Having a Gas

Camera bags in decontamination unit in scientific facility.

That rather murky image shows my camera gear being gassed.

The other week I was taking stock images for a client in a scientific research facility which required all kit I take in with me be subjected to 90 minutes decontamination.

This method is used to decontaminate all kinds of sensitive scientific equipment, so my hosts reassured me my gear would be fine. I’m pleased to say it caused no problems at all, and afterwards I could have eaten my lunch off my camera if I’d wanted. I didn’t fancy that though, so I used a plate as usual.

Speaking of having a gas, I’m getting married this weekend (huge party!), so I’m going to have a blog rest for a couple of weeks. I could probably do with a bit of a Summer blogging break anyway (still available for commissions of course!), but I should be back to regular posts by the end of August.

I shall wish you all a lovely Summer filled with more sun than rain and I will catch you again soon!

Stock as Barometer

Though I’ve derided photographers for supplying the micro-payment stock sites like iStockphoto and Shutterstock, I do have a few stock images with Alamy.com on the basis that though sales might not be as frequent, I do at least get semi-respectable rates for my pictures when they do sell.

I do get some odd-looking sales though, like this one from August for a Spanish direct mail/brochure use in the banking and finance sector. Looking at the content of the photo, it makes you wonder what the client’s message is. A bonfire of capitalism?

scrap yard fire in Portsmouth

A vision of things to come?

Does sex always sell?

Leilani Dowding

A popular pic. Can you see why?

Another trip down memory lane this week, and this time I risk accusations of blatantly fishing for blog hits by featuring this photo of former Page 3 model Leilani Dowding. She’s modeling a bikini which Swatch wanted to promote at the time (no pun intended) as there was a watch incorporated into the design.

There is a reason for this picture being here though, because it’s been fascinating to see that although my website is dedicated to corporate, press, PR and commercial photography, this is the photo which has had the most views out of all the pictures on my site.

I don’t mind revealing that it’s had 138 views to date. That isn’t all the people that have seen it, since you can see it without clicking on the website thumbnail. That’s how many people in about 18 months have gone to the trouble of clicking on the thumbnail image to see it larger.

Bearing this statistic in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Marilyn Monroe comes in second with 103 views, but then my Skinheads picture scores 89 to achieve 3rd place. A slightly worrying top three, but of course the hits aren’t necessarily related.

Now I should be pleased that some of my pictures are so popular, but this rather odd bag of stats highlights that just having a picture seen a lot isn’t going to bring in business. Indeed, I think I can categorically say that none of those three images has ever pulled in a genuine client. My examples of corporate portraits and the like, with much more modest hits in the range of 30-50 have done a better job of bringing in work.

It just goes to show that pretty photos don’t always bring in work. A popular picture isn’t always going to bring in business. For businesses using photography, if it’s shot well and is relevant to your business it’ll have a much bigger impact on income than something which is just “very nice to look at.” This thought should guide how you present your business.

In the meantime, I can’t bring myself to take the Leilani photo down. It’s obviously bringing pleasure to some people, and she certainly adds a splash of glamour to the gallery.

As for Leilani herself, she was lovely to work with. Utterly without pretense, and of course, thoroughly professional. We’d previously done a shoot together to promote a gardening kit giveaway for the News of the World, but that picture isn’t half as glamorous!

I understand she now lives and works in Los Angeles. I doubt she remembers me 🙁

Laughing Stock?

black ladies laughing

What reaction does your website get?

When was the last time you gave your web site an overhaul? Or does it sit there, Miss Haversham-like, gathering dust, all dressed up for the big day then left to decay, alone and unloved.

Maybe it’s time to pay the old dear a visit and see how she’s doing. A neglected web site will do nothing to help your business. Dust and cobwebs building up, broken old links. Oh, and that “designed by a toddler” look, just doesn’t cut it any more.

Naturally, when it comes to a spruce up, you’ll want to add some fresh photos to the site, so this and the next article will shine a little light on your options.

As a professional photographer, I’m always going to promote the benefits of proper, bespoke photography for your site. Not just because this is my blog and I’ll say what I damn well like (though it is and I will), but because it’s true.

However, I’ll start with stock images as it is still quite a popular choice. For all its faults, I can’t single-handedly convince the entire Universe that using cheap stock is a Bad Thing, so instead, for those of you hell-bent on using the cheesiest imagery you can lay your mouse on, I’ll give you some tips on how to get more out of it, and how to avoid some common problems.

  • Avoid the Generic:

You know what I mean. Those pictures of Californian business clones in suits, in executive board rooms, laptops and mobile phones at the ready, teeth shining like polished piano keys… Try to think beyond the obvious, and dig a little deeper into the archives of the stock image sites. There are only about 40 million images to choose from.

  • Watch the price:

The headline price of most stock sites will tell you you can have photos for as little as £1 each. This may be true, but you’d need to be buying around 750 image credits a month to get those prices. The average stock image will set you back £10 – £20. Prices are creeping up too as the libraries struggle to turn a profit.

  • Check the T&Cs:

You must read the small print before buying! Royalty Free doesn’t mean copyright free. There are very tight restrictions on how images can be used. In most cases, Royalty Free refers to the fact that you don’t have to renew image licences over time, but you will need to pay again if you want to move or duplicate an image from one project to another, or one media to another. When updating a web site, check if you need to pay to bring old images into the new site.

  • Beware bogus libraries:

Sites which offer very cheap, or even free images, may not be legitimate. They will trawl the net for pictures, gather them up, and offer them as licensed images when in fact they are stolen. Make sure you know who you’re buying from, because you will be liable for any breach of copyright.

  • Google Images is not a stock library:

Google images is great for getting to see a photo of just about anything you can imagine, but you need to assume that everything on the internet is covered by copyright, and using “found” images on the net is theft and you can get caught.

  • If things go wrong:

If a picture on your web site turns out not to have been correctly licensed, it will be you that will get the legal letters, the court orders and the hassle. Regardless of who put the site together, it will be you and your business that will be treated as the beneficiary and publisher of the offending image. It’s then up to you to litigate against the web designer (or whoever put the site together) for any losses caused by their negligence. Seek early legal advice from a specialist copyright lawyer. It could save your business from fatal damages or court costs.

Please use the comments box here to share your thoughts or experiences on using stock imagery in your business publications and website. Next week, I’ll deal with using commissioned photography.

If you would like an independent audit of the photography on your website, which will highlight any likely legal issues, drop me a line for more information.

Post Production? ’tis the Devil’s work!

Post production is the process that dare not speak its name. It is surely some manner of witchcraft; the sort of thing only the Devil’s nerdy brother would be into. So what is it? And why should you care?

The concept is simple, the practice less so. Post production is what happens to the photos after the shoot, and before they’re delivered. And though you don’t necessarily need to know what post production is, it is helpful if you have an idea of the basics.

The image file that comes straight from a digital camera isn’t matched to any particular use, and is therefore not matched to any use. To explain that a little better; the camera file will normally be the right resolution for web (72dpi) but will be too large a file to upload. At the same time, it will be physically large enough to produce a print, but needs to be converted to around 300dpi for good quality print output. So the file needs to be resized to suit the end use.

Other things need to happen too. Often the photo will need some tweaking to get the colour, brightness and contrast perfect for the intended use. Also, while the image will be perfectly in focus (because I don’t take out-of-focus photos – no sniggering at the back!) it will need a little digital sharpening to make it appear really crisp in print or on the web. That’s just a characteristic of digital.

Digital SLR cameras tend to have a problem with dust getting in through the lens mount (normally when changing lenses) and adhering to the imaging chip. These then show up as grey blobs and hairs on the image which need to be cloned out in Photoshop or they’ll show up in the published image.

jpeg showing dust on highpass dslr filter

Play Spot the Dust! I've highlighted some. Click the pic to find more.

Adding captions, applying the relevant colour profile and conversion from RAW to jpeg format are also part of post production.

While some of these processes can be done in batches, some have to be carried out on each individual file. This can add considerable time to the overall process of shooting and supplying images to clients, and that time has to be factored into the assignment fee or charged separately, at which point my client might be wondering what they’re paying for. If I’ve factored it in, where another photographer hasn’t, it can make me look expensive, but then I’m not a “dump and runner”.

A dump-and-run photographer is one who simply writes the image files straight from camera to disk with little or no post production, dumps the files on the client, takes the money and runs. They may look like a cheaper option, but the truth is you’re not getting a professional service or top quality images, and this will be reflected in the final project.

Post production can be tricky and incredibly dull work, but I pride myself in the quality of work I deliver. And while you don’t need to know all the technical details, it’s at least worth understanding that it is a necessary process. And the Devil’s nerdy brother doesn’t charge as much as he used to…