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iPad workflow part three

Welcome to the third instalment of my investigation of the best iPad workflow for the kind of work that I do. At the end of part two I came to the conclusion that adding images wirelessly to the iPad (or an iPhone) was the best way to go for me and in the few days since I made that observation I have largely moved towards using FSN Pro to get the pictures to where I need them to be.

I mentioned several times in part two that I wanted, wherever possible, to avoid storing anything in the Apple Photos app without explaining why I am so keen to avoid it. The simple answer is that my normal workflow for several clients involves keeping the original camera filenames intact so that it is possible to follow up at a later date and find them again without having to spend any time looking. Why Apple are so keen to rename every file with the clumsy “img_1234” formula is beyond me. I guess that it must make what goes on inside iOS easier for Apple – if not for photographers. By avoiding the app it is entirely possible to retain the original filename from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong; if I was rushing and getting a couple of quick edits away to a client then I’d happily rename files and/or settle for the img_xxxx option but when there are five, six or more photographs going through then renaming becomes a pain.

With this in mind I have looked at lots of different apps for captioning and toning both RAW and JPEG images and it has become clear that there isn’t one clear “best option” for all variations on my workflow. As someone who uses Photo Mechanic and Adobe Camera RAW within Adobe Photoshop to handle my pictures I’d love to have iOS versions of both ready to use. Camera Bits say that they have no plans to develop an iOS version of Photo Mechanic and Adobe seem to be more than happy with Lightroom CC as an image editor and RAW converter. During this phase of my research I’ve looked at lots of photo apps:

  • Filsterstorm Neue Pro or FSN Pro – a very capable IPTC and image editor for a JPEG workflow but not for RAW files. It allows all sorts of options and allows you to set up IPTC sets in advance making it very easy to caption photos individually or in batches. FSN Pro is also great for importing photos and exporting them to other apps or directly to FTP servers or other cloud based storage as well as to the “Files” option on iOS11 and later.
  • Lightroom CC – the nearest thing available for Adobe Camera RAW and therefore very familiar for me. It interacts with the iOS Files storage well too and it is definitely the best option that I’ve tried for working with RAW files. The synch with the Adobe CC Cloud is a mixed blessing and I am going to monitor how much mobile 4G data it eats when I’m on jobs using it. It has IPTC captioning built-in but it’s hard to imagine a clumsier implementation of what is such a vital function for me.
  • Affinity Photo – The Apple app store photo app of the year 2017 promises so much and delivers very little for me. It requires a top end iPad (preferably like the iPad Pro I have tried it on) and isn’t available on the iPhone at all. It edits photos really well but the lack of availability on my iPad Mini 4 or the phone means that I’m not interested in it as things stand.
  • Picture Pro Lite – A really good app but it appears to be no longer being supported. Very good IPTC options, decent image editing options but it has no interaction with iOS Files that I can see. Another app that promises loads but doesn’t quite do enough to be THE answer.
  • Shuttersnitch – Great for importing images and it has some good automated features but it doesn’t like RAW files and doesn’t play with iOS Files either.
  • Marksta – excellent watermarking and captioning app developed by an award winning photographer.

I’ve looked at others but I am trying to narrow things down here and so it has come down to choosing between a workflow for just JPEG files where time and simplicity are everything and a RAW workflow where I can get everything out of a RAW file that I could if I were working on one of my Macs. It’s entirely possible to have a single workflow for RAW and JPEG and here’s what I’m using right now:

  1. Connect the camera to FSN Pro via the FTP import option. I have blogged about setting up an ESO5D MkIV before and the process using FSN Pro to receive the pictures is exactly the same.
  2. Select the images on the back of the camera and use the “Set” button to upload them to the iOS device.
  3. If you are working with RAW files, select the photos within FSN Pro and export them to a folder in Files making sure that you check “Files to Export > Original Image File” option.
  4. If you are working with JPEG files then add IPTC captions in FSN Pro before going to “Files to Export > Selected Edit” option and exporting them to Files.
  5. Go to Lightroom CC and select the folder that you wish to import the files into and go to “Add Photos”, select them from Files and import them.
  6. For RAW files then it is easiest to write the main caption in Apple Notes and copy and paste it from there into the IPTC inside Lightroom CC as it cannot import the caption xmp file created by FSN Pro.
  7. For both file types you can now go through the photographs and adjust the colour, contrast, crops, sharpening etc in Lightroom CC making use of the copy and paste settings options as you go.
  8. Save the finished files either to another Lightroom CC album or folder or into a folder in the iOS Files app.
  9. Wait until part four to find out what happens next.

Here is a video that I made as a “walk through” for a basic and quick JPEG workflow. It is fine for RAW files too but you would have to ad the captions after converting the files rather than the more convenient way that they are added before toning in this film:

The great thing about having done all of the research and practice over the last few weeks is that I have a decent and repeatable workflow. The second best thing is that if I need to make a few changes then I understand what all of the other apps can do and I know how they work. This works but I’m not going to stop looking for improvements and changes. Yet!

The video on Vimeo:  https://vimeo.com/247334007

The video on YouTube:   https://youtu.be/rgc_cBjASVI

iPad workflow part two

Apple’s Lightning to SD Card and USB3 to Camera adapters

A few weeks ago I promised to keep working on my iPad workflow and keep readers of this blog up-to-date with my thoughts. Lot of other things have got in the way lately but here is the second instalment. I’ve decided to break the whole process down into four parts:

  • Getting the images onto the iPad
  • Toning and captioning them
  • Getting the pictures to where they are needed
  • My conclusions and (hopefully) a settled workflow

The accessories that I’ve used to import images from memory cards onto an iPad for photo editing.Because I’m vaguely logical, I’m going to tackle them in order and so I’m going to outline the ways that I have looked at getting my pictures onto the iPad. Because this is an examination of the possibilities I’m going to consider all of my options and because I’m a Canon user I will tend to lean towards the options for EOS cameras although much of what I’m talking about is not make specific. I have experimented with several ways to get the pictures onto the iPad and I’ve tried all of them as JPEGs and RAW files too:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII)
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters

Some of the accessories discussed in this post.

Six options which, in different situations, all have their advantages and disadvantages and from the photo above you can see that it all adds up to quite a bit of extra kit should you decide to have everything that you need for every eventuality (and the photo isn’t even complete as it is missing the various SD cards, wifi adapters and the USB camera cable).

What I’d like to do is to go through each option and what you need to make it work and then discuss the pros and cons of each option – so here we go:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port: For this you need the Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter and a USB cable suitable for your camera. From there it is simple; you connect everything up and the iPad should automatically recognise that there’s a camera connected and show you thumbnails of the photographs with the option to import all of just the selected images. The advantage is the simplicity but that is balanced by the fact that you have to wait for every single thumbnail to load (which is slow with RAW files) before you can do anything. You also have no control over the size of the thumbnails that I can see and you have no way of viewing the images larger to select which ones you want to import. All imports have to go through the Apple Photos app on the iOS device which is sometimes inconvenient.
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader: This is similar to the first option in that you have one single and very simple adapter, into which you can slot an SD card. It also uses the Apple Photos app which again means quite a slow build if you have dozens of images and no option to view them larger in order to select which pictures you need. The other disadvantage is that you have to shoot the pictures to an SD card – which isn’t a great option if you have a camera without the right slot or if you have set your cameras up to record the images needed onto a different card format.
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply: This uses the same Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter that the first option uses but has the advantage of allowing you to then plug in any type of USB3 card reader. Back on the downside you also have to plug in some sort of power supply and you have to be careful which power supply you choose. I have four different charging blocks and/or power packs with USB output here and only one of them worked reliably with this method – and even then only on one of the two different USB power outputs. The power bank that worked was an EasyAcc PB10000C and it was the 1.5amp port. I am going to try a newer model to see if that’s OK too. The main advantages and disadvantages of this method in use are the same as the first two given that you have to use the Apple Photos app but you have to add the extra weight of the power bank and extra cables and card readers too.
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII): This method requires the Canon Camera Connect app and of course the basic wifi connectivity that comes with some cameras but which requires Wireless Adapters for others. Once set up and providing there’s not too much wifi pollution this option works really well with one camera at a time. Because you go through the Canon app it recognises star ratings applied to images in the camera which can be used to drastically speed up the workflow when the app is set to show the rated images first. Importing JPEG files this way is really fast and very easy. RAW files take three or four times as long but the process still works well.
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII: Both Shuttersnitch and FSN Pro (and probably other apps) have the option to set your iOS device running those apps as an FTP receiving device. This requires more sophisticated wifi connectivity (currently only the EOS5D MkIV has this built-in) and can cost hundreds of pounds per camera to get this working. Once you have the equipment and have set the cameras up you can choose to send selected images or everything on a given memory card to the iPad where the apps can start to do some work in the background for you. I won’t lie and tell you that setting these apps up is anywhere near as easy as plugging a cable in but the advantages are many. You avoid the Apple Photos App, can connect with multiple suitably equipped cameras without swapping cards, cables or settings and the background processing that Shuttersnitch in particular can do is a potential time-saver.
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters: Three or four years ago I was very keen on the Eye-Fi SD cards and used them every day in Canon EOS5D MkIII cameras. The original cards were effectively emasculated by the manufacturers and replaced with their Mobi range. These still have their uses if you want to offload images to an iOS device via their Keenai app. They can suffer from being overpowered by nearby and much stronger wifi signals but where they work they are extremely simple and very effective. Setting them up is easy and they will transfer either JPEG (all versions) and RAW (the pro version) as you shoot them. I currently use my Eye-Fi Mobi card with a Fujifilm X100S and it makes for a good pairing. I shoot just RAW on the camera and then do an in-camera JPEG conversion on a small selection which the Mobi then transfers to the waiting Keenai app. Toshiba and one or two other manufacturers sell SD based wifi image transmitters too although my experience with them is limited I can say that they also work pretty well where there are no super-strong signals operating on the same band. There is also an option to customise them and, whilst I have not gone down this route yet, I am told that it can be very effective.

That’s quite a lot of information to take in and, having played with all of the options, I am strongly leaning towards option 4 for most of the work and option 5 when I have very tight deadlines to work to. Bits of cable and adapters are fine for occasional use but wireless connectivity when you are running around shooting is less of a hassle. I have spent a lot of time using option 4 over the last twelve months and I am pretty good at getting it working as well as fault-finding if it doesn’t.

The complexity of getting the images from the camera into the right apps on the iPad is one of the reasons why I still think about using an iPad for editing as a second option and one only to be used for a few rapid image offloads. For those who ask why I am avoiding the Apple Photos app as much as I can the answer is that you don’t get to see the images as anything other than a small thumbnail to choose which images you want and because the app doesn’t recognise the star ratings that you can apply in-camera to distinguish between the pictures you want and the rest. Canon’s Camera Connect gives you that option and it is small details like this that make the difference between an app being good to work with and not being so good. I am told that Nikon’s equivalent app is Ok too but I have yet to use it.

 

A freelancer’s nightmare

It all started with a twinge in the small of my back. The twinge became an ache and the ache became pain. A visit to the Doctor led to some prescription pain killers and a referral to a back-pain clinic two months into the future. Still working at full speed, I lost the feeling in the soles of my feet and had a few cramps. Every day it got a little worse and then, one Sunday morning, I couldn’t get out of bed without crying with the pain. We made our way to the accident & emergency department of the local hospital where an MRI scan confirmed that I was in trouble. They admitted me to hospital and just over a week later I had two operations on my spine.

The operations were three weeks ago today and, although I’m back home, I’m looking at several months before I can even start to think about working as a photographer. I’m on crutches, my rehabilitation is underway and it’s a struggle.

It has to be one of the worst fears of the freelancer – suffering some sort of injury or illness that keeps you from doing your work which in turn means a loss of income and knowing that your clients will have to look elsewhere for someone to provide the services that you have been providing.

All of this devastating news made me want to compose this rather different blog post and my advice comes in two parts:

  • What to do to avoid and prepare for a sudden, unplanned period of time off
  • What to do if it happens to you

The message has to be that it can happen to you. One minute you are buzzing around going from job to job and regularly burning the midnight oil to get those edits done, your cashflow is looking good and your clients keep coming back and the next you are laid up with an injury.

Getting yourself into a position that minimises the chances of it having a massive impact on you and your life isn’t necessarily easy but there are some major steps you can take.

  1. Understand that you are getting older.
  2. Get some savings behind you – enough to cover your bills for four to six months.
  3. Take out some loss of earnings insurance to cover your domestic bills if you are laid up for a long period.
  4. Avoid having too many credit and leasing commitments at any one time. It’s all too easy (and tax efficient) to have your car, your cameras and computers all on a leased or on contract hire.
  5. Keep fit and eat healthily.
  6. Don’t ignore niggling injuries and minor ailments.
  7. If you get an injury get it sorted properly and don’t rely on temporary relief or pain killers.
  8. Develop a network of colleagues that you trust to cover your clients if possible should you need them to.

If it does happen then you need to prioritise your full recovery – no matter how long that takes. It pays to make sure that the medical professionals that you are working with know that you are self-employed.

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Be honest with your clients. Tell them what’s wrong (leaving out the gory details and avoiding making it an awkward ‘sob-story’) and let them know when they can expect to have you available again.
  3. Use the time to update your portfolio, your social media and your corporate image.
  4. Be prepared to shed some gear if you need to pay your bills.
  5. Don’t dive straight back in. Make sure that you are fit enough before you launch yourself back onto the market and then ease back into work.
  6. Make sure that you talk to friends, family, colleagues and even professional counsellors about what is going on.
  7. Don’t expect to win every single client back straight away. Be prepared to play the long-game and win them back over time.
  8. Look for alternative ways to make money. Could you maximise the revenues from your back catalogue? Can you use your expertise in ways that don’t require you to be at your physical, emotional or professional peak?

Having to make those phone calls letting clients that had already booked work know that you aren’t going to be able to fulfil their needs is hard. Most are sympathetic and wish you well, many ask for recommendations for other photographers to cover the work but a few can be angry with you – “how dare you damage your back and leave us without a photographer” is the sub-text of a few conversations.

Having to politely decline other offers of work whilst lying in a hospital bed isn’t an experience that I’d wish on anyone either. Again, most take it well but a few are less than sympathetic.

Having to let good clients know that you are out for a long stretch is possibly the hardest call to make. I found that being in hospital had a drastic effect on my emotions and I struggled to keep it together on the phone to one or two people.

In my case there is some good news:

  1. Prior to suffering the injury, I had been working hard and had invoiced clients for enough money to keep me solvent for at least two or three months if I’m careful.
  2. In a few weeks I’ll be able to take on work as a remote editor with one or two clients for whom I do editing work already which should bring in a bit more income.
  3. Whilst I’ve been laid up lots of colleagues have been generous with their wishes for a speedy recovery and more than a few clients have been kind too.

I cannot wait to be in a position to get back on the phone and let people know that Neil Turner, editorial and corporate photographer is back in business but in the mean-time I’m going to follow my own advice as closely as I can. I’m not going to overdo it. I’m going to listen to the Doctors, Physiotherapists and my family and friends who are doing such a great job of looking out for me.

One more thing, I’m going to kept this blog going…

Shooting fish in a barrel

London. January 2011. © Neil Turner

In 2008 when I had just left my staff job at TSL I was asked by a reporter working for a photographic magazine about what I intended to do with my career. I pointed out that I had an enormous amount of experience working in schools and universities and that in my time working for the Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Nursery World Magazine I had shot pictures in over 3,000 places of learning in at least 13 countries and that it seemed like a “no-brainer” to market myself as a photographer specialising in those areas. Plenty of prospectuses and websites as well as editorial shoots later my tally of educational visits and shoots tops 3,500 and I’m still in love with the genre. The reporter asked what special skills I had that made me good at that part of the job and my response was that if you can’t get great pictures of kids then you really shouldn’t be a photographer because it was “shooting fish in a barrel“.

A few days ago I made the same claim to another photographer who questioned my assertion. His point was that although the subject matter lent itself to nice pictures the rest of the set-up in schools and colleges tended to be somewhat more challenging. He pointed out that the light was rarely great and that the surroundings were often cluttered and busy. He also pointed out that there can be lots of legal and ethical issues and his own personal problem was that he couldn’t get the kids to ignore him enough of the time. He was right. The light is usually less than ideal and most classrooms are busy places with their walls covered and with all sorts of distractions – all obstacles to well composed and well lit pictures. I’ve worked in so many schools that maybe I just assume that children and even young adults aren’t remotely interested in me or what I’m doing – or at least once I explain that I’m not going to be able to get them on TV!

Shooting in a classroom requires some basic skills:

  1. Working with the ambient light
  2. Being able to get some extra light in that doesn’t completely disrupt what’s going on
  3. Having the ability to make pictures from what is already happening
  4. Setting up pictures when everything else fails

Everyone wants the pictures to look natural and everyone wants it to look as if there’s some great hard work going on. Every time I go to shoot a prospectus I get the same thing from the head teacher or their marketing people; make the children look as if they are happy and working hard and definitely not grinning for the camera. Nine times out of ten they select those grinning pictures because happy trumps serious almost every time. In a brochure that landed on my desk three weeks ago there were eighteen pictures in it. Seventeen of them were shot by me in one day and the other one was an architects photo of the newly refurbished building. Twelve of the pictures taken by me showed kids looking happy and engaged and four of the other five were portraits of staff and governors. The last of my pictures showed a child head-down and working hard.

Younger kids are definitely easier to take pictures of – in fact at the TES we had a saying “with acne comes attitude” and it was always tougher to make great pictures once the children became teenagers with all of the insecurities and hang-ups that come with that age. That was never quite as true when you were working overseas and it was always a huge privilege to witness education in action on other continents.

Choral scholars, Cambridgeshire, July 2008. © Neil Turner/TSL.

Previously on this blog I wrote about three important things that make a photograph and shooting in schools is a wonderful example of having to work hard to make two of them (light and composition) work for you when the third (subject matter) is usually pulling it’s weight. Sometimes you get lucky but, in my experience, most of the time you don’t. Thirty years ago I shot my first paid commission in a school just four years after I was a pupil in one. It’s funny and ironic in equal measure that I used to get into trouble for having a camera at school. I didn’t take many pictures during lessons but I do have a lovely archive of friends and teachers from my sixth-form years and I often wonder if that’s where my love of shooting in schools comes from.

Outdoor education centre, Dorset. April 2014.


Masindi, Uganda © Neil Turner/TSL Education. April 2005.


Nursery School, Kent. ©Neil Turner/TSL. January 2005


School playground, Surrey. ©Neil Turner. June 2011.

I don’t put many photos of children on this blog and when I do they tend to have been published elsewhere first and/or be from a few years ago. I’m still shooting as many jobs in schools as I can and I have a portfolio of school and college work sitting right here on my hard drive for when I get enquiries. If you’d like to talk about commissioning me to come and shoot your fish in your barrel, no matter what the light is like please get in touch.

You can also see a slideshow of headteachers and other education leaders that I put together a few years ago here.

The third kit fetish

The Phottix 70cm collapsible beauty dish, adapted to fit an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra head.

Everyone knows about the fetish for camera bags shared by most photographers and anyone who has read this blog will know about my own personal one for card readers but there is a third one that has been exercising me of late. I have mentioned it quite a few times over the years and a particular need to have a repeatable set up has led me down this particular equipment rabbit hole once again.

I’m talking about lighting. I’m talking specifically about light modifiers. Those umbrellas, snoots, dishes, soft boxes and hybrid gadgets that you place on the fronts of your flash units in order to control and improve the light.

On our first day in the studio at college back in 1984 we were banned from fixing anything to the lights. Instead we had to place screens and diffusers in the optimum position independently from the light source so that we learned that there was no such thing as the perfect soft box, swimming pool or snoot. By inching a diffuser backwards or forwards by a small margin you could change the quality of the light considerably and you could use all sorts of flags and reflectors to stop the stray light from going where you didn’t want or need it. That was in the studio and that was a very long time ago. As soon as the restrictions about not using ready-made light modifiers was lifted we all sprinted for the big fabric soft boxes and rigid swimming pools and most never looked back.

Unfortunately I was left with a feeling that every time I used a light modifier I am making some really important and potentially detrimental mistakes. I blame the knowledge that I gained about the subtlety of light modification that I acquired in term one, year one of my formal photographic education for the dissatisfaction that I feel with every convenient and portable accessory that I own – and I own a lot of them. A brief headcount yesterday produced the following:

  • Four translucent or shoot through umbrellas
  • Two convertible umbrellas
  • Three reflective or bounce off umbrellas
  • One umbrella box
  • Two rigid beauty dishes
  • One folding beauty dish
  • Two square soft boxes
  • Two rectangular soft boxes
  • Three hexagonal soft boxes
  • Two strip soft boxes
  • Seven reflectors
  • One snoot
  • Three sets of grids
  • Two sets of barn doors
  • Nine reflectors

I have probably forgotten about some others but you get the idea; too many options, no clear direction and no way to always ensure that I have the right one with me at all times. Therefore the compromise is almost always to bring the two or three most versatile with me and have another three or four in the car before making the best of what I have.

This, surely, begs the question about which is my favourite. The answer is as simple as it is shocking. None of the above. My favourite way to work is often to use lights in a way that doesn’t give the signature look of a soft box or an umbrella. I like to bounce. Walls, ceilings, walls and ceilings or any one of a dozen other types of surface will almost always get my vote if I’m shooting a one-off creative image. I have written about my love of large pale surfaces and of using pretty much anything around as a bounce surface and it has become so important to me that creating a ‘look’ has become something I’ve had to work at. I know that something like 33% of photographers rock up and set up their lights complete with their favourite modifier and get on with the pictures and that another 33% turn up and shoot with available light. Many of the rest base their shooting options on what they find and choose between flash with their main modifiers or no flash at all. I like to think that I’m in a small group who will look around for ‘bounceable’ surfaces and go down that route as a matter of preference.

From my list of available light modifiers you can see that I never give up on my quest for ‘the one’ – the light modifier that will make sense of them all. I bought a new one this week and I’m off to use it today. Let’s hope that it both surprises and delights me and that the surprise and delight lead to being able to ignore some of those 1984 college year one, term one lessons

RGB and me

I get involved in a lot of discussions about the finer points of photography both online and in person. One of the most common this year has been the about choosing which RGB colour space we should all be working in. The truth is that there are a number of variables which, between them, should point you in one direction or another. There are plenty of RGB colour spaces but the main two are Adobe RGB and sRGB – mainly because these are the options you have when shooting with most DSLR cameras. There are a couple of others (Colormatch and ProPhoto) that offer wide gamuts and some real technical advantages but, as I hope to explain, this isn’t necessarily helpful. More isn’t just a waste, it’s a potential problem.

Ideal Worlds

In an ideal world we would have cameras, viewing and reproduction systems that gave us every tiny subtle variation in colour that the human eye can see on a good day in great light. We don’t. Yet.

What we have to work with in the Spring of 2017 is a range of different types of screens, projections and printing systems and those printing systems rely on an almost infinite variety of inks, pigments and papers. That’s before we even start to discuss all of the other materials onto which we can now print. So basically we, as photographers, have a series of moving targets to aim at and it’s almost always been the case in my career to date that I have no control over those targets. The same picture may be used for social media, newspapers, magazines and Powerpoint presentations and it is my job to supply those pictures in a format (or series of formats) that will enable the client to get consistently high quality results from them.

Bringing that back to the topic of RGB colour spaces means that I and my clients have choices to make. Those choices almost always involve compromise. Compromise almost always means that nothing is perfect for anyone or anything. In a version of the ideal world as it exists today I should be shooting, editing and supplying my pictures in the colour space providing the widest possible gamut of colours and tones providing the most vivid yet subtle renditions of the colours that match the brief and my vision for that brief. Maybe the client could pay for enough post-production time for me to provide two, three or more versions of each photograph suitable for each type of use. They don’t have the budgets in 999 cases out of 1,000. Maybe those pictures would then be taken by colour technicians and modified for each and every use and converted to the relevant colour space using the best equipment and software available. It doesn’t work that way very often.

What actually happens is that after I have supplied them the pictures are viewed and judged on a range of un-calibrated monitors in less than ideal viewing conditions before being sent to the web or to reproduction that doesn’t make any allowances for the kinds of screens, inks, pigments or papers that are going to effect how the pictures look. Because of this it has become sensible to make some compromises.

Adobe RGB is better isn’t it?

Yes but no… There’s no denying that in every single way Adobe RGB is superior to sRGB. It has a wider gamut meaning that the differences between colours and tones can be more subtle. There’s a case that says if you want wide gamuts and subtle gradations why stop at Adobe RGB? Why not go the whole way and work in ProPhoto or Colormatch? Good questions and here’s where we get to my reasoning about why I don’t bother.

The first is that most of us rely on what we see on our screens to make decisions about colour and tone during post production. If you work on anything but the highest of high end monitors which have been calibrated to the most exacting standards under ideal viewing conditions then you won’t be able to see the whole Adobe RGB gamut let alone the ProPhoto or Colormatch ones. Forget working on a laptop – unless you have your monitor and your colour management down to a fine art then you will be using guesswork and approximations on your images. Worse still, very few browsers, applications and viewing systems are smart when it comes to colour management. You might, through a combination of skill, judgement and good luck, get your pictures to be as good as they possibly can be only to experience the heartbreak that is seeing those perfect pictures displayed on dumb systems and looking like the flattest and most inept renditions of your images making you feel that you have not only wasted your time but that you may have done something wrong.

Sadly, all of those systems that make your images look awful will also make the Jpegs straight from your mobile phone look pretty good. Not to put too fine a point on it, the phones, tablets and screens that the vast majority of our images are now viewed on are not au fait with Adobe RGB but they love sRGB. Most of the printing systems and most of the automated systems for converting RGB to CMYK for printing work just as well with sRGB as they do with Adobe RGB because almost every CMYK colour space has a narrower gamut than sRGB does and that’s important.

What do you do with the spare reds?

stock-neil-012

Imagine a photograph of a red telephone box on a street in London with a red car next to it and two people walking past wearing their bright red Manchester United shirts swigging from cans of regular Coca Cola. Got the picture in your mind? How many variations of red are there in your picture? It’s a sunny day, there are hundreds and the differences are often very subtle. You’ve shot the picture in RAW (of course) and you are going back to your high end workstation to process the pictures. Your have a monitor capable of viewing the whole Adobe RGB gamut and you get to work. A short time later you have an edit of ten great pictures with all of those subtle reds looking as good as they possibly could and as good as you hoped they would. Save them as Adobe RGB Jpegs and whizz them off to the client. Two things can then happen:

  1. The client understands photography and has a completely colour managed work environment with decent screens and runs applications that can see Adobe RGB files properly.
  2. The client doesn’t work in a wholly colour managed environment and their monitors show your photographs as dull flat pictures that look worse than their own phone pictures.

If there’s any chance of getting option 2 instead of option 1 you have a problem and you can do a few different things:

  1. Work in Adobe RGB, saving the photographs in that space but then doing a batch convert to sRGB to supply to clients who they suspect cannot handle the wider gamuts.
  2. Ignore the issue and continue to supply in Adobe RGB and then complain when the work dries up or when the client comments on the flat files.
  3. Supply two sets of pictures; a “viewing” set of medium sized sRGB files and “printing” set in Adobe RGB
  4. Move to an sRGB workflow and supply everything in sRGB.
  5. Become a campaigning photographer, strive for ultimate quality and educate every one of your clients encouraging them to invest in perfect workflows.

The same goes for every colour. Purples and magentas can easily get mashed up when reducing the colour gamut and greens are famous for moving to mush really quickly in many CMYK spaces.

Why I’m a type 4 photographer

Several years ago now I realised that I wasn’t supplying any of my pictures to clients with workflows that could actively take advantage of Adobe RGB files and so I started to convert my carefully worked Adobe RGB pictures into sRGB before getting them to the clients. Most of the time I was working in decent conditions on my Eizo monitors and the rest of the time I was making educated guesses about how the pictures looked on my laptop.

It worked OK but I started to wonder what happened to those colours that were inside the Adobe RGB gamut but outside the sRGB range. How did an automated batch conversion deal with those subtleties? Photoshop offers several options for rendering those out-of-gamut colours ranging from shifting everything by the same amount down the scale to employing seriously sophisticated mathematics to translate the colours using what it calls “perceptual intent” which keeps the balance of tones without damaging the safest colours to accommodate those either side of the line. I asked myself why I was doing this when I had a RAW file to go back to should I need a more nuanced version of an image. The clients wanted (even if they didn’t know it) and usually needed sRGB files so why did I need Adobe RGB ones? Logic dictated that I try working the images within the sRGB gamut to start with. No more wondering which rendering option would do the best job (if I had a choice) and a lot less reliance on guesswork when I was editing on the laptop. Where, I asked myself, was the disadvantage to working solely in sRGB? I couldn’t find it then and I still can’t find it now.

The clients are happy. I’m happy. Win/win.

Based on a pragmatic and professionally sound set of reasons I now set my cameras, my computers and my whole workflow to sRGB. Having done that there are two further advantages that I had never considered (but really appreciate).

Monitors

Here in the UK you would struggle to buy a decent monitor with a genuine 100% of the Adobe RGB gamut for under £1,000.00. You can buy a quality monitor that handles 100% (and more) of the sRGB gamut for under £600.00 and have considerably more choice. Money saved on buying kit is always something that you should consider when you do this for a living.

Filenames

There’s something else that always bugged me. Canon and Nikon’s higher end cameras always change the leading character in the filenames to an underscore when you were shooting in Adobe RGB. Clearly someone, somewhere thought that this was a very useful thing to do and both of the major manufacturers still adhere to it. It really annoys me – in an almost irrational way. Moving over to sRGB has cleared this daily annoyance from my life (unless I’m editing other photographers’ work) but I’d love to know why Canon (and Nikon) cannot make this a custom function in their cameras rather than imposing it on us whether it suits us or not. This isn’t a reason to switch to an sRGB workflow but it is a side effect that I appreciate. Of course by the time most of my pictures arrive with the clients the files have been renamed anyway but one or two clients like to keep the original camera filenames too.

I shoot RAW anyway

All of this is a matter of opinion and logic for me and I always have the RAW file to go back to should I need it to create Adobe RGB versions. In the last two years or so since I went all the way to sRGB nobody has said “please supply us Adobe RGB files” (all of my clients are polite and always say please by the way). This is probably a case for my favourite piece of advice

“if anyone ever tells you that there’s only one way to do something in photography, don’t listen to them, they’re a fool.”

I’m convinced that, for now, I have it right for me. Want to tell me how and why I’m wrong?

Seven things to agree on before taking a commission

© Neil Turner, October 2014. Production of John Foster's Shot At Dawn in the Council Chamber at Bournemouth Town Hall.

© Neil Turner, October 2014. Production of John Foster’s Shot At Dawn in the Council Chamber at Bournemouth Town Hall.

Quite a lot the posts that I’ve uploaded to this blog in the last few months have been related to the business side of photography. For those who want more of the old dg28 – your time is coming soon. In the meantime I wanted to post my thoughts on what you should agree with your client before undertaking a commission. This is taken directly from my own outline terms and conditions which are posted on my website. I have absolutely no objection to any photographer copying and/or adapting these seven points for use in their own terms and conditions because, in my opinion, the more of us who do this the more likely it is that potential clients will be used to the concepts and it will require less pushing to get them to negotiate.

Terms and Conditions of supply – commissioned photography

INTRODUCTION – The following seven sections represent the basis under which I undertake photographic assignments and commissions for commercial, public relations and editorial photography. They are intended as a background document to which specific or varied terms can be added or amended.

There are, of course, many pieces of legislation that will have an effect on how my relationship with clients works, not the least of which is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

I really don’t want to scare clients and so I have worded them as simply as I can and I’m always happy to discuss and explain how my terms and conditions apply to you.

  • COPYRIGHT – Unless agreed in advance and in writing I do not assign copyright to any clients or third parties. Please be aware that buying the copyright is far more expensive than buying an extensive and wide-ranging license.
  • LICENSES GRANTED – As a client, you would be granted a license to reproduce and/or distribute the photographs. All licenses have geographical, time, media and usage restrictions. My policy is to negotiate a license that meets your needs and represents the best value for money for you and/or your client. Use of the photographs outside the terms of the license granted would be a breach of copyright.
  • LICENSE EXTENSION OPTIONS – If, having agreed a set of license conditions you subsequently realise that you need wider use of the photographs I am always happy to negotiate a license extension. Whilst the cost of buying extensions will be greater than that of buying the right license in the first place, you will find that my rates are very competitive.
  • DELIVERY METHOD AND DEADLINES – As part of the commission we will agree how, when and where the photographs will be delivered. Options include web galleries, CDs and DVDs, FTP, email and on USB flash drives. Photographs will be supplied in the agreed format within the agreed deadline. Copies of all files will be retained in line with industry best practice and any subsequent re-issue of any or all of the image files will be subject to a charge equal to the actual cost of producing and delivering them plus a 20% service charge.
  • INVOICING AND PAYMENT – Fees and costs will be negotiated and agreed before the commission takes place. Should the details of the commission change then alterations to the costs will be agreed as soon as possible. New clients will be asked for a purchase order or a letter confirming the commission, agreed fees and costs as well as acceptance of my terms and conditions in advance. Once the commission has been completed I will send an invoice to you with payment terms and methods outlined. The grant of license will only come into force once payment has been made in full. VAT will be charged where the law requires. If the client postpones or cancels the commission within 72 hours of the start time I reserve the right to charge 50% of the agreed fees. Cancellations or postponements within 24 hours of the start time may be charged at 100% of the agreed fees.
  • THE LIMIT OF MY LIABILITY – As a professional photographer I take great care and pride in my work and in my relationship with clients and the subjects of my photography. I cannot, however, accept liability for unexpected events including: poor weather, industrial disputes, sickness or injury, equipment malfunction, model release disputes, property release disputes and other actions or accidents that are outside my control and that cannot be reasonably predicted. Please note that any mains powered equipment that I use will be PAT tested, that I carry £5 million of Public Liabilities insurance and that my photographic equipment is regularly tested and serviced. Should you require any specialist insurance to be taken out for your project, the cost will be included in the fees. Back up copies of your images will be stored using reliable methods but I cannot accept liability for systems failures.
  • DISPUTE RESOLUTION – If, for any reason, you have any queries about the service that I have provided I will be happy to discuss your concerns. Photography is a creative activity and I accept commissions on the basis that you are buying my skills and that you trust me to apply those skills in accordance with our discussions and verbal agreements. Written confirmation of commissions should always include any “must-have” picture requirements and, where technically and creatively possible, I will fulfill your requests. If I consider any of your requirements to be unfeasible or if any of them become so during the shoot itself I will point them out at the first possible opportunity and offer solutions.

None of this rocket science and none of it would be form a great contract in isolation but we have seven things to think about and a rock solid basis upon which to build a working relationship with a new client.