Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Size - first and foremost, compared the the 1DsII bodies that I have been lugging around the world for the last 4 years, the 5DII is wonderfully small and light. It makes taking the camera out and about fun again, without feeling like I have a brick over my shoulder. With a 50 f/1.4 or 28 f/1.8 on the front it's a wonderfully compact package. Being even smaller than my old film-based EOS 3, this is now the smallest SLR I've owned since 2001. Nice.
Screen - The 3-inch 900,000 pixel screen is large, bright and crisp; none of which apply to the 1DsII. It's large and clear enough to be able to accurately test lighting, and not miss stray reflections and the like. It's also possible to set the camera not to rotate vertical format images so they use the whole screen, which is nice.
Auto ISO - setting the ISO to "A" gives the camera free reign to set the ISO anywhere between 100 and 3200 to give you a handholdable shutter speed. This is great, as I can select the aperture or shutter speed I want and have the camera choose the lowest possible ISO to get a correct exposure. I only wish I could chose the range it selected from, as ideally I would have it max out at 1600, which is the highest really usable ISO on this camera.
Live View - for shooting manual focus on a tripod, live view is great. You can zoom the image on the screen to 5x or 10x magnification to ensure you have focus exactly where you want it. Great when using the MF-only tilt/shift lenses or using a macro for food closeups. There are probably additional applications of this mode - I'll need to do some experimenting.
Sensor cleaning - Yes! Does exactly what is says on the tin. It doesn't totally remove the need for the odd clean, but does make the need for them much less frequent.
The good, but not quite great:
Autofocus - the AF seems to do a decent enough job, even in quite low light when using a fast lens. But compared to the 1DsII the focus points feel a little cramped together in the middle, especially on the diagonals. It is very quick and easy to scroll between them though, more so than on the 1Ds. I haven't used AI Servo mode yet for focusing on moving objects, so will reserve my judgment on that yet.
Build quality - the camera certainly feels solid and is nicely made. And the manual says the weather sealing is almost equivalent to the EOS 1n film cameras from the late '90s. However, in the hand, while perfectly acceptable, it doesn't have the same rock-solid, bullet-proof feel of the 1Ds. It looks like I may need to reign in the rather cavalier attitude I took to the 1Ds when shooting in rain, snow and the like.
The slightly irritating:
Handhold-ability - Maybe it's because of the lighter body, but I'm finding I can't handhold the camera at the same shutter speeds as I can the 1Ds. With a 50mm lens I find too many of my shots at 1/50th show some camera shake, when this speed is no problem on the 1Ds. I may have just been getting sloppy with the heavy 1Ds, where mirror slap is less of an issue because of the weight and larger grip. Time to refine my hand holding technique again (and wish for the in-body image stabilisation of the Sony A900!).
Playback - It's not possible to have the post-shot image review display a different format when you hit the playback button. This might sound picky, but on my 1Ds I'm used to having the initial post-shot review show the image and the histogram, but when I playback the images to show the image only. On the 5DII I have to hit the info button to switch between them all the time.
Despite these niggles, I have to say that so far I'm very happy with the new cameras, and have no reason to hesitate in putting my old 1DsII bodies on the market. A quick look at 2nd hand prices suggest the swap from a 1DsII to 5DII setup should only leave me less than £1000 out of pocket, making it well worth it in my opinion.
Finally - a quick thought on IQ
You might be surprised I've not mentioned image quality at all. The truth is I wasn't really buying the new cameras for improvements in IQ. The images I could get out of the 1DsII were already large enough to print double-page without enlargement (approx A3 - the largest my pictures typically get used), and noise was excellent up to ISO 400 and very good even at ISO 800 if you nailed the exposure correctly. See my post "Just how much is enough?" for my thougts on the megapixel wars.
The new cameras improve on this slightly, but not by a huge margin. Image size is up by 4.5MP, but this only translates to an image 500 pixels wider. This gives a little extra room for cropping, but is not a vast improvement. On A3 prints you can't see the diffrerence in resolving power. As for noise, I'm not sure the 5DII is really much better than the 1DsII, which is a little surprising given the 4 year gap in sensor technology between the two. I'll be doing a few more tests over the next week or so to be sure I'm seeing this accurately, but that is how I read it at the moment.
The truth is that image quality from the better digital SLRs surpassed 35mm film at least 5 years ago, and any modern high-end DLSR can produce images worthy of the most demanding magazine. It's reached the point where handling and other design factors are more important to me now.
That's all for 2008 - happy new year and see you all in '09!
Monday, 22 December 2008
Now, there are many photographers who shoot nothing but food, and have a vast experience of tips and tricks to make food look scrumptious. However, they are usually working from a studio with lots of space and lighting options, and a food stylist helping them to make every dish look gorgeous.
As a travel photographer working with lightweight gear on location, you cannot usually hope to produce these kinds of images. Often there is very little time, and space is tight as you are shooting it right off the restaurant table.
If at all possible I try to get access to the restaurant before they open for lunch or dinner, meaning I get a bit more time and space to make the shots, but other times you will be there during busy meal times, relegated to a table at the back so as not to disturb the customers. Getting appetising food shots in these conditions is not always easy!
Style If you flick through a recent cookery book or food magazine, you will see that the current fashion in food photography is for overhead shots with very soft lighting. While these look great, they are often not a realistic proposition on location.
When working off a restaurant table there is usually not much space or time to get the shot. The low-angle, shallow depth-of-field shots that were all the rage 3-4 years ago are actually much easier to shoot under these conditions. Get low down, use a macro lens to allow you to focus close, and light from the side or from behind to bring out the texture of the food. Depth of field is critical, I find shooting at f/4 on a 100mm lens about right - because the distance is so short, depth of field is very shallow. Use a wider aperture and so little is in focus that it is hard to tell what it is!
Even through the shutter speed may be high due to the wide aperture, work from a tripod as framing and focus are critical. Try and vary your shots a little between very tight close in shots, and some from further back which include some of the table setting. Placing a fork or other piece of cutlery on the plate can help provide context and something to lead your eye into the frame.
Lighting The big challenge when shooting quickly like this is lighting. If I'm lucky enough to be shooting during the day and there is a large window nearby, then I will use natural light. Indirect sunlight gives a lovely soft yet directional light that is very flattering to food and makes everything look delicious.
However often you don't get these conditions, especially if shooting in Europe during winter when it might well be dark by 5pm. When that happens then you need to provide your own sunshine, and break out your flashguns.
Given the space and time constraints of shooting in a restaurant, and the limited amount of gear you can take on an editorial travel assignment, I only use one light on a lightweight Manfrotto stand with a shoot through umbrella. This is placed to the side or even a bit behind, with a small reflector on the opposite side for fill. This produces similar soft yet directional light which, while not as beautiful as window light, is the best you are likely to get when working quickly on location.
Normally you will want to keep your shutter speed close to your synch speed (e.g. 1/250th) to prevent any ambient light influencing the exposure. The colour temperature of the restaurant lighting will be different to that of your flash, and nothing makes food lose more unappetising than mixed lighting where the highlights are lit by neutral flash while the shadows are lit by ambient that looks orange or green.
Yes, you can gel your flash to try and match the ambient light, but in practice it is hard to do this exactly, and while you would get away with it for a typical interior shot, even the slightest difference makes food look dreadful.
Mixing it Up The advantage of working this way is that it is very predictable - you know you will be able to get an acceptable shot. The disadvantage is that all your shots begin to look the same!
So always be on the lookout for food shots that provide something a bit different - ingredients, people making or holding things, whenever you get the chance. Although they are more unpredictable they will often end up your favourites.
Thursday, 18 December 2008
For those of you just getting into professional photography, that might seem like a large outlay, but if you needed more evidence to convince you to spend the money on a decent portfolio then here it is. Jen Jenkins, founder of creative reps Giant Artists, is interviewed on Too Much Chocolate (great resource for emerging photographers by the way). Talking about portfolios she says:
"The portfolio tells me a lot about the photographer and how ready they are for representation. I’ve seen a lot of top-notch websites and then really poorly compiled portfolios. The artist portfolio is just as important, and should be professional and well-edited. The prints should be of a consistent and high quality..... It takes quite an upfront investment to pull together your promotional materials, which is so so important in competing in this industry."
Read the full interview here (courtesy of A Photo Editor)
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Firstly, it was focused on a single city, whereas for Sri Lanka we covered half the country. Being based in a single hotel for the entire 5 days meant it was easy to take a bit more gear than usual, meaning a couple of extra lights and lenses over what I would take on a job with a more demanding travel schedule.
Whereas in Sri Lanka we would spend 6 hours in the car every day, in Dresden many of the locations I needed to photograph were within walking distance of the hotel, which was wonderful.
There were only two problems with this situation. Firstly the fact that it rained heavily for 3 out of the 5 shooting days. And secondly the cobblestones. I had taken my gear in my LowePro Pro Roller, and wheelie-bags and cobblestones don't mix very well!
The second big difference to Sri Lanka was that Dresden, being a European destination, it was inherently familiar. Although I hadn't been there before, the fact that the architecture and culture are not so different from home makes it a bit more challenging to find inspiting points of view for photographs. In more exotic locations I find subjects seem to jump out at me from every corner. I found it necesarry to re-tune my visual eye a little to find the subjects and compositions that stood out.
Obviously a big part of a Food and Travel assignment is the food, and I'll talk a bit about photographing food while travelling in another post.
The issue had just hit the news stands so keep an eye out for it view it online here.
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Which is great.
The only problem is that I have one portfolio - which means I can't send it out to more than one agency at a time! So it's time to get another one, or even another two.
So here are some things to think about when getting a portfolio.
1) Get ready to spend some cash - you'll probably be up for about £300 to get a decent portfolio.
£300! I hear you cry. Yes, while there are binders available from stationers or art supply stores, these are not what art directors and photo editors are expecting to see. Custom made portfolios are a lot more expensive, but they create a professional impression and will last for a long time. You'd happily spend that kind of money on a new piece of photo gear, so why waste it all by presenting your prints in something that looks cheap?
2) Check how easy it is to change pages. You will constantly be tinkering with your portfolio; adding new material and changing the running order. So you want something where you can easily change the pages. Most portfolios are of the "screw and post" style, that allows you to swap out hole-punched pages which when closed look professionally bound. You also want pages that won't get damaged - you are hoping lots of people will be flipping through the pages after all.
Acetate sleeves are the norm, although some people prefer to put in naked prints, as they are more tactile and less reflective under standard office lighting. The disadvantage of this is the prints get easily damaged, and having double sided pages is a great deal of hassle requiring double sided printing, and can prove to be a nightmare when you want to change the running order or add new material. I use acetate.
3) You will need to think about what size you want. I highly recommend going with A3 or A4 pages. Having pages that are standard sizes for inkjet printers is a huge time and cost saver. I print all my portfolio on my HP Designjet 90. Modern high-end inkjets from Epson, HP or Canon are perfectly capable of producing outstanding prints as good as anything from a professional lab. In fact, your local pro lab will almost be certainly using one of these printers in any case. This way you can update your portfolio and tweak the prints quickly easily and (relatively) cheaply.
Also, standard A3 and A4 prints have almost exactly the same proportoins as a 35mm frame, so you won't need to crop images to fit the pages, which you will have to with 11" x 14", another popular size.
4) Finally you are going to want a courier bag to go with it to get your shiny new portfolio from one place to another without it getting damaged. Standard black ones are available from art supply stores from about £30, but more interesting looking ones with colours and can be had for about £80. House of Portfolios have a great selection.
My current portfolio is made by Plastic Sandwich and is very similar to the one in the picture. They make beautiful one piece leather books, with interchangeable acetate pages and your name embossed on the front. The only fault with it is there is no place to put business cards or a leave-behind promo card inside.
Follow up: Simon Stanmore has a very useful blog-post detailing the options available for professional portfolios in London here. Well worth a read.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
A good primer and list of how to approach clients for travel photography has just been posted by Boston-based photographer Lou Jones, so if you're new to all of this then start here.
If that makes sense, but you're hankering after something with a bit more detail, I can highly recommend the website and services of Leslie Burns Dell Aqua. Leslie is a California-based photography consultant, and specialises in helping photographers setup and fine-tune their marketing programmes.
I have attended a couple of her lectures and had a private consultation with her and her advice is excellent. Her blog is well worth subscribing to, and every month she produces a thought-provoking podcast and a free manual in PDF. Finally, if you want the whole thing I suggest you buy her book, available for print or download on Lulu. Reading this you will learn how to set your marketing objectives, idfentify your target clients and deploy a range of marketing tools to get your work in front of them - highly recommended.
Another very useful book, only available in dead-tree format, is Richard Weisgrau's The Real Business of Photography. The accounting chapter is somewhat US-focused, but the sections on marketing and negotiating are excellent and applicable in any market.
Finally, if you're wondering how to contact clients, then take a look at Bikini Lists (if you're Europe-based) and Agency Access (if you're North America-based). Both componaies provide lists of photo buyers accross a range of industries. Neither are a subsitute for doing your own research, but they are a useful supplement to it. My very first mailing with bikini lists paid for the full year's subscription fees with new work.
So, no excuses now for not knowing how to go about marketing yourself...
Monday, 29 September 2008
Whether you have phoned an art director to drop off your book, or emailed an editor requesting an appointment, the first thing they will do is ask to see your website. They’re not going to waste their time seeing you work in person unless they like your site,. So you want to have something that looks slick and professional, and presents your images in the best possible way.
Robert Benson has provided a handy summary of the photographer-focused website packages on the market at the moment. I agree with his assessment of Fluid Galleries – the package we both use. It works pretty well, but I would like to have bigger images and be able to bulk-upload images, rather than one at a time as I am forced to do now.
Well worth a read if you are in the market for a new site.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
See the full video here. See behind the scenes here
The popularity of the video has convinced Smugmug, who are hosting the film for him, to set up a $25,000 funding for him to pull together a team to produce his next film...so he’s already on his way.
The main lesson to take away here: if you make great work and get it front of the right people then good things will happen. But you need to do both – there is no point shooting beautiful pictures is nobody who can hire you ever sees them. Likewise, when you do meet with a potential client, only ever show them your very best work.
Friday, 19 September 2008
If I had phoned up Canon and asked for my perfect camera, this is pretty much it. The killer improvements for me are the combination of high resolution in a small, weather sealed body.
Travelling with 2 1Ds mark II bodies is a hassle, and their height means they don’t fit easily into some camera bags, including my Lowepro Pro Roller. A pair of 5D Mark IIs will be significantly lighter and less bulky, along with smaller batteries and chargers.
I haven’t been using the current 5D because I was not prepared to give up the higher resolution and weather sealing of the 1Ds. Now I don’t have to. It will also be nice to have the additional features of the latest generation of cameras such as 14-bit colour, 3-inch screen and automated sensor cleaning.
A friend of mine was surprised it only had 9 AF points. But that seems plenty to me. My 1Ds has 45 focus points, but I use a custom function to reduce it to 11 as otherwise it takes too long to select the one I want.
And finally there is the ability to shoot video. I’ve never shot video in my life before, and I’m sure I won’t be using it professionally – at least in the medium term. But I’ll certainly play around with it and it may well prove to be ideal for grabbing some behind the scenes footage from my shoots to post on the blog.
So it will finally be time to say goodbye to the trusty 1Ds IIs.
Monday, 15 September 2008
When I first started to take photography seriously I spent 6 months travelling around South America with nothing but a Nikon FM3a, 24mm, 45mm and 105mm lenses and 150 rolls of film. The whole package was so small and light that I took it everywhere with me. The amount of gear I would take on a similar trip today frightens me.
Looking to recreate that "fast and light" feel today there are not so many choices for a Canon shooter. I'd love a nice 35mm f/2 as a walkaround lens, but the Canon version is one of the original late 80s designs with a buzzing micro motor and plasticy feel. Sure you can get the f/1.4L version, but it is enormous and costs £900. The same with the 24mm, and the 50mm.
So it's great to see the new Zeiss ZE lenses coming on the market. Can't wait until they release a 35/f2....
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
I can see the logic of his thinking. As screen technology continues to improve and drop in price, will there not come a time in the not too distant future when we will prefer to hang photos electronically on our walls, rather than in a traditional framed print?
Already high end LCD monitors have wider colour gamut and higher dMax than paper, and arguably are superior in displaying images. Over time these will only become cheaper and of even higher quality. Their cost as part of purchasing a fine art ‘print’ will not be much different from getting a custom print frame made today.
Bernard goes on to ask how will fine art images be sold, delivered and installed on the screens, and how will copy protection be managed.
But for me one of the more interesting questions is for me is how consumers will perceive the value of art delivered in this way. We have already seen the price of stock and assignment imagery fall as digital photography has made production and distribution of photography cheaper and more accessible. And younger people, who will be the fine art buyers of tomorrow, have very relaxed views about copyright and intellectual property – with piracy of music and software seen as normal.
There will always be room for fine art photographers using traditional techniques. Many already emphasise the “craft” aspect of their photography and believe the method by which they produce their art (often involving large format film and hours in the darkroom) contribute to its value. And certain groups of consumers will continue to value that too. But for the rest of us there might be some interesting times ahead.
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Even with high powered battery flash such as the Profoto 7b you are only going to get a shot every second or so. This essentially means you only get one chance to get a shot before you have to send your model back for another go.
There are normally only two ways around this problem. If you’ve got the budget, use HMI lights. These are continuous lights (i.e. they don’t flash, so you can shoot as fast as you like) and they are also daylight balanced (unlike much cheaper tungsten ‘redheads’), so they are good for use outdoors. They’re what the movie industry uses, and if they can shoot at 25fps then its good enough for us at 8fps. The only problem is that they’re big, heavy, expensive and need to be run off a generator.
The poor man’s answer is to use reflectors. The recycle time on a reflector is pretty fast (humour alert), but they’re only good for fill light. If you need controllable light as your main light then you’re out of luck.
So I found it pretty interesting when the guys over at Competitive Image recently posted about how they used regular Canon and Nikon hotshoe flashes to shoot fast action. They managed to grab runners crossing the finish line at the end of a 1 mile race while still sprinting at full tilt. By running 4 flashes powered down to 1/16th power they were able to shoot at 7fps and still have the flashes recycle in time.
While there are some limitations to this technique (e.g. 1/16th power means you have to have quite low levels of ambient light to allow the flash exposure to dominate), it’s something I’m looking forwards to trying myself. Read all about it, and the problems they had to solve, here.
Sunday, 13 July 2008
For the last 3 years I have been shooting with the Canon 1Ds MkII. When it came out in late 2004 it’s 16.7MP were class leading in 35mm cameras, and even medium format backs were only offering 22MP, not a huge leap forward in resolution. At the time 16.7MP seemed more than enough for any editorial and most commercial applications. Able to print a DPS (double page spread) without upsizing, for most shooters there was little need for anything more.
Even now, nearly four years later, the only 35mm camera offering more resolution than the 1Ds MkII is it’s younger brother, the 21.1 megapixel 1Ds MkIII. While there are some additional improvements in the MkIII, the extra 4.4MP certainly wasn’t enough to make me shell out £5k on a new body.
But by now 35mm was nipping at the heals of the twice-as-expensive medium format backs, so in 2006 we saw the introduction of 39MP backs from Hasselblad and Phase One. Knocking on the door of 5”x4” film quality, there was no job too big for these cameras and they were rapidly adopted for even the most demanding commercial shoots.
So we might have expected the megapixel wars to slow down as camera companies began to focus on other aspects of image quality such as dynamic range or colour fidelity. Instead we have just had announced these new 50 and 60MP backs.
So just who are these incredibly high resolving backs for? For sure, the true full frame aspect of the Phase One will appeal to many with legacy lenses or those needing to shoot super wide. But I can’t help feeling the increase in resolution is largely pointless. There will always be a group of photographers for whom the price will be worth it to help differentiate themselves from the pack. And I suppose these are the target market for the new MF backs – the few hundred or so photographers who are at the very top of the commercial photography pile who need to show that they are one step ahead of everyone else, even though most of that additional resolution will never be needed.
As for me, I’ll continue to stick with my ‘paltry’ 16.7MP cameras for now. Maybe some future 1Ds Mk IV will be enough to entice me to upgrade. But it won’t be resolution that makes me jump for the new camera – I’ll need to see improvements in other aspects of image quality, ergonomics and other features before I put down my trusty MkIIs.
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
Look around you. Contemporary lifestyle photography makes use of backlighting extensively. It creates a warm and soft feel to a photo that coveys wellbeing and naturalness, and that’s something that a lot of people want to associate their brand with these days. Take a look at photos used in advertising or the latest stock photo additions to Getty and Corbis, and you’ll see this look popping up all over the place.
OK, we’re going to shoot a lot of pictures. The key to making backlighting generate that lovely soft glow is to keep the sun either in the frame or just outside it. So here we go:
1. Wait for the light. The sun is one hell of a strong light source, so you need to wait for it to drop close to the horizon. All that haze on the horizon is your friend, and as the sun drops down the contrast will drop towards something that your camera has a chance of handling. Not only that, but with the sun low down you get more natural framing options for your subject while still keeping the sun in, or just out, of the frame.
2. Switch your camera to manual. If you shoot on Aperture Priority, your exposures will vary wildly depending on exactly where the sun ends up in the frame.
3. Get your exposure right. This is where digital offers such an advantage over film. Choose the aperture you need for whatever depth of field you require. Then shoot a bunch of frames at different shutter speeds until you get the exposure you want. It can be hard to judge highlights from the picture on the back, so be sure to be looking at the histogram. It’s OK if the sun blows out – it’s going to be so much brighter than anything else. Don’t believe that you have to hold ALL the highlights in the image, or else the shadows will be so dark you’ll either lose them completely or create too much noise when you have to lift them in Photoshop. You’re looking for a nice glow or lens flare, but nothing too nuclear.
4. Use fill light to control the contrast. Shooting into the sun can mean that your shadows have gone to black by the time you’ve controlled the exposure in the sky. Fill flash usually causes you to lose that natural look, so you’re best off getting an assistant or two to bounce fill light back into the scene using white reflectors. Plus the recycle time on a reflector is hard to beat.
5. Get your model to go through their actions – see my ‘Looking natural’ post. Find a framing that catches your model as they pass across the sun, or where the glow falls on them in a particular way. Stick the camera on motor drive and just repeat and repeat until you get a natural looking moment with the glow or flare that you’re looking for. Chimp that screen on the back to be sure you caught the moment. In fact, I find it hard to tell whether I got the shot using the back screen sometimes, so I usually keep going until I think I’ve got 2 keepers. By the time I check them on the computer I’ll usually find that one of them has some flaws that I didn’t spot at the time. 6. You now need to get the look you want in Lightroom. Usually this just means controlling the highlights and pumping a bit of light into the shadows, and you’re done.
As it happens, the nice guys over at PhotoShelter published a guide to stock photography a couple of weeks ago, and one of the pages was all about creating backlit lifestyle images. Start reading half way down. Then get out there and shoot.
It’s basically a D3 sensor packed into a D300 body, so it loses the built in battery grip, 100% viewfinder and 9fps of the D3 but gains the compact dimensions (for a pro camera) and built in flash of the D300.
That Nikon would use the highly regarded 12MP D3 sensor in a lower end body was widely expected, and I’m sure the new model will sell like hot cakes to pros and high-end amateurs alike. In fact, I'm also sure there are many people who have bought a D3 for whom a D700 is actually preferable.
Since inventing the category in 2005 years Canon has had the only offering in the ‘affordable’ full frame market with the 5D, so it is good to see some competition at last. In fact, at over 2.5 years old the 5D is now the oldest camera in Canon’s line-up (with no competition until now it's eay to see why!), and a replacement is expected to be announced soon – August has been a preferred month for their previous camera launches, so we may not have long to wait. As a Canon shooter I’m looking forwards to this one. I’d like to see something along the lines of the leaked German Canon website I posted a couple of months ago – 16MP, 5fps, weather sealed body. I’d happily trade in my 1Ds IIs for a couple of these, as I don’t really need the 21MP of the 1Ds III and would gladly pocket the savings in weight and bulk.
But if the new body isn’t weather sealed then at least one 1Ds II will remain in my arsenal – too much of my shooting takes place in conditions that are hostile to electronics, be it snow, rain, cold, heat or humidity, and while the 1Ds just shrugs it off I wouldn’t trust a non-sealed body to last long with that sort of punishment.
And most of us are expecting at two more full frame cameras, if not at Photokina in October then before. The new Sony A900 with its 24MP full frame chip has already been announced but we have yet to see a production model, and the hotly anticipated Nikon D3x which it is assumed will use the same chip.
It’s all good news for us photographers – more high end cameras from more manufacturers means more competition, delivering better products for us to chose from. Bring it on…
Saturday, 21 June 2008
One of the most striking set if pictures are from the eruption of the Chaiten volcano in Chile.
Well worth adding to your RSS reader for a (near) daily dose of great photos.
Monday, 9 June 2008
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when I say that travel photography involves a lot of travel. An assignment earlier this year had me on the road for 4 weeks. One of the challenges this creates is how to manage all your images while on the road.
In the old days for a month of shooting I would pack around 150 rolls of film in a bag, and just shoot. Once exposed, the rolls went in another bag. I flew home and sent the film to the lab. Job done.
But with digital things are different. Sure, I no longer have to worry about storing film in hot places but now I have to think about hard drive space, backups and power. Shooting digital on a 4 week assignment I might end up with 10,000 frames, which on a Canon 1DsII is about 150GB of images. I can pretty much guarantee that’s more than will fit on a typical laptop. So what to do?
Enter the NEXTO
My solution is a pair of NEXTO CF ULTRA portable hard drives. These are battery powered 2.5” hard drives in a compact enclosure, powered by an internal Lithium-Ion battery, with Firewire 400 and USB 2 connectivity and a CF card slot in the top.
There are a whole bunch of similar devices on the market, from the Epson P5000 to the JigaView Pro. So why do I like the NEXTO? Firstly, it copies images extremely quickly, downloading a 2GB card in just over a minute. This is more than twice as fast as many rivals. And secondly it doesn’t have a big colour screen. This means the battery is very long lasting, and since I usually travel with a laptop the big screen would be superfluous anyway.
And what about those other things I mentioned; backups, hard drive space and power?
I carry 2 NEXTOs, and at the end of each day copy all my CF cards to both drives. That way I have 2 copies of every image, in case one hard drive fails. While I’m traveling I can also keep the two drives in separate bags, so the chances of losing or breaking both are pretty slim. I usually run the ‘quick checksum’ that verifies the first 4k of each file on the disk matches that on the card. There is a full checksum but it takes quite a long time, so I’m hapy to use the quick version.
Hard drive space
Each NEXTO contains a 160GB drive. So even on a long shoot I’ve got enough space for all my images. The 160GB drive on my MacBook Pro typically only has about 30GB of free space, so relying on a laptop alone is really not practical. Additionally it doesn’t give you a second drive for a backup.
The NEXTO is powered by an internal battery. Because it has very fast copy speeds and only a small LCD status screen, Once charged up the battery is good for about 30GB of downloads before you need to recharge. If you need more you can get a small external battery that lets you go for 80GB of downloads without charging. This came in handy when I went to Everest Base Camp and was away from power for 16 days.
If I’m traveling light, such as the Everest Base Camp trip or when hiking Tasmania’s Overland Track last year, then I just travel with the two NEXTOs. Between them they weigh about 0.75kg and take up a lot less space than 150 rolls of film.
If I’m able to carry a laptop then I can edit each day’s take while I’m on the road. I plug in one of the NEXTOs into my MacBook using the Firewire 400 socket and import the previews into Lightroom, leaving the original RAW files on the NEXTO. I can then select and rank and adjust the images without having to squeeze them onto my cramped laptop drive. Once I get back home I then back up all the images onto my main storage drives and most of my editing work is already done.
NB – I’m in no way affiliated with NEXTO – just a happy customer.
Friday, 6 June 2008
A lot of people starting out in travel photography think they will be able to make a living from selling stock. They aim to travel the world shooting everything they see, upload it all to Alamy and carry on shooting.
Well I hate to be the one to shatter your dreams but think again. Yes, millions of pounds a year are made from selling travel stock images, but they won’t be yours.
Why? Because the market is already saturated. Do a search for pretty much any travel destination on Getty or Corbis (who distribute 50% of the world’s stick between them) and you will get thousands of hits. And most of the shots will be beautifully executed, high quality images.
But when you submit your collection of high quality travel shots they won’t be interested. You just did the search right? So you know why - their collections are already stuffed with similar images, and they’re no longer taking on contributors for traditional travel imagery. That leaves you with the smaller players who, while they are viable businesses, will never sell enough of your images for it to be a viable income to you.
So how can you make any money from shooting travel stock? Well, the stuff that Getty and Corbis will still take on, and that sells for more money, are highly produced ‘travel lifestyle’ images. You know the kind of thing – you’ve seen them in adverts, in brochures or on billboards for resorts or tourist boards – fun, active or romantic images of beautiful people enjoying a stunning location. But these images are expensive to produce – they have high production values and use models, exclusive locations etc.
So what’s the solution? How can you shoot highly produced lifestyle travel imagery without breaking the bank? Simple: shoot for high end magazine and commercial clients, make sure you retain rights to your images and then use the outtakes as stock.
Stock travel photography isn’t dead. But to make any money out of it you’re still going to have to focus on high-end commercial and editorial clients.
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
People often get in touch with me asking how to get started in travel photography. So here is some of the advice I usually give people.
Are you good enough?
The first thing is to gauge whether you are good enough to start making money from photography full time. Almost anyone can get a picture published these days, because there are a large number of publications that accept mediocre photography. But they are also the ones that pay the least. If you want to know if you are actually going to be able to make a sustainable living from travel photography you need to browse the high end magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller, National Geographic Traveller, Islands, and Travel + Leisure. Look at the features they use to illustrate the articles, especially when they feature a place you have photographed yourself. Then look at the adverts, especially those promoting hotels and resorts. Then be brutally honest with yourself - if you genuinely think you could shoot photos of the same quality and subject matter you’re you are ready. If not, it’s time to get practising.
OK, I think I’m good enough – what now?
If you’re convinced you are ready to take the plunge, then you need to get ready to show your work as a professional.
Firstly, get a decent website. Unless you are showing your work on a slick, well-designed site, no art buyer will give it a second look. Remember that you are a photographer, not a designer, so don’t think you can build a good site yourself. The easiest way to get a slick looking online presence is to use one of the packages designed specifically for photographers. Livebooks is very popular, and has packages starting from $800 going up to $3200. There is also Fluid Galleries which at $400 is more affordable when starting out. Both allow you to customize the look and feel of your site while allowing you to easily change the content as your portfolio grows, and have a slick professional look.
Secondly, get a proper portfolio. When I started out I had my photographs in an A4 plastic binder that looked simply terrible. Now I use A3 leather portfolios by Plastic Sandwich. They’re not cheap, but they look fantastic and are very durable. You should aim to have about 25-30 prints, showing only your very best work and only the kind of photography that you want to shoot. If you have your own high quality inkjet printer then by all means print your own – I do on an HP Designjet 90. This has the advantage of allowing you to reprint an image until you get is exactly the way you want. Be sure to get a custom printer profile made up if you are using off-brand paper. Alternatively, take your files to a high-end lab and get them to print them for you.
Getting your work out there
Once you’ve got your website and printed portfolio together you need to start getting your work in front of people who commission photography. Start out with all the publications you would like to work for. Look at the masthead to find out who the Art Director or Photo Editor is. Add them to your list. Next, find out who are the Art Buyers at the advertising agencies. Add them to your list. If you need help, subscribe to one of the list services such as Bikini Lists (UK) or Agency Access (US).
Every couple of months send out an email with an image and a link to your site. Pick a few of your target clients and follow them up with a phone call. Those that have seen your site and like what they see will call you in to see your book. Here is when your printed portfolio will pay off. A lot of stuff can look good at 500 pixels on a website, but an A3 print will quickly show up any flaws in an image. And almost any image looks better when printed larger. Once they’ve seen you then continue to keep in touch, sending emails when you have new work on your site.
As you work through your list, eventually the phone calls will start to come in. It all takes a lot of time, but eventually your hard work and patience will begin to show rewards.