Aspiration Images Blog - Photography News and Comments by Bob ShawAspiration Images Blog | Photography News and Comments by Bob Shaw

So you want to be a professional photographer? (or run any other type of business)

The question is often asked, “How much should I charge for my work”?  The answer is that you charge as much as you need to charge.

The principles are the same in any business. Work out your overheads, and then work out how much work you need to do to cover them. Then the figures just fall out.

So let’s say your overheads look something like this:

Rent                            $1000 pm                              $12000 / yr

Advertising fixed       $200                                       $2400

Internet / Web          $100 pm                                $1200

Wages                         $4000                                     $48,000

Total                                                   $63,600

Note the wages are YOUR wages. If you have staff then you have extra overheads.

If you can’t pay yourself a basic wage (eventually) then you need to stop doing it and go and work on a checkout at Woolworths or something. Either that or you regard it as a hobby.

Then you look at what you need to sell to achieve the overheads. You may do portraits, landscapes or whatever. Let’s say that you do portraits.

So you could sell one portrait session for $63,600 and you would be right! For most of us that is not going to happen.

So say a portrait session is $500. Then you would need to do 127 or so portraits a year.  That’s roughly three portraits in a week. That’s a fairly relaxed number.

Say that you were charging $100 for a portrait session though. You would need to do 636 portraits or about 13 a week.

Unfortunately you don’t have all week to do portraits. In practice you can only work about two days and need to spend 3 days marketing yourself.

The next thing to consider is that sales aren’t free. For each sale there is a cost. This is called “Cost of Goods Sold” or COGS. So for each portrait session there is a cost to make the prints and frame them or whatever. These are you Variable costs, the ones that you incur the more you sell.

This is fairly basic. Anyone considering doing professional photography should consult with their industry body and perhaps do a mentoring program. In Australia, talk to the AIPP or ACMP. The AIPP I know has some excellent material and does a mentoring program. See www.aipp.com.au

Better Photography also has a lot of good information and courses at www.betterphotography.com

As they say, this is general and it is not advise and may not apply to your particular situation. You should seek independent professional advise before any decision.

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Camera sensor size … what’s the difference?

There are often questions asked about what is the difference between a “full frame” sensor on a camera and a “cropped” sensor. This will hopefully explain the differences.

A “Full frame” camera has a sensor the same as size as 35mm film, being 36mm x 24mm. The film was 35mm wide and with sprocket holes etc allowed the 24mm width and it was very popular over a long period of time.

APS stood for Advanced Photo System and the idea was that you could take portrait, landscape and panoramic images with the same film by selecting a switch on the camera before you shot. It never really took off.

APS-C is a format 22.5mm x 15mm so it is the same aspect ratio as full frame (3:2) but much smaller in each direction. This means that for a given lens the image will appear 1.6 times bigger in each direction or 2.5 times bigger in area overall.

There are some advantages to this. The camera and lenses can be smaller and distant objects will appear bigger. Because the sensor is small the moving parts like shutter and mirror can also be smaller and so a faster frame rate can be achieved. These advantages also apply to most point and shoot cameras.

The disadvantages are that you lose wide angle capability and the lenses no longer work as they should for the focal length they are made for. By that I mean a wide angle lens is no longer wide and a portrait lens, if you even have the space, puts you too far from the subject.

Because the sensor is smaller the pixels or picture elements are smaller and closer together for a given resolution so this makes the images noisier. All imperfections from the lens or dust etc are also magnified 2.5 times more.

When you print an APS sensor to A4 you have to magnify the image from 22.5 to 297 mm or 13 times in that direction. So your A4 print is basically 169 times as big as what you captured. It had better be good.

Your A4 print off a full frame camera is magnified from 36 to 297 so its magnified 8 times each way or 64 times. That’s a pretty big difference in potential image quality.

So yes, a full frame camera, ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL, does take better photographs, but you may need to magnify them up to see. The differences in usage however are apparent as soon as you have look through the viewfinder.

If you step up to medium format the same thing happens again. An A4 print off a 645 camera (56 x 42mm) would be magnified from 56mm to 297 or 5 times, so roughly only 25 times.

With cameras, if image quality is the criteria, for a given brand and lens, bigger is better.

If you photograph architecture, landscapes or portraits you will almost certainly be better off with a full frame camera.

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Portrait Photography.

What is a portrait? According to Wikipedia, a portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. I have also heard the word portrait refer to pictures of animals, like a portrait of a walrus. So beauty is not essential.

Like all photography, the key to a successful portrait is lighting. You should flatter or show the character of the subject. You can use natural lighting, continuous lighting or flash lighting or a combination. Each has its benefits, but for still photography I generally use flash. Indoors with flash lighting you can reproduce the same lighting at mid-day or mid-night and outdoors on location you can light the environment and the subject separately.

Your main light is called the “key” light and its purpose is to simulate the sun (if you aren’t actually using the sun). That means it is never below the level of the eyes and on this planet there is only one key light. Other lights are “fill” lights of various types to reduce shadows or light specific areas like the hair or eyes.

If you are using studio lighting you must embark on the single thing that will make 90% of “people who own cameras” turn into “photographers”. That is, the use of the dreaded but essential, Manual Mode. Until you have master manual mode you are merely allowing some technician in Japan to make your exposure decisions for you. You will probably also be using manual focus, at least to some extent. Having 45 Focus Points on your very expensive camera is fairly useless. The only thing in portraiture that needs to be in focus and correctly exposed are the subject’s eyes, not the tree stump she is standing next to.

Equipment wise, a “portrait” lens is a short telephoto lens 80-180mm in focal length. This is because a wide angle lens expands the distance between foreground and background giving landscapes depth. A telephoto lens compresses distance so foreground and background appear closer together. This means your subject does not have a big nose compared to her ears. Big noses created by the photographer are generally not flattering to the subject.

For this reason full frame cameras like the 5DMk2 or D700 are regarded as entry level in portraiture and especially fashion, with the real pros using medium format like Hasselblad or PhaseOne. If you put an 80 mm lens on a cropped sensor camera you will find you need to be nearly 5 metres from the subject to take a full length shot, which is an unworkable distance. With full frame you are 3 metres. A medium format will let you work 2 metres away. But don’t despair, work with what you have.

I hope that has been informative. I run a one day Studio Workshop and Model Shoot in Sydney for those interested in learning more. I also run location shoots. The next ones are on the 25 June and 2nd July around the Royal National Park. I supply the model and lighting equipment. Details at http://AspirationImages.com

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Focus on Narooma, NSW

Narooma is a quiet seaside town with a population of 8500 about 320 Km and 3 1/2 hours south of Sydney.  It is at the southern end of the Eurobodalla Shire which includes Batemans Bay in the north and down to Tilba Tilba in the south.

Narooma is a great spot for fishing, water sports in general, photographers, artists, nature lovers and those that just want to relax.

Plenty of accommodation is to be found at the many motels or the two caravan parks. We stayed at the very economical Tree Motel at the southern end of town, just past the Narooma Plaza shopping complex. The Tree Motel is named after the estimated 350 year old Spotted Gum tree on the site. This would have been a large tree when Captain Cook came past in 1770. The motel also has a heated swimming pool and barbeque area which is very pleasant at the end of the day.

Narooma is located on the Wagonga  Inlet and the water is so clean and blue that Narooma Blue is now a Ford car colour.    In Narooma itself the shops are spread along the Princes Highway.

Just North of the bridge is the Boardwalk which takes you along the Wagonga Inlet to Apex Park, Bar Beach and the breakwall. Just South of the bridge you follow the inlet around to Quota Park picnic spot and the restaurants on the inlet. Take a cruise on the Wagonga Princess and learn some of the history of the area and sample the local oysters over a Devonshire Tea with the very funny master Charlie Bettini.

Continue your walk along the inlet to the marina at Forsters Bay. Here you can get a prepared lunch box of seafood at the Narooma Oyster Supplies and watch the sun go down. The road heads very steeply up Davidson Street to the Princes Highway again and comes out between the Plaza shopping centre and the Tree Motel.

If you head down Willcocks Avenue from the Narooma Plaza you arrive at the Narooma Beach adjacent the caravan park and Narooma Golf Course. The golf course follows the headland with spectacular views of the ocean. The golf clubhouse also provides quality meals and entertainment and has a courtesy bus as well.

Mystery Bay is about 10 Km south of Narooma and has a camping ground. There are some very interesting rock formations on the beach.  The historic town of Central Tilba near Mt Dromedary has some very unusual boutique shops and a pub called the Dromedary Hotel with a beer garden.  Check out also the Tilba Cheese. If you continue to follow the road you finish up on Tourist Road 6 which was the old Princes Highway. There are many homesteads, creeks and lakes to interest the landscape photographer. The road eventually brings you back to Narooma just south of the Tree Motel.

We spent a week at Narooma and enjoyed it. I hope you do too.

(Bob conducts Photography Studio Workshops in Sydney. Details at AspirationImages.com/workshops or click the Workshops link in the menu)

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Book Review “How To Shoot A Reportage” by Enzo Dal Verme

Milan/Paris-based photographer and writer Enzo Dal Verme has written a new photography manual titled,
“How To Shoot A Reportage” – Brutally practical tips and tricks”.

Reportage has various meanings but relates to a journalistic reporting of events or telling a story in pictures and words.

In “How to Shoot a Reportage”, Enzo reveals some of his shooting tricks for an inside look at the world of reportages and travel photojournalism.

Enzo takes you through starting with an idea and how to develop the inspiration for photographing and writing.

He includes researching and preparing for the trip, getting all the appropriate permits, what to take and then onto the more technical aspects of the photography.

The photography aspect covers what to shoot and what not to shoot, getting the releases and publishing.

The author covers what to do from arriving at the site, workflow to maximize productivity, and meeting and socialising with the locals and how to interview people.

Sections on camera controls are relevant for all photography but with a twist to emphasise the photojournalism and how to allow for print requirements.

He also covers post production, what you need to do to get it into shape and how to present it to magazines for potential sales or present it on the Internet.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in producing a reportage.

Is now available 
as an e-book and soon in print at
http://www.enzodalverme.com/blog/2010/12/how-to-shoot-a-reportage-the-manual/

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A funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

The Internet is a wonderful thing. The amount of information available on almost anything is often too much to analyse. Part of the reason for this is anyone can contribute.

Average people can now contribute to encyclopaedias without any qualifications or possibly real experience in the subject. This can be good in contributing to the overall wealth of knowledge but it can also lead to some strange versions of truth.

Forums are an example of the random nature of opinion. Mr Average can join a forum on brain surgery and offer an opinion on a method to do a procedure using tweezers. It gets commented, tagged and linked to a few times and suddenly it’s the new truth.

I frequent quite a few forums on photography and even on the ones for professionals many of the comments are advocating methods that I have never seen any professional use.

Common questions are on preferred camera brands or is x better than y. These sort of posts lead to a string of responses and often heated discussion.

At the end of the day, your choice of equipment is a mixture of personal preference and commercial reality. Professionals use products that meet the needs of the client and provide the best return on investment.

Reliability and support are key ingredients here. Canon and Nikon have Professional Services groups that provide rapid turnaround on repairs and other services.

Most professionals have been around since film days and regard a full frame camera as entry level for most work and for studio work need a medium format camera.

For sport (or even to catch a fast moving eyelid) a high frame rate may be preferred. This may require a slightly smaller sensor, however the quality of these high end cameras means minimal loss of image quality.

In conclusion, professionals as well as non professionals choose their equipment for a variety of reasons. So a forum question on “what is the best portrait lens” will get responses varying from 85 mm 1.2 at over $2000 down to the guy that shoots portraits with a Rebel and 18-55 kit lens. Best is what’s best for you.

(Bob conducts Studio Workshops in Sydney. Details at AspirationImages.com/workshops or click the Workshops link in the menu)

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Your Digital Legacy – Part 5. Storage and Backup.

For storage I have based mine on popular American commercial photographer Chase Jarvis’s solution. See
http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2010/06/workflow-and-backup-for-photo-video/

Chase uses Apple Xserve servers connected to a bank of Fibre Channel Hard Drives and TimeMachine to automatically backup, along with an off site storage system.

This is serious money and you may not need all of this stuff from the start, but it’s good to know it can all be done.

I use a Mac OS Mini Server and a 2 Terabyte Firewire drive, with a 2 TB USB connected backup. Unlike USB, you can daisy chain up 64 drives with Firewire. I also have a docking station where I can plug in a drive and make a copy that I can take off site once a month.

A warning on backup. Some people advocate RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives) as a backup solution. RAID is a redundancy solution. Redundancy means there is a spare drive that will keep the computer going without interruption if the main drive fails. It gives you time to replace the faulty drive without your machine stopping. However RAID provides absolutely zero backup.

Backup means a separate storage device that you can go back to if your main storage loses something. It is a snapshot taken in time of your data. If you have a backup taken yesterday and you delete a file accidentally today, then you can go back to the backup copy, find the file and restore it.

If you accidentally delete a file on a raid system, or it gets a power surge, or the software controlling the raid fails, the file is probably gone forever.

A backup should therefore ideally not be a live system, not powered up and not at the same site.

MORAL 5. Check and review your backup situation.

I hope you have found this series on Your Digital Legacy useful.

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Your Digital Legacy – Part 4. Computers – Get a Mac

Your image is just a data file, or a collection of zeroes and ones called BITS (BInary digiTS) of information stored in a computer memory. For a modern digital SLR camera shooting a 20Megapixel (20M) image there can be 240 million bits in a single image. Bits are arranged into 8 bit words called Bytes (B). Each image is therefore 30 Megabytes (30MB) in size.

Take 800 images (easily) a day at a wedding and you can see that your image storage requirements are going to grow rapidly.

In the film world if a silverfish or mouse nibbled at the corner of a photo it may still be readable, but in the digital file any corruptions and the whole image is possibly unreadable. You need to have reliable computer equipment and reliable storage of your files.

I use Apple Mac equipment. Others argue that PCs are just as good or better but they are mistaken. Having used PCs and Apple side by side for over twenty years I believe I can speak with experience. Most professional photographers I have seen are using Macs, so that tends to support the argument.

The Apple OSX operating system supports Raw files natively. You can open a Raw image file directly in operating system. Windows requires additional software to supply the necessary decoders and that can result in inconsistent quality. Hasselblad do not offer the same support for other cameras on its Phocus 2.5 software for the Windows platform as it does for Mac OS for this reason.

The Apple Mac is based on the Unix operating system, probably the most reliable system commercially available. It comes with built in automatic backup in the form of TimeMachine and it has FireWire 800Mb/S data transfer to peripherals.

It is also easy to connect with servers and the server licences do not have client fees. Operating systems and upgrades are comparatively cheap. The last upgrade from OS 10.5 to OS 10.6 cost $39 retail in a box, and you get the full version, not “Home” versions. Compare that to Windows 7 for around $400.

Cool stuff is the integration with wireless networking through Apple Air Port Wifi and other products. The display options for not just photos but movies and music through iPhone, iPad and Apple TV are all excellent.

MORAL 4. Get a Mac. It just works.

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Your Digital Legacy – Part 3. File Numbering

When I bought my first Canon digital camera in 2005 it was very disappointing. I used it a few times and went back to film. The camera gradually passed from person to person and became the tool for eBay snaps only. However some happy snaps of the family are still in the collection.

The images have a file numbering that consist of “IMG” + 4 digits for the image number. So the first image was IMG0001.

In 2007 I bought a Canon 350D and put the film camera aside. The first image I took with it was IMG0001.

I stored my images on the Mac and catalogued them. I was careful to put images in different folders by year and groups of image numbers. However without even being aware at the time I was creating a huge problem.

By 2009 I had clocked up 10000 images and the little counter went over from IMG9999 and the next image or so was IMG0001.

I took about another 700 images with the 350D before buying the 5DMk2 in 2009. The first image was IMG0001. (Actually _MG0001 if shooting in AdobeRGB)

Even though all of these duplicate number images were in different folders, when you start to edit them and import them into catalogue programs, the software only knows them by the file name, IMG0001. When I opened a thumbnail image and got a completely different image I knew I had a problem.

I then spent the next two weeks renumbering every image in my collection. All Raw, all JPG, all TIFF all PSD.

The solution is that you must make every image file uniquely numbered as soon as it is imported and before editing. There are a lot of programmes that can do batch changes to file names. I just used the Canon Digital Photo Professional programme that comes with the camera. You select the folder, “Select All” the images and hit the “Rename Tool”.

You can then specify how you want the image number changed. I went for the shooting date/time plus the existing image number. So IMG0001 shot on 10 November 2007 became 2007-11-10_IMG0001. If you are paranoid or know that you will using multiple cameras on the same day you can add the Hours, Minutes and Seconds or a text string like “5DM2”.

Because the images are now in reverse chronological order it’s very easy to sort them.

I also took the opportunity to rearrange the hierarchy of folders.

MORAL 3. Ensure an enduring unique file name for each image.

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Your Digital Legacy – Part 2. Catalogues

At the mere mention of an embarrassing moment a mother can disappear into a room and emerge within two minutes with a fifty-year-old photo of Johnny in the bath aged 3. Aunt Mary has even written on the back in pencil the day it was taken and where.

Compare that to finding the final edit of an image for a client that you took only two years ago on a hard drive of 40,000 images. The difference either way may be the structure of how you organise things.

In the film world, photography was expensive and cameras were difficult to use. Generally fewer photos were taken but yet there is a certain order in knowing that photos of Johnny at school are in the brown album on the top shelf.

In the digital world cameras are relatively cheap and taking photos is virtually free and easy, so it is easy for a keen photographer to shoot off thousands of photos in a year. However what you do to produce the same quality of images is certainly not free or easy and probably costs more than it did in the film days.

If you shoot say 10,000 images a year and produce different formats like Raw, JPG, TIFF and PSD files then how in ten years time are you going to manage your images?

You need to be able to search for images by date, the event that they were taken at, the type of image (landscape, nature, portrait etc), people (family, customers etc), keywords (urban, studio etc) and a rating so you can find the good ones.

Catalogue programmes such as Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture can be an efficient way to manage your images.

MORAL 2. Get an efficient catalogue system in place right from the start.

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