Thursday, January 29, 2015

Smiles... Free

We often deal with clients in our field and the job is sometimes much more difficult than it really is.  As a photographer my goal is to make great pictures, however this is very subjective.

I am dealing with a client recently (don't ask me who) that can be quite frustrating at times.  Firstly clients don't understand that this is a technical field.  Apart from the creative side, certain technical standard require a technical standard setup.  

Ex.  Client ask you to shoot a low light event and does not allow you to use flash.  Or ask you to produce ad quality images of a watch on location at a shop where time and space is not available for the photographer.

You will have to accept the fact that not all your customers will be fully satisfied at times.  Depending on what they ask for, it may not be your fault.  I have listed some points for you to ask yourself next time when you feel you have disappointed a client and is giving yourself a beating.

(1) Are they being reasonable?
Are they asking you last minute to give them a shot they found in a luxury print ad that took a day to shoot while asking you to complete it in an hour.  

I have had clients ask me to reproduce a print ad that was clearly the works of many exposures manipulated with digital illustrations in photoshop.  And even when I explain to them that you can never get a photo to look like that straight out of the camera, they didn't understand and replied "that's why we need your expertise."

(2) Does your client understand you and respect you as a photographer?

If it's clear that you are nothing but a human camera to the client the answer is very clear. Don't quit the job, just don't take his opinions too harsh on yourself if they are being mean. Think of it this way. If you yelled at your DSLR for takings crappy photos, what would it say???  Respect is mutual and same goes with understanding.  Just because they are paying doesn't mean they can make me their bitch.

(3) When is low too low?
I'll admit it, when times are slow I have taken jobs that are way below my rates.  So when do you draw the line?  

I have a simple system.  Based on a 22 day work month, I will multiply the day rate offered by 22.  If it's lower than the salary of the local television network camera operator, I won't do it (this is based also on the fact that the client does not require me to travel too far or bring more than my usual kit).  I love my work and one f the reasons why I love it is because it keeps me from working day after day at a local tv network which in my opinion is no different than working at a factory.  As long as the client can pay that rate or above, I'll do it.

(4) Short temporary departures may be a good thing.

It takes comparison for people to know one is better than the other.  As arrogant as this may sound,  your client is probably getting the best for the dollar and they just don't know it.  If they can get someone "better" (or more fitting to their needs), they will eventually go elsewhere with their business anyways.  You may be the only one willing to work those hours, work those rates, or tolerate those late night calls, whatever... They'll only find out when they work with someone else.  So, it may not be a bad thing after all.

(5) They aren't unhappy, they're your client.
Some clients will never be as enthusiastic   as yourself whenever you produce a great photograph.  Consider it like when you get an electric bill for half of what you paid for last month.  The thing is they are still paying for it.  Some clients just look at photographic services as expenses to their business and don't value the photographs as much as others.  I treat all my clients like my father.  He's never gonna be satisfied so just try my best and if that's not good enough then try harder but don't pop a blood vessel while you are at it.

Points to remember when dealing with clients to prevent an unhappy encounter.

(i) Always prepare, but don't over do it.  Preparation is a must but overdoing it will cause too much information to come all at once and complicate things.  Keep it simple. You know what you are doing just apply it to the situation you are in.

(ii) Don't always try to please. You have as much say of what works and what doesn't.  Don't be afraid to tell them what doesn't work.  There is a high chance whatever you gave in to will be noticed by someone else from the client's company and they may not be happy with the final editorial decision that you sided with at the end to keep your client happy.  If you are gonna get judged for your work it better be for something you truly believe in and not because what the marketing exec thought may look "kinda cool."

(iii) As much as you think you are an artist, don't act like one. Professional photography requires a lot more communication than one thinks. Speak to your client more and get feedback.  Don't ask them "does this look good?"  You will sound amateurish, ask more sophisticated questions which sounds like you are trying to cater to their brands uniquely.  Prepare beforehand as mention, read and look at past references with the brand and find out about things like brand styles, colors and themes.

A lot of people consider it much cooler to be a professional photographer and want  to depart from being an amateur as soon qas they can.  What they don't understand is that it's actually the other way around. Professional Photographers are mostly shooting what people want while amateurs cater to customers that believe in the photographer's editorial decisions and are often more liberal to allow the photographer to make the call, thus creating photographs the photographer truly believe in. You get to do that too in professional photography but only when you are famous and when your name is on the line like the brand that is paying you.

Professional photography is often the opposite of what people think. 99% of the time it is whether you as the photographer can follow company brand styles and give the client what they want. It's about making brand labels glow and things look artificially bigger than they really are.  It's about selling their product visually to viewers.  The photo can be mesmerizingly beautiful but if it doesn't sell chicken McNuggets, they are not gonna call back for another shoot.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Choosing The Right Camera

It's been an ongoing discussion here about purchasing the right equipment and spending wisely for your photography business and today I would like to explore the notion of buying the right camera.

(1) Do you really need the megapixels?

DSLRs nowadays shoot at very high megapixels.  Rumour has it that the new 5D will shoot at 50mp, almost 5x the megapixels of the first 5D released in 2005.  The biggest problem I have with shooting at such high megapixels is that it requires a lot more of everything.  There is also this misconception that the higher the megapixels the better your photos will look.  There is some fact to that but it also depends on many things such as pixel size, dynamic range, sensor size, lens quality, just to name a few.

(2) Do you really need the fast shutterspeed?

To be frank I think shutter speed is least important out of all unless you shoot sports.  I shoot fashion and runways on a regular basis and still I don't find the need to use 13fps.  Like megapixels, the higher the shutter speed the more this would require from your camera in terms of memory, slot buffer, card buffer, speedlite (if used) etc....

I have used both the 1 series and 5 series throughout my career and the only thing I see that is significantly different is the weight.  1 series being obviously heavier, while the 5D giving you the option to remove the battery grip.  For me, I find anywhere from 5-7fps to be a good sufficient rate for professional photography.  You also need a fast memory card.  Somewhere at about 90mb/s or more is about right.  If you don't have quick enough of a card you will not get those exposures regardless how fast your camera can shoot those frames.

(3) Do you need the battery grip?

With today's modern camera, the battery grip is actually useless.  Back in the film days it was used to boost shutter speed and it almost double the shutter speed on certain cameras which made it necessary on many occasions.

I would take a lighter camera over a DSLR with battery grip any day.  Not to mention these grips aren't cheap and quite frankly I rather spend it on something that will give me better picture quality.   

It's all about knowing what you do...

At the end of the day it's all about knowing what you wanna shoot and knowing how to shoot it.  If you are a product photographer shooting mainly in studio with strobes then I don't really see how a full frame monster like the 1D X will be of a great advantage over something like a 6D or 7D Mark II.  On the other hand if you are primarily shooting sports photography, something like a 6D would be a waste of money because you'll end up trading it in weeks.

For most professionals,  I think something like the 5D Mark III or D810e is more than enough.   In fact consider even looking for a decent secondhand. My theory is spend money on things that have resell value or at least something that will not depreciate too quickly. As your career progresses, camera body comes and goes but lenses last a lot longer and lights even longer.

Fall in love with the photography not the equipment.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Why Are Some Cameraman/Photographers Such Assholes?

Have you been in a situation where you are working with a fellow photographer/cameraman and they become one of the biggest assholes?

I often ask myself why this is so?  From my experience a lot of camera operators and photographers have this "I am too good for this job" ego.  It's like everyone should cater to them when he/she is working and that everyone else is ignorant but themselves.

It may seem that cameraman and photographers make a lot of decisions in terms of the visuals in a production, but believe me it's just a small part of it.

Often I find that these camera operators are assholes to people that want to be nice, and they only bully those that won't bully them.

Those that sound like an ass are usually dumb like a door knob

From my observation, most of the time when these photographers/cameraman seem to sound like they know it all, they can't film for shit.  They may understand the basic structure of a shoot but most of these guys won't know art direction if it slapped them in the face.

Asshole = Insecurity

I noticed that most of these people are usually people I meet in local Hong Kong productions.   These individuals usually come with the same package.  I find that this attitude is created due to insecurity.  Insecurity that the new kid will take his/her job or that the insecurity of letting people know what they don't know so they BS about everything they know little of.

I know this guy that claims he knows everything, and shot with every camera and been with every production.  

Are you for real? 

I have had Hollywood cameramen come up to me and ask me with great humbleness because they want to learn how a kung fu sequence is shot in Hong Kong.  I have famous directors telling me simply and honestly that they had no knowledge of a certain technique or skill.  

This "any camera" person is one of the greatest example of what we call in Hong Kong "Lao Shi Fu". This term in Chinese sounds positive but in reality it really refers to a stubborn, arrogant, and hard to work with individual.

Is everyone like that?

Well no, I have met great photographers and great cameramen.  

Are they all grumpy? 

Yes, including myself.  It's not an easy job.  Often we are not given a second chance to get something right and that is where te grumpiness comes from.  We are often responsible for very everything in general.  Whether the hair looks messy, or there is not enough make up on the model's face, how certain props are poorly positioned, etc...  So most cameramen and photographers do work under a lot of stress.

Does this make it a license to be an arse?

Of course not and in fact I can foresee this old school "Lao Shi Fu" style of filming/photography will soon be obsolete.  The industry is getting younger and involving more stubborn people (in a good way).  The type of stubbornness that will not have any patience for BS but plenty of patience for excellence and quality.  

The industry is also opening up.  Another reason why there is such an inner circle with this film/photography industry is because it used to be a very small circle (more so film/TV than photography).  But with the internet and cable tv, the industry is opening up inviting a more younger and more talented group of individuals.  As this develop, you can be certain to see attitudes change because the only way to survive is to accept the industry as it changes.

So next time you work along some old school photographer that is giving you attitude for not doing something their way.  Don't get angry, be sympathetic. Because of your humbleness and eagerness to evolve and learn, you will most likely not have to fight for your spot in the pit with younger photographers when you are at his/her age.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What Makes Photography Harder Than It Already Is

While many of us find it already hard enough to get our skills and portfolio to the very level that will impress each and every single client we meet,  I am afraid there is more than that that makes it challenging.

I thought I would list out a few scenarios in my professional career that made things really challenging even on days I thought I were at the top of my game.

(1) Mixed Lighting Scenarios

Of all scenarios, I thought I would mention this one first.  It's probably one of the few that is avoidable and with experience, will get easier but never easy.  Some of these places include concerts and lecture halls.  The reason why these places can be challenging is due to the variety of lights with different light temperature that will cause your photos to look very different from one position to the next.  In concerts, the lighting and lighting temperature is constantly changing for effect.  As for lecture halls,  I find that many lecture halls has weird combination of hot spot lights mixed with cool flourescent lights.  These mixtures of temperature not only cause shifts in lighting temperature but also can add a weird tint to your photos.

(2) They Just Don't Know What They Want

Ever worked with with a client/marketing or PR rep that simply not know what they are asking for.  I have been in situations where the PR representatives were clear about what they wanted but just that what they described was very different from what they had in mind.  These are one of the worse case scenarios and eventually you will learn to find ways to ensure you don't spend hours of hard work delivering photos that are not what your client was really asking for.  As a professional photographer you can't blame the client for being unclear.  You just have to work with them to make sure you clearly get what they want and that what they say is exactly what they are really asking for.  It's hard, and if not it would not be on my list.  I have been in situations where the client doesn't mention anything about issues with the photos until after the photoshoot or even once the post work has been applied (ex. they tell you that they wanted something in the original shot).  You need to constantly get confirmation with marketing and make sure they are happy.  It may seem annoying to do so but it's much better than getting a reply in email afterwards saying, "this is not what we were asking for."

(3) The Precisice Moment

Ever shot an event where you were asked to shoot something or someone at a precisive moment?  While this may not be the most difficult scenario but it's definitely one that takes a lot of planning.  Often, to secure the shot it will be shot with extra cameras and often with extra photographers to guarantee the shot.  You will not be given a second chance to retake a shot,  so must get the settings correct.  Some things you can determine beforehand like colour temperature, aperture settings, shutter speeds and lighting setups, but there are situations where all the planning ahead of time can change at the last minute.  Shooting celebrities or very important people in general, don't be surprised if last minute changes are really last minute.  Also if it's a big event, you won't be the only photographer there.  Not all photographers are courteous and play fair.  Especially if you are dealing with paparazzi photographers.  Not saying you will have to play dirty but you'll just have to find a way to fight your way through at times and get your shot.  Remember at the end of the day it's the photographer with the best shots that count and not how you present yourself and get along with others.  The bad thing about being a event photographer and not a paparazzi photography is that you will be required to juggle between both because you are not just selling your photos but your services as a whole.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

So you call yourself a Professional Photographer, but are you really?

Over the years, the convenience of digital photography has introduce a large number of people into this field.  Whether they are professionals, amateurs, or just a relative that is willing to shoot your wedding for a few gift certificates, the numbers are growing and it will continue to do so for some time.

It's all fine and dandy when you start out.  It seems pretty straight forward.  Decide on a camera system, buy it, and then start going online to spread the word.  Soon random people will start calling you once ina while and you will find yourself juggling from your day job to your side job as a photographer.  That's all fine up to a point where you see yourself doing 4-5 weddings a year or a
shooting some interiors for a nearby local restaurant, but where and when do we really become a professional photographer?  

I consider someone that is in that position to be more of an amateur photographer because 4-5 weddings and a few product shoots is definitely not putting food on the table (at least not enough to get you properly nourished).

To be a Pro, it depends on the dough

I have heard this so many times, "if you are doing this full time then you are a pro."  Really?  I know so many people that call themselves professional photographers beacuse they are only shooting one or two jobs per year and doing nothing else.    

So is it the quantity that defines what is a professional photographer?  Well even  if not the only measure, it sure counts for a lot.  I really think the term "Professional Photographer" is something that one should earn and not something that a person labels himself to make him sound good to a client.  

To make it simple, a professional photographer is one that is constantly working.  He may not be the most skilled and he may not be doing the most glamorous gigs.  It may sound superficial but if you think about it, how are you truly a professional if you are shooting for your own interest 98% of your time.  A true professional deals with clients, deadlines, brand/company requirements, and deals with people (many ppl).  You can have a studio,  all the fancy gear or shoot with a $300k Leica, but if you haven't been shooting for a client in the last three months, can you really call yourself a professional?

To be fair if someone can live off of the photography (or something associated like editing or lighting or assisting) work, then they have clearly earned this title.  However, if they are clearly just wealthy, or that they don't mind living like a bum while clearly not working enough to sustain a reasonable living then I can't see how we can consider these individuals professional photographers.  

Perhaps there is more to professional photography than just technical skills and and a beautiful reference

And of course! Professional photography is about dealing with people.  So if you can now clearly see that you are an amateur and not really a professional, take this as a guideline.  Ask yourself why is it that you aren't working the weddings, events, product shoots, or editorials this month and the next?  Get your skills out there.  Forget about the money, get people to notice what you can do.   Very soon you will be a professional photographer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How To Spend On Your Photography Business?

A lot of people commit the same mistake of overspending during startup of there photography business.  Most photographers start a business because they are deeply passionate about photography and it only seems wise to make it become your lifelong career.  Because of this passion and deep interest it is very easy to over spend this can make the turnover period a lot longer than it should be.

I have came up with some easy guidelines when setting up a business that may be of some help to you who is either planning to go pro or invest further into their business.

The Golden Rule of Spending

(1) If it has high resell value and you need it... Go for it.  Don't go for cheaper inferior alternatives when it comes to equipment or services.  It will cost you more in the long run.  Research carefully and get a second or third opinion. The web is full of user feedback and if there isn't any on a particular item you are interested in, wait.

(1b) Don't finance anything.  Stay away from loans or installment plans.  These things will only bring you stress and extra burden when business is slow.  There is a lot of good second hand equipment out there.  If you cannot afford it, there is a reason.  A lot of people are making money with a dslr, zoom lens and a single speedlite.  If you think you need that profoto or phaseone medium format camera to attract customers, you are doing it all wrong.

(2) Starting out? Forget about owning a studio.
Superficial and just too costly for someone starting out no matter how good you are.  You have space at home?  Use that.  If not, rent.  In Hong Kong, a decent size studio costs about $2-300hkd/hr.  I am sure you can fit that on your next production budget somewhere... Cut the assistant... Only makes you lazy.

(3) If you find yourself constantly playing and buying with light shapers (softboxes, umbrellas, beauty dishes etc...) then it's not that you need to find and buy the right one, but most likely you haven't really grasp the concept of lighting or that you need more experience.  Stop buying lighting shaping tools.  Costly and a waste of space (space=$)

(4) If you haven't used it in a year, sell it. As a pro photographer you may not be using a specific piece of equipment each and every time (eg. Macro lenses, ring flash).  If something is not being used for some time (eg. 6-12 months), then you should consider to sell it rather than to see it depreciate over time.

(5) Nothing wrong with buying used equipment, just check carefully when buying.  This is especially true when buying from a private buyer.  Let's just face it, there are a lot of dishonest people trying to make a quick buck.  If you are buying secondhand from a reputable seller like B&H I would be less concerned.  But if you find a source with decent secondhand equipment, you can save yourself big bucks and it will work just as good as your brand new equipment and probably last you till your next upgrade.

I hope these simple rules will guide you all to a more efficient business.  Remember the more you spend in photography, the more time  you'll end up just doing that.  We as photographers only get better with less than what we need because it pushes us to do more with what we have.

Happy Shooting!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Images don't require photoshop to look good. The modern misconception to digital photography.

How many times have you heard a photographer say "it will look better once I tweak it in photoshop."  To be honest I have said that to a client.  When I look back at some of my most outstanding work, I have noticed that a lot of these images were stellar looking from the camera LCD to begin with.  

Many people have the misconception that modern dslr images need to be tweaked and edited in photoshop to look good, and if it's not a good photo it will be after post.  That is a very wrong concept to have in mind.  In fact if you look at many great professional photographers, their images look like 80-90% of the end result in camera.  

I noticed that there are two type of photographers today.  One that are photographers of light and one that are photographers/digital artists.  Because of the fact that digital photography has changed quite a bit in the last 10-15 years,  I can't really say which is right or wrong.  However, I can say I prefer a photographer that sculpts his/her photo with light than one that digitally illustrate what they want in PSD.  I am sure in the near future everything in digital photography can be digitally manipulated (if it isn't already) but the skill of photography and manipulation of light during the actual photography process will always clearly distinguish a good photographer to that of a great professional photographer.

A professional photographer has complete control of highlights/midtones/shadows in his/her photographs. The crucial elements in a photo which when properly controlled becomes the recipe towards a great photo (of course the artistic direction element is very important as well but I am only focusing on the technical aspect of an exposure)

If you have hired a professional photographer for an editorial or an engagement session and the pictures are not really that "wow" as he/she shows you from the LCD of their camera, don't be comforted by the words, "once I tweak it in Lightroom/PSD, it will look a lot better."  Be concerned, and judging from how far off the actual photo looks from the photographer's vision, ask yourself if you need to hire a different photographer.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Like most newly turned pro photographers, a lot of us make the mistake of buying too many gadgets in hope of improving our skills.  

The truth of the matter is the gadgets really only make up 10-20% of the photo, while the other 80% although may require technical gear is really made up from your actual skills and experience.  I am not gonna bullshit you with theories, for this blog is really about my experiences and the opportunity to share them with you all.

I have never felt I shot any better with more than adequate number of equipment and gadgets. Contrastically I always ended up with better shots without what I thought was necessary.  The truth of the matter is gadgets/prime lenses/light modifiers sometime not only takes up our time in shoots but makes things more complicated than it really should be.

That's not to say that you should go to your next shoot with nothing but a lens, body, and a speedlite; but if you are often bringing back a lot of unused equipment then perhaps you are overstocking for you shoot.

If you are shooting events...

Bring a good standard zoom and at the most bring an optional ultrawide angle.   No need for macro lens or Tele lens.  With a lot of good standard zooms lenses the macro mode is adequate enough and if not just bring an extension tube.  I like to bring a portable light modifier that is easily storable or easy to setup like the Roundflash.  The Roundflash makes a great ringflash, softbox, and it stores away easy without hassle.  I can clip the folded Roundflash on my utility belt easily with a small mountain hook and it is never in the way when I am moving around.

For Pre Wedding Photography...

Your basic speedlite (and perhaps an extra backup) with one simple modifier of your choice (something to diffuse most likely) is enough.  A lot of people use a boom but for me it's always a lightstand over a boom. Why? Why limit yourself to a boom that cannot stand on it's own when if you use a small lightstand it can also be a boom as well as a standalone stand.

Many people bring reflectors, color checkers, light meters, etc... Sure it looks good for the everyday pedestrian that knows no difference between a DSLR and a mirrorless. The benefits however, of carrying so much extra gear definitely does not weight out the benefits of having a happy assistant.  

So next time if you are out on a shoot and you think you resemble this guy 
then perhaps it's time to revise how you plan out your shoots.   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

LOREO Lens In A Cap... Should you get one?

The Loreo Lens in a Cap has been out for some time now and quite honestly I have always been interested in this little gadget due to it's price and what it promises to do.  

It's basically a lens cap and lens in one.  So you ask why just don't call it a pancake lens.  Well that's the thing it's supposed to endure a beating like a lens cap without the user worrying about the lens being scratched and meanwhile priced like and lens cap so if you lose it, you aren't  most likely gonna cry about it.  

The lens cap has an aperture between f5.6-f64.  Focus is fixed at 1.5 meters and while it's not expected that this lens cap lens will replace any of your lenses but if you were planning to replace a lost lens cap why not pay a few dollars more and get the Loreo?

I took the lens cap out yesterday and quite frankly I have no complaints.  Mind you I didn't have any expectations towards the quality of the lens because it wasn't gonna be used for any thing other than recreation or emergencies (like Loreo suggests).  The lens is actually quite sharp when you hit the focus point. And the built is actually quite sturdy for something of that price.  I would easily replace all my dslr body caps for a Loreo.

HKD $180