I’ve been spending all day today doing the hard yakka (as they say here in Oz) of keywording, uploading and sorting images. It’s a job I’ve been putting off for a while, mainly because I’ve never really taken the time to work out what an IPTC field really is, and how it’s different to EXIF data, and how do you say that anyway? Ipptick? Ecksiff? I’m not good with acronyms. Or data. So up until now I’ve been inefficiently muddling through.
Today I took the bull by the horns. Grasped the moment. Carpe’d the Diem. During this process, I’ve had some revelations. A couple of eureka moments, if you will. I’ve worked some stuff out, and although it’s probably bleeding obvious to many people out there, my ability to do a pretty good ostrich impression has meant that until now I’ve been working under a couple of misapprehensions and wrong assumptions. And you know, I get so damn tired of trawling the internet for answers on how to do things properly, that I invent a patch-it solution and then stick doggedly with it. Even though I know that there is a better and more efficient way, and that upon learning this better way I will save myself oodles and screeds of time in the long run. Yet, stubbornly, I persist. Until I desist.
I’m so thrilled to have finally wrung some sense out of all of this, that I felt like I just had to share. It’s all kind of tecchie though, so don’t blame me if you glaze over. But…if I help just one other befuddled soul out there, I’ll feel this post has been worth it!
A headline is the the short descriptive title (not to be confused with the Title in your data fields) that you should give ALL of your photographs. It’s the one that says something like “Craggy Hill in Dorset County”. The headline is very important to help the internet find your image, if wanting it found is what you’re after.
The ‘Title’ field is kind of redundant. It can simply be the filename, or even left blank. That’s right, it’s worthless. Do you know how many of my images have the ‘Title’ field carefully filled out with long, descriptive, carefully worded – and it turns out, pointless – titles? What fool would think that something called a ‘Title’ would have any real relevance to naming conventions? I may have wept for a minute or two.
The caption field is the place where all those long, rambling descriptions belong. Something like “Mum sliding on her bum down Craggy Hill in Dorset County”. Captions are also very important for internet analytics stuff. Apparently Google is a bit of a fan. Up until today, my working practice has been to stuff all and any descriptive sentences into both the Title and Captions fields – hedging my bets by doubling the work, rather than knuckling down to find out the proper truth – and so all is not lost when I need to backtrack. Phew!
Keywords are just a pain in the bum, and I have no revelations to share with you about them. Batch keyword where ever possible; that’s as much as I’ve worked out. Outsource if you’ve got the funds.
5. Ipptick and Ecksiff
I haven’t looked up what those acronyms mean, because I know my brain. It won’t hold onto the knowledge anyway. The way I understand it is that EXIF is all the information that your camera saves for you and that is automatically transferred across to your computer, and then across to the internet when you upload files. It’s the clever stuff in that it does it all by itself, and it’s where your secrets are hidden. Your too-high ISO for the conditions. Or the old camera body that you thought was hiding behind a fancy lens. It’s the technical details of your shot that hitches a ride along with your files. I guess there are ways to hide that information, but for the purposes of this analysis, it’s the data that is there without you having to do anything. How’s that for scientific?
IPTC data is the stuff you need to fill in. Your name. Your copyright information. Location details. Headlines and captions (but don’t worry about the Title, remember). If you forget to fill this stuff out, or don’t export it with your files, then your work may be bobbing out there in the internet, alone and scared, unanchored to you, the rightful owner. It’s important, important, important. And it doesn’t do it itself.
This is all so easy, yet to find a clear answer to the questions I had this morning was not easy. It was difficult. And so, I have written the post that I was looking for this morning. A little helping hand from me to myself, if you will.
Right, enough procrastination. Back to the drudgery.
Welcome to number 4 of this series where I try to expand on some ideas that I’ve found helpful with my photography, especially in those moments when I’m struggling creatively.
Today it’s all about collaboration.
Photography can often be a lonely pursuit. As photographers we interact with the world around us by peering through a tiny hole in a weirdly shaped box. This makes complete sense to us; after all we are seeking and searching for those images that best articulate what it is that we find interesting or beautiful around us. We invest time, energy and painful amounts of money into this journey and process. Often we don’t like what we produce, but sometimes we create something we love. And while riding this emotional rollercoaster, the people around us that we are closest to stubbornly remain perplexed by what the fuss is all about.
I’m a bit of a loner by nature, and so it’s probably little wonder that I gravitated to photography. Mostly, I love being alone with my camera and the big wide world. Increasingly, however, I’m finding that I can use my camera as an excuse to approach and talk to strangers. Collaboration between photographer and subject often gives better results than a quick snap ‘n grab approach, even if that collaboration only lasts for the duration of a 30 second chat.
Meaningful portraits aside, what I’m getting to here is that every photographer needs photographer buddies. A group of folks who understand that ‘noise’ isn’t referring to any sounds that your camera is making. The online community goes a long way towards fulfilling that role, and I am the first to admit my addiction and love of all things internet-ey. But people need people, and the best sort of people are those in real life.
When I was living in London last year, I decided that all my wanderings of the big city were great, but that I needed to do something new. Harnessing the power of the internet, I tried to organise a photo shoot with some willing models (as my boyfriend has – at best – 2 minutes worth of patience with my camera in his face). This effort yielded 2 separate photo shoots with different models, as well as the bonus of collaboration with another photographer. We both wanted to try working with strobes, we both wanted to practice working with models, and we both had limited experience of this type of shoot. It was perfect. Two brains, two sets of ideas, two knowledge banks to call upon.
I ended up with a set of images completely removed from what I usually do. Best of all, though, was that I found a fellow photographer and together we worked on a number of other projects. And then I moved to the other side of the world, which kind of stalled the process. And so I found myself in Sydney, and back with the same dilemma. A significant lack of people in my life who I can talk to in photo-speak, and who I can geek-out with on a regular basis.
Back to the internet I turned. I found a Flickr site of photo-walkers in the Sydney area, and organised a photo walk, and some of the images from that day can be seen here. What I found from this particular experience is that while walking around as a group of 5 people (all of us giddy to one degree or another that we were with other people who understood the joy of taking photographs) resulted in a number of pros and cons. For example, I took far fewer photos in that session that I would normally while on my own, and I also spent less time being careful about what I was photographing. As a result, I wasn’t entirely happy with the bunch of images I ended up with, and talking to the others after the day I think that we all found that same problem.
The plus side was that we had a fantastic time, really bonded as a group, bounced ideas off each other, and all learned something new. It’s easy to think you have a good grasp of photographic techniques when you’re out there on your own. Being with other photographers who have been on their own learning curves, and who understand photography from all sorts of different angles, can only help your own knowledge base.
And so, at the end of this long-winded chat about myself, I hope I leave you with something useful. Overcome your shyness, your fears, or your complacency. Find a way to collaborate. If you’re already doing this – great! Keep doing it. Work with others, create projects with others. Find new photography friends, organise photo shoots or photo walks. Every new collaboration will bring it’s own set of lessons, and every time you work with someone else will help your own photographic journey. Photography doesn’t have to be a loner sport. Get out there and make it sociable.
Welcome to installment number 3 of a series of ideas to help jumpstart your creativity – if it’s feeling stalled – or simply to inject some new ideas into your photographic journey. The first 2 posts can be found here and here.
#3: learn a new technique
The dangerous currents that I’m referring to in this post are those of complacency. When you feel so comfortable in your photography or your style, that instead of continuing to grow, you start to stagnate. It’s a seductive beast this one, because it’s a great feeling to look at your work and be happy with what you’re producing. What I’m asking you to do here is a little bit of deconstruction.
Really sit down and look at your own work. See the trends in what you’re producing and be really honest with yourself. No matter where we are in our photographic journey, everyone can benefit from a new approach. We all like to stick with what we know and feel comfortable with, but to improve your images you need to keep improving your skills. That means stepping outside your comfort zone and going through a new learning curve. Learning curves and sucky images generally go together, unfortunately, but persist and you will come out the other end a better photographer.
If you’re still shooting on Auto mode, now is the time to explore what your camera is capable of doing. Decide to learn about the AV mode on your camera (the aperture) or the TV mode (shutter speed). Turn that dial, and start taking pictures. Read up about what the aperture does, how the shutter works, and what effect they have on the look of the final image. Take lots of shots, compare the settings on the camera and plug that feedback loop back into your photography. Yes, it’s a bit geeky…but photography is a big chunk of geek factor, so learn to embrace it! The Digital Photography School website is a fabulous resources for tips, tutorials and all sorts of learning.
Another new approach could be to leave digital aside for a while. Pick up an old SLR camera from that famous online auction place (you know the one!), dig yourself up some film or transparency, and see how your photography does or doesn’t work without the benefit of instant feedback from the back of your camera. This may be the first time you’ve ever used a traditional film SLR camera, and if so I’m convinced you’ll love the experience. It’s so clunky, and mechanical, and raw. It’s the essence of photography – light being absorbed onto silver, and the click and clunk of the shutter opening and closing. Before you load any film, open the back, look at the aperture widen and shrink as you change your f-stops. I can’t think of any better way to really get how it all comes together. Also, film will be a finite commodity in your shooting time and so you will have to slow right down, and really put to practice everything you know and understand about getting a good exposure.
If you have been doing this photography lark for a while, and learned your craft on old film cameras, I’d still recommend revisiting using one. I’m going to be taking my own advice on this one in the very near future!
What if you already understand all the settings on your camera? You know your ISO from your f-stop and know how to rock a wide angle lense. Don’t get all complacent on me just yet. What about lighting? Do you use flash? Forget about that harsh unflattering effect from the pop-up flash attached to your camera. I’m talking about using strobes. Possibly a tripod. Don’t think that flash is only for use at night-time, research the wonders of fill-in flash. It can really come into it’s own when you’re out shooting in the harsh midday sun.
If you REALLY want to get into flash techniques, let me point you in the direction of a man who has dedicated his professional life to helping you and me get as much out of flash as he does. David Hobby, over at the Strobist, is definitely the man you want to visit if you’re serious about improving your flash skills.
Conversely, if you use flash alot, go back to working without it for a little while. Or at least for a single project. Let a cloudy sky be your softbox, a window your main light source. Chase the light and let it dictate the feel and colour of your shots. I’m not an advocate for natural light over flash, or vice versa; they both have their place in any photographer’s repertoire and dismissing one or the other is certainly not the point. Just notice which source is your preferred, and spend some time working the other way.
Find the chink in your armour, and work on plugging the gap. We all have something new to learn, so keep your photographic journey fresh and keep moving forwards.
Continuing on from my post on tips and inspirations to get you photographing differently, or setting yourself some sort of new challenge to stretch your creativity, here is the next in the installment.
#2: pick a theme
This certainly isn’t the most original thought I’ve ever decided to share with anyone else, but the reason it crops up so much is because it’s a such a good one. It’s easier and more direct than working out a coherent project, and can be used time and again in different ways.
So, just do as it says. Pick a theme. Keep it simple like a colour or a number; get more abstract with words or concepts such as ’old’ or ’busy’. Shoot only shapes or only feet. Pick a random word out of the dictionary. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, just choose something. And then, go out and shoot only for that theme.
This is great way to look at what’s around you with a different perspective, and what you may find – somewhat ironically – is that restrictions can help to nourish a broader creativity. Personally, I love this sort of thing, as it reminds me so much of why I got into photography in the first place; using the camera as a way of slowing down, and looking at the world in detail rather than broad strokes.
While you’re doing this though, keep thinking about your bigger project. Small creative steps lead to big creative sparks. Who knows what exciting idea will come to you while you’re busy looking for shades of blue, or hidden circles.
It happens to us all. The muse has left and you’re just not finding inspiration anywhere. Maybe this is it, maybe your love affair with photography was more fleeting than you thought. But don’t panic just yet, you haven’t lost the passion. Perhaps it’s just time for a little break, and if so take it. And enjoy it. Do something else and then come back to your camera when you’re feeling refreshed.
More likely though, all you need is a little outside perspective. For someone else to come up with a new set of ideas that will send you off spiralling into the giddy depths of creative flow. I’ve been there before (and will no doubt again), and I have many sources both on the internet and in books to thank with giving me fresh juice when my own well had run dry.
I’ve decided to start a little series here, to put together those practical and conceptual ideas that have pulled me out of a rut in the past. The single post I intended when I started up a few paragraphs ago has actually kind of gotten away from me, and so I’m going to break it down and spread it out over 5 separate posts. That way you won’t get bored wondering when I’m going to shut up already, and I can spend more time fleshing out each of the sections.
I sincerely hope that you find something here that will get your pulse racing, make you grab your camera and get out there to keep shooting the stuff you love.
#1: Find a medium to long-term project
This is bit vague perhaps, but if you pick the right project it will be something that keeps you going for a long time and that you can pick up and put down around other activities and commitments. Don’t rush into this though, take your time thinking about what you would really enjoy engaging with over a defined time period.
A 365 day project is the obvious place to start, and there are plenty of examples all over the internet. The clue is in the name. 365 days, 365 photos. There are many variations of this one out there, but for starters here is the Flickr 365 days self-portraits group. Think of a theme, get a-googling, find yourself a group or go it solo. It seems like madness to me, but I know my own limitations and know that I woudn’t see this one through. Imagine though, the satisfaction of completing such a mammoth, sustained effort….
If an image a day is too much to commit to, think about scaling it down. An image a week. Or a set of images per week. The blog 52 suburbs is a fabulous example of a well conceived and well executed long-term project. The author of the site is even going to be publishing a book of her work once it’s completed. And that’s kind of the point; getting yourself entangled in a fabulous project all of your own could lead you and your photography to new and exciting places.
Less time-intensive but as ripe for creative opportunities is the bi-monthly photo challenge, over at photochallenge.org. A thriving community already exists just waiting for you to throw your creativity into the fray.
Another great idea I came across was to use your skills in a voluntary capacity. I’m not talking about doing a job for free that you should really be getting paid for. Think about it more organically. Think about what aspect of photography you would like to focus on. Say you want to really work on portraits, specifically improving your use of flash or perhaps simply getting a better understanding of how to work with natural light. Find a charity or small organisation that could benefit from having better quality portraits of their staffs to use on their newsletters or website. Offer your services. Be upfront and honest about the fact that you are creating this opportunity as a learning tool for yourself as well as giving something back to them; and then get in there and see what you can do.
The key here is to pick your project wisely. Work within what you know you like and what you know you can achieve. Either join an existing community, or build up your own, but I bet that as long as someone else is keeping tabs on your goals and milestones, you’ll be more inclined to stay focused and committed.
At some point in your photographic journey – whether that journey is personal or professional – you’re probably going to think about getting yourself a website. And I’d say go for it! It’s a great place to showcase your work, as well as to give it some context. Flickr is great, and works well for some, but having a domain name that’s all your own – your very own little corner of the InterWeb – well, who wouldn’t want that?
When I was working out how to put my website together, I spent quite a lot of time researching how best to approach it. It was a bit of a painful process to be honest, as it was the first time I’d ever tried to be the actual OWNER of a website. It was also very exciting – I was going to appear on Google! – but I tell you, I spent SO much time trying to work out what to do and where to look. Honestly, I was left with only a few chunks of hair that I hadn’t ripped out, and no fingernails on either hand. It’s all grown back now, thanks for asking!
So what I thought is that it could be a nice idea to share some of this hard-won knowledge. If you’re in a similar boat, and considering setting up a web presence, you may find some of this useful. If you’re generally more web savvy than I am (and most people are), then it’s probably not so useful for you. What you could do is leave a comment with a link, and help out those of us who are less web-ified!
The first idea I had was to design and build my own website. Yes, I know. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. I spent a couple of frustrating days wrestling with Dreamweaver and wading through HTML and CSS tutorials, and then I realised that I wanted to be a working photographer, not a web designer. Talk about misdirecting your energy. If, however, you are interested in learning web design and coding (for free), this site is the best one I’ve found for complete beginners. I’ve been dipping my toes back into these waters lately in fact, cause I figure it can’t hurt to have a few extra strings to your bow, and being able to modify code gives you more Power and Control. Power and Control are important. Also, my inner geek actually quite enjoys this stuff.
Having decided to get a professional to sort out the website for me, I started looking at how to get something that looked properly designed, as well as having a bespoke feel specific to my photography and my brand, all without having to pay huge sums of money. I appreciate that web designers are highly skilled professionals and certainly deserve to charge for their expertise. The problem for me starting out was that I simply didn’t have the resources for such a huge outlay.
Smugmug was one of the sites that came up in my searches. I remember at the time thinking that it looked like a great way of sharing photos with families and friends, but that it didn’t really offer the full professional package that I was looking for. Checking the site now, however, I see that things have moved on over the past 12 months. There are differently priced options catering for the hobbyist through to the professional, and I would say they deserve a closer look.
Another good option to consider is Photoshelter. I’ve started digging around through what they offer, and what I’ve discovered so far looks pretty exciting. They understand all the ins and outs of SEO – that’s all the text and keywords in the background of your site that search engines can grab onto to push your pride and joy to the top of the Google pile – and they provide lots of information to help you understand it for yourself. Your site can have an embedded stock library of its own, as well as the capability to access those files from anywhere with an internet connection. There are templates and designs to choose from, as well as the ability to edit the code yourself, if you are so inclined. It’s making me positively giddy!
In the end, the site I went with was Photobiz. I purchased a template from them for about $120 (I think, it was a while ago), but am in no way locked into that specific design. There is a good selection of templates to choose between and it’s really easy to switch between them. I have a slideshow area, where I can upload a selection of images and then forward the link to myclient, thus allowing them to look through the selection at their own leisure. I can even password-protect the slideshow which gives confidence that the work they are paying you to produce is not splattered all over the internet. There is an optional shopping cart area which works well for portrait work or if you are trying to sell prints. It’s an easy, clickable way help people shop for your images. Oh…there’s loads of features and stuff, and it’s really reasonably priced. In fact, you can move the monthly payment amount up or down in line with the growth of your business.
I’m totally just scratching the surface here – there are plenty of template sites to choose from. As a compromise between a professional look, and value for money, I don’t think you can do much better than one of these guys. And good luck!
I was having lunch today with a friend of mine. She’s a film-maker and we were throwing around ideas of how we may be able to collaborate on projects in the future. Nothing concrete was decided, but in these uncertain moments where I’m working out how to re-establish myself, it was great to meet up with someone who knows exactly what I’m going through. Purely through the virtue of going through it herself.
We didn’t manage to come up with a winning scheme that will set us both flying down our respective career paths (not yet, anyway), but while chatting she said something that only this evening has fully registered. And I had a revelation. Nothing huge and certainly not anything that hasn’t been thought of before, as well as being articulated better by countless others. But it has given me a shift in my thinking, one that I think is going to help me to keep striving to achieve my goals.
She was telling me about a job she once had. It required going up to strangers on the street, armed with a video camera, and asking their permission to conduct an interview. And she didn’t enjoy this process, not one little bit. But she did it, because she had to. And she had to because she was being paid to do it. In return, I was telling her about a trip that I took on the weekend. I went to a funky, bohemian corner of inner Sydney, a low-key couple of hours to do nothing more than take some photographs. An exercise, a chance to get a few shots for my portfolio. And an opportunity to face my biggest fear – getting street portraits in urban cities. I’m fine doing it in a far-flung destination, where gesture and goodwill bridge the language gap, while at the same time negating the fear of refusal. But place me in the familiar context of my own city, and I become gripped with anxiety. I come up with a million reasons to not approach these strangers.
And there’s the juxtaposition. There’s my eureka moment. The reason to ignore the procrastinating, fearful, hold-me-back voice in my head. And that reason is simple.
Do it for a client.
If I was given a brief to get a series of street portraits for a client, I would get out there and do it. Simple. Would I still be anxious and terrified? Of course. Probably more so, because the get-out clause which I often hand over to myself when it’s ‘just’ a personal project is no longer valid. But, you know what? ‘Client’ is a loose term. It can be applied in any number of ways. A stock library is a client, and if I get some great shots – and maybe a model release or two, who knows? – then that personal project has turned professional. Those shots may be the ones in my portfolio that attract a new client to me and my work. And if nothing else, as a freelance photographer, it is my duty to my own professional growth to treat myself as I would a client. No excuses or procrastination.
Talk about realising the bleeding obvious. But you know, often it’s just the small shift in perspective that makes all the difference. I really feel like this is one of those small shifts that just might keep reverberating into my future.