Stuff I think about

Times are bad? Or people pushing their luck? Or both?

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on March 12, 2009

Someone called me for my daily rates a few days ago, and I promptly quoted my normal figure that has been unchanged for the past 6 years. This person promptly asked me for my half-day rates, and I promptly halved it, (that’s a big mistake, costs of business never work out proportionally). Then the caller finally asked me if I could charge half-day rates for a certain number of hours over a couple of days (How ridiculous can it get?)

Does the caller even know how long it takes the photographer and team to set up and style the set for the shoot? Set-up and styling are part of the photography hours, for that amount of time each session that’s been requested it wouldn’t be possible to do anything properly. I hope the caller’s just trying to push his luck.

Any usual photo session won’t take anywhere less than three hours (unless it is a mass shoot set, and each shot may take about 10 minutes for portraits in a portrait studio). A tailor-made photo-shoot can hardly be completed in two hours.

And how about the back end post production work that photographers have to do? The general ratio for photography and post-shoot work is 1:3, every hour spent on photography equates to 3 hours of computer work. How would pictures even be right without this important step? It’s important that photographers complete this step themselves before anyone else lay their fingers on the images.

So in reality, one day’s shoot equates to 4 working days or 32 man-hours worth of work. It’s good money for a good amount of work without the financial burden of a permanent employee.

Digital photography is good, it makes the transition of photography from camera into various mediums quick and easily available. However many users don’t seem to know how to charge for work since the digital media for submission costs only a dollar. Damage well done. No film costs involved, but so much more work! The instancy of digital photography itself is a cost to be borne into the fees involved. Polaroids are instant, and it costs anywhere between $2.50 to $3 per click and pull on Fuji FP100C instant film packs.

Getting undercut is one thing, in the long run no side benefits from it; photographers won’t be able to upgrade and update their equipment as quickly, and clients don’t get the full benefit from the technological advancements for quality work. Unlike photography on film-the equipment hardly gets outdated, same quality of images are achieved every time, drum scanners are high quality, providing image data of at least 25mp.

Times are bad? Or did people make times bad? Or people pushing their luck? Or all of the above?

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Now a quick one

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on March 5, 2009

So the past few entries probably seemed pretty pessimistic, but that’s just what had passed. I’ve been embracing the technology all the while, just that I feel extremely nostalgic over the good things learnt and some good things lost. Good things have to give way to better things, no?

I’m quite grateful for HDR, it really gives me the option to make images impossible to do if not for its existence. This coupled with photoshop is formidable, for once I don’t see this function to be like opium, but like coffee. 😀

Good images, Bad images

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on February 26, 2009

I’ve been told before many times there’s primarily two kinds of images, a good image and a bad image. It makes life helluva difficult, and I think distinguishing good images and bad images can be quite difficult now. Often I find it hard to truthfully fulfill the primary mission of an image–that is, to tell a story. What story is it telling? Or is it just pretending to tell a story?

Image editing softwares (e.g. Photoshop, etc), The opium of photography

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on February 24, 2009

I’ve been spending so much time in front of the computer adjusting and toning images I can’t help but say that photoshopping images is like smoking opium. It’s not exactly good for the smoker (likewise, its not exactly good for the photographer) but it kills pain and provides the user with relief (likewise, it saves or improves the images), and eventually gets you addicted while the vendors make huge chunks of money from the dependence on it, (likewise, you feel the need to use it so that your clients see that you spend more than just the time clicking the shot, more time spent on the images and your time is money.)

Isn’t image editing softwares like opium? It’s not good, but it isn’t bad either. Dependence on it kills some physical skills and technical abilities, and opium makes the user sick and dependent on relief and strength to work.

If opium (or the image editing softwares) is well used it is full of capabilities and endless possibilities.

Photography today through my eyes (3)

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on February 18, 2009

A decade ago in school I was given the chance to use commercial digital photography equipment and was taught the new edge in photography. It was quick, it was instant, but it was cumbersome, at that point of time it was only good in the studio–it has to be tethered to a computer.

It was new tools and new ways of doing something old and I felt like a country bumpkin for a couple of weeks.

The digital images were somehow appealing on screen but something was amiss, at that point of time I don’t know why, though at a later stage I finally decided that I had been watching too much television. The images often were tonally flat. Just like how watching a movie in a cinema from projected film and how watching the same movie on a television screen is different, though televisions are better today with high definition flatscreens. Watching a film in a cinema is simply a different experience aside from the plot of the film.

I’m always in pursuit for technical formidability in photography, and in the midst of it I’m always caught up with one question regarding personal signature style and technical character (or flaws and shortcomings), whether signature styles likes most in technical character, or signature style in a broad palette of techniques applied aesthetically. It may all be how well it works for all there is, but where do I really decide? If a photographer stops at any particular technical character that is his signature style, wouldn’t that mean a halt in progression?

Commercial photography is never a one man show, it involves a whole team of dedicated people behind it. In my opinion the most important factor is to get the synergy of the team, that gets the show running properly. Credit belongs to the team, never any individial alone.

Photography today through my eyes (2)

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on February 7, 2009

I’ve been going lots and lots of magazines recently looking through the color images and the monochromatic ones. Strangely enough the images may be very well styled, very well composed and very well post-processed, something is still amiss. As I went on it struck me that the post-process (ie photoshop) is the culprit. Many photographers today shoot according to how they’re going to manipulate an image, (often composition is negligible too) so desirable images for manipulation have a very narrow dynamic range. This translates to having gray images in a monochrome working environment. More than a decade ago I’d been reprimanded by my teachers and mentors in black and white classes in the past for producing gray images. At first I thought its my printing technique in the darkroom and I started cranking up the magenta filter on the enlarger, but it doesn’t solve the problem sufficiently. So I went on to improve my dodging and burning techniques, that makes a better image, but it still looks flat and gray despite having increased the number of tones in the image. So what was wrong? It was lighting. The cause of it: It was how I made use of any light available for shooting my pictures. Back then I didn’t care about how light was observed, but then on I decided to observe lighting more carefully.

Doesn’t it work better? All I needed to do was to shoot proper, minimise back end work for corrections. (Worse still, many do resort to doing such manipulation to pictures to such its being mangled and it gets passed on as creative work. Well yeah, creative indeed, a creative way to go around a mistake. Wouldn’t it be better if it’s well done, and wouldn’t the creative work be even better!?) In digital, when well done, that’s savings for photographer and client! In a dollar for dollar sense, the photographer saves his own time, clients gets the images early. It’s only right that the photographer’s formidable skill should be in his photographic technique and be paid for his skills.

My own standard for an image to make the cut is simple. Styling and other artistic input/direction aside, it must work well as a color image, as well in monochrome (black and white). Wouldn’t I be shortchanging my creative team if the models, makeup artists, hair stylists, clothing stylists, art directors, etc, who’ve put in all the great work when I’m only there to compose and snap the picture?

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on February 2, 2009

Some days ago a new friend whom I made recently asked me out for coffee and a chat about the creative industry in Singapore…it’s ironic that Singapore is a good place to set up a business. Well I can only say this, while we have all the necessary basic infrastructure to support businesses, the working society here doesn’t pay the due compliments, worse still, some even fail to pay due respect to people involved in team projects. I was aware of that but wasn’t quite sure how to put it. It really got me thinking where we have a civilised society or simply a non-barbaric mercenary society, it’s certainly not the gracious society we’re supposed to be in, much less the gracious society that we’re supposed to be building.

Whatever happened to the courtesy campaigns? Or that we just selectively forget everything that the government preached?

Photography today through my eyes

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on January 29, 2009

Having been a photographer for the past countless years I hate to say that the promotion of conceptual art/photography has spurred a whole new artform in Singapore (and probably in other parts of the world too), it is neither good nor bad, but the objective is no longer just the images, but the content in the images. Contrary to post-modern thought, an image is an image, not what the contents hold. Richard Avedon quoted something which I find rather parallel to this point -”All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.

Having digital photography around doesn’t help more than producing countless images and seeing the results instantaneously. It seems that the skills and camera handling have become obsolete, but really it does not, and it still plays a big part in the process by reducing the amount of digital trash or unused portions, and hence reducing cost in storage of raw images. As the saying in Bahasa goes, “Sedikit sedikit, lama-lama jadi bukit!” (A little here and a little there, and soon you’ll have accumulated a mountain full of it!) It may not seem any relevant at instant, just wait till a couple of years later with regular shooting, the end user might find several terabyte harddisks full of images, and surely a pain to go through however good the organization of the data can be. In the same situation with film photography would result in cabinets and cabinets full of transparencies, negatives and prints put away in archive. Fortunately the virtue of making every shot count in the earlier days, so having too much to archive wasn’t a big problem. We do have a luxury to shoot more images now, but that shouldn’t mean being trigger happy is a sure way of getting the winning image.

An observation I’ve made over the past few years till now is how people perceive their own surroundings how well forgotten the sunlight is to everyone, it is practically taken for granted. In the past months of December 2008 and January 2009 we have experienced in Singapore the perfect weather, fantastic sunlight and cerulean blue skies but yet I haven’t seen many people make use of that quality available to make pictures (I hope it is just me, because it is the perfect time for architectural photography.) It is not totally true that the late morning sun through midday and early afternoon is not ideal for photography. When making pictures of people at such a time, be sure to have your reflector handy to even out any undesired shadows. An ordinary and easily forgotten street scene would look stunningly glamorous during the right time of the day with the desired position of the sun, even with the sun blazing fiercely overhead.

Who says sunlight is harsh? Honestly speaking with no reservations made here, sunlight is the best light and it has a certain quality that surpasses all commercially available lights and light modifiers out there in the market, and lighting manufacturers all strive to produce light with a quality and intensity like that of sunlight, something that HMI and HID lighting have done very well. Often we see this type of lighting used in the showcases of apparel chains and higher end department stores here, replacing the once popular dichroic halogen lamps. Photography lighting manufacturers do well in promoting their range of expensive lighting modifiers, umbrellas and softboxes that almost everyone using their products would achieve the same effect without fail, as seen in today’s available commercial photography. A side note: commercially available strobe lighting used as a bare bulb or with a simple reflector dish does produce a similar result but with a different color temperature.

All being said, with the world economy collapsing, good images can still be produced, and all it takes is an open mind, less of a mind on what camera and lighting to use but what to photograph.

Disclaimer: This post is purely on my own opinions and it does not represent the views anyone else.

Snippets of random thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on January 24, 2009

Design is a plan and it is a plan for a better life. This being said, was a crystallisation of my thoughts some years ago whilst preparing a friend for a grilling session by the design council.

Creativity plays a part in design but often or often not, design fuses practicality, ergonomics and aesthetics. Last night at Rojak 13 it struck me that good work comes not with money in its objective but with the purpose of fulfilling one’s ethical role as a designer. This brings me to another point, when there’s so many design houses in Singapore…how many of them are merely service providers and how many of them really fulfill the role of design? This is more than design, it is really about professional ethics! When ethics is well enforced professionally, work created will be good for everyone. It is a part that buyers and sellers have to look into, not to deprive the goodness of its nature from anyone.

The cost of running a business in Singapore is rather high and overheads are high. It is not surprising to see design houses struggling to stay afloat doing almost trashy projects often. When established houses charge the top dollar for its expertise, a service provider may half its quote to secure a project. I can only say this, that every cent paid is worth its own weight in gold. In B2B situations, it could mean a lesser value being portrayed and often it reflects on the business owner’s mindset as well, to cut costs in order to keep a wider profit margin, fair from a business perspective, it may not be fair to the suppliers and clients in the end. From another perspective, there are just too many middlemen between supply and demand. The lowest quote gets hired.

A friend and professional acquaintance mentioned to me recently that an events and marketing company lowered his quote just in order to mark up the photography coverage rates to obtain a bigger profit margin for the company, what’s worse is when his quote was being lowered, the amount of work that has to be done was still as much, and they even demanded the images be ready the next day. The hirer of the events company was government and stat board related, too. The hirer paid the top dollar expecting the best expertise, ethically speaking, I think my friend could have gotten a higher rate from the services he provided to the events and marketing company.

On another note, I wouldn’t mind doing any wedding photography be it pre-weddings or actual days if it were 30 years ago… the divorce rates are so high recently, I would be feeling awkward should I find out if any of the couples I shot didn’t make it till death does them part. Wedding images are charged at the top dollar; it is once in a lifetime. Not quite true recently.

Likewise for my services provided to marketing companies for a couple of businesses. The businesses wound up. A part of me died with them. I swear I was cheap. In a similar situation, my quote was being lowered as well.

The Decisive Moment, No Longer Decisive with The Help of Smile Detectors.

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on January 20, 2009

Photography was all about the decisive moment, but now with the help of smile detector technology, the decisive moment is no longer yours; the camera decides for you. Where is your artistic input now?

On the hindsight it is also one that frees up your mental facilities, giving you the chance to put more mind into composing and framing the image, not having to worry about clicking the shutter. It could be a nuisance, if someone couldn’t stop smiling, the camera would just fire away as long as the subject is in sight. Not bad I think, all the smiling moments are faithfully captured. Not bad for capturing a smile, it’s instant and spontaneous.

It’ll be nice if there’s also frown detectors and crying and tears detectors, that would sure help photojournalists a lot. Or one that is clicked by rocket fire and explosions. Then we’ll get endless award winning pictures. But I guess many of them will give it a pass, as I would still like to maintain my control and decision over images that I create.