Take it to the limit

Another one of those well thought out, knowing-nod to popular culture titles, eh? Well hello again to any blog followers I still have left. It has been a while.

Last weekend I was in London at the SWPP (The Photographic Societies) annual Convention, one of the largest UK conventions mainly for professional photographers. I was invited by a company to be on their stand at the 3-day trade show. This particular company retails and distributes lighting equipment and printers primarily aimed at the fast print market…event photographers and in-store print kiosks.

I was not brought in as a sales person, but as a photography demonstrator and to advise customers coming to the stand about my experiences using the lighting in real-wold photography business situations.
So many times we were being asked “Tell me about that light”. I noticed that sales people either start by saying the price or reading a spec sheet.

My approach was to ask a series of four questions:

  1. “Who are you?”
  2. “What do you do?”
  3. “What do you already know?”
  4. “What do you hope that the purchase of that light will do for you?”

A series of customer-focused questions. 1 and 2 designed to find out the basics about the customer. 3 was to make sure I wasn’t treating the customer like an idiot and to save time going through the basic skills. 4 was to establish where my best and impartial advice was going to be directed.

We all love new toys and there are many wonderful new toys out there. They are released by manufacturers who would like you to believe that by throwing money at this thing or that, you will be a better photographer.

NO YOU WON’T

My advice to anyone thinking about buying gear is this,

  1. Work to the absolute limit of the equipment you already own.
  2. Achieve the limit of your own knowledge and understanding.
  3. Ask questions of those who are already at a skill and knowledge level above you.
  4. By this time you will actually know if it is right to spend your money.

Spend your time in learning and educating yourself. There are innumerable resources out there in internet-land. Watch the videos, read the articles and reviews, best of all spend time (and money) meeting and training with the best.

That’s all the free advice I’m giving you. If you want to know more, sign up for one of my training workshops….. 😉

A couple of images from my presentations in London.

Time flies when you’ve no time to have fun!

Can’t believe it has been so long since my last post. My apologies if you have been waiting for my musings and if you have been holding your breath waiting for the latest words of wisdom…my condolences to your families.

There has been a lot happening, not least my invitation to be a demonstrator at SWPP in London last January. A great few days meeting photographers and suppliers from the UK and across the world.

One of the big things I have been aware of and started using much more now is the use of high powered speed lights and studio-type strobes. the greatest advantage has been the fact that we are no longer stuck in the studio. The advances in battery technology mean that I can have much greater control over powerful lights without the restriction of being tied to mains power.
Also, in previous years, I had been limited to a certain set of parameters which were constrained by things like shutter speed sync and special flash modes. Now, the restrictions barely apply. Turning day into night and shooting with wide open apertures to give depth of field separation (blurry backgrounds) is as easy as you need it to be.

I will be running a series of workshops in the next week or so but here a sample of the kind of image we will be creating:

Light-Control-Comparison-Advert-1

Here is the link to the event and I believe there are still spaces http://www.eventphotographysolutions.co.uk/take-control-light.html

See you on the other side with some more exciting news to come about Air Image activity coming up in the Autumn.

That was a fantastic meal…you must have a great cooker.

An odd title for a photography blog? Bear with me.

Have a look at the image below this blog post. Five people standing in a puddle on the beach, silhouetted against the sunset. It was taken at the end of a busy week when one of my friends suggested that as it was a warm summer night (a rarity in Scotland) we should head down to the beach, build a bonfire, roast some marshmallows and chill out while watching the sunset.
I didn’t have any of my DSLR cameras with me, only my point and shoot compact which has manual control over a few key settings such as  Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, etc. On seeing the picture, there were two different reactions:

“Wow, your camera is amazing!”

and

“I’m sure we could give you any camera and you would get a great picture like that.”

I would like to hope that the second answer was the more accurate. I have spent a lot of time learning how to make a picture, not just take a picture. For this photo, the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, colour balance, height of shot, angle of reflections and pose were all considered before pressing the button. It is straight out of camera and no pixels were harmed (Photoshopped) in the creation of the picture.

In the same way that the cooker just heats the food and the chef makes the meal; the camera just takes the photo but the photographer makes the image.

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‘I’m cute and hot and want to show off my body. I’m a great model.’…….. NO YOU’RE NOT!!!

It has been a while folks…busy busy busy!! (which is great)

Following a number of features about Air Image in the national photography magazines, I have recently been asked by an industry supplier to be a product demonstrator at some trade shows. The idea is that I demonstrate lighting and photography techniques, in this case fashion & beauty shoots, that I would use in the course of my work, using equipment supplied by the sponsoring company. Essentially, showing off in front of an audience.

The next event is a few hundred miles from my home in Scotland. Budget is tight (as always) so I needed to find a model based close to the event venue to avoid additional travel and accommodation expenses. I am a member of the Model Mayhem community. A great resource for connecting photographers, models, makeup artists, hair stylists, designers, etc. A bit like Facebook/LinkedIn for the fashion world. It also gives aspiring models a chance to show what they can offer and maybe they might get a bit of a break. I did a search for models within a 25 mile radius of the event and found a number of girls who had the look I wanted to shoot. All their MM profiles proclaimed how they were professional or keen to develop their career and profile, how they were super-enthusiastic, willing to do this and that to improve their portfolio…. So I contacted them by direct message, inviting them to talk further.

How many replies? That’s right….. none. Very disappointed in all these so-called models. This was a paid job with a professional photographer

Before contacting a proper modelling agency, I decided to take a different approach and put out a general Casting Call for the job. That approach can open you up to all sorts of people. I received a number of responses from enthusiastic models, many outside of the original search radius, who were professional (even though some were keen amateurs), enthusiastic and  willing to travel to the job. I was fortunate to be able to appoint a girl who is excited about working with me and is willing to travel over an hour, even stay with friends the night before the job so that she’s there in good time. She also looks beautiful.

I guess one of the conclusions I drew from this experience is that there are so many wannabes out there who think that they only have to put on plenty of make up, get big hair, pout and put their bodies on show and the photographers will come flocking. To be honest, there is a certain sector of ‘photographers’ who will always just want to photograph the titilation of bodies on show. The girl who I selected has one of the classiest portfolios I have seen for a long time, and not so much as even a lingerie image among them.

The business of professional modelling requires so much more… a business attitude and a professional attitude. If you’re serious and want to model for the best out there, you’ve got to work not flaunt.

Better Together

Yes, as a Scot who voted in the recent Scottish Independence Referendum (not telling which way I voted), I am aware that the title of this posting has political overtones. Just to clarify…THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL BLOG. However, it does sum up what I’m feeling after a recent photographic experience.

At the end of October, I attended the Event Photographer Society (EPS) annual meeting in Coventry, England. A gathering of (mostly) like-minded individuals who make their living from photography. Shooting events such as social functions, leisure activities, sporting events and more. The majority of the photography is shot, instantly transferred to a computer viewing station, viewed by the client and printed out…sometimes within a matter of minutes but usually by the end of the event. At many of the events we are creating hundreds of images and at busy events the number of pictures can pass the one thousand mark.

Not only was I attending as a member of the EPS, I was asked to do a training seminar presentation on a particular type of lighting technique I use. Now, ‘unaccustomed as I am to public speaking’, the presentation seemed to go down without too much disaster even though it was my first ever training seminar. Following my part in the day, I was privileged to then contribute to a joint presentation with photographer, Ian Pack. We enjoyed working so much together and hopefully generated a bit of interest in the techniques we were using by coloured gels on flash and tight control of lighting. We then collaborated  on a presentation/shoot  the following day to create some fashion-style autumn images, complete with man-made windy day, blowing autumn leaves around. Images were then processed by a newly met colleague and printed out by one of the equipment suppliers. End of self-congratulatory text.

What I’m trying to illustrate is this. So often as a one person business, it’s me that takes the pictures, generates the ideas, does the editing and produces the product. It can be a fairly isolated existence at times. I thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration experience. Meeting people who were willing to share their expertise and allow me to share some of what I do as well. Meeting people who find the whole business of photography as exciting, as frustrating, as tough and as rewarding as I do.

EPS14_EmilyLocation_004

EPS14_EmilyStudio_004

Image courtesy of Ian Pack

Image courtesy of Ian Pack http://www.packshots.biz

Image courtesy of Ian Pack

Image courtesy of Ian Pack http://www.packshots.biz

…and on a more serious note

A unique photoshoot today. First of its type for me. A family portrait session. Dad, Mum and 2 young children under the age of 4. Not that unusual?

This is their last family portrait.

Dad has cancer and is under the care of our local Hospice. I have a friend who works with the Hospice and she is their support worker. She wanted to arrange a family portrait to remember as they may only have a short time left together, and we had booked it in for a couple of weeks time. Sadly, the Dad’s condition worsened very rapidly; this is a sign that he is very near the end, perhaps only days. My friend called me yesterday and told me what was happening. My response, “Lets do the portrait session tomorrow.”

I had a portable pop-up background with me just in case, but we were able to take the family into the garden where I had a flash unit already set up. Dad was heavily medicated and on oxygen but said he was OK for a few minutes at a time to remove the mask for photos. We had a total of 5 minutes photography time before the physical strain became too much for him. During the 5 minutes I was able to capture 40 shots; that included various combinations: the 4 of them, Dad with both children, Dad with each child individually, Dad & Mum, then a final shot of just their 4 hands held together. As speed was of the essence, the pictures were ready to see on my laptop as soon as we had finished the session and the family were so delighted with the results.

It occurred to me that as an event photographer, I can create a portrait studio almost anywhere. Event Photographers in particular are (or should be) very skilled at producing lots high quality portraits in an extremely short space of time. We do it almost every day, sometimes hundreds of times a day, where we have to create a relationship or rapport with the client and capture that immediately. I worked out that during this very special photoshoot, I was taking a portrait every 7.5 seconds.

I understand how important these photographs are and how valuable they will become to the family in the future. It also made quite an impact on me personally. In the midst of all the madness and fun of social events such as Proms, Grad Balls, Weddings, etc it was a welcome reminder that each moment it clicks, you capture a tiny piece of someone’s life forever.

If you are a photographer reading this and have not already done so, consider approaching a Hospice or similar facility near you and offering this service. Whether or not this becomes a commercial part of what you do, only you can decide. Fortunately, I was able to respond immediately to the situation; I am thinking about talking with other event photographers in my area to see if we can create a number of teams so that other families can benefit if the need arises.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and for allowing me to share my story.

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Every day is a school day…even for University Graduates and College Students.

Two stories:

Story #1

I was photographing another University Graduation Ball the other night and managed to get some portraits done as the sun was setting. I was set up with my battery powered studio lights, large softbox key light, gridded strip softbox and High Speed Sync radio triggers. Working away as fast as I could, constantly altering shutter speed and ISO as the light was continually changing to try and coax the most out of the little bit of light and colour that was in the sky. Seeing that I was pretty busy (got over 70 portraits done before we lost the sky light) and the reactions of delight I was getting from the clients, a young graduate came up to me and said that he had brought a ‘Professional DSLR’ with him to the ball.

Him: “What mode are you using to shoot decent portraits in the sunset?”
Me: “You should look deep in the camera’s menu system to see if there’s a Sunset Mode.”

He didn’t come back to me but I did see him wandering around for a while staring at the back of his camera, furiously pressing buttons.

His ‘Professional DSLR’ was a reasonable low to mid range camera. That doesn’t particularly matter, before we get into the realms of Gear Snobbery (but it ended with ON… and started with C).

Story #2

I was booked to do a fashion shoot and decided to give a photography student from a local college the opportunity to come along for some experience. When she was helping me unpack all my equipment at the location, she opened up my camera bag with a gasp of delight at the pro bodies and lenses. She said how much she would love this camera and that lens and that her photography would improve so much if she didn’t have her cheap DSLR.

As the shoot came to an end, she had been enjoying the results I had been producing, so I asked her to go fetch her own camera and lens. I showed her the settings to use, how to position the model in relation to the lighting. CLICK. She could not believe that she had produced an image almost identical to mine. A lesson in equipment envy.

We live in a world where instant gratification is king. If we buy the latest and greatest new gadget then all our problems will be solved. Press one button and, like magic, the most amazing results happen. We keep hearing phrases like ‘There’s more computing power in your phone than NASA had when they sent a man to the moon’. That may be true but even now you wouldn’t want to pilot the next generation of spacecraft with your iPhone. It takes skill, training and knowledge. Maybe I was a bit short or ungracious with the young man at the ball, I was exceptionally busy at the time; but I have spent years learning my skill and a considerable amount of money on the equipment to get to the point where I know how to create my own ‘Sunset Mode’ with the camera and the lighting. If I’m shooting outdoors in the sunset, for example, I want to be sure that I go to a job with the best chance of not just getting a lucky once in a lifetime shot, where I just happened to have my camera at the right settings and there happened to be just enough light in the right position. I want to be as sure as I can that I will get repeatable and indeed, sellable results that will gain me income, repeat bookings and a sustainable business. Having a better camera will allow you to become more creative as a photographer, but it won’t magically turn you into a Yervant (weddings), Rankin (street), Colin Prior (landscapes) or whoever.

How do I find ‘Sunset Mode’, ‘Portrait Mode’, ‘Landscape Mode’, ‘Street Mode’ in my own camera? OK, here’s my secret recipe (but don’t tell anyone): Understand why one photograph is better than another. Learn how it was done. Re-create, repeat, innovate as required.

This makes the difference between being a photographer and owning an expensive camera.

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Eye of the beholder

It’s interesting people’s reactions to photographs of them. I heard two totally opposing comments about portraits on a job the other night. It was a formal social event, black tie ball.

One lady said, “These portraits are a hundred times better than what we were offered last year.”

30 minutes later when another couple saw their portraits, “Your photographs are horrible”; I responded. “You mean, you don’t like yourselves in the pictures?”; their reply was surprising to say the least, “No, it’s not that. Your pictures are horrible”.
They went on to tell me that the portraits looked ‘posed’ (they were) and that they had ‘no character’ (professionalism kept me from saying what I was thinking, but you know…). This couple obviously didn’t like what they saw in the photograph, but rather than say that they didn’t like how they appeared, the fault was with my photography. Yet, nothing such as lighting or posing had changed from the time that the “hundred times better” lady had her portrait taken.

It’s not the first time. I actually had a bride ask, “If we don’t like ourselves in the pictures, do we still have to pay you?”

Cameras don’t make stuff up or put things in that are not there. that’s what photoshop artists and retouchers do. Cameras only capture what they are pointed at when the shutter clicks. As an experienced, professional it is my ability and knowledge of the camera, lighting, posing and connection to the client that all has to come together for that fraction of a second. Good to know I get it right 99.9999999999% of the time…mostly.

Help…I need somebody! Help…not just anybody!

No matter how much care you take with the business side of your photography, every now and again something comes along that will trip you up.

On Sunday past, I received a call from a Scottish photographer, the caller display on my mobile said the call was from Texas USA but it turned out he was actually calling me from Nigeria. Sounds like a wind-up, but bear with me.

A misunderstanding on the part of a client, meant that they had enquired about a job but never confirmed the booking. 250 University Graduates were in danger of not having any photographs of their Graduation Ball. Through word of mouth and recommendations from another company, the call from Scotland/Nigeria/Texas landed on my phone. The guy was desperately trying to pull the client out of a hole. The biggest issue was that the Ball was happening that night, starting about 6 hours after that initial phone call; and it was 2 hours drive for us plus an hour set up time. 

After a few phone calls and emails, we were able to confirm that we could cover the job. Happy client, happy Scottish/Nigerian/Texan photographer, happy Air Image (me).

The thing that struck me was, in my industry, although the majority of photography companies are open, warm and accepting of the competition, I have come across a number of companies who keep themselves to themselves, don’t trust the competitors, don’t share any knowledge or information.

I, however, believe that we are all in this to be as good a business as we can and offer the best to our clients and our industry. If I didn’t have a good relationship with other companies, I wouldn’t have been recommended for the job and the Graduates would not have had the portraits of their celebration night.

There is enough work out there for everyone. Be the best at what you do, be the best at who you are and you will get your fair share.

 

A Feeling Of Community

This year Scotland faces a major decision…stay in the UK or become independent. I’m not going to go political here; however, over the last couple of weekends I have experienced the feeling of the people of Scotland being a community.

A community who cares and a community who take action to support that community.

I have been involved in photographing some events for Yorkhill Children’s Charity, a wonderful organisation that supports Yorkhill Children’s Hospital (or to give it the formal title ‘Royal Hospital for sick Children) in Glasgow. On Easter Sunday there wash the Easter Egg Run with around 1200 motor bikes parading the streets, raising money and donating gifts. The following week was the Glasgow Kiltwalk which saw over 6000 kilted walkers hike 23 miles and raising sponsorship for a number of charities, including Yorkhill, Debra, Anthony Nolan Trust, Children’s Hospice Association, Epilepsy Scotland, etc.

There was very much a feeling of togetherness. Nothing mattered other than being one group, doing what was right…helping others.

It was wonderful to be a part of that. Thanks to everyone for their financial support to these incredibly deserving organisations, but thank you for a wee reminder of what it means to be part of a community.

Glasgow Kiltwalk 2014 at the Yorkhill Pit Stop.

Glasgow Kiltwalk 2014 at the Yorkhill Pit Stop.