life

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.

Another photo worthy of an obituary

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died aged 91. I photographed him back in 1999 sitting in what I thought was a very ‘egg-shaped’ chair in his London apartment. If you want to know more about him, The Guardian’s obituary is worth reading but my very clear memory of being there was that he was one of the calmest people that I had ever met. He was confident without being arrogant and his understanding of my job and the job of the reporter who went with me was absolute. He had, obviously, been interviewed and photographed hundreds of times before but I still believe it to be true that most people who have had that kind of media exposure still don’t ‘get it’ in the same way that he did.

It seems that almost every week now I see an obituary in the press of someone that I photographed earlier in my career and it has two distinct effects on me. The first is quite predictable – I feel that bit older each time it happens. The second effect is to make me realise how amazingly lucky I have been in meeting the people that I have met and having been able to make what I hope are portrait and feature images that will stand the test of time.

This particular photograph lived in my folio for many years. It was unusual for me to have shot quite such a reflective portrait at that time. I was busy trying to make a reputation for myself as ‘the guy’ who used strong lighting and strong compositions to compliment that lighting. Like most phases of a career, it passed. I can still shoot the strong pictures when the situation calls for it but this portrait is far closer to my current favoured style than almost anything that I shot in those early days of digital. When I look back at the more memorable images that I shot through the late 1990s – the period of transition from scanned negative film to 1.9 megapixel digital cameras – a lot of them have this kind of feel and that surprises me because my memory is of lighting everything in slightly over-the-top ways.

Technical stuff: Kodak DCS520 camera with a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens. Ambient light, 1/160th of a second at f4 on 400 ISO.

Space makes you think – part 2

©Neil Turner, March 2013. Family enjoying an early spring afternoon near Fisherman's Walk in Bournemouth, Dorset.

©Neil Turner, March 2013. Family enjoying an early spring afternoon near Fisherman’s Walk in Bournemouth, Dorset.

A very long time ago when I was studying photography at the Medway College of Design I was surrounded by like-minded and equally obsessive photography students who all wanted to unlock the many ‘secrets’ of great photography so that we could all some-day be someone. We were only a very short distance along the journey (it was the first term of the first year) when we were set a project to shoot an object against a background where the object would be very small and still have great composition and make sense. It was a lesson that I will always remember for two reasons:

  • The first is that I loved it and actually shot four or five entirely different pictures – ranging from a damp and golden autumnal leaf on a grey path to a red balloon against a bright blue sky.
  • The second reason is that during a group critique someone (and I have no memory who) said “space makes you think”.

Space makes you think has stuck with me to this day and as a short and snappy phrase it appears in my thinking and in my discussions on a very regular basis. From the day I learned that lesson and then learned to leave space in my compositions for mastheads, strap line, type and headlines I have always looked for pictures with space. Cropping images really tightly is a great way to shoot some subjects and I remember another phrase from my student days which sums that up too “if an element doesn’t add to the composition then it detracts from it”. That’s also true and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why photography is so enthralling, confusing, infuriating and rewarding. Two ‘rules’ that appear to directly contradict one another that form the basis of one of those secrets that we as students of the art/science/profession spend our lives trying to grasp and the interpret in our own ways.

Rules are there to be obeyed most of the time and broken often enough to make sure that we remain creative in our thinking. That was true back at Medway College, it still is and I hope it always will be.

* Those other “obsessives” included Jez Coulson, David Chancellor, Bill Green, Richard Gosler, Mike Cooper, John Baxter, Richard Ansett and Andy Eaves who, I am delighted to tell you, are all still as obsessed as they were! There were 28 photographers in our year and I’m sure more than those listed above are still plying the trade.

How long does gear last?

When I teach new photographers the business studies element of what it is to be a working photographer I go through a whole exercise which adds up the cost of the gear and then divides that cost by the number of working days that it might be expected to last before you need to replace it. My formula was mentioned in a previous post and I try to be realistic about the life span of the principle kit that we need. Camera bodies, for example, last somewhere between two and three years on average whereas lenses last four, five or even six years. It’s a simple idea and when you add it all up you come out with a figure that represents the amount of money it costs to be a photographer based on working a fixed number of days per year. For most photographers that’s around the £45 – £60 mark.

©Neil Turner. March 2014. My Elinca branded lighting stand that is at least 21 years old

©Neil Turner. March 2014. My Elinca branded lighting stand that is at least 21 years old

Some gear, such as tripods and equipment bags last a lot longer and there’s good evidence to say that a Pelican case is for life as long as it doesn’t get stolen. I was looking at some kit this morning and making sure that I had everything that I needed for a two-day job over the weekend when one of my lighting stands came apart. That got me thinking about how much this stand had cost me on a ‘per day’ basis since I bought it somewhere between 1990 and 1993. I won’t go into how I can narrow the dates down but let us say that it is at least 21 years old. At today’s prices this stand would probably cost about £70.00 (but probably cost me a lot less) and by dividing that by 21 you can see that it has cost me £3.33 a year. That’s a meagre £0.26 a month or, if I work 150 days a year that’s £0.02 per working day.

I have used lighting stands every single working day since then and, whilst it hasn’t always been this one, my preference for a specific brand seems to be justified by the way that they take a battering. That brand is Manfrotto – even though this one is labelled “Elinca SA” it is clearly a version of an older Manfrotto 052 model (not the same as the current 052 or 1052) because it is almost identical to another stand that I have which is labelled “Manfrotto 052”. I also have a pair of identical lighter-weight stands where one is branded Manfrotto and the other is branded Lastolite and a pair of tiny stands where one is Manfrotto and the other is Bogen. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that one manufacturer was/is making them and that they were/are being sold under many labels.

Going back to the stand itself, when I say “fell apart” what I mean is that this stand came apart at one of the connections. When I had a good look it was obvious that it had lost a bolt and nut that tightened around the metal tubing keeping it in place. Three minutes later, I’d found a suitable replacement amongst the bits and pieces in my garage and the stand was fixed and ready for a lot of action over the next weekend. So that’s a lighting stand of extreme professional quality that costs me two pennies a day – what a bargain! Of course I have forgotten to add the maintenance costs – £0.12 for the bolt that I fitted today plus my labour at a maximum of ten minutes.

For the record, I have three Manfrotto tripods (all with Manfrotto heads), three Manfrotto monopods and a case full of their accessories (Super-clamps, suction clamp, low-level stand, quick release adapters, a boom and so on). I reckon that I have about £1,000.00 worth of Manfrotto gear in total – most of which is over ten years old and some of which is over twenty years old.

Manfrotto haven’t paid me for this blog post, nor have I spoken to anyone from the company or any of their distributors or retailers. I just think that their kit is pretty good value for money. Of course, if they want to offer me a retrospective bribe…

Back on the beach

In another “just because” moment I thought that I’d post this picture I grabbed on the beach today. I’ve blogged about my near obsession with shooting dogs on the beach and today I was at my favourite part of my favourite beach when the combination of light and subject matter came together meaning that all I had to do was compose, wait and click.

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Bournemouth

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Bournemouth

I actually saw this picture as a mono image too and anyone who has been following this blog will know that this was a major step forward for me in my quest to be able to truly see in monochrome when I want to. To add the final piece to the jigsaw of this image, I love a good silhouette too.

The picture was shot on a Fujifilm X20 at the fullest extent of its 112mm equivalent zoom and it shows a dog with its owner having something of a difference of opinion about what should happen with a ball. You don’t expect to get such beautiful weather in late October – especially less than 36 hours after a massive storm had lashed this part of the English coast. Within a minute or two of shooting this picture I did a RAW conversion in the camera before using an Eye-Fi card to transfer it to my iPhone 5S where I used the Photogene 4 app to optimise and caption the image before uploading it to EyeEm (in colour). The version shown here is the more considered black and white image converted in Photoshop CC on my Mac at home.

No such thing as professional?

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Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Meyer made a stupid remark yesterday whilst announcing a complete overhaul of their Flickr photo-sharing website service. She actually said was that “…there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore”. Like many people who used to think that they were professional photographers I became very angry.

What I’d love to happen next is to get commissioned to shoot her portrait for a major newspaper or magazine and to prove her wrong. That’s unlikely to happen, which is a shame. Within a few hours of hearing what she had said I had deleted my Flickr account and let my Twitter followers know that I had done it and why I had done it.

Did Ms Meyer really mean to upset hundreds of thousands of hard-working professionals? Does she really think that our profession has ceased to exist? I suspect that what actually happened is that she made her remark with the subtlest of hints of humour in her voice in order to promote her company’s new-look product. I doubt that it has done too much harm but why do corporates continually keep doing this kind of thing? Gerald Ratner famously compared his company’s gold jewellery to  a prawn sandwich wiping millions of pounds off of its share value and ultimately leading to his downfall. Time after time people at the top who believe their own hype and who think that they can be funny in order to sell their products make this same mistake.

Flickr’s owners won’t apologise. They have sought to make light of her remark because it was ‘light-hearted’ – or at least it was light-hearted in her mind. At a time when the value of photography is, in many ways, at an all-time low the owner of one of the biggest sites based on photography has unwittingly reinforced that perception. Stupid and un-thinking throw-away remarks do damage in ways that only become apparent over time

My business model isn’t based on Flickr. I had about thirty folio images up there simply because it probably pays to have a presence on all of the social media sites. I have probably shot myself in the foot by deleting my account but anger leads to gesture and the biggest gesture that I could make was to leave Flickr.

The point that I really want to make here is that photography does have value. Good photography is, in fact, invaluable. Maybe if the Board of Yahoo realised that they’d actually get their CEO to apologise.

Headteachers or whatever you want to call them…

Almost everyone remembers their head teacher. If they don’t then they will probably remember the Principal, Headmistress, Headmaster, High Master, High Mistress, Direktor or whatever other title the person who led their schools went by. Since 1986 I have photographed hundreds of these people and I have made the journey from being a little bit scared of them through accepting them to being impressed by the work that they do and the huge difference that their being good at their job makes to children and young adults.

I decided to put together a slideshow of some of the headteacher portraits that I have done. Most of the portraits date back to my time at The Times Educational Supplement. I also made the decision to keep them anonymous – I just wanted to show how different they are yet how much they have in common. Some of the Heads featured in this selection are famous in the world of education and one or two have been made Knights or Dames for their services to education. A few have since retired but that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to suggest that the person in charge is the only reason that some schools are better than others but I have yet to visit a successful school that doesn’t have first rate leadership.