Category: Soap box

Style and substance – the outcome

By , November 6, 2013 2:13 pm

After all the teasing, we have the outcome, but is there an answer to my earlier question?

The fourth video in Nikon’s teaser series was set in that wonderful city of Edinburgh, and it reminded me of this photo which I took while I was there to deliver a speech just under a year ago. I was, as I recall, pacing the bitterly cold streets trying to arrange my thoughts in some coherent order, and looking for inspiration when I came across this scene.

Edinburgh at dusk, seeking inspiration.

Edinburgh at dusk. Photo: © Michael Cockerham 2012

I rather like the quiet contemplative nature of this image, which was very much at odds with what you do not see, namely Princes Street with pre-Christmas bustle. It was taking this image that started to give order to my thoughts, and the speech I gave the following day was a great success as a result. Perhaps then, when you view the fourth of the Nikon videos, the reason why I should think of this one image will become clearer. But it also raises some questions, now we know what the tease was all about.

With great fanfare, Nikon have launched the Df. A full-frame DSLR with retro styling, and more than a nod to the idea of beating obsolescence. I will not embark on a detailed review of what this machine can and cannot do, as there are more than enough equipment fans doing that already. What I am more interested in is whether the marketing is just hype, or whether (as the title of these posts suggests) there might be some substance to go with the style.

To be fair to Nikon, they have created a camera which is backwards compatible with all but three (I believe this is correct) of the lenses that have been created for the venerable F mount. Suddenly lenses which may have had no value in the modern age will have an attraction for the very real and different qualities which they can bring to image making. That is not just style, it hugely expands the range of tools available to photographers. It is something which no other camera manufacturer could do, with the exception of Leica. Canon and Minolta and all the others abandoned their lens mounts around the time that autofocus was invented in the late 1980s. Nikon, however, took the view that cameras were not as important to photographers as lenses, and the Df is a natural extension of that philosophy. It is a philosophy for which they should rightly be praised.

Nikon Df

Nikon Df

One of the other intriguing things about the pre-launch tease was the suggestion implicit in the six videos (the fifth and sixth are at the bottom of this post) that “pure” photographers are British and love Scotland – which is of course true! The “pure” photographer is a refined person who likes to be at one with his or her thoughts, and the image making comes as a deep-seated emotional or visceral reaction to the circumstances in which he or she finds themselves. It is undeniably poetic nonsense. But like all such things, it rings with an element of truth, and that resonance is what makes the marketing so successful. The world is overrun with people who want to be “photographers” not because they are interested in the world around them, but because they like the idea of the way it makes them look – serious, comtemplative and erudite; at one with the real issues of the world. It is a kind of mock-bohemian ideal, a 21st century equivalent to the 60s beat generation. Photography in the digital age offers a fast track entry to creativity with none of the apparent hurdles of training, skill or talent. The reality is of course at odds with this, and we find ourselves drowning in a sea of visual sewage, to paraphrase Grayson Perry in this year’s BBC Reith Lectures.

Nikon’s launch of the Df yesterday was accompanied by suggestions that it was a future classic. Many have suggested that this is wishful thinking, but the truth is that only time will tell. My interest in this camera comes about only because I was about to buy the D4, and it stands to reason that I would want to see if this camera could meet my needs as a working photographer. On the face of it the answer is yes, but looking deeper I have some reservations which will only be resolved once I have had the chance to try it for myself. Each of the reservations is a little thing taken on its own, but collectively I think they undermine Nikon’s attempt to create the “future classic” for “pure photography”.

Firstly, it stands to reason that Nikon would assume serious photographers attracted to the Df would frequently already be Nikon users – hence the desire to make it backwards compatible with the entire lens lineup since 1959. That suggests such people would already be using cameras like the D4, D800, D3, D2 etc. All of these cameras use only, or offer the choice to use, compact flash cards. The Df, however, is SD card only, and while the other cameras mentioned have dual slots, the Df appears only to have one. The dual slot is not just about capacity, it is also about backup. With film photographers when they were processing, but in the digital era it is not unknown for memory cards to fail, or for cameras to suddenly format data for no apparent reason. The dual slot gave workign photographers the chance to work without fear about the security of the images, so by offering only one slot with the Df, Nikon has undermined the attempt to give photographers that relaxed and carefree walk through the highlands which the marketing promises.

Secondly, my cameras get used heavily, and while the D4 has a shutter mechanism tested for 300,000 cycles, the Df is only tested to half that number. True, it is only half the price of the D4, so one could buy two, but it necessarily leads one to wonder how well built the Df actually is. The marketing material says that it has the weather-sealing of the D800, but frankly if I want to be out in Scottish weather, I think I would rather have a Nikonos. OK, I am taking the mick, but the D4 would have no problems with inclement conditions – I would be a bit more circumspect with the D800.

Thirdly, even in the days before autofocus, one of my favourite cameras was the Minolta X700 with its motordrive, which allowed for an extra shutter release with the camera in portrait orientation. All of Nikon’s pro-spec DSLRs have either had such a release built in, or available as part of an optional battery pack. Not so with the Df. Admittedly one of the draws of the Df is that it is very light for what it is, the portability being its great selling point compared to much heavier bodies, but that is at odds with its purist ideals – if the purist of purists Ansel Adams could climb the mountains of Yosemite with a 10×8 Deardorff I think we can cope with a couple of extra ounces  – one might argue that a purist’s camera would cater for all approaches. Indeed, the mechanical marvel that was the FM2 had the option of a motordrive, so it does seem an odd ommission not even to have the possibility of this being introduced later for the Df. Just in case you are wondering, I have seen nothing written about this anywhere, but a simple view of the bottom plate of the camera shows that there is no lug-hole to allow registration with a pin one would normally expect on an accessory batter pack.

Finally, there is the styling itself which I think is a distraction. Don’t get me wrong, I love dials over buttons, but it seems to me that all of the things Nikon wanted to achieve with the Df could have been done without the retrostyling for its own sake and that includes the dials. In the final analysis, pure photography is actually about what you are taking a picture of, and not what you are taking it with.

The outcome then is that it is almost all style without substance. Aside from the facility to use any Nikon lens made, nothing about the Df is revolutionary in any way. Is it any good? Like any other camera it really depends on who is behind it and their relationship with what is in front of it. I will reserve judgement until I have had a chance to play. It may well be that I get one, but it will be because of whether it will cope with what I throw at it, not because of what it looks like.

Not very green at all, it would seem.

By , April 2, 2013 10:01 am

It’s taken a couple of weeks, but I have finally had a reply from the Executive Assistant to the MD of Samsung UK. It reads:

Dear Mr Cockerham,

Thank you for your email addressed to our Managing Director, which you forwarded on to me.

We have considered your communication and will not be commenting further.

Well, I’m glad that’s sorted out then. Clearly any pretence that Samsung might make towards being ethically driven and environmentally conscious can be seen to be just that: a pretence.

I have to be fair to Samsung, because contrary to what they might think I like to be balanced and objective. So in the interests of balance what are the possible reasons for them declining the invitation to comment?

Firstly they might think I am not serious and therefore they wish to call my bluff. I’d porbably do the same. In the meantime they will be drawing up a formal response just in case the story/question actually does make it to the mainstream media. In effect, this is the keeping your powder dry approach, and by asking the question they are now forewarned. I hope this is the case.

Second option is that they hadn’t thought of this problem of perception, they are crapping themselves that the story will break as they have no proper response and know that they will come in for a storm of damaging criticism to which they have no real reply.

Third option: they are a huge company making products that well-off people and companies buy, and they don’t really care.

My own feeling is that if there is a good reason for this practice they should have just come clean with it now, as that will be less damaging in the long term, but I suspect that it is driven by nothing more than greed.

I wonder what else is not quite what they would like it to appear?

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

 

Pocket the difference, now that’s wizard!

By , June 29, 2012 11:40 am

Nothing upsets me quite like the blatant profiteering that exists within the photographic equipment industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that specialist equipment has to be developed and that has a price. For example I can fully understand why the Nikon D4 costs over £5000, and I think that the price is completely justified. Similarly, I think that Pocket Wizards (build quality questions not withstanding) are worth the money. What gets my goat is the small items that photographers often require which are not specialist equipment as such, but for which we are expected to pay ludicrous amounts of money because they are sold by photographic equipment manufacturers to a seemingly-captive audience which tends to behave like lemmings.

Take, for instance, the sync cable required to connect a Pocket Wizard (henceforth, PW) to a studio flash unit. Frankly, this ought to be supplied with the Pocket Wizard itself, but it isn’t; it’s an optional extra. Now there are also PW cables to connect to all sorts of proprietary flash systems and clearly these have to be developed and they should cost more than might be palatable as well as being optional extras. But the cable for studio flash is a little different in my view. It has a mono 3.5mm jack on one end, and a mono 6.3mm jack on the other. PW sell two different versions of this: a 1m cable and a 3m cable. The former sells for £14.99 and the latter for £11.99 (yeah, go figure!?)

I don’t know about you, but given that these are very standard jacks I think the price is exorbitant, bordering on profiteering.

My response? I’m a photographer; I’m supposed to be creative; I’ll look for alternatives.

The first thing I found was a manufacturer called KARLite which offers an alternative for £7.98. This company also offered a more realistic delivery charge of only £2.50 compared to the £4.99 charged by most of the photographic retailers. So far I was looking at a potential saving of £9.50. No small saving, and a significant improvement for sure, but I couldn’t help noticing that it was still aimed at photographers, and I could small the rip-off. So I searched some more but this time with a little creative, lateral, thinking. Who uses jacks like these? The music and entertainment industry.

Enter Stagebeat with their 2 metre (half way between the two PW options) patch lead for only £2.99 plus delivery at £2.95. Total price: £5.94. Total saving: £14.04. In my book, that’s wizard!

If Pocket Wizard made an MP2 this would be it, but not at this price!

Would you pay £15 for this? No neither would I. Thanks Stagebeat, I hope this drums up some business for you.

Resumption of service

By , July 28, 2010 11:37 am

I apologise, dear readers. It has been far too long since I wrote anything.  My last post came just days before the birth of my third child – you will be hearing more about him – and so much has happened since then. So much to extole and praise. But I need to get on my soapbox first.

A recent post on Black Star Rising has attracted a lot of attention, and I find myself fuming because of the illogical responses of so many commentators. I feel like screaming out “get over yourselves!” For some reason photography attracts a type of person who feels they have a God given right to be a professional photographer, and they regard the fact that they don’t earn a living as everyone’s fault except theirs. The reality is that not everyone who wants to be a photographer can be one. That might seem harsh, but it is no different to saying that not everyone can be a Premiership footballer or Oscar winning actor. The problem is that it is almost impossible to “pose” as the footballer or actor, but so easy to pick up a camera and say “I am a photographer”. All you need to do is show evidence of your work and you’re all set, right? Well it might be, if you charged. And there is nothing worse than hearing “photographers” complaining that there is no money to be made – there is, you just have to ask for it, like any other business.

The last exchange of comments between “Jonathan” and me, were, I thought, worthy of publishing on Blue Filter. Interesting to see what others make of it all:

Jonathan said:
July 26th, 2010 at 5:23 pm

This sounds like someone who is quite bitter. It’s not the 80′s anymore folks! Budgets are smaller! It’s sad – but right now, NOBODY knows what the photo budgets of the future will look like. Who knows if they will exist at all… All the bitching in the world is not going to stop the YOUNG, TALENTED, and PASSIONATE photographers of tomorrow working for $0. In terms of gear/money, all you need is a consumer level camera and cheap computer…

Michael said:
July 27th, 2010 at 9:36 am

@ Jonathan. Your comment is astonishingly ill-conceived.

Yes budgets are smaller than they were. True, no one knows what the budgets of tomorrow will look like. BUT, there is always going to remain a demand for professional photography in whatever form that it exists. As long as there is media of any type, there will be a demand for professionally crafted images. The key word in that statement is “professionally”. If a person or organisation approaches a photographer to ask them to produce images (be they social, editorial or commercial in nature), then they exhibit a demand. It is, always has been, and always will be the case that anyone expressing a demand for a commercial transaction should be prepared to pay for the service. Absolutely every other person involved in the provision of a website, brochure, magazine, advert, TV programme, print etc will have been paid for their input. For some reason it is ONLY photographers that seem to labour under the misapprehension that it is OK to work for nothing. Why? Primarily because they go to college to be taught how to take pretty pictures of trees and leaves and rusting car wrecks, but no one thinks it is necessary to teach them anything about running a business. As a result, when they enter the big bad world of commerce they feel as though they shouldn’t really be there, and are embarrassed to talk about money.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard “photographers” start a negotiation by saying “my rate is $xxx, but I am prepared to negotiate”. For goodness sake, don’t undermine yourself by offering to negotiate before the client has had a chance to respond to your “rate”.

Jonathan, you state: “All the bitching in the world is not going to stop the YOUNG, TALENTED, and PASSIONATE photographers of tomorrow working for $0.” My response to that is that if they are not being paid, they are not working. Remember, there is a qualitative difference between working for nothing and working for free. It is normal for photographers to approach others and offer to work for free for someone because it gives them access to something tangible and significant that helps their careers. But if someone approaches you there have to be very very compelling reasons for agreeing to work without pay.

It’s all very well saying that all you need is a consumer level camera and a cheap computer. I disagree with that statement, but even if I agree with it, these things still have to paid for. How exactly are the “YOUNG, TALENTED, and PASSIONATE photographers of tomorrow working for $0″ going to pay for these things (and that is without mentioning PI, PL, EL, and equipment insurance, or all the other costs of business, and don’t even think about paying rent, feeding yourself, having a life etc etc.)

The real reason that this problem exists in the industry is there is a perception of glamour. There are so many people who want to call themselves “photographers” and they just can’t get a break by charging, so they prostitute themselves instead and do it for nothing. But that act undermines the industry they want to see themselves as a part of. It is more of an issue since the digital revolution because they can strafe the subject and hope they get a few acceptable hits. When I started out you actually had to understand exposure and composition and film characteristics because you could not afford to waste materials. I used to have an annual lab bill of $40,000. You can only afford that if you are charging to do the work. Just because there is no film cost does not mean that there are no costs. My pro spec cameras get worn out in about two years. In practice, every time I press the shutter release it costs about 3 cents. If you buy a consumer level camera it will actually cost more, not less. Then start looking at storage costs, backing up, software and computer upgrade costs. How are you going to pay for that if you work for nothing?

In the UK for the last few years there have been 10,000 people annually gaining some form of photographic qualification, chasing at best 500 jobs (and that is being generous). The competition is already really huge. Neither I, nor any other good photographer I know, has any problem with competition. But the reality is that whether you charge or not, if you are setting out, the likelihood is that you will NOT succeed. It is not enough to be a great photographer, you have to be a good business person too. In fact, the vast majority of successful professional photographers are not and never will be considered to be “great”, but they are good business people. That, whether you or anyone else reading this post likes it or not, is an absolute irrefutable fact. Where there are exceptions, those people employ agents or managers to look after their business affairs – and you show me an agent that sells their photographer to a client for free. In fact, it is well known that the reason for using an agent is that they will get a MUCH higher fee for their photographers than the photographers would get themselves. So much higher, that even with a 50% commission the photographer is usually better off.

So, where to do we stand with this whole working for free thing? I’ll tell you where I stand: a customer approaches me and asks what I charge. I tell them. If they say that they cannot stretch their budget that far, I will discuss with them what they can pay and what, realistically I can offer them. If we cannot reach a compromise, I walk away. I know that they will go to someone who works for less, and I have no problem with that. What I hope is that they do not go to someone who works for free, but if they do, in the long run it is ALL photographers that suffer.

There will be some people who read this that will disagree in a very visceral way. If you are one of those, ask yourself why you feel like that. Then ask yourself if you would do a different job for free. The fact that you like being a “photographer” is not a justification for doing it for nothing. The only justification for doing it for free is as a pastime, in which case the client is you, not some third party.

For myself I am busy and well paid, and I KNOW that that is because I conduct myself professionally and produce good work. I employ professional services to assist me (lawyers for contracts etc), and as a result clients know that I am serious and in business.

Yes I negotiate, but in a business like manner.

For example, I have just taken on a commercial job that the client thought was three days, I made the case strongly that it was simply not possible in so short a space of time, and told them it was at least six days, more likely eight days. After negotiation they agreed to eight days, and I made some concessions on the rate, but they are paying more than three times what they originally thought it was going to cost. Why, because they see that the value I can add to their project will pay them back at least a thousand fold what I am charging them (and trust me I am earning well from it) – in short it makes commercial sense.

And that, in a nutshell, is what every photographer should be asking themselves before they commit to a job: does what I am about to engage in make “commercial sense”? If the answer is always yes, then with luck you will still be a photographer 20 years from now. If not please post back in a few years time and tell us all what you are doing instead… and whether you do it for free.

Jonathan said:
July 27th, 2010 at 1:43 pm

If you don’t like the term “working” than consider the term “volunteering”. Whatever you wanna call it, I speak truthfully when I say that I know of many many cases where a photographer has produced images for a commercial body or magazine for nothing other than a photo credit and bragging rights.

Here’s a pink elephant, my vision of the future (I’m sure this will be very unpopular): Out of all of the folks who call themselves “professional photographers” about 0.1% will be actually paying for all of their costs of business, their mortgage, their assistants, (everything) and turning a profit to boot. They will be shooting for big business clients, ones who want the very “best of the best”. Then there will be about 5% of the “professional photographers” out there who work another job to make ends meet (such as IT) and shoot jobs about once a month. They will be paid, but poorly. Why? Their competition will be so fierce from about the other 94.9% of “professional photographers” who shoot for free or next to free. Oh wait, I’m not talking about the future anymore but rather the present… Hmm..

M, maybe we are coming from different worlds. I shoot fashion. I assisted some quite well known fashion photographers in the early 2000’s. After looking at your site, I see you shoot different things than I do. I like your pictures and I can see your talent would be an asset to a commercial client. However, the fashion budgets are horrific right now. I am assuming that the rest of the markets are not doing so well either, judging from the comments above.

All you really do need is a consumer level camera and a cheap computer. These kidos generally already have a computer. The camera can be gotten. The part time job maybe could finance it? Bank of mom and dad? Or Visa? What about the cost of doing business? Well, you said it yourself; these people are not actually working. So, they’re not actually doing business. Equipment insurance? Why insure a $1000 camera? Paying rent? Feeding yourself? Uh, thin is in… Bottom line is though, these kids are talented and produce images at no cost to clients. So yeah, “clients” are happy and (most importantly) not using the other “professional photographers” (who cost more).

Hey, it sucks. This is what’s going on in my world though and all the photographers out there who read this take warning, it’s coming your way. Try and be in that 0.1 percentile and you’ll be OK. OK?

“It is more of an issue since the digital revolution becasue they can strafe the subject and hope they get a few acceptable hits. When I started out you actually had to understand exposure and compostition and film characteristics because you could not afford to waste materials. I used to have an annual lab bill of $40,000. You can only afford that if you are charging to do the work. Just because there is no film cost does not mean that there are no costs.” You sound just like the guys I assisted and I totally agree with you. However, it also sounds like you’re upset. Again, I don’t blame you. But please, don’t contest what I’m saying. I’m living it. You don’t have to understand film exposure anymore and composition is subjective. Even though pixels do cost money, a lot of people don’t know they do (like a lot of clients) and let’s be honest – they are cheaper, less than a $40,000 lab bill. Storage costs? Computer upgrades? Uh, my MacBook Pro (the 2004/5 model) along with my pirated copy of Photoshop can handle a file from a P45 no problem let alone my digital Rebel. Yeah, it’s a little slower than your MacPro but who cares?! I can’t afford a new computer and it works fine!

“You show me an agent that sells their photographer to a client for free” – I could, but we’re in public. OK, I couldn’t tell you how much the client paid the agent, but I could tell you that the photographer shot the job for free/bragging rights.

“What I hope is that they do not go to someone who works for free, but if they do, in the long run it is ALL photographers that suffer.” Already happening, see pretty much all the comments above as proof.

“The only justification for doing it for free is as a passtime, in which case the client is you, not some third party.” True. We’re going in circles. The clients, in the end, gets nice HighRes photos for free. Neat.

I think you have a good business sense (probably better than mine!) but you are a little in denial about what is happening and where we are going. I know I sound very defeatist. I just hate surprises. I mean, there’s a reason this blog post got written in the first place.

Michael said:
July 27th, 2010 at 6:37 pm
Jonathan, you suggest that I may be upset and in denial. I am far from upset, my business is lean and efficient and turns a decent profit. I own my own house and have a wife and three children, all paid for by photography. My business is growing, and every year I improve my margins by finding more efficient methods of practice. My software is legit, my equipment is top end. In the next three months I expect to upgrade my studio lights, my computer system, my data archives, and my cameras and some lenses. All of this is paid for through a profitable and reasonably well run business. There are still things I could do more efficiently and I address each issue that bothers me in turn. In short, I am far from upset. The digital revolution has been difficult, but I have come through it well placed. Next up is the stills/HD video revolution. Where will that take us I wonder?
As for denial, I have no illusions about what is going on in the industry, and like I said, there are occasions when shooting for free (not for nothing) can make commercial sense. For example, you say you are in the fashion world. Well, I know a photographer (very well known in the fashion world) who shot an entire campaign for a top drawer designer for free. Actually, the shoot cost him about $20,000. It involved A list models, sets, makeup artists, retouchers etc. Why did he do it? Because the designer was so high profile that he was GUARANTEED a ten page spread in every edition of Vogue in the world. It was a loss leader that generated an enormous amount of business for him. Naturally it was a contractual obligation that the designer did NOT tell anyone that he had shot for free. The thing is, he was already shooting for some of the biggest names in entertainment and fashion anyway, and that is how he got the chance to pitch for such a big account.
So what then is my problem? What is it that is making people write blogs like this one? It is the simple fact that I feel like I have come across a group of people who are complaining that their house is burning down, and yet their solution is to pour gasoline (petrol) on the flames!
I am fed up with hearing people moan that there is no money in photography anymore, and then blaming the market, the editors, the art buyers, the PR people… everyone they can think of except themselves. The simple fact is that the people who are screwing the photography industry and making it impossible to earn a living are the photographers, not the buyers. The buyers are responding rationally to a situation created by the glut of people who want to call themselves photographers so much that they will pay for the privilege. Every time a photographer agrees to work for free, or starts a negotiation by saying that they can negotiate on price before the client has responded to the quoted rate, they hammer the nails into the industry’s coffin a little further. It is that that pisses me off.
It is time for photographers around the world to wake up and smell the coffee. It is not that the business has gone sour, it is that they are not treating it as a business. Instead of going to another free Photoshop seminar they should be paying to go to a negotiations workshop. I know of one company that was approached by one of the biggest companies in the world to do some work for them. The company’s response? “You can’t afford us!” Red rag to a bull. It made the approaching party more convinced than ever that they could NOT afford NOT to use them.
Stand outside the world of photography for a moment and look at it dispassionately: none of the arguments make any sense. Yes budgets are getting tighter, that is the reality of the world we are living in at the moment. But in every other industry it mean restructuring to meet the changing climate. Some companies will fail, and others will actually grow through recession. But in no other industry will you see companies working for free – it is a luxury that they cannot afford. As a result, although most sectors have seen falling demand, the industries themselves remain properly balanced. Now consider photography, lets consider fashion specifically, since that is the area you mention. Budgets are constrained, but they still exist. Designers are still trying to run a business, the fashion magazines are still selling and drawing advertising from design houses and companies with lifestyle products and services. Fashion shows are happening, models are being paid, as are set builders, chandlers, make up artists, lighting companies, events coordinators, caterers, security companies, PR agencies… I could go on. All of these people are being paid. So how come when it comes to the photographs – the very things which the fashion industry absolutely needs in order to maintain consumer interest and as a result cash flow – there is suddenly “no budget”. Of course there is budget. But if you were in their position and you KNEW that “young talented and passionate photographers” would work for nothing, what would you do? You would say you have no budget, book someone, and then laugh about their gullibility with your colleagues over a bottle of Bollinger paid for out of the money you saved by not having to pay the photographer. I repeat: it is not THEIR fault, it is OURS.
The facts are these: not everyone that wants to be a photographer can be one. Just like not everyone can be a Hollywood A-lister or drive a Bentley. If ALL photographers stopped this working for nothing (not free) bullshit at once, and started to behave professionally, the future of the industry would start to look very different very quickly. Do you seriously think that if we all charged or refused to work that we’d just have no pictures anywhere anymore? Of course not. The budget would suddenly appear because it was always there, lining the pockets of the clients that should be giving it to you.
You gave me a vision of the future. I’ll give you mine. The number of “professional photographers” will shrink, but there will be plenty of paying work for all of us that treat it as a business, not just as an art. Even the art photographers I know that are successful treat marketing and business very seriously, that is why they are publishing books every year and getting funding. That is why I have signed a commercial contract in the last three months that is worth a quarter of a million dollars over the next three years. What will it take to make my vision come true? It will take everyone that is a photographer, or wants to be a photographer, starting from the basis of believing in themselves and believing that what they do is important and adds value. Know your worth and stick to it. If you think the state of the industry sucks, then do something about it, because our future really is in our hands.

The Digital Economy Bill & the Tories’ position

By , April 9, 2010 6:09 am

Further to my earlier posts I have come home to a letter from Michael Fallon MP (his ears must have been burning) – nice to see that he has taken it on himself to keep me abreast of developments.

Dear Michael Cockeram (sic),

Digital Economy Bill

Thank you for contacting me about this important Bill.

Labour left it disgracefully late to bring this Bill to the Commons, and they are now rushing it through in two days – normally a Bill of this importance would be scrutinised in detail for two months.

Faced with this, our shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has set out the Conservative position. Because we hope to form the next government, I thought you would like to have as much detail as possible, so I am enclosing copies of his speech and of his letter to fellow MPs.

With all best wishes,

Sincerely,

Michael Fallon

From the tone of the letter you could be forgiven for thinking that there was an election in the offing! In all seriousness though, given the degree to which this Bill has caused alarm in the photographic community here and abroad, I thought it was worth sharing these items with you, as well as some thoughts that arise from them.

Firstly, Jeremy Hunt’s letter to his fellow MPs:

Dear Colleague,

I know that a great many of you have been contacted about the Digital Economy Bill. I wanted to get in touch to set out our position on a number of its different aspects as I realise many of them are controversial.

Firstly I share a number of concerns about the constitutional aspects of rushing this Bill through in wash up. It is deeply regrettable that the Government was unable to prioritise Parliamentary time in the House of Commons. It says a great deal about their support for the creative industries that despite considering many of these issues as far back as 2006 they have only now just brought this piece of legislation forward.

Despite these concerns there are a number of very important aspects of this Bill that are needed as soon as possible. Online piracy is a rapidly growing problem for our creative industries and one that we need to tackle. The measures within the Bill designed to block access to websites promoting illegal downloading and tackle illegal peer to peer file sharing set up a relatively weak regime that could, following repeated warnings and due process, lead to people having their internet connection temporarily suspended. It will not, as many have suggested, lead to people being disconnected without an appeal. Even if people are disconnected they will be able to sign up to another ISP immediately without penalty.

Blocking these measures in their entirety would have risked hundreds of thousands of jobs in the TV, film, music and sports industries and therefore not something we are willing to do. However the substantive point to make to your constituents is that widespread concern over these measures would have been assuaged if a committee stage had been allowed for the Bill prior to wsh up. I have no doubt such scrutiny would have improved these measures, a point I made strongly in this afternoon’s debate on the Bill.

There are a number of other aspects of the Bill that we do not find acceptable and we will be doing all we can to remove these during the wash up process. Clause 1 adds an unnecessary duty to the regulator Ofcom which will make little difference to the way they operate. Clause 29 will prop up regional news with tax payer subsidy when we should be looking at long term financially sustainable measures to support local news. Finally, clause 43  tries to create a system that would unlock a large amount of digital content primarily held by the BBC and the British Library whose ownership is unknown. Unfortunately this has been drafted so badly that many rights holders would find their content automatically defined as an orphan work – as such they would lose control over their content. We cannot support these provisions but will return to this issue after the General Election.

I am very happy to discuss any of these issues should you find it helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Hunt

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The key point to note from Mr Hunt’s letter is that they are not against the premise that gave birth to clause 43, only that it was so badly drafted it would create unacceptable problems for people creating content now. Indeed, in his speech during the debate, and in response to a question posed by Dr Julian Lewis (Conservative MP for  New Forest East), Mr Hunt said, “We would like to support the objectives of [clause 43] on orphan works, but unintended consequences occur unless the wording is right.”

On one level photographers should find his statement reassuring, assuming that the Tories find themselves in power in a month’s time. However, when taken with two other statements he made, I suspect we may not be out of the woods yet.

The first is when he said, “We are stating categorically that we reserve the right to review anything that becomes law as a result of the wash-up, if we win the next election, and we will indeed review it if it turns out that the legislation is flawed. … Legislation is urgently needed to protect jobs, and their competitive position. It has taken this Government 13 years to bring these issue before the House, and the industries are worried that if the whole thing is killed now, they might have to wait a very long time…”

The second statement, a little further on: “We agree with the Secretary of State about the critical importance of the digital and creative industries – the largest independent television production sector in the world, the second largest music exporter in the world and,… the third largest film and video games industries in the world. When we desperately need to rebuild a broken economy in proven areas of British competitive advantage, what way is this to treat those industries?”

The question that naturally arises from this position is if Her Majesty’s Opposition is of the opinion that this legislation is so vital in principle, that the industries it affects are so strategically important to the UK economy as a whole, and that the Bill as presented by the government is so fundamentally flawed, why did they not opt to block its passage and commit to introduce a suitable replacement for proper considered debate and detailed committee analysis immediately after the election once they had assumed the reigns of power? If the industries affected have been waiting 13 years for legislative help, surely another six months to get the legislation right is not unthinkable.

It seems reasonable to suppose that they are merely paying lip service to the importance of the legislation and the industries it affects and that they would not find it that urgent a problem to address after the election, although I could be charitable and suggest that they recognise the fickle nature of the electorate and did not want to chance the possibility of not being returned to office and Labour just ignoring the issue altogether if the Bill were blocked at this stage.

In truth, I suspect the former is more likely, in which case one wonders what the impact on the creative industries will be when the new Secretary of State starts to pick over the flawed legislation and try to make the proverbial silk purse. He has already gone on record saying that the idea of clause 43 is laudable, but has given no indication as to how a Conservative government might address the considerable problems it might cause for working photographers. And if their approach is that bad legislation is better than no legislation, it does not bode well for an easy few years ahead as we try to protect what remains of an industry that some already consider to be in crisis.

Copyright is the battleground of the digital age

By , April 8, 2010 1:17 pm

Well, the government had their way, and with the collusion of the Tories the Digital Economy Bill was passed for a third reading with barely two hours of debate, and it will get royal assent and pass into law before Parliament is dissolved. The good news for photographers is that the Tories did manage to wrangle some concessions from the Government, not least of which was the dropping of Clause 43. Stop 43 a coalition of photographers has been quoted as saying:

“The UK government wanted to introduce a law to allow anyone to use your photographs commercially, or in ways you might not like, without asking you first. They have failed.”

But it is clear that the issue of copyright in the digital age is not going to go away. Dominic Cooper, the General Secretary of the Chartered Institute of Journalists has just sent me through this:

Google’s sweeping digital book settlement is facing extra complication and delays as photographers and illustrators prepare to file a fresh class action lawsuit against the internet company over images used in the publications it has been digitising.

The American Society of Media Photographers and a number of related trade associations are expected to file the case against Google on Wednesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The action is separate but similar to a class action that is the subject of a pending $125m settlement filed against Google by authors and publishers related to the Google Library Project, which aims to scan some 18m books on to an online database. Photographers and illustrators were not allowed to join the existing class action suit, and have opted to file their own case.

“Google is scanning in books and publications with visual images, which impedes the rights of the copyright holders of those images. We are seeking compensation for that,” said James McGuire, founding partner of law firm Mishcon de Reya, who is leading the case.

The reality is that the rapidly changing business models for photography are resulting in increasing numbers of amateurs being content to earn a few bucks here and there through sales of images via photo-sharing sites like Flickr without being overly concerned about tracking usage and third party syndication  or other copyright infringements. Many are simply chuffed to see their images in print, and while there is nothing wrong with this in principle, it is leading to a wholesale dilution of the market’s expectations of how “photographers” regard their intellectual property. As a result, while many professional photographers are learning to shift their business strategies and diversify by playing the amateurs at their own game with frequent submissions to similar sites and microstock agencies, they are having to fight a rearguard action to protect their work from big business which has the power to ride roughshod over photographers as a whole.

For any amateurs reading this, the moral is simple: there is more than enough room for you and the often excellent work you produce, but if you don’t place a realistic value on it then others will treat it as worthless, and in the end that makes photography as a whole all the poorer.

So on the subject of photographers protecting their jobs, it seems a good time for some more What The Duck:

What The Duck strip by Aaron Johnson

Job Security © Aaron Johnson 2010

UPDATE: Have just discovered that Michael Fallon MP (whom regular readers will recall I had written to on this issue) voted against the bill as a whole. Thank you Mr Fallon. I would like to think my letter had some influence.

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 – update II

By , March 3, 2010 5:53 pm

Busy, busy. Half way through a shoot for a bespoke bed manufacturer, very interesting – never knew how complex making a bed was, at least that is the excuse I gave my mother as a child and my wife now!

Anyway, a little belatedly, I have had a reply from Michael Fallon MP. I assume from the tenor of his reply that he is seeking reelection:

Dear Michael Cockeram (sic),

Thank you for your email of last week about the Digital Economy Bill. My apologies for not replying earlier.

This Bill is in the House of Lords and has yet to reach the Commons but we are already aware of the substantial concerns about authors’ rights and “orphan” works. The Conservative Party wants to ensure that the Bill does not damage the exisiting rights of content creators, not least those of professional photographers, and that it prevents identifying information from being stripped out from a digital image.

Some amendments are due to be made in the Lords next week but we shall want to scrutinise this part of the Bill very carefully when it reaches us, and improve it if necessary.

I am copying your concerns to our Conservative spokesmen here.

With all best wishes,

Michael Fallon

Well, the good news is that he appears to be on the side of professional photographers (I wonder how many reside in his constituency, and if you’re one and you didn’t notice apparently he is Conservative and there is an election?), although I am a little troubled by the “improve if necessary” bit. I think most photographers that have taken an interest would say that it was necessary, so no ifs, just improve, please. I might then even forgive your spelling my name wrong.. poor that, really poor, and there is an election soon too!

Panorama theme by Themocracy