In the middle of drafting this I attended a talk by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg where he said, “Kids learn teachers, not subjects“. Many subjects from school have proven useful in my photography career. The lessons that really stick with me were by passionate teachers who demonstrated them in unique ways.
I’ve written before how my high school art teacher really inspired me to follow a creative career. She showed us the world has no restrictions, it is we who apply them.
Learning to think laterally is a skill that has benefited all aspects of my life, not just creativity. It helps me to solve problems and think outside the box finding solutions for clients.
My geography teacher, like many of his generation, was a bit of a hippie from the 1970s. He taught to the text book however would take us on field trips to really understand the science. Sitting on sand dunes sketching the effects of erosion made us look closer.
Learning about weather patterns, my geography teacher had us study evening weather reports, challenged us to do our own predictions and understand synoptic charts.
Photographers are obsessed with weather and like to dabble in a bit of meteorology. Just look at how many weather apps we have on our phones! For location jobs, such as promotional photography for schools and universities, it’s the photographer who calls the shots regarding weather delays.
Analytical thinking is also important and in high school science we looked for predictable, repeatable results.
I distinctly remember studying the psychology of advertising in depth (and later at university). Today I use some of that when crafting campaigns for clients.
OK maths isn’t my strong point. Often at parent teacher nights my parents would politely hear that, “he shows strength in the humanities“.
In photography there is only one rule you need to know, the inverse square law:
Inverse Square Law (image: Wikipedia)
Now that I’m involved in international standards for photography at ISO I really should have paid more attention to maths. My colleagues on the committee are very clever PhD scientists debating high level formulae.
A genuine love of reading is one the greatest gifts english teachers have given me and my children.
My best English teachers celebrated my writing and gave me the tools to confidently speak to an audience.
Passion for learning
Something I can credit to all all my teachers is a continued passion for learning.
After formal study my mentors strengthened that with on the job, practical training. Subjects at school that I wasn’t drawn to suddenly became important. Physics, chemistry, computer science and maths when applied to photography fascinate me and maintain my desire to learn.
Continuing Professional Development
In a fast changing arena like digital photography and an ever changing world it’s essential to maintain your education. We’re always learning, whether that’s self guided or through a formally structured course. To be an Accredited Professional Photographer the Australian Institute of Professional Photography requires members to participate in Continuing Professional Development.
Having great teachers early in my schooling instilled me with a passion for continuing to both learn and share those learnings with others. I’d love to hear your experiences over on Linkedin.
Mark Scott promoting leadership to school principals
Firstly, I’m not writing this to imply that I’m a leader. Rather these are my observations from decades of meeting, working with and photographing hundreds men and women in diverse leadership roles. This includes political, business and spiritual leaders.
Kristina Keneally, first female Premier of New South Wales
There are trends in leadership styles that come and go. The best leaders are those who are true to themselves and not emulating anybody else or what their MBA prescribes. The leaders who impacted on me were paternalistic and transformational in their style. That likely says as much about me as it does them. I believe we’re drawn to a specific leadership style based on our personality and circumstances. It may explain why organisations find new leaders when there’s a need to change the culture.
Doctor Vid Suttor leading surgery
L E A D
Look at the first four letters of the word leadership. The best ones lead by example – from the front and their staff follow. Staff reflect the leader, demonstrating loyalty, pride, community and teamwork resulting in higher productivity that attracts the best people.
Some leaders push their staff using fear, threats and intimidation as well as reward and punishment. The results are reduced productivity, unmotivated staff, more sick leave, and a mass exodus of talent. Those who remain often include the sycophants and those who have no choice.
Who and where you lead will dictate different styles of leadership. A military leader in a war zone will be different to a human rights activist.
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard
Leaders are all around us and includes you. It may be the leader of your family or a sporting team. Principals are certainly leaders as are teachers, doctors and lead nurses. In my career I’ve had several leadership roles from middle management to leading an organisation where I preferred a democratic style.
Please share your positive experience with leaders on Linkedin, either as a leader yourself or working with someone who influenced you.
Leaders of tomorrow. Young student speaks at New South Wales Parliament House.
For over 15 years I’ve made professional marketing images for over 1 000 schools. What I’ve learnt is the most effective images are those that show the students and teachers to your community. Parents, including myself, want to see the culture of your school and that’s best demonstrated by seeing happy, engaged students.
What follows are tips to help improve the photography used to market your school.
You’ve heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Having a communications strategy will inform what type of images you need for your school. What are you trying to say about you school? Start by identifying your school’s key messages, what is special about your school?
Plan your photography and make a schedule.
Plan the photo shoot. Make a spreadsheet with the who, where and when for the photography. Get signed permission for everyone in the the images, including those in the background, before the day of photography.
2. Illustrate Your Key Messages.
Your key messages are based on the strategy mentioned above. Think what sort of image will best show a particular message. For example, if a key message is you have inspiring teachers, don’t simply make a portrait of the teacher. Instead, photograph a teacher interacting with students.
3. Don’t Be Literal.
If you have award winning students don’t photograph them holding their certificates – unless it shows them actually receiving their award. Instead show the students doing what earned them their award: academic excellence, playing sport, debating, doing community work, etc.
Set up your photography near large windows.
4. Find Window Light.
On-camera flash is hideous and those green coloured, fluorescent lights in the ceiling will make anyone look alien. Turn off the flouros and set up your photography near the windows. Find rooms that have the best window light and see what time of day is best. Open the blinds and doors to let in daylight.
5. Use A Reflector.
Once you have set up near a window the light will be coming from one direction. Balance it by reflecting light from the opposite side back onto the subject. Find a large, white surface to use as a reflector such as a mobile whiteboard, sheet of cardboard, etc, at least A2 in size.
A large reflector balances light for a soft, professional result.
There are professional, twist-fold reflectors made specifically to do the job. This is the single piece of equipment that will greatly improve your school promotional photography. They range in price from $20 for a simple reflector and it’s all that’s necessary for professional results. The reflector should also be used for your outdoor scenarios including portraits and group photos.
When you next refresh your portfolio of images, which you should do regularly, keep these tips in mind. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me.
In the world of Digital Asset Management (DAM) there are two distinct types of programs: the File Browser and the Catalog application. Creatives and corporate clients who manage their own image collections need both. Here’s why.
A File Browser can also be called an Image Browser or a Media Browser. The Mac Finder and Windows File Browser are examples you use every day.
Mac Finder is a basic file browser.
File Browsers are good for viewing images in a single folder. Maybe you have just received or downloaded images from a photo shoot. A File Browser is the perfect tool to quickly review the images and the contents of the folder.
A dedicated Image Browser like Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits is not designed for office documents, etc. Photo Mechanic is engineered for fast pace, professional sports and news photography. Not only speed of viewing and assessing images, it’s fast with file management: downloading, naming, backing up, captioning and delivering to clients under high pressure deadlines.
Photo Mechanic is a fast, professional Image Browser.
Adobe Bridge is a free Image Browser. The caveat to being free is you will need an Adobe ID and sign up for the Adobe Creative Cloud. Some features, like editing Camera Raw images, are only available with paid subscriptions.
Adobe Bridge is a free Media Browser and part of the Creative Cloud.
Bridge renders most media types and Adobe refer to it as a media browser. As the name suggests, it’s a bridge between applications and naturally works best with Adobe apps. If time is of the essence one downside to Bridge is it’s a lot slower than Photo Mechanic.
Compared to an Image Browser, a Catalog application relies on a database, which is also its key benefit. From a user interface point of view, compare the screen shot below of a Catalog application to the Image Browsers above.
Adobe Lightroom is a catalog application.
They look essentially the same and it’s the underlying database that makes the difference. An Browser shows what is there, a Catalog shows what should be there.
To demonstrate this in workshops I show a folder of images on an external drive in an Image Browser and a Catalog like the screen shots above. Then I unplug the external drive, the Image Browser goes blank but the Catalog images remain on screen. Magic!
The Catalog application shown here is Adobe Lightroom Classic. Notice the badge on the thumbnail highlighted below. It indicates the images are not available, they’re offline (or missing!):
The highlighted area shows the images are offline.
You can still see the images, even a large preview, that’s something a File Browser can’t do. But that’s only one benefit of using a catalog application.
A catalog is essential for maintaining a healthy image collection. For example, you can easily check for missing images in order to restore them from back up. Some Catalog applications have the option to check if files have been corrupted. I use Adobe Lightroom Classic to validate DNG raw files.
File Browsers will only let you see the contents one folder at a time (Photo Mechanic is an exception). Catalog applications let you see as many folders as you like, or your entire archive if you so wish. Even if they’re on multiple drives or servers that are not currently connected (‘offline’).
Searches are performed efficiently in the catalog database. You can quickly search for images based on metadata automatically imported from the file (type, date, location, etc) as well as metadata you add (keywords, rating, usage, releases, licenses, etc,). Again, the drives don’t have to be connected (‘online’) to search and display images.
When an Image Browser searches it needs to look inside each image and of course they need to be accessible. If the images are offline Image Browsers can’t search them at all. Unlike Catalogs, they can only search one folder at a time.
A catalog lets you make groups of images based on different criteria, like metadata mentioned above. You can save these groups as collections. Smart Collections can automatically group images for you based on criteria you nominate, such as certain keywords or parts of a folder name.
For people looking for a single user, standalone image Catalog application, Phase One Media Pro has been my recommendation for decades, in one guise or another, but is now discontinued. Phase One recommend Capture One as a replacement. I don’t! Capture One is an industry leading Camera Raw processor but it’s catalog features are sadly lacking.
For cataloguing I now suggest Adobe Lightroom Classic. It’s only available with a Creative Cloud subscription, however if used solely for Digital Asset Management it’s free. Most of Lightroom’s DAM features continue to work after your subscription expires. Some features such as built-in maps and advanced image editing are disabled. However all the image collection management features still work.
For those looking at a Catalog application that works with multiple users there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that most of the affordable programs have been discontinued, so I have nothing to recommend at the moment.
Photo Mechanic is my preferred Image Browser of choice and this week has just been updated to version 6. The good news is in April a catalog feature, Photo Mechanic Plus, is being offered as a public beta. As a brand new feature, expect the catalog component to have some growing pains. We’ll just have to wait until 22 April and see!
Enterprise DAM offers multi-user solutions but they can be expensive. Expect to pay around $20 000 for something off the shelf like Extensis Portfolio or Fotoware FotoStation. Otherwise the industry is moving to a hosted, cloud based DAM subscription solution. Here I’d look first at Libris by Photoshelter.
File Browser AND a Catalog Application
It’s not a matter of whether you need a File Browser or a Catalog application. Both have their place. While I’ve referred to images when discussing DAM, the same arguments go for all your media assets: video, desktop publishing, etc.
Last month I wrote about the 15th anniversary of the Australian Professional Digital Imaging Guidelines (APDIG). Each of my co-authors had their own reasons for volunteering to create the guidelines. For me, the obsession with digital standards began in the late 1990s.
Digital vs Film
When I approached existing commercial photography clients about using digital capture many said the quality was not good enough and still preferred film. Compared to film the commercial benefits were obvious: no film or Polaroid costs, no film scans, faster turnaround and immediate feedback on set.
So I began creating test shoots to demonstrate the viability and benefits of digital. Clients saw the digital quality matched or bettered film however some were still cautious. For those I continued to photograph film and digital together until they were confident in the quality. Through education and initiatives such as APDIG eventually standards for digital photography were established.
Raw, What Is It Good For?
When the tools for digital photography hindered me I began reaching out to vendors for solutions from camera manufacturers and software companies. Being amongst the first to do so they welcomed the feedback and sought my input as a professional photographer. The biggest pain point was handling digital camera raw files.
Digital cameras capture raw data then convert them to JPEG images in-camera. These out-of-camera JPEGs are pretty much final images. The settings are baked in and can’t handle much post-production before showing digital artefacts. Heavy adjustment of colour, brightness, contrast or sharpness can look pixellated.
Many early professional digital cameras allowed you to save the raw images. Raw images, as their name suggest, capture essentially the data from the camera sensor and are rich in information. In post-production much of the editing like colour balance, sharpening, etc., is non-destructive for raw files. They’re often referred to as digital negatives by those who have used film.
Preserving camera raw images offers the opportunity to reprocess them later when software vendors discover new ways to wring more information from them. For example, highlights that were blown-out when captured 10 years ago can be re-processed today to reveal detail; but only if shot as a camera raw image.
At the time the raw processing software was immature, expensive and like the raw files themselves, proprietary to the camera manufacture. Decoding the raw image is different for every single camera model, even within the same manufacturer.
In 1997 Dave Coffin reversed engineered camera raw file formats and created ‘dcraw.c’ allowing independent vendors such as Bibble Labs to create better workflow tools at a tenth of the cost of camera manufacturers. Adobe and Phase One, who now lead the market, followed soon after.
Managing a digital image archive has many barriers. Some standards were already established by 1995, such as the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC). Thanks to a long history of electronically transmitting images for newspapers since the 1970s, IPTC metadata contains the who, what, where, why and how required for media organisations. The method for adding metadata to film scans were ideal for images captured by digital cameras.
Image file formats like JPEG are well documented so adding metadata is both safe and straight forward. Embedding metadata means important information travels with the image and further derivative files retain it. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of proprietary camera raw files.
Typically, adding or appending metadata in a proprietary camera raw image meant creating a sidecar file to house the information. When moving or renaming camera raw images their sidecar files are easily lost, along with the metadata. Alternatively metadata is maintained in a catalog that references the raw image. If the images are moved or renamed outside the catalog then again the metadata is disconnected and lost from the image.
Some smaller vendors reverse engineered the undocumented, proprietary camera raw files to allow their software to embed metadata. This could potentially damage the file and corrupt the raw data. More than a few image management software companies told me they would not support camera raw files.
Camera manufacturers have now started working with some third party vendors as well as offering software development kits. Vendors, including operating systems, handle camera raw files much better than the early days. Simple things, like cameras embedding a large JPEG preview in the raw file, means you can quickly view the image on a computer without decoding it. Work is also progressing on making an ISO standard camera raw file format.
Working with camera raw files is better but there is more work to do. My images are very important to me. Selfishly I want to ensure their future. That’s why I started and I continue to work on improving standards.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Australian Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines. Before 2004 there was no recommended standard for digital photography capture and delivery.
At the turn of the century some professional photographers were doing more damage than good to the adoption of digital. They zealously over-sharpened, manipulated tone and colour, then delivered files that looked far worse than film.
Looking for standards in digital photography and not finding them professional photographers banded together to share information. Photographers began publishing their methodology on their websites and groups sprang up on several photography forums.
Photography associations around the world started researching guidelines to assist their members including the Australian Commercial & Media Photographers (ACMP) and the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP). Fifteen years ago William Long, Murray Fredericks, Nadish Naoroji, Nick Rains and I set out to make a concise set of parameters to help photographers capture and deliver digital images.
The Australian Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines was published in 2004 and endorsed by both the AIPP and the ACMP as well as the Imaging & Digital Entertainment Association (formally Photo Marketing Association) and the Association of Professional Color Imagers.
View the complete guidelines with detailed explanations at www.apdig.com including a PDF version. The basic recommendations are below.
1. ICC colour-managed environment. (More info)
2. Capture digital images in camera’s RAW format. (More info)
3. Calibrate your monitor(s) regularly with a hardware device to the D65 standard and Gamma 2.2. This is becoming a worldwide standard. (More info)
4. For Prepress use:
a. Colour space: Adobe RGB (1998) embedded in final image.
b. File format: TIFF uncompressed in Windows byte order, or JPEG at level 12 compression, @ 300 PPI (DPI). (More info)
5. Deliver files on USB Flash Drive. (More info)
6. For Web use.
a. Colour space: sRGB embedded in final image.
b. File format: JPEG. (More info)
7. Converting to CMYK
a. CAUTION: Only convert files to CMYK when a profile or full press specifications are supplied by the client, and no further retouching is required.
b. File format: TIFF uncompressed in Windows byte order, or JPEG at level 12 compression, @ 300 PPI (DPI). Sized to final art with final sharpening. (More info)
8. For printing to colour-managed lab
a. Ask your photo lab for their normal file specifications (eg: Adobe RGB, JPG, 300ppi).
b. Soft-proof using lab-supplied colour profile for the specific media. Ensure your monitor is correctly profiled.
c. Do NOT “Convert To” or apply the profile (send to lab in standard colour space like Adobe RGB 1998).
d. Apply sharpening if recommended by the lab.
e. If uploading convert to JPEG. Or send TIFF on CD. (More info)
9. Make sure the client is viewing the files on a monitor profiled to the international standard D65. (More info)
10. Embed copyright & usage into the file (IPTC) viewable in Photoshop > File Info. (More info)
11. Provide a ReadMe file with images outlining specifications and disclaimer. (More info)
Details of items listed above
1) The ICC (International Color Consortium) specifies international standards for colour management. Photographers who supply digital files for publishing need to be in an ICC managed environment, as do their clients. Your cameras, operating system, software, and output devices all need to be setup for an ICC managed workflow. A detailed description of the ICC workflow is beyond the scope of this guide.
2) Most professional digital cameras and backs allow users to record images in a RAW format. A RAW file is essentially a record of the data captured from the camera’s imaging sensor without any in-camera processing. By capturing in RAW you begin with the highest quality file with the most options / flexibility / quality for postproduction.
Presently RAW formats are proprietary to each camera/back manufacturer and require processing to a common format such as JPEG or TIFF. There are several RAW converters including Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Phase One Capture One PRO, as well as each camera manufacturers own proprietary software.
It is important to note that RAW files are not colour managed in any way. While these files may appear to contain profiled information, colour management strategies and profiles only commence during the conversion from RAW to TIFF or JPEG.
3) Professional photographers need to invest in a quality hardware monitor calibration device such as supplied by X-Rite (www.x-rite.com) or Datacolor (www.datacolor.com). The human eye and Adobe Gamma (a part of Photoshop) do not permit calibration with high enough precision for professional use. Computer monitor’s colour drifts over time and should be verified regularly.
In the past prepress would recommend a Mac use D50 and Gamma 1.8 to match the Apple Laserwriter. Today D65 and Gamma 2.2 are becoming the common standard for both PC and Mac. If you wish to supply proof prints, you will need to extend similar calibration procedures to your printer and print viewing area.
4) Adobe RGB (1998) is a commonly used industry-standard colour profile supplied with Adobe Photoshop. sRGB does not have a wide enough colour gamut and clips some CMYK colours. Adobe colour profiles can be downloaded free from:
Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) is the preferred file format. When saving tiffs in Photoshop you are given options for compression and byte order. For maximum compatibility, TIFFs should besaved with 8-bit, uncompressed options in Windows byte-order. Tiffs can also be supplied in 16 bit which doubles the file size but allows for more aggressive tonal editing. To capture 16 bit images may require shooting in the cameras’ raw format, sometimes referred to as a digital negative. Images can also be delivered in JPEG file format saved at maximum quality (level 12 compression in Photoshop).
Sharpening is best done in stages. A `light’, initial sharpen is often performed on an image to overcome the softness inherited from capture devices such as digital cameras and scanners. Final sharpening should only be performed after all editing and resizing, etc has been completed. As most clients will resize images in the final stages of production, final sharpening is best left to them.
Ensure files saved on a Macintosh computer have a three-letter file extension corresponding to their file type, e.g. TIF or JPG.
5) Optical discs were the preferred method of delivery however as image resolution and file sizes have increased delivery on USB Flash Drives, portable hard drives and cloud services are now more common. Format and label the drive for the client computer system, i.e., FAT32, Mac HFS or Windows NTFS. Write optical discs using the ISO 9660 format to maintain compatibility across platforms. Close disc sessions so no more data can be written. A relaxed ISO 9660 standard is also common but check with your client. Label the disc with a meaningful title that the computer can pick up and display.
For archival purposes we recommend marking CDs only with pens that are designed for the purpose. The safest place to write on a CD is on the small clear hub. Adhesive paper labels should be avoided as they could come loose in a CD drive, and may also cause a CD to become unbalanced and unreadable.
6) For internet use sRGB is the standard colour space, although the many common web browsers are not colour managed. Colour profiles and other metadata add to file size and may not be useful for web use.
7) Every digital camera & scanner is a RGB (Red, Green, Blue) device, so without exception all images start off as RGB. Most printing processes use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) inks (sometimes adding additional ink colours). This means somewhere in the imaging chain there will need to be a RGB to CMYK conversion. There are many ways to perform this conversion, but only one way to do it correctly.
We suggest you convert from RGB to CMYK using Standards Australia & International Organization for Standardization standard profiles (AS/ISO 12647-2). Profiles may be downloaded from www.eci.org/en/start. If you are unsure which ICC profile to use for offset printing, we recommended you use ISO Coated v2 300% (ECI).
CMYK conversion usually occurs at the end of the workflow and is device dependent. Each press / inkset / media combination has different characteristics requiring a specific colour conversion / ICC profile. There is no such thing as a ”Generic CMYK” colour space. Do NOT convert from RGB to CMYK until you know which device/process you are printing to & which CMYK conversion / profile to use. As CMYK colour spaces are much smaller than RGB, for maximum quality all editing should be done in RGB before the CMYK conversion.
CMYK conversion is an art unto itself and is beyond the scope of these guidelines. Photographers supplying CMYK need to be aware of any liability they expose themselves to and should include a disclaimer (see point 11). As with RGB delivery, for maximum compatibility CMYK TIFFs or JPEGs should saved as 8-bit, uncompressed and in Windows byte order.
8) Each lab will have different specifications for printing; ask before supplying files to print. Professional photo labs should supply colour profiles for each surface and paper type. Soft proofing allows you to preview on screen in Photoshop how the image will be printed and make any necessary adjustments. Labs should NOT request you alter your monitor to match a sample print.
9) Make sure the client is viewing the files on a calibrated monitor profiled to the international standard D65. Anyone anywhere in the world, viewing a monitor correctly profiled to ICC standards will view the image(s) correctly, as the author desired.
10) IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) has established standards for metadata attached to files describing what the file is. It can include information about copyright, photographer (author), date, captions and more. Most important to photographers is copyright, and usage – which may be entered into the ‘caption’ or ‘special instructions’ fields. Several applications can write metadata including Adobe Photoshop. IPTC information is viewable in Photoshop under File > File Info.
11) A ReadMe file, preferably in PDF or HTML format, contains information about the images delivered. It may include your usage agreement, copyright and a disclaimer such as:
- On this disc you will find “our product”.
- Our product is an ICC colour-managed RGB file with the Adobe RGB (1998) colour profile embedded in the file.
- All image editing was done on a monitor profiled to the international standard D65. Conformance to this standard was achieved with a measuring instrument. Any monitor that is correctly profiled to ICC (International Color Consortium) standards will view the image(s) correctly, as the author desired.
- Any prints supplied with the disc should be used as a guide only. They are intended for identifying files, assessing expressions, composition, etc and not for evaluating colour accuracy. They are NOT contract proofs unless identified as such.
- All files on this disc should be scanned for viruses, file integrity verified then backed up. We will not be held liable for any loss.
This information is supplied in good faith as a generic guide. No legal liability is assumed for the suitability of this information to your specific needs. All recommendations should be tested in your own work environment. We recommend you have any disclaimer(s) checked by your legal expert and consult a digital colour expert for advanced advice.
© 2004-2019 the authors: William Long, Robert Edwards, Murray Fredericks, Nadish Naoroji and Nick Rains. APDIG retains copyright on all content as enforced under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in addition to local and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.
Most art courses, including photography, will talk about the rules of composition at some stage. They are presented as scientific, historical facts and shortcuts to success. Later you will be told the rules are meant to be broken but you must learn them first. These rules are too often forced on to historical artworks as evidence.
The most common compositional rules are based on mathematics. They are referenced to artworks from Ancient Greece and the Renaissance. The most common rule is the Rule of Thirds. Divide an image into thirds and where the lines intersect is where your subject is best placed.
The rule of thirds lends it’s origins to the Golden Ratio credited to Pythagorus and referenced as far back as Ancient Egypt. Based heavily on mathematics the Golden Ratio, or Golden Mean, will also be shown as existing in nature such as the spiral shell of a conch.
Composition suggests you never place your subject, or the horizon, in the centre. Unless of course you are an anarchist and deliberately breaking the rules.
But art and photography is more about visual language than pure mathematics. To do the latter is over analysing and systemising photography. Ironically I’m just as guilty in writing this!
Photography is first and foremost about telling a story. About an experience, a person, a place, a feeling, to make a memory. A visual record.
It crosses borders, languages and cultures, to some degree. In order to decipher the image we need to know the same visual language as its author. With globalisation most of us use the same visual vocabulary.
Egyptian hieroglyphs, warning signs and emoticons overcome dialects.
Images have been used to communicate with the majority of people, well before photography. Centuries ago the world was mostly illiterate. Illustrations and fine art communicated to the masses. Cave paintings created over forty millennia ago are messages from our ancestors telling the story of their lives through images. Your Facebook feed may not last that long.
Photographers Reference Past Imagery
For centuries we have been trained that certain types of images depict different emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, empathy. Photographers create photos that remind us of those images. News, documentary and reportage reference these to grab your attention. James Natchwey’s powerful anti-war photography Deeds of War uses religious motifs that left an indelible image in my mind.
The theatre has a long tradition of using dramatic lighting to create mood. Photographers use the same techniques through colour, direction and selective lighting. Back-lighting creates romance, warm dawn/dusk light produces feelings of beginning or ending, and lighting from below suggests something sinister.
Back lighting contributes to a photo’s mood
Photographers Exaggerate Perspective
Photography has created some of it’s own metaphors. Compressed perspective flattens and we learned that means distance. Exaggerated wide angle distortion can a create feeling space, or when close, intimacy.
Composition Rules, OK?
We often use mathematical composition rules without thinking about it. And that’s OK, it’s innate. But if I start recomposing to force a scene to fit a formula, I stop. Then I remind myself why I am making the photograph: to tell a story.
Recently I was invited to speak with students at a photography college on the business of the profession. Here is some of what we discussed.
Now vs “Then”
How I started out and the way new photographers do today is very different – but only on the surface. Whilst I may have used mailers, the telephone and door knocked more, many photographers now use email and social media to reach prospective clients.
In the end a face-to-face meeting is always better. It creates a more personal connection that’s simply not possible any other way.
After decades in business referrals are another important way of attracting clients. You can ask existing clients to recommend you. If you do a good job organic referrals will come your way. I’ve found people by nature like to help one another; by referring work to you and helping their contacts find a professional photographer.
Good Old Days
Years ago while having dinner with other well established photographers we reminisced about the “good old days”. Adelaide photographer Milt Wordley noted that for the emerging photographers at the table this is their good old days – now!
Long Standing Business Model
When I assisted photographers there was a well established path to becoming a professional spanning back many decades. Digital disrupted the traditional master/apprentice model with many photographers either starting out without a mentor or a definitive career pathway. If you’re not assisting or studying then professional photography associations, like the Australian Institute of Professional Photography offer a mentoring program.
Professional photography is very competitive. However it always has been. Indeed all creative professions are. In high school I was heading towards a career in graphic design and all the advice was there’s an over supply of designers. It was no different for photography and I suspect it always will be.
Nowadays it’s quite common for professional photography to be part of a mix of income streams for many in the industry. It’s supplemented with teaching, workshops, design or a corporate day job. There are also a lot career changers entering professional photography with some choosing to keep their current job on a part-time basis.
I realise as a full time professional photographer I’m in a very privileged position and don’t take it or my clients for granted.
Perceived Lower Cost of Entry
When starting professional photography I invested over $100 000. Some believe the cost to entry is lower today but I’ve found that not to be the case. At least not in the long term. To set up a similar quality, professional business the initial investment is marginally lower. Unlike film equipment and training that could last a decade or more, new technology requires replacement and updating every few years. Photographers have to be business savvy when looking at shiny new toys ensuring it’s ROI is viable. I’ve seen many a photographer over capitalise only to be out of business soon afterwards.
Less Skills to Start
There is a shallower learning curve for digital photography compared to film photography. Digital cameras are a great learning tool. It also means beginners plateau faster than before. It’s important not to rush too fast into professional photography and make sure you have the breadth of photography and business skills needed to prosper long term. Again, I’ve found being a member of and being involved in professional photography associations a huge benefit.
The More It Changes…
The more it’s the same thing. On a micro level the craft and business of photography continues to change. On a macro level professional photography is still about relationships and finding creative solutions for clients.
Not in a bitter way but to hope you go onto great success. Success never seems to come easy but rather is built upon stepping stones of failed ventures.
Many well known and not so famous entrepreneurs have a litany of ideas that did not succeed. But that did not stop them and they ultimately went on to achieve success.
Thomas Edison. Photo: U.S. Information Agency
Among Thomas Edison’s many inventions perhaps his best known is the electric light bulb. He wasn’t the first with many others competing to create one. By using a carbonised bamboo filament his team succeeded in making commercially viable electric light bulb that resulted in his 1879 patent. They reportedly went through thousands of combinations.
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas A. Edison
Henry Ford in his first car. From the book ‘The truth about Henry Ford’ by Sarah T Bushnell
Henry Ford worked nights at Edison Illuminating Company while working days on building an automobile. Early versions failed because they could not be mass produced to be commercially viable.
“Failure is just a resting place. It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
– Henry Ford
His fourth attempt succeeded because Ford invented the modern assembly line that revolutionised how goods were manufactured.
Oprah Winfrey. Photo: Bill Ebbesen
Oprah Winfrey, fresh out of college, got a big break as a TV news anchor in Baltimore. Within few months Winfrey was fired, apparently due to poor marketing by the TV station. She went on to other TV shows and eventually form the Oprah empire.
“Failure is another stepping stone to greatness”
– Oprah Winfrey
J.K. Rowling. Photo: Steven Hill
While writing Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling had a failed marriage, lost her job, relied on welfare and with her daughter moved in with her sister. The early Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury accepted it. Rowling’s books have gone onto break sales records worldwide and make her the world’s highest paid author.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
– JK Rowling
Not everything you do will be successful. Success can be quantified in many ways: financial, personal, fame, career or by your own measure. Don’t let early failures put you off. They can be hard lessons that give you the experience needed to succeed in new ways.
This time of year new photography equipment is announced at the world’s largest photography expo, Photokina in Cologne Germany. Just like an Apple event, keen technology followers get excited and discuss the new gear. As a passionate photographer I too follow the reports. As a seasoned professional I also reflect on the key players in the industry. This post isn’t about the equipment, it’s about customer service and support.
When I decided to pursue photography as a profession I changed camera brands to Nikon. Yes I appreciated their aesthetic starting with my first Nikon F3, designed by Italian automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. However the camera is just a tool and matters little in the end result. Looking at an image you can’t distinguish what camera was used by the photographer. So why then did I choose Nikon?
Nikon F3 designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Photo: Gbor Dobrocsi
For decades professional photographers have chosen Nikon or Canon. Typically professionals invest tens of thousands of dollars in camera equipment and both brands have the quality and variety of equipment required. However it’s the professional support that Nikon and Canon offer that make them stand out.
Nikon Professional Service (NPS) and Canon Professional Service (CPS) are worldwide programs offering priority repairs and loan equipment. For example:
- When my camera was locking up Nikon loaned me a camera until the repair was complete.
- Before investing in a new camera Nikon loaned me one to try out.
- Dropped camera damage was quoted for repair immediately.
- One of my lenses was out of collimation and would need to go to Japan to be fixed. Nikon replaced it so I wouldn’t be without one.
- Digital SLR camera sensors often get dirty when changing lenses. Nikon clean mine while I wait for no charge.
- Nikon staff and I have built a professional and loyal relationship.
You will see NPS or CPS at all major sporting events supporting the professional photographers covering the competition with on the spot repairs and loan gear. When you’re livelihood depends on cameras having reliable equipment is expected, but professional service and support is even more important.
Nikon have long been supporters of the photography community. Sponsoring major photography awards, competitions, education and workshops. Some I’ve attended:
- The Nikon-Walkley Press Awards (recognising excellence in photojournalism in Australia)
- The Nikon AIPP Event (Australia’s largest photography event)
- Digital Asset Management Workshop (bringing DAM guru Peter Krogh from the USA)
- Nikon School (supporting enthusiasts with professional instructors)
- Nikon Ambassadors (inspiring pros and enthusiasts alike)
Knowing Nikon has me covered, as well as my equipment and business, keeps me in their ecosystem. It’s a symbiotic relationship – I like to support the brands that support me and my profession.