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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Do you have any Christian pictures?

Subway Cashier

DSC_5170_1_2.jpg, originally uploaded by ecfman.

A few years ago, a co-worker interested in purchasing something for her pastor friend asked me if I had any Christian pictures. I do not remember my response but undoubtedly it went through my filter before it came out my mouth. While this may be the only time this question has been posed to me, there is an underlying feeling that permeates through the Christian community and it doesn’t end with photography.

As many of you know, I am a Christian in the fullest sense of the word. Take all the stereotypes that one has for a conservative, right-wing fundamentalist Christian and they probably all apply. Because of my beliefs and my hobby, one would think that when posed with this question that I would say something like “Why yes, yes I do. Let me show you some of my most Christian pictures I have”. But I did not. Why, might you ask? Because the question, and the premise behind it, is deeply flawed.

If I asked the woman to define a “Christian picture”, quite likely I would be met with silence or she would ask for some tranquil nature scene with a Bible verse at the bottom of the picture. After all, if you happen to glance or shop for artwork at various Christian book stores you either see the scene I just described or featuring a prominent biblical figure (and usually that figure is Jesus) or just some bible verses in artistic script.

Since all the biblical figures, or at least actual ones, are long gone that only gives me the option of shooting the tranquil scenes and adding some quote from the Psalms or Proverbs. If I take the bible verse out, that only leaves a tranquil nature scene. Deer drinking from calm pools, eagles soaring among the clouds, and majestic mountain shots are the types of elements needed for that formula. And if we distill this Christian photo (or even Christian art) to that essence, then any lovely scene is a Christian picture. At least as long as the work produces certain feelings of calmness or piety, it gets the stamp.

Personally, I don’t think any art, can achieve the title of Christian. There may be Christian themes, characters and imagery, but that, in and of itself, does not make it Christian. Instead, I believe that there are Christian artists who produce work that is influenced and informed by their faith and creed but there is no litmus test to determine if something is, indeed Christian.

But I will say this. The work is formed by the artist’s intention. For some people, art is merely and expression of what is inside. For others it is a means of expressing ideas and perhaps influencing people’s opinions and both Christians and non-Christians produce art that affects its viewers positive ways and thus it becomes a very tenuous proposition to reject the art of one person in favor of another’s because of a particular artist’s creed. An artist like Dore’ created stunning art that found its way into millions of bibles. His work adorns the museums and homes of thousands, but yet, he was not a Christian

But what it comes down to is this…art that seeks to do good and right and is not created to serve debased emotions is “good art” in the moral sense, and those that do the opposite are morally “bad” art. But among the “good art” there is no way to sift out “Christian” and “non-Christian” works. So, rather than worrying about having Christian photography or Christian art hanging on our walls, let us instead be satisfied in adorning our rooms with works that are aesthetically pleasing, and be thankful to God that we have the grace to enjoy it.

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Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Musings

 

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Thoughts On My Gear – The Lenses

Since the cost for the camera was fairly high, I tried to keep my total purchasing cost down.

Since I did not know what my preference of shooting would be, either wide angle or telephoto I spit the horns of the dilemma by deciding to purchase both. Given that I never owned an SLR of any type before, and the abundance of choices made decision making difficult I went to the Internet for advice. While there are a lot of sites that give information on the various lenses and bodies I really did not want information as much as opinion. Not soft, mamby-pamby opinions, but the kind that stares you straight in the eye. And that is the kind of opinion found Ken Rockwell’s website and, to be fair, there is a good amount of evidence to back his beliefs.

Nikkor 18-55

Nikkor 18mm-55mm

His philosophy, which seems to be echoes elsewhere, is that even the cheap, plastic lenses today are better than many of the glass and metal lenses of yesteryear. While the more expensive lenses are better lenses and will produce better results, one can still get great pictures using the cheaper lenses.

To make a long story short, his advice came down to this, if you have the money purchase a moderately the expensive lens A which will cover the range for both lenses. If you don’t have that much money to spend, buy the less expensive lenses B and C. The B and C lenses are what is known as “kit” lenses, the types of lenses thrown in with a camera bodies to provide a reasonably priced package solution for the mass market.

Nikkor 70mm-300mm

Nikkor 70mm-300mm

So, a few years of use, and thousands of pictures on the Nikkor 18-55 and the Nikkor 70-300 lenses proved Ken’s philosophy to be correct (anecdotally at least). While I do plan to upgrade the 18-55 lens someday, my priority is to fill out my gaps in my lens. In other words, I want to get lenses that are currently provide capabilities currently beyond me .

As far as quality is concerned, the 70-300 is a better lens, but unfortunately, it is the lens I shoot with the least. While the Nikkor 18-55 has served well, it isn’t without some problems. The elements of the lens are a tiny bit “loose”. When locked into focus, the barrel, if touched, moves. This is disconcerting if, after composing a shot, you press the lens against a chain-link fence. (Yes I do those kinds of things).

The other issue with the 18-55 is that it does not have a lens hood ,thus making it very susceptible to lens glare in bright conditions. I need to see if an after-market solution exists.

I did purchase a 50mm prime lens (it doesn’t zoom) as a low-cost fast lens solution since I like to shoot in low light conditions AND this lens is a good choice for portraits.

Nikkor 50

Nikkor 50mm

So, what lens should you buy? That depends on your purpose and your budget. There are so many photography specialties and if you want to get into a niche market, that may require the purchase of more expensive lenses.

Don’t let the vast number of choices in lenses get you down. Purchasing a less expensive lens until you get familiar with your camera and your tastes might make good financial sense. The good thing is that skimping on a lens does not mean your pictures will suffer because even a cheap lens produces images of acceptable quality….for now at least.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Reviews

 

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Variety – The Spice of Photography

If you own a business, especially one that sells a product, it is in the best interest of the company to keep variation down to a minimum. By having the employees perform their job the same way every time not only helps control inventory and eliminate waste, but it also ensures quality by doing away with that individual thing we humans like to add to work.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at a hamburger joint. There is a procedure to cooking a hamburger, with set times to ensure the meat is neither over-cooked nor under-cooked. There is an order in which cooks places condiments on the sandwich to ensure that the cook forgets nothing and the sandwiches consistently taste the same. For placing condiments, the company provides tools that ensure the continuous application of the set amount, every single time. By following this discipline a business ensures that a hamburger purchased in Chicago tastes the same as any other chain store in the United States.

While this practice is great for building sandwiches and cars, it isn’t so good in making great photographs. If one approaches the subject the same way every time soon, all the pictures start looking the same. And while that one approach worked great for one picture, that very essence of “quality”, or what made that picture so wonderful, usually cannot be continuously duplicated as if it were a manufacturing line.

Also, failing to create variety will produce stagnation within the photographer/artist. If we stop thinking about our subjects and our approach the vitality drains from the artistic vision. Think about Olan Mills, a very successful portrait chain, or even Wall Mart. The photographer places the subjects on the X’s, pulls down the back drop and pushes the button. This process continues day in and day out. And while the photographs taken may have a good quality about them, they all look the same.

Variation also produces unexpected results. The picture posted here is my favorite from the series taken while on a trip to the St. Louis Zoo. The lighting was low, making hand-holding the camera risky because of potential camera shake. I framed the picture, dialed in the settings and then simply lowered the camera, let it hang tight from the straps against my torso and I snapped the pictures. I could not see what the camera was taking and I wound up with some interesting results. Many of the photos were obviously bad but yet this particular picture worked out. In fact, it worked out in a way that I could not have done if I tried. I never, would have thought of framing it thus.

So, what is my point? If you have a camera in hand and are taking pictures, try something different and be pleasantly surprised. If your photos all look the same, there is a reason. Break up the monotony and do something different. Variety is the spice of photography.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2010 in Photography Advice

 

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The Cost of a Photography Business – Selling Photos as Fine Art

Gallaries

So, you decide to put your work in a gallery. The advantage is clear, the artist does not have to be physically present to sell the work because any time gallery doors are open customers can browse and purchase. This frees up an enormous amount of time and allows you to other things with that time. But this service isn’t free because, generally speaking, galleries must earn money to stay in business and that money is made by charging the seller a commission on work that is sold. The percentages vary, but from my limited experience the magic commission is 40%.

On a side note, one time I put my work into a gallery that charged a modest monthly fee ($25) in addition to a reduced commission (20%). I agreed to this as an experiment for three months. I believe I sold one item which did not make up for my costs and so I pulled my work after the contract period. Recently, I got a card from the gallery stating that they did away with the monthly fee and bumped the commission to 40%. I think that, in general, most people’s work was not selling and too many people pulled their work out.

Back to my point…Now you have a pricing issue. Lets say the work is priced at a level the photographer is comfortable. For simplicity lets use my previous example of $85 for a framed and matted 11×14 print. Remember, the while the photographer sells the work for $85, she has material costs the equal $35. If the photographer feels that this is the highest price the market can bear, she needs to keep the price at $85. But when the work sells, the gallery takes $34, leaving the photographer with $16 profit ($85 price – $35 material costs – $34 commission). That stinks. Instead the photographer says, “phooey”, and prices the work such that the new price covers the commission. Doing some calculations, the total comes to $119 (gallery price=$85 * 1.4). Will the work sell at this new price? If the photographer has doubts she needs to work out a number between the two prices that she feels properly enumerated for her work and believes is not priced too high to sell.

So far, I have sold work through two galleries. The first was a frame shop in the small town of Washington, Illinois. While one might wonder about the sanity putting my work into such a small community, it really was a reasonable chance. This woman’s gallery had a LOT of very high quality original work from regional artists, the town was well-off, economically, and she did get traffic. Apparently, other than one local artist, not many other’s work sold since she changed her model to being strictly commission. The proprietor is wonderful woman to work with, and will likely put my work back in next year once the selling season ends.

The second gallery, The Blue Connection, is ran by students from the local university (Millikin). The gallery has a good vibe and filled the work of good artists. Since the gallery is tied to a university and loosely, with the local art council, customers may be willing to spend a bit more money on art than those going to Farmer’s market or community celebration.

In both my dealings with galleries, they operate in a highly ethical way, and when my work sells, I get paid. I have heard stories from artists who had work in a in another city, who was having problems getting the gallery to pay them for sale of their work.

One downside with galleries is they are dependant inventory. Not only does inventory eat up money but it becomes one more thing to manage. The more your work gets spread out, the more of a hassle it is to pick up and to swap out. It may well be worth your while to get your work in multiple venues, but think about the hassle that brings to your life before signing on.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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The Cost of a Photography Business – Selling Photos as Fine Art

Farm-House-in-winter

DSC_7094.jpg, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

From the outside looking in, getting into the photography business seems pretty easy and fairly inexpensive and people wonder why photographers charge the prices they do. This is especially true with wedding photographers where the price can run the gambit from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Also there are many budding professional photographers thinking that with their equipment they are ready to start making some money and will often sell their services at a discount. This series of essays look at the costs of doing business and why photographers, if they want to earn money, need to consider what they charge for their services.

Art Fairs

There are generally two ways to sell your images; markets/fairs and galleries. Let’s assume that you want to sell at the market and fair, what do you need before you even start? While not a requirement, a tent is almost a must-have. It keeps the sun and elements off your head and, more importantly, off the merchandise. Tents vary in price, from a couple hundred dollars to closer to a thousand dollars. I spent a little more than $300 for my EZ-Up at Sams.
Next consider the display your art. Initially, I made the displays out of pegboard and 1x2s. Not very professional looking and the wife wisely suggested purchasing a rack system that disassembles easy. It looks very nice and costs about $250.

Add all the miscellaneous items together, including a folding table and something to hold loose prints, and call it an even $100. Now it is time to purchase some prints. Normally I spend about $30 on various loose prints, put them into Mylar baggies with backing board and sell them for $10. I probably make about $7.50 per print once I subtract out my shipping costs and the baggies and such.

Then comes the big stuff…the framed and matted 11×14’s. Past experiences taught me to have these mounted on foam core boards to avoid warpage that occurs with temperature changes and high humidity. I found a place that sells nice frames for $20 and it comes with a mat. Combine that price with the $15 print (I pay for the mounting of the foam core) and the cost per item is $35. I sell these at $85.

So far so good. My initial costs are $550 not including my inventory. Purchasing inventory takes a fair amount of funds, so let’s say that I purchase eight framed and matted 11×14’s, that comes out to $280 dollars and brings the grand total to $840.

Now I go to an art fair and the jury fees and entrance fees come to $85. It is 30 miles away and the government figures the cost per mile is $.50, and counting the miles ways comes to an additional $30. It requires $115 profit just to pay those costs. So, $50 profit per 11×14 means that I have to sell more than two pictures to break even.

Let’s say I have a good day and I sell six making my total sales (6x$85) $510. The frames and prints cost ($35×6) $210 and the entrance fee costs $85. My total profit $510 sales – $210 material costs – $85 fees – $30 car. = $185 . For the art fair I get there to set up by 9am and do not leave until 7pm making that 10 hours. So, in effect I have made $18.50 per hour. Not bad. Not great, but not bad.

So, if I sell six, I am happy. But what if I only sell 4? To date I have never sold that many pictures, at least the 11×14’s, at one fair. I think there are a number of reasons for that, but I will not get into that here. That would be $340 in sales – $140 in material – $85 fee – $30 car making the total $85. Now, I am working for $8.50 per hour. Is it worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

But there are other things to consider. Most art fairs require the artist’s presence for both Saturday and Sunday. Also, if the fair goes both days, it is very likely sales will not be doubled over a fair that lasts only one day. To attend fairs that are quite a distance from you home means a hotel room expense, which quickly eats into your profits. Weather and the economy also impact your sales, rarely in a positive way. One rainstorm might not only drive away customers but may also destroy your merchandise.

If, as a photographer/artist, you are not careful, you will only be funding the fair, the frame gallery, the printer, the food vendor. Everybody but yourself.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Business Advice

 

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A Night on Staley Bridge

This last Friday evening I finally made it back to Staley bridge (in Decatur Illinois)to shoot some more low-light photography. (I tried doing the HDR bit but that didn’t turn out so well an instead used Topaz Adjust). I got there around 10.00 and shot for an hour or so and shot for an hour.

For those of you who have not been on the overpass, not only does it get a fair amount of vehicular traffic but, as I found out, it gets a fair amount of foot and bicycle traffic as well. The pedestrians and cycles are mostly people who have lost their driver’s license and it is quite apparent that these people are alo either going somewhere to drink or are coming from some place that they have been drinking.

Anyways….I am on this overpass. It is dark and I cannot easily see or hear people walking/riding on the narrow sidewalk upon which I stand. Not until they are real close do I stand a chance to recognize their presence because my full attention is on what I am photographing below me. My concentration broken by the WHOOSSHHH! of a cyclist as he zips past me.

Towards the end of my shoot, this fellow on a bike passes by and wants to give me a “high five” kind of thing to which I accommodate the best I could. After travelling about 30 feet he stops and gets off his bike and starts walking toward me while carrying a cane. He is not using the cane to walk but it is quite clear he has a cane. Since he doesn’t seem overly menacing, I don’t get nervous but I do start collapsing my tripod before he gets to me and I make some mental notes on how I would react if he took a swing at me with that metal headed stick.
After some salutations and general body language, it was obvious he had done some serious drinking but taking swipes at strangers was on his agenda. After asking what I was doing he told me about his work as an electrician at ADM. This went on for about five minutes and I could barely understand him. Then we wished each other well and parted ways. All the while he was talking I kept thinking how I would love to get his portrait. It would have been impossible in those conditions…but it would have been great. An older black gentleman with graying hair and expressive eyes. His hand was firm rough as we shook hands. OOOHH, I would loved to have gotten a portrait.

Maybe next time.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2010 in About a Picture

 

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It Doesn’t Help to Shoot Your Kids!

As a nation of photographers, we shoot the things we love. And what do we love? In people’s homes are refrigerators and photo albums filled with a nearly endless picture parade of kids, grandkids, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends and even flowers. Look at Facebook albums and you will see the same. Nearly everybody cherishes capturing images of people and things they hold dear and the technology that makes this possible is wonderful. But when it comes to improving as a photographer, the five thousand snapshots taken of Missy and Jr. do not help.
Why is that? Because very often we cannot look an image of the thing we love without that image generating some emotion that is outside the artistic merit of the photo itself. This is especially true if we, ourselves, took that picture. Snapshots are pregnant with the memories of that moment. Perhaps it was Freddie’s 6th birthday party on a beach and he smiles big showing off his missing teeth. Perhaps it is Katy’s wearing dress that reminds you that she is growing up fast. These kinds of pictures generate emotions that only exist with you, and people that have associations with those subjects. It is too easy to transfer those feelings of the subject into feelings about that image’s quality.
I am not saying that all the hundreds of millions of snapshots taken every day are worthless or that we should be ashamed of hanging poorly shot photos on our fridge. Photographs, even poorly taken, are wonderful things that uplift us. But if we want to take the next step in producing quality images, we must look to photographing subjects that are emotionally neutral to us. To grow as artists and professionals we must be capable of critically viewing our images, and sometimes in a very savage way. We need critics to tell us that our picture is terrible without us feeling that they are calling our baby is ugly.
If you love shooting your kids, keep doing it, but remember, it doesn’t help your photography skills. Start shooting other peoples kids and it won’t take long for you to see how much worse your pictures will look and you will improve.
 
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Posted by on June 12, 2010 in Photography Advice

 

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