Category "Working"

Taking pictures on an offshore oil rig is serious business

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This is fascinating. I’m sure there are lots of photography jobs with very strict requirements like this one. Would be fun to do a column on all the weird photo jobs out there. If anyone has one they want to write about let me know.

For starters, due to the risk of flammable gas coming up the oil well, normal electronics are banned outside the living quarters. Smartphones are strictly forbidden and regular cameras require “hot work permits” be opened prior to use.

The idea behind the permit system is that all potentially-hazardous activities must be centrally coordinated by a responsible/accountable person, to ensure that risks are managed appropriately and ongoing operations do not interfere with each other. The permit must be signed by the rig’s on-board management and posted in a central location. The permit then expires when the approver’s shift ends. Even once the permit is approved, you still need to carry a gas detection device when taking pictures, to provide a warning if flammable gas is present. It’s kind of a pain.

So to avoid that hassle, we use explosion-proof cameras. It sounds cooler than it is.

The first time I ever heard the term “explosion-proof,” it was at a job interview for an environmental toxicity testing facility. We were doing a tour and I saw the words “EXPLOSION-PROOF” in big red lettering on the side of a refrigerator! My mind immediately went to putting bombs inside it for safety, but all it really meant was that the fridge would not act as an ignition source if flammable materials (solvents, etc) were placed inside. Kind of disappointing.

Flash forward about six years, and working with explosion-proof equipment is now a part of my job responsibilities. We use airtight seals, gas purges, current-limiting devices, and all sorts of other methods to ensure nothing ever starts a fire if there is a gas release. This is a highly regulated area of engineering with very strict design requirements. Level sensors inside gasoline tanks, blower fans for grain silos, and coal mine excavators all must be designed according to tight standards such as ATEX.

These standards are intended for heavy industrial equipment, and can result in some absurd designs when applied to consumer electronics like cameras. Here’s a picture of our $5,000 explosion-proof camera:

Big, right? For $5,000 and the size of a brick, you would expect a high quality camera, but no. My flip phone in 2002 took better pictures. You have to hold it rock-steady for 5 seconds to get a decent picture, and the auto-exposure adjustment gives you all-white or all-black pictures about 10% of the time. The rechargeable battery (that metal thing bolted to the front) dies in about 30 minutes. Zoom lens? Hah! Macro shots? Hah! It’s a terrible, god-awful camera — and it’s one of the best available. As a result of using this beast, I have gigs worth of blurry, grainy pictures from the rig. They’re good enough to put in a daily work report, but mostly not fit for publication on the internet.

Read the whole piece here: http://oilgas.quora.com/Taking-Pictures-Seriously

Photographs Push First Amendment Boundaries

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I don’t know much about Richard Prince, but I like to think that he’s in the business of operating at the edges of what’s acceptable. Whether he’s pushing the boundaries or just working in the grey area I think it’s important for art to have trouble makers. I’m more comfortable thinking about blank canvasses and drawing on top of images as important for pushing boundaries that other work can be built upon than worrying about whether this is something that will be admired centuries from now. I believe the title of this piece Jonathan Blaustein wrote for me: “You Don’t Always Get Art, But We Still Need More Of It“.

So, what about the grey area when it comes to photography and privacy. This is certainly a contentious and topical issue when it comes to paparazzi chasing celebrities or people taking pictures of slaughterhouses. Recent attempts at legislation in those areas (here, here, here) suggest people would like to limit the first amendment right to photography in public places. An exhibition at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea seems to be pushing the boundary of privacy and photography. Photographer Arne Svenson shot pictures of residents in a neighboring building with a telephoto lens from his own apartment across the street. In a story for the New York Times Magazine, Photography Director Kathy Ryan contemplates the artistry vs. privacy issue:

These particular pictures are problematic, even for those, like me, who overwhelmingly side with artists and journalists when it comes to questions of freedom of expression. I support the artist’s right to make and exhibit his art and feel Svenson has the right to exhibit these pictures. But if images surfaced in a gallery of my daughter in our home, shot by a photographer using a long lens without our knowledge, I wouldn’t be happy. So the question arises, is it art when it’s a photograph of someone else, but not when it’s you or your family?

(Read the rest here)

I think in the end Arne Svenson may run into “a reasonable expectation of privacy” which is what makes street photography and making pictures in public possible and taking pictures of people in their homes illegal (Note: consult a lawyer, this is just my opinion).

But, I agree with Kathy in her conclusion that “the freedoms enjoyed by artists and journalists are worth possible breaches of privacy.” Boundary pushing is good for art, we don’t always “get it”, but it allows other artists to build upon it.

Sam Jones Launches offCamera

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Sam Jones is a go-to photographer for many magazines, studios and ad agencies when it comes to shooting actors. In over 20 years of shooting he’s noticed an unfortunate trend working for magazines. Less time; less control over wardrobe, location, heck even what side of the face you get to shoot; less choice in what to shoot with; which in his mind equals less exciting pictures. No unguarded moments or glimpses into their real lives. So, he decided to do something about it and created his own vehicle for “more” called offCamera.

Sam cracked open his formidable rolodex and started calling in favors to have actors, musicians, athletes and artists come into his studio for a simple daylight portrait shoot and one on one video interview with five unmanned cameras rolling. He then turns that into a magazine, a website, a video interview, and even a podcast. His theory, that there are others like him who want to experience long form stories and documentaries, who want simple portraits, who want the photographer, director and writer to be in control again.

I believe this is one more in a trend I see where people decide it’s time to take the power back and do what they want. If the audience and client come with you great, if not you still got to make something your way again. I am actually quite confident, based on evidence of other photographers creating their own publication, that Sam will find his audience and clients who agree with him on this. They will phone up and say “can you do that offCamera thing for us”? As I mentioned to Sam when he first told me about this project, your own publication if anything is an excellent excuse to call someone up and interview them. Inevitably that leads somewhere, either through the connection you just made or the people who are watching what you are doing.

From the editor letter in the first issue:

I started Off Camera to have my own magazine, my own radio station, and my own television studio. I wanted the opportunity to have a non-agenda conversation with anyone that captivated me. I wanted the chance to photograph anyone that peaked my interest, without having an art director or a publicist looking over my shoulder.

I have a strong reaction to over-produced, over-hyped, over-stimulating pieces of short content that leave me feeling like I am learning nothing. It has taken me a lifetime to develop my attention span, and I want to use it. I like a long book. I like a long documentary. I like a 15000 word magazine profile. I created Off Camera for those of us that salivate at the prospect of a good book, a stiff drink, and an afternoon with no plans.

Does Adobe’s Sudden Shift To Subscription Only, Unnecessarily Screw Photographers

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Last week Adobe announced a sudden shift to subscription only on future releases of Photoshop. This seems inevitable as the whole software industry has moved away from major releases in favor of incremental improvements. An article in Mashable has Adobe explaining the reasoning behind the move from perpetual licensing to subscription:

With the traditional perpetual model, product updates had to happen on a certain cycle. If the Photoshop team wanted to push out a new feature or update, it had to stay on the same cadence as the updates for other apps in the suite. The product life cycle was roughly 18 months, which meant that it would take at least that long for new features to make their way to the final product.

That’s fine for some applications but it meant that Adobe couldn’t be on the cutting-edge with its support for the latest web standards and technologies. To fill in the gaps, Adobe introduced its Edge tools and services as as a way of giving users access to tools developed on a more agile basis.

What Adobe found with its Edge apps was that customers really liked getting new features in their apps more quickly. Adobe could roll out the updates to users automatically and add support for new standards and features outside of the confines of a standard product cycle.

With Adobe CS6, the company started a dual-track for its development, focusing on a core set of features at launch for the product and then adding subscriber-only features for Creative Cloud members. Some of those features — including support for high-resolution displays such as the MacBook Pro with Retina — were rolled out to all users, but the team was basically on a dual-path.

That’s not sustainable and so, moving forward, Adobe CC products will continue to see enhancements and updates throughout the year. Major releases will likely still have some general cadence but the product teams will no longer need to wait to release new features for an app.

The issue for photographers as explained in this photographyreview.com article and comments is the $20 a month you must pay to access your photoshop files. If you don’t pay, your files are “digital trash.”

Reporter Beats Out Lumberjack For Worst Job Of 2013

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CareerCast.com has an annual ranking of 200 best and worst jobs for 2013 (here) and Reporter takes the bottom spot over last years Lumberjack. Ouch. Maybe we will see Discovery and History channels making a new reality series around reporter like the other worst job staples of Lumberjack, Commercial Fisherman and Mining. Of course rounding out the bottom 20 below Dishwasher but above Corrections Officer is Photojournalist at number 188, so I guess photographers are the best in the newsroom. In the catch-all category of Photographer, which usually includes heavy weighting on positions like cruise ship and theme park photographer, the ranking is 172 just below construction worker but with a positive job growth outlook. Strangely, their description of photographer reads: “Uses shutter-operated cameras and photographic emulsions to visually portray a variety of subjects.”

Getty Announces 5 Decimal Point Payouts!

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You heard it right, not five figure, five decimal points. Getty recently announced a rounding error on contributor statements where photographers who should have gotten a fraction of a penny in royalties got zero instead. So, to solve this problem going forward all the payouts will include tenths, hundredths and thousandths of a cent. Here’s the email you may have received:

$0 transactions on your January 2013 Connect statement

Many of you noticed $0 royalty transactions on your first Connect statement (January 2013) where we should have shown the micro-royalties (fractions of a cent).  This was a processing error where some royalties earned under $0.00500 which were inadvertently rounded to $0.  Going forward you can expect to see the royalty amount (out to five decimal points) for each image earned, even if it is under one penny.  All fractional-cent royalties are then summed on the statement and rounded up or down to the nearest cent for payment.

We have calculated any additional micro-royalties due to you for those zero transactions (which were fractions of a cent).  If you are due an adjustment, we will add this adjustment amount to your payment on April 25th, however no royalty statement for this adjustment will be available.  If applicable, you may see a description for that additional amount in your payment remittance advice as “Jan2013 Connect zero adj”.

NOTE: Sorry, this is not an April Fools joke, but it reads like one so you may be fooled.

Who Pays Photographers

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In response to the tumblr “Who Pays Writers” someone created an anonymous version for photographers: Who Pays Photographers?

You can anonymously submit (here) what you were paid to shoot for a magazine along with some of the terms and conditions. There’s a spreadsheet of all the results on the blog and (here). If you’ve been in this business for awhile it’s mostly what you already knew or thought someone paid. If you’re new to photography you might be a bit shocked.

The #1 Rated Super Bowl Commercial Shot By 10 Photographers

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Photographers Andy AndersonWilliam AllardJim ArndtDaniel BeltraMark GoochAndy MahrKurt MarkusDavid SpielmanMatt Turley and Olaf Veltman got the call of a lifetime when veteran adman Jimmy Bonner of The Richard’s Group phoned with simple instructions and a mantra from Paul Harvey. He asked them to go spend time with farmers and ranchers and take pictures to be shown in a 2 minute spot for Ram during the Super Bowl. No AD’s or clients or craft service; just photographers and their subjects.

AdWeek is calling it the #1 spot from the Super Bowl and love or hate the sentimental message you’ve got see this as a clear referendum on the power of photography. At nearly $3,800,000 per 30 seconds of air time, Ram and The Richards Group made a huge bet and came up aces. According to Andy Anderson and his blog Rob Baker, and Deb Grisham we’re also involved in the production.

Getting Us Closer To The Truth In Photography

Harry Fisch organizes Travel Photography trips with Nomad Photo Expeditions and recently won the places category in the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest. 72 hours later he had lost it. The winning image was disqualified because he had removed a plastic bag in post. A blog post about what happened (read it here) has an email from the editor telling him that cropping the bag out or simply leaving it in would have had no impact, but digitally removing it violates the rules. Ouch. Harry is a good sport about it and concludes that had he been on the jury, he would have done the same saying, “rules are rules.”

Many people will argue that photography can never tell the truth. That the lens, image processing, where you stand, and what you chose to include in an image all alter the facts. This misses the point entirely. The point of truth telling in photography is for the photographer to make an image that gets us as close to the truth as they can. That is the goal. Now that the mechanical limitations of photography (film and printing) are gone we are less reliant on the camera to tell the truth, so that obligation falls on the photographer. You must build trust with your viewers and editors so they believe what you are saying.

This is an unusual position to be in, because photographers often relied on the camera and film to do this. Inherent imitations of the medium prevented them from doing too much to alter what happened (although many pushed it as far as it would go). Limitations may be returning to cameras. A new software development by the the human rights organization Witness aims to make it easiter to verify the authenticity of video, photos, or audio created and shared from mobile devices (story on Nieman Journalism Lab). “The app collects metadata that it will bundle and encrypt with your photo or video — including generating an encryption key based on the camera’s pattern of sensor noise, which is unique to each camera.”

The current practice of submitting RAW files for verification (to magazines and contests) may soon be assumed by software that does the verification for us. I expect this will be taken to the next logical step and any work that’s done in post will be recorded and encrypted by the software as well. Eventually news organizations and contests could set a “score” that’s some percentage of allowed manipulation to the pixels of an image that they consider ok. Maybe the software will disable certain tools used in post processing (this is Hal, I’ve disabled the clone tool). Regardless, the goal will be the same. Getting us closer to the truth. And the burden will return to the limitations of the software and not the photographer. That will be a good thing.

Update: the contest was incorrect [corrected], it was not Traveler’s but National Geographic magazine’s, which is officially called the National Geographic Photo Contest. And Harry Fisch was the Places Category Winner not the Grand Prize Winner of the overall contest [corrected].

National Geographic Photo Seminar 2013

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I attended National Geographic’s annual Photo Seminar last week. What started in 1967 as a way for photographers to informally gather and talk about their work (one attendee described it as an after the holidays palate cleanser), has become an annual rite for the exclusive group of photographers in the “Nat Geo” club and various hangers-on. From what I could gather the more recent seminars have taken the shape of canonizing the old guard, highlighting young new talent and pushing the boundaries of what might be acceptable for photography among the members and staff. A perfect mix in my opinion.

For me it was an awesome treat to watch photographers talk about their work. I look at work on my computer, in books and magazines and even sometimes on the wall, but it’s rare that I get to hear a photographer talking about their work. And wow, what a difference that makes. I need to do it more often as it renewed my spirit for the craft.

If there’s one word that describes what I witnessed at the event it would be emotion. From photographers who want to change the world, to those whose deep emotions manifest in the work to a deep love of subject, my nerves were raw after each speaker finished their outpouring of emotion. As I watched I discovered an excellent way to keep notes was to simply tweet out the great quotes I heard. Now, going back and remembering it all here are my highlights.

Master of ceremonies Vincent J. Musi in response to the unprecedented flood of photographers and imagery we’re experiencing quipped in his opening remarks “Have photographers become the endangered species?”. The answer came minutes later as he introduced street artist JR to the group. I say that because I believe what has changed is simply the definition of “professional photographer.” Go see JR’s Ted Prize talk from 2011 to understand what a special person he is. The mind bending part of his work is when he crowd sources and does not directly participate in the creation of  it. This is an important concept for photographers who don’t want to become endangered to consider.

The next photographer continued that thought as Michael Ravine who works with NASA and others discussed putting cameras on space ships and sending them to orbit the moon and rove around mars taking pictures. Many of us have fallen in love with the photography NASA and JPL are doing today, but nothing raises the hackles on traditional photographers like not standing in the field with your camera to make the picture. But, making pictures remotely is another concept that needs to be explored further.

Other highlights for me were an on stage interview of David Alan Harvey by Vincent that had so many memorable moments including David’s first rejection letter from National Geographic where he was told “You are young and strong and this is good because what I’m about to tell you will make you old and sick.” His own emotional journey into each subject he covers: “When I read about method action, I do the same thing with my photography” and “I go native every time. There’s a little piece of me in every assignment.” Then Aaron Huey gave a showstopper with his Pine Ridge Reservation talk that I’ve highlighted here before (Ted version) where he said, “Pine Ridge broke something inside me, but also opened something in my heart.”

Finally, Sebastião Salgado whose passion and devotion to photography and planet surely cannot be matched delivered the perfect summation of what I just witnessed: “Photography is the most powerful language ever created in the modern world”

I believe and have preached this thought over and over throughout my career. Photography is still powerful, but photographers must evolve and incorporate new ways to make and deliver the emotional impact available to them.