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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Professional Photographer Column: May 2013


It’s been quite a week here at base camp and various, unconnected, episodes have led me to this month’s column subject - integrity.

Before I go any further I want to be clear that I am not talking about the much debated issue of image manipulation techniques that some believe lose the integrity of the original image.

Rather, I am referring to photographers being able to reliably and consistently reproduce imagery of a standard that they put in their shop window.  So it’s really not a technical debate but rather a human issue.

A few things have happened this week to make me have to rethink how I run part of my business.   For instance two industry friends  have pointed out how the new website of one my ‘seconds’ has a very similar brand and all of the key images selling her skills were the result of my direction – in terms of light, location and expression.   Of course I have to accept that this could happen, I’m just not sure that I thought it would happen. 

I am absolutely not questioning second shooters using imagery shot at weddings – rather how they use it. When I had the pleasure of second shooting a wedding in Spain last summer my resulting blog post made this very clear and I gave due respect to the lead photographer.  This was despite the fact that all of the ‘posed’ images on that blog post were directed by me.

The US seems to be full of cases at the moment where clients are taking photographers to court over the usage of wedding imagery shot by second shooters.  Indeed lead photographers are taking second shooters to court as well.  As a result I have just introduced a new contract to cover this in my wedding business.

Today I spent five hours with a good friend of one of my 2012 brides.  She rang me in desperation after being given a disc of 1400 unedited jpegs from her wedding photographer.  I managed to find 150 acceptable images and edited them for her so she can have an album of her wedding day.  Having looked at the website of the photographer in question I can say with certainly that he is totally misrepresenting himself online

This week I was also invited to join the panel of The Guild of Photographers and when I logged in to the inner workings of the website I immediately recognsied an image from one of my training courses which had done well in a competition. And two images from that training day were part of this individual’s qualification panel. 

Obviously the above can be dealt with by a combination of guidelines and image usage restrictions.  Both the Guild and I are reviewing our processes as I write this.  

When I started out I did a lot of training and those portfolio images were important to me.  Yes I did use them on my website but I knew that I was 100% capable of reproducing the same standards under the real pressure of a paid shoot.   What I would never have done is present these images to fellow photographers as being my creative vision.

This seems to be the crux of it to me – perhaps it’s actually about copyright – about having ownership of a creative moment.   When I train individuals or groups I don’t hold anything back – I share as others have shared with me.  Many delegates get very hung up on the technical data – my exposure settings – when in reality the most important thing I am sharing is how I am using the light, the location and the subject.  This is what I call creative vision – the ability to see potential where others cannot.

And what I have learnt recently is that I don’t like others taking credit for that vision.  Please understand that I am the first to celebrate fantastic shots created by second shooters without my input – and indeed encourage them to use these as their portfolio heroes or to enter them in competitions.

I am publically taking responsibility for allowing this to happen. What I haven’t been doing is providing explicit ‘rules’ about what people can do with images that are produced under my tuition.  Many of you may be shaking your heads but it will probably be with the benefit of hindsight and experience.

As an individual running a business you will rely on your own standards to make decisions.  I value honesty and integrity in myself and my significant others.  So readers I end with a heartfelt plea; place these values at the heart of your business – for the sake of the industry and our consumers.  Who quite frankly are confused enough by us photographers already….

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