opinion

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.

How many hours in a day?

freelance_definition
Is there anybody out there who would argue against a ‘working day’ being eight hours? Maybe eight hours spread over a nine hour period with an hour for breaks? However you think about it and whatever your opinion actually engaging in work of some sort for eight hours is a good starting point to talk about ‘a day’s work’.

Like a lot of photographers I tend to base my charges based on full or half days combined with the end use of the pictures. A half day with a fully loaded PR license costs more than a whole day for a single use in a newspaper. Half a day that makes it impossible to do any work through the rest of the day isn’t a proper half day and should be charged at a higher rate. It isn’t always easy to explain to inexperienced potential clients but, compared to other charging methods, it is as easy as I can make it.

I mentioned the eight hours because I have had some trouble explaining to a potential client why I won’t be at their premises for eight hours shooting pictures. I have tried to put it simply and the best that I can come up with is the ‘reverse-engineer’ a day. In my opinion you need to set aside a minimum of two hours to edit and process the pictures. It’s often more but rarely less from a whole day’s shooting – a whole six hour day that is. When I say a six hour shooting day what I actually mean is six hours devoted to shooting and travelling combined. Three hours in the car cuts that day down to three hours shooting whereas one hour in the car leaves a healthy five hours.

Freelancers have to charge for their time. That’s a fact of life. The potential client who couldn’t get his head around that worried me because how else does he think we can make a living? He actually wanted me to only charge for the time spent on site. Travel time and processing time was, apparently, not ‘actual time’. His argument was that he didn’t start his clock until he got to his desk so why should I. It was a frustrating conversation that could only end one way; we decided that I wasn’t the right photographer for his project! I guess that I could have taken my normal day rate, doubled it and then told him that was the fee for the time spent on site – a sort of win/win I guess. I didn’t so I won’t be doing anything there any time soon.

So I lost some possible work. That’s almost always a shame and when things like this happen I try my best to make sure that if I get into a similar position again I can explain myself even more clearly and avoid any and all conflict. There are a few rules that I do:

  • Charge for travel time
  • Keep time from a job to do the production
  • Try to be as flexible as I can without stitching myself up
  • Get new clients to put everything in an email
  • Give occasional discounts and not lower rates
  • Publish my own terms & conditions online and work according to them

Things occasionally fail to work out. Fact of life, fact of being freelance.

 

32 Months with the MkIII

SHM: The Vitality London 10,000

Lily Partridge of Aldershot Farnham and District crosses the line to win the women’s race. The Vitality London 10,000, Monday 30th May 2016. Photo: Neil Turner/Silverhub for Vitality London 10,000

Whenever you read about a camera the reviewer has usually had it in their hands for a few days and taken a few hundred frames with it. I’ve done it myself with all sorts of kit and I find it interesting that one of my most popular blogs  (a review of the original Elinchrom Ranger Quadra) was written when I had been using the kit for 32 months. As luck would have it I have been using Canon’s EOS5D MkIIIs for 32 months now and as the announcement of it’s widely leaked successor is only a week away I thought that now would be an excellent time to blog about my long-term opinion of these interesting cameras.

By the time my first MkIII arrived I had been shooting for almost five years with its predecessor – the Canon EOS5D MkIIs. I had grown to love the MkII despite its many quirks and faults and I knew them inside out and backwards. I had owned three of them at various times (never fewer than two) and had shot somewhere near half a million frames with them. In some professional circles that would qualify as barely worn in but when you don’t do bursts of three, four and more it takes a while to clock up that many pictures. I was quite excited by the announcement of the MkIII and blogged about it at the time saying that I would reserve judgement until I’d used one.

I need to say this: I have loved the 5D MkIII and almost everything about it pretty much from day one. It wasn’t just a little bit better than the MkII (which is what I had expected) it literally did everything better. From the far less annoying shutter sound (yes, really, the MkII shutter noise bugged me intensely) to the greatly improved layout of controls and from the vastly superior auto-focus to the improved image quality everything about the MkIII was an improvement. To this day, and having worked with files from just about every serious camera on the market, I find the image quality of the Mark 3 wonderful and the CR2s easy to work with in post-production. It may not have the highest pixel count and it may not top any tables designed to excite pixel-peepers but the files are a joy and the image quality displays subtleties and that indefinable je ne sais quoi that makes me smile. A lot.

Please don’t get me wrong, the EOS5D MkIII is not perfect. There are a couple of recurring build quality issues that Canon should have addressed during the product cycle rather than waiting to fix them with a new model. Almost every professional user of the MkIII that I know has had the disc on the mode dial with the various options on it fall off and/or lost the plastic multi-controller on the back of the camera. Neither should have been as easy to lose or as flimsily built as they were and having either replaced wasn’t cheap. Beyond those two niggles, on the odd occasion I put the camera into continuous shooting, I was never impressed by the 3.5 frames per second top speed and the 1/200th of a second flash synch has always been a disappointment. The LCD screens on mine have never felt that accurate and they have always looked very different from one another.

Beyond that I have always found that the camera fits beautifully into my hands and it is a joy to use – especially with smaller and lighter lenses. The MkIII is a versatile camera that fits into the range well and after four years on the market it can still hold its own – selling well and coming up on the used market a lot less often than most of its rivals.

The upcoming MkIV has an interesting list of features. Most of them are evolutionary (USB3, more megapixels and better video) and one or two will need to be explained to me when the announcement is official.

Just as I said when the MkIII appeared I will need to do the mathematics and decide whether buying a couple of these new cameras will be cost-effective for my business because there’s a distinct possibility that the advantages won’t make me any more money. Built in wifi and GPS are a good idea but I have the WFT-E7 which gives you so much more than the built-in wifi on a camera such as the EOS6D – a camera whose GPS has been switched on to see how it works, realised how much it drains the battery and switched off again.

Having used an EOS1DX MkI for a few days I have high hopes for the implementation of the communication settings on the MkIV. We have fed lots of information back to Canon over the last couple of years and I hope that they have listened. I am also looking forward to what they are going to do with their bundled software. EOS Utility is crying out for some easy improvements and I hope that this new camera will be shipped at the same time as na better application to aid setting it up and maintaining it.

We are all different and we all want subtly different things from our gear. I am quite excited about the EOS5D MkIV but whether or not excitement will turn into ownership is a whole other matter.

Photography compared to…

160408-fairground-074

BOURNEMOUTH, DORSET. 08 April 2016. A fairground on Redhill Common. © Photo Neil Turner – Freelance photographer.

When you try to explain concepts in photography to someone who isn’t deeply embedded in the art/craft/science/passion it makes sense to find something else top compare it to. My favourite comparisons are driving, cooking and sport.

Driving is something most of us do and, on the whole, we do it without having to think too much about the basics. I’ve talked about it before so I’ll quickly recap my thoughts:

Changing gear, using the indicators, knowing when to use windscreen wipers and headlights are all pretty much done on auto-pilot whilst we think more consciously about road awareness, speeds, traffic, navigation and much else besides. The comparison to photography is an easy one to make because there are basic controls that we like to think are second nature; exposure, focusing, making sure we have memory cards and batteries whilst composition and anticipating things happening in front of your camera (and often off to the side and behind you) are things that require more conscious thought.

Tempting though it is to continue stretching the analogy I want to move onto cooking. All pictures have some basic ingredients and the skill of photography is to take those basics, add some interesting extras and know how to combine them and serve them up. That’s the schmultzy bit out of the way. Great chefs (and I’ve photographed a few and dined in the restaurants of several) are constantly looking for new twists and the odd exotic ingredient whilst making food that serves the joint purpose of feeding and engaging diners. Mediocre chefs overdo it, use too many trendy techniques and ingredients at the same time and generally fail in the main task of presenting good food where substance and style are in balance. The rest of us when cooking do the same old dishes, warm up too many ready meals and generally avoid any pretence of culinary ambition or expertise.

I’m pretty sure that I don’t even need to draw the comparisons between cooking and photography except to say that I’d almost rather have the gourmet food and the home cooked stuff all of the time and miss out the self-regarding nonsense in the middle. Restaurant critics and food writers have a lot in common with people who write pretentious twaddle about photography. This is one analogy that can go on for a long time.

So what about sport? I am sitting and writing this on the day of the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics thinking of my many friends and colleagues who are already there working as photographers, editors and photo managers. They will be watching/photographing/witnessing some of the finest athletes in the word today. Athletes that have spent years perfecting their skills and getting themselves into peak condition being photographed by many of the finest photographers who have also spent years getting to where they are today.

Comparing photography to sports isn’t so much about finding similarities – it’s more about the differences. When you run 400 metres as a professional nothing much changes. Tracks are tracks and running shoes develop little by little. I know that diet, training and off-track activities change but, essentially, the principal task remains the same because running one lap of a track as fast as possible is what it is; tremendously tough but always the same. Photographing that event is a constantly changing thing. From black and white to colour, from manual focus to auto-focus and now we have to shift the pictures extremely rapidly too. Technology means that day-to-day, week-to-week and year-to-year shooting the same kind of job changes. An athlete remains at the top of their game for a relatively short time whilst the best photographers are around for decades. A swimmer attending their third or fourth Olympics is news whereas a photographer doing that would be just getting started!

Comparing apples with bananas has value when trying to explain the wider art and craft of photography to someone whose experience has been the odd compact camera and their smartphone. Right now I need to go and explain why it takes at least three hours to do the post-production on a six hour shoot and why I can’t just give the client some rough Jpegs. Anyone got a compelling analogy for that?

Canon feature request?

I had an email from someone who has followed my blogs for many years this week. He’s a working news photographer who I bumped into on a job a few weeks ago. He had noticed some tape on the top of my Canon EOS5D MkIII and my EOS 7D MkII and simply pointed to his cameras and said “snap”. He had tape on his cameras too – doing precisely the same job that the tape on mine does and went on to ask what the chances of Canon making a change to future cameras that would eliminate the need for us to tape that particular feature on our cameras. The email was to remind me that I had promised to do a quick blog post about the issue.

Taped diopter adjustment on a Canon EOS 5d MkIII

Taped diopter adjustment on a Canon EOS 5d MkIII

The tape on our cameras holds the built-in diopter adjustment dial and stops it from being moved in the bag or over your shoulder – something that happens to me a lot if I remove the tape. I have no idea if anyone from Canon’s design department reads this blog (I doubt that they do) but it seems to me that if enough of us sufferers from this problem mention it to them when we talk to them then they just might do something about it. Nikon have a lock on the diopter adjustment on some of their professional cameras so it has to be relatively easy to do.

The EOS5D MkIV will be appearing later this year if all of the rumours are to be believed so this may be a little late but you have to give these things a try.

Canon employees and dealers reading this… please help to reduce my gaffer tape bill. Soon. Please.