Invest in photography to promote your work….

During our exhibition ‘Prints and Ceramics in the City’ I talked to some of the artists at Yorkshire Artspace about our experience of selling work. I made the point that high quality photographs are essential – they are the stock in trade of the business. Yet we constantly receive poor quality images from prospective artists – too small, out of focus, etc. However, at gallerytop we recognised that our own presentation of images is nowhere near as good as it should be, so we hired an expert to advise us – Doug Chinnery, a professional photographer. We chose Doug after Gill Wilson, the gallery director, had been on one of his highly acclaimed workshops.

I asked Doug to explain why photographs are so important to artists. This is what he said:

Promotion or Demotion?

“As artists, image is everything. We pour our hearts and souls into our creations. We craft them. We tend them. We love them. And we want them to be loved. We want our audience, our customers to be as moved by them as we are.So if the way an artists work is perceived is so important to them, why is it so many artists websites and marketing material are littered with appalling photographs of their work? Under or over exposed. Over saturated colours or under saturated dull lifeless colours. Out of focus. Wonky. Tiny objects barely visible in the frame. We have all seen the kind ofthings I am talking about. You may even be feeling a little sheepish, thinking of your own images.”

Digital dissasters

“So why is it they are so bad? The answer lies in the popularity of the digital camera. The ease of the digital camera. Worse still, the advent of the camera phone. Digital cameras are so cheap now, most of us have one. If we don’t have a camera we most likely have one on our phone. So whereas, a few years ago an artist would think nothing of hiring a photographer to shoot their work properly, now we all are so chuffed with what out little compact camera can do on “good old full auto” we dash off a few clicks, upload the jpegs to our computer and whizz them off so easily by email to whoever we are promoting our work to. What they receive is the image described above. It does our beautiful work no favors at all, in fact, these images often turn prospective galleries and customers right off our work!”

The Professionals

“So what can we do about it? How can we show off our work in all it’s glory. How do weshow how good it really is in photographs? We have two options. Firstly, we can learn how to use our compact camera properly to avoid all the pitfalls I have described. Where? Well that is where someone like me comes in, who runs workshops to teach good basic camera skills. In a couple of hours you could be handling your compact like a pro and winning the hearts of galleries and customers with ease. It works out far cheaper than hiring a photographer and your holiday photos will stun and amaze your family and friends too as a bonus! Plug over.

Or you can hire a photographer. In doing this you are still in dangerous territory. Like many people, you are in danger of wanting to save yourself some money by asking Uncle Eric or Dave, the nice bloke next door to do it for you…. Because you know they have a fancy camera. Beware. These people can be dangerous. In the business we have a phrase to describe some of them…”all the gear and no idea”. Now, certainly, many amateur photographers can be very skilled and could do you a fine job at little or no cost. If you are blessed with knowing such a person, be kind to them, butter them up and they will certainly help you succeed. Sadly though, like a really good plumber, such people are few and far between. This leaves the pro’s. The danger continues. Some of these guys charge £500 a day without blinking, often more. Sure you will likely get superb images, but you don’t need to pay this much. You need to seek out a pro who is perhaps a bit newer to the business and doesn’t have an expensive studio to run. Someone who will come to you or who will collect your work and shoot it at his home studio. Look for portrait photographers who travel to clients – they will have the white or black backgrounds you need as well as portable lighting. They will have quality cameras and will know how to use them but they pitch their prices lower because the portrait market is more competitive.”

Do your research

“Most importantly, look at their website. Check their work. Is it well lit, sharp and the colours vibrant but not garish? Does the tone of their writing on the site sound appealing, not arrogant or pushy, but friendly and helpful? When you meet with them, be clear in your direction as to what you want. If you say you will leave it to them, you are opening yourself up to getting images you are not happy with. If you want simple straight on shots, be clear about this. If you want images from angles to show textures and shapes, specify this. Talk to him about light – do you want subdued light and soft shadows or bright high key light and no shadows, he will be able to do this for you. Do you need and abstract, arty images too? Tell him. It also makes sense, if possible, to have several works for him to do in one session. This will save him time and thus you money.”

Ask him to tweak the images in Photoshop for you. Tell him you want a bit of contrast adding (if you use the phrase, “tweak the levels and curves” he will think you know what you a talking about and treat you with much greater respect! This phrase is Photographerspeakfor adding in some subtle contrast to the image.) Also ask him to adjust the saturation of the files to make the colours the same or as closeas he can get them to your object or painting. Some cameras over saturate colours so theyneed reducing a bit, others subdue the colours so some saturation is needed to make them look natural . Ask him to do a little gentle sharpening of the image, but emphasiseyou don’t want him to over sharpen as this spoils photos.Then ask him to give you the files on a CD or DVD in several formats. You will need ‘low’ resolution Jpegs for emailing and website use. Then you will need high resolution Jpegsand high resolution tiffs for posters, publications, printing and so on. This will enable you to supply the images to those you need to send them to in the right format. Also ask him to put all the files into the sRGB colour space. He may tell you Adobe RGB is better. If he does, tell him you understand this but for your uses it will give more natural colours when you send it to others. (sRGB is the way computers define colours to each other so when you send it to someone else the colours look right on their screen or when it is printed. sRGB is a safer way to do this for your needs than Adobe RGB).”

The price is right….?

“Also, get a firm price from him before he starts so you know how much it is going to cost.Don’t be fobbed off with vague comments about price. How much does he charge per hourand how long is it going to take. Does he charge for processing the images or is that done included in the hourly rate for the photography? Make sure both he and you know what the cost will be. I would recommend having quote for the job rather than an hourly rate then the price is fixed and you can budget accordingly. If he is reluctant to give you this then beware. It should be easy for him to have a pretty good idea of the time required if you have given him clear directions on what you want from him.”

So there you have it…

“Hopefully, if you follow these tips your work will appear in photographs as it should. In focus, well lit, details showing, colours beautiful, the image crisp and bright. Gorgeous. Then who could fail to be impressed by your work and want to own some of it themselves? So don’t let me catch you with that camera phone knocking out some hasty and very dodgy photos again. I will be watching”

Doug Chinnery


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