Wedding Photography Season: A Series

wedding-rings-01Wedding photography is something I have a great deal of interest in and a huge amount of respect for those who practice it well.

Part of the reason for this is that the very idea of it scares me. I see some of the results some photographers achieve and I wish I could do the same.

So I have been working on some ideas for a series of articles all centred around this time of year, with it being wedding season and, therefore, wedding photography season. Perhaps I can learn enough to finally overcome my demons and give it a go.

So far I have begun conversations with a couple of local photographers with a view to learning about their different approaches and styles, and I have also been trying to find a wedding photographer making use of the video capabilities of recent DSLRs (I’m hearing them called “VSLR” now).

This article is really a request to anyone out there who could make a contribution to this series. I really need to find someone using a video DSLR (as already mentioned). I would also be interested in any wedding photographers doing anything really unusual – that sounds all wrong, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. If you have anything you feel would be helpful, please add a comment to this article, email me via the contact form (sorry, had to remove my address as it was getting harvested!) or you can send a direct message through Twitter, if that is your thing.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes us.

Exhibition: “Matt Irwin: Punk. Perfect. Awful.”

Our friends at Dazed sent us this press release and we thought it well worth sharing:

The son of devout Mormon parents, Matt Irwin spent his teenage years dividing his time between working in a tractor factory and tying miniature explosives to his bike and riding around like a lunatic. Fast-forward a decade or so, and he is pretty much one of the most sought-after young photographers working in Britain today. Starting out, in his own words, “taking pictures of f***ed up, lo-fi punk kids”, Matt Irwin is now pointing his lens at supermodels for Vogue, Self Service and V Magazine among others, and shooting campaigns for leading high street stores. Needless to say, he dispensed with the Mormon sensibilities some time ago.

Mentored in the beginning by Dazed & Confused’s Creative Director, Nicola Formichetti, Matt’s breed of bright, candid, fashion and portrait photography was an instant hit with London’s disaffected generation. Rather than trying to emulate anything big and glossy, Matt was – and still is – interested in capturing stills from his subject’s own personal films. It was, and always will be, about the subject. Matt’s photography is instantaneous, unaffected – a diametric opposition to the over-saturated stuff we’ve become used to over the years – and fashion editors across the world simply can’t get enough of it.
Continue reading “Exhibition: “Matt Irwin: Punk. Perfect. Awful.””

Cheese, Anybody?

Say Cheese

Traditionally (at least according to popular culture) we photographers are supposed to request our sitters “say cheese” when we photograph them, in order to get a smile. Obviously, we all know this is a rubbish technique which is never going to produce a satisfying, natural result.

A few years ago, a designer friend of mine was dating (and later got married to) an officer in the Royal Navy. She showed me a photograph, taken at a summer ball, of her with her chap and several other officers and ladies. I was immediately struck by the natural expressions on every person in the photograph, especially because they all had beaming smiles. I asked her how the photographer achieved this and she explained that it was actually down to her. She waited until he was about to release the shutter and then she shouted a “certain word” and trusted the photographer to capture the reactions, which he did perfectly. I’m not going to tell you what the “certain word” was, but it was a scientific name for part of the female anatomy – not exactly a rude word, but definitely not expected in polite company!

For a brief moment (but just long enough), everybody forgot they were supposed to be having their picture taken and reverted to being a bunch of people having a good time. This is exactly the opposite of what happens when you are asked to say cheese. Or at least what would happen – I refuse to believe any real photographer actually does this!

This got me thinking about how to get the right expression from the people in front of my camera. Not just how to make them smile, as it isn’t always a smile we are looking for. The answer is (broadly speaking) quite simple – you need to engage with the sitter. People look at each other every day. They make eye contact and study each other’s expressions for visual clues during every conversation or encounter. This does not make them feel self conscious. It is when we put the camera up to our eye that everything changes.

I have found that one of the ways that works best for me is to talk constantly, asking questions, saying anything which comes into my head. Talking about the sitter is always good as it is a subject they know about and will soon become absorbed, as long as you can jump in with a question or two when they pause. Silence is the killer.

If I’m looking to get a natural smile, I’ll often ask my sitter not to smile and then, depending on what expression they do adopt, I’ll follow with something like “when I said don’t smile I didn’t mean for you to look like a bulldog chewing a wasp” which will usually get a chuckle and I can capture the smile I want as they relax.

Thanks to my children, I have also found that variations on “say cheese” can work very well. When I say “variations” I mostly mean complete alternatives. For example, “say stinky cheese”, “say smelly sausages”, “shout hairy camels” all seem to have the desired effect, especially with kids who love the opportunity to shout something silly. The technique seems to work pretty well with adults too, who get so tied up in trying to work out if you are being serious and wondering if they sound foolish that they completely forget what is happening and I get natural expressions.

I recently came across a technique used to engage a young child who was refusing to cooperate with the photographer. The photographer told the child that if he watched the camera’s “eye” carefully he would see the camera wink at him. The child became totally absorbed watching the shutter winking at him and the resulting photos were wonderful. I have used this technique myself and it worked a treat.

On the many occasions that the sitter is someone you are meeting for the first time, it is worth building up a set of easy conversation starters. Obvious subjects are holidays, jobs, family, hobbies/interests, why are you here in front of my camera? – pretty much anything, actually.

The important thing to remember is to engage. Talking to people should be easy – we all do it every day without even thinking. And remember that your sitter is probably nervous and expecting YOU to be in control.

Trust Versus Evidence

Frustration

Before I bought my Canon 20D (3 years and 3 days ago, apparently), fancy functions like auto-focus and evaluative metering were completely unknown to me. I was used to sticking my medium format camera on a tripod, carefully focussing manually and setting the shutter and aperture based on readings from a handheld meter.

Once you master auto-focus, it’s a truly wonderful function. I can’t focus a camera faster or more accurately. I (mostly) find the results from the camera’s built-in meter to be superb, too. The technology is there where you need it, it’s fast, accurate and reliable. Admittedly, you still need to know what you are doing, but I consider that to be the saving grace – if the camera did absolutely everything perfectly without my intervention, I would have no interest in being a photographer.

Anyway, the first time I connected up my Canon to my studio flash, I was very excited. This was how I was going to compare my new digital camera to my old film one. This was the photography I knew about. I set everything up and took a reading with my trusty Minolta flashmeter, set the aperture accordingly and took a test shot. Miles off! Checked everything, reset everything, took another reading, took another test shot – still miles off! To get the job done, I changed the aperture and checked repeated test shots on the camera’s screen until the picture and the histogram looked about right. “About right” is not really the way I like to work!

After the session was over, I visited my good friend Mr Google to see if he could help. I found several people on forums claiming issues with the 20D metering and I was pretty concerned. I was comfortable that the Minolta was accurate as it had worked perfectly with my film camera for many years (albeit it had sat unused for about 8 years prior to this). I spoke to a photographer friend of mine who said he thought that ISO for film and ISO for digital were not related, which would account for the different readings. Then I had a chat with my other good friend (in the real world), Charlie. We bashed through the logic and we both felt confident that ISO is ISO, meaning that either the flashmeter or the camera must be way out of whack.

To find out where the issue lay, we set up a test. We stood a Kodak grey card in front of a constant light source and took exposure readings with my 20D and lightmeter, as well as Charlie’s 350D and his Sekonic lightmeter. The Sekonic and both camera’s gave precisely the same reading (and I mean precise), but my Minolta meter was about 3 stops out! Although I was a bit gutted that my favourite gadget ever was malfunctioning, I was hugely relieved to find the camera was fine.

Luckily for me, Charlie knows a bit about electronics and he took the meter apart, cleaned it and re-calibrated it. Now it works perfectly. Best of all, I didn’t end up looking like a fool when I returned the camera with a “faulty” metering system!

The point of all this is trust. You need to be able to trust the equipment you use. You need to trust your own ability and skills. But you also need (as they say on CSI) to follow the evidence. Blind faith in your kit just because it is the latest/best/most expensive/highest specification could lead to some rubbish photos and to a lack of trust in YOU.

How To… Succeed In Selling Stock Photography Online

Pounds and Photography

Gaz wrote a smashing article the other day about Online Photo Libraries and how they have clearly ruined the stock photography market and crushed the soles of small time professional photographers (actually thatâ??s not really what he said I just wanted to spice things up a little. You should go ahead and read it by the way. It was very thought provoking.). For the most part I agree with what Gaz had to say, however I have been a member of a few of these libraries for a while and without putting any real effort into it Iâ??ve managed to make a reasonable amount of money from them. I thought Iâ??d do a quick guide to some of the online stock libraries and share with you some of my tips on how to become successful through them.

Before I get started I really aught to say that if you have an issue with earning very little for each sale you make donâ??t do this. Find another way to sell your photos. I promise you that if you canâ??t accept this one simple fact you will find selling images through these libraries entirely sole destroying.

Getting Started

The very first thing you need to do is go through your collection of photos and pick out the ones you think are best. Generally you need to be looking for images that are high quality, the equivalent of 3 megapixels or larger in size and that have something reasonably unique about them. By reasonably unique I mean things like a fresh viewpoint on a subject or a rare subject (e.g. an owl catching its prey). Reasonable uniqueness isnâ??t essential, but it will greatly improve your chances of making a sale. Most of the heavy users of these libraries are people like web developers, commercial blog writers, and people who need images for newsletters and press releases. With this in mind the images that sell the best are conceptual images – images that can convey a message.

When you have your images sorted itâ??s time to hit the libraries. I have tried about a million of these and the ones I have found to be most successful for me are the following:

I particularly like these libraries because the images I upload donâ??t have to be exclusive to each site and the payouts are some of the fairest out there. Thatâ??s not to say that the payouts are good. They really arenâ??t. For each sale I only get between 20c and $1.50. Depending on the volume of sales I make these royalties can go up, but theyâ??re never going to be impressive.

You need to register with each library and youâ??ll have to pass a submission test before you can start selling. This involves uploading a few of your photos for them to assess. If you fail assessment you will be told why and then you can apply again. If you pass you can start uploading the images you want to sell. Youâ??ll need to give each photo a title, a description, select a number of suitable categories for it to sit in and create a list of keywords that pertain to the image. This helps place the image appropriately when a buyer does a search.

Every image you upload will go through the approval process again and wonâ??t be available for sale until it passes. Providing you follow the sitesâ?? guidelines for submitting photos you should have no problems. Once a photo is approved itâ??s up and available to buy until you decide you want to stop selling it.

Another reason I particularly like the libraries in the list above is that they all offer buyers the ability to buy different licences for your images. Now unless you are pretty lucky, itâ??s not incredibly likely that you will sell any images for full exclusive rights, but it you do you could be looking at a few thousand for your trouble. It hasnâ??t happened to me yet, but I live in hope.

How to Really Succeed

The key to being successful in these libraries is to create large conceptual images and lots of them. The larger the image is the more media it can be used for. If you can produce thousands of images that cover as many categories as possible you will maximise your exposure and therefore your chance to make a sale. Obviously the higher the quality the better and the more you think about your keywords and image titles the better too.

Categories that will always sell well are:

  • Images of people. These are the hardest to produce because firstly you need willing models and secondly youâ??ll need to upload a signed model release with each photo.
  • Images that convey business messages.
  • Business orientated conceptual images.
  • Warm and fuzzy conceptual images.
  • Money conceptual images.
  • Seasonal images when they are in season. You wonâ??t sell Christmas images during Easter.

Images that donâ??t sell very well are:

  • Pet portraits.
  • Landscapes (unless theyâ??re exceptional).
  • Pictures of fruit and other very accessible still life.

Make sure you keep tabs on which images are selling best from other photographers. Donâ??t just flat out copy what they have done though. Take pictures that are similar but with your own unique twist to them. If a buyer is presented with 30 pictures that are all basically the same theyâ??ll just pick the first one. Or even worse theyâ??ll decide that they wanted something more unique and go elsewhere.

If a genre is flooded with thousands of photos, donâ??t bother trying to compete. Find another genre where you could really make an impact.

Lastly, be patient. It may take a while before you see any real results. Keep plugging away, use your head and youâ??ll soon get there. Most of all have fun. You wonâ??t make a living from these libraries any time soon, so if youâ??re not enjoying it why do it?

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall…

Mirror, mirror, on the wall... Copyright: Alex Bramwell

…that doesn’t look like me at all!

Most people (in my world, at least) don’t seem to like having their picture taken. There is often a real sense of embarrassment when you show them the photos for the first time and many sitters will remark that the pictures do not look like them, even though you are really pleased with the result.

The reason for this is very simple. We are used to seeing our own face everyday, but in reverse. What we think we look like is largely based on the image we see in the mirror.

In the “olden days”, when I sensed my subject was having this issue when I showed the prints, or even the Polaroid proof during the shoot, I would simply get a mirror and make them look at the picture reflected. This always solved the problem.

If there was a picture from the final set that I particularly liked and wanted to get a good reaction from, I would print an additional copy after reversing the negative in the enlarger. This mirrored image is the one I would show the sitter first and it never failed.

Of course, now we have digital photography, reversing the image couldn’t be simpler, so give it a try.