Category Archives: Art

Negotiating Exposure for the freelance

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This is Audrie Currie demonstrating a method of estimating the ideal kayak paddle length (you didn’t know there was such a thing as an ideal paddle length did you?) from a picture story of mine which appeared in an actual ink and paper Outdoors Magazine Special on boating and camping.

Although it is not the done thing for freelance writers and photographers to reveal how much they are paid for magazine work, I can reveal that I negotiated a fee close to $1000 for a spread of five photographs and 2000 words, which included a substantial amount for Audrie as model. We received two free copies of the magazine each as well.

This was at a time when such special interest magazines had a monthly, or total contributor budget of between $15,000 and $25,000, and sold around 8 to 10 thousand copies.

A far cry from what masquerades as magazine “publishing” today, where the dreaded words ‘payment for contributors’  is never mentioned in not so polite company, for fear of never working again.

Instead “creatives” (I think that refers to writers and photographers) submit work for the wondrous benefits of mythical “exposure” and the never to eventuate “promise of future work”, (to stroke their own vanity!) while models (they are lumped into either “creatives” or worse still “artists”), are beguiled by weasel words foremost amongst which are “it’ll be great for your folio”.

As a freelance writer, photographer and sometimes illustrator I do a yearly impromptu survey of as many magazines as possible, both newstand and online, and my research shows that of magazines of similar subject matter…outdoor recreation, boating camping, etc…(although in reality very few remain, and those which do are a mere shadow of their former glory)…none promote the need for freelance work, and those few who actually use freelance work pay in either magazine subscriptions, individual copies, or not at all.

This result seems to be typical stretching back at least ten years, and in some cases much longer.

No the era of the online magazine, especially of the vanity type, has arrived with a vengeance, and unfortunately for the majority of freelance writers and photographers, is set to stay.

And of course before this artless, directionless, poorly targeted and basically tacky shit is published at seemingly random intervals, every ‘creative’ involved has to supply a list to the publisher, of everyone who was remotely involved in the shoot, or the writing, including the pizza delivery guy, all their relatives and friends, and supposedly every person and their dog they have come into contact with, so that the “respectable publisher” can spam, bully and badger them into coughing up double the price of a newstand magazine for an ill conceived, poorly planned and hurriedly designed digital downloadwhich actually costs virtually nothing to produce.

Despite this their total sales range from less than ten for some, ( apparently no more than the writer, photographer and model and their mothers in many cases) and up to 500 or so for the better written, produced, marketed and advertised attempts.

Nevertheless, the freelance writer, photographer and model are expected to pay for their own copy.

You know the copy of the ‘magazine’ which is “great exposure for their work”!

 

©Copyright: Stephen Bennett, MMXVII

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Part one: Are you really Creative?

 

You call yourself a Creative, but are you really?

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The internet, especially the social media sites such as facebook, and ‘photography’ pages like flickr, and 500pix are today awash with photographs, which while claiming to be ‘professional’ and ‘creative’ are really nothing more than snapshots: banal, cliché ridden, dated, bereft of any compositional aspects, aesthetically bankrupt, technically incompetent, corny, dull, hackneyed, derivative, antiquated, repetitious to the point of mere clones inspired no doubt from ‘inspo’ or ‘mood boards’, insipid, mawkish, trite, and particularly unoriginal and platitudinous.

Many otherwise adult photographers don’t seem to have developed their concept of creativity beyond Kindergarten level, when Miss Prissy set out finger-paints and gasped: “Today we are all going to be creative, kiddies!” And this naive immaturity, without any of the innate charm implicit in the ‘creations’ of the infant, shows:- oh so painfully! Obvious to everyone, except of course their legions of Facebook followers, who never hesitate to ‘Like’!

And it would seem that, in true Orwellian irony, that those who try the hardest to convince all and sundry, especially themselves, how creative they are – a social media pastime which has reached the participation level of an international sport – the more devoid of any kind of creativity is their output.

There is even what seems to be a highly vocal movement (certainly locally, but apparently internationally) who only refer to themselves, and their recognised fellow elite, as “Creatives” – their ‘work’ however, suggests quite the opposite!

So what is this “Creativity” actually all about, what does it mean to be ‘creative’, and what kind of practices does it entail.

In other words: Are you, and indeed I creative, doing any kind of creative work, or are we just kidding ourselves?

A consensus of respected dictionaries, both real world and online, would have it that:

Creativity is perhaps best described as a combination of inventiveness, imagination, inspiration, and perception.

Therefore let us have a look at the generally accepted meanings of each of those parts, as well as the word ‘Creative’ itself:

Definitions:

CREATIVE

  • relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something.

  • having the quality of something created rather than imitated

  • resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.

  • to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.

  • to evolve from one’s own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention.

And the accepted definitions of each part of the whole:

INVENTIVE

  • having the ability to create or design new things or to think originally.

  • showing creativity or original thought.

  • apt at inventing, devising, or contriving.

  • apt at creating with the imagination.

  • pertaining to, involving, or showing invention.

  • a new, useful process, machine, improvement, etc., that did not exist previously and that is recognised as the product of some unique intuition or genius, as distinguished from ordinary mechanical skill or craftsmanship.

  • devising, or originating.

  • an act or instance of creating or producing by exercise of the imagination, especially in art, music, etc.

IMAGINATION

  • the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.

  • the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality

  • ability to confront and deal with a problem

  • the thinking or active mind

  • a creation of the mind;

  • the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.

  • the action or process of forming such images or concepts.

  • the faculty of producing ideal creations consistent with reality, as in literature, as distinct from the power of creating illustrative or decorative imagery.

  • the product of imagining; a conception or mental creation, often a baseless or fanciful one.

  • ability to face and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness:

  • a job that requires imagination.

  • the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images (reproductive imagination) or of recombining former experiences in the creation of new images directed at a specific goal or aiding in the solution of problems (creative imagination)

INSPIRATION

  • the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

  • the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions

  • the act of influencing or suggesting opinions

  • an inspiring or animating action or influence:

  • something inspired, as an idea.

  • a result of inspired activity.

  • a thing or person that inspires.

  • divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul.

  • the divine quality of the writings or words of a person so influenced.

PERCEPTION:

  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.

  • awareness of something through the senses

  • the neuro-physiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli

  • the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

  • awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation

  • physical sensation interpreted in the light of experience

  • quick, acute, and intuitive cognition

  • a capacity for comprehension

  • the act or faculty of perceiving, or apprehending by means of the senses or of the mind; cognition; understanding.

  • immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment:

  • an artist of rare perception.

  • the result or product of perceiving, as distinguished from the act of perceiving

So if you accept the definitions above, and there is really no reason to dismiss them, several criteria would need to be taken into consideration, before a work can be legitimately called ‘creative’:

  1. Imagination

  2. Originality, evolving from one’s own thought

  3. Created not imitated

  4. Newness, the result of unique intuition or genius, based on knowledge, experience, resourcefulness, skills, and craftsmanship

Apply these definitions to your own work, and decide how it measures up in the ‘creativity’ stakes.

Part Two of this BlogState of the Art, coming next, will show by example the myriad of simple, rookie mistakes and common problems witnessed in so many photographs posted on the internet on a daily basis, and claiming to be ‘awesome captures’, ‘superb shots’, and even ‘art’, which have so many seasoned and experienced photographers tearing their hair in frustration, and lamenting the current level of corruption and possible demise of ‘creativity’.

Part Three of this BlogThe Artist: Diamond amid the Sewage, coming soon”, will explore the photographer as ‘Artist’, and whether ‘Creativity’ is enough to proclaim a specific photograph, or body of photographic images as ‘Art’

 

©Copyright: Stephen Bennett, MMXVII

Except as permitted by the copyright law applicable to you, you may not reproduce or communicate any of the content on this website, including any photographs and files down-loadable from this website, without the permission of the copyright owner.

The Australian Copyright Act allows certain uses of content on the internet without the copyright owner’s permission. This includes uses by educational institutions for educational purposes, and by Commonwealth and State government departments for government purposes, provided fair payment is made. For more information, see www.copyright.com.au and www.copyright.org.au.

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‘Welcome to the Planet of the Seven Suns, Captain Kirk.’

moon doll

I hope my wife isn’t reading this, for from where I sit to write, I can clearly see two framed photographs, prized because they show studio portraits of daughter, her husband and smiling grand-kids.

My problem with both these pictures however, is in a standard group portraiture set up such as this where a key light, a carefully placed shadowless fill, and maybe a rim light to separate the subjects from the background would have done the job not only adequately but quite competently, and have been aesthetically pleasing, that they also rather disconcertingly show not one, not even two, but seven distinct sets of hard edged shadows of even intensity from random, and to quote Mr Spock, illogical directions around the compass.

While the stark white background, and the outlines of the figures are completely blown out to give the illusion of a ghostly glow, the ‘photographer’, no doubt being a consummate professional, has obviously ‘fixed it in photoshop’ so that the identities of each individual can be made out through the gloomy, shadowy darkness of the almost totally unlit camera side of the subjects, and the resulting clods of digital noise resulting therefrom.

But maybe this particular ‘photographer’ followed the thinking that if it doesn’t quite look right yet, let’s add another light.

Or alternatively; I know I am totally incompetent, and this is a horrible mess I am creating, but at least I will impress these yobbos with the amount of expensive gear I have, and if I convert the photos to black and white, I can bullshit that I am a “creative artist”.

The viewing public has now become accustomed to the presence of multiple shadows, through the daily consumption of:

  • three point lighting schemes necessary to TV sitcoms and soap operas;

  • staging of music concerts, in which the presence of a multiple lightshow is so often used to disguise a lack of substance or musical talent

  • poor, unthinking photoshop compositing;

  • and the ubiquitous built in camera flash, which is used almost exclusively in the modern Gothic Horror genre known as ‘selfies’, as well as amateur and fauxpro ‘portraiture’.

Apparently the popular alternative to multi shadow lighting, amongst the fauxpro ranks at least, is ‘porn lighting’, which is completely shadowless, obliterating all form and modelling, giving more or less attractive models flat round featureless moon faces, and clothing the look of paper cut-outs affixed to cardboard dolls.

(Porn lighting was discussed recently in my blog entitled: Lip Service ? Or it Just Sux?)

It need not be said that his style of lighting is the worst imaginable, but is increasingly appearing in what fauxpros try to convince themselves is their ‘awesome’ attempt at ‘fashion’ photography, but is also found, and is equally unwelcome in glamour, makeover shots, and yes, you are way ahead of me, in ‘portraiture’ (?)

But with this daily exposure to a virtual galaxy of visual stimuli, with apparently naturally occurring and yet physically impossible lighting; coupled with an overwhelming amount of meaningless, uninspired, poorly conceived, exposed and processed crud masquerading as ‘professional’ photography, are we in danger of actually creating an alien culture of visual illiteracy?

The ramifications of this photo-diarrhoea overload may seem minor, and many may claim that I am simply being alarmist based on a petty non-issue, but when considered with the highly selective, edited, and manipulated pictures and video passed off as ‘factual’ in the mainstream press and television news and current affairs, not to mention the increasingly indiscriminate belief in online sources, ranging from the highly suspect to the downright fabrications of the so called ‘satire’ sites, there should at least be a worry.

Yes m’dear, naive Ensign Rand, don’t let it worry your pretty little head but, the camera always lies!

“…Aye Cap’ain she gonna blow any minute noo.”

The following illustration is a shadow map of an image picked at random from the daily spew of ‘awesome images’ that sully the pages of facebook. I should add that it was taken by a self proclaimed ‘facebook professional’ photographer with an ample following of fawning sycophants.

shadow map

(Derived under fair use provisions of the Copyright Act allowing exceptions for education, criticism or review)

To state the bleedin’ obvious…it is an ‘original artwork’, or to quote one of the sycophantic comments, ‘an inspired concept”, reminiscent of the century old, and done to death cliché of the ‘happy sailor glamour girl in the rigging’.

Who knows, in this funny old world of contemporary photography, maybe a copy from an inspiration of a theme from a copy of a derivative work based on a ‘mood board’ was used as the original (?) ‘inspo’.

The theme and composition seem to provoke little thought beyond ‘disembodied head next to ropes against a white background’.

Needless to say while there is a very distinct and no doubt ‘creative’ shadow of the ropes on the background, there is absolutely no corresponding shadow of the figure to match. Look closely and you will notice an extremely soft shadow of the girl, confusingly on the opposite, and seemingly impossible side of her.

And yet once you have seen this strange anomaly, you sense that there is still something not quite right, until you realise that the dominant light source projects shadows to the right, but the shadows on the face of the figure fall oddly to the left.

But needless to say the inspiring artwork still got more than it’s fair share of ‘great lighting’, ‘beautifully creative’ and ‘awesome capture’ comments.

In conclusion, to boldly stretch the Star Trek allusion beyond where no man has gone before:

“It’s photography Jim, but not as we know it!”

©Copyright: Stephen Bennett, MMXVI

Except as permitted by the copyright law applicable to you, you may not reproduce or communicate any of the content on this website, including any photographs and files down-loadable from this website, without the permission of the copyright owner.

The Australian Copyright Act allows certain uses of content on the internet without the copyright owner’s permission. This includes uses by educational institutions for educational purposes, and by Commonwealth and State government departments for government purposes, provided fair payment is made. For more information, see www.copyright.com.au and www.copyright.org.au.

We may change these terms of use from time to time. Check before re-using any content from this website.

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Lip Service? Or it just sux!

 

Jean Harlow by George Hurrell

The word ‘photography’, as just about every book or article written on the subject will tell you, translates as: writing, painting, or making graphic forms with light.

It is obvious that without light, photography would not exist, but it much more than that.

Many great photographers, sadly most of them from the past, maintain that the “art” of photography, a word bandied around far too much nowadays, is the study, and application of all the subtleties of light in its many forms and qualities to create an aesthetically pleasing composition.

The photo illustrating this blog post: Jean Harlow by George Hurrell, was recently posted on facebook by a genuine ‘student of the art’, as an example of ‘beautiful lighting’ worth at least commenting on, if not emulating.

The excellence of photographic lighting skills reached their pinnacle in the 1930’s/ 40’s with the emergence of the Film Noir movement in Germany and France, and in Hollywood with their sensual and almost erotic lighting of glamour starlets of the era, both on the soundstage and in the photographer’s studios.

Since then photographic and film lighting has of course developed, but basically the principles remain the same.

It is only since the digital ‘everyone can be a photographer’ era of the last say, twenty years that lighting expertise seems to have significantly declined, and in many cases ignored completely.

It seems that nowadays getting an image, any image, captured is an “awesome accomplishment”, if it obeys the rule of thirds more or less, it is a “great composition”, and if you can see some details, and the colours are more or less ‘correct’, it is “well lit”.

The qualities of light which photographers should be aware of as the most influential aspects of creating a composition which has modelling of form, definition, mood, control of focus points, information and variation of visibility (the very things artistic photographs are made of) are:

  • quantity…how much, and how little, and where it falls

  • intensity…the strength of the light overall

  • colour…range from black to white, and degrees of saturation of all colours included

  • distribution…where the light falls, what it reveals, and more importantly where it hides or masks details

  • texture….the softness/ hardness of light definition, beams and pools of light, and the quality and depth of shadows

However the majority of photographs which are seen today, seemingly exploit none of these aspects: the majority of ‘professional’ photographs appearing on facebook, flickr etc, where the largest potential audiences for photography gather, and garner the most of the trite, meaningless comments of ‘awesome capture’ and ‘wonderful, unique lighting’, seem all uniformly and flatly lit from edge to edge, with totally detailed shadows, and far too often not only blown out highlights, but starkly white faces, and either a complete lack of modelling, or grossly inappropriate shadows.

What used to be known in the business as ‘porn lighting’: full field and full frontal detail everywhere, so that everything is visible no matter what, and without any form or finesse.

This can be the result of one, or all of three different styles of photography:

  1. totally disregarding the light altogether, or having no understanding of lighting

  2. harsh and unsoftened, on camera, or close to on camera flash

  3. ‘studios” which are set up this way either intentionally or unknowingly.

With the daily bombardment of ‘awesome captures’ on the internet, and the current career trajectories of photographers being as they are: (day one- buy a dslr, day two, turn professional, day three; open my very own studio) is there any hope of returning to photography which is about capturing the subtleties of light on a subject, rather than just aiming, pressing the button and hoping for the best?

The proliferation of hire ‘studios’ is also to blame to a certain degree. I have ventured into several of these studios – read: glorified barns for amateurs not good enough to join a photography club to have a “bit of fun” – recently and found that the most prevalent lighting set up is indeed ‘porn lighting’: two far two big, overpriced and powerful softboxes set two metres apart, about three to four metres from the subject, both set to the same output, and hope for the best.

One studio owner became visibly heated under the collar, when I actually had the audacity to move the lights into the traditional key/fill positions, and adjust the outputs, and another made it impossible to adjust or reposition anything because the lights were affixed immovably to the ceiling and accessing the adjustment panel meant the need for a ladder, with of course none in evidence.

Mention the words ‘lighting ratio’ to one of the new breed of photographers, and you are almost universally met with a puzzled expression.

Unfortunately it seems from the majority of evidence that quality of light, has given way dramatically to mere quantity…in parallel with that other necessity of modern digital photography: quantity of images, and fix the best of a bad lot in photoshop has completely eclipsed actually striving for fewer quality photographs.

Which strikes me as rather odd: over 80 years ago, when photographers had to battle with inefficient and notoriously cantankerous lighting apparatus, slow lenses, and even slower emulsions (films for the uninitiated) they could come up with excellently lit and beautifully processed work as the above illustration demonstrates.

And yet today, when lighting is efficient, varied, good quality and very cheap, and cameras almost all perform so well that they need little more than a candle to produce good quality images, there is so little regard for good, aesthetic, and dare I say artistically creative lighting.

©Copyright: Stephen Bennett, MMXVI

Except as permitted by the copyright law applicable to you, you may not reproduce or communicate any of the content on this website, including any photographs and files down-loadable from this website, without the permission of the copyright owner.

The Australian Copyright Act allows certain uses of content on the internet without the copyright owner’s permission. This includes uses by educational institutions for educational purposes, and by Commonwealth and State government departments for government purposes, provided fair payment is made. For more information, see www.copyright.com.au and www.copyright.org.au.

We may change these terms of use from time to time. Check before re-using any content from this website.

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