Category Archives: commercial photography

Hahahahave Made It

If you remember my post on falling into work mode rather than fangirling at the red carpet, you’ll recall how unhappy I was with my resulting photographs due to bad decision making. Turns out the fans were not as critical as I was. Well, I weaved some post-production magic over the ten two images that were miiiiiildly acceptable and threw them out there. The old b/w trick worked particularly well, and it also helped that in the following image the subject was incidentally lit by the flash of someone else’s camera.

IMG_4896Still fuzzy and I am not talking about Mister’s stubble there. But a razor-sharp picture of the hair. Maybe Pantene will come calling?

I was laughing out loud today, though, and not entirely ironically when I saw that a fan had actually used my pic above to have an iPhone case printed. I have made it as a photographer! iPhone cases are only the start. I expect tote bags, coasters and t-shirts next.

The State of Portrait Photography, 1987

Recently, I posted a gem horror of a photograph of myself on my private FB. As was expected, the echo was deafening – remainders of a long gone past are always extremely entertaining to look at and invite much comment. And photography does it so well, transporting us back to the place and time where a picture was taken. No other medium can match that – film, although similar, has too much information between moving image and accompanying sound; painting or sculpture obscures the past by layering a veil of art over the documented subject; sound is not as potent as voices do not change that much over time. A photograph, however, puts us right there, back in October 1987, in a small town photo studio.

Sonja 1987

Moi and my twin, 1987

This was not my first visit to a photo studio in order to have a picture made of myself. As a baby and toddler my mum regularly took me to the then ubiquitous “Pixi Foto” studios that were the go-to places for having pictures of your children taken. On this occasion, the photos were intended as a Christmas present for my grandparents, and the local photographer was the professional of choice for the shoot.

It was a memorable experience and I thank the heavens that I was then not yet interested in photography as a career, cos by Cod – if I had decided to become an apprentice photographer then, my aesthetic sensibilities might have been traumatised by that time-warp of vignetted, artificial-pose cheesiness. Even though it doesn’t look it, I had dressed up for the occasion – freshly ironed green-and-white stripy blouse and my dark blue blazer. Invisible in this shot, the photographer actually matched the colour of the background – a translucent sheet of paper with some white latticing in front of it (the illusion of a lattice window, presumably) – by sticking a green gel in front of the light that illuminated the backdrop from behind.

We tried a number of poses – this is arguably the cheesiest one. I am casually lying on the ground, leaning on my left elbow. My blazer is artfully slung over my right shoulder just as you would do if you were lounging on the ground, all debonair. *coughs* Associations of posh Oxford students come to mind, enjoying a summer’s day out, punting on the Thames, picnic basket with a ice-cold bottle of champers at their feet and a few watercress sandwiches – no crust! – just out of sight. “I say, old boy! What a jolly day!”

Is this the ultimate cubist photography that has so far eluded me in my search for artistic expression? Because here we have not only my regal profile but also a near-frontal mirror image of my grin. All made possible by the clever inclusion of a *gasps* mirror. This has been cunningly disguised by some iridescent, clear plastic foil – the height of 1980s gift-wrapping fashion – which snakes its way over the mirror frame, all but disguising the brown wood. *fail*

Are you wondering about my elusive Mona Lisa-smile, full of hidden promise and infinite mystery? Well, there is a reason for that. You see, even at 17, I was already blind as a bat. Minus 4.5 dioptries, roughly. For the purpose of this shoot, the photographer actually sent me to the  local optician’s. Not to have a quick laser surgery of my failing eyes, but to borrow an identical set of my classic 1980s glasses – sans lenses! The clever photographer wanted to make sure there were no reflections from the flash on my specs. For clever read “lazy”! And thus, I lay there, practically blind, trying to react to the photographer’s direction. “Move your chin up a bit. Look towards you left. And now look at my camera through the mirror!” Her camera? Where the fuck was her camera? I could see feck-all in my imposed state of batty blindness. I could literally only grin and bear it. I mustered all the fake confidence a 17-year-old teenager has, applied what I thought was a fitting facial expression on my baby-fatted cheeks and showed some teeth, praying that this ordeal was going to be over, soon. Or at least before my hips and elbow were killing me from the awkward pose on the hard floor.

As was usual in those days, it took a good while for the photos to be developed and printed. No retouching, of course – just check that weird tan line on the edge of my jaw and cheek. I swear, it was the sun – spray tans did not exist in pre-history! When they finally came back, they were presented in a fancy, glossy pocket with embossed shiny gold lines and cut-out oval passepartouts. The apex of photographic presentation of the day. Practically ready to display on the mahogany integrated wall unit in the parental drawing room. This screamed “classy” from the sophisticated pose of the model to the exquisite display pocket. Boy, was this worth the 80 Deutschmarks or so we coughed up for it…

Luckily, this particular image was never deemed the highlight of the shoot by my parents, and thus never saw the light of the drawing room. It languished, forgotten and pardoned, in its pocket sleeve in the bureau-section of said mahogany wall unit. Until last weekend. With 25 years down the drain, I now love the involuntary humour of this shot. A case for AwkwardFamilyPhotos, if ever there was one. Maybe I should submit – I might go viral.

PS: Here is a little bonus story for all lovers of my fancy 1980s glasses, unconnected with photography, but too good to ignore. Big glasses with colourful plastic frames were the dernier cri back then. I always liked to make a statement with my specs, and so the funky blue frames really appealed to me when I chose them in the shop. Only I hadn’t realised quite *how* spectacular these specs were going to prove. – I had had them for a couple of months when I took them on their first outing to the local disco, “Infinity”, a bland, generic country-bumpkin hang-out generally known under its nickname “The Bunkerwhich is a pretty accurate description of its in- and exterior. (Yes, kids, the term “club” in those days was reserved for regular meet-ups of grey-haired ladies playing Bridge, a gaggle of stick-wielding hockey players, or dubious establishments where ladies of the night plied their trade. We knew our dance halls as “discotheques”, preferably in the ritzily sophisticated Francophone notation.) Anyhow, as we entered the disco, I could see a look of surprised horror crossing my companions’ countenances. They tried to conceal their sniggers, but the suspicion was raised. Turned out that my harmlessly blue plastic frames turned luminously bright-neon blue under the customary black-light in German provincial discos. AWKWARD! Suffice to say, my disco-dancing days were over until the fashion in specs changed…

Food Photography

Despite my generous proportions, I am really not that much of a foodie, myself. I eat to live, I suppose, but food preparation has never been one of my interests or fortes. Given the chance, I would probably not cook at all, hateful, hateful bane of my housewife-ly existance *hisses*. And hence, food photography has never been a particular interest of mine, either.

But photographers are not picky when it comes to jobs. We take what we can get, and on the back of the photographic high we will get enthusiastic about pretty much everything that gets popped in front of our lens. Ok, I draw the line at mug-shots of criminals or politicians (pretty much one and the same species), but whether it is photographing a GP clinic, producing marketing material for designer blankets or providing portfolio shots for make-up students – I enjoy it all. But the shoot I did for my friend Ellen of Splendor – Cakes and More literally made my mouth water as well as get my creative juices flowing.

Ellen had been asked to submit a cake design to *the* industry magazine for sugarcraft professionals which only considers photographs of professional standard for their magazine. A case for Marky Mark and Sonja… The difficulty with shoots like this is that they need to be done on location – cakes don’t really travel that well. So armed with reflector, tripod, collapsible softbox and flash we set up a temporary studio in Ellen’s kitchen. Well, house, more like, as the shoot quickly spread to other rooms in her house in order to find well-lit areas where I could get atmospheric shots of the cake. Tricky: The cake was white and reflective, glittering bronze and gold. The backdrop needed to be muted in colour, i.e. white, really. We styled and photographed for at least two and a half hours. A nice collaborative exercise in which the art direction was with Ellen.

The result were about 250 photos, close-ups and full-size shots, all sorts of angles, three or four set-ups. In the end I opted to shoot with natural light only as the softbox did not fit our “studio space” and the unfiltered flash was too harsh. On the plus side, the hues came out pretty realistically, so the post-production was easier. The photos had to be edited down to a tenth of the total, which Ellen then had to choose her final submission from to send in. Both cake and standard of photography found the editors’ approval, and the Valli-inspired cake made it into the magazine and onto a double spread. And this is the mouth-watering work of art:

cake central tearsheet

Tearsheet from Cake Central Magazine, September 2013

If food looks that good – I’ll have no problem with food photography! Congrats to Ellen for making it into Cake Central Magazine!

PS: These cakes actually taste as good as they look.

Copyright Rant

Those of you who follow this blog from my personal FB my recognise the quote that I am about to post in 2picsaweek today.

“I personally think giving credit is the right thing to do. However, I have an issue with people who put their watermarks in obtrusive places.”

The issue of “giving credit” set off a bit of a rant for me. I have to explain that the statement in the quote was made in context of non-photography related blogging, and my now following rant was a direct reaction to the fact that countless bloggers were re-posting images from which they had painstakingly removed the prominently placed watermarks. I am aware that I am preaching to the converted here on this platform – most of my readers are probably involved in or at least sensitised towards issues of photography, anyway. You are about to read a plea for respecting copyright and for the reasons why it is not just a matter of fairness to credit and pay for the use of images. If only one new reader finds something new in this, I am vindicated in having climbed onto my soapbox.

Watermarks of a different kind

Those of you who are familiar with this blog may have noticed that I only ever use my own images as illustration for my posts. The reason for that is not me being overly confident of my work or using 2picsaweek as an exclusive platform for showing my own stuff. It is merely a reaction to copyright rules that force me to do so. Occasionally, that becomes awkward in the context of 2picsaweek, for instance, when I am reviewing an exhibition and I illustrate the post with a picture of my own, and not from the show in question. For me, that is the easiest way of avoiding copyright issues – although, I could probably get permission from the exhibition organisers in question to re-post an image – after all, it appears in promo material on other sites and publications, too. Strictly speaking, however, I may not use someone else’s image in any public forum without prior permission of the copyright holder. Legal particularities vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but in general a photograph belongs to the creator for ever and may not be republished without permission. That does not mean that you always have to pay for the use of an image, but considering that photographers make their money with images, using a photograph without permission is equal to theft.

This is the case in particular when looking at the work of press photographers. They tend to be freelancers who only make money if they not only *get* the shot but also *get it out* fast. However glamourous this profession may seem to you – seeing celebrities up close, attending media events, getting free entry into openings etc. – it is a very hard job, both physically and mentally, in a very competitive market. You have to be a fast worker with enough instinct to know where to catch the celebs. You need to be well-connected to be at the important events. You have to be technically more than proficient to produce relevant images under pressure, in confined space, within a short time-span. You have to have use of the appropriate equipment for making the picture and for sending it on asap. You also have to have the ability to engage with your subjects so that *they* engage with your camera. This is a highly-skilled, fast-paced, multi-tasking job. And it does not pay particularly well. You’ve got to love what you do in order to endure the waiting, the late nights, the scrum in the press pit, the rejection, the uncertainty of your monthly income.

All too often I hear people saying things along the lines of “ah sure, they are just pressing a button, *anyone* could do that”. Wrong. There is much more to press photography than simply releasing the shutter. And the fact that occasionally an amateur gets lucky with a coincidentally snapped image that makes the front pages is merely an exception that proves the rule. In order to *consistently* produce useable press images you need much more than fluke (see above). The industry is notoriously secretive about its prices. They generally depend on which size of image you need and what the circulation of your publication is. But consider the expenses that the photographer has for making that image:

  • Photography is an equipment-based profession. To produce images that reach industry-standard requirements, photographers have to invest in cameras that cost from € 3500/$ 4000 *upwards*! And this is not a once-off but a regularly recurring expense as the camera hardware needs to be updated on a regular basis!
  • Camera accessories are effing expensive but indispensable: A camera flash will set you back from € 500/$ 550 upwards. Studio equipment is even more expensive. You need strobes, reflectors, softboxes, shades, tripods, stands, backdrops…
  • You have to invest in insurance to keep your working tools safe and to protect yourself from damages you may incur while on your job. This will cost you several hundred Dollars/Euro per year.
  • Stationary hardware: Part of the photographic package is the production of a carefully edited and post-produced final image of a shoot. You have to have the appropriate computer hardware (exclusive Apple Mac being the machine of choice in the graphic professions;  starting from € 1000/$1300) and software (Adobe Photoshop – full version costs in the region of €700/$800). Security software and storage facilities (whether in-cloud or hardware-based) also add to the cost.
  • Transport cost: Particularly as a press photographer you are travelling to “where it’s at”. This could be just a walk down the block – but it might be a plane-ride away.
  • And all that before we talk about the educational investment in photography. A degree in photography will set you back from €15.000/$18.000 for tuition. The experience gleaned in the field is not quantifiable but certainly should also be remunerable. As is the actual time that a photographer spends on the assignment – after all, you would also pay a plumber by the hour…

Do you see how it all adds up? You have to sell many, many pictures at €50 each in order to make ends meet at the end of the month… And it applies just as much to portrait photographers, stock photographers, or fine art photographers. All of them have made the above investments in their work. To not acknowledge that is to cheat them. Thus, I am advocating the fair use of photography in digital media. A photograph is the product of an individual’s hard labour. You may use it for your own enjoyment for free, after all it is visible online or in a magazine, but if you are using it to make money with it, you need permission to use it, and you should pay for it.

Having said all that – by and large the photographs that I see posted on blogs every day are not used to make money. They are used for the entertainment of the readers, or for illustration purposes. It can be argued that they will spread the photographer’s name. But that is only the case if the photographer is credited. So wherever possible, as an act of fairness, credit should be given to the creator of any image. I am not advocating that that is *all* you need to do. Asking for permission should be the starting point. And considering to pay for the use of an image should be considered standard practice. But crediting is the least we can do to acknowledge the hard work and the monetary investment that has been put into images.

Rant over.

Dropbox vs. Sendspace

Yoohoo, I did a job. Well, a small one, anyway. A start-up company in the area of interior design needed visuals for their marketing materials had been looking for a photographer. The early bird certainly catches the worm – I was the first bird to reply to their mail and thus got the job. I’ll write about the shoot another time. Today they dropped in to pick up their images which they had requested to be burnt on disc.

How do you normally pass on images? In the interest of recycling and the environment, I am a great believer in paper-less communication. So I actually prefer passing on images via dropbox or sendspace. Unless you maintain a website with access-restricted viewing areas that you can invite customers to, individually, Sendspace and Dropbox are probably a better, quicker and environmentally friendlier way of getting images to a client. They are both services free of charge but they have different strengths and weaknesses. Dropbox essentially is a cloud storage service. You can sign up for a free account on which you open folders. Into these you then upload files which you can share with specific people, keep entirely private or share with everyone. For the latter two options you create individual links that get sent to the people you want to share the documents and files with. (This works with soundfiles as much as with text or image files.)

Dropbox has a couple of drawbacks, however. Upon initial signing up for the free service you receive a limit of storage space of 2GB. This can be extended to a maximum of 18GB – you receive an extra 500MB per new sign-up you refer to Dropbox. Not that much, considering how big photo files are. – The second drawback is the fact that your clients need to sign up to Dropbox in order to access the files you have stored for them there. While this is a great way for you to collect more storage space, it doesn’t really look that great to a client.

Sendspace is better in that respect – there is no sign-up required to make use of this service. However, that is because Sendspace is not a cloud storage provider as such. Essentially Sendspace allows you to send big attachments with a message. Like Dropbox, you upload your files into Sendspace’s cloud; once uploaded you can forward the images via a specially created link. Great: The service is free and no sign-up is necessary. Neither do your clients have to sign up for anything. The drawback: Free users have a file limit of 500MB. You may have to zip files before using Sendspace, thus creating an extra step in your workflow.

Maybe the good old disc is the way to go? My clients wanted a “hard” copy of the images rather than download the files onto their devices. That left me with a little packaging dilemma. I really do not like those plastic CD cases. (Again the goody-two-shoes environmental issue). And yet you need to pass on CDs safely and nicely – as a bit of advertising for yourself, I suppose. But fret not, while I am on my little Queen-of-the-Internet lecture here, I’ll let you in on a nice little secret. Instead of fiddling around with inDesign or some other programme to create a CD envelope, I simply use a website that offers loads of free, handy imaging tools. is the magic site. You choose a cover image, upload it to the site, add a title and your business information. Click and the CD cover template is created. All you need to do is cut it out, fold it and stick your CD in. Boom.

Any secrets on “postage and packaging” you would like to share? Always interested!

Fashion Victim

Actually, I am not. A fashion victim. Rather the opposite – I am never too sure what is on trend and what isn’t. And that is one of the reasons why I was never particularly interested in fashion photography. Just like couture, I always thought it wasn’t for me. Until I started assisting on fashion shoots with my fellow diploma-students Cristian Turcan and Eilish McCormick. I realised that fashion photography is by no means all pouts-frocks-and-white-background but can be a mini-narrative in one shot. And so I finally pushed myself to try a fashion shoot myself.
I will admit that the opportunity for this shoot fell into my lap, really. I was assisting my friend Karl Burke last week. Jeeez, sorry, is this turning into a name-dropping post? Well, then wait for the next piece of info… Our model was the stunning Joanne who has been one of the final 13 on Britain & Ireland’s Next Top-Model. She is looking to complete her portfolio and suggested we do a little shoot together. Guess who jumped at the chance…
To make things easy for ourselves, we made this a two-women-show. Joanne did the styling and make-up herself, I organised lighting and location. And off we went. We shot for about three hours one evening, trying to squeeze as many different set-ups out of my living room and drawing room as we could. I tried to keep the lighting simple – one softbox did the trick, occasionally only supported by a backlight onto the backdrop to get rid of shadows.
There is still a lot to learn for me, but mainly, we had fun on this shoot – trying different backgrounds and clothes and how they worked together. Joanne is a total pro – offering poses without prompting, moving and looking natural, suggesting set-ups and backgrounds. Nonetheless a shoot always takes a toll and I only noticed after we had called it a night, how mentally exhausting the process of creating an editorial is. Concentration on lighting, background, styling, poses, facial expression. Releasing the shutter is the smallest part, really. I could get into it – if I always had great sitters like Joanne.


My post number one for this week comes with a delay – because I have been very busy on my first commercial assisting job. We are half way through our three-day shoot, and it has been a most instructive job so far. 
I am assisting UK-based photographer John Wildgoose on a big corporate shoot that involves both stills photography and videoing. The client and creative director have flown in from the US for employee interviews and corporate headshots which will feature on the company website. It is my first time seeing a big professional job in action – and learning all that goes along with setting up for a rather big shoot. 
All of day one was spent setting up a rather complicated set. In order to facilitate a fast schedule, the set had to be lit both for the stills and the video interviews. This meant setting up and lighting for the tungsten-lit videoing and the flash-lit stills in front of one backdrop. Working with a new kit was quite confusing at first – so one basic requirement of being an assistant is to be flexible, to think quickly and to adapt to whatever is being thrown at you. Myself and fellow gimp assistant Tim had never worked with the particular gear but managed to set everything up as required. 
Then came the light metering for the stills. I stepped in as a meter slut model and John worked out the settings through some test shots. At the same time the tethered shooting was tested, too. The program he uses is called Capture One. It organizes and edits the shots. What is really cool, though, is an inbuilt feature that lets you feed shots wirelessly onto the client’s or creative director’s iPad or iPhone. So images get approved quickly while the CD is not sitting on top of the photographer or assistant but at a safe distance…
It’s been a great experience so far – seeing how the photographer works together with the creative director and the client, how he directs the models and communicates with the assistants and the sound guy, who records the video sound separately. This is the way to learn really. While college is providing the theoretical background, introducing us to other photographers’ work, setting us challenging assignments and pushing us to try different genres, assisting at a pro shoot teaches us the practical stuff: organising a shoot efficiently from call sheet to actual shoot, creating a logical and fast workflow, introducing us to the necessary best practices and the commercially used software and hardware. And best of all: There is no fee for learning all this but I am actually getting paid for it. Win-win!