Tuesday, April 30, 2013
What is the role of a professional body representing a group of artists? I have been a member of a couple of professional bodies over the years - photographic and travel writing - and there's always been debate over what exactly the role of the body is.
The majority of Australian organisations seem to think that the body's role is to elevate the level of the work of its members through competitions, workshops and other learning opportunities. The more gold points you get in print competitions the higher your grade within the organisation. The theory being that a rising tide floats all boats and that, as a result of everybody's work getting better it is seen by the general public that it's worth hiring a member of said body of professionals. In other words, by being a member you have a marketing advantage because you're seen by people outside the organisation as producing a top-notch product.
But is this where the resources could best be applied? My problem is that they often emphasise the artistic/creative side of things whilst pretty much ignoring the 'professional' side of the equation. In the photographic industry in particular, I don't think we got into the mess we're all in today because of the flood of crap imagery. I mean, let's face it, the stuff you find on photo sharing sites like Flickr, 500px et al is often brilliant. I mean truly exceptional.
Even in my local arena, a small country town of less than 2000,000 people, taking a look at the websites of photographers working around me it's often beautiful, refined work that any working pro would be proud to show. So I think that the professional bodies' emphasis on raising the quality of the art is a bit misguided. The marketplace will do that for us. Produce shitty work and the entire world will know about it seconds after you post it online. Try getting any more clients after you totally overexpose every shot from a wedding, or shoot a commercial client's brochure in low quality Jpegs. If your work isn't good enough technically or artistically then you're not going to be in the game for too long at all. And I hate to be condescending but, you don't scare me!
So who am I scared of, and where do I think the professional bodies need to be focussing their attention? I'm scared of the capable photographers who don't know their cost of doing business, what kind of a profit margin they should be aiming for, or what the going market rate is. The ones who are happy to take a job at any cost, damn the consequences for them or those around them. That's who I'm scared of and that's who I think needs help from our professional bodies.
Granted they run lectures and symposiums, online discussion groups and other stuff. But is it working? Do people care? Do they pay attention? Here's a radical concept. Instead of not allowing people of a sub-standard technical ability to join (which many do through pre-membership portfolio reviews etc), let's change things up and say 'You can't join our professional photographic body unless you prove that not only do you know how to run a profitable photography business, but you put that knowledge into practice.'
Let's make it so that our professional photographic bodies stand for 'professionalism' not just in terms of our abilities behind the camera (which I would again argue the market will judge for us), but by our abilities in all aspects of our 'business'. Hold the members accountable. Undercutting a job just so that somebody else doesn't get it? You're outta there! Deliberately lowballing so that you get as much work as possible without thinking about its effect on the market around you? You're outta there!
Unintentionally charging less than you need to run a sustainable business? Well that's where the professional body can help you through education. Discussion groups, mentoring, online articles etc. And when you can prove that not only have you read this stuff, but you've taken it to heart and are using it day in and day out...well then we'll let you in. And your clients will know that when they're dealing with a member of a professional body that they're not only going to get a great product, but they're going to be dealing with a complete and total professional.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Well I've been a bit slow with new posts, I know. Blame it on school holidays I say! How do two little people manage to make a mess of something in such a short period of time when it takes me hours to clean it up again? Anyway, where were we? Ah, Thailand.
Here's another shot of Bangkok chaos, brought to you after the chaos that has been my household for the last couple of weeks! This was taken from the top of Wat Arun, on the banks of the Chao Praya River.
It was taken with a telephoto lens, which I chose because of its ability to compress a scene and make things look really crowded. Not that the Chao Praya needs much help in that regard mind you. But the telephoto does do a nice job of really compressing the perspective and giving it the wow factor.
You can see the various ferries and barges as they make their way up and down, and back and forth across this giant river. In the background you can see the rooves of the Grand Palace. I could have sat here for hours and just watched the boats go up and down and life go on in this busy metropolis.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I have a special place in my heart for Buddhism. I don't profess to understand all its tenets, or adhere to them all but I try to live my life along the lines of its teachings as much as possible. I find Buddhist temples to be calm. relaxing places and very different from country to country - obviously a reflection of the national character more than the religion itself.
In Japan the temples are often very calm, serene places lacking in ostentation. There is hardly any sound at all as people whisper and move about in hushed, reverant tones. In Tibetan Buddhist temples I tend to find people walking around chatting with each other as they spin their Mani Wheels and catch up on the latest town gossip. Almost as if the temple takes the place of the local coffee shop as a meet up place. Whilst some of the temples contain very ornate statues and decorations I often find that it's not particularly over the top.
And then there's Thailand! Wow, there's more gold here than Smaug the dragon could have hoped for! Everything is bright and lairy, opulent and ostentatious. Well at least it is here at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. My kids were gobsmacked at all the 'jewels' and 'gold' plastered everywhere the eye looked.
For a photographer it's a dream come true as the bright golden chedis contrast with the (often) grey sky. When the sun comes out and gives you a dash of blue it's perfect. Technically speaking the one thing you have to be careful about is blowing out the highlights - especially in the red channel. Keep an eye on your histogram and make sure you are recording all the information and let the shadows fall away if you need to because it's important to keep the detail in all the bright areas of the frame.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Yes, mild-mannered photographer by day, crime fighting justice fighter by night.
I was having a lovely holiday in Thailand when this dastardly criminal tried to steal our tuk-tuk.
Needless to say I couldn't let him get away with it.
Just as Jimmy Olson is Spiderman's official photographer, I too have my own accredited snapper - my eldest son Mirai!
A little bit of lightheartedness to send you into the weekend!
Have a great one. :)
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
If you're on assignment it's a no-brainer, but when you're on holiday do you take your tripod? I can't count the number of times I've taken mine and not ended up using it. Or had my wife look at me angrily as I try to squeeze it into the suitcase between the kids' socks and toothbrushes!
But I invariably take it. This time I made things a little easier for myself in the getting yelled at department by taking said tripod in a padded bag all of its own which I could check in. I have a very old Manfrotto tripod that has seen more countries than most people I know! And it has the scratches and dings to show for it but I love it and would never think of replacing it.
Anyway, this trip I managed to put my tripod to good use. This is the view from the top of our hotel - the Legacy Suites - in downtown Sukhumvit, looking along Soi 29. As you look out over the city you can see the BTS skytrain in the middle foreground. Often the train would speed past so all I got is blurred lights, but every so often it would stop just there for a couple of minutes so I could take its photo. How considerate of it! And a car going down the alley to boot.
So yes, I always take my tripod. I don't always use it, and I often get dirty looks but it's my constant travel companion.
Friday, March 8, 2013
The last time I visited Wat Pho, home of the giant golden reclining Buddha, was fifteen years ago. I was on a 12 month journey around South East Asia, India and Nepal. I was about half way through after having initially spent a couple of months in Thailand and then three months in India with my then-girlfriend, now wife.
As I headed into the giant hall to see the Buddha I noticed my camera acting funny. I always turn the beeping sound for my autofocus off, but still check the little light on my viewfinder to make sure it comes on to tell me autofocus has been achieved. That's especially important in dark places.
Anyway that little light suddenly started flashing every time I half pushed the shutter button down. For some reason it wasn't auto-focussing. I took the lens off and re-attached it. No good. Changed lenses. No good. Took the battery out and put it back in. No good. My autofocus was stuffed and I would have to focus manually.
But was what I was seeing through the viewfinder accurate? In other words if I focussed manually would the focus be OK? This was the days of film so I had literally no idea. And I was shooting slide film so there was no real way of checking. Plus we were headed to the Philippines for a month of diving the next day so no time to get it looked at in Bangkok.
So, with 6 months, the Philippines and Nepal still to go I was more than a little worried. I eventually bought a cheap roll of print film in the Philippines and did a bunch of test shots. Everything seemed to be OK so I just kept on using it. My venerable 21st birthday present lasted until the end of that trip with no more problems but I sure gained an appreciation for the guys who worked before the invention of auto-focus!
So as I headed back into Wat Pho fifteen years down the track I was sending a few wishful thoughts out to the big golden Buddha not to let it happen again. He had the same serene smile on his face as last time so I was hopeful. By the time I walked all the way down to his feet and photographed back along the length of the statue, then walked around the other side and out the door I was officially safe. No second time jinx for me!
Of course if my camera had broken it would have given me an excuse to go and buy a shiny new camera. :)
Thursday, March 7, 2013
If there's one thing I've learnt over the years it's that work is work and holiday is holiday. Which when your work (photography) is one of the biggest passions in your life - well it can be tough balancing your needs with that of the family.
So I try to put them first whenever possible and squeeze in photo opportunities around our holiday schedule. Which sometimes means sacrificing wonderful photos in order to come back with wonderful memories.
I'm sure my wife will tell you I step over the boundaries quite a bit but I try!
Anyway this is one example of where a photograph came together pretty much as I had envisaged and I was right on family schedule! We were coming back on the river ferry from a day of sightseeing and I could see the sun going down quite rapidly and Wat Arun off in the distance. I had my fingers crossed our boat would get there in time.
As we got closer and closer to the temple I could see the sun rapidly heading for the horizong, as it does so close to the equator. I managed to get a few shots of other interesting buildings with the sun behind them but this was my main goal.
Luck was on my side and with Bangkok being so smoggy, the sun quickly turned into a giant red orb and sent the surrounding sky a similar hue. Ten minutes earlier and the sun would have been quite a bit higher in the sky and possibly even more spectacular, but when you're on holiday you have to be grateful for what you get. And this time I'm pretty darn happy with what I got!