The Great Times Media Building Implosion…

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Crowds awaiting the big bang.

Or, as it should be more accurately called in my case, The Great Times Media Dust Cloud.

Preparation, of course, is everything, which I should know because as a Boy Cub many years ago we recited weekly the motto the great Baden Powell tried to hammer into our miserable brains; “Be Prepared”.

My first mistake was arriving too late. I wanted to get to the vicinity of the event a good two hours or so before the action in order to scout out a good location from which to photograph proceedings.

But, as I was ensconced in the bedclothes, I kept telling myself I had plenty of time. That’s why I only arrived at 07:35, with not nearly enough time in hand to find a good spot.

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If one sneaks a bit further away from the crowds, one can get a better vantage point…as long as security doesn’t spot you.

I decided on this occasion to use the continuous shooting mode on my trusty old Minolta Dynax 7. Naturally, I’ve never used this mode before because I’ve never really needed it. Until the day of the Implosion, of course. So I figured I’d better fire off a few test frames, after all, I didn’t want any nasty surprises at the moment of truth.

I was happy to discover the old Minolta worked perfectly in continuous mode.

All I had to do now, was frame the shot in the viewfinder and wait for the countdown. Maybe I didn’t have the best view, but I had a view I could work with.

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This is the canteen inside the Times Media building, a shot I took on a cell phone some years ago.
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Another interior pic.

Finally, the countdown began. Ten…nine…eight…my finger was ready on the shutter button, and I had a good view through the 300mm telephoto lens…three…two…I began firing – three frames in one second and then…nothing!…two…one…still nothing! Frantically pressing the shutter button. Nothing.

Through the viewfinder I watched in horror as the building broke in half and collapsed. And even though this wasn’t a large building by implosion standards, being only three stories high, it was a truly impressive sight. I only wish I had a picture to show you.

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This may well be the last pic ever taken of the Times Media building still standing.

I saw the rising dust cloud. I replaced the “trusty” Minolta with my even trustier Fuji Finepix, took a couple of pics of the dust cloud, and left the scene.

A saying in photography says the pictures you remember the most are the ones you didn’t take. I can certainly relate to that saying.

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Oh, look! Wow, can you see that dust!? No? Perhaps another shot of it might help…
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Hope this helps.

Well, there you have it. As that building collapsed, my life flashed before my eyes. But not my past life. My future life or, more to the point, my immediate future life. Like the great implosion pics I was about to see on the various social media platforms.

I wasn’t disappointed. Ah, well, at least I was there.

©2017. All images copyright and may not be used without my written permission. Please respect the rights of others.

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How Photography Will Change With a Trump Presidency – And How to Edit Your Pictures to Stay Ahead of the Game

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There’s no doubt that photographers are now more confused than ever about what to shoot, as this picture proves. I’m sure there are some who would like to shoot the Trumpster himself! (Note to FBI and CIA: “shoot”, in this context, refers to exposing film or digital media to a light source for a brief period, usually about 1/125th of a second, for the purposes of capturing an image on said media). On hearing the news of Trump’s Shock Election Victory™, coming as it did hot on the heels of the Shock Brexit Vote™, they collapsed where they stood, some barely able to hold onto their cameras.

Of course, the big question hapless photogs are asking in this post-2016-election world is: is my memory card big enough? This is the same question shooters have asked since the dawn of digital, so, no change there.

There’s no doubt we awoke to a different world on November 9th, 2016. According to some commentators, it’s the end of the world as we know it. To others, it’s the beginning of an exciting new era.

But now it’s starting to feel as though every pundit is trying to Trump their opinion, regardless of their field of expertise.

So I thought I’d better weigh in, too, on behalf of photographers everywhere. Or not. As the case may be. Whatever. The headline above is nothing more than a bit of Tom Foolery, a bit of a leg-pull. Not to be taken seriously.

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I just thought you might enjoy this photograph of a modern building in the Johannesburg suburb of Rosebank. As far as I am aware, it isn’t owned by Donald Trump, but I figured if I could work his name into this caption, I might be able to score a bit of extra SEO juice. C’mon Google, play fair, here! I’m trying, dammit.

©2016. All images copyright Grahame Hall and may not be used without my written permission. Don’t be a doos*. Please respect the rights of others.

* The word “doos” is a South African, more specifically Afrikaans, word that, literally translated, means “box”. However, if I say to you “don’t be a doos,” I don’t have a cardboard carton in mind.

How many pics are left in your current camera?

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Straight out the camera, no manipulation of any description. Beautiful brass work on a Model T Ford.

My main camera for some years now has been a Fujifilm Finepix S5600. As far as I can tell it hit the market in 2006 to rave reviews. When I bought mine it was already, I think, towards the end of its production run. In fact, it may have already ceased production. I was drawn to it because a friend had the previous model and I was very impressed with the results he was getting.

Anyway, over the years I’ve often been surprised by the quality of pictures this little camera produces. The EVF isn’t the best around, and the rear viewing screen is almost laughable by today’s standards. If you remember the days of film you probably recall that agonising/excited wait to see your results. Using my Finepix is a bit like that. I don’t really know what the pictures will look like until I load them onto my computer.

I was at a Ford Heritage Day hosted by the Vintage and Veteran Club (VVC) in Johannesburg recently. A friend who owns a Model A had called me up saying there may be some cool pictures to be had. So off I trundled with my trusty Finepix in tow.

I always set the film setting to “C” – which stands for “Chrome” and I think is meant to emulate the saturation produced by Fujichrome Velvia. Occasionally I set it to “B”, which is the b+w setting, apparently an emulation of Fuji Neopan.

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“And we’ll have fun, fun, fun ’til her daddy takes the T-bird away.” The Beach Boys. Sometimes the Fuji battles a bit with intense reds, especially in high contrast scenarios. But today we were blessed with an overcast sky that helped to tone things down a bit.

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Below is a comparison shot from a similar angle, using my 20.7 mpx Sony Xperia z3 phone camera, also straight out the camera with no manipulation at all.
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“Any colour you like, as long as it’s black.” Henry Ford You can see a re-worked version of this shot over on my Instagram, or on my Flickr stream.

Of course, how you see these pics will depend a lot on your monitor, and how you’ve set it up. There are so many variables with digital photography and viewing pictures online, that it’s almost impossible to evaluate what a photograph actually looks like. Also, I believe that as soon as a picture is edited, knowing what camera is was taken on becomes almost irrelevant.

The other point is don’t keep salivating for the latest and greatest. There are probably plenty of pics left in your current camera.

©2016. All images copyright Grahame Hall and may not be used without my written permission. Please respect the rights of others.

A Little Fun with a Technique I Usually Hate

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Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of many of the post-processing techniques in use today. It’s not that I’m against post processing per se, it’s just that I feel many photographers are processing their pictures beyond, in some cases far beyond, what I would consider the boundaries of reality.

Don’t get me wrong, I think many pictures benefit from a little skilled  manipulation, and I’m not suggesting that to be successful, a photograph must represent an accurate rendition of reality. But I do believe a photograph should be believable, even if it’s a complete abstract. In other words, when what you see on the page or screen is a close approximation of what the camera saw.

There are many photographers using this or that technique ad nauseam, to the point where one suspects they are attempting to cover up for poor photographic technique in other areas. Everyday we see things like terrible HDR pictures perpetrated by people who seem to want to shove their bad LSD experiences down our throats.

One of the techniques, though, that consistently invokes my ire, is selective de-saturation (or selective colour as some prefer to call it).

The very first time I ever encountered such an image was on a poster way back in the 1970s. If I remember correctly, the subject was a little girl holding a red rose, with the rose being the only colour in the shot. All of us who saw it were amazed.

The thing is, back then, if you saw a selectively de-saturated pic, you knew it required hours of quite complicated darkroom work, so you didn’t see too many of them. Today the same effect can be achieved  easily by pressing a button or two and moving a couple of sliders. In other words, anyone can do it. Of course, anyone could have done it the dark(room) ages, too, but you’d have to be a real masochist to even attempt it.

One of the best uses of the technique I’ve come across in the digital era is this image by Travis T on Flickr.

Yesterday, I was out and about on the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk and saw the cranes (above) in the late afternoon as the sun was just beginning to set, and fired of a couple of frames. When I saw the scene, I visualized a pic with a white sky and the only colour being that of the sunset hues seen through windows of the cranes’ cabs.

I messed about a bit with the colour image, but came to realise that in order to achieve the image I was after, I would have to [gulp] selectively de-saturate! I looked for a tutorial to teach me how to do it, and found this one on YouTube. Now I’m worried that I might become addicted to this technique. So if you see me posting too many selective-colour shots, please chastise me in the strongest possible terms.

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Just for the record, this is the shot as it came out the camera.
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And this is the version I uploaded to Flickr after some very basic editing. If the whole sky had the slightly orange tint apparent in the lower portion of the shot, I may not have bothered to go the whole hog with the de-saturation,  but I really wanted to ditch the blue.
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I did briefly toy with something like this, too.
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Contrary to what you may suspect, this is not an example of selective-desaturation, at least not via the techniques of photo-manipulation. You could say, though, that this is God Himself having a bit of fun with the technique on an African Grey.

Do We Really Need Another Lengthy Blog Post Every Time Someone Tries to Stiff a Photographer Over Price?

It seems that whenever someone asks a photographer to do something for free, the photographer must write a lengthy – and usually tedious – blog post explaining how tough they have it. Listen, pal, no-one forced you into this business.

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Okay, we get the picture…

Hey photographers, what do you want first…the good news, or the bad news?

Don’t worry, I can see you’re a pretty tough cookie, so I’m going to let rip with the bad news first:

There are people who won’t want to pay your totally reasonable asking price.

I’m sorry, there’s just no way to break this shocker gently. But it gets worse (if that’s even possible)…Of the people who don’t want to pay your asking price, a few will give you some appallingly inane reasons, demonstrating their utter lack of understanding of “how a photography business operates.”

When this happens to you – and it will – there are five options open to you:

  • Option #1. Give in meekly and accept the price reduction while apologising for being insane to expect such a high price in the first place. (I call this the “Wimp Option”)
  • Option #2. Politely, but firmly, refuse to accept the reduced offer (remember, you don’t want this idiot bad-mouthing you all over town)
  • Option #3. Impolitely tell this person to “[expletive deleted] off!” (Who cares if he bad-mouths you all over town, the only people he knows are cheapskates just like himself! (Probably the most satisfying option)
  • Option #4. Write a lengthy, whiny, boring,  blog post about the philistines who have no idea how a photography business actually operates. Don’t forget to go on ad nauseam with the tedious details of how much your equipment cost, how much you pay for web hosting, how many hours you spend editing, how much your assistant costs you, how many years you spent learning your craft, how much transport to and from the location/venue costs, how expensive hardware and software is getting these days, and anything else you can think of that adds a dime or two to your final price. Heck, how much did you say you paid for that kitchen sink?
  • Option #5. Accept the job OR refuse the job, and quietly move on without alerting the world to the scumbags out there trying to fleece you, who don’t have the foggiest of how to run a photo business, or how your fees are structured, or whatever. Realise  that We. Just. Don’t. Care.
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Yes, we get the picture!

Actually, on second thoughts, don’t go for Option #4. Never. Ever. Please. Spare us the diatribe. You got into this business because you wanted to. I’m sure no-one put a gun to your head and said: “You better start a photography business and accept crappy prices.”

So, what’s the Good News? Only this:

Some (most?) people are only too happy to pay your asking price. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t really have a photography business, would you?

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Alright, already! We get the f*****g picture!!! (If you’ll pardon the pun.)

Those who aren’t willing to pay only deserve, at the very most, a semi-humorous little meme posted to your Facebook page or Twitter feed.

As for the people who do buy your pictures without complaint, treat them like gold. Perhaps these are the people you should be blogging about.

And you should be, too!

Are photographers writers undervalued?

Validation from the Light Stalking website …I’m honoured.

Photographing the Confederations Cup soccer tournament final, Loftus Versveld, June 2009
Photographing the Confederations Cup soccer tournament final, Loftus Versveld, June 2009

I recently responded to this post about how photographers are often undervalued. I sent a link to my article to Light Stalking, where the original post appeared.

In the last line of my blog post I made this half-joking comment:

In closing, if Dsvonko (the article’s author) really wants to know what it’s like having one’s work devalued, he should try writing for living!”

The powers-that-be at Light Stalking were none too keen on my point of view, which I offered as an alternative opinion on the matter. I received a terse, dismissive, one-line reply from someone at Light Stalking (whom I won’t name as this is not a name-and-shame exercise) that brought this issue into sharp focus (if you’ll forgive the photographic pun).

Here is what Light Stalking told me, verbatim:

“I don’t pay my writers enough to put up with snark.” [Emphasis added]

Q.E.D.

P.S. I’ve made my living as a writer for the better part of 40 years, so I’m well-versed with the battles many writers sometimes experience to earn their daily bread.

©2016. All images copyright Grahame Hall and may not be used without my written permission. Please respect the rights of others.

The [One-way] Time Machine

These pictures, taken more than 20 years apart, demonstrate the truth of the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

Ever since the publication of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895, the concept of traveling back and forth to different eras has gripped the human imagination.

The idea of time travel has been explored in hundreds of books, comics and movies. The two that spring immediately to mind are Back to the Future, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

But perhaps the man who has come closest to inventing a workable, practical “time machine” is George Eastman. Although he didn’t invent photography, with his “You press the button, we do the rest” idea he certainly made it popular, bringing it withing reach of the everyday man.

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An early advertisement for George Eastman’s Kodak camera – the world’s first practical time machine.

Unfortunately, Eastman’s time machine can only travel in one direction – backwards. A machine that can transport us to the future remains elusive.

All this musing about time travel was really triggered by a short trip to the Golden Gate area of South Africa’s eastern Free State highlands. On this trip we stayed at the Sunnyside Guest Farm, near the town of Clarens, just as we as had done a couple of decades previously.

When I looked at the pictures I took on this most recent trip, I was immediately struck by how similar they looked to the pictures I had taken on previous visits to the region. But all the previous pictures were taken on analogue film cameras.

As I was looking at the new pictures, I kept being reminded of the old ones, and I had the distinct feeling that going back to Golden Gate was a bit like going back in time. Then I decided to actually dig up some of the scans I’d made some time ago of shots from previous trips to Sunnyside and the Golden Gate Highlands nature reserve.

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The top picture shows my older daughter sitting on the slasto stone surround of the swimming pool at Sunnyside Guest Farm. The lower picture shows my younger daughter diving into the same pool more than 20 years later.

 

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There are no horses at Sunnyside today, but these pictures, although taken decades apart, show essentially the same scene.

 

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The lower (modern) picture is much more pleasing because it doesn’t have the same awkward crop that chops off the top of the massif.

 

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While the P.o.V., camera, lens, time of day, and season may all differ, these two pictures are of the same sandstone formation.

What bothers me about the similarity of so many of my Golden Gate pictures is the thought that maybe I haven’t progressed at all as a photographer despite the advancing years. But, on a more positive note, the similarities may be due to being moved by the same sense of wonder I feel on every trip to this awe-inspiring place.

I’ll conclude this post with a couple of shots from my recent trip without reference to past journeys.

Sandstone formation in Golden Gate Highlands National Park
This is a closer view of the sandstone formation pictured above
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For me, no visit to Golden Gate nature reserve would be complete without a visit to “my” dam. The water level was lower than I’ve seen in previous visits because of the drought that has gripped the interior of South Africa this summer. We’ve had some good rains in Johannesburg since then, and I hope these have extended to areas further afield. This dam is the subject of another blog entry you can read here.

©2016. All images copyright Grahame Hall and may not be used without my written permission. Please respect the rights of others.

The Ghosts of Journeys Past

It’s not difficult to understand why people are so captivated the Age of Steam…

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Years ago the Rolling Stones undertook their Steel Wheels tour. Unless I’m very much mistaken, a steam train played an important role in the graphic design for that tour.

I recall a time when, after another day at school, I’d wait on the platform for the steam engine that would pull me home to come thundering into the station in a cloud of soot and smoke and steam that clogged noses and burned eyes.

In those days, we didn’t think of it as the “romance of steam”. Instead, we hankered after something cleaner and quieter. Something that was more 20th century. Like the electric trains they had in more advanced parts of the country, like Johannesburg!

But little did I know as I cursed the huge, hissing, snorting, smoke-belching monsters arriving at the station every day, that I was witnessing the end of an era. Or that steam enthusiasts were, even then, travelling halfway across the globe to ride in these carriages being manhandled along the rails by [gasp!] “working steam locomotives!”

Today I too look back with a warm sense of nostalgia on these magnificent beasts. What is it about steam locomotives that so captures our imagination? I think it’s that more than any other type of engine, the steam locomotive is as close as machinery can get to becoming a living, breathing, creature. A creature with a heart and soul.  An almost mystical, mythical  fire-breathing dragon.

The photographs in this post were taken at a Reefsteamer’s Open Day, held in conjunction with the Sandstone Heritage Trust, on October 24th, 2015. A friend of mine owns a 1931 Model A Ford and this is what brought us, rather appropriately I thought, to the Reefsteamer’s Germiston Depot.

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This is not someone’s idea of what the interior of a steam locomotive cab should look like. It’s not steam punk, it’s actual steam!
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Piping on a steam locomotive
Reefsteamer's Germiston Depot
The Reefsteamer’s Germiston Depot.
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1931 Model A Ford belonging to a friend poses with a steam loco
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It’s not all steam at Reefsteamer’s – this is inside the cab of a diesel engine housed on the premises.
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A Reefsteamer’s “smithy” in front of the furnace hammering out a part for one of the engines. It’s hot, heavy labour but I got the impression that he loved every hammer blow.
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A big shout out to the men and women who keep these beautiful behemoths alive and rolling. We owe them all our gratitude.

You can see a few more shots from this shoot over at my Flickr stream

How Any Photographer Can Get Paid Exactly What They’re Worth

Articles like this appear with regular monotony.

The writer of this latest piece on the topic, appearing on the Light Stalking website, Dsvonko Petrovski, claims the situation has arisen because we, the photographic neophytes out there, don’t actually know what a photographer really is.

Not to worry though, Dsvonko is going to set us straight, show us the life that “we photographers have, and what we actually do.” (emph. added)

Mr. Ptrovski says:
“In my personal experience I’ve learned that people often ask for photographers to work for free because they compare the profession to snapping pictures with their smartphone. Since that is a fairly easy task, the work that professional photographers do is devalued.”

Well, is it such an easy task? Yes, and no. Producing an image is easy enough, even for a complete novice, but producing a great image, or even just a very good one, is an entirely different matter. My contention is always that a good, professional, photographer is quite capable of producing better shots with a smartphone than the average non-professional with an SLR.

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School kids in Orlando, Soweto, learning the basics of story telling with a camera.

If you don’t believe me, head on over to YouTube and do a search for “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera”. You’ll arrive at a series of videos produced by Kai W of Digital Rev fame, in which he challenges professional photographers of varying specialties to use cheap cameras to see what kind of results they can produce.

Invariably, the results are surprisingly good. Because photography is more about the “eye” than the equipment. In fact, the eye is by far the most advanced (and valuable) piece of photographic equipment we posses.

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Unfortunately, the photograph used by Light Stalking to promote the piece on Facebook suggests that photography is child’s play and not worth very much.

Another quote from the article:
You might see photography as a mere art of pressing a button on a fancy camera, but if you (as a person who has no knowledge in professional grade cameras) were to wield that thing, you’d realize that it is not an easy task.

Actually, as a potential client, I have absolutely no interest in how difficult it is to “wield that thing”. You’re the pro, I expect you to be able to wield it competently and expertly, and not expect me to hold an increased idea of your value because of your ability to do so. (If you’re having difficulty wielding your equipment, may I suggest you look for something that’s maybe a little easier to handle, like a lighter, mirrorless setup, for instance.)

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A sports photographer at Wanderers Cricket Ground for a test match between Australia and South Africa. Do you think he is worth more because he’s lugging around that heavy equipment?

He also argues that a chef is not judged by his “fancy pots and pans” but by the quality of his food. Exactly. But you don’t hear chefs moaning about how difficult it is to chop carrots with a potentially-lethal weapon, or wield heavy pots and pans, or stand in front of a dangerous open flame all day long. That goes with the territory. Can you imagine the hoots of derision if a chef were to suggest that because he works in a hot kitchen he is more “valuable”.

So it’s no use telling me about your expensive lenses and cameras, or your experience, or your ability. Just show me the shots. I’m not referring only to Dsvonko here, but any pro photographer who thinks he is “undervalued”.

Now, if you listen up,  I’m about to reveal the real secret to getting your full worth as a photographer, and it has very little to do with how good or bad a photographer you are, because…

YOU ARE WORTH EXACTLY WHAT YOU CAN GET

Nothing more, nothing less. If you feel you’re not getting enough, ask for more. If your clients won’t pay you more, find other, more appreciative, clients. I bet no-one asks Denis Reggie to work for nothing.

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A Facebook post from Denis Reggie, one of many that come through my stream. Denis “gets” marketing.

Yet despite his well-deserved international reputation as  arguably the best wedding photographer in the world – a reputation won, I might add,  over decades in the game –  Mr. Regie never stops marketing his business.  And, funnily enough, I don’t see him writing articles about being “undervalued”. Could there be a correlation?

Simply put, marketing is the most important activity any business undertakes. Because marketing, good marketing, is about acquiring and keeping clients. Without clients you don’t have a business, you only have a dream.

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A wedding shot I did in the analogue days. I shot this friend’s wedding for no fee. He paid for the film and all processing. I had a fun time (I would have been a guest, anyway) and the couple got a few quite-nice pics. This was one I was very happy with.

Ultimately, the market determines your real value. If you can’t get what you think you’re worth, maybe you’re not worth what you think you are. In which case you might want to consider an alternative source of income.

Successful photographers – in fact, successful people in general – don’t have the time or the inclination to write sob stories about how undervalued they are, they’re too busy doing what it takes to be successful in  the first place.

To see this principle in action, take a look at the website of Alex Koloskov, as well as his Photogy site. Alex is carving out a successful business for himself because not only is he a superb photographer with a passion for helping others, he also “gets” marketing.

I only know of him through his website and online activities, I don’t know him personally, but I’d put a dime or two on my belief that when clients approach him for a shoot, they don’t quibble too much about the price.

However, if a client pressurises you into doing a shoot for no money, and you feel as though you have no option but to acquiesce, here’s a  suggestion on how to handle it: Agree to do the shoot, but show up with just your cell phone and no other equipment (do not forewarn them you are going to do this). If the client demands you use “proper” equipment, tell them that that equipment has to pay its way and can only be used for paying clients, but you are prepared to slot in a quick “freebie”  using just your phone.

Whether they then agree to pay you for a “proper” shoot or not is immaterial; in their eyes your value has instantly risen exponentially, because you have made a stand and not backed down. They are unlikely to ask you for a freebie again.

In closing, if Dsvonko really wants to know what it’s like having one’s work devalued, he should try writing for living! Do you have any idea how much word processing software costs!? Not to mention my expensive education, and the courses  I have to take to stay ahead of the game. Then there are the dictionaries, thesauruses, grammar style guides, my computer and on and on and on…

I would write a blog post about it but I doubt I’d be paid for it…and no-one cares, anyway.

The Scaffolding Supplier’s Yard

This is the kind of place I love to photograph. I find so much visual interest and stimulation at industrial sites like this I could happily stay here the whole day. Patterns, textures, colours, angles…what more could you ask for? I took these photographs from a balcony overlooking the yard of a company that manufactures and hires out scaffolding for the building industry. There’s something about this yard, too, that brings to my mind paintings by the Venetian painter, Canaletto. It’s not that the yard looks like a Canaletto painting, but there’s just something about it that makes me think of some of his works.

Scaffolding Accroutements

Scaffolding can be thirsty work

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Scaffolding operationsNow I’m wondering if any of their product was used to erect  some, or all, of the grandstands at Kyalami racing circuit for big racing events  …

scaffolding for kyalamigrandstands… or on the Sandton, Johannesburg, construction site pictured below?

scaffolding at Sandton construction site© 2015. All images are copyright and may not be used without permission.
Please respect the rights of others.