The times they are a-changing.

Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat, said the other day that “photos used to be about preserving memories, but now they are about communicating”.

And while I am not sure I agree with that entirely, he is right that things are changing. The trends are clear:

  • Everyone has a cellphone camera.
  • These are getting better. While they will never equal a DSLR, they are good enough for sharing on the web.
  • And that is what happens: iPhones and instant sharing apps have changed the way photos are seen.

That means a few things. First, it does mean that at least initially, photos are about the “now” rather than about the past. Utilitarian photos. You send your spouse a photo of the three types of olive oil on the supermarket shelf so she can tell you which one.

It also means the quality goes down. It’s not about technical perfection if you are just asking a question, making a point, or choosing olive oil. It’s not art, it’s just talking.

And yet. People do still appreciate beautiful photos. And after the talking and “living in the now” is over, you remember the past. It’s not an “either/or”; it’s an “and-and”.

Not art, but a driveway crack

Take me. I make iPhone pictures all day. They are utilitarian, for the moment, communicating. Like the one above, to show a crack in my driveway asphalt caused by leaking car fluids. But I also do this:

(16-35mm f/2,8 lens, at 16mm). So the need for a good camera still exists. You need a “real” camera when you:

  • Need a blurry background.
  • Need a wide angle lens.
  • Need a telephoto lens.
  • Need quality prints.
  • Need large prints.
  • Want to shoot in the dark.
  • Need to capture motion.
  • Need repeated (“continuous drive”) photos.
  • Want to use flash (whether “creative” or “technical”).

…and so on. The list is long: many reasons to own not just a cell phone, but a quality DSLR as well.

Photography is changing, but it is a good thing, in this case. Nothing is being taken away; we are adding. Snapshots for the “now”, using your cell phone, and reserving memories with the DSLR. A win for everyone concerned.

So take lots pf pictures and enjoy. And do not forget to bring your cell phone and use it. Here, let me start. What I am looking at (or would be if I turned upside down):

..and what I see next to me (Awww…):

Quick and easy. Snap, upload.

But remember, the same basic rules apply in both cases, so learn composition, learn how to change the photo’s exposure on the iPhone, learn the effect of distance, and so on.

(Quick test question: what change did I need to make before the final ‘click’ to the exposure of the above photo: up or down, and why?)


You’ll get credit.

“We have no budget for photography, but you’ll get credit!”. I have heard this many times, as I am sure all other photographers have, when a client is trying to get free photography.

It seems to me that there are a few problems with this: several reasons, in other words, to never engage in this type of free shoot.Let me explain.

One issue is the lack of perception of value. If, at a reception, say, it is taken for granted that the caterer, the waiters, the printer, the supplier of the flowers, the maker of the curtains, the electricity company, the people who supply the coffee and the barman all get paid but the photographer is expected to work for free, that means that the photographer is not perceived to be doing anything valuable. Would a waiter work “for credit”? No, and most of us would consider it insulting to even ask. If you are asked to do something that confirms the effort you are engaged in as having basically no value, I would argue that it is best not to do that.

Photography is not a thing

One reason for this absence of value perception is that photography is not a thing, and that furthermore there is a perception that the photographer does nothing but push a button. The Kodak perception: “anyone can do it”. Look online and see the advertisements offering to “teach you photography in ten minutes”. A staggering claim, and a sad one. Any photographer knows that ten thousand hours is more like it. But if the perception is that there is no value in pushing a button, and that that is all a photographer does, can you fight it?

No—but what you can do is look for value elsewhere. And that is in tangible objects. People like tangible things. My books on DVD are much easier to sell than my books as a download, for instance. So look for prints, albums, memory keys, possibly web sites, but as much as possible, things beyond just bits. Working ten hours for free is something you may be expected to do, but a large print costs money, and everyone understands this. It’s a thing, and things cost money.

I said several?

I said there were several reasons to not do unpaid work for credit. The second reason is that it simply does not work.

Quick: tell me the photo credit of the last 100 photos you saw.

So how many did you get? I would be surprised if you remembered any. “Photo credit” does not work. You will get nothing out of it.

I have heard many people promise me the world for doing free work. Unfortunately, I have never yet seen an iota of benefit out of all this crediting. So your name appears in a brochure, or under a picture on the newspaper. No-one notices. And if they do, it is because they are already your customer. But in no case will they buy more because of it.

Because building a brand takes time and effort. Name recognition, while a necessary component of a marketing approach, is not enough by itself. And even for that, name recognition, you need repeated mentions of your name, on and on, consistently, throughout multiple campaigns over time (yes, plural). One mention here and there is not going to do anything for you.  Sure—there are exceptions to this. But generally speaking, your name being mentioned underneath a photo will do exactly nothing for your bottom line.


When I said “never”, I did not actually mean never. Of course if it is charity or if it is for a friend, you can do whatever free work you like. But in those cases you are not expecting a few mentions of your name to generate business.


So, do not be afraid to ask for a reasonable fee for your work. I had a washing machine fixed yesterday. For a ten minute visit and a five dollar switch I paid $140 plus tax: $158. So do I need to feel embarrassed to ask for $125 an hour? Not in the least. Bankruptcy is not good for me, but it would not be good for my clients either. A business needs to be sustainable.And free work does not result in that sustainability, unfortunately., So next time you are asked to do work “for credit”, I suggest you respectfully decline.


A black day

Blacks, the photo retailer, is closing its remaining 59 stores across Canada by August. The end of a long downhill story. “What do I think”, I am asked.

First, that this is bad for competition. Even though Blacks only sold a few pieces of hardware, and concentrated mainly on prints, any retailer disappearing is bad news for everyone. Less competition is never good. Wait for choice and quality to go down and prices to go up.

Second, that this is a disaster for me. The end of my film days for sure. Now that Blacks still exists, I can shoot a roll of film and drop it off a few kms away, and the next day, I get back prints and a CD/DVD. This is over. Now, the only way to get a roll of film developed is to find an envelope and print a label, line up at a post office (talk about 19th century anachronisms, and yes, there is always a lineup at every post office), pay too much to send the roll somewhere far away, and wait weeks and then pay a fortune. No way. The end.

Third, that this is not surprising. I have wondered for 20 years how Blacks survived. All they sold was rubbish frames and prints no-one bought, as well as a few cameras no-one was interested in. If ever I have seen a company without vision, it is Blacks. Run by grey Telco people in grey suits. If I were Blacks I would hire a bunch of young 20-odd year old Apple guys or McGill graduates and make a business out of something related to photography. And there must be something. I would create the market. Make a deal with Apple, if at all possible, or with other Telcos, or create a Telus app that automatically prints photos you take on a Telus phone: anything like that. There is a place where online and paper meet, and I would build a business around that. But no. They sold lousy 5×7 Chinese picture frames no-one wanted.

Fourth, that the market is changing and this is not Black’s fault. People should make prints, but they don’t: they keep all their snapshots on their phones and lose them all when their phone dies. Disasters in the making. Blacks was right that people should print their photos. But they don’t. That’s lack of vision on the part of the population as a whole. And everyone will pay for this, when all their family photos disappear. But you cannot enforce vision on the part of the public. You can try to educate, but that is it.

So, a sad day, and this is bad for everyone, including the 450 employees who will lose their jobs. But you can’t stop progress, right?


Back to the future

The best computer UI (User Interface) that I have ever experienced is that of the Compaq Concerto I used to own. This computer, which was decades ahead of its time, was powered by Windows for Pen computing and by, as I just found out, Wacom pen and screen hardware. Hardware that today looks like this:

Not surprising. The intuitiveness was amazing. I regret that this disappeared: we lost 20 valuable years.

But we are back: back to the future. The Wacom tablet I mentioned the other day gets me back there. The pen feels the same, and the functions are even better now than in the Compaq days. Like the radial menu:

I assigned this to a pen button, so now by clicking that button I get this menu (where I can set functions for each of the pie segments)—and what’s more, it pops up where my pen is at that time. Ridiculously simple, and such a time saver. I grabbed that picture by selecting the “Capture Selection” segments. That’s one way to have me remember those combined buttons (try to remember Command-Shift-$). You can even assign hierarchal sub-menus.

And what’s even more: the pen and button functions can be set differently for each application. The tablet senses which app you are in, and you get the applicable settings for that particular app.

I think it is a good bet you will be hearing more about this particular piece of hardware here.