Have Camera, Will Travel

Each year I’ll find myself covering one or two long-distance photographic projects in multiple locations around England and Wales for clients who would rather book me and trust they’ll get consistent results than book a series of photographers with a mixture of styles and approaches and find the results are variable, and already this year I’ve popped over to Essex, Norfolk and up to the West Midlands for a client needing photos of care homes for the elderly.

Last year I travelled as far as Newcastle for a client needing images of scientific research, taking in Bristol, Warwick and Leeds on that particular tour. Throw in a few trips to London and that sums up a typical year’s jobs which are “off-patch.”

I quite enjoy traveling, seeing different places and meeting people from all over the country, but my first tour of this year became a bit of a challenge, especially when I found myself in a hotel just outside Birmingham, monitoring increasingly alarming weather forecasts foretelling of several inches of snow.

Police officer directs traffic in blizzard conditions in Bolton.

Still, I’d rather be a photographer than a policeman!

Indeed, it snowed so hard on the Thursday and Friday of that week that I had to book an extra night in my hotel because to try to travel home on the Friday night would have been folly. Drivers in Gloucester and Somerset were becoming trapped and I didn’t fancy joining them.

I had two sites to visit on the Friday, and while I managed to get to the morning one, it being a 10-minute walk down the road, I had to postpone the afternoon site until the following Monday, meaning yet another hotel booking and more miles to cover.

It’s all part of the job though. Even when the weather isn’t being a nuisance, logistics is part of the job of being a photographer; booking places to stay, making sure I set off in good time to make the appointments, adapting when things don’t go to plan, liaising with the client, and I have to say I get some satisfaction from the task of ultimately fulfilling the brief even when there are big challenges.

Ultimately, my job is to get the pictures the client needs with the minimum amount of fuss, and the pictures must fulfill the brief. They can’t be below-standard just because things don’t go smoothly, though last week’s exterior shots of the homes were a bit of a challenge, everything being carpeted in white. Still, it all looked very pretty.


If you don’t tell anyone I didn’t get time to write a blog post this week, I promise not to tell too. Let’s keep it between us and hope I get time for one next week, ok? I’m going to walk away quietly now… don’t look back, just go…

Retail Chain Reaction

The announcement last week of the closure of the Jessops chain of photographic stores was said to be sad. I agree it’s sad for the staff affected, but I never had much affection for the stores which failed to distinguish themselves very much from the likes of Comet (which also went into receivership last year). Jessops seemed to exist merely to push cameras as if they were just another consumer durable which admittedly, they largely are, but cameras definitely require a more deft sales pitch than washing machines or widescreen TVs. I should know, I spent three years selling cameras back in the late 1980s before I went freelance.

Screen grab from Jessops website

Jessops website sets out the situation

Retail analyst Neil Saunders told BBC News that both amateurs and professionals migrated away from Jessops because amateurs have smartphone cameras (true) and because professionals could find better deals at specialist online stores. Hmm… Closer to the truth is, professionals never bought from Jessops as a rule so probably had little effect on their trade. And amateurs who are keen enough to want more than a smartphone are as likely to buy from online retailers as anyone.

Amalgamating the amateurs happy with their iPhones, those wanting something more but choosing to buy online and the few professional photographer customers Jessops had switching to online and the over-all number of professionals dwindling as the industry comes under pressure from microstock and budget cuts, you start to get a picture of how Jessops’ days were probably numbered regardless of what they did.

Mr Saunders’ observation (admittedly a brief sound-bite for BBC News) ignores the fact that Jessops also had an online presence. It’s just that it suffered the same ills as the high-street offering, being not a very exciting place to seek out and buy camera equipment.

As with many retailers, and indeed many high-street photographic retailers, Jessops’ problem was a lack of understanding of where the market was heading, the market heading off too fast and the retailer being too slow to react to the changes. By the time Jessops knew what was wrong (if they ever knew) it was too late to turn the ship around.

I fear Jessops may not be the last of the high street photographic retailers to hit the wall. As I mentioned, I spent a few years working in a camera shop, London Camera Exchange in Bath to be precise, and I fear such shops with their friendly, knowledgeable staff will soon vanish too. Independents seem equally ill-equipped to cope with the shifts in customer preferences. Look at their websites and you’ll see why.

London Camera Exchange specializes in part-exchange on camera equipment, but this side of the business took a massive hit with the rise of Ebay. Meanwhile the new equipment side of the business is being hit by online retailers and this formula for disaster is hitting many independents. Does it have to be so?

Hindsight, the best thing since sliced bread (and with hindsight I wish I’d invented that too), tells us that if the independents had taken on the internet sooner and better, they may have stolen a lead on the likes of Ebay. A specialized, safe place to buy and sell used camera equipment, perhaps even with a warranty service, would have given the likes of LCE a chance. If you look at what they actually offer, I’m not convinced the web is helping them.

Search their used section and you’ll see items for sale, but you have to contact the store to buy. You can’t make an online purchase. And the list of similar items brings up goods which are distinctive in their un-similarity to what you searched for (see photo). These issues alone point to a lack of understanding of or investment in their website.

London Camera Exchange Website

London Camera Exchange website is a little underwhelming

It could well be too late and too big an investment for independents to turn their web offerings around, and that’s a shame because it will mean fewer high-street independent camera shops where you can get friendly advice, hands-on experience with cameras or the option to buy secondhand knowing you have somewhere to return the item should there be a problem.

I’ll state here I also write for Wex Photographic, an online photography retailer, and their staff and service are excellent in my experience. But they don’t do secondhand…

Will Instagram go the way of the telegram?

Happy New Year! I wish all my readers the very best for 2013. And what subject gets the first post of this year? Instagram of course!

As many of you will be aware there was something of a kerfuffle over a change to Instagram’s change of terms and conditions, which strongly suggested they would acquire the rights to sell users’ images to advertisers without permission or payment.

It was obvious from the moment Facebook had a fumble down the back of the office sofa for spare change and found $1 bn to buy Instagram that things would not stay the same. They’ll want their money back, one way or another, and the easiest way to achieve that is to have the ability to sell all the free content that is pumped into Instagram every day, not to mention a colossal backlog of images already there. The biggest library of mini images in the world.

Forget about whether the average Instagram photo is sellable or not, when something is that popular the infinite monkey syndrome kicks in. Among all the of photos of people’s pets and cappuccinos will be the occasional, arresting photo that might sit very well with a corporate ad. Don’t worry about image size either. Used small on a website, many smartphone photos will be adequate, and when the photo has zero cost to the advertiser, believe me adequate is more than adequate.

What interested me more than the nature of the T&C changes was some people’s reactions to them, specifically the reactions from people who have the opinion that if you’re an amateur your photos don’t matter, and if you’re a professional, why are you putting photos on Instagram or even on the web at all? Which I find an astonishing position to take.

I quote from one commenter (Shoogly Peg; real name I presume) on the BBC News website:

“Where, exactly, will these advertisers use your images when advertising? Where most people go obviously. Yes, social media websites, where you can already see an adundance [sic] of faces. Unless you are a pro photographer, no need to get bothered. And if you are a pro, why are you using this app?”

I’ll explain why I use Instagram. It’s fun. As a professional, am I excluded from having fun? Shoogly’s view isn’t an isolated opinion though. Whenever this kind of issue has popped up in the past, there have been comments about how professional photographers shouldn’t use the web to promote themselves, or that if they do have the audacity to do so, they should fully expect their work to be copied and used without permission or payment.

derelict building exterior in Frome

Sorry for having fun. I should leave that to amateurs

Clearly this argument is a nonsense. I get a fair bit of work through having a website, and I use the web to deliver images to clients. Am I not allowed to show my work without it being stolen?

Back to Instagram and their T&Cs, after patronizing us all with a statement telling us Instagram were sorry we were all too stupid to understand a legal document and not to worry our pretty little heads about it, they do appear to have reigned things back somewhat. The question is, what will they do to make money if they can’t sell user content? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough, but I’ve seen a few users empty or delete their accounts. I’m fairly certain Instagram won’t disappear, but I think it might lose much of its sparkle and will have to change into something it wasn’t intended to be if Facebook want to make money. Perhaps “the internet” is learning that you can have free or fun. Not both.