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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Is Good Good Enough?

Old-Farm-Truck

DSC_7617-Edit- topaz.jpg, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

So you take very decent photos and your friends, and even strangers, love your work. Armed with an arsenal of compliments you figure it is time to sell your work to the public at large. Is being good, good enough to be successful? The answer is a resounding “no” and there is a number of reasons why.

Is your work distinguishable from the crowd of other photographers?

If it isn’t then you better work hard to give people a reason to choose your work over another’s because when a person sees your work they shouldn’t get your work confused with somebody elses Look around at the work people do in the area that you plan to sell. See what themes and subjects are popular.You may find certain themes are popular and that may be an avenue to pursue. But don’t copy the work of the countless photographers who shoot that (whatever). Instead find your own individual way to shoot the subject or theme.

Do people want to hang it up in their home?

As I learned the hard way, just because people love your pictures, even the point of remarking and asking questions about your particular work, that does not mean they want to hang your pictures on their walls. If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me “I sure do love your work” I would be wildly successful (actually that is a bit of and exaggeration). But looking strictly at art print sales, while I do sell, it isn’t in high enough volumes to even be considered mildly successful. . I think part of the issue is this: while we tend to think of pictures as art, in the mind of the buyer it is really just décor.” People purchase photography to accent a room rather than to accent an emotion.

How do you plan to market yourself?

Artwork, even photography, does not sell itself. It requires more than just posting some pictures on the web. The “if I post it, they will come” attitude will net you a big fat NOTHING. Even putting your work in busy venues may not offer much in the term of sales either. Selling your work means selling yourself. That doesn’t mean that you must greet every person you meet with an elevator speech, but it does mean that you need to play an active role in promoting you and your work.

My biggest “market” is the people I know. I never push my products or services on them but they know about my work and I find ways to display my work in a non-pushy way. This ranges from posting pictures on Facebook to bringing new prints into work. Seek out even simple opportunities to promote your work.

Is your work exceptional?

There are plenty of good photographers out there. Technology has removed some of the barriers of entry and reduced the learning time for dramatically improving one’s photography. If you work is only good, you need to rethink entering into this business until you improve, especially regarding fine art. There is no room for mediocrity.

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Posted by on July 28, 2010 in Business Advice

 

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How To Improve Your Photography – Pt. 2. Get Thee To A Library

Tate-&-Lyle-Soybean-Processing

Tate&Lyle_Decatur_Illinois_9, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

Sometimes the best things in life are free and fortunately the library falls into that category. Immersing yourself in photography and photography related books and magazines is key to developing a photographic eye. One thing you may not know is that you can check out magazines, at least ones other than the current issue..

The number of photography books and the quantity of newer titles vary from library to library. Often, the bulk of titles are pre-digital age, but don’t let that discourage you. While some aspects of photography have changed since the days of film, the majority of the techniques still apply. Aperture, shutter speeds and even ISO still work the same way, the only real changes are mostly how images are developed, darkroom versus digital.

By delving into the world of images develops a sense of what a good picture is. Just like almost everything else photography is subject to fads and what is fashionable today may look terrible, or dated, tomorrow. When looking at older photographs see what images have stood the test of time. Look past the dated clothing and hair styles and instead look at the picture itself.

Also, don’t limit your reading to just photography books, look at other types of books and magazines that heavily use images. From magazines like National Geographic, Vogue , Life and Wired to biographies, travel books and cultural books, they all provide wonderful examples of good (and bad) photography.

Learning does not have to cost you money. The library is probably the source of the cheapest education that you can give yourself. And regardless of the size or newness of the collections, you will find books and magazines to draw inspiration and learning.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2010 in Photography Advice

 

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Do I Really Need To Buy A Flash?

Tractor-in-a-Barn

DSC_9055_6_7.jpg, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

Photography is confined by the light in a particular scene. Unfortunately, cameras need a lot of light, and I do mean a lot of light, much more light than our eyes do. Because of this we tend to think that if a location is bright enough for us to see clearly then there is plenty of light for taking a picture. Unless bright sunlight abundantly streams into a room, there is almost never enough ambient light to ensure the use of camera settings that allow for acceptable image quality when taking portraits. Unless you have a camera body that exceeds $2,000, bet the bank that photographing in low-light conditions results in motion blur or terrible image noise. Low-light conditions force photographers to make hard decisions; either open the aperture, slow the shutter speeds or to increase the ISO. And sometimes the situation forces compromises in more than just one of those categories.

To remedy the situation the photographer needs In this case we need to bring light into the scene. Since strobe lighting is expensive, people (myself included) seek to find economical work arounds. After all, one can buy a number of light sources at a local hardware store. From LED to incandescent to halogen I tried them all but with very limited success (or even no success). After spending hours playing with these various lights it doesn’t take long to realize that they just don’t work. For example a 500W halogen may seem like it puts out a lot of light…it really doesn’t. To make matters worse it generates a tremendous amount of heat and it produces light that is orange in color. The same with the other lights, their main deficiency is their inability to put out a sufficient quality of light.

That leads us to strobes. One can either purchase one that mounts to the camera (speed light) or a studio strobe. Like everything else, one can find an entire gambit of products in various price ranges, and you need to do a good amount of study before making a truly informed decision.

With the strobes, and especially the speed lights, one often fails to understand just how bright these are. They are so bright, in fact, that they can overpower sunlight…even direct, afternoon day light. So, you may wonder why your eyes don’t burn out with every “pop” of the flash. Our eyes are saved because the light from the flash only stays on for hundredths of a second. BLIP! That is it.

Think of light as water. A halogen is a water hose and a strobe is a giant water balloon. Over time a halogen may put out more light than the strobe, but it may take a full second to put out the same quantity. And while you wait for that full second, your subject moved or you hand shook.

So, if you are serious about your photography, and you plan to photograph people, do yourself a favor and purchase a speed light or a studio strobe. It will save you time and aggravation.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2010 in Photography Advice

 

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Does The World Need More Pictures?

How many pictures are there in the world? On the Internet alone there has to be billions of photos. If we add all images ever made, the number is mind boggling and, who know, it may reach into the trillions, Against this mountain of work, this lone photographer wonders, does the world need any more pictures?

There is a case made for photojournalism, wherein current events need recorded for posterity’s sake. And there is some need to document key events in a person’s life. But other than that, is there really a need to add any more pictures to the giant pile if images that already exist?

I suppose if I were to create something new, that might be a good excuse to add to the corpus, but is that possible? Going through the list of landscape, architectural and fine art photographers it is apparent that very few people from this generation will top that work. Also, rarely do the newer artists will do something that is truly new and the best we can only copy what have seen and add our own imperfections.

Dorothy Sayers wrote one of my favorite books entitled, “The Mind of the Maker” in which she provides profound exposition of two of the most famous Bible texts – Genesis 1.1 “God created the Heavens and the Earth” and Genesis 1.27 “God created man in his own image”. The question we face is what does it mean to be made in God’s image? Traditionally, Protestantism held that “work” was the crux of the creation passage and that through work we, as mankind, find our purpose. For six days God did labor, and thus sets the pattern for us. From this, the concept of calling is introduced, in that God provides desires and direction for people to take on occupations and that through that work we find happiness since we are made in the image of the working God.

What Dorthy says that it isn’t work that is the primary focus, but “creation” is the key to understanding what it means to be made in God’s image. For six days we see God’s hand in creating, and likewise, we are creators. Not true creators in that we create physical something from absolute nothing, but we in a more limited sense bring about something new. Looking around us, this explanation seems to fit. From architecture to sculptures, from medicine to roads, we constantly reshape our world. This explains the drive to produce pictures when the world is already full. It explains the illogic of a species so bent on producing goods that provide no tangible benefit. We make and consume it simply because it makes us feel a certain way.
Like art, photography, fits into a metaphysical category that defies scientific explanation. One hand the world doesn’t need it, but on the other hand, in a very contradictory way, it apparently does need it.

So , is it with audacity that I attempt to sell my work that is so feeble in comparison to the work of so many others? No, it is with wonder. It is with amazement. It is with thanksgiving that somehow I am a part of the chain that brings the wonder of this world to people. That the sights and images that move me, also move other people. That we can all celebrate a single capture of time and space.

I can’t make sense of it, but that is ok.

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2010 in Musings

 

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How to Improve Your Photography – Part 1

While not everybody pressing the shutter release buttons on their cameras thinks about improving their skills, a good part of us do. It doesn’t take much self-evaluation to realize that in many areas we, as photographers, fall short. Often this realization hits us when we compare our pictures to those of others and realize that we need to take our work to next level.

My first bit of advice is simple. Perhaps so simple that it goes overlooked. If you want to improve your photography you need to take pictures. That is it. We can all go to seminars and read magazines but if we aren’t shooting, what is the point?

When I say that you need to shoot pictures, I mean you need to shoot a lot of pictures and you need to do it often. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great book entitled Outliers in which he described the steps to master something. Usually people think that greatness comes from some strong innate talent. While “natural ability” does play a role, that role is very small in comparison to the amount of time a person spends practicing and doing. Even people that we think of as geniuses, Gladwell points out, spent an extraordinary amount of time working. Greatness did not just happen to them, like some lucky pull of the slot machine. Their accomplishments seem less miraculous once one factors in the amount of time they spent working at it. While we spend our childhood playing video games and watching movies, Mozart spent composing music. So is it any wonder that, as a young adult, Mozart produced masterpieces? Think of all those hours you spent on tv, computer games and hanging out. What if, instead you focused all that time on a craft what you could have accomplished?

Gladwell believes that mastery comes after 10,000 hours of doing something. That comes to 5 years of putting in 40 hour days. While we may not want to, or even have the ability to, devote that much time in this period of our lives, the principle still holds. The more time you spend the better you will get.

So, what are you waiting on? Grab your camera and start shooting!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2010 in Photography Advice

 

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Thoughts On My Gear – Filters

Lens filters are one of those items that salesmen like to push when a customer purchases a new camera. This is not new technology for they have been used by camera enthusiasts and pros for decades. But today we live in the age of digital cameras and are they even needed and they are merely another useless thing that salesmen up-sell to pad their commission?

Polarizer Filter

Polarizer Filter

First off, let’s discuss what filters are . They are merely glass or plastic elements that usually screw on to the end of a lens. And while a filter is not lens specific, generally, you will have to buy a different set of filters for since they are sized to a standard diameters and lenses can vary in size. Telephotos often take larger sized filters than wide-angle lenses do. I was fortunate in that my 50mm prime lens uses the same size as my 18-55mm lens.

UV Filters

There are several types of lenses and one of the most common is the Ultra Violet filter. Ultraviolet light, such as found in sunlight, can create a haze to the photos and protecting images from degradation is very important. In the old days, a physical UV filter was the only way to protect the image but today such protection today is superfluous because modern lenses come with a coating that provides the same protection as a physical UV filter. While one might think that doubling up would provide twice the benefit but a physical filter yields no additional benefit in matters of UV protection..

So, in this day and age, why would photographers affix them to their lenses? Protection. These filters act as a buffer taking the scratches and bumps instead of your more expensive lens. The more you pay for the lens, the more inclined you feel about protecting it, especially when you start shelling out four figures for some of the sweet glass. It seems like a no-brainer, everybody should be using UV filters on all their lenses. After all, a UV filter is relatively inexpensive and may save your lenses from expensive, if not fatal, injury. Well, there are a couple reasons not to use them for this purpose. First, any additional piece of glass you put in front of your lens will affect the quality of any images you take. While the effect may be minimal, a number of people believe that the degradation of the image isn’t worth the potential cost to image quality. Secondly, if you stack too many filters it creates a vignette effect that is usually unwanted. (Yes, Virginia, a vignette, done properly, is desirable thing). Personally I do not use a UV filter. As mentioned in a previous post, I utilize lower-cost kit equipment which makes me less sensitive to damaging my equipment. Also, If I did significantly damage a lens, the provides an excuse to upgrade to better lenses.

Colored Filters

Another type of filter is a colored filter. If you grab one of these and hold it to the light you will notice that this filter changes the color of light passing through. There are a variety of reasons for this modifying light color, but usually it is to either correct the color of the scene you shoot, or it is to shift the colors to something more pleasing. For instance, incandescent lights produce an orangish color cast ,and in standard mode (or normal film), the whole scene takes on that orangy cast. By applying blue filter, the photographer magically changes that orange light into normal colored light thus “normalizing” the scene. But there are times when a photographer will actually seek to change the cast away from accurate to create a pleasing effect.. This, especially when shooting portraits, that a photographer will want the skin to appear “warmer” than it does in that particular scene, and through the use of a filter, this can happen.

So, why wouldn’t digital photographers want to use this filter for correcting and modifying the scenes they shoot? First and foremost, unlike shooting with film, today’s photographers, can easily color correct the scene in-camera and, more importantly, when processing the files with the computer.So, like the UV filter, adding more glass on the end of the lens offers no benefit to the image and may, in fact, slightly degrade image quality.

Polarizers

Next we come to the polarizer, and more correctly, a circular polarizer. Like other polarized items (sunglasses, monitor screens, etc) this filters out all light rays except those hitting the lens at a perpendicular angle. This is very, very powerful because one piece of glass removes the glare off foliage, reduces reflections off surfaces (like water, glass and metal), saturates colors and darkens blue skies. This filter does block some light and thus requires some considerations. Generally ,this is not a problem since the filter gets its heavy usage on bright days so losing a stop or two of light isn’t a problem and may even be a benefit. The filter belongs in the camera bag of any person who photographs landscapes. The benefits this lens provides CANNOT be duplicated in Photoshop.

Neutral Density Filter

The last filters to discuss is the neutral gradient filter, which acts like grey-colored sunglasses for your camera. They block some of the light but they do not affect the color of the image. Why would anybody want sunglasses for their camera? Because when a photographer wants to use a larger aperture or wants to decrease the shutter speed and the scene is too bright to keep highlights from blowing out, these filters save the day.

There is also a spit neutral density filter in which only a portion of the filter has the gradient. In scenes, where the sky is very bright but the ground and subject isn’t, that sort of flexibility is needed. Instead of choosing to blow out either the highlights or the darks the photographer can get a proper exposure for both.

Closing Thoughts

The only filter I use is the circular polarizer, the others were a waste of my money. There are a variety of opinions regarding lens filters and it serves you well to read what others say. The type of photography you do will determine the usefulness of the various types of filters. For example, if you one expensive lenses and you do rock climbing, then you may want to use a UV filter for protection. Before purchasing, do you research and take the money you save and spending it on products that will improve or aid your photography.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2010 in Photography Advice

 

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