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!

News of Frome Views

Earlier this year I left the Alamy stock image library in order to preserve my professional integrity (I won’t bore you with details here), since which time I’ve been giving some thought about my future relationship with stock photography in general.

I’ve never been a great fan of stock photography partly because I always prefer to work on commission, where a client knows what they want and therefore I know I’m taking pictures which have a definite purpose. Stock photos mostly exist for no reason at all and will never be published; the idea of taking photos which just languish on a server somewhere seems sad to me.

Additionally, because stock photography is a numbers game, a photographer has to dedicate themselves pretty much full time to taking stock photos in order to make a living from it. The lack of motivation I have for doing nothing but stock shots all day combined with the exclusion of all commissioned work would kill the joy I have for my job.

Having said all that, I have decided there is room in my professional life to spend time taking pictures which interest me and which might also have a stock image value. I don’t have to offer them through an agency and I can set my own prices, but there is an additional benefit which you don’t get with a stock library, namely that by hosting the photos on my own gallery, I create content which is indexed by Google. It creates another small piece in the search engine optimisation jigsaw.

Even if I never sell a photo, the photos I host will have the benefit of helping to attract search result enquiries. I can adjust, chop and change what I offer, which will also signal to Google that I’m an active, creative photographer based in Somerset. They also show potential clients another side to what I do and might offer inspiration for their next project. All of this can only happen by keeping the images closely tied to my own website. When they’re held remotely by a stock library, the link between the image and the creator is weakened.

The images here are just a small taster, and though the collection itself is very small at the moment it will grow and you can see the full set here.


Image-led web design (sorry, no puns this week!)

When it comes to finding the starting point for the look of a brand new website, it’s often the photography that will set the tone and direction for the visual design. That’s how it went with the new Cornerstones website, and I have to say I’m extremely pleased to see how the website turned out. All too often, images which have been taken to help tell the story end up squashed, cropped and overlaid with graphics to the point of oblivion. Not so with this project.

Cornerstones home page featuring a photo of one of the main classrooms

The home page features a slideshow to give visitors an idea what to expect

Cornerstones runs a school in Cheshire for young people with Autism and learning difficulties, spanning a wide range of learning and communication requirements. They also have four homes in which boarders live, having their own en-suite bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens as well as gardens, and my task was to reflect the facilities and the likely experience of anyone going there. So far so good, except that while I needed to communicate the friendly, nurturing ethos of the school and homes, I couldn’t let any of the pupils be identified in the shots.

Cornerstones web page showing a montage of photos

A variety of techniques allowed me to show activity without giving away IDs

What I wanted to produce was a series of images which allowed some evidence of pupil activity, but avoiding identification, while also showcasing the bright, friendly atmosphere of the locations. I’ve included some screen-grabs here, but take a look at the site to see how the images and the site graphics work well together.

Exterior of one of Cornerstones buildings

This building was derelict when Cornerstones took it over, but it’s a beautiful home for boarders now

I would like to add that working with the staff and pupils of the organisation was an absolute pleasure and I really enjoyed my couple of days there. I’d also like to include the fact that working with Ghost Limited, the digital design agency who project-managed and built the site (and with whom I happen to share office space) was a pleasure from start to finish.

Image Security for Free

I’m kicking myself a little because I saw an interesting article a while ago about camera security, what measures can be taken to help prevent theft, some of the security options available to buy and all that kind of thing, but of course I neglected to bookmark the article and now it’s lost in the sea of pages trying to sell security kit or CCTV.

That said, I didn’t find the article all that useful for myself. Ultimately if a thief wants your kit they’ll have it off you. If you’re walking through an unfamiliar backstreet of Palermo and get mugged, having your camera attached to your neck with a non-cuttable strap isn’t going to prevent you from being forced to release the gear. It might deter the grab-and-run thief, but only if they know your strap can’t be cut.  Personally I’d fear having someone grab my camera and start to run off with me permanently attached to it. I’d rather let it go than end up being throttled by my own strap.

Other options for security might involve tags, either overt ones which attach to camera cases, or covert trackable stickers which attach to cameras. These might help in certain situations, though tags on bags are a bit pointless unless your kit stays with the bags once it’s stolen. I’m not sure how likely that is.

Besides the obvious holes in the logic of some of these solutions, I don’t spend much time walking around places where mugging is a high probability. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the larger risk for me is theft from the boot of my car while I’m having lunch at a motorway service station, so my own security measures are targeted at preventing that.

Firstly, I keep all my kit locked out of sight in the boot with no clues in the rest of the car about what I might be carrying. This fulfils my responsibility under my camera insurance policy, though of course a theft would still leave me without essential kit until I could purchase replacements. But ultimately kit is replaceable. Perhaps the biggest problem for me if someone lifted my cameras from my car would be if I suffered the theft just after I’d just shot a job. The thief would unknowingly be lifting all the day’s work as well as the tools.

So my routine if I need a comfort break on the way back from a job is to ensure I’ve removed all memory cards before I set off and put them in a pocket. Ideally I do this before leaving the site of the job so that I’m not opening the boot of my car in a service area car park, risking some nefarious character a view of the contents. This way if I am burgled, I might suffer the trauma and inconvenience of lost equipment while my client doesn’t have to suffer the inconvenience of lost images too.

A stack of 3 Compact Flash cards, another one is in a card reader.

Keeping cards safe until I can transfer images is critical

I would say the most valuable asset any photographer has is the images he or she takes. Equipment can be replaced, if it isn’t rare (none of my gear is rare), but the photos normally can’t be. I take good precautions over my cameras and lenses while I’m out and about, but a simple security measure which costs nothing helps protect the images a client is paying for.

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.