Like many photographers I invest a lot of time and energy into my portfolio. I have had a Pixelrights folio since they launched their service earlier this year and every time they add more functionality I tinker with both the design and the content. Right now the service is looking great and the content management system is working well. One of these days I’m going to relegate my other folio platforms and throw everything at this service but until then please come along and have a look at the galleries for portraits, features and my personal work.
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.
Not long after I took redundancy from my staff job at The Times Educational Supplement I spent several days putting together a collection of possible portfolio pictures. I was a long task as I’d been there for over fourteen years and when I eventually published my folio on line I had cut a couple of hundred photographs down to thirty. Whilst I was looking for something else today I came across that folder of 223 pictures and had a good root through.
Like most adventures down memory lane it reminded me of things that I’d forgotten and the story behind this picture immediately jumped into my mind. The lady in the portrait is a blind sculptor originally from Iran who was by this time married to a British teacher and living in south-west London. I have posted a portrait of her on this blog before when I discussed two surprisingly similar portraits that I’d made. This frame from the set has some of the harshest lighting that I’d ever used and it jumped out at me when I was looking today because I rarely use that kind of light any more. I guess that’s partly due to the nature of the clients I work for now – PR and corporates who don’t want anything as edgy as this was – and partly because my first instinct isn’t always to get the lights out any more. Even when I do light portraits I don’t mess around with the light as much as I once did. This goes with my Twitter #PWOTD which is TESTING
Techie stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 70-200 f2.8 L IS lens at 70mm. 200 ISO 1/250th of a second at f8. Lumedyne flash.
The idea here is to have two separate lighting set-ups for one interview portrait without having to constantly move around the room adjusting lights. This interview was with a senior businessman who chairs a body that decides how much teachers’ pay rises will be each year. The reporter wasn’t all that comfortable with me shooting through the interview but it was what the picture editor wanted, so that’s what I did. This job required a bit of quick thinking so that I could get two different set-ups in place.
The picture on the left was lit using a single Lumedyne head at 50 joules bounced off of a wall almost in front of the subject. The image on the right was lit by a single Canon 550ex flash gun with a Honl Photo snoot attached aimed directly at the subjects face and set further away from the camera.
Both flash units were fitted with Pocket Wizard receivers set on different channels from each other. The idea here is that by simply switching between channels on the transmitters I could switch between two very different lighting styles without moving.
The left hand image is far more evenly lit. The large expanse of off-white wall made a very good and large light source. The exposure here was 1/60th of a second at f5.6 on ISO200. There was some available light play – without flash the scene would have been two stops under exposed with that amount of flash. You can see from the diagram below how the room was laid out and the flash head was positioned at about 10 degrees above the subjects eyeline.
The right hand image is far more starkly lit. The exposure was 1/250th of a second at f13 on ISO 200. There is almost no available light in this picture and the lighting effect is dramatically different. The very narrow angle of the light offered by the Honl snoot makes it difficult to always get the subject right in the centre of the small pool of light and so you need to be careful when aiming it to centre it on where the subject is most likely to be.
The point of this technique is that you can arrange more than one style of lighting and then switch between them at will simply by selecting a different channel on the trigger. I find that I use the Honl snoot a lot more than I had imagined that I would. It fits into a bag very easily and it is simple to use. When you are in complete control of the lighting, it’s very easy to achieve dramatic results. This style of light might not be to every picture editor’s taste and so the evenly lit alternative is a very good idea.
This is just another of those “just because I like it” photographs that I have added to my personal work folio on my Pixelrights account. The family had been out to breakfast and we went to the park for the youngest members to have a run around. I had my Fujifilm X20 with me and shot a few frames including this one.
For the technically curious amongst you, the black and white conversion was done in Photoshop with a 5% red layer added to the desaturated sRGB file to give it more body and depth.
When friends of yours start up a new business it is natural to wish it well and then forget all about it until you see those friends again. That’s kind of what happened with me and Pixelrights. Shaun Curry, one of the founders is an old mate and when he rang me out of the blue a while ago to explain his new business venture I was happy for him and offered my support as I would with pretty much any of my friends.
A few months later Shaun got back to me and asked to ‘borrow’ a couple of pictures for their development website. Always happy to help I sent him a couple of JPEGs and signed up for email, Facebook and Twitter feeds to remain abreast of their progress. Once more, nothing much happened and then Pixelrights offered to develop the new website for The BPPA and suddenly there I was having an in depth explanation of their ideas complete with a demonstration of what their idea could offer.
Passive supporter becomes active advocate over the course of one afternoon. I love the idea and I really love the fact that these are people doing what they are doing for money AND for the love of what they might achieve. So what is Pixelrights? Here’s a cut and paste from their own concept page:
Working in photography and the visual arts ourselves, we wanted to create something that we would not only use, but also enjoy using. We saw the need for simple, functional yet sophisticated portfolios which would serve photographer’s interests and needs, in an honest manner with no marketing trickery.
Pixelrights provides a secure, simple, classically-presented choice of website designs, backed up with state-of-the-art technology, all for a single price. There are no hidden charges to remove branding, no divisive price plans and no subscription fee traps.
What it actually provides is a portfolio of the simplest form with good image protection and the option to allow carefully controlled and monitored sharing. There are quite a few design options and there will probably be more by the time the current “Beta” phase is completed. I have three folios on my pages and I have a range of hidden galleries which are invite only so that clients can go and look at images that I have uploaded for them to Dropbox making use of a cool and simple interface. The whole point of a beta phase is to gather opinions of users and make things even better and that’s exactly what is happening.
I’d strongly recommend that you go and check out Pixelrights for yourself and the best way to get there is via my members page. Make sure that you look at the features and the pricing because this is a good idea from good people with an awful lot of backing from working photographers.
It has been a little while since I last posted on this blog; apologies for this but sometimes life gets in the way of blogging! Anyway, I thought that those who are interested in the business side of photography might be interested in something that came into my thinking on a long drive back from a job listening to a business programme on BBC radio. When I got home I produced a couple of reports from my invoices using the wonderful Billings Pro application on my Mac. The one that caught my eye was one that gave me the raw data to work out how the bulk of my work (based on turnover) in the last six years as a freelance has come in.
Conventional wisdom says that a photographer gets out there with their folio after making cold calls and arranging appointments with potential clients. When I say ‘conventional wisdom’ I mean ‘what they taught me in college’. It is the classic sales tactic: research potential customers, show them what you have to offer and then (hopefully) close the deal at a mutually acceptable price. 99% of photographers and probably 88% or all businesses will probably tell you that it is neither that simple or that straightforward.
I started by working out some categories for the way I have initially got the work:
- Cold calling and portfolio viewings
- People finding me via the web
- Referrals from family and friends outside the photography business
- Referrals from other photographers
- From colleagues I knew before going freelance
- Sub-contracted work via other photographers
- Other odd sources
I then quickly added up how much work (monetary value) each of those six sections accounted for and got the following results:
The monetary value for each client is based on that initial method of contact. Some high value clients have been very loyal to me and I hope that I have, in turn, given them the photographs that they need to keep those excellent two-way relationships going. On the flip side, most of the work that has come via the web has been one-off jobs for clients who don’t have a lot of work to commission.
Now I don’t know about you, but I found that to be quite a shocking set of results. Only 5% of my income has been generated by getting out there and trying to make sales in what you would call a ‘traditional’ way yet more than twice that figure came from referrals from other photographers. The sub-contract figure at 27% is also a lot higher than I thought that it would be but the biggest surprise is how low the figure for income generated via work from pre-freelancing colleagues. In my first year as a freelance that figure was considerably higher but it has been eclipsed by the friends and family percentage which, at 44%, is somewhat higher than I would have thought. People finding me through the web includes not only those who have found my website through searches but also the various social media platforms that we all spend so much time working on – 4% isn’t a great return on all of that effort either.
If I had the time, I’d like to work out how different the chart would be if I based the figures on the amount of time spent on the jobs rather than the money invoiced. My strong suspicion is that the cold calling and portfolio section would be a fair bit bigger as would the one for pre-freelancing colleagues because those are both news and editorial biased sections whereas the friends and family one is far more corporate and commercial.
So what conclusion should I draw from this? Maybe I should spend less time trying to generate work from cold-calling and spend a lot more time with family and friends? I suspect that the true answer is that I need to change my targets for the cold calling to more corporate and commercial ones simply because they have a higher value per job.