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How many hours in a day?

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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.

 

The Photographers’ Summit 2017

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A graphical breakdown of the types of work that I do these days and where the images end up.

I do quite a few talks and lectures throughout the year and I don’t normally discuss the specifics here on the blog because they are rarely open to a general paying audience. This one is different. The National Union of Journalists here in the United Kingdom invited me to run a couple of one hour workshops at a very interesting event they are running in London this Saturday. Titled “The Photographers’ Summit 2017” the day includes the following:

  • Improve your videography skills.
  • Rights & restrictions: how privacy and property laws affect photographers & videographers.
  • Using copyright law to make sure you don’t get ripped off.
  • Moving from staff to freelance photographer.
  • Innovations in photography — 360degree filming and other developments.
  • New models and ways to make money.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a member of the NUJ to attend and it looks likely to be an interesting day.

My part in the proceedings is to do two identical one hour sessions which I have given the working title of “Making a living with the skill set of a press photographer”. OK, so it isn’t particularly catchy but it does sum up what I’ve been tasked with delivering. What I am trying to do is to say to people with press photography skills that they can take those skills and use them elsewhere within the wider photography industry given that the market for news pictures has been shrinking and changing for many years and given that the world still has a massive appetite for photographs. We’ve all had to accept that a relatively small percentage of those pictures come from professionals but it is my contention that as we reach saturation point for the quantity of images the only place to do go is to do something about the quality. Press photographers have the skills to be part of that change and we just need to do something about applying those transferable skills to the task.

As a quick preview of what I’m saying I have done an updated pie chart (yes, there will be pie charts) based on the one that I did for this blog a few years ago when I wrote about where the work comes from. The changes aren’t too big but it’s worth going back and reading the original article to see how this chart came about.

The 2015/2016 financial year's version of the pie chart.

The 2015/2016 financial year’s version of the pie chart.

Now these are only two of the 20+ slides that I am currently planning to use and for the whole explanation there’s no substitute for being there. These are only a one hour sessions (I’m doing the same one twice) and the material that I have had to condense down normally takes about twenty hours to deliver. Ours is a complex business and it would be childish to promise to distill the last eight and a half years worth of freelance business experience down into a few catchy subtitles but I have had a go, so my talk will feature the following in reverse order;

  • Seven vital skills to learn or develop
  • Six things that press photographers have going for them
  • Five things that press photographers need to know
  • Four assumptions we can make about the industry
  • Three facts about me
  • Two distinct parts to the session
  • One major piece of advice

Christmas is long gone and so there won’t be any partridges in any pear trees (at least in my sessions) and if any Lords turn up they will be asked to restrict their leaping to the breaks. I’m hoping that the whole day will be both fun and informative and that we’ll all get a chance to do some serious networking in the breaks.

If you are interested, there were still a few tickets available at a cost of £35 each for non-members and £15 each for members.

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Hands and portraits

John Redwood MP, photographed during an interview in January 1994. © Neil Turner/Insight.

John Redwood MP, photographed during an interview in January 1994. © Neil Turner/Insight.

It’s January 2017 and like most photographers I am looking forward to the year with a mix of excitement and trepidation. What kinds of challenging and interesting projects are going to come my way in the next eleven and a half months? How is my work going to develop? Am I going to get enough work to pay the bills? Big questions that add to the roller-coaster of emotions that being freelance brings out.

One of the things that I always try to do is look back at some of last year’s work and compare it to older stuff and try to come up with some thoughts that help me to understand my own style better and to make sure that I don’t get tripped up by the same old mistakes. There’s a question that pops into my head about this time every year and it is one that I think that I am finally happy to answer:

What do you do with hands in editorial style portraits?

Almost every time that I shoot a portrait I try to give the client/editor as much choice as I can. Tight head and shoulders only portraits are one thing but what about wider compositions where the subject’s arms and hands start to feature? How should I get people, who don’t do it naturally, to pose? I quite like to keep some pictures as tight as I can and so folded arms are really useful because they bring the hands and arms higher up the body allowing me to frame the photographs that bit tighter. Nine times out of every ten that you ask someone to fold their arms you end up having a conversation about body language and lots of corporate types have been told by their PR people that folded arms look defensive. If only all things were that simple: folded arms bad/hands in pockets good just doesn’t work in photography. Folded arms in pictures can appear defensive but they can also appear as positives – they can be friendly, strong, loving, confident, feeling cold and so many other things. On the negative side they can appear aggressive, angry, lacking in confidence and forced. If you put “body language folded arms” into your favourite search engine you’ll get a few thousand articles written from a few hundred different perspectives telling you that folded arms can mean a number of different things and that context matters. Like so many things in life, it is a matter of judgement and skill and in the photographic portrait it is definitely a matter of getting the relationship between the folded arms, the composition and the facial expression right.

I can understand why PR people are wary of folded arms because they can go hideously wrong but you should never rule out a fantastic photographic tool just because it can be misused.

What about hands in pockets?

I’ve already mentioned hands in pockets. This, by the very fact that the hands are further away from the face, gives a wider composition and some people look great when relaxing hands in pockets whilst others look awkward. That’s where the skill of the portraitist comes into its own; working out who does what well and getting them to trust your judgement when photographing them that way. The difference between lazy and relaxed isn’t that great and you need to train yourself to distinguish between the two.

Over the last twelve months I have been asked to shoot a lot of pictures where the subject has their hand on their chin/lips/ears/hair (mirroring one of the least appealing ‘selfie’ trends appearing all over social media) or where they are cupping their face with their elbows on a table or the back of a chair. It isn’t something I would naturally ask someone to do but if they naturally do it themselves then I will often work with it and see if it makes the picture. Sometimes it comes off but it mostly looks contrived and, quite frankly, a bit naff. Did I say a bit naff? I meant a lot naff.

What else can you do?

One of the most useful ways to shoot portraits is to do it when the subject is talking to you or to someone else and gets a bit animated. Hands suddenly move away from being a potential problem to be a massive asset. Again you have to be a bit careful about what kind of gesture because we all know that pointing fingers, waving two fingers or forming a fist can be misinterpreted very quickly but, if you are in the business of portraying someone as they really are then their subconscious hand movements are a very useful way of getting there quickly.

Jacqueline Wilson receives up to 400 letters from young readers each week and does her best to answer as many of them personally as she can. © Neil Turner/TSL

Jacqueline Wilson receives up to 400 letters from young readers each week and does her best to answer as many of them personally as she can. © Neil Turner/TSL

Back in the mid 1990s I even shot just people’s hands on several occasions. Lots of people were exploring the same idea and several photographers did it far more assiduously and successfully than me. It is, however a great exercise for two reasons: the first is that it gets you notice that people have character in bits of their body other than their faces and the second is that shooting their hands can help to relax more nervous subjects.

Of course you can get the subject to clasp their hands gently on front of them or behind their backs. Hands on hips works about 2% of the time and almost always requires a smile

You may have noticed that I’ve used words like useful and often and sometimes a lot in this short post. That’s deliberate because there really are very few hard and fast rules in good portraiture. Getting people’s hands into the frame is something that I love to do (not a January 2017 revelation) and portraying people as themselves is a primary goal (probably a January 1987 thought). Great portraits rely on a number of factors working together and getting something that is a lot stronger than the sum of its parts.

My January 2017 goal for the year is to get better at the way hands appear in my portraits. I’m not going to shy away from folded arms, hands on hips or anything else but I’m not going to ask anyone to touch their lips or in any other way pose as if they were a teenager doing a selfie that they’ll regret in six months time.

Want to see more? My portraits portfolio can be seen here.

Think Tank Logistics Manager 30

31 May 2016. Bournemouth, Dorset. Think Tank Logistics Manager 30. Hillcrest Road

Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

A few weeks ago I bought some more Elinchrom Ranger Quadra kit and after a short while lugging my gear around in multiple bags and cases I decided that it was time to get myself one big case to take most or all of my Quadra gear. My rationale was that I am pulling one bag on wheels and carrying two or three others so why not make it one on wheels with the lighting and one smaller bag with cameras and lenses riding on top of it or over my shoulder as required? There’s quite a bit of choice on the market but all of my experience with Think Tank bags told me to start my search there. They make lots of rolling bags but only three specifically designed to lug large amounts of kit. My benchmark was that I had to be able to get at least two of my Manfrotto 156 stands plus a couple of Manfrotto 001s in there along with two or three packs, three or four heads, spare batteries, cables, light modifiers and plenty of accessories.

I had previously seen a colleagues Location Manager 40 case and so I wanted to check out the Logistics Manager 30 because on paper it appeared to be just about perfect. The internal dimensions were listed at 70cm length. My 051 stands are 68cm when folded and so I tried one and when it fitted the deal was pretty much sealed. All I needed to do was make sure that it fitted into the boot (trunk) of the car and it was at this point that I realised that neither of the two bigger “Manager” series bags would have worked. The 30 goes in with a bit to spare but anything much longer would need to go sideways and therefore wouldn’t be much use.

In the ten days or so since buying the case I have only used it twice. On job number one I was delighted with it when rolling it but less so when having to lift it up stairs or into the boot (trunk) of the car. There’s no bag or case in the world that can magically make its contents weigh less and the temptation to load this one has to be tempered with my need to be able to lift it. For job two I went with just two packs, two spare batteries, three heads and only three stands and quickly realised that I could only fully load this case if I were working with someone else who could help with the lifting. I’m getting old!

My loaded and ready to roll current configuration for the Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

My loaded and ready to roll current configuration for the Think Tank Logistics Manager 30.

I am happy to report that this case comes with so many options for the inserts and dividers that I have a medium sized carrier bag full of unused bits. The flexibility is amazing and the quality of the construction appears to be right up there with every other bit of Think Tank kit I own. I am particularly pleased with the zipped mesh compartments in the lid. I have lots of gels cut into manageable pieces and they fitted into one of them very well whilst the other swallowed lots of those small accessories that can otherwise get lost drifting around in the base of the bag. You can see that I have a couple of pouches in this case. One has the Elinchrom Skyport HS triggers and the other has lots of small and medium sized clips which are great for holding gels etc.

I’m sure that there’ll be a few tweaks and some settling in but, for now, this layout works very well for me when I am working on my own. I haven’t even thought about using any of the exterior pockets but I have already given the built-in combination lock a go – chaining my locked bag to a radiator after I’d finished shooting, packed up and whilst I’d gone for coffee with the client.

My final point here is that turning up with completely professional solutions is good for your image. I’m sure that a reasonable quality suitcase with some makeshift padding would work almost as well and cost £200 less but this really is doing the job properly and my client definitely noticed.

Thinking on your feet

My shadow using a monopod to get a high angle picture. March 2016 ©Neil Turner

My shadow using a monopod to get a high angle picture. March 2016 ©Neil Turner

I was out shooting a job yesterday and needed to get quite a bit of extra height. The best place to shoot the picture from was on the side of a grassy hill which was very wet and the client’s health and safety policies meant that it wasn’t going to be easy to use a step ladder – whilst building a tower was outside the budget. In an ideal world a proper pole-cam or even a drone would have been the best option but the light was right and I needed to improvise.

Having used the Canon EOS6D as a remote via their iPhone app once before I was reasonably confident that my idea would work but the app has been replaced/updated and it meant learning the new one on the job. I had a basic monopod, a tripod head and a Manfrotto Super Clamp in the car but no proper way to attach the phone to the monopod to use as a viewfinder and remote release. With a proper pole-cam you rest the base of the pole on the ground and it is pretty stable. You also have a cradle for the phone or even a tablet if you want to go bigger. I had to tuck the foot of the monopod into my belt to get enough height but I had about an hour so I went into full “1970s Blue Peter” improvisation mode.

The cradle that holds my iPhone in my car was pressed into service and that attached very easily to the Manfrotto Super Clamp. Having extended the monopod to its full height I then attached the clamp to the second stage of the monopod (about eye-level when the whole thing was in use I guessed). Then I stuck the tripod head onto the monopod tilting down a little and put the EOS6D with a Canon 16-35 f4L IS lens on it. Whilst all of this was being done I was downloading the latest Canon Camera Connect app from the Apple App Store.

After a few minutes messing with settings I had the system working. I could use the phone as a viewfinder and a remote release for the Canon DSLR and I set about shooting the pictures without leaving the ground myself. After a minute or two I decided that I needed more height to look down on the subject a bit more and so I tilted the tripod head down a little and when I put the camera back into the air the foot of the monopod was resting on my chest. Even with a camera as light as the 6D I couldn’t hold it up for more than a minute at a time but we got the shot and I only got pointed at (and laughed at) by a small handful of passers-by. I wouldn’t want to have to work this way very often but, having just edited and uploaded the pictures, I know that I have a “Blue Peter”** solution that works.

** Blue Peter was required viewing as a child growing up in the 1970s. They always showed you how to make useful things from odds and ends lying around the house.

Getting pictures away quickly

Getting photographs to the client has always been one of the less glamorous aspects of being a professional photographer. From sticking a pile of prints into an envelope and handing them to a courier to scanning negatives before using clunky slow modems to deliver them right up until today’s relatively painless methods nobody in their right mind would list this part of the process as either satisfying or easy.

The arrival of social media and the realisation amongst better clients that using our work rather than their own smartphone snaps has meant that we have had to speed things up a lot. I’ve always liked Eye-Fi cards but more recently I have been working with clients and with projects where something even more reliable and configurable is required. The worst part of it is that there isn’t actually one simple solution or workflow that will satisfy all of them in all circumstances. For a lot of jobs transferring the pictures from the camera to a smartphone or tablet before captioning and shifting them to the client is quick enough and I’ve written about that workflow before. New software appears all of the time and I am always looking at ways to make things smarter and quicker by introducing some automation and cutting steps out.

Live Ingest window from Photo Mechanic 5.

Live Ingest window from Photo Mechanic 5.

I have other ways to get pictures to my clients. For example, I was shooting a whole bunch of corporate head-shots at a conference recently and the client wanted them straight away for various social media and powerpoint uses. We needed to work out the best method for both of us and their AV people mentioned that a shared Dropbox folder would suit their needs best. Working backwards from there I decided to use my Canon EOS6D camera which has some built in wireless networking and set it up to send medium resolution Jpegs to one of my laptops sitting in the conference centre. That’s easy enough to do using Canon’s own EOS Utility software. I had Photo Mechanic running on the laptop with a “Live Ingest” watching the folder where the Jpegs were arriving. The ingest added a basic caption and my details as well as the accurate time before copying the files to pre-shared Dropbox folders where the client, their social media team and the audio visual technicians could do what they needed to do with them. Somebody else was then re-naming the files with the subject’s name and everyone was very happy.

That’s one solution but it wouldn’t necessarily work for other clients. Another recent case needed a different idea. I needed to supply very rapid pictures to the client’s FTP address from the camera. This made captioning much harder and between us we agreed that for social media use they only needed relatively small files and that speed was more important than anything else. Later in the day I would have time to process and properly caption the RAW files and so I set up the 5D MkIII to shoot RAW to the CF card and medium compressed Jpegs to the SD card.

Whilst the Eye-Fi ProX2 can send pictures over FTP I went with Canon’s own wifi transmitter the WFT-E7 for several reasons, not the least of which is that it gives you proper feedback when the file has been transferred. I also made sure that the playback on the camera screen was set to card 2 (the SD card) which makes selection and sending from the camera a lot easier. On this occasion I used my own 4G Mifi unit to do all of the transfers as I was in an area with brilliant 4G signals and there wasn’t much network congestion as everyone else in the place seemed to be using the free wifi. It takes about five minutes using the built-in wizard in the camera to set up a new connection and we tested the system ahead of the event. The idea was simple – every time there was a lull in the event, I would quickly scroll back through the recent pictures and use the ‘set’ button on the camera to transmit the chosen Jpegs to the client’s server and into a pre-designated folder on the server. If it became too busy to make selections I could simply switch to sending every single file. The system worked pretty much flawlessly all day and the battery on the WFT-E7 was still at 66% after five hours use. I did not have to resort to sending everything – much to everyone’s great relief!

Other professional cameras have their own dedicated wifi transmitters but some of them kill the camera’s own batteries. That is definitely the case with the EOS6D – battery drain is huge and you need to make sure that you have plenty of spares with you. Over the last couple of years I have worked with half a dozen different cameras and their accompanying transmitters – from Nikon, Canon and Fujifilm – as well as trying most of the aftermarket options from SD cards to the rather impressive Camranger. I really like the Canon WFT-E7 even if it is a bit cumbersome when attached to the bottom of the camera and so I tend to use it on a longish cable with the unit on my belt or in a pocket.

There’s one other technique that I use from time to time and it is probably the most reliable of all and that is to connect the camera to the laptop and share the pictures that way. When there is a choice between a bit of cable or a wireless connection I will always use the bit of cable because it is less prone to interference. It means that it becomes harder to move around but a cable from the camera into a laptop running with the lid closed inside a small rucksack is sometimes the way to go. Getting an Apple laptop to keep working with the lid closed requires some third party software and I’ve found InsomniaX to be very good for this specific job. The laptop battery takes a bit of a hit but it is otherwise a reliable way to go. This isn’t a particularly elegant solution but it is one of the many solutions that I have at my disposal.

Having many ways to achieve similar goals means that I can satisfy a range of clients by tailoring my service to their needs. Some days I don’t need to supply pictures quickly but those days appear to be getting fewer and further between. There’s so much more to this whole topic than I have space for here such as being able to verify which files have arrived safely and having the ability to back up remotely as you work. The worst part is that I am starting to find this whole topic interesting or even satisfying which, according to the opening paragraph makes me someone not in their right mind!