expense, but the increase in productivity will more than make up for this.