Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Good Company

I've been shooting pictures for over 30 years. In that time I've bought and tried and sold many lenses. I sold my 135mm back in 1988, then bought another in 1989, then sold that one a few months later when I bought a 180mm. Two years ago I once again bought a 135mm and I'm keeping it. It's a great focal length for shooting in the city and makes a fine portrait lens.

The one lens I regretted getting rid of was my 28mm. I had moved to a fast 35mm lens and decided it was ideal for most of my work. But after several years I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something. So about ten years ago I bought a second hand 28mm f/2.8 and bingo! That few degrees of angle of view made a huge difference. I was back in my true visual comfort zone.

In the 1980s when I was shooting primarily color landscape and nature subjects the two lenses I used almost exclusively were a 20mm and a 180mm. I always had the 35mm with me, but 95% of my images were being made with the 20mm and 180mm.

Back in the city the 35mm lens was getting the most use, until the 28mm arrived. A few days ago I bought my third used 28mm lens. It's an old Nikkor from the 1950s when lenses were still measured in centimeters. This one is a 2.8CM f/2.8 that has been AI'd so it will couple with the index metering cuff on newer Nikons. So now I have two manual focus 28s and one auto focus, and I use them all constantly. They keep me close and pull in the surroundings giving me that important little extra bit of context.

Last year I read an interview with Bill Eppridge in the April issue of Rangefinder Magazine. It's a good interview and right off he says, "I'm a 28mm shooter." I read that and I thought, "How cool! So am I.

Photo: ©2010 David W. Sumner (Nikon N90s, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8D AF)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

People Can Die From "Exposure." Think About It.

My friend, photographer, John Agoncillo and I recently participated in brief online discussion about publishers who want free use rights to images. John and I both find this ridiculous. But later on I was still shaking my head over one notion that was mentioned that seems to me to fly in the face of all common sense.

There is a concept that some think is key to getting a foot hold in the business of selling their images. That concept is that "exposure" will lead to sales and assignments. They seem to believe that having an image published in a magazine, book or on the internet is free and effective publicity.

Think about it. If you want to sell use rights to your images you want art buyers and photo editors to see your images. You want art buyers and photo editors with budgets to see your images. Publications that expect photographers to grant use rights for the "exposure" they will receive for having an image printed in their magazine typically don't have budgets. Publications without budgets typically don't have wide circulations and generally are not the types of publication art directors, art buyers and editors comb through for ideas and new talent. Art buyers and editors aren't looking for "cheap," and they don't look at "cheap." They may look for inexpensive or reduced fees based on quantity or the promise of future business, but they are not looking for "cheap" or free. They understand the need to pay.

If you give away use rights for "exposure" then you are establishing "exposure" as a currency. You are telling the publishing world that is your rate. You work for "exposure." That is what clients will expect and you will be attractive to only those types of clients and their publications are where your work will be seen. And the people looking at those publications are not the people who will help further your career.

Establishing yourself as a source of "free" images does not demonstrate that you are interested in managing a serious business. It does not demonstrate that you consider your work to be of any real value. It does not demonstrate that you have any regard for own experience or dedication to your craft. It also does not demonstrate that you have any respect for the publishing business and those who have devoted their careers to shaping it.

You can't establish yourself as a professional without acting like a professional. Being professional means you don't work for free. "Exposure" doesn't lead to paying jobs. It only leads to more requests to work for "exposure," and that means free. Working for free isn't competitive, it doesn't even get you in the ballpark.

"Exposure" is worthless unless you, the photographer, control it from start to finish. If you choose to donate images or work to a non-profit, or for an educational program, or to an international relief organization you are doing a wonderful thing. But only a well thought out marketing plan developed and controlled by you will turn that "exposure" into income. This is your opportunity to play the "exposure" game by putting together a quality mailer or portfolio with tear sheets and a few testimonials, and put it in front of those choice and potential clients you really want to work for.

If you insist on working for "exposure" make it part of a precise plan. Know who you will offer your work to. Work with professionals and present yourself professionally. Let them know you too have expectations and that while you may not be charging a fee you do expect something in return: references, recommendations, referrals, reprints for your portfolios, consideration to negotiate fees for future jobs.

Be smart, be professional. Demonstrate some integrity and self respect and you will be treated like a professional, with dignity and respect.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"I'm not sure yet."

I'm working on a project. I've been photographing the American flag whenever I see it being flown or displayed. I've been making these photographs for quite a while and now there are times I see a flag and pass by knowing I have an image so similar that this one wouldn't add anything unique to the series.

Today, a friend of mine asked, "So what's this flag series all about?" I thought for a second then I said, "I'm not sure yet." And I'm not.

This isn't a unique project. Many other photographers have made long term projects of the same subject. I'm probably not presenting any original concept or questioning a pattern of behavior that hasn't already been thoroughly studied. But the fact that so many people feel compelled to display the flag intrigues me.

There are several terms I associate with the flag: unity, solidarity, patriotism, nationalism, imperialism. But there is another word that always comes to mind, and I attribute its position in the forefront of my thought to the fact that I grew up in the 1960s. That word is assassination. My memory holds vivid images of the flag draped coffins of those years. At that time the symbolism represented in the use and display of the flag was emphatically clear.

I don't know where this project will take me or what its outcome will be. What the flag represents and how people choose to use it seems to be a much more complicated issue today.

Photo: ©2010 David W. Sumner