Shadows

© Neil Turner, July 2014. Shadows on the south bank of the River Thames in London.

© Neil Turner, July 2014. Shadows on the south bank of the River Thames in London.

On my way to a meeting today walking along the south bank of the River Thames I was taken by the quality of the light as it formed shadows through the trees. A pair of office workers out for a stroll stopped and had a chat and we passed a very pleasant few minutes talking about light and London. The conversation was interrupted a few times as people strolled through my composition and I grabbed a frame or two. This was my favourite of maybe a dozen very similar frames.

Another picture shot on my Fujifilm X20 and added to the blog just because I liked it…

Image rescue software

sandsk_rescue_proI just thought that I’d post a very quick note about the free one year licenses that I got with two new Sandisk compact flash cards that I bought today. As someone who relies on their cards for a living it’s great practice to replace and update your cards so every few months I buy a couple of new ones.

Since I went freelance and got to start making my own purchasing decisions almost six years ago I’ve been buying ever larger and ever faster Sandisks. I don’t always buy the fastest or biggest but they tend to be faster and/or bigger than the last batch. Anyway, you get the idea.

This time it was a couple of 16 gigabyte 120 mbps CF cards that work nicely with the Canon EOS5D MkIII cameras each of which came with a one year license for the Rescue Pro Deluxe software. I was prompted to get a couple of new cards because my last one year license for the software expired a week or so ago. It struck me that this is quite a good way for Sandisk to keep me loyal and for me to keep up to date with the software. Every twelve months I need to buy at least one new card and by doing so I keep the software running. By buying two new cards, I now have two computers with valid licenses!

Everyone is a winner.

The joke here is that I haven’t ever had a Sandisk card go wrong on me. I have rescued a card belonging to a colleague (Transcend Card) and I have had some fun ‘rescuing’ a few very old and very small retired cards of my own.  Earlier today an ancient Lexar 512 Mb card threw up some images shot on a Canon EOS1D in 2003 and some more shot on a 1D MkII in 2005. A 2GB Sandisk card went through the process a few minutes later and that had some personal stuff from 2008 along with a couple of jobs from the same year. If I can find the right card reader in the loft, I also have a PCMCIA card dating from 1998!

This could become addictive…

Stage two of the RAW argument

Ten years ago the “should I shoot RAW” debate was raging between all kinds of photographers. Slowly but surely the vast majority of us have moved over to the RAW camp having realised that you not only get better quality but can also save time if your workflow is good enough. OK, so you only get 300 images on an 8 gigabyte memory card but memory is cheap these days and all of the other advantages of shooting Jpegs (unless you are offloading files straight from the camera) have disappeared one by one.

So that’s stage one of the RAW argument out of the way.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.39.41

So far, stage two has appeared to be a whole series of “my RAW converter is better than your RAW converter” arguments played out endlessly across social media. Proponents of one system produce videos that “prove” their point of view on YouTube and then those links are posted on Facebook, Twitter and who knows where else until someone else comes along and “proves” the exact opposite. Some of them even try to sell you expensive and largely pointless plug-ins and actions that promise to take your photos and turn them into masterpieces in a single click of a mouse. Is it all valid comment or is it just hot air? I’m leaning heavily towards the latter.

Buying, learning and mastering every single quality converter would be expensive and mind-numbingly dull. Few of us use any software to anywhere near its limitations and some of the claims for various applications go largely un-challenged.

A few years ago people started to talk excitedly about Capture One as being a gold-standard amongst RAW converters. It would have been around version four that I persuaded my then employer to send me on a one-day course to learn the basics of the workflow. It was good. It was actually very good and I bought it (well, my employer bought it for me). Fast forward to version six and I wrote glowingly about it on this blog saying that I really liked it despite a few flaws. Well of course that was comparing it to Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop as it was then. Both applications have upgraded since then as have Aperture, Canon DPP, Nikon Capture, DxO and a range of others. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages that skilled users of each piece of software can and will point out to anyone who will listen. Those skilled users can also get the very best out of a file using their chosen converter. Capture One Pro 7 is wonderful but so is Adobe Camera RAW 8.5 and so are lots of others.

And here is the first major conclusion – as long as you have the RAW file, you can endlessly go back and rework those files with every new and supposedly better application you try or buy. For the record, I don’t believe that there is anything other than a tiny difference between the best of them when it comes to image quality if the person doing the work has the skills and experience to get the most out of the files or the software. The old “this application is better at recovering highlights” comment that you hear so often is not only subjective but largely a thing of the past. As new versions come out and as new cameras present us with new variants of the RAW formats then differences do become apparent. A quick upgrade to your chosen application and those problems go away again.

Here is the second major conclusion and the principle piece of wisdom that I want to impart: It’s all about the interface. How you interact with the application has a greater influence on what you get out at the end than anything else. Application A does a great job but so do Applications B and C. If you are comfortable with B then choose B and don’t stress about the relative merits of A or C until such times as B can no longer deliver the quality from your files that you and your market demand. Changing workflow and moving to a new RAW converter is painful, time-consuming and throughly depressing (unless you are a geek like me). My heart goes out to the Aperture users who are facing having to do just that at some time in the near future now that Apple have announced that they are stopping development.

As software gets better, the files we process through that software gets better and our wok flows become more embedded someone, somewhere will do some “testing” and pronounce that they have the perfect workflow and Groundhog Day will be upon us for the zillionth time.

I sometimes end up working with other photographers files and the difference between types of files is astounding. Canon 5D MkII files next to Canon 5D MkIII files require different handling but the difference between those and something like a Nikon D4S file is astonishing. Not better, not worse but different. Different to the point that you have to tweak your technique. Using the exact same software, workflow computer and set-up the two types of file react very differently to the same treatment. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my third and final major conclusion from stage two of the RAW debate – Not all RAW files are created equally so don’t assume that you can work the same way with them.

Bring on stage three please.

Electrical safety for UK photographers

Most of us use some sort of mains powered gear and most of us fly with our equipment from time to time. The law regarding what you have to do to comply with the rules around safety of the gear can make pretty good bedtime reading – if you need to go to sleep quickly. Portable Appliance Testing or PAT for short is the stuff of myth and legend and here are a few key points that photographers should be aware of gleaned from the UK Health & Safety Executive’s many handouts on the subject.

Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)

Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe to use. Most electrical safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defect can only be found by testing. However, it is essential to understand that visual examination is an essential part of the process because some types of electrical safety defect can’t be detected by testing alone.

A relatively brief user check (based upon simple training and perhaps assisted by the use of a brief checklist) can be a very useful part of any electrical maintenance regime. However, more formal visual inspection and testing by a competent person may also be required at appropriate intervals, depending upon the type of equipment and the environment in which it is used.

cutoutsElectricity at Work Regulations 1989

These require that any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury is maintained in a safe condition. However, the Regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently (ie they don’t make inspection or testing of electrical appliances a legal requirement, nor do they make it a legal requirement to undertake this annually).

The frequency of inspection and testing depends upon the type of equipment and the environment it is used in. For example, a power tool used on a construction site should be examined more frequently than a lamp in a hotel bedroom.

So what does this actually mean for photographic equipment? Cameras are not covered by PAT but the batteries and chargers are. Batteries used in 99% of cases are contained and sealed and therefore should only require a visual inspection. Damaged terminals or cracked casings can mean that equipment is not safe and the item should either be disposed of or inspected by an approved repair centre.

Please remember that all batteries now have to be disposed of under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS) directives aim to reduce he quantity of waste from electrical and electronic and increase its re-use, recovery and recycling. The RoHS directive aims to limit the environmental impact of electrical and electronic equipment when it reached the end of its life. It does this by minimising the hazardous substances of legislation controlling hazardous substances in electrical equipment across the community.

PAT covers all cables and all electronic equipment rated at over 40Watts – which means pretty much everything that we use. The cables, leads and plugs connected to class 1 equipment (everything we use apart from lighting) should be checked visually for damage, breaks and past repairs on a regular basis and should be checked properly on a cycle of between 6 months and 4 years depending on exactly what it is. In practice that means every six months for cables and every year for power adapters, extension leads and battery chargers. Heavy duty batteries and mains powered lights should be professionally tested at least every two years and more regularly if they are subject to heavy use.

Travelling with batteries

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in association with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the United Nations (UN) set clearly defined rules regarding the air transportation of Li-Ion batteries.

From January 1st 2012, the 53rd Edition of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations requires the independent testing of each type of Li-Ion battery, not just the individual cells, to ensure that the design and construction are compliant with the stringent United Nations regulations. This is a costly process for the manufacturer, but it should assure you, the customer, that the battery design is safe and of the highest possible professional standard. You should check with the manufacturer  of each type of cell whether they comply with the regulations before you travel by air or on certain rail journeys which feature long tunnels.

  • Check-in of Li-Ion batteries is not allowed unless the battery is attached to the camera or the equipment it powers
  • An individual may take on-board, in hand luggage, an unlimited number of Li-Ion batteries that have capacities of 100Wh or less.
  • Li-Ion batteries that have capacities greater than 100Wh, but less than 160Wh, are restricted to 2 items per person, in hand luggage.
  • Li-Ion batteries that have capacities greater than 160Wh cannot be taken as hand luggage or checked-in under any circumstances.

Where does the work come from?

It has been a little while since I last posted on this blog; apologies for this but sometimes life gets in the way of blogging! Anyway, I thought that those who are interested in the business side of photography might be interested in something that came into my thinking on a long drive back from a job listening to a business programme on BBC radio. When I got home I produced a couple of reports from my invoices using the wonderful Billings Pro application on my Mac. The one that caught my eye was one that gave me the raw data to work out how the bulk of my work (based on turnover) in the last six years as a freelance has come in.

Conventional wisdom says that a photographer gets out there with their folio after making cold calls and arranging appointments with potential clients. When I say ‘conventional wisdom’ I mean ‘what they taught me in college’. It is the classic sales tactic: research potential customers, show them what you have to offer and then (hopefully) close the deal at a mutually acceptable price. 99% of photographers and probably 88% or all businesses will probably tell you that it is neither that simple or that straightforward.

I started by working out some categories for the way I have initially got the work:

  • Cold calling and portfolio viewings
  • People finding me via the web
  • Referrals from family and friends outside the photography business
  • Referrals from other photographers
  • From colleagues I knew before going freelance
  • Sub-contracted work via other photographers
  • Other odd sources

I then quickly added up how much work (monetary value) each of those six sections accounted for and got the following results:

monetary_value

 

The monetary value for each client is based on that initial method of contact. Some high value clients have been very loyal to me and I hope that I have, in turn, given them the photographs that they need to keep those excellent two-way relationships going. On the flip side, most of the work that has come via the web has been one-off jobs for clients who don’t have a lot of work to commission.

Now I don’t know about you, but I found that to be quite a shocking set of results. Only 5% of my income has been generated by getting out there and trying to make sales in what you would call a ‘traditional’ way yet more than twice that figure came from referrals from other photographers. The sub-contract figure at 27% is also a lot higher than I thought that it would be but the biggest surprise is how low the figure for income generated via work from pre-freelancing colleagues. In my first year as a freelance that figure was considerably higher but it has been eclipsed by the friends and family percentage which, at 44%, is somewhat higher than I would have thought. People finding me through the web includes not only those who have found my website through searches but also the various social media platforms that we all spend so much time working on – 4% isn’t a great return on all of that effort either.

If I had the time, I’d like to work out how different the chart would be if I based the figures on the amount of time spent on the jobs rather than the money invoiced. My strong suspicion is that the cold calling and portfolio section would be a fair bit bigger as would the one for pre-freelancing colleagues because those are both news and editorial biased sections whereas the friends and family one is far more corporate and commercial.

So what conclusion should I draw from this? Maybe I should spend less time trying to generate work from cold-calling and spend a lot more time with family and friends? I suspect that the true answer is that I need to change my targets for the cold calling to more corporate and commercial ones simply because they have a higher value per job.

One that didn’t make the folio

©Neil Turner/TSL. June 2008, Hertfordshire.

©Neil Turner/TSL. June 2008, Hertfordshire.

When I was putting a massive “long-list” of photographs that I was considering putting into one of the galleries on my portfolio website I looked at this picture and couldn’t make my mind up one way or the other. I was aware that I already had a lot of images from schools – which isn’t surprising when you consider that I have worked in over 3,500 of them in 15 different countries – and that it didn’t add anything to the mix.

I like this picture a lot because it is simple, demonstrates the use of good composition and shallow depth of field as well as reminding me of the kind of work that still makes me want to get out of bed in the morning and go and shoot pictures. These days most of my school based work is shooting for their prospectuses and websites with the odd news story thrown in from time to time but this remains the kind of picture that has a lot of uses and draws the most comment from those who are commissioning the work.

The truth is that almost anyone could take an acceptable picture of primary school children on a scavenger hunt in an enclosed copse. I hope that it also proves that it takes a lot more to produce as good as this on a miserable and rainy day early in the morning when the light is awful and the gear is getting wet. I have kept a few photographs that didn’t make it to one side and I intend to publish a few of them here on the blog with a bit of the background to why I like them along with a bit of the story.

 

Techie Stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 16-35mm f2.8L lens at 16mm. Canon CR2 RAW file 640 ISO, 1/90th of a second at f2.8 on daylight white balance and converted using Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop. At the time it would have been ACR in Photoshop CS3 but the file was re-worked using ACR in Photoshop CC.

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