Saturday, 20 February 2010

You gotta fight for your right

Its bad enough that the stock agencies are devaluing photography and that thousands of amateurs are simply giving their photographs away for bragging rights or even that companies are blatantly stealing photographs and hoping that they won't get caught, but now the government wants to further devalue photography by making it much easier to take your photographs.

The Digital Economy Bill intends to make it legal for businesses to commercially exploit orphan works without paying proper compensation. Orphan works are works for which the original author cannot be found. The new bill proposes to set up a central body which will collect money from publishers for orphan works that they find and use. If the author discovers that their work is being used, they can claim a portion of the fee from the government body. It doesn't sound so bad in principle, but there is no provision against the creation of orphan works and the bill doesn't specify how hard you have to search for the author. There is also no indication in the bill as to how much compensation will be paid. This will all be decided after the bill becomes law by that pillar of the community Peter Mandleson who isn't at all slimy. This seems to me like a nice little scheme by the government to get a little extra revenue. Its good for the publishers because the government are unlikely to pay proper commercial fees so as to encourage publishers to pay up. Consequently the government becomes the nation's largest micro-stock agency and any image on the internet can have its identifying data removed and be bought at knock down prices

If that wasn't bad enough, the Information Commisioners Office is planning on making it illegal to take photographs in public if there is anyone who would object.

I'll be writing to my MP, if you want to find out more and to find out how to contact your MP follow this link to the copyright action website

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Irving Penn at the National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is showing an exhibition of over 120 Irving Penn portraits. The show opens today but you will need to book a slot. Head over to the National Portrait Gallery to book s slot

Friday, 12 February 2010

Photosmudger Workshop

The Hat

Last weekend, I arranged for London based editorial Photographer, Tom Miles, to deliver just one more of his excellent seminars from his tour of UK universities. I had been following the seminars on his blog and feeling extremely jealous of the workshy soap dodgers who were getting this amazing educational opportunity. So I contacted Tom and begged him to do one final workshop for the London Strobist meetup group. Tom agreed and arranged everything for us, even the venue. He used his contacts at Calumet in Drummond Street to let us use their room for the day.

Tom has an impressive list of clients (Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Runner's World, Golf Monthly, Penguin Books, Hodder Publishing, Maxim etc) he gave us a two hour talk, taking us through some of the images he shot for them, telling us everything about the shoot, from how he got the work through to how he lit the shots. He also gave us a rundown of how he got he got his start in the business and the work he had to put in to make it. One of the things which really stood out for me was the importance of assisting, not just for the technical experience that it gives you, but also for the valuable contacts you can make which will get you the work.

After Tom's talk we were given a choice of 5 assignments and three hours to bring back 4-10 images and an invoice. I have to admit that I let myself down with the assignment. I chickened out of asking strangers to pose for me and went for a subject that I could shoot as a still life. Now if you have ever met me, you might understand that people might be a little worried about being approached by me and I'm used to rejection. But thats no excuse for me not to try, I need to learn how to approach people and put them at their ease and the only way to learn how is to do it. The long and the short of it is, that instead of taking portraits, my forté, I ended up shooting still life, which quite frankly is not. I had these ideas that I would breeze through Camden market and grab some shots of bowler hats in the shops, get home and do some awesome still life shots and then romp back to Calumet and have my images reviewed to critical acclaim. It didn't quite work out that way. I did manage to get a couple of shots in the market on the way but nothing to write home about because I didn't take my time.

Then in my kitchenstudio I set up some lights and started to shoot macros of the details on my Bowler Hat. Unfortunately Bowler hats don't actually have a lot of details so I started getting a little desperate. The macros would probably have been acceptable, but as Tom pointed out during the critique, the focus wasn't quite in the right places to make the shots work. I should have used a little more depth of field and checked for critical focus. It would have been a good idea to shoot tethered so I could check the focus after each shot. He also suggested I go in much closer and show closeups of the stitching, so I had missed an opportunity to eak more details out of the hat. Of course I was starting to panic a little because the clock was running down. I got my wife to wear the hat for me and took a few natural light shots. Then I pulled out my tatty old suit and used it as a backdrop for the hat. This worked very nicely but it did take me a long time to get a framing and composition that I was happy with. This shot seemed to go down well during the critique but I was told that the set was a bit schizophrenic, they didn't look like they had all been taken by the same photographer. Perhaps if I had started with the wide shot I would have explored the detail of the hat from a better starting position and tied the images together with the same lighting style.

With the clock running down I loaded the images in lightroom, made a selection and started writing them to disk and while that was happening I started thinking about the invoice. I cheated a little because I used the model release forms from Tom's blog as a guide to the type of rights package and I knew from the talk that the fee would be in the hundreds rather than the thousands, I settled for a fee that turned out to be about half of what I should have been charging and stuck on some expenses such as my model's fee and the cost of the hat. I could probably have charged a studio hire fee as well as they weren't to know that I shot the whole thing in my kitchen. Unfortunately despite my lowball pricing Tom and Emma weren't actually going to pay me for my work, it was just an exercise. During the critique session after the assignment the invoice was given as much importance as the photos themselves and it was quite instructive seeing the different ways in which we all got it wrong.

I have to say that I was very impressed with the work turned out by my fellow strobists. Callum and Rams in particular turned out a superb product shot of shoes which they shot on top of Callum's car. And everyone put in a creditable effort considering that they had to persuade strangers to let them photograph them. You can see everyone's efforts in a Sldeshow on Flickr

Following on from the assignment critique, there were individual portfolio critiques by Tom and Emma an agent from Vue represents. I found the critique very encouraging and though my portfolio was quite focused, both Tom and Emma suggested the same images for weeding out and made suggestions for the type of images to build in.

It was a great day, not only did I get to go to an awesome seminar, but we raised over £300 for Tom's charity. I would highly recommend having a look at Tom's blog. It is full of great advice on the business of photography. If you are putting together a portfolio, you must look at Tom's series on portfolios.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Photography Inspirations: The World is the Human's Project

This is just a quick headsup to say that this book is currently on sale at the Book Warehouse on Southampton Row and I have also seen it in the new store on Camden High Street. I picked up my copy for £19 and its list price is £69.95. Whether you think its a bargain or not depends on your taste in photography. I would recommend that you head down to your nearest Discount Bookstore and see if they have a copy so you can decide for yourself. If you have weak arms take a friend, because this book weighs a ton. Its three inches thick, a foot square and has nearly 700 pages of photos.

There is a huge variety of images from a number of different photographers and yet the book manages to pull the whole lot together into a unified style. The majority of which are in a square format. There's relatively little text and a huge index at the back with the title and copyright holder. The only name I spotted that I recognised was Drew Gardener and a prolific photographer called Royalty Free. Of course there will be many from the book that I would like to get to know.

My five year old daughter, Christina, loves it. I haven't managed to get all the way through it yet, because she takes over. It really is a great book to immerse yourself in. But totally pants if you want to read it on the bus. I recommend putting it on the floor to read it as you won't cut off the circulation in your legs.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Photographic Half-Mile

So the new lunchtime project is to photograph every street within a half-mile radius of my office. How much progress have I made so far? Not a great deal. The thing about doing something like this is that you need to prepare. I have done a little walking and I have been thinking about what to photograph but not taking many photographs yet. I have been procrastinating a little using the fact that I hadn't worked out the boundaries of the area as my excuse. But Now I don't have that excuse because I have updated my map with a half-mile boundary.

This is the same map that I used for my previous lunchtime walk project. The outer circle is a mile in radius and the red square is the boundary of my initial goal which I completed within 4 months of starting. As you can see, the half-mile marker fits well within the red square so it shouldn't be too challenging to get out there and take photos.

The real challenge will be deciding what to shoot. Bear in mind that I am doing this at lunchtime, so I'm not going to have the best lighting and quite frankly some of these streets are not very exciting. So I'm going to take some inspiration from one of my favourite photobooks, Barbershops by Tally Abecassis and Claudine Sauvé. In their book they took detail shots and straight record shots organising then into typologies. I suspect that this took some planning on their part, perhaps a checklist of things to shoot, so I will work on a plan myself. The lovely thing about typologies is that quite often the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, which means that even the most unpromising street will be able to contribute something to the project even if its just a doornob and the street sign.

  • Streetnames
  • Blue Plaques
  • Door Numbers
  • Stone Faces
  • Railings
  • Bollards
  • Boobies
  • Swastikas

The last two items might seem a little odd, but there are many topless buildings and statues in the area. And there are buildings that incorporate the swastika as part of their decoration. I'll also be looking for details of things that can be isolated and viewed as an beautiful image unsupported by others of its kind. I'll take them as I find them.

Of course if I were to just photograph details, you would get no sense of place, so I will also be photographing a wide shot of the street. If I try and use the same angle and focal length for each shot I should be able to connect all the street photos in some way. Again I'm not sure how good I'll be able to make these wide shots. It will definitely be a challenge.

Perhaps more promising will be the middling shots, these will show an area or activity on the street and provide a link between the detail and the wide shots. The sort of thing I might shoot would be traders at leather lane, or an individual building. There should be a lot more scope for variation, and many of the buildings are beautiful but tend to get lost in the crowded landscape

So thats the plan. No more excuses now I have to go out and shoot that half-mile