PHO704 Week 5: Turning Professional

This continues my previous post and covers some of the things I would need to know if I wanted to become a professional commercial photographer.

The Legal Stuff

It is clear that to turn professional I would need to acquire a working knowledge of contract law, rights and obligations, and typical industry contracts. The documents available on the AOP website are a good place to start (Association of Photographers 2020). I have applied for membership.

I would also need to acquire a working knowledge of how images are typically bought, sold and leased, and with what kind of deals concerning territorial and reproduction rights. A couple of useful fees calculators have been suggested, on the Getty Images and the AOP websites.

I would need to obtain and carry release forms. These could be useful almost anywhere. A professional photographer has recommended a release form app to me, Easy Release, which means forms can be available on one’s iPhone or tablet. Useful when in the field.

Finally, it would be important to take out proper insurance, if and when appropriate.

Easy Release
Fig. 1: Easy Release, a model release app designed for smartphones and tablets.

Fees and Charges

‘How much am I worth?’ is not a question I find easy. The commercial photographer Ron Timehin offers some helpful suggestions (Timehin 2020). In any potentially awkward conversation, one can start by asking whether there is a budget available for the work. If the answer is ‘yes’, one can take the upper hand by saying something like, ‘My normal day rate is £350, how does that fit with your budget?’ According to Timehin, in 2020 £300-£400 per day is a good rate for beginners, and this should include curation and post-production time too. With successful commissions, he says, one should be able to increase one’s day rate annually.

Another overview of current conditions I have found helpful is Sean Tucker’s recent video Pricing Your Photography and Finding Clients (Tucker 2020).

When to Say Yes and When to Say No

If you are trying to earn a living, working for nothing is hardly attractive but it can still be tempting. Ron Timehin has said that he only takes on assignments when they fulfil at least two of three criteria (Timehin 2020):

  • Financial gain
  • Educational interest
  • Passionate or experiential attraction

Timehin says that exposure (i.e. publicity) can be a fourth reason, but that one has to be very careful. ‘Exposure’ is often used as an excuse by people who don’t want to pay for something and who in consequence will value what you do at nothing. The first three criteria are much more important.

Agents

Looking at representation by a photography agency would come towards the end of the process of becoming a professional photographer, at least in my case. Unless I can give a consistently professional impression, why would any agent want me on their books at all? If I did opt to have an agent, then I would need to research which agencies specialize in the kind of genres I am active in. Agents can offer much more than one might think (Pfab 2020), so they are not to be disregarded.

Professional Advice

Knowing a specialist law firm or two would be helpful if only for advice. One suggested is Swann Turton.

An accountant is important in my view, if one can be afforded. A good accountant will help one to maximise return on investment and minimise taxes as well as deal with the authorities. Estimating and invoicing using proper forms is important, so these must be obtained perhaps in the first instance from the AOP. If enough business comes in, then accounting software would soon become necessary.

And all this before writing the first emails, pitching to a client or making the first exploratory cold call! It is easy for the work required to seem forbidding, but if broken down into separate steps and taken one item at a time, I am sure it can be done.

References

ASSOCIATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2020. ‘AOP’. The Association of Photographers [online]. Available at: https://www.the-aop.org/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘Week 5 Live Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/15c46b7e7981013e41de8a43f4b0f0fa57259353-1603738095776/capture/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

TIMEHIN, Ron. 2020. ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TUCKER, Sean. 2020. ‘Pricing Your Photography and Finding Clients’. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36G3xKe-dCE [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. APPLICATIONGAP. 2O2O. ‘Easy Release (Pro) – Model Release App’. From:  APPLICATIONGAP. 2O2O. ApplicationGap [online]. Available at: https://applicationgap.com/apps/easyrelease/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

PHO704 Week 5: Who Buys Photography?

This has been a good week, now that I am starting to consider the commercial aspects of the different genres within the wide field of photography.

However, there are a lot of things I would need to sort out before I could expect anyone to buy my photography. While I do not wish to become a commercial photographer, all the topics are an excellent way of improving my practice and, as they say, getting my act together.

The following are the main things to have struck me, following the course’s Live Lecture this week (Pfab 2020) and my reading of Scott Grant’s The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Grant 2016). It is by no means a complete list.

The Market

Decide where I stand. In my case the genres are social documentary, editorial and Fine Arts.

Research the customers for those markets such as agencies, galleries, magazines and other publications. Find out who the commissioning editors and influencers are. Seek out workshops and events in this area. One cannot start networking without meeting people.

Start to learn about the main players are and how they operate. To some extent, that can by done by reading interviews (e.g. Ryan 2020) or checking for interview videos on YouTube. It can make a real difference when contacting someone if you can say you really liked their recent article, or book, or interview, etc. It shows interest and research.

Marketing Oneself

Assemble a creditable portfolio, printed and online. Ensure that it contains relevant work that reflects where I stand in the market.

Assemble a website. For now I will continue to use the Adobe Portfolio system because it is fairly easy and well organized.

Establish a business account on Instagram and learn how to get the best from the platform when treated as a business. Look at other forms of social media on the same basis, such as FaceBook and LinkedIn.

Have some business cards printed. These are extremely useful in many circumstances. They are not only part of being professional but also part of being sincere when given to people one has met on the street and asked to photograph, for example.

Establish a consistent tone and format for all communications, including email. This is professional etiquette, but it also helps a client acquire a better idea of who they are dealing with.

Branding

Branding can be a helpful discipline. I have learned a lot from working through two series on LinkedIn Learning (Boyd 2020, Pedersen 2017).

Branding obliges one to identify essentials: it focuses on exactly what I can offer, what values I have, and what overall mission statement I can provide to explain myself. Values (ethics, what matters to someone) are easily overlooked but important. It feels good to work ethically and keep to an industry code of conduct. Values may be particularly important to some clients, too, such as those involved in sustainability and the climate crisis, or difficult social questions and civil rights.

There are several other topics to cover from this week, but for the sake of brevity I will include those in a separate post.

References

BOYD, Drew. 2020. ‘Branding Foundations’. LinkedIn Learning [online]. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/branding-foundations-2/building-a-successful-brand?u=56738929 [accessed 10 Oct 2020].

KOWENHOVEN, Bill. 2014. ‘Interview with Kathy Ryan’. HotShoe international (187), [online]. Available at: http://www.hotshoeinternational.com/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

PEDERSEN, Lindsay. 2017. ‘Create a Brand Strategy’. LinkedIn Learning [online]. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/create-a-brand-strategy/tailor?u=56738929 [accessed 5 Oct 2020].

PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘Week 5 Live Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/15c46b7e7981013e41de8a43f4b0f0fa57259353-1603738095776/capture/ [accessed 28 Oct 2020].

SCOTT, Grant. 2016. The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography. 1st edn. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

PHO704 Week 4: The Current Commercial Environment

There is one thing to get out of the way to begin with concerning this week’s coursework. I have always thought the distinction between art and commerce was false, when not simply ludicrous and pure snobbery. What matters is respect – for oneself, the client, the images and anyone else involved. The task is to deliver the best one can, according to the brief and in the way most appropriate to the nature of the brief. That way, one is aiming squarely at the intended audience no matter how it is classified.

While I have no ambition to become a professional photographer, it is clear that much is to be gained by studying the subject and considering what professionalism means. For me, this is rather like clearing out an attic. One must sort through a great deal of lumber, discard what is not wanted or appropriate, polish up what one wants to keep and can work with, and learn to focus on the key pieces from the pile that really matter.

There are many different kinds of professional photography. Scott Grant identifies ten different specialisations (Grant 2016 A: 60) and there are many minor ones in addition. Specialisation is common to many fields and it is easy to see why. Often it is the only way to follow a passion, acquire the knowledge required to master one’s field, build a personal network of the people who matter in that field, and in consequence become known as someone worth employing, whether the field is medicine, science, publishing or photography.

The suggestion is to ask myself where I fit in with that? Scott Grant has some useful suggestions and practical ideas to offer in The Essential Guide to Student Photography (Grant 2016 A). What I need to do is ask myself, ‘What Is My Photographic Voice?’, if I have one, and identify (or simply list) the things I like and care about, the things that influence me, the emotions I tend towards, even the colours and visual patterns I tend towards. A study of my archive will help with that. All this will include researching the work of other photographers, of course.

For now, my experience tends towards social documentary and event photography, with a side-line in wildlife or at least the natural world. I lack skills in portrait photography and were I turning professional then I would seek to acquire them. None of this means social documentary and portrait photography would be the only specialisation available to me but it might be somewhere to begin. However, a careful look at the risks and rewards of any specialisation is important. Here today but potentially gone tomorrow? See Hadland on the risky future of photojournalism (Hadland et al 2016).

There are two other sides to professionalism, however. The first are the qualities required to sustain oneself as a professional. Scott Grant has listed them as follows (Grant 2016 B):

    1. You need to be able to take rejection, rejection and more rejection of your work and still stay positive.
    2. You need to be consistent in your image making.
    3. You must have the ability and confidence to create narrative.
    4. You must be able to solve problems through visual language.
    5. You must always give the client what they ask for, what they didn’t (but works best) and what you know to be the strongest image (that may or not fulfil the brief).
    6. You must be able to talk about your work eloquently and with passion.
    7. You need to understand the position of the client/curator/enabler.
    8. You must be open-minded, culturally aware and interested in stuff!
    9. You must never believe the hype but always understand the hype.
    10. You must never give in or up.

In short, one must be resilient, adaptable and creative enough to find solutions to the problems clients may set. They are, after all, hiring you in the first place to solve a problem they have. However, it is important to add some other things to Grant’s list. Financial literacy is vital in running a business and, today, so is the ability to market oneself effectively, identify clients, understand branding and acquire a sure grasp of social media and other marketing channels. Collaboration, teamwork and diplomacy in one’s business dealings are vital too. It is a long list!

Another side of professionalism is simply understanding how an industry works. So the question then is, ‘How does the photography business actually work?’ As Scott Grant points out, ‘Photography as a business is incredibly rewarding creatively, but it does have guidelines, rules of engagement and expectations of the photographer’ (Scott 2016 A). This is all a process of learning.

Some of those guidelines and rules of engagement have been touched on in this week’s coursework, for example, the basics of how photo agencies like Getty Images work and the differences between flat rates and royalties. There are of course a great number of other things to learn and each specialization within photography will call for different ones. These could be familiarising oneself with the many different specialists involved in a fashion shoot, from props to make-up, and managing a team. Or it might be a solid understanding of release forms and their legal implications in documentary photography, or expertise in realistic and fully itemised budgets and costings.

It is clear that among these many skills, knowing how editors work and how to pitch ideas to them is crucial. Emma Bowkett (Bowkett 2017) has been very helpful in this regard, as has Tom Seymour (Seymour 2020) and Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz (Jedrosz 2020). In fact a slide shown by Jedrosz neatly sums up the different roles someone in her own field (documentary photography) must perform.

Jedrosz-1-2020.png
Fig. 1: Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz 2020. Some of the skills required by a documentary photographer.

References

BOWKETT, Emma. 2017. ‘Creative Brief: Emma Bowkett’. The British Journal of Photography 164(7858), 84–5 [online]. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/docview/1920352153?pq-origsite=summon [accessed 14 Oct 2020].

HADLAND, Adrian, Paul LAMBERT and David CAMPBELL. n.d. ‘The Future of Professional Photojournalism’. Journalism Practice 10(7), 820–32.

JEDROSZ, Hanna-Katrina. 2020. ‘Guest Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/6f944108ad67c5daec7f4ba0b772ec39213193f5-1602697725024/capture/ [accessed 16 Oct 2020].

SCOTT, Grant. 2016 A. The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography. 1st edn. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

SCOTT, Grant. 2016 B. ‘What Makes A Professional Photographer? 10 Observations’. The United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2016/09/03/what-makes-a-professional-photographer-10-observations/ [accessed 15 Oct 2020].

SEYMOUR, Tom. 2020. ‘Creating a Press Campaign and Getting Published’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/44e40a05380d0df14d38c59bed78489db86b1e49-1600865116374/capture/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. Hanna-Katrina JEDOSZ. 2020. ‘Some of the skills required by a documentary photographer’. From: ‘Guest Lecture’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/6f944108ad67c5daec7f4ba0b772ec39213193f5-1602697725024/capture/ [accessed 16 Oct 2020].

PHO704 Week 3: The Power of the Personal Project

On the strength of the suggestions in Week 3, I have started a modest personal project as a side-work to my FMP. I think this will help me work out some of the ideas in the coursework, as well as help to recapture some of the joie de vivre I felt in photography before I started this course.

My side project is called Entropias (but it is not a replacement for my main research project, Silent City). It is about the moments and the places where everything comes together, then falls apart. In other words it is about entropy which is also the cycle or mandala of life and the changing of the seasons. Something is born, arises, peaks, decays and eventually vanishes into the elements of something new, another turn of the wheel. Entropy can be expressed as energy but we probably understand it as time. Change through time is the only way we can really experience what is otherwise a law of physics.

Here are a few images.

To take this further, I have compared my ideas about Entropias with the excellent suggestions offered by Grant Scott in ‘The Power of the Personal Project’ (Scott 2015), and in particular with his ten steps for creating a successful personal project whether intellectual or emotional (Scott distinguishes between the two):

How to Create a Successful Personal Project

  1. Find your story. Make sure that it is personal to you, that you have a unique voice to tell the story.

I have the story, of birth, change and decay. I can only tell it in my voice. For consistency I am shooting in colour and using a specific cinematic colour palette in post.

  1. 2. Do not be overly ambitious. Be realistic about what you can achieve on the basis of the time and financial commitment you are going to be able to devote to creating the project.

The project is something I can drop in and out of when I have a spare afternoon or come across a telling image (I will use an iPhone for those).

  1. Do your research. Find out if other photographers have tackled the subject you are planning to photograph. Look at how they did it, what the outcomes were, and how it was received. Then ensure that you do not repeat the same approach.

Yes, I will need to do some research for sure.

  1. Build your online community as you are working on the project and keep them informed of its progress with images and information about how you are creating the project and the process you are going through.

When I have enough decent images, I will start posting into an album on Flickr and likely on my portfolio website. I am dropping one or two images into Instagram, too.

  1. Be patient. A worthwhile personal project is not going to come together in a few days or weeks.

This project will likely be done when I realize that it is done. I am setting no deadlines.

  1. Consider using audio and moving images to add both context and additional narrative to your storytelling.

This is very tempting for my FMP but probably too ambitious for a small personal project. Music sparks ideas and associations, however, so this is not to be overlooked.

  1. Research appropriate self-publishing options for your project and engage with the photographers who are already involved with the photo book self-publishing community.

The most likely destination is an accordion-fold booklet or a Blurb-style publication, partly to keep down costs. If I make enough good images in one place (Rousham House and Gardens, for example, which is a very good venue for changing seasons) I could expand my options by approaching them with ideas for something more ambitious.

  1. Try and attend talks and workshops being given by fellow photographers working on personal projects.

Yes, absolutely, but none attended yet on this specific topic.

  1. Consider working with a journalist or writer at some point during the process of creating your project. Inevitably you will require text to accompany your images, or to include in your book, or on your website to provide context and information. This text needs to be as professional as your images, so get a professional to create it.

Not keen on this one. My project is not documentary and involving a writer would make it bigger than I currently want. What matters is to start with something I want to do and believe I can. We’ll see.

  1. Stay true to your vision but be open to your project evolving into unexpected areas. The excitement always lies in the choppy waters.

Yes! I might find telling images not from changing seasons in nature, for example, but from gritty events in a city centre or from quiet domestic moments at home. The important thing is to stay open to new ideas and rich moments, not close down.

(Adapted from Scott, 2015: 108-9)

References

Scott, G. (2015) ‘The Power of the Personal Project’, in Scott, G. (ed.) Professional photography: the new global landscape explained. New York: Focal Press, pp. 82–109. Available at: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/falmouth-ebooks/reader.action?docID=1734212&amp [accessed 7 Oct 2020).

Figures

Figures 1-8. Mark CREAN. 2020. Entropias. Collection of the author.

PHO704 Week 3: Art and Commerce

Art and Commerce is a tricky subject for me, because I have no ambition to become a professional photographer (someone who earns a living from their craft). However, I would like to become someone who photographs more professionally. That is not quite the same thing but it is one of my goals in taking this degree.

I take Felicity McCabe’s point, that there is vastly more to professional photography than simply making a photograph even though that remains at the core: ‘turning up on the morning and actually shooting is like 10% of what you do, maybe 5-10%’ (McCabe 2020). The other 90 per cent, I think, involves five main things:

  • Running a business competently
  • Fully understanding and completing client briefs
  • Good organisation, planning and thinking on one’s feet
  • Marketing oneself with clarity to attract and retain clients
  • Keeping one’s creative skills juicy and well honed

This week’s coursework has been mainly about the last one, creativity through personal projects, and also about how to express one’s creativity and vision through the lenses of the first four items. That means how to stay true to one’s personal style and values while still delivering what the client requires.

I like Felicity McCabe’s stress of the interconnectedness of life, and therefore that nothing need be wasted because ideas or skills acquired in one area can be put to good use in another.

‘Also I think everything that comes from your own mind… If you think all of your projects are like strands, but if it comes from the same brain, it’s basically every single thing that I do is all one big project … it feels like it’s from the same brain … you should stick to your guns, follow your hunches and do what makes you feel happy. … if you are a landscape photographer you might be traipsing through some ex-Soviet area, wondering what you are doing there, but in two years’ time that might get you the job that you are going to love doing, because the ideal is to get commissions doing the things that you like doing, otherwise what’s the point?’ (McCabe 2020).

The photographers I most admire are those who manage to combine all of these elements while still retaining their distinctive style. Among those I would reference are Naheli Muholi and in particular her magnificent portraits such as Ntozakhe II, Parktown (Muholi 2016)  (see Fig. 1), images which derive directly from her work with South Africa’s persecuted gay and transgender communities. I would also reference Nadav Kander whose portraits – for example Tricky II (Kander 2019) in Fig. 2 – recognizably evidence a similar style, colour palette and tonality to his long-format works such as Yangtze, The Long River (Kander 2010) and Dust (Kander 2014).

Zanele-Muholi-Ntozakhe-II-Parktown-Johannesburg-2016
Fig. 1: Zaneli Muholi 2016. Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg.
Nadav Kander 2019. Tricky 11.
Fig. 2: Nadav Kander 2019. Tricky 11.

There are many others. For example, Irving Penn (in particular), William Klein and Saul Leiter all photographed fashion, and successful film directors such as Ridley Scott are well-known for their advertising work at various times. Nick Knight is also known for his fashion work, but currently he is showing Roses from My Garden, an exhibition of flower photography inspired by the work of 16th and 17th century still life painters – and all made using only an iPhone (a double creative challenge, one artistic and the other technical) (Knight 2020).

I do not think I have yet reached a distinctive personal style, but I am working towards that, one of my aims on this course. And since I have almost no professional photography experience, I cannot say that I am a professional either. However, I am working towards that goal, too, at least in terms of going about my practice professionally.

As for personal projects, I can see that those are very important. Following the suggestions of Grant Scott in ‘The Power of the Personal Project’ (Scott 2015), I have embarked on a small personal project called Entropias in addition to my main research project. I will go into that in more detail in the following post.

References

KANDER, Nadav and Will SELF. 2014. Nadav Kander : Dust. Dust. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz.

KANDER, Nadav. 2010. Yangtze, The Long River. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.

KNIGHT, Nick. 2020. ‘Roses from My Garden’ [exhibition]. Waddesdon, Oxfordshire: Waddesdon House and Gardens. Exhibition from 4 July – 1 November 2020: Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden.

McCABE, Felicity. 2020. ‘Week 3: Lecture – Felicity McCabe: Sustainable Prospects PHO704’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-3-lecture-felicity-mccabe?module_item_id=43375 [accessed 7 Oct 2020].

Scott, G. (2015) ‘The Power of the Personal Project’, in Scott, G. (ed.) Professional photography: the new global landscape explained. New York: Focal Press, pp. 82–109. Available at: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/falmouth-ebooks/reader.action?docID=1734212&amp [accessed 7 Oct 2020).

Figures

Figure 1. Naheli MUHOLI. 2016. Ntozakhe II, Parktown, Johannesburg.
Figure 2. Nadav KANDER. 2019. Tricky II, London.

 

PHO704 Week 2: Other Careers in Photography

Choices

This has been an interesting week because I had not realized that there are so many different career paths within the overall field of photography.

This is very freeing in a way because it means that one doesn’t have to feel shoehorned into a particular box. Instead we are free to find something that truly satisfies our talents. In a way I have already done this with an earlier career. Upon graduating, I could have been a writer or a journalist but instead I settled on book publishing. It seemed a good blend of art and commerce with a great deal of variety and the chance to meet lots of interesting people. And so it proved.

In terms of photography, however, one element links all paths: visual culture and visual language. It is this one must pay close attention to. We live in a visual culture and proficiency in its language applies to many different industries today, whether fashion, architecture or industrial design. The same is true for what photographers today are also expected to bring to the table: adaptability, creative thinking, collaborative experience, and business and presentation skills.

As Scott Grant has explained in The United Nations of Photography:

‘I believe that the study of photography should not be solely focused on the practice of being a photographer or working within the creative arts. Instead it should be seen as a gateway subject to career paths outside of the expected and established. Just as the humanities are to Law.

In a time when flexibility, problem solving, creativity and visual communication are becoming increasingly valuable employment requirements I suggest that photography may well be one of the most important subjects to study in the 21st Century’ (Grant 2020).

Business Basics

The suggestions given in the coursework this week are an extremely useful cheat sheet. I know this from my own experience, having helped to found one publishing company and helped to grow another one from its modest beginnings. It is hard work and you have to be completely adaptable and willing to turn your hand to whatever is required. It is also vital to become financially literate because otherwise you won’t know whether a job is actually worth doing. Running a business is not about doing something just because ‘It sounded like a good idea’. The fastest way for things to end in tears is to lose control of the finances and watch your ‘cash burn’ spiral until nothing is left of the start-up funding – or your savings.

Professionalism

What it means to be a ‘professional’ photographer is much-debated question, but perhaps Scott Grant sums it up:

‘All professionals need to have the ability to create consistently strong images … as well as the ability to create a narrative within a series. … This is what sets them apart from a general member of the public with a camera’ (Pfab 2020).

However, this is only a part of the story. Photographic and narrative skills go hand in hand with business skills, experience and the wider range of other skills a professional photographer must master such as presentation and marketing. None of this can be acquired overnight. Becoming professional – in anything – is as process and it can take a long time. One must learn how things work in practice and how business is typically conducted. There is the right way to deliver what a client requires, for example, as Tom Seymour recently showed in his Falmouth presentation Creating a Press Campaign and Getting Published (Seymour 2020). Failing to give a client the information they need on which to base a decision is what amateurs do. In my experience, the only real way to acquire this knowledge is by learning from those who are already professionals. Nothing beats experience and training at work.

As a professional press photographer has pointed out, the difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional can and will complete the client’s exact brief, whereas an amateur usually will not be able to because they lack the skills, equipment and experience (Terakopian 2020).

Vision

What has often been repeated by different voices both this week and last week is the importance of personal vision: ‘It is absolutely vital to find your own voice and signature visual language’ (Pfab 2020). Emma Bowkett emphasized this in her Falmouth presentation this week FT Weekend Magazine (Bowkett 2020), as did both Lydia Pang in her recent podcast On Commissioning (Pang 2020) and recent graduates on It’s Nice That (It’s Nice That 2017).

Personal vision comes down to offering a point of view on the world that no one else could have photographed, which in turn means authenticity and integrity. This is the only way to attract attention and stand out among the tide of images that floods across the desk of editors every day. Faking it – adopting someone else’s style – does not work. One’s work must be original. Both Bowkett and Pang are successful commissioning editors, and they should know.

How far am I along this path? Perhaps a little further than I was when I began this degree course. One of my goals in this course is to get as far along the path of finding an authentic voice as I can.

References

BOWKETT, Emma. 2020. ‘FT Weekend Magazine’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/b5139beb38edd9a5a5b4d655de1c8ea7c2e5e6f9-1601488194811/capture/ [accessed 30 Sep 2020].

IT’S NICE THAT. 2017. ‘How to Go Freelance: Need-to-Know Advice from Creatives Who Made It’. It’s Nice That [online]. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/features/the-graduates-2017-advice-how-to-go-freelance-170517 [accessed 30 Sep 2020].

PANG, Lydia. 2020. ‘On Commissioning’. The Messy Truth [online]. Available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/lydia-pang-on-commissioning/id1459128692?i=1000442904984 [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

PFAB, Anna-Maria. 2020. ‘What Is the DNA of the Twenty First Century Professional Photographer?’. Falmouth University [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/671/pages/week-2-presentation-dna-of-a-21st-century-photographer?module_item_id=43366 [accessed 30 Sep 2020].

SCOTT, Grant. 2020. ‘Is It Moral to Teach Photography?’ United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2020/07/07/is-it-moral-to-teach-photography/ [accessed 30 Sep 2020].

SEYMOUR, Tom. 2020. ‘Creating a Press Campaign and Getting Published’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/44e40a05380d0df14d38c59bed78489db86b1e49-1600865116374/capture/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TERAKOPIAN, Edmond. 2020. ‘Shooting an International Campaign’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

PHO704 Week 1: On Turning Professional

I have learned a lot from this week’s coursework. These are the points I have picked up:

1. It is very important to be authentic, which means one has to know oneself and establish a style or form of practice. It is not possible to make someone else’s photographs. Commissioning editors look out for authenticity and an original voice among a sea of all too similar ideas.

‘What I am looking for will carry with it the sense that the work is powered by the authentic concerns of the photographer, that it is in some way heartfelt and has an integrity to its approach and treatment of its subject. For me, the presence of that authentic voice is what lifts a body of work above the everyday’ (Read 2016: 218).

2. Thorough and ongoing research is vital. It is not possible to tell a story without research, and not is it possible to understand and let alone fulfil a client brief without research. Storytelling matters. All brands have a story. Most good conversations are about a story. Not everything is a story, but it is important to understand narrative and its dynamics. A good photographer today needs a working knowledge of journalistic practice.

‘The photographer needs to understand and implement the fundamental requirements of traditional storytelling based upon facts, but they need to go further than the journalist because they also need to this an understanding of visual language and visual narratives. … My point is not to underplay the importance of journalism to the journalist, but to understand that the photographer needs to take the fundamentals of good journalism and apply them to photography to ensure the images created transcend their ethereal surface nature and provide context and narrative information’ (Scott 2020).

3. Collaboration is important and is becoming more so. The days of the stand-alone auteur are long gone. Collaboration matters because increasingly clients are looking for a full cross-media submission. They want good images, but they also want good video, graphic design, web skills and communication skills. Only a team-based approach can provide this. Besides, it often takes feedback from others to give one a sense of where one is going and whether one’s ideas stand up.

In addition, collaboration matters because it is a gateway to your audience having a fuller understanding of the work. It is no longer smart, if ever it was, to regard one’s audience as merely passive consumers. Audiences today want participation and empowerment. That means that ‘art’ today is increasingly defined as a collaboration between artist and audience. This requires a team-based approach because works are better understood when informed by the expertise of others. A coral reef makes for a pretty picture, but a picture of a coral reef accompanied by scientific data, environmental research and an understanding of wildlife and diversity make for a more interesting story about our world and climate change.

‘Importantly, working within the collaborative structure had the advantage of helping to constitute a group identity, which in turn led to the development of a mission statement in which a series of ethical and political objectives could be clearly defined. … The process of designing for visual information advocacy—a term that sums up how non governmental organisations employ imagery in order to garner public support—involves situating the photograph within a multimodal context. … The inclusion of additional modes has the function of anchoring meaning into the photograph by providing the audience with an awareness of the environmental or social problems relevant to a given location’ (Scott 2016: 232).

4. Multimedia is important, which means at least a working knowledge of stills, video, web and graphics. Clients are looking for flexibility and adaptability. As Lydia Pang says in her podcast On Commissioning, ‘ You’re a creative: what’s your output?’ – not where are your photographs, or video, or graphics (Pang 2020). The datastream is not compartmentalized.

5. One needs a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of the business. As Tom Seymour explains in his Falmouth video presentation, it’s all about the story, the angle, the edit, the source, the pitch, the press release (Seymour 2020). Each is a different stage, and each requires careful attention to get it right because otherwise one is not giving commissioning editors or potential clients the information they need on which to base a decision.

6. Have a plan and keep it tight. One needs to see oneself as a clearly defined brand and ensure that this flows through all one’s communications in a consistent way. That means self-knowledge: what one does, how one does it, who the audience are. Marketing is absolutely crucial. One has to learn how to market one’s brand. The nuts and bolts were set out in a recent video presentation by Charlie Giles of the Association of Photographers (Giles 2020).

Put like this, establishing oneself, marketing what one offers and delivering what the client wants sound an almost impossible Everest. In practice, however, I think it can be broken down into smaller and far less forbidding steps. An example would be Instagram. It is a platform that can be approached purely as a business tool. There are many tutorials and how-to documents out there now about the steps required to make Instagram work as a business tool rather than as a pleasure platform. This is a well-trodden path (see Timehin 2020).  Perhaps a similar approach – one subject at a time, broken down into steps – will make all the other elements easier to approach too.

Finally, there is no substitute for hard work and thinking on one’s feet. In creating and shooting a worldwide campaign for Panasonic cameras, Edmond Terakopian made nearly 15,000 images in all kinds of settings and several different countries in less than two months. He curated this down to less than 20 final images for the client. It must have been very demanding work – but he got the job (Terakopian 2020). I hope he was well rewarded!

References

GILES, Charlie. 2020. ‘The Fundamentals of Marketing Yourself as a Photographer’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

PANG, Lydia. 2020. ‘On Commissioning’. The Messy Truth [online]. Available at: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/lydia-pang-on-commissioning/id1459128692?i=1000442904984 [accessed 21 Sep 2020)

READ, Shirley. 2016. ‘Essay: “Shirley Read: Finding and Knowing – Thinking about Ideas”’. In Shirley READ (ed.). Photographers and Research. Routledge, 218–22. Available at: https://www-taylorfrancis-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/books/e/9781315730462 [accessed 21 Sep 2020].

SCOTT, Conohar. 2106. ‘Essay: “Conohar Scott: Collaborative Working”’. In Shirley READ (ed.). Photographers and Research. Routledge, 230–4. Available at: https://www-taylorfrancis-com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/books/e/9781315730462 [accessed 21 Sep 2020].

SCOTT, Grant. 2020. ‘Every Photographer Is a Journalist but Not Every Journalist Is a Photographer!’. United Nations of Photography [online]. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2020/07/18/every-photographer-is-a-journalist-but-not-every-journalist-is-a-photographer/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

SEYMOUR, Tom. 2020. ‘Creating a Press Campaign and Getting Published’. Falmouth Flexible Photography Hub [online]. Available at: https://recordings.reu1.blindsidenetworks.com/falmouth/44e40a05380d0df14d38c59bed78489db86b1e49-1600865116374/capture/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TERAKOPIAN, Edmond. 2020. ‘Shooting an International Campaign’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

TIMEHIN, Ron. 2020. ‘Basics of Business on Instagram’. The Photography Show & The Video Show Virtual Festival [online]. Available at: https://photographyshow.vfairs.com/en/hall#topics-tab [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

PHO704 Week 1: Research

A new module kicks off, and the topic in this first week is all about research.

My to-do list at present is rather scrappy and forbiddingly long, but this is what I think I need to concentrate on:

I am continuing with my established research project, Silent City, a walk through the city of Oxford after dark. I am planning to continue this practice in black and white rather than in colour.

1. I need to further my understanding and knowledge of black and white photography.

2. Having looked at some of the classics and the greats in previous modules, I need to look more at contemporary photographers and the modern scene. This means getting to know websites such as American Suburb X (American Suburb X 2020), LensCulture (LensCulture 2020), the photographic sections on Vice (Vice 2020), Aperture (Aperture 2020), the British Journal of Photography online (British Journal of Photography 2020), younger and contemporary practitioners on Magnum (Maghum 2020) and so forth. I have taken out subscriptions to the British Journal of Photography online and to Black+White magazine (Black+White Photography 2020) online. I will also need to widen my list of those I am following on Instagram.

3. I need to broaden my reading and think more laterally. I would like to read fewer works of academic criticism and more of literature around the subject. So, I need to read literature on cities, both factual and fiction, whether novels like Calvino’s Invisible Cities (Calvino 1997) or the Encyclopedia of Oxford (Hibbert and Hibbert 1988) or Dickens on Night Walks (Dickens 2010).

4. Psychogeography: I read Merlin Coverley’s summary work in a previous module (Coverley 2010), but I need to look more closely into the subject. Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital is one book to consult (Sinclair 2003). This is important because psychogeography is a gateway into understanding a city’s nuances, details and atmosphere, the things that make it this particular place rather than any city anywhere.

5. I would like to become much more professional in my overall approach. This means getting to grips with brand strategy and marketing, understanding how to interface with clients, understanding how to write the right kind of pitches and briefs, and instilling the organization and discipline to fulfil them. I am hoping much of the coursework this term will help with that, but in addition there are excellent tutorials on LinkedIn Learning (free for Falmouth Students) which I already use for Adobe software products (LinkedIn Learning 2020).

6. As for the actual photographic work, I need to fill in areas of Oxford I have not yet photographed. I need to visit some areas I photographed in previous modules but not with the understanding and approach I have now. I need to bring in more variations in the quality of light, which means more shoots at dusk or dawn rather than at night. I need to look more at details, which means at signs, symbols and signifiers (enter the world of Barthes). And I need to consider a story or theme, if there is one. The river and canals threading through Oxford is one possibility, and a poetic one too. This could provide a backbone to my work.

7. My final intent is still centred around producing a book of photographs. This means more study of photography books, their design, curation and production, and therefore more attention to companies like Self Publish, Be Happy (Self Publish, Be Happy 2020).

References

AMERICAN SUBURB X. 2020. ‘AMERICAN SUBURB X – Since 2008, an Epicenter for Photography, Art and Culture’. AMERICAN SUBURB X [online]. Available at: https://americansuburbx.com/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

APERTURE. 2020. ‘Aperture’. Aperture [online]. Available at: https://aperture.org/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

BLACK+WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY. 2020. ‘Black+White Photography – Cool, Creative and Contemporary’. Black+White Photography [online]. Available at: https://www.blackandwhitephotographymag.co.uk/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. 2020. ‘British Journal of Photography – The Latest Photography News and Features, since 1854.’ British Journal of Photography [online]. Available at: https://www.bjp-online.com/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

CALVINO, Italo. 1997. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.

COVERLEY, Merlin. 2010. Psychogeography. Harpenden: Pocket Essentials.

DICKENS, Charles. 2010. Night Walks. London: Penguin.

HIBBERT, Christopher and Edward HIBBERT. 1988. The Encyclopaedia of Oxford. London: Macmillan.

LENSCULTURE. 2020. ‘LensCulture – Contemporary Photography’. LensCulture [online]. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

LINKEDIN LEARNING. 2020. ‘LinkedIn Learning: Online Courses for Creative, Technology, Business Skills’. LinkedIn Learning [online]. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

MAGNUM PHOTOS. 2020. ‘Magnum Photos – A Photographic Cooperative of Great Diversity and Distinction Owned by Its Photographer Members’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

SELF PUBLISH BE HAPPY. 2020. ‘Self Publish, Be Happy’. Self Publish, Be Happy [online]. Available at: http://selfpublishbehappy.com/ [accessed 29 Sep 2020].

SINCLAIR, Iain. 2003. London Orbital : A Walk around the M25. London: Penguin.

VICE. 2020. ‘Photos – VICE’. VICE [online]. Available at: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/topic/photos [accessed 29 Sep 2020].