Photo Notes

February 24, 2010

Doing Business

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 6:26 pm


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Mickey Mouse

I am often asked about the business of photography: how to get clients and how to charge clients and what to give clients. I can’t answer all these questions at once, but I did want to say some things about rights. I am not a lawyer, and these are only my opinions, but they are based on my experience. The thing I have to do first is to say some things about my clients. I work for businesses. The work I do is generally used for one of two reasons, either documentation or promotion. Of course a documentation shot is unlikely to be modified, because that might interfere with the use of the shot. I did macro shots of spark plugs for general motors because they needed to discuss the color of the deposits. They wouldn’t change those. I expect that a shot used for advertising or marketing will be optimized for the intended market. That is the client’s purpose for the shot.

The client has paid me to deliver a product. If they choose to modify the product, generally that is their business. So if I do a shot of a bank’s board of directors and the banks wants to swap one director for another I can’t stop them from doing that. The shot doesn’t reflect on me, as I am not credited in an annual report. So if the shot looks poorly it is not my problem. If the client paid the bill, if the client didn’t pay the bill that is a problem.

Indian Mortorcycle

I do have some concerns about what happens to my shots after I finish them. My largest concern is that a shot done for a contractor or an architect will be sold to a sub-contractor. I feel that I should be paid extra for this, because in cases like this my image is not being used to market a product, but has become the product. I try to approach situations like this in a reasonable manner, so it generally works out.

Finally there are times that images are stolen. A shot of mine was given to a major photography source book for a contest. They used the image on an in house comp that was later put on the web. I brought this to the publisher’s attention and was properly compensated. In a less pleasant situation some of my work, given to a stock agency, has been used multiple times on the web. I have never been compensated for this, and the stock agency is no longer located in the U.S. And so it goes.

I recognize that the situation is different when you work with individuals and families. Still, if a family commissions you to make an image, that will be part of the families archive, don’t they have some rights to that image? If they want their children and grand children to see them in a certain way, I think that should be available to them.

Martini, Rocks

I think that the real problem with all of this is the photographer’s income. Many photographers, especially portrait and wedding photographers, do not charge enough when they shoot. They give a cheap price for the shoot, and expect to make extra money on the prints or post work. Clearly, in an environment where perfect copies of digital files are very easy, it is difficult to protect this part of your income. Simply put I do not calculate into my original price any money from print or other post sales. I charge enough money to do the shoot, and charge that for the shoot. So it does not bother me to give a client full size files of an image they purchased. They can’t steal something that they have paid for. If you don’t charge enough for the shoot, and have a high charge for prints, you put yourself in a dangerous position.

As a commercial and advertising photographer I try to build relationships with my client, not maximize the profit from a single job. So I have one client that I have done more than 18 jobs for so far this year. No portrait or wedding client will give you that much work. While I understand that a portrait and wedding photographer may feel that she/he must maximize the profit from any single job, I try to maximize the profit over the long term. This also gives me security that the client will come back.

Regardless of what you do remember that you work for a client providing them with a custom product that they commission. It is always important to respect their ownership of the product that they paid for.

As always, I hope you will check out my classes at BetterPhoto.com:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Business to Business: Commercial Photography

Once again, I’ve added images I like, commercial and peal
Thanks, John Siskin

Paty

Violin & Flowers


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February 10, 2010

Buying Camera Gear

Filed under: Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 1:36 am


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Shot For Aids Walk, Los Angeles

One of my first big opportunities in photography was selling cameras at a store in Santa Barbara: Russ’ Camera. Russ Eckerstrom took a risk on me and I hope I gave him good service. I learned a lot there, not just about photography. I leaned about buying and selling and serving customers: the kinds of things that have been important in my business as a photographer. The store is still in business up in Santa Barbara.

When I came back to Los Angeles and started my business I needed suppliers that were local and would carry the products I had to have. I was in a camera store every couple of days looking for film, Polaroid or chemicals. I dealt with a lot of stores that provided these products, but often the service was bad. Too often the sales people felt they needed to tell me they could do my job. I don’t like spending my money and having some guy behind the counter feel he needs to compete with me. Of course there were a few great sales people over the years, but they mostly left camera sales.

What I learned at Russ’ and saw in many stores is that camera sales is a tough business. I’ve seen a lot of stores die in the last few years, so I know this is especially true after digital. The mark-up on gear is low, the market competitive. It used to be that a lot of money was earned on photofinishing, but this too has taken a big hit. I particularly miss the stores that have a lot of junk; I do a lot with junk. You might check out my article on building cameras.

Congressman Waxmand shot for Aids Walk, Los Angeles

I want to recommend that you do business with Calumet Photographic. I have been buying stuff from them since about 1984. I used to pour over their catalog, and I learned a lot from that book. For me, a great supplier has the little things that make everything else work. I remember needing several 40.5mm to 52 mm step up rings: Calumet had them, in stock. When I need a camera battery or a gel for my lights I can get it at Calumet. When they opened a store in Hollywood, there was only one problem for me; it wasn’t in the San Fernando Valley. I can go in their store and actually see the products. The sales people treat me like I might know something. I have dealt with many big stores including a couple of the stores in New York. I don’t look forward to buying from them again. But I do hope to do more business with Calumet. I should also say that every employee I have dealt with at Calumet has been knowledgeable, which is good, and a nice person, which is better

Calumet is now associated with this site. I am very happy about this. If you would like to support this blog please visit Calumet through the link on this page. If you think I am being unreasonably nice I suggest you visit some large camera stores in Los Angeles and New York.

As always, I hope you will check out my classes at BetterPhoto.com:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Business to Business: Commercial Photography

The pictures this time are just a few I like. They are linked to my site
Thanks, John

Shot with my 4X5 fisheye camera.


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February 1, 2010

A New Tool For Lighting Space

Filed under: Architectural Lighting,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 8:25 pm
Modified Umbrella

Modified Umbrella

If your goal is to light a human face you are talking about controlling light on about one square foot of surface area, if you are lighting head to toe, or even a small group, you are not talking about that much area. When you are trying to light a room you may be talking about thousands of cubic feet of space. The problems are not unrelated, but the solutions are going to be very different.

One of the most important tools in lighting people or product is the large light source. If you have a light source that is very large, and close to the subject, you can create soft shadowless light. The light seems to come from many directions, like the light on an overcast day. Of course this is because the light does come from every point on the surface of the light source, whether the light source is an umbrella, soft box or light panel. So lighting with a large light source can be relatively simple, since the position of the light is not as critical as with a small light source. As the subject gets bigger you need an increasingly large light source to accomplish the same thing. If you light a motorcycle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqEfShhW5pA) a large light source might be about 20X9 feet. But if you are lighting a room a large light source would need to be approximately as big as the room.

Since I haven’t seen a lot of soft boxes you could live in, or an umbrella that could keep the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir dry in a rainstorm, I think that the only way to achieve a large light source in an architectural setting is to bounce the light off a wall or ceiling. This will work quite well if the surface you bounce off is white or close to white. The other concern, with the ceiling, is to keep light off, or nearly off, any part of the ceiling that is in your shot. I suppose you could bounce light off a large piece of seamless paper if your walls or ceilings weren’t white, but that sounds like it might be difficult to set-up. You could also repaint the room, but I don’t think that this solution is very practical. A bounce light will also cause reflections, but reflections from large light sources are not as bright as those from small light sources.

Recently I saw the way one of my students used an umbrella on a room shot. She pointed a shoot through umbrella at the ceiling. There was light all over the room and the ceiling from just one light. Of course there was not as much light as one would like bouncing off the ceiling, because the light had to go through the umbrella. I wondered what it would look like if you could bounce light off the ceiling and get light from the side of an umbrella. So I modified a white umbrella, by putting a hole in the center. I had to sew around the edges of the hole. The hard light went through the center of the umbrella and the umbrella diffused the light on all sides. This is a 360º light, so you get bounce fill from all over the room. The light worked wonderfully well. I have attached a before and after photo.

Without the new light

Without the new light

With the modified umbrella!

With the modified umbrella!

Of course I had to see what would happen with a portrait. The results on this test were less wonderful. The light needs to be place precisely, because it works as a hard light. In addition, since there is more hard light than soft light, the result is not really flattering to all subjects. Still the catch lights looked very fine.

Catchlights from the modified umbrella

Catchlights from the modified umbrella

I have a picture on page 58 of the New Yorker this week, I hope you’ll check it out. I also hope you will also check out my classes at BetterPhoto.com:

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Business to Business: Commercial Photography

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