work

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?

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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?

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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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Canon’s flash evolution

When I switched to Canon cameras from Nikon in 1995 the one thing that I missed from my old F4S cameras and my old SB25 flash units was the accuracy and reliability of the Nikon TTL flash. Canon, with all of their promises for the EOS1N and Speedlite 540EZ combination just couldn’t quite match what I had left behind. I have no idea how Nikon managed to get their off-the-film-plane metering to be so good but it was very good indeed.

Coincidentally, it was about this time that I started to use high quality battery powered lights. The Lumedynes that I took delivery of in 1996 changed my professional life and TTL flash became something that I used when I absolutely had to.

Fast forward to 1998 and the arrival of the first decent digital cameras we had (the Kodak DCS520/Canon D2000) and flash took a big backward step. There was no ‘film plane’ for the cameras to meter from and we had to dig out old Vivitar and Metz flash units with old fashioned auto settings just to get somewhere near where we needed to be with our exposures. Canon introduced the 380EX flash which helped but it was basic and relatively low powered with no swivel head and working with them wasn’t a patch on shooting with the pre-digital Canons, let alone the film based Nikons.

Time passed and with every new camera and every new flash unit things got a tiny bit better but I have never felt as comfortable or as confident with TTL flash on digital Canons as I did with film Nikons. There were work-arounds – I used flash exposure compensation at the same time as reviewing the LCD screen and using some pretty good guesswork which, when used with RAW files, meant that we were always able to do the job but it was never without effort in the way that you used to be able to shoot flash with the far less forgiving transparency film.

That was until now. Strike up the band. Hang out the bunting. Canon have, in my opinion, finally done it. They have a camera and flash combination that handles TTL as well as anything that I’ve ever used professionally. A few weeks and a few jobs with the new Speedlite 600EX II RT on my EOS5D MkIV cameras have convinced me that twenty plus years of being unsure with on-camera flash are over. Congratulations to everyone at Canon involved in this evolutionary process – well done.

Footnote: I have owned and used 220EX, 380EX, 420EX, 430 EX II, 430 EX III RT, 540EZ, 550EX, 580EX II, 600 EX RT Speedlites before arriving at the 600 EX II RT. I’ve had the ST-E2 and ST-E3 RT transmitters and any number of external flash packs and light modifiers. The joys of being a photographer – no wonder so many of colleagues swear by ambient light.

Whilst I was out…

Whilst I was out shooting some pictures for the EOS5D Mark IV Update I shot a small set of pictures that reminded me that it is almost inevitable that you find interesting human stories whenever you are out shooting pictures. I met and chatted to a former Royal Marine who had donned his green beret and his medals to come along at the eleventh hour to honour one of his relatives –  a Royal Marine Musician – who died when the ship he was on, HMS Hood, was sunk in 1941.

A moving gesture from a man who had himself served for over 27 years for a relative and fellow Marine who he had never met.

Mark Tapping who served 27 years in the Royal Marines places a framed photograph of his relative Royal Marine Musician Albert Pike who died when HMS Hood was sunk on the 24th of May 1941. Armistice Day at the War Memorial in Bournemouth 11 November 2016. Bournemouth, United Kingdom. Photo: Neil Turner

Mark Tapping who served 27 years in the Royal Marines places a framed photograph of his relative Royal Marine Musician Albert Pike who died when HMS Hood was sunk on the 24th of May 1941 on the memorial. Armistice Day at the War Memorial in Bournemouth
11 November 2016. Bournemouth, United Kingdom.
Photo: Neil Turner

 

Lightweight lighting

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Front & rear views of the Elinchrom Portalite pressed into action.

Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I like using the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra system for a lot of my work. Next week I have a job coming up where I need to be able to pack light and rush around and I have been perfecting using the Canon radio slave system so that I can just use my Speedlights and a couple of tiny stands on the job. Whilst playing around I thought that I’d see how easily I could attach an old Elinchrom Portalite softbox to the Canon and the answer was “frightningly easily”. The Canon Speedlight 600EX II-RT comes with a diffuser cap and just popping that onto the flash after the flash tube section had been pushed through the plastic Quadra mount held the softbox rather well. I could easily add some foam tape or some velcro but this will stay in place unless I shake it around. It’s a bit smaller than I’d like a softbox to be but it is supremely light and so I’ll just have to get it that bit closer to the subject.

The Portalite folds up really small too and so I have another choice when I’m shooting. I will probably use a Westcott double folding umbrella most of the time but it really does pay to have options. Best of both modifiers work absolutely brilliantly with the Canon wireless remote set up with the ST-E3-RT transmitter and the RT flash. From testing today the recycle times on the 600EX II-RT are better than any Speedlight that I’ve ever used before and because of that I’m more than happy to work this way for this specific job.