Friday, July 16, 2010

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

Aurukun Wetlands Photos - Images by Paul Dymond

Well this week's fantastic FNQ photos come from a really remote part of Australia. Up on the western side of Cape York, the Aurukun Wetlands are about as far from civilization as you can get. An amazingly pristine area of wilderness that boasts such giant, majestic rivers as the Archer and the Jardine. It's also home to the Wik people, the aboriginal custodians of this beautiful part of the country.

I had a chance to spend a few days with some of the elders who gave us a glimpse into their traditional way of living. From fishing for barrimundi to weaving baskets. From getting honey to cooking our freshly caught fish in traditional pit ovens in the sand.

But for me one of the highlights was the chance to go stingray fishing in crocodile-infested waters! Considering the night before I'd been out spotlighting for crocodiles and had seen more glowing eyes than I would care to remember I don't know what convinced me to get in but there you go. I felt pretty safe with my guide Jasper and figured if he thought it was safe then I'd believe him.

The skill and grace with which he glided through the water before launching his multi-pronged spear into the water again and again until he speared his catch. A large spotted stingray that he quickly dispatched, cut up and put in the fire to cook for lunch.

Afterwards one of the younger women said to me, "Do you know how to tell if there's crocodiles in the river?". Figuring I was about to be let into some local aboriginal secret I was all ears. "If the water is cold there aren't any crocodiles, when it's warm there's a crocodile nearby". I assumed that that meant that crocodiles don't like cold water. She broke into a big grin as she explained. "If the water is warm it means that the crocodile has peed in it!" If I am ever close enough to a crocodile in water that I can feel it pissing on my leg I'm in big trouble!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The fine line between the starving artist and the capitalist money grabber

I'll be honest, one of the reasons I've been a bit quiet on the blog lately is that I haven't been really sure about what to write about. About what I can add to the plethora of blogs out there that would help you all on your quest to be better photographers.

I seemed to have covered so much over the last few years that I was feeling a bit lost. And part of the reason for being lost was that I had forgotten that I'm also writing this for myself, not just my readers.

And then it struck me what I need to write about. What is important to me - photographically speaking that is. You see I'm not the most technical of photographers (I've never even been in a studio! although I use on-location lighting all the time), I don't own the most expensive camera and I don't even really know any famous photographers (although I do like to name drop that Bob Krist and I get along pretty well!) . In short I'm just a regular ol' (well still in my 30's so not that old!) photographer. Or am I?

I've been to a few meetings and weekend retreats of a professional photographic group here in Australia over the years and every one I've ever been to I'm the only travel photographer. Bar none. No others. And every other photographer I meet always says to me "I always wanted to be a travel photographer but gave up because it was too hard/competitive/low paying and went into weddings and portraits". OK so maybe I am a bit different from other working pros. That gives me some ideas.

So here's something I know about being a professional photographer. You need to make money. Don't give me any of this honour of the starving artist stuff. Noble it may be but it won't help you support your dreams. If you want to continue to share your art with the world you need to make money. And the more money you make the better. On one condition.

If you really want to survive long term both financially and spiritually you need to continue following your passion. If your passion is just to photograph anything that moves then you're set. But if you're like me, and can only imagine photographing certain things, then you've got some pretty hard decisions to make. You can either try to follow your passion and then, if it doesn't work out just move into another area of photography (read: more lucrative area of photography) and hope that you become passionate about it. Or you can continue in your day job, night job, part-time job until you find a way to make your area of passion pay - and pay well.

One thing I've always stood on is my integrity. If I don't think I can technically handle a photographic assignment, or put all of my passion into it, no matter how well it pays I always pass it on to a colleague. I never refuse a client outright but I always send them in the direction of a qualified professional I know can do the job brilliantly. And without a doubt that has caused me to turn down some really well-paying jobs at times when the money would come in handy. I'm certainly not trying to be the starving artist here - I've got a family to help support. But I've found over the years that the jobs that have given me the biggest headaches, and the ones I still have nightmares about to this day, are the ones early in my career that I accepted because the money was astronomical but my heart wasn't in it. The photographs themselves turned out fine - I continue to see them pop up all over the place - but they were pretty soul-destroying personally.

I spoke about being Mr Mum a couple of posts back (scroll down to find it) and how that has meant I have to re-evaluate my photography career. Well you can guess where my re-evaluation is coming from. First and foremost my passion. I want to continue to tell stories about people and places that I find interesting. To photograph for companies that have ideals and aims that gel with my views on life. Do you think this is overly-idealistic? Too much dreaming not enough being sensible.

Well I think that being sensible is probably the wrong way to be for an artist. Passion is never sensible. Following your dreams is never sensible. I'll leave sensible to those people who don't enjoy what they're doing but are too scared to try anything else. If I was a 'sensible' photographer I would have learnt to use studio lights or talk to brides. I certainly would make more money. But when it comes to listening to my inner artist I'm just not the sensible type. (When I have my business hat on that's a different matter. I'm all sensible then but that's for another post.)

So here's what I bring to the blogging world. I'm a photographer who has followed their passion come hell or high water. I've managed to turn that passion into a money-making venture without having to sell myself short doing work that I don't feel I can deliver 110% on. And I do that by listening to my inner artist and paying attention to it rather than a pay cheque. We all enter the photography profession because we love the art form. But be careful not to lose that love by walking down alleyways that might be financially lucrative but will kill your passion over time. Money comes and goes, once your passion dies it may never come back.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Where do your pictures live?

Back in the day when transparency film ruled the professional photography world storing pictures was a simple business. You just stuck them in a plastic, 20 slide sleeve in a drawer of a filing cabinet.

Finding said picture again took a bit more work! I used a simple lettering and numbering system. For example all my shots with people as the main subject started with the letter P. The first people person I catalogued was P001. And up it went from there. Mammal shots started with an M, bird shots with a B and reptile shots with an R. Oh and rivers were an RV just to avoid confusion! And I had a computer database to help me find specific pictures and then I'd just go to the cabinet and fish them out.

In those days we didn't have the option of loading pictures into the computer database so you had to have a text description of the slide to find it again. So my description for this picture was: A wide-angle frontlit shot of a woman (Chiharu) in a bikini sitting on a giant swing on the beach, with a family on another swing in the background. And in another column I had details of the location, whether it was a horizontal or a vertical, the year and the season. To find the picture again I just had to do a search on any of the words.

Nowadays the physical location of our digital files isn't so important. It doesn't matter where the picture is, as long as I can find it again. And whereas with my film pictures it was kind of important to have the file names classified according to subject, with digital it's totally irrelevant. Why? Because we no longer need to search for pictures using the name of the file.

Instead we use the metadata embedded in the picture. I'm sure you've all heard of metadata - it's that information that is embedded in all the digital picture files that come out of your camera. Much of it is stuff added at the time you push the shutter button - the type of camera, focal length of the lens, ISO rating, time (down to the second), date and lots of other information.

But for our purposes there is more important metadata and that's the information you put in yourself. Some of it can be put in in bulk. The first bulk metadata you should put into all your pictures is your contact details and Copyright information. Once your pictures leave the safety of your house it's pretty hard to stop them being used here, there and everywhere but at least you can show people whose pictures they are by putting that information in there. Any time somebody opens up one of your pictures in Photoshop the little Copyright symbol will show up before the filename letting them know that the photograph belongs to somebody and they won't be able to use it without permission.

But more importantly for your own reference is the metadata about what the picture represents. Where it was taken - continent, country, state, city - go as detailed as you want. You might also want to include the names of any people in the picture. If you photograph wildlife then you'll definitely want to include the common as well as latin names of any species you photograph. In short you want to put any information in the metadata that you think will help you (or other people if you plan to put the images online) find your picture.

And when you do this you can use any one of a number of cataloguing programmes to search for those pictures afterwards. Want to find all the pictures of your Aunt Mary taken in 2008? Just do a search for Mary and the year 2008 and they'll all come up instantly. Need to do a slideshow on your local forest using pictures taken over the last 15 years? Just type in the name of the forest and they'll all come up.

By using the metadata and cataloguing software it doesn't matter where the physical files themselves are stored, or what they're called. This leaves you free to name the pictures in any way that makes sense to you, and to place them in whatever folder you feel like. All your pictures of one subject don't have to live in the one folder because your software will find them wherever they are. They don't have to be named with whatever the subject is (Aunt Mary 001 etc) because you've already put Mary in the keywords. Call the file whatever you want.

If you're posting them online and want people to find them many sites recommend you name them with basic information type words to help in Search engines. So a picture of Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo might be Asakusa_Tokyo_Japan_001 or something like that. Because I mostly deal directly with clients and my images are often either sent out on DVD or FTP'ed I have a naming system that includes my name so that no matter who is looking at the image they know straight away who the photographer is. I also use the date it was taken and then the camera file number. So a picture taken today might read Dymond_100712_2614 or something like that.

The file name gives you no clue whatsoever as to what's in the picture but that's OK with me. All the information I need is in the metadata of the picture so it's always easy to find again. And most clients are metadata-savvy enough to know to look there first for a description of the picture they're looking at. I also use the metadata area to put in usage terms for the picture as well so the client knows just exactly what rights have been licensed.

So when you think about starting on the giant task that is sorting out your pictures don't get too hung up on where you should put them in terms of folder structure on your computer. Don't worry about re-naming everything either. Just work on getting some really good, helpful-to-you metadata in there so that you can be confident of finding them quickly and easily.