by Harry Flashman
Making a small fortune out of photography
There is only one totally accepted way of making a small fortune out of
professional photography - and that is to start with a large one.
However, even amateur photographers can make some money with their
cameras, but they have to understand the marketplace first. It is no
good trying to sell a beautifully exposed photo of hydroponic tomatoes
growing to a magazine called the Pig Breeder’s monthly.
My advice to the weekend snapper is to research the market and only
after this see what is wanted, against what you have, or intend to
Research is not too difficult or onerous, it is just a case of looking
at magazines in the shops (forget the Pig Breeder’s monthly, they’re not
buying this month). After that, look at advertisements in newspapers as
well as magazines, and you will soon get an idea of what the marketplace
is interested in. All that research needs to be done before you even
think about the hardware (cameras) you are going to need.
My advice to anyone starting off is to look for magazines and brochures
that cover travel. Look at the stock photos of palm trees leaning out
over the water from a tropical beach. Seen one, seen them all, but you
should try and get some shots like that for your own portfolio.
Next in the travel pic grab bag are ceremonies. The Vegetarian
ceremonies that include demented people sticking rods through their
cheek and tongues will always have a market somewhere - and they have
these ceremonies in Thailand, so you are miles ahead of your brother
photographers in Europe, who only get castles and woods in winter.
In fact, the tropical lifestyle will always be a ready market for good
photographs. Note that I said “good”, snapshots are very rarely “good”
The saffron clothed monks remain ideal subjects, especially as you can
get one on the corner of your street any morning. Just don’t intrude. A
long lens is best for those sorts of pictures. Of course, the temples
themselves offer the photographer endless subjects to photograph. But
try to get a different viewpoint of a very well photographed subject.
All the images mentioned above must also have another common feature.
They must be well exposed and sharp as a tack. Art directors or
photo-editors may need to enlarge the image, by 100 percent or even
more. You must be 100 percent sure that the subject of the photograph is
in focus. Near enough is not good enough! If you are shooting medium
format, you can generally expect to get sharp pictures, but the lenses
on modern 35 mm equivalent are more than adequate.
That brings me to the next ‘must have’ piece of equipment - a good heavy
tripod. You will always get sharper pictures with the camera locked onto
a strong tripod. The el cheapo light aluminium things are quite useless
for the job you will want of them. I have used a Manfrotto for 30 years
and it is still good, despite the scratches that they get from plane
holds, rail travel and going twice around the world. Get a good one and
don’t try and cheat yourself with the bottom of the market ones.
Similarly, while chasing sharpness, you must have some good lenses,
otherwise your work is compromised before you begin. I am not going to
join the debate about after-market lenses. Some of them, I am sure, are
excellent - but not all of them. I have stuck with original prime lenses
and have never been disappointed.
The final item is to contact the magazines that you think might like
your stuff (other than the Pig Breeders Monthly). Be prepared for no
response, but if your work is good enough, you will (eventually) sell
some images. As an amateur you are not going to make a million, but some
pocket money is always fun!
Reading books can help your photography
A new way to look at food.
“You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was an advertising slogan coined
by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak in 1888. He was the rightful
father of popular photography, having brought it to the masses. However,
the images were not of a professional standard. That came much later.
There are many ways to become a ‘good’ photographer. In Europe there are
professional photographers that will let you work for a pittance and you
pick up the rudiments of professional photography by watching and
assisting. The drawback is the fact that you get paid very little and
you will starve out on your own as a professional.
There are photography schools you can study with, sending images via
email for a tutor to comment on your photograph and what you should do
to improve it. This does work for some people, but you need a lot of
dedication. You also get time limits placed on each segment of the
course. Lots and lots of dedication!
However, there is another way - read books on the subject. This you can
do at your own pace, but you do have to become critical of your own
work. “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was OK for 1888, but not in
There is a misconception that with the advent of digital photography and
applications like Photoshop, anything relating to film does not matter
any more. Let’s get rid of that one first - let me tell you that
everything related to taking photographs is just the same today as it
was pre-digital. The only real difference is that you get instant
results with digital cameras. The rest is just the same. Even
photo-manipulation was done, and before Mr. Photoshop!
A frame within a frame.
One book that I found invaluable in the early 80’s was written by
professional photographer Michael Busselle, a man who had been through
the learning process in his pursuit of a career in photography
consisting mainly of assistant positions with various London photography
studios, culminating in the opening of his own studio in Covent Garden
in the early 1960s. He then began to write books on photography and one
of those was The Photographer’s Weekend Book (ISBN 0-86134-033-7,
Artists House, 1982).
The concept was to make photography a source of enjoyment for the
amateur photographer and a “leisure-time pursuit that can stimulate,
infuriate, be totally absorbing, or while away an odd hour.”
Busselle shows how to do all that by giving room for 101 projects for
the new photographer to try. These projects range from simple easy ones
called Camera Effects like focusing effects, using mirrors, colored
lights and even UV light. Later in the book he goes into a Subject Idea
file including City lights, food, animal pictures, the urban landscape,
markets and street life and a children’s playground.
The next section is called Style and Approach with projects for bad
weather, romantic glamor, frames within frames, silhouettes,
photographic patterns, high key photographs, low key photographs, bold
color, shooting contre jour, wide angle, telephoto, and more with the
final section dealing with Special Assignments which includes dramatic
skies, abstract nudes, sunsets through to such things as physiograms and
photographs for décor.
Now, why I like this book of Busselle’s is that he just doesn’t mention
a technique or project, but he illustrates it with several photos as
well as describing what and how with each section or project. He shows
how a still life bench should be and how to use it with the lighting
By describing what he does and showing the results he gets means that
this is a perfect learning tool for the interested amateur.
So that’s the good news, the bad news is that now being 33 years old, it
will be out of print. However, I am sure Amazon dot com could find a
copy for you. It is worthwhile searching for.
Turning back the clock
would all like to turn the clock back, and for more than just cosmetic
reasons. There are those people in the world who have been exploring the
technologies of yester year, and in the 189 years of photography there have
been plenty of technological changes. And I include the digital evolution,
but there were plenty of technological breakthroughs before that.
Looking at a historical overview of the birth of photography and its
progress, the initial plaudits went to France. Did you know that the French
were the first to bring photography to the world? And no, it wasn’t somebody
called Francois Kodak either (but more about that later)!
The first known “photographic” image was recorded in 1826 by a French
gentleman called Nicephore Niepce. He managed to capture the view from his
window, producing the image on a bitumen covered pewter plate. The exposure
time for this epic making picture (or should that be “epoch” making?) was a
record breaking eight hours! What took poor old Nicephore eight hours to
produce, you can do in 1/125th of a second.
Monsieur Nicephore then teamed up with another Frenchman, Louis Jacques
Mande Daguerre (1759–1851) and the pair of them worked on trying to make
“photography” a little bit easier. Nicephore expired in 1833, turning up at
the pearly gates with his pewter plates under his arm, but Daguerre
continued in his quest of the Holy Grail, or to photograph it, if nothing
else, even though he was by then 73 years old.
By 1839 when he was 80 years old, he had managed to produce images on highly
polished silvered copper plates and released the details in August of that
year, but only after obtaining a lifetime pension for himself from the
French Government. Daguerre was no dunce! Neither was the French government,
as it knew with Monsieur Daguerre being 80, the “lifetime” would not last
Now while these images were much better than Nicephore’s originals, they
still took forever in the camera. Exposure times were far too long to make
portraiture a reality. “Just hold zat pose for six hours, Madame!”
However, while the French were exposing themselves and their plates to the
sun, an Englishman by the name of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) was
experimenting exposing silver impregnated paper and produced the first
“negative”. By then exposing his sensitized paper to the negative he had
made previously, he managed to produce positive copies. Now, more than one
image could be made from the one photographic session. Think about it, this
was ground-breaking stuff.
However, Fox Talbot did nothing about his new process until he heard from
France about Louis Daguerre’s “invention”. In the same year (1839) he then
rushed into print with details of his process. This was the start of modern
Exposure times were still an hour or so, but in 1840 the simple photographic
lens was improved by Josef Petzval allowing 16 times more light into the
camera and exposure times dropped to around 4 to 5 minutes. Portraiture had
arrived! The impact of Petzval on photography is often forgotten, but his
improvement to the optical lens had actually much more of an effect than the
slow improvements in the sensitivity of the film plates of the day.
For the next four decades photographers spent their time refining the
“negative” process; however, it took an American to bring photography within
the reach of the masses. His name was George Eastman (1854 - 1932) and he
was an inventor and an industrialist.
In 1888 he introduced the small box camera with a 100 exposure roll film
inside, but he was unsure of what to call it. The marketing gurus (yes, they
had them in those days) told Eastman that a good catchy name should have K’s
in it. And so “Kodak” was born. Two K’s had to be better than one!
From there it was really refinement of the silver halide processes and then
color negatives, until the digital era came upon us, in which we stand right
now. The next round of advances will certainly not take 189 years, I can
Cameras that work as phones will be refined and “connected”. The brave new
world is here.
How to have a grey day
Are your photographs coming out grey? No really strong blacks or whites any
more? Black cars turning out as grey cars? White cats turning into grey
cats? Could be your whites are not balanced properly.
Now, I know that your fancy DSLR has a drop down menu that includes “white
balance”. This is not something new or magically electronic, the principles
involved in white balance have been the same since photography was invented.
If you use an automatic camera (film or digital) set on A (for “amnesia”)
then the chances are very high that you ended up with a grey car and a grey
cat. Very highly likely. The reason for this is poor white balance,
expressed as the magic photographic number known as 18 percent grey!
All photographers should become acquainted with the color known as 18
percent grey. Why? Because after you understand 18 percent grey, you have
complete control over blacks and whites in your photographs - and by that, I
mean in color photography, not just the black and white kind.
The really dedicated photo buffs will recognize 18 percent grey as being the
cornerstone of the “Zone System” and the famed photographer Ansel Adams
superb prints are trotted out with sage mutterings that if you understood
the zone system, then your photos would look like his too. This is, of
course, frog spawn. Ansel Adams spent many hours painstakingly printing his
B&W work, specifically burning in some areas, holding back others and if you
think he didn’t then think again.
However, here is the “short course” on the Zone System. What you have to
remember at all times is just the simple fact that the meter in your camera
is set to know what is 18 percent grey, and is programmed to produce as much
18 percent grey as possible. In other words, point the camera at your
subject and the meter will work out a combination of shutter speed and
aperture to give an exposure to get the whole shot as close to 18 percent
grey as possible.
Back to digital photography. All digital cameras, straight from the box, are
set to automatically correct white balance, but it doesn’t always work well.
What part of the shot is actually white? One camera correspondent did not
give up, he then used white balance lens caps and set the white balance
manually. His manual results were a bit better, but still not good enough in
tricky lighting situations (like tungsten illumination, for example). Then
he used an 18 percent grey card to preset white balance and got the best
results. The image using the grey card needed no post-camera color
correction, and the colors were the most true to life. The grey cat really
was a black cat!
So what to do? You can go into your digital camera’s menu and find the
‘white balance’ and then set it on pre-set or manual and focus the camera on
an 18 percent grey card (very cheap at large photo shops) and snap away from
there. The results should be better than those from the auto white balance.
The next step I recommend is to bracket your shots, giving different
exposure settings, depending upon whether you are trying to photograph a
white cat or a black cat. Remember that when you are photographing the white
cat the exposure indicated by the camera is the one that will make the white
color 18 percent grey. To get the color back to white it will need more
Let us imagine that your camera tells you that the exposure should be f 16 @
1/60th of a second. You need more light in the camera, so make your exposure
f 11 @ 1/60th and another at f 8 @ 1/60th. That gives you both one and two
full stops of light more. One of those two will give you a white cat,
irrespective of such fancy terms as automated multi-phasic metering, center
weighted metering or whatever.
When photographing the black car, do the reverse. Put the camera in metered
manual mode and then set the camera for one and two stops less light than
indicated. It works!