Friday, 27 February 2009

Focus On Imaging 2009

On Tuesday this week, I made my yearly trip up to Focus On Imaging at Birmingham's NEC. For those that don't know, Focus is Europe's largest annual imaging show, where professional and enthusiast photographers alike can get up close and personal with all the latest news, equipment and trends surrounding the photographic industry.

My interest each year is very often centred around meeting up with our suppliers (for example canvas printers and picture-book makers), as well as getting a sense of what the market is doing. This occasion was no exception, and I think it is fair to say that, in spite of the economic situation currently in our country, there appears to be no let-up in the number of people ready and willing to part with their cash.

As for the way the technology is progressing, I got the impression that things have settled down a bit, following several years of hype and excitement at this thing we call 'digital'. Of course, there were new releases on show, along with the usual faces shouting about how great their products are and how they will make your photography soooo much better.

One stand that I had been very keen to visit was Mac. If you are following my gradual journey from PCs to this operating system, you will know why. If you are none-the-wiser, check out this page in order to get up to speed with things. But here's the thing - I was completely unimpressed with the Mac stand a Focus. So much so that I didn't bother approaching them. In previous years, they took up a fair amount of space at the show, with lines of computers there for everyone to try out, along with an impressive area where guest speakers would share their thoughts and valuable knowledge with the public.

I do hope this 'scaled-down' approach isn't a reflection of Mac's resting on its laurels and riding its current wave of popularity. This is what Canon did, and their absence was noted at a previous Focus; they were there this year, as were rivals Nikon (keen to build on the success of its D3/D3X cameras). Coincidence?

A couple of mentions about some people who I had the pleasure of meeting this year...

First of all, fellow photographer Drew Gardner, whose enthusiasm for our wonderful art is there for all to see in a frankly shameless and infectious way. He's also a bloody nice bloke. We listened to him talking on the Phase One stand, discussing the workflow capabilities of their Capture One software, as well as the astonishing resolving power of their current line of digital camera backs. I gladly parted with some of my hard-earned cash and bought a copy of Drew's new DVD "Location Lighting With Drew Gardner", which he very kindly signed for me. Not had the chance to check it out properly yet, but absolutely can't wait. I encourage you to take a peek at the teaser which he posted on his blog a little while ago here.

Edit: DVD has now been watched! See my thoughts about it here.

Secondly, a quick mention for Richard Vobes, whose online radio show I listen to regularly and call up via Skype whenever I feel so inclined. Richard is also a 'good egg', and he was at the show in his capacity as an entertainer, playing out one of his many guises. If you like to be entertained and enjoy good conversation, I would encourage you to check out his site here. Make sure you tell him I directed you to the show and you never know, we might even link up over the air waves.

Edit: The 'Vobes Show' online show is no longer being brodcast; however, please do still check out Richard's site to listen to his daily podcasts.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

A matter of ownership

Many of you will have either read the above edition of Metro, or else heard through one channel or another that Facebook recently changed some of its Terms and Conditions; in effect, the powers that be granted themselves full rights and indefinite use of all users' photographs, 'Wall' posts and additional information. There was no advance warning, no communication with users, and certainly no open discussion. As you can imagine, once word got out, the news triggered something of an outcry... which ultimitely brought about Facebook's retraction of their newly amended Ts&Cs.

How does such a large company (are they an 'organisation' yet?) make such a huge mistake, when clearly they have unlimited resources of legal and ethical practice advice? Of course Mark Zuckerberg, the site's founder, immediately started backpedalling by saying that no content would be "shared in a way you wouldn't want". Oh, well that's ok then - we can all rest easy again.

But this isn't about Facebook, so let's move on.

The issue of content and material ownership is still very much a misunderstood one. As image makers, creatives, authors, we know that a breach of the Copyright laws which govern such material is a very serious matter - and one that can have very serious ramifications. But for the 'consumer', there is a definite lack of education on the subject, so perhaps it is not so surprising that people are often taken aback when you try to explain that they simply can't take an image they find and use it for their own purposes.

Here's a real-life example: A while back, I was talking to a client of ours during the course of a shoot. The subject of picture usage came up and the conversation went something like this:

Client - Where can I get a photograph to illustrate computing and technology?
Me - Well, either we could produce a bespoke image to your requirements, or else you could try a stock library, such as ours. But whatever you do, don't just lift a picture you like directly from a website.
Client - Oh, is that not allowed?
Me - No, this is a breach of coyright... etc... etc...

Some months later, I was talking to another client and he happened to mention the man above. Turns out, he ignored my advice and took a picture he liked directly from a website anyway. The website owners found out and started court proceedings almost immediately.

Another example: In the last few days, I received an email from a new client with whom we are due to do a shoot in a couple of weeks' time. The resulting images will be supplied on disk (as is often the norm), and he will be free to use them on his organisation's website and in various local press. In the message, the question was asked "Can we then sell the images on to our members?" I explained that this would also be a breach of the law, because images are supplied for the stated usage and copyright always remains with the photographer unless an agreement is reached to purchase it outright. Essentially, the photographs are classed 'not for resale'.

As a result in the case above, and after finding out more information about just what was required, we are now going to make all the images available via the secure, password-protected Client Area of the GBP website, so that members can purchase photographic prints as and when they wish.

So, what is the moral of this post, if indeed one exists? Well, clearly there are plenty of people out there who will always defy the law, always feign ignorarance if they think it will save them a few pennies. However, in the end, this approach often catches up with them. More importantly, I think, it all comes down to education. Specifically, people need to be educated about how and why they can or can't use images that appear to be at their disposal. There's nothing wrong with asking, as the second example above proves, and in the long run everyone ca and should benefit.

Communication is the key.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Yes, we do 'do' weddings!

Weddings. Ah yes, the eternal question: Do you or don't you? A fair enough question, and one which many photographers seem to stumble over when trying to answer. Funny, really, that there appears to be stigma attached to being labelled as 'a wedding photorgapher'...

I must admit, for many years I was one of those people. And for exactly the same reasons as the majority, I should imagine... For one thing, it is often viewed that if you are, say, an industrial photographer and you suddenly start shooting weddings at the weekends, you have somehow 'sold out'. "Trying to make ends meet, are we? Things so bad that you have had to resort to the 'unthinkable'?!...".

Actually, in my case, this could not be further from the truth. My introduction into wedding photography was via another photographer - someone who already had a succesul business set up in the sector, and who was looking for an additional photographer to join him. Of course, I made the usual excuses as to just why his 'very generous offer' just wasn't for me, but ultimately he won me over to his way of thinking. How? Slowly. And in a very gentle 'take it as it comes' fashion.

In hindsight, it was a great a great opportunity and a great decision of mine to go along with the offer. At that time, the weddings which I photographed for him filled a few income gaps in my commercial and editorial work throughout the year. And besides, my weekends were generally quiet, so it was something of a no-brainer: get out and about, meet some great people, take pictures (which, of course I loved doing), have lots of fun, whilst at the same time earning some additional income.

As a quick side-note... I think it is also interesting that there is clearly still a certain public perception/expectation of what it means to be a photographer. Many is the time that I have answered the question 'What do you do for a living', only to be asked the immediate follow-up 'So, you do weddings, then?'

Weddings are actually great fun to photograph. And as a photographer, you are in a priviledged position. Personally, my approach is one of being led by the couple's preference of imagery; some like more formal shots whereas others (and increasingly, this is the majority) prefer the more candid 'reportage' feel. Either way, I feel it is the photographer's duty to record the event not just as technically and professionally as possible (that goes without saying), but also as discretely as possible, too. Yes, there are times during the course of the day where instructions need to be shouted, and people need to be arranged, but in the most part you have to remember that as their photographer, you are simply there to record events for the bride, groom and their wedding party to enjoy in the years that follow.

So here it is - Yes, I (and by that I mean we as a company) do 'do' weddings!

But to be clear, this is just one of the many wide-ranging services offered to our clients, in much the same way that there are also many add-on products offered to compliment the work we produce.