Friday, August 15, 2008

Selling your Travel Photography

This is a photo of me hard at work (!) in the Aurukun Wetlands of Cape York, far north Australia. I was there photographing with a group of travel writers and was just about to head out to photograph some brolgas we'd heard calling that morning. It was taken by my good friend Louise Southerden, a wonderful travel writer and photographer.

This was one of those mornings where I just have to pinch myself when I think that I actually get paid to do this! I realise that I am very lucky and I also realise that many of you also probably have a dream of selling some of your images, even if it's only to cover expenses.

So where do you start? I'm not going to turn this into a blog about becoming a professional travel photograher, as I want to concentrate more on the photography itself, but I thought it would be a good idea to point you in the right direction of some resources to help you if that's a road you feel like taking.

Let's start with some books:

Probably the best book I've found on the logistics of running a photography business is Tom Zimberoff's epic book Photography:Focus on Profit. This really is an amazing book and it even comes with free Photo Business software.

The second book is Negotiating Stock Photo Prices by Jim Pickerell. It has a great guide to thousands of possible different uses and the prices you should aim for. It's US based so some of them might be a bit higher than what you can get in other countries but it's a good starting point to give you some idea of the value of your images (hint: they're worth a hell of a lot more than the $1 or so you can get on those microstock sites!)

WhenI first started I used this fantastic book John Shaw's Business of Nature Photography It's a bit dated now in terms of its talk about film cataloguing and text based databases but it's got a lot of great information about starting a photography business in such a specialised field and a lot of what he talks about is very relevant for travel photography as well.

And the last book I'm really going to recommend if you're having trouble keeping up with all your digital files is The DAM book by Peter Krogh. It literally changed my life in terms of the way I work with my digital pictures.

If you're a blog and web kind of person then there are a few great sites. Probably my favourite photography business blog is John Harrington's This is an amazing resource full of lots of good information about running a photography business. He also has a fantastic book which gets rave reviews. I've yet to get a copy but it's on my list!

Another great blog about promoting yourself is the Burns Auto Parts blog by Photo Consultant and all-round photo marketing guru Leslie Burns-Dell'Acqua. Or Selina Maitreya's Port Authority site. A couple of women dedicated to improving the lot of photographers.

If you want to look at a couple of stock libraries that might be interested in what you have the ones I use are: Lonely Planet Images, Alamy, and the new kid on the block is Photoshelter

If you'll notice I haven't mentioned any books on how to take photos. That's deliberate. If you want to sell pictures it's a given that your pictures are good enough. The business side of things is what you really have to get a handle on if you want to do more than just sell your soul.

There are plenty of wanna-bes willing to give their work away for peanuts just to make themselves feel good. If you really want to make some money as well as help the photography industry and your fellow travel photographers then I recommend that you get a feel for the business side of things. Don't sell your stuff cheaply, value your worth and take such beautiful pictures that people can't help but pay you lots of money to publish them!

Next week I'm going to take a specific magazine assignment and show you exactly what's involved in preparing for, shooting and then submitting a job. Stay tuned!

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Waiting and watching

Sometimes photography is a bit like a police stakeout, you have to spend a lot of time standing around twiddling your thumbs waiting for somebody to do something.

I had spotted this large Panda trampoline ride from about 100 metres away, across a crowded area filled with people, rides and popcorn!

I could immediately see that the bright red, black and white would look great against the bright blue sky and green trees. Colour-wise it was exactly the territory I like to be in.

The trick was how to portray the ride so that you could actually tell what it was. I tried taking a shot from the front with the ride attendant helping kids in and out but that didn't really do it. Then I walked around to the side and noticed the big, round windows on the side.

The only problem I could see straight away was that all the little tykes were jumping around inside and you couldn't really see them in a photograph. I took a couple of shots just to confirm my suspicions and could tell straight away that it wasn't going to work.

What I really needed was for someone to come to the window and wave to Mum and Dad. Being the father of two young boys meant that I was pretty sure that was going to happen sooner or later - just hopefully sooner and at the right window!

Before the (often fleeting) moment occurs I always make sure I have everything set up. I pre-focussed the camera on the window to make sure I wouldn't have to suddenly focus. I made sure I had the right lens on for the framing I wanted, showing the entire front of the ride so people would know what it was. And, most importantly, I checked my histogram to make sure my exposure was right.

Then I just sat and waited. I must have looked very suspicious sitting there with a camera staring intently at a blank window! Good thing photography is a popular hobby in Japan and nobody thinks twice about photographers - unlike Australia where you can get beaten up if you're not careful!

Anyway after about five minutes this lovely little girl came to the window and very kindly held both hands up to the window. Perfect. Snap, snap, snap goes the motor drive and before I knew it she'd gone back to bouncing.

Good photography takes time. Sometimes that time is taken up with planning things, setting things up, researching things. But more often than not that time is taken up with just plain old waiting. Waiting for light, waiting for somebody perfect to walk into the frame, waiting for serendipity to happen along. It's always a balance between waiting for what you think will be the best shot ever, and the lure of the 100 other best photos ever that might be waiting around the corner.

What's the longest I've ever waited for a shot? I really couldn't really tell you. I'm usually just so busy enjoying myself that the time just flies by. If you gave me a choice of waiting somewhere beautiful for beautiful light for eight hours, or trying to create that light on the computer...well I'll take the waiting any day. :)

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How slow can you handhold your camera?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to carry my tripod wherever I go. It sits over my shoulders a la Robin Hood arrow quiver, held there by a strap.

But I realise that for many of you the idea of carrying a tripod around would be akin to having your fingernails pulled out one by one!

So how slow can you handhold your camera before you will start getting blurry photos?

The photo here was handheld. But there were three things in my favour. One - it's the entertainment district of a major Japanese city and is wall-to-wall neon. It's nearly as bright as day. Two - I'm lying down on the ground with my elbows resting on the footpath. And three - it was taken with my widest wide-angle lens. The shorter the lens the easier it is to hand hold. This was taken at ISO 100 and my shutter speed was 1/15th second with a 10-22mm lens.

The general rule for hand holding your camera is not to go below 1 over the focal length of your lens. So if you have a 28-80mm zoom you would stick to 1/30th second at the wide end and 1/125th second at the long end (because there isn't such a thing as a 1/28th second or 1/80th second shutter speed so you go to the next fastest one).

But that was how it worked with film. If you have a crop digital camera (any of them except the top of the line in each camera brand) then you need to multiply the focal length of your camera by about 1.5. So on a digital your 28-80mm zoom becomes a 42-120mm zoom. So your hand holdable shutter speeds are actually 1/60th second at the wide end and still 1/125th second at the long end.

So you can see that the longer your lens the faster a shutter speed you're going to need to hand hold your camera. In order to give yourself faster shutter speeds you can also up the ISO on your camera. Every jump from say 100 to 200, 200 to 400 and so on will give you an extra stop of shutter speed. So if you had 1/15th second at ISO 100, swapping to ISO 200 will give you 1/30ths second. 1/60th second at ISO 400 and so on. The only trade-off is that the higher your ISO the noisier the picture and that's not always something you're willing to trade-off.

So assuming we want to keep our ISO as low as possible but our shutter speeds are really slow, there are ways you can get around these limitations. But they all involve you getting flexible! Look for things to lean against. Walls, trees, cars, the ground. If you can give yourself a bit more stability you'll be able to hold your camera a bit more steady. Barring that try resting your camera on something steady. Use a little pebble or something to prop up the front of the lens. When you use this technique you want to use the self-timer so you don't get camera shake from pushing the shutter button.

A little table-top tripod can really help stabilise your camera. Apart from its obvious use you can also use it while hand holding your camera. With the little tripod attached to your camera dig all three legs into your chest so your camera has somewhere to rest. You'll find you can get an extra stop or so of shutter speed.

And if none of those options are available? Head to the gym more and be prepared to carry your tripod!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Fun with photography

Who the hell knows what I was thinking here? It seemed like a good idea at the time!

Photography can be a pretty intense hobby at any time, but when you've paid thousands of dollars to fly somewhere exotic and you know you're not likely to be back there in a long time... Well don't we all get a little too serious about our pictures.

A little angry when somebody gets in the way of our perfect landscape. A little too disheartened when we get turned down for yet another portrait.

Take some silly photos. Like this one here. Remind yourself that it's all meant to be fun. And if you're so busy trying to get that perfect angle do what I do, put the camera down.

That's right. Here I am the professional travel photographer telling you not to take any photos. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to get a great shot that we miss the actual event. We're so busy looking through the viewfinder that we don't actually see a thing. And when we see the pictures later we often have no personal memories of what happened.

I can sometimes go for hours just snapping away and at the end of the day I might come away with some memorable shots but I haven't really seen anything. And then at other times I have just put the camera down and sat and watched things unfold and those memories are etched deep into my mind.

This photo above was at the end of a particularly amazing session photographing not one, not two but five giraffes all drinking at the same time. Just as they were finishing up two cheetah brothers came down to drink at the same waterhole and this giraffe ended up having a staring competition with a tiny cheetah. I took quite a few shots but often just sat there for ten minutes or more without even touching the shutter, just watching and taking it all in.

And decided to take a silly shot just for the hell of it. So if the photography action gets a bit intense remember that it's all meant to be fun, and at the end of the day if you don't come away with the photograph you were really looking for, at least you'll remember the experience.

Tropical Writers' Festival

For those of you lucky enough to live up here in far north Queensland I just wanted to let you know about the upcoming Tropical Writers' Festival. Happening over the weekend of the 30th and 31st August it's sure to be a great event for those of you who are just as interested in writing as you are photography. There's a free panel discussion with various journalists, including yours truly, on the Saturday from 12.30pm. I'll be there to answer questions about the business of travel writing so if you have any curly questions get them ready! It will be held at the Shangri-La Hotel and you can find out more details here. Get along if you have the time and come and say hello.