Category: Business practice

How green are we?

By , March 22, 2013 11:06 am

There was an advert about ten years ago for Mercedes cars which stuck in my mind and has remain firmly wedged ever since. From memory it pictured a man standing between a brand new Mercedes and a much older one. The legend on the ad was something like, “I would like a new Mercedes, but I haven’t finished with the old one yet.”

The message was clear: Mercedes make cars to last. But actually it touches on a more important message that very rarely gets heard, namely that the most environmentally friendly thing we can do as consumers (certainly from the point of view of carbon footprint) is to keep using things for as long as we can, and only to replace them when there is no other option.

Unfortunately this does not sit well with an economic model predicated on consumption and disposability. What’s the relevance to photography? Well there probably is a general one, but I will save that for another day. I just want to have a rant about something related to this.

I have just sent the following email to Andy Griffiths, who is the Vice President of Samsung Electronics UK. It’s pretty well self explanatory, and when and if I hear something in reply, I will post said. Comment, please if you have views. I would really like to hear them:

 

Dear Mr Griffiths,

In common with most reputable companies these days, Samsung likes to promote itself as being ethical and environmentally friendly as a part of its overall CSR strategy. In light of this I wonder whether you might be prepared to comment on the following issue, which to be fair to Samsung is not something unique to your company.

Amongst my various pieces of business equipment is a Samsung CLP 300N colour laser printer. An inexpensive unit which I have had a little over three years, performs very well, and originally cost somewhere between £100 and £200.

Yesterday it stopped functioning. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but because the counter on the transfer belt had reached the manufacturer determined “end of life”. To be clear, the transfer belt is working fine, it is merely a counting mechanism that has shut it down. My only “official” option is to replace the part at a cost of about £90 plus vat. I could do this myself, but even if I did the unit would not continue to function because the counter needs to be reset as well by an engineer who has the appropriate utility (apparently this is a software item called CLP-300_Reset_RLCv04.exe); realistically the overall cost would probably be in the region of £200 to £300. You and I both know that no sane person would do this, and in fact most people will simply dump the printer and buy a new one.

I am not averse to paying for engineers and parts – as a photographer I have a wide format printer and only a month ago spent over £500 having the carriage return motor replaced at end of life. But in that case allowing the machine to function past the counter setting had the potential to do £1500 damage to a £3500 machine. It made sense to spend the money. In this case, the worst thing that can happen by my simply resetting the transfer belt counter (if I could do it) would be that eventually the printer kills itself and gets ditched – which would make me no worse off than I am now. Although, allowing for the possibility that it might function perfectly for another year, I might actually be better off.

ethical business practice

This printer works perfectly. The question is whether Samsung would rather that I throw it away, or see that it gets used fully before that happens?

In common with most people I have no problem with replacing a machine that has died, nor in servicing a machine that it makes financial sense to service. What I have a problem with is sending to landfill a machine which works perfectly save for the fact that a designer has incorporated an arbitrary stop code. This is not a safety issue, there is no risk to my other possessions, and it does not make commercial sense for Samsung. This last point cannot be overstated, because as I have already intimated no sane person would pay for the parts and labour to fix it when it is much cheaper to buy a new one, and equally, most people in this position will do exactly that, but in a fit of pique determine that they will not be buying another Samsung printer.

A more rational approach would be to have the printer pause and require that the user contact Samsung, at which point the user can be advised of the likely outcome of resetting the counter and not replacing the part. On accepting the conditions the user could be told how to reset the counter, fully aware that they might be buying a new printer at some point soon. At least then they would feel more loyal to Samsung, and could get the full use out of the unit before replacing it. Equally they might decide for their own reasons to have the unit serviced.

Binning things that work is neither ethical nor environmentally friendly and is symptomatic of a disposable culture that really ethical organisations ought to be doing more to mitigate against.

I look forward to hearing your response.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cockerham

I’ve had enough

By , March 6, 2013 10:42 pm

The following is a genuine request from a genuine bride:

Ideally I would just like a photograper for the day and a disk of images taken. I don’t really want a book. I’d prefer to store them digitally. However, a large price seems to have been placed on “wavering [sic] copyright” when giving disks of digital images. This is disappointing as we do not have a large budget at all and a huge price tag just for a CD of images is quite depressing.

Excuse me for asking, love, but what, exactly, is it that you think you are paying for? This may come as some surprise, but it is not a disc of images, the physical cost of which is about 50 pence. Perhaps that’s how much you think you should be paying for wedding photography.

Consider, for a moment, that this was another service purchase, for example, an architect. How would it go down if someone were to say, “I’d like you to draw up plans for my new building, but a huge price tag just for a couple of bits of paper is really depressing”?

The fact is, what you are paying for is content. It is the know how, the creativity, the vision. I can pick up a guitar and make a noise with it, but it doesn’t make me a musician. Equally, just because someone has a camera it doesn’t make them a photographer. If you want cheap, I have no doubt you can find it, but don’t come complaining when the pictures you end up with are, well, cheap.

I know you don’t think you will, but I have at least two couples come up to me at every wedding I shoot and complain that ‘they got married six months ago and they really wished they had used someone like me because their pictures were crap’. Well here’s the thing: someone like me was available, but they just didn’t see why they should pay for it. You pays your money, you takes your choice.

But there are other costs as well, so we may as well debunk a few myths while we’re here.

The first is that now things are digital, it’s cheaper for us photographers. Sorry, if anything it’s more expensive. Why, well professional grade digital cameras are about four times more expensive than the film ones used to be, and they need replacing about three times more regularly. To put numbers on that, a film camera used to cost £1500 and need replacing about every seven to nine years depending on how well you looked after it. The equivalent digital cameras are about £3500 and need replacing every two to three years. I know you can get a camera body for £500, but if you really are working as a full time professional those cameras won’t last more than a couple of months of heavy use. Then there’s storage. Storing negatives is cheap. Digital files are comparatively expensive and time consuming, and they need constant backing up.

Which brings me on to the next fallacy: digital is quicker. On the whole, no. In the days of film you could finish a wedding, drop the films into a lab to get them proofed, and do a bit of paperwork. Now a day’s wedding will include a day of post-production preparing and processing the images for use. I don’t know what line of work you’re in, but I am willing to bet that if something started to take twice as long, you’d be looking to charge twice as much. Most photographers moving from film to digital have swallowed that extra cost, in effect they are earning half what they used to be earning, and all the while the customers are wanting them to cut their prices.

It’s also worth remembering that print sales used to form a significant chunk of wedding photographers’ sales. While I understand that people’s relationship with photos has changed now (I am human too, after all) the fact that a digital file can so easily be replicated and sent to anyone means that passing over a disc necessarily kills those sales. Is it reasonable to expect photographers to give those discs over without some form of suitable compensation?

Then there are the costs of being in business, things like rents, rates, heating, phone bills, computers and IT, professional insurance, travel, taxes, accountants fees, stationery, advertising, training. These things cannot be covered doing 40 weddings at £100 a time and giving you the disc, and that’s without, god forbid, suggesting that I might like to feed my family, put clothes on their back and a roof over their heads, and maybe have a holiday camping in Wales once a year.

I wish I could say this was an isolated experience, but sadly it is becoming all too common.

Here’s another one:

I understand everyone needs to make a living but unfortunately I simply can’t afford quotes of £1000 plus. I am having a February Wedding; it is out of season because I am hoping for out of season prices. We would ideally love to have the “getting ready” shots, wedding shots and some reception shots, first dance shots would be perfect. We are having an afternoon wedding at a church and a reception within half an hour drive of the church. I would like a mixture of good natural shots of us and guests as well as some classic posed group shots. With regards to an album, I would be happy to hear some quotes but this is not the most important thing to us. The main requirement is that we can have a DVD of high quality images to store digitally and maybe print out ourselves to make a low cost album in a few years’ time. The main “nice-to-haves” are; I would guesstimate about 5 hours of photography and a DVD of high res images for us to keep.

OK, let me see if I have this right: you want everything, but you’d like me to pay for it because you can’t afford it? I’d like a Bentley but I can’t see them giving it to me for the price of a Ford Focus just because its outside my budget, can you? If you really can’t afford it then you need to lower your expectations and look at the quality photographic services you can afford.

As for out of season prices they relate to venues as a rule, the reason being that they were finding everyone wanted to get married on a Saturday between May and September, and that’s only about 22 days out of 365. As a result they hiked the prices on the peak demand dates and offered incentives to couples to book less “popular” days. That doesn’t really apply to photographers. If someone asks me if I’ll do a discount for shooting a wedding on a Wednesday, my response is to ask if they want me to provide the same service I’d give on a Saturday. It’s not that out of season is cheap for venues, it’s that the peak season prices are artificially inflated with venue hire charges and such. If you don’t think that’s true go to a wedding venue out of season and buy a pint, then try again on a Saturday in August – any change in price will be minimal and nothing to do with the time of year.

I know the world of professional photography has changed, and frankly it’s for the better. I welcome the increased competition, and the driving down of prices for the benefit of consumers. But there has to come a time when a little dose of reality comes into people’s thinking, and that time really is now.

I try to provide options for everyone on all budgets. I have a number of wedding schemes, and they range from £450 up to about £2,500. You’re not going to get everything for £450, of course not. But you are going to get quality. More importantly, I never destroy anything. So if you’re feeling flush a few years down the line you could always get that canvas or the disc then. It allows you to plan, budget, and spend in a way that is suitable for you.

I have a clear data management policy, so you don’t need to worry about the photos. They’ll still be there for you six months or six years down the line. Whether you buy your disc or not, if your house burns down, I’ll still have all your pictures. In fact, if my office burns down I will still have all your pictures – it’s all part of the service.

In the end, if you are getting married there are two things you need to ask yourself: the photos are virtually the only physical thing left when the dust dies down on your big day, does it really make sense to cut corners? Secondly, given what I have said about the costs of being in business, if someone says they can spend all day photographing your wedding and then just hand over a disc for a couple of hundred quid, might that not just strike you as being too good to be true?

There are lots of good photographers out there. Some are cheaper than I am, some are more expensive. But you won’t find any that care more deeply about your photos than me. Come and talk… you might just be grateful that you did.

Great Fosters with a storm brewing. Photo: © Michael Cockerham 2013

Great Fosters with a storm brewing.
Photo: © Michael Cockerham 2013

 

It’s the people, stupid!

By , June 11, 2012 4:14 pm

It’s curious that phrases can take on a life of their own. “It’s the economy, stupid” was never actually uttered by Bill Clinton in that form, but it is a phrase that immediately conjures him, and references the economic recession of the early 1990s. More interesting still is the idea that those four words are so perfectly conceived that they can be changed and the reference is still beautifully clear. Sometimes photos can do that too, but that is not what this (very overdue) post is about.

primary school children play the classic payground game hopscotch

Primary school children play the classic payground game hopscotch. © Michael Cockerham

I have always been of the opinion that the the measure of any institution is the people in it. The word “church” for instance, refers not to buildings (although it is usually meant that way now) but to the people who form it. The best institutions have the best people, and I would rather deal with great people who lack the latest equipment, than with mediocre people with the latest of everything.

Primary school teacher plays with the children

Primary school teacher plays with the children. © Michael Cockerham

Under the last government a huge amount of money was pumped into updating all sorts of things, in particular, schools. But then came the crunch, the crash and the recession. Schools now are lucky to see investment in their often dilapidated buildings. But in the new market they have to compete for  students with neighbouring institutions which may have had tens of millions of investment only two or three years ago. Some heads might take the view that competition was impossible, but the enlightened realise that it doesn’t matter how new the infrastructure is if you don’t have thehighest calibre of people within it. I have been approached by a number of such schools in recent months to shoot imagery for websites, brochures and prospectuses. The brief is simple: show that the children are happy, well-balanced and thriving, and that the staff enjoy their work. The physical school can melt into the background.

Primary school children play outside at break

Primary school children play outside at break. © Michael Cockerham

As a father of three young children myself, I say, “amen to that!”

A good rule of thumb

By , November 10, 2011 3:05 pm

Spend any great length of time working as a professional photographer, and you learn quickly not to become too absorbed in your subject. Why? Because if you do you fail to look around and see what else might be happening. Yesterday is a case in point. On the set of a short film I had a specific job to do and it did require my concentrated attention, but I still found a moment to look 90 degrees to my left when I was struck by this wonderful light. I let go of my tripod mounted camera, pulled the X100 to my eye and tripped the shutter.

Then it was back to the main action.

The scene to my left as I was on the set of a TV advert.

The scene to my left as I was on the set of a TV advert. Photo: © Michael Cockerham 2011

Changing numbers

By , September 28, 2011 2:37 pm

If you have been alive long enough you will know that periodically the national telephone companies will announce that they are adding an extra digit to phone numbers because they are running out. There is always a bit of an outcry that we will have to remember ever longer numbers and that businesses have to spend a fortune reprinting all their stationery etc, but in the end we all get used to it. I remember when my London phone number started 01, then it became 081, then 0181, and then 020. No doubt there will be more.

So what has all this to do with photography? Well, not a lot. But it does have to do with this site and my main site. At the moment the internet uses something called the IPv4 protocol. Designed in the 1970s, it was built to accommodate about 4 billion devices connecting to the network. That seemed like a lot at the time, but the explosive growth of the internet means we’re closing in on that number. In order to allow the internet to continue to grow, a new protocol has been created: IPv6.

Unfortunately, the IPv4 and IPv6 networks are incompatible. Unless you have a gateway of some kind if you’re on one you can’t visit websites on the other. And, even more unfortunately, the gateway solutions typically are hardware-based and cost tens of thousands of dollars per website to deploy. This means that most of the world’s websites are unavailable for the 1% of the internet that is already using IPv6, and the percentage of users on IPv6-only networks is only going to grow.

Without putting too fine a point on it, I will be buggered if I intend to sit idly by while my web presence becomes less and less visible, but equally I do not have the tens of thousands of dollars to invest in beating the problem. As a result I have recently begun using CloudFlare, a free online based resource that improves user experience of my website, and as of today allows me to make my sites IPv6 ready. If you have a website, it might be worth your looking into this too.


ipv6 ready

 

With thanks to CloudFlare for the info and the solution.

You couldn’t make it up!

By , April 6, 2010 12:37 pm

The Digital Economy Bill is to be debated in the Commons this afternoon, and I suspect its advocates in the House are hoping it can be dealt with swiftly and passed into law before Parliament is dissolved. You can be sure that Blue Filter will be keeping an eye in proceedings and reporting the outcome. In the meantime, if you want a staggering example of why this legislation is so important read Jeremy Nicholls’ highly informative post on the Russian Photos Blog. Really… it defies belief.

The threat to our living

By , February 17, 2010 3:44 pm

The government’s drive to enact the Digital Economy Bill before the general election poses, potentially, a far greater risk to professional photography as we know it than the digital revolution itself.

Much has been written on this quite eloquently already for example here, so rather than rehash, it makes more sense to take the problem up directly with our MPs. One wonders exactly how that will pan out given the numbers who have nothing to fight for, but I feel it is worth at least stating a case rather than lying down without a fight. On that basis I have written the following letter to two MPs – Derek Conway (Independent) who is the MP for the constituency in which I have my office, and Michael Fallon (Cons) who represents the constituency where I have my home.

I will post the responses when and if I get them. In the meantime I strongly urge you to do the same where ever you are. And by the way, if you are reading this as an amateur photographer, don’t be fooled into thinking this does not affect you. If you take pictures and post them on the internet, it probably affects you more than it does the pros.

Dear Derek Conway/Michael Fallon,

I should like to ask how you stand on the proposed Digital Economy Bill.

As a professional photographer of over 15 years based/living in your constituency, I am extremely concerned about the elements of the proposed legislation surrounding “orphan works”, and indeed anything that undermines my right as the author of creative works to be the sole controller of how and if such works are used. That right of control has been the mainstay of my living throughout my adult life. When on occasion I have discovered that my work has been used without my consent I have had the right in law to be recompensed and demand that the illegal use be stopped.

The proposed legislation will in effect remove that right, since there is no balancing item in the bill that requires publishers of such works to maintain a link between the works and their authors. Neither does the bill specify what would constitute a “diligent search” for the author of a given work. Once a work has been deemed to be “orphan” it can be used subject to a nominal payment to a government organisation. If the author subsequently comes forward, he or she gets a percentage of what was probably already a derisory sum, with the rest going to cover administrative costs and no doubt the government.

But how are such fees to be determined? A couple of years ago an editor approached me to use an image of mine she had come across, on the cover of her magazine. I rejected the request because I did not want to be associated with that publication, but had I agreed, the appropriate fee would have been nearly a thousand pounds. If this bill is enacted, a similar editor could find such an image, not be able to “discern” that it was mine, and pay a nominal fee for its use. What then? My work is used in a way I find objectionable, and on discovering its use, my recompense is a percentage of a figure that we all know is going to be significantly lower than it should have been.

If you wonder how likely this might be, consider that it is quite common when works are supplied to a client, for the layout process to strip (not necessarily deliberately) all the embedded IPTC data that indicates the provenance of the work, in effect orphaning work that had been carefully “marked” for ownership.

I accept that the issue of Intellectual Property in the digital age needs to be reexamined, but the bill as it stands while addressing key issues for the music and movie industries, is hammering a nail in the coffin of professional photography at a time when it was just starting to show a solid potential for growth following the digital revolution. When it is also dealing with the near collapse of traditional editorial markets, and the negative effects of a deep recession, the last thing we need is for our political representatives to hand over our near lifeless corpse to Mr Murdoch and his friends on a silver platter.

I hope I can rely on you to push for the bill to be reexamined paying particular attention to its effects on all forms of professional photography at its next reading in the House.

For further information on this pressing issue please read the following.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cockerham
Member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Haiti – avoiding the disaster porn

By , February 3, 2010 10:33 am

Much has been written recently about the unseemliness of some of the journalism (of all types) that has been coming out of Haiti since the earthquake. Some of it has been branded a kind of pornography of despair that has had more to do with raising the currency of the news organisations and/or journalists than about objective news reporting. Indeed, Foto 8 has posted an insightful piece that considers if the experience of Haiti thus far should lead us to examine whether a new approach to reporting such events is overdue.

It has become commonplace whenever some major incident, particularly a natural disaster, hits some unsuspecting part of the world, for the fora of photojournalism in particular to crackle into life with every camera swinging wannabe trying to get snippets of info so they can insert themselves into “theatre” with the expectation that it is going to launch their careers. In all likelihood, it won’t.

There are, though, still some glowing examples of how it should be. Brussels-based photographer, Bruno Stevens, has published this powerful, poignant, but more importantly, balanced piece. It documents without being judgemental or overly visceral. All the issues that have been raised about Haiti are there, but the pictures do the talking by themselves. Perhaps most important of all the images are about the plight of the Haitians, not about Bruno Stevens.

To help Haiti, give here.

UPDATE: I have just listened to this, broadcast on Radio 4′s Today programme. It could not be more apposite. McCullin has a major retrospective of his career opening at the Imperial War Museum’s Manchester galleries on February 6th – it will move to London next year.

Notes from the VisCom Classroom: A Tale of Two Students

By , January 9, 2010 12:08 pm

A very worthwhile post on Black Star Rising about not selling yourself short. If you intend to be a photographer for a living, take heed:

This is a tale of two photography students. One sold some pictures to a client and was bummed out. Another failed to land an assignment but ended up feeling

via Notes from the VisCom Classroom: A Tale of Two Students.

The Big Day

By , October 8, 2009 2:03 pm

A wonderful, if cautionary, tale was posted today on the BBC News Magazine pages about the hazards of inept wedding photographers, and it is well worth a read for aspiring photographers and prospective couples alike.

Ever since the digital revolution there has been this misconception that everything is easier (and quicker and cheaper) than it used to be in the days of film. This article seems a good point to set a few things straight.

Let’s start with the “easier” part. In the old days – by which I mean pre-digital – most people accepted their limitations as photographers. It was not uncommon for people to have photos from their summer holiday on one roll of film sandwiched between Christmas pictures at the start and end of the roll. Even the more snap happy did not kid themselves over their talent or lack thereof, because when they picked their photos up from the processor they usually found they had a couple of good(ish) photos, with thirty odd that went straight in the bin. Thus it was that “real” photographers were seen to be performing some kind of alchemy, producing excellent work from one end of the film to the other in seemingly impossible conditions. By and large wedding practitioners were shooting on Hasselblads or Rolleiflexes (my preferred medium format kit) – cameras that the average Joe never saw let alone knew what to do with. As a result, when people got married, they expected to use professionals to get the pictures. Don’t get me wrong, there were some really dreadful photographers around, but the proportion was rather lower than I expect it is now.

Then came the revolution. The average Joe could see what he was shooting instantly, and as he scrolls through the images he has on the back of his camera anyone would think he had talent. The problem is, that while we wince at the cost of throwing away prints from negatives, deleting files has no effect on us. Most people changing from film to digital have got no better – their hit rate is much the same, deleting thirty something pictures for every couple they keep. The simple fact is, whether someone is shooting on film or a chip, they still have to understand the effects of shutter speed and aperture, sensitivity and light, focus and composition, lens choice and – most importantly of all – subject. A good photographer will take good photos even with dreadful equipment. A bad photographer will produce crap no matter how expensive their kit. And that is not all. One of the ironies of “easier” digital is that it is actually less forgiving of mistakes than film was. With film (negative, less the pedants point to the unforgiving nature of transparency) your exposure could be off by a stop and a half in either direction and you could still get an acceptable print. With digital, overexposure is a real problem to recover from, and shadows can block up pretty quickly too, although to be fair the dynamic range of the latest generation of digital SLRs is much better than it was. How much of a problem is this for the unsuspecting “wedding photographer”? Well, imagine photographing the wedding of a very pale skinned man from Dundee in a black morning coat to a deep black skinned woman in a white dress on a bright sunny (I’m talking 500th at f8) day. You have to get detail in everything – it’s no good telling the bride and groom that it was too sunny, they want to see their faces and the detail in what they are wearing. If you are not bang on with the exposure you might as well forget it.

Then comes the “quicker” bit. In the old days (sorry, I sound like Uncle Albert in Only Fools!) at the end of a wedding you could drop the film in to your chosen professional lab (important to qualify “professional” – the people working in them are highly skilled technicians rather than school leavers who have been told which buttons to press). The best ones would stagger the process with other photographers’ work, that way if something went wrong chances were that you would lose a few shots rather than loads. A couple of days later you picked up the negs and the proofs, marked them up, filed the negs, and waited for the happy couple to get back from the honeymoon. Now we have “post-production”.

The average punter tends to be a bit bemused by this, after all they take pictures and just look at them on their computer. The explanation, sadly, is not straight forward.

Unprocessed image

Unprocessed image

In essence consumer cameras process the image files to make them instantly pleasing to look at, while professional spec cameras do not, the reason being that the cameras are designed to give the user as much leeway as possible to produce the right results for the right output. For instance, a picture that has been optimised for a computer, and is only ever going to be looked at on a computer, looks dreadful if it is printed, and a file that is great for a big print, is way too big for use online. The adjustments that need to be made for each type of use are not the same, so there cannot be a one size fits all approach to processing the pictures in camera. The majority of good photographers shoot RAW files rather than JPEGs. That is, the camera saves all of the raw data from the image that falls on the sensor. These files tend to be flat, lifeless and soft, and bear little relationship to the view that the photographer sought to capture. In a very real sense the move to a RAW work flow has taken professional photography back to the days of negatives, where (to paraphrase the great Ansel Adams) the original file is akin to a musical score, and the final JPEG is the performance. Unlike the film days, though, the post-production can’t just be handed over to a lab – well it can, but wedding customers are unlikely to want to bear the cost. As a result it falls on the photographer to do it him or herself, and this can easily be another day on top of the wedding: the one day’s work of old just became two for no additional money.

post processed image

post processed image

Just to be clear, post-production in this context does not mean “photoshopping” – that is, to add and subtract bits from the picture – rather it is about balancing the colours, getting the contrast right and fine tuning the exposure – exactly the kinds of things that labs did with film. Once the basic post-production and editing (taking out the images where people are blinking etc) is done, the files can be converted to JPEGS to create proofs, either physical, or (more commonly these days) online. But the work does not stop there. Each file needs to have a distinct file name (no good having the generic file name DSC_1025 on 17 different shoots, you’ll never find what you are looking for again!), and the original RAWS need to be backed up several times, preferably in different geographical locations. Why? Well, in short, hard drives fail; not so much a matter of if but when. Furthermore, computers are likely targets for thieves, so having things in different locations is a fail safe against losing all your work. With negatives the only real risk was from fire or water damage; to the best of my knowledge they never had the habit of suddenly not working – unless of course they were not properly fixed, but that’s why you didn’t get them processed at the chemist.

That brings us to “cheaper”. The simple fact is that the saving on film is minuscule, especially set against the expense of the equipment required. A pro-spec film camera would have set you back about £1500, and they tended to last for five to ten years provided they were maintained. It is worth noting that Nikon only ever released 6 professional camera bodies, and look at the dates of their going to market, and then compare this to the release dates of their digital bodies:

FILM BODIES                                                    DIGITAL BODIES

  • Nikon F     1959                                              Nikon D1     June 1999
  • Nikon F2   1971                                              Nikon D1x  February 2001
  • Nikon F3   1980                                              Nikon D2x  September 2004
  • Nikon F4   1988                                              Nikon D3x  December 2008
  • Nikon F5    1996
  • Nikon F6    2004

In essence they were releasing a new camera to market at the rate one a decade (compared with four digital bodies in under ten years), and the last one, the F6 (still available) came as a complete shock since no one thought Nikon would bother releasing a new design well after the digital revolution. With digital bodies though, the pace of change has been breathtaking, with pro-spec bodies costing around £3500 and needing updating every couple of years. Over a ten year period film cameras would have cost £3000, while digital bodies will set you back about £14000. Before you say that you can buy a DSLR for £300, remember that if you are doing this for a living you will likely be shooting over a hundred thousand frames a year; the cheap bodies just can’t cope, and your wedding customers won’t be pleased if your kit stops functioning because you were too cheap to get the right stuff – that reminds me, you do need to have at least two cameras, just in case one packs up on a shoot… don’t say it won’t happen: it will. Then there are the lenses, the flashguns, the spare flashguns, the memory cards, the batteries and chargers, the tripods, the bags (believe me, they aren’t cheap). Once you have shot all your images, you need to be able to process them on a computer, and the first time you try to deal with a 30Mb to 50Mb file on an insufficiently powered machine you’ll be beating a track to the shops to spend a fortune on something more powerful that can cope with processing four or five hundred such files at a a time. And remember my warning on storage and back up? Much more expensive than filing negs.

So that’s the cost of the equipment dealt with. Then there is professional insurance (which I bet the subject of the BBC story wishes he had) at about a thousand pounds a year, and don’t forget to factor in the time for all the meetings with the customer before and after the wedding, and the time required to do the layouts and revisions for their storybook. All told you can be looking at five days in total on one couple. With the cost of the book production at about £350, the depreciation of the equipment plus other overheads, a photographer charging £1500 for a wedding might be getting about £120 a day – not quite as extortionate as the headline rate would have you believe, and even that assumes they are shooting 52 weddings a year and most are not.

The reality is that traditionally wedding photographers made their living from print sales. The pictures would be so good (hopefully) that relatives and friends of the couple would order a few prints each. The widespread use of compact cameras knocked that in the 1990s, so the best photographers had to up their game and get pictures that were so much better than everyone else’s that they still had good sales. The crap photographers just made demands that no one else was allowed to use cameras at the weddings they were working on. I have heard of this so many times, and it still makes me shake my head with disbelief. The question you have to ask is: how much confidence have such photographers got in their own ability if they can’t stand the competition from people who have no idea what they are doing? Personally I have no problem with guests taking pictures at weddings I work on, in fact I often give them tips on how to take better pictures.

The real threat to print sales has not been guests with cameras, but rather the editors of bridal magazines recommending that couples ask (or demand) that photographers “give them a DVD with all the pictures on”. Why? They never recommended that photographers give the couple the negatives, but for some reason they think the democratising effect of the PC makes handing over your work perfectly legitimate. The day I had a the editor of a bridal magazine ask me to supply one of my images for the cover of her magazine (she cold called me) while informing me that she would not be paying me and I had to take out a four month advertising contract with them was the day they lost all my respect. Personally I would like to string the lot of them up, and if you think I am being petulant consider what the publishers’ response would be if prospective brides asked to be given copies of the magazine (rather than paying for them) using the argument, “well you have already written it and printed it, so what use is it to you now?” Rightly the response would be that it is copyright material, and if people want it they have to pay for it. So it should go for wedding photos. Any photographer who values their work should offer to supply a disc for a rate commensurate with the average sales that they would expect to get for a given wedding; if that is a thousand pounds, then the price of a disc should be in that region. If your photographer offers you the disc for nothing what does that tell you about how much they value their work?

The thing is, many photographers might consider the effect on sales of giving a disc (and I am not even talking about copyright, that’s a whole other issue), but very few seem to think about the effect on their credibility. Consider this:

You spend a fortune on equipment; you strive to produce the best photos you can; you toil over colour and density correcting all the files, and making sure the unsharp masking is just right; you hand over a disc of perfect files in a recognised colour space; the couple put them in their computer; the monitor is not calibrated and profiled, so they fiddle to make them look right; they print them on cheap paper with cheap inks with no colour management or profile, but plenty of banding and colour casts; they then show these to everyone they know as examples of YOUR work. What does that do for your reputation? One of those friends was thinking about getting in touch with you to shoot their wedding… not anymore they’re not!

Bruce and Claire - Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

Bruce and Claire - Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

One correspondent to the BBC article – Caroline from Winchester – said: “Your mates know how to take your best picture.” I disagree. Your mates know what is you and what isn’t, but they do not necessarily know how to take a good picture of you. Virtually every wedding I do there will be someone who puts on a mock display of not wanting their photo taken: “I look terrible in photographs,” they say. If Caroline was right no one would ever say that. Eventually I get them to give me two seconds of their time, and the response is always the same: “that’s reeeally nice!” Why are they surprised? If you only ever had your hair cut by your mates (assuming they are not all hair dressers) you would soon come to the conclusion that it was impossible for your hair to be cut nicely. Likewise since most people’s experience of having their photograph taken is by their mates, they labour under the misapprehension that they are not photogenic.

Ultimately a good wedding photographer needs to be at the top of their game. There is a huge amount to do in a very short space of time, and unlike virtually every other area of photography, there are no second chances. There are many top flight photographers working in different genres that don’t do weddings. Some claim that it is beneath them, others – possibly more honestly – don’t want the responsibility.

Photography is only a small part of what is involved. Most of it is being able to get a large group of people to do what you want and enjoy it – part drill sergeant, part stand-up comic. You have to be patient, but firm. You have to know when to take control and when to let people enjoy their day. I have a rule of thumb: while I might want to take the best photographs I can, it has to take second place to the couple having the best possible wedding day. A few years ago I was shooting a wedding when my camera informed me that it had formatted everything I had shot up to that point. It has the greatest laxative effect of anything I have ever known! But this is where professionalism and experience come to the fore. My options were either to have a fit, start swearing madly and tell the couple they would have to repeat everything; or hide my terror, take stock of where I was, figure out what I could re-shoot without alerting anyone that anything was amiss, and try to carry on as normal. The first option ensures that no one ever hires you again, the second ensures that the couple continue to have a dream wedding and if worse comes to worse you deal with the consequences on another day. As it happens by about two o’clock the following morning I had become something of an expert in forensic data retrieval, and all was recovered – the couple had no idea anything was ever amiss.

So the answer to the BBC’s question, how hard is it to photograph a wedding? Harder than simply pressing a button might make you think.

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