Monday, 21 February 2011

Travel photography

Travel photography

The how to guide on transporting your gear

There are many ways to approach travelling with your photography gear. The first and most important question for the trip and gear needs to be what is your budget?

Unless you are lucky enough to score an all expenses paid job including flights, baggage allowance, transport, guides and secure accommodation you are going to need to think ahead.

I once did a 3 month tour of Asia and went on to NZ, it was on a low budget and I would be staying in dorms and hostels.

Work through your gear and streamline it, you don’t want to be without something but you also don’t want to be carrying extra weight that you are not going to use on your trip.
Once you have decided what u need to take the next step is to consider is your gear bag. Are you going to also be carrying a backpack or suitcase with clothes too? If you have that on your back, where is your camera gear going go? Are you going to risk checking it in to baggage or take it on the plane with you?

If you are on a budget then make it simple. Have a small bag within your main hold baggage with your batteries, chargers and non fragile items. Take your camera body and lenses with you as cabin luggage as a minimum. If you can take your filters and any fragile items too then all the better.

The reality is unless you can afford special transport / a good flight case to go in the hold you are going to have to be clever.

You are allowed to take in a reasonable size bag on the flight with you on long haul flights. When I travelled I had my lenses, body and some filters with me on the plane. I bought a lowpro waist bag that enabled me to keep my hands and back free for my main pack with clothes in.

Once you are at your hotel / hostel you can amalgamate your gear or have it how you want. It’s only when you are travelling by road or air that you will have to split items up.

Another issue is what to do with a tripod, you have 3 options. 1) Leave it at home and buy / hire one at the location, this is the most risky ideas as you can never be guaranteed what you can get, if anything!  2) Pack it in you main holdall 3) get a decent bag / case for it and put it through as separate luggage.

So research and try out bags and do lots of trial packing. Also many hostels and hotels do have safes either in rooms or behind reception but dependant on what country you are in don’t trust it 100%. Keep your body and lenses with you as much as possible, treat them like you passport and don’t let them out of your sight! If you loose charges or batteries through theft of missing baggage it’s a pain but it’s not game over.

Lastly, consider insurance and consider it well. Always allow for it in your budget. Often companies will offer discounts for equipment and for your own medical insurance so shop around and don’t skimp on premiums. If you can’t afford it you may want to rethink your trip and budget.

I was lucky enough to have no issues with baggage, thefts or breakages. I was covered insurance wise but didn’t need it which I am thankful for. Using your common sense and going with your instinct with reference to travel and safety is the best piece of advice I can give. If a situation doesn’t feel right then it’s because it probably isn’t. Good advice? Well hopefully, the main thing to remember is most people you will come across will be friendly and interested in what you’re up to and where you’re from etc. But the main difference is you will have expensive camera gear with you. Don’t ever let your guard down, be friendly but don’t leave yourself open. Be cautious and if going to countries with a strong selling / bartering culture ensure you have small amounts of cash about your person / the odd pack of cigarettes to offer if things start to get out of hand. You want to be prepared for confrontation not unprepared. If you are prepared for it you will be ok whether you are holding your cumbersome DSLR out for all to see or not.

Also you will find that people in parts of Asia like Thailand for example will be more than happy to pose for you in their natural environment if given a little something.

I hope I haven’t put you off the idea of travelling with you photography gear. Just remember to be prepared for all eventualities. Who knows next time you travel you might have scored that big all expenses paid job you got off the back of your last low budget trip!

Photography in 2011

Over the last ten years businesses have changed greatly. This is due to technological advances and financial conditions forcing changes. Although some business have succumb to the difficulties and have cut their budgets and even workforce others have embraced the change and are continuing to ride the storm.

One constant is that the world of the studio photographer, corporate photography and web photography in general remain the most sought after as well as the most lucrative. By trade I am a studio photographer, however I also enjoy many different types of a photography, some I am good at others I will never be good at! However I enjoy appreciating others work because there are always new techniques and perspectives to consider. Some of these I often practise and end up incorporating in to my own skill set.

Corporate photography in 2011 is set to be stronger this year and is set to grow over figures taken from 2010. Even with the VAT increase in the UK and many businesses having to further tighten their purse strings.

Product photography on the other had is very difficult to predict. I have just finished an 8 month contract with a baby Products Company, their new product manufacturing is set to be no different to 2010. However the work coming my way has really started to be more sporadic, I guess manufacturing costs are up, as is shipping and thus marketing. I will watch this area closely this year, fingers crossed it will get better as companies need to push new products and beat their market competitors hence will be picking up the phone to us photographers for product and catalogues shots.

Technology never sleeps and whilst many photographers are happy with their own set workflow, I (with many others) embrace new technology. We are creative people who are always on the look out for new skills, angles and essentially ways to create more stunning images. Corporate businesses would do well to recognise this as if they employ such a photographer they can be ensured something fresh and new that their business competitors do not have.

However buying the best and new equipment does not make a good photographer. Yes I admit I had many new photography equipment parts on my Christmas list. I have already used these in a recent shoot as a corporate photographer. But I also had a higher number of books and subscriptions. Knowledge is power and something I revel in. This Christmas I made sure several books on HDR, studio, lighting and inspirational imagery were received. I always like to expand my knowledge even if what I learn has no direct link to my area of photography. It keeps me sharp and my mind creative which in turn helps me keep ahead of the game!

If you are someone who is a photographer or graphic designer, one piece of advice I always give is do you reading. Don't just settle for being good in your particular field, read, blog, tweet whatever you have at your disposal. Keeping you mind active and discovering new ideas and processes can never be a bad thing, it will only help to improve your techniques and workflow. Thus making you more successful in 2011.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Studio photography relationships

So you are all set, you budgeted for travel and your setup time, you have taken your meter readings so now all that is left to take some images.
You get your first subject at the big a corporate job you nailed sitting comfortably but their body language suggests that they are far from comfortable. You fire off a few shots to get things going and to check the lighting and find the lighting is perfect, but your model is rigid and giving the classic cheesy grin. This won't give you a warm, friendly and natural shot the company has specified they need so what do you do?

Everyone has their own approach to making a subject relax, I am sure I am not alone when I say have come across many a photographers in my childhood or at weddings that have seemed to have the worst repertoire of jokes I have ever encountered! Or ones that definitely been very cringe worthy! Now that I am in the profession myself I look back and can completely understand what they were trying to achieve; something natural or different. We as human beings completely change as soon as we have a camera pointed in our faces and if you don't know what I mean you can do one of two things. Firstly log on to a well know social networking site and find that friend who always has a compact when they are out drinking in town. Now take a few moments to look at the same type of shots that are taken week after week. Full of Cheesy grins, drunken faces and guitar strumming poses to Child of mine??? Thought so!  Secondly did you or a sibling ever have a brace (train tracks) when they were at school? Well find one of their old school photos from that period……can't find it as you can't see their teeth? Thought not. The subject didn't smile naturally exposing their teeth as didn't want mum plastering her hall of fame with one of the worst type of pictures for a 15/16 year old!

So assuming the subjects you are about to take a photos of are not wearing braces or intoxicated how are you going to get some natural poses? One way is to have another person in the room that they know or at least have an assistant there, just someone that takes the focus off of you and the camera. Having someone they know in the same room is very distracting for them so they may pay less attention to you and forget to look at the camera however if you can get the two colleagues chatting and build up a rapport then the jokes and laughter (along with the natural smiles and poses) will flow easily.

But what if there is no assistant or colleague to take the attention off you, well a trick I have always used comes from when I had a short term position in a sales company. Find common ground, ask the subject what their job title is, if they had a good weekend perhaps? Is it cold or hot outside, make comment on the weather, just anything to get them talking and once you have found the common ground you will be on your way to the natural pictures you need. On the side of caution do be careful on the questions you ask, try and keep them very general and avoid direct personal questions. If you ask a general question and the subject offers more personal information for example "oh I just spent time with my three children at the weekend, we went to the park" you can then judge for yourself the direction of the conversation and what is appropriate.

Of course with any subject you will get the odd person who will not play ball, but what I would say here is unless you can clearly see them getting agitated with your attempts to build a rapport don't give up. Even the words ‘ok I think we are pretty much done" might put a smile on their face so make sure you are ready to capture the shot!

Thanks for reading and good luck out there!

Michael J Leather


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Product photography in 2011, not so boring

There are many types of photographers, some go out at all times of the day or night for that perfect shot, some turn up hours early to a shoot just to get things right. Whilst I have the upmost respect for photographers that do this (including myself who hates mornings!) it is a welcome relief on those cold dark mornings knowing the job I’m going to is going to be in a nice warm office or studio taking product shots.

I personally enjoy a wide range of photography styles from portraits to HDR landscapes and practise as many different techniques as I can in my spare time. Although some photographers may think that product photography is limited and the least creative genre I personally disagree.

Taking a decent image in the right style with the correct amount of selective focus and background blur is not easy for the beginner. However for the more experienced photographer there is the possibility it can become mundane. For me I try to keep things interesting, I suggest different things to clients to not only keep my interest but also keep their imagery fresh and new. A different angle, selective lighting or focus all adds to the appeal of the image. I am not saying go out and by the latest lighting or backdrop, no I am simply saying fresh ideas are the key. Think of it this way, if you were shopping for a product and the picture was the same as every other on the internet, a straight on view with standard lighting would you be more likely to buy this or the product a new bright and fresh image?

We are drawn in to the unusual, to something different so why not try something different? In a world of unstable economics companies need to stay ahead of the game, they need to push boundaries and take some risks to be the next best thing. Staying the same and doing nothing different may cost them a lot more in the long run. Investing in new ideas may be a risky business at the moment but if the risk pays off then it will make riding this financial storm that little bit easier.

Product photography can also be quite lucrative; if a client wants the more basic of shots you can take a high number of images and reap the rewards when your post production time is heavily reduced. Leaving you more time to practise those new techniques you read about.

So the next time you are asked to take some product shots, suggest some new ideas, help businesses stay ahead of their game. If their sales increase from your imagery, so will yours.