Friday, December 19, 2008

Model releases and travel photography

Now I'm going to preface this post with a little disclaimer. I am by no means a lawyer, don't really know any and you should check anything I write here with a local authority. It's a bit of a can of worms is the old subject of model releases and the rules change according to which part of the world you live in.

As a general rule though you don't need permission to take somebody's photo in a public place. It's not the taking of the photo that is the problem - it's what you do with the picture that can get you into hot water.

Take this picture of a little girl taking a break at a festival in Japan. There's no problem if I publish this picture in a magazine with a caption that explains what's happening. But if this picture runs on the front cover of the magazine it could be considered advertising and I would most likely need a model release for that.

Likewise if I was to use it in a billboard which said that this little girl loves the taste of Coke I would get into trouble. Or at least the person who published it would get into trouble. Remember the taking of the photograph is not the issue when you are in a public place, the publishing of it is. So if somebody uses it to advertise something and they know it doesn't have a release (because you the photographer told them) then they would be in trouble not you.

So do I carry a whole bunch of model releases around with me? You bet. Do I ever use them? Hardly ever. I mostly work in the editorial sector of the industry - books, magazines, newspapers. So I hardly ever need a release. If I think I have a cover shot I often give my subject a release form to fill out and promise to send them copies of the pictures and the cover of the magazine if I make it. Otherwise those pieces of paper stay in my bag.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Blurry models

As I mentioned on Tuesday, one of the main times I sit and wait for people to walk into my picture is when I'm using the telephoto lens.

I'm often focussed on something a long way away and it would be impossible for me to get into the frame after setting the self-timer off.

Take this image here. It was taken at the Daintree Discovery Centre which has this amazing walkway through the canopy of World Heritage rainforest.

I took this shot from high up an observation tower, pointing a telephoto lens down below and waiting for people to walk along the path. I was up there for a couple of reasons. Firstly a telephoto lens compresses the already thick rainforest making it look really impenetrable so I needed to be a long way away to get that viewpoint. Secondly it's quite dark in the rainforest and you need to use quite slow shutter speeds and a tripod. People stomping along the walkway makes it vibrate like you wouldn't believe rendering a tripod useless so I couldn't be on the walkway with a wide angle lens or else I'd have a blurry photo.

But a slow shutter speed is what I wanted for another reason. A technique I often use when letting people wander into my frame is to deliberately slow that shutter down so any moving people are blurred.

The main reason I do this is to give my unsuspecting models a sense of anonymity. As I have said on many an occasion, I always like to let people know I'm photographing them. It helps me build a sense of rapport with my portrait subjects. But when people are just props for my landscape shots it's not always possible to let them know. So in order to give them some privacy I tend to blur them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Even gorgeous beaches can use some people

Here's another example of waiting for a model. I was photographing this iconic north Queensland scene at Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.

What makes it a north Queensland beach? Surely not the bright yellow surf lifesaving surfski. They can be found all over Australia.

No the hint is the bottles of vinegar sitting next to them. They immediately scream - jellyfish! We get lots of jellyfish in the water during summer and the vinegar is there to take away some of the effect of the sting before you get rushed to hospital.

But that's a topic for another day. As I was photographing this gorgeous scene I noticed behind me a little boy on what appeared to be a brand new bike and helmet. He was just walking with his family but you could tell he was dying to go for a spin. I couldn't photograph him where he was because the sun was coming from right behind him so I had to wait and hope.

And sure he enough he rode up the beach towards me and did a big loop around the surfski. I was already in position before he was even half way towards me, looking through the viewfinder and hoping. Snap went the shutter and he went back to his family and decided he'd had enough riding for one day. One shot was all I got but it was the one I wanted.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Waiting for models

Yesterday I talked about getting yourself in the picture to add a bit of human touch. But sometimes that's not always possible. You mostly find that you're limited to using a wide-angle lens.

The reason for this is that the foreground is the most emphasised part of the frame and this is where you end up standing. So in the 10 seconds or so you have to get into the picture you don't have to go too far.

When you use a telephoto lens you're usually focussed a long way away. Too far for you to run and pose in 10 seconds or so. Take this shot above. I'm about 200 metres away from the palm trees and I don't think even UsainBolt could make that in 10 seconds!

So sometimes you have to wait. I had already taken a couple of landscape (ie no people) shots of these palm trees at sunrise when I noticed a young woman walking along the foreshore.

It took her about twenty minutes to get to this point as she sat down to enjoy the view, looked at this and that and just generally enjoyed an early morning walk. Meanwhile I was sitting there with all my fingers crossed wishing her silently to walk into my frame.

Eventually she did but the task wasn't complete. As I have spoken about before, when you have a silhouette it needs to be instantly recognisable. A profile shot usually works best so I sat and waited for her to turn side on to the camera. And then she decided to really help me out by lifting a bottle of water up to her mouth and taking a drink, so the sun shone through the bottle as well as giving me a great profile silhouette.

It doesn't always work this well. Sometimes you just never get the right person into the frame, and even when you do they're never quite facing the right way. Them's the breaks. If I had a dollar for every potentially great shot I've missed...well you know the ending.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Putting some life into your photos

When I first started photographing seriously my main interest was in nature and landscapes. I would sit patiently at popular places waiting for other people to disappear before I took any pictures.

When I was off the beaten track it wasn't a problem but when I visited a popular tourist spot it sometimes meant waiting for a long time.

Then I discovered a truth about travel photography. As opposed to landscape photography, travel clients actually prefer to have people in the picture. Something about making the viewer feel like they could be there too.

Once I discovered that I seemed to be cursed with the opposite problem. Now suddenly there weren't any people. What's a poor photographer to do? Put the self-timer on and get in the picture yourself.

It's very easy to do of course. You set up the camera on a tripod and compose the image. Once you have it set you put the camera on self-timer and make a mad dash into the frame to stand at the right position.

In reality it often involves lots of pictures of the back of the photographer running into position, or the photographer looking at the camera wondering if the shutter has gone off yet!

Another thing to be careful of is that if you're as camera-breakingly ugly as me make sure you use a wide-angle lens and get a long way away. :) And plan on taking a couple of changes of clothes with you so you don't end up in the same t-shirt for 400 photographs. You'd be amazed at how many photos of myself I've seen floating around. I might have to start charging myself a modelling fee. :)