The Only Constant is Change

Every now and then I review the way I shoot assignments. From the way I prepare for jobs, through shooting, to editing and delivery of the final images. The changes might be big or small, but they always have the goal of improving my client’s experience.

Sometimes the changes help me, and this also feeds through to the client experience. As an example, a couple of years ago I switched to using the Photoshelter system and away from sending CDs and DVDs of images to clients.

This was a big, scary change for me, but it paid off and clients find it incredibly useful to be able to view, choose and download the images they need directly from the service without having to get back to me to tell me their choices, then wait for me to do the post-production and send out the image disk. And if they ever lose the images, the can download them again.

That was a big change, and that was some time ago. More recent changes have included a move away from using zoom lenses to fixed lenses. The step up in quality is remarkable, and I’ve generally not missed the ability to zoom as I have legs which can take me closer to, or further away from my subject. I actually find it a quicker way of working because I’m not spending time zooming and recomposing my images like I used to do.

I haven’t dumped all my zooms. I keep a very wide zoom for when that’s really needed and a telephoto zoom because it’s useful for press events and it’s more telephoto than my longest fixed lens.

The strangest change of late is that I’ve started using a hand-held light meter more often. Yes, the thing that’s built into all cameras and tells you which aperture and shutter speed to set. You might think that with all the wizardry that’s built into a modern camera you could rely on the internal meter to set the right shutter speed/aperture combination, but I find the metering quite erratic, and there are many times when even the most sophisticated built-in metering system just seems flummoxed by the scene in front of me.

Instead, I find it easier to take a light reading using my Sekonic light meter, then I dial the settings into my camera. A slower way of working, perhaps, but it’s how I always work with studio flash anyway, so what’s the difference?

It might not be the most suitable way of working for faster-paced news events or where the light levels are constantly up and down, but for outside portraits and shots I’m setting up and have more control over it actually saves time and reduces the number of shots I have to take to get correct exposure.

I’m not sure what my next change will be. I’m probably already changing, and won’t even realise it’s a change until it’s complete.

Two portraits of women showing exposure contrast between subject and background

Wherever there is a strong contrast between subject’s skin tone, clothing and background, the built-in metering struggles to give an accurate reading.

Never one to gloat, but…

It’s hard to fight back the tears as I write this, but I’ll do my best. What has got me reaching for the handkerchief is the news that Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor of News of the World, is to be charged with conspiring to intercept communications without lawful authority. I’m not going to go into masses of detail now. There’s plenty of background to this story on the web and in my previous posts here and here.

Suffice to say this story isn’t over yet and I’m sure Kuttner has the funds for a top-flight lawyer, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a bit of karma for once? If convicted, Kuttner could face a prison sentence and certainly if the charges are proved in court, the flagrancy of his behaviour would increase the chances of a custodial sentence.

Does this news give me any great pleasure? Schadenfreude maybe? Kuttner forced me out of working for the News of the World about 12 years ago because I asked to be paid what I was owed. I’d rather he’d been a decent human being when I was there than have it come to criminal charges for phone hacking (not sure what’s happening with the allegations of signing off expenses for payments to police officers), but given I can’t control other peoples’ behaviour I’ll accept that this is as close to karma as I’ll get.

F/8 and be chic*

“PRIX is a photography lifestyle magazine for men. If you love to snap photos, chances are you’re into cars, naked women and guns.”

Ok, that’s not a real magazine, but here’s an introduction to a magazine which does exist. Or should that be ‘does sexist’? you decide. At the very least it strikes me as deeply patronizing, but here goes the intro from editor Jeanine Moutenot:

“PIX is a photography lifestyle magazine for women. If you love to snap photos, chances are you’re pretty creative and artsy about the rest of your world too. It’s important to you that your business is modern and cool, you’ve always got an eye out for hip clothing and accessories, and looking professional and shooting well are top priorities. If this sounds like you, PIX is here to help! In each issue you’ll find tips, ideas, products and trend reports for women in photography.” Shooting well? Whatever that means.

Fluffy and patronising? Am I the best judge?

The cover to the first edition features a photo of a young woman holding a camera awkwardly, Canon logo ham-fistedly edited out, cheap kit lens on, but at least her hair, nails and dress are pretty. That’s the main thing, right?

Never mind the intro and cover shot, we know there are some incredible photographers out there and many of them happen to be women who would give highly insightful interviews. So what does pix offer? “Photo gear designed for women,” “irresistible accessories,” and “smudge-proof makeup tips for long days behind the camera.”

Indeed, in the pages of PIX you’ll get advice on where to buy a striped skirt to go with your funky striped Lomo camera. Or perhaps you need some Summer pumps so your feet can stay “covered, comfortable and cute while you’re on photo shoots.” Cute?! The general tone of the magazine seems to be aimed at women more interested in cameras as accessories than tools of a trade.

There are maybe 12 pages of articles featuring working photographers buried within the 63 pages of puff, but references to their motivations, challenges, styles or paths to success are fleeting. Before you know it, you’re back to editorial featuring pretty things to buy.

Notably, an article on studio lighting isn’t about studio lighting at all, but about how to make lampshades from paper cupcake cases.

Maybe my being a man precludes me from passing judgement on a photography magazine aimed at women. Perhaps I’m missing the point and female photographers will relish the chance to read about flowery camera straps or an eyeliner that doesn’t smudge onto the viewfinder.

My gut feeling though is that PIX is incredibly patronizing, is aimed at aspiring photographers who are more interested in pretty things than the hard-nosed facts of photography and would have worked better if it had been aimed more at women simply by virtue of not featuring ads for glamour shoot workshops and men talking about the size of their kit.

PIX is really saying that if you’re a photographer and a woman, how you dress and the colour of your camera bag is at least as important as your ability and vision. In an industry with something of a male-dominated culture, is PIX redressing the balance or reinforcing stereotypes? I’d love to hear the views of photographers with fallopian tubes.

*The original quote “F/8 and be there” is attributed to New York photojournalist Arthur “Weegee” Fellig whenever he was asked how he got such striking images of news events during his career in the 1930s and 40s. Look him up, interesting guy. I don’t know if he ever worried about whether his camera matched his handbag.

Making an exhibition of myself

Some of you may know I’ve been a regular at the Frome Farmers’ Market at Standerwick for some time now. I’ve been attending as and when my paid work allows on Wednesdays and Fridays (the two market days of the week) to create a photographic record of the workings of the market, the people who work, buy, sell and trade there and their interactions with the livestock.

This is an un-paid personal project which I chose to do because I knew I needed to keep my brain creatively active at times when I tend to be shooting lot of corporate headshots. I chose Standerwick because it’s close-by, so more likely I could get to it at short notice, and because it’s something that interests me.

When I set out to do the project I didn’t have any particular goal in mind except to get along there, see what’s what and see what would come out of it.

Now I’ve started to gather up a fair body of images I’ve decided to move things on a step and have started to look into the possibility of mounting an exhibition of the images. This is a first for me as I’ve never exhibited before, but the idea is quite exciting as it injects new impetus to the project and gives me an end-goal.

This isn’t something that’s going to happen over night and I still need to shoot more pictures in order to complete the narrative which has developed, but I’ve approached one or two likely sponsors (I can’t afford to mount this entirely from my own funds) and things are looking quite positive.

Through this blog I’ll keep you updated on my progress and of course I won’t be shy in announcing the location and dates of the exhibition. Sometime next year and somewhere in Frome is as far as I’ve got.

If any businesses out there would like to talk about sponsorship, or if any photographers with exhibition experience have any advice they’d like to offer, I’ll be delighted to hear from you. As the saying goes, watch this space.

Standerwick Farmers' Market near Frome

Clamour over Klamar Pics

Casting around for ideas for today’s article I turned to twitter and asked what people might be interested in reading about.

Twitterer @drinckx alerted me to this little internet storm surrounding AFP photographer Joe Klamar’s photos of the US Olympic team.

From what I can gather, and for reasons not entirely clear to me, it was decided there should be a three-day photo session during which all the US athletes would be photographed on a tight rota by a selection of photographers representing different agencies, all working in mini studio booths at a location in Dallas, each photographer photographing every athlete in turn. Take a look at Vernon Bryant’s blog on the Dallas News and you’ll get the picture.

Now I’m no expert on the reasons behind the set-up. I would have thought it more sensible to have one or two top-end photographers shoot a set of well-crafted images suitable for pool use (one agency required to share images with all the others). Perhaps it was a way to save money, but the set-up sounds like a nightmare to me, with each photographer having approximately 4 minutes with each Olympian. With over 100 athletes to photograph, a Herculean task you might say.

The general consensus is that for Klamer at least, something went a bit pear-shaped. The results look rushed and un-professional, and yet if you find other examples of Klamar’s work he’s a good news and sports photographer. Maybe nothing spectacular, but what is known in the industry as a ‘good operator’. The problem is, now you’ll have to search hard for anything other than criticism of him such has been the rush by those who know nothing of these things to jump in and take pot-shots at him. Armchair photographers thinking they could have done better with their iPhone have comprehensively clogged the search results.

Looking at other examples of Klamar’s work it seems AFP may be at fault here in putting him forward for a task for which he was ill-equipped. News and sport appear to be his areas of expertise, and yet he was put in a studio that even studio photographers might have struggled with – very little room for lights or expansive and expressive poses. Other photographers did manage, but that would suggest they were more suited to the task.

I’ve seen comments suggesting Klamar’s images are meant to be ironic, stripped of slickness and cliché. Well I’m not convinced. If there is a message at all, the images could represent Klamar’s anger at the ridiculous set-up of the summit photo sessions. The tiny booths, the speed with which shots had to be rattled off. His background becoming torn, his lighting rarely being right, background edges in plain view. If he was being brave (rather than just out of his depth) he may have been saying “this set-up is rubbish and I will not pander to the idiots that organised it.”

One thing I am convinced of, this photo-me booth, conveyor belt arrangement cannot have been conceived by a photographer. This is the work of someone with a clipboard and lots of pens thinking they understand what a photographer needs. Yes, other photographers did a better job, but I bet they weren’t delighted by the reduction of the task to a series of snatch images. But if you take a good photo in rubbish circumstances you cant complain because the client will always say “but the photos look great, what are you complaining about?” Which rather misses the point.

For now Klamar’s reputation is somewhat tarnished, but I think he’ll recover once the interest moves onto something else. Maybe a cat playing the piano will distract people back to what the internet was made for.