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Which sage to listen to

January 16th, 2010 2 comments

This week I’ve been listening to my back log of the ASX podcast.  I’m not going to be investing any time soon but my house mate is actively investing so the interest has rubbed off on me.

Usually the subject matter on the podcast is about either how to invest (not what to invest in) or why world events like the depression and GFC occur.  It’s an interesting listen even if you’re not interested in investing in the share market.

The people that talk on the podcast have all been in the industry for decades and all, I would assume, are very successful at investing in the share market.  Despite that, no two speakers seem to have the same philosophy on how to invest and why things happen.  You’d expect that since they’re all successful that they’d all share the same view of how things are.

They do have some things in common, but for the most part their advice, their process and their beliefs are different and sometimes contradictory.  One pundit says to prefer shares that don’t pay dividends but use their profit to increase the equity of the business.  Another pundit says not to invest in a company unless it pays dividends.

Now when I listen to each speaker, I resonate with what each says.  I can see where he’s coming from and I have the confidence that his way is a good way to do things.  But if I can agree with two opposing ideas, isn’t that paradoxial?

Yes, it is.  But that’s ok!  I heard a long time ago (from a pundit) that accepting paradox is a useful trait to have.  Most of us, when presented with two contradicting lines of thought, become paralysed and eventually polarised to one of the choices.

I’ve noticed that the photography scene is very much like the investment scene in this regard.  I have read many blog posts, listened to many pod casts and learned from a number of working photographers and what I’ve noticed is that what one photographer says is an essential thing to do, another photographer will say is a waste of time.

One photographer swears by using a light meter and reflectors.  Another doesn’t even own either.

I respect both photographers, immensely.  I see their work and I am blown away but the quality.  Yet they use totally different methods!

Of course, one is a model photographer and the other is a wedding photographer.  You could argue that a wedding photographer needs to travel light and cut down on the toys.  The model photographer needs to more control as agencies have specific imagery in mind.  Wedding client usually don’t have specific ideas, they just want you to capture the moments.  That’s not to say that wedding photographer is of a lesser standard, it just means the focus is on the content of the photographs.  Even so, the standard of wedding photography is quite high!

But most of the time I can’t find reasons why two professional have different views.  It’d be nice to know why their philosophies are different to make it easier to choose which philosophy aligns with my own preferences but it’s not always possible.

So, as I said before, it’s better to just accept that experts have different views and that each one has validity and that there’s probably a good reason for the difference.  It probably does condense down to a common idea but it’s not economical for you to try to find that common idea.

I try to pick small ideas from the experts that suit me.  The biggest thing I got from the wedding photographer I mentioned earlier is “pack light”.  Don’t take so much stuff.  But I still take a reflector with me to shoots even though he doesn’t like using them.  The reason is that the lesson I learned from him was not a specific thing like “reflectors are too big to carry to shoots and don’t add anything”, it was to only take what you need and that you can make fantastic images with less than you think!

The thing I want you to take away from this is when you’re learning about a new craft you’re going to be bombarded with many opposing views from people that use those principles successfully.  Take the  advice that speaks to you and incorporate it into your strategy.

Renting Photography Equipment

September 18th, 2009 Comments off

I mentioned in a previous post that renting photography gear is a good way to see if you really need that gear to do certain types of shoots.  That’s not the only reason renting is such a good idea!  Here are the reasons why I think renting is a good alternative to buying for the fledgling photographer:

1. Try before you buy

You can test out lenses, flashes and other gear in the store and I recommend you do that whenever you want to buy something.  When you do that, however, you’re usually testing out 2 or more choices of an item that you’ve already decided to buy.  For example I was interested in the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8.  There are lenses with f/2.8 in that zoom range from both Tamron and Sigma which were a third of the price of the Canon.  I had already decided that I wanted something in that zoom range with the f/2.8 aperture so I tested all three lenses in the store so that I could decide on which brand to buy.

But when you’re thinking about getting into either macro photographer or wildlife photography, and you need to pick one because you don’t have the funds to do both, how will you decide?  You can’t really buy a macro lens then figure out that you hate shooting macro and then buy a 600mm!  If you can afford that sort of mind changing, let me know and I’ll give you my wish list 😛

If I were in that boat I’d rent the macro lens first, give it a try then rent the 600mm and try that.  I know it’s a couple hundred dollars to do that but lenses are so expensive that it’s cost effective to ‘waste’ $200-300 to decide on where you want to go.

Oh and I never got that 24-70 lens!

2. Get focused on your creative goal

A lot of us treat photography as a hobby.  That’s not a bad thing but sometimes the fact that you’re doing it for fun results in a loss of direction.  Simply having gear has also become somewhat of a status symbol to some people.  I remember seeing a post on a photography forum where the poster was showing off photos of about 10 L series Canon lenses.  He apparently owned them all and was obviously looking for some recognition for owning all the lenses that everyone else watned.  No one had actually seen any of the work he’d produced though.  It was about the gear for him, not the art, not the ‘doing’.

While most of us don’t have the disposable income to be able to buy gear like that not and make money off it, I would wager that we all do what that forum poster did in some way.  We lose the motiviation to make art because we always can if we’re bored.  The gear is sitting in your cupboard, waiting for whenever you’re inclined.  You can always do it tomorrow, right?

Renting equipment means you only have the equipment for the day or the weekend.  You’re not going to mess around wasting time while the clock ticks.  You’re going to get the most out of that lens or studio.  If you owned that gear you won’t feel as pressed to do anything with it because it will always be there.

If you need to rent something it will be because you are planning a shoot with a specific result in mind.  You’ll take the creative steps to generate the photographs that you intended.  If you own the gear and you’re not a full time, professional photographer, chances are you’ll not feel compelled to take the steps and therefore you never will.

3. Business thinking rather than hobby thinking

I am just starting to get the wheels in motion for doing paid photography work.  I know it’s going to be hard.  Not only do I need to learn a great deal about marketing myself but I also need to learn how to run a profitable business. I have to manage what I spend on the business and get it to a cash flow positive state.

When embarking on a new business most people will need to spend a lot of money up front.  It’s not just the equipment, but there’s registration fees, insurance, logo design, web development and hosting and a bunch of stuff I’m sure I’ll run into on the way.  If you’re starting a business, anywhere where you can safely save money is a God send.

Let’s just say you’ve started a business where you take macro photos of flowers for a chain of florists that are opening new stores once every month or so.  They want to display nice, big, close-up prints of flower in the store window and each store has to have a different photo.

Each photo will take you half a Saturday because you have to get the flower that they’ve chosen for the shoot and you have to show them at least 10 different shots so they can choose one.  You bought a light tent, a couple of speed lights, Cactus triggers and you have a DLSR that produces images with enough resolution to be useful for printing.

You don’t have the macro lens though and it costs $1,500.  You could put it on your credit card but you’ve decided that you want more work before you spend even more money on gear.

The florist asks you how much you want to charge for each store’s photo.  You find it hard to give them a number because you’ve never charged for your photography before.  How do you decide what’s fair?

At the very least you need to cover your costs.  If you need to travel anywhere, you need to cover the cost of fuel, train tickets, air fare etc.  If you need to get the flower yourself you need to cover the cost of buying it or looking for one.

Now you also need to cover the cost of your equipment. What ever you do, don’t just absorb the cost of the gear.  The business has to be profitable!

Obviously you can’t charge the client the full amount you spent on aquiring your gear but what you can do is figure out how many ‘uses’ your gear has left in it and how many ‘uses’ the job will use up.  Divide the gear’s total uses by the cost to get it then multiply that by the ‘uses’ the job requires and that’s how much you need to factor in for gear.

That’s pretty wishy washy and you might want to try something different to determine how much to charge for use of your gear.  When you rent the lens for the shoot, you don’t have to do that math to determine how much to charge for gear, you just need to add the rental price to the bill for the client!  That’s clear cut, no mucking around with math!

In fact you might even want to find rental prices for the gear you actually own and use those prices as a starting point for what to charge for the use of your gear.  It might be a bit high but it’s a good place to start.  The rental prices will be commensurate with the value of the gear.

I think the biggest benefit for me when I first rented gear was that I shifted my thinking.  Originally I believed that my abilities were limited by the gear I could afford.  Now I realise that I need to nuture my skills rather than worry about collecting more lenses.  I can go out and rent a studio lighting kit and do a model shoot because I know the basics of what I need to do.  I don’t need to own the kit!

Chasing the gear

September 7th, 2009 1 comment

I wanted to get into photography for years but I could never take the plunge.  I knew it was going to be an expensive endeavour and looking at my cash flow at the time I shuddered at the thought of buying an SLR and lens and then being sprung with a multi thousand dollar repair bill for my car (those came every now and then!)

Obviously I did end up taking the plunge. I bought the Canon 350D with a kit lens, a memory card, a little tripod and a small bag.  It cost me about $1,400 AUD all up.  I was so stoked to finally have an SLR!  That initial purchase loosened my attitude to spending large sums of money on photograpy equipment. It was in early 2006 and since then my aresenal has grown somewhat.  Now, in mid 2009, I look at all the gear I have and I’m too scared to sum up how much it all cost me because I’d instantly have a guilt attack about all that money that could have gone to a worth cause like a house, car or beer.

I don’t think it means that I’ve wasted my money too much.  I know I make it sound like I have a warehouse full of lenses but I don’t. I do use a lot of the gear that I’ve bought and as for the gear that I haven’t used that often I either keep it as back up or I’m yet to learn how to use it properly.

But I do worry about my tendency to pine over a piece of kit.  I become convinced that I can not do a certain type of shoot without a certain piece of gear. “I can’t get low light shots without an f/1.4 lens” or “I can’t do portraits without the 85mm L”.

And you know what happens when I say those things to myself?  I don’t try to do those types of shoots!  I look at the price of the lens or the studio lighting kit or 4 Pocket Wizards then I decide that I just can’t organise a shoot that requires that gear.

There’s two problems with this.  Firstly, who says you can’t do that particular shot without that particular type of gear?  So you get too much camera shake when shooting in a church with a f5.6 lens.  Do you really need f/2.8 or wider to fix that?  Are you sure that 2.8 is the only way to solve the problem?

If you don’t have image stabiliser on the lens and you’re getting too much camera shake, would a monopod work?  It might not be so convenient but have you tried it or are you listening to the consensus on the Internet?  When you convince yourself you need certain equipment for something, you’ll never try the shot anyway.

Secondly … ok so you really do need a macro lens to get a 5x magnification for that ant’s head that you want to fill the frame with.  Do you have to buy it?  You could rent it.  It won’t cost you thousands of dollars and is a much better option if you’re not going to use the gear often enough to justify spending full retail on it.  I’m going to harp on about renting in a future post so I won’t go on here.

The point of this post is that you shouldn’t scare yourself off a type of shooting without at least trying with your current gear.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to organise a shoot with models, make up artists, assistants and studio time until you know you can do the shoot.  Experiment with your current gear first then decide where you stand with your gear.  If you just can’t make it work, rent the gear and see if it’s even your thing.  If it is then go to the camera shop and contribute to the economy.

Don’t, what ever you do, buy gear then use it once then let it sit in the cupboard.  In the past I’ve gone through the initial period of wanting to buy something.  This period lasts for months.  Then I finally buy the thing.  I use it once or twice then I get bored or I don’t know how to use it properly.  Don’t worry, I’ve gone back and learned how to use all my gear so I am eating my own dog food!

A good slogan I’ve heard in the online photography community is “Get out and shoot”.  That slogan tries to combat the paralysis a lot of us fledgling photographs get for various reasons. Don’t let the economics bog you down too much!