Monday, 28 April 2008

Photography and the Law

It's an old battle, and one which will no doubt rage for many years. Always something of a 'hot potato', the legalities of who can take photographs, where and when, are not always well defined.

I was recently sent a link to this article on the BBC news magazine website, which clearly highlights a number of factors from which the problem stems - most notably inexperience, lack of knowledge, fear and misunderstanding.

Certainly, I have seen a noticable change in how we (photographers) now have to approach certain subjects. For example, there was a time not that long ago when at a public event hosted by a client, and as part of my brief, I was able to freely take natural, unposed long-lens shots of children innocently playing on the grass. Not so any more. Now, I am always on my guard, keeping one eye on the parents and the other on the kids themselves.

There are two ways in which these situations could begin to unfold - either I continue shooting and wait for the parents to approach me with a myriad of questions or I take the time to go over to them to explain the situation and get the all-clear. By which time the moment has gone and I've missed some great shots.

Even with official accreditation, paperwork, contact details and passes to hand, we are not always guaranteed the access we require. And there is a lot of truth in what
Tom Geoghegan says in his piece, that "... the more professional a photographer, paradoxically, the more likely they are to be stopped or questioned."

Hardly seems fair, then, that with the acceptability that photo/mobile technology commands, it appears nobody is ever stopped from using their camera phone at these public events, yet the professionals are often viewed with an attitude of 'guilty until proven innocent'.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Happy Birthday, Grandad!

Yesterday was a very special day for our family - my Grandad turned 97 (though you wouldn't have thought it to look at him!). So, naturally, out came the camera and lights to mark the occasion.

The backdrop for the pictures was the rear garden of his house - with a bit of privacy and so many happy memories there, it was the ideal setting.

Past experience has shown that taking a 'posed' picture of my Grandad is akin to photographing a young puppy - I find myself with a maximum of just a few short minutes before he decides it's time to move off to get on with other more 'exciting' activities (thankfully, I have also learnt not to take this reaction personally!). So, with this in mind, I set up the lights in advance, making full use once again of the wireless capabilities of the Nikon Speedlight system. For more examples of this system in use, see the content label list on the right; if you have any questions, please post them via the comments link below.

The diagram here shows the basic arrangement, viewed from above. As you can can see, the main light was fired through a translucent umbrella; I often use this approach as it provides a clean and flattering diffused illumination which softens the skin nicely.

Behind the subjects were placed 2 other (undiffused, SB-800) flash units - one either side, each at approximately 30 degrees, creating a nice rim light and giving clear separation from the background. This would have been accentuated even further had the subjects' clothing been darker.

For any keen photographers who are reading - yes, you're quite right, the the main light is in fact a Metz, not a Nikon. Simply put, the Nikons were set to fire off the Metz, thanks to the SU-4 hack. Want to know more? You should definitely check out
this page over at Strobist, where David Hobby gives a great run-down of this excellent slave function.

But getting back to the point... and the whole reason we create pictures in the first place. Regardless of subject matter, every image is designed to be memorable, meaningful, impactful in some way. Of course this process is subjective to varying degrees - the photographer's beliefs, his/her stylistic preferences, even one's state of mind at the time of capturing the image - all can influence how the picture turns out. And every picture has a purpose, it's own story to tell.

On this occasion, I simply wanted to document the fact that my Grandad has reached such a great age. The caption would read nothing more than "Grandad in the garden on his 97th Birthday". In years to come, I will be able to look back on these photographs and remember the happy memories of that day and of the years that led up to it; the times we spent together in that place, the fun we had.

And therein lies photography's greatest strength - the ability to capture moments in time, no matter what content fills the frame. It is there to preserve those moments for the benefit of future generations. Technology is wonderful - but it is merely a tool which allows us to realise our visions.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Why good business sense counts for a lot

I don't ask for much when I'm looking to buy something. Following a bit of research, a good price combined with polite, professional service is usually all it takes. Call me old fashioned, but surely these are the two key elements to any service, regardless of whether it is photography, dry cleaning, your local newsagent... whatever.

Yet it is with alarming and increasing regularity that business owners fail to take these qualities on board. In the past couple of months, I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum - from a company who, although it's product is a good one, clearly doesn't know the meaning of the words 'customer care' and left me feeling so under-valued as a consumer that I am almost lost for words... right through to another who, quite frankly, blew me away by the speed, efficiency and professionalism of their service.

Clearly, I am not going to name and shame those who failed to impress, but I would like to take this opportunity to tell you all about the company who impressed me so much...

They are Movie Cameras Inc, a movie camera prop hire specialist supplying the film and tv industry; they also have a second arm dealing with everything from lighting stands to replacement bulbs, gels to clamps. Check out their online shop here to find out more.

So what is the long-term result of these recent dealings? Well, I am still battling away with the first company, waiting for them to honour their end of the agreement (note: a delivery was promised for today and, unsurprisingly, nothing has turned up - that was over a week ago. I was also let down on this front 3 weeks ago, too). Hmmm... I guess this is what they call a waiting game?! Once that delivery does finally arrive, I shall be cutting all ties - these people have lost my business.

As for the second company... Well, it is with pleasure that I can say that a good connection has been established, and cross-website links and recommendations are flowing (for example, there are already links on Strobist - a website which has over
200,000 regular readers worldwide and a discussion group of more than 20,000 members). And I'm sure that there will be more as the months roll by. What's more, I would have no hesitation in spending my hard-earned cash with MCI at any time in the future.

So... can you see the connection yet? Good business practise = customer satisfaction = personal recommendation = secondary promotion = additional sales & business growth.

Now, I would never claim to be a business expert by any stretch of the imagination, but is this logic so difficult to comprehend?! I think the philosophy really is simple to the point where it has almost become a no-brainer.

Be professional, regardless of your industry or the individual you deal with. Be sure to look after your customers and they will look after you.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Inspiration all around

How and why are we inspired to do what we do? Do we set out specifically with an end goal in mind and a series of resources to methodically work through? Or do we place ourselves in a situation and faithfully wait for inspiration to come to us?

Sometimes the answer appears out of the 3am darkness of a Friday night, thanks to RSS feeds. Other times, an idle stumble on the internet can set in motion a series of ideas. It can even be a chance meeting in the street which is enough to trigger the imagination.
For me personally, nature is a great grounding zone. It helps me work over ideas without stop-starting for the telephone, email, internet... basically, without interruption from technology. It is where you will often find me jotting down thoughts for these blogs or our newsletter. Free from so many constraints and distractions, this is where I go to think.

Everyone has their own methods. I know people who deliberately have a few beers before settling down to work of an evening, because they feel this opens up their thought processes. Maybe this helps them think more laterally, I don't know. Interaction on forums is also a great way to share ideas; for example, I often post on Strobist, which has an active community and is a great place to discuss creative lighting.

I am always thinking. I cannot simply sit still on the sofa and watch the television - my mind is far too active for that. Even on those occasions when I am technically concentrating on a tv show, chances are it's a documentary from which I am hoping to gain some kind of information which I can incorporate into personal projects or creative commissions. You will also find a magazine or notebook not too far from my side - god forbid an idea should get away!

Whether you are looking for inspiration on a personal or a professional level - look around you... at your location, friends, colleagues, relatives. It can often be such a simple thing that gives you that initial spark. And if you see something you like, don't be afraid to draw on it. I recently came across these thoughts on the blog of Chase Jarvis - a US photographer whose work I admire and who, as far as I can see, has got the right idea. Be sure to have a look at that link - and you might also want to check out his follow-up post, too.

Of course, professionally-speaking, it is important to stay up to speed with what's going on, but never forget what led you to where you are. Especially where technology is involved, I think it is always good to reflect on history and tradition. Even now, I love looking through books of photographs taken by the great pioneering photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and the members of Magnum Photo. There is such a lovely quality to the images produced by these people and you really get a sense of what photography should be about - the 'being there', the observation, the reaction and interaction, the simplicity and effectiveness of light.

At the end of the day, inspiration is everywhere - you just have to tune in to find it. And keep an open mind. In the same way that there is often 'never a stupid question', there is also never a resource that cannot generate productivity, no matter how random or irrelevant it may seem.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Snow... in April?!

Working on location in a local city at the end of this week, it was with a certain "yeah, right!" scepticism that a collegue and I considered the forthcoming weekend's weather forecast. The 'experts' promised us snow - this, as we stood in perfect sunshine, interrupted only by the occasional rain shower. After all, it is now April, and we are just starting to properly see the first glimpses of Spring in the surrounding vegetation.

So much for being a smarty pants then as, would you believe it, they were right all along and we did actually have it - and not just a cursory fluttering either. No, what greeted the waking public this morning was 2 inches of pure white snow which fell in the space of about an hour, early morning (so I'm told - I was still warmly wrapped up in bed at the time!).

The moment I saw this, I was like a little kid on Christmas morning. Filled with sudden excitement, my first thoughts were immediately to go for a walk to shoot some stock pictures. Ok, admittedly I have a vested interest as I love the outdoors anyway, and would jump on any chance to get out and about. But that's not the point. You see, it is such a rarity for us to get snow like this around here these days, that I was keen to fill some gaps in the archive. All things considered, then, how could I possibly resist?

So, off I went to one of my favourite haunts - the local woodland. This is the same area that, only 2 weeks ago, I conducted some lighting tests, as described in this post. What a difference the weather makes! I have walked in and around that area so many times that I now know where various paths lead and what photographic opportunities can be found in certain places - but with a covering of snow, I may as well have been in a different country. Without exaggeration, it was like walking into a winter wonderland (only... um... in April).

This kind of weather does something to the senses, I think, and it is quite beautiful. Have you ever noticed just how calm and still everything appears when it is snowing, or immediately after a snow fall? I'm sure there must be a scientific explanation for this, but that's for another day - and besides, it's always just nice to hear that wonderful sound of snow gently crunching under foot, isn't it?

With many of the usual land marks taken out of the equation, one is left to pick out the finer details. As photographers, much like trackers, we must assess the scene and make adjustments accordingly. Not just with regard to exposure, but also to the composition and what actually appears in the frame.

It's a bit like pointing your camera out to sea on a dull day and expecting to capture a
glorious silhouette of a ship. It's just not going to happen. Similarly with a snow scene, we are presented with a plain canvas containing very little detail and it is up to us to seek out the good stuff. With practise, this is not such a daunting prospect.

And even if it was... we do like a challenge!