Tripods, why they are necessary and why I hate them

_DSC3675Learning how to photograph food has been a challenge and joy to me these last few years. I took it on when I lost some mobility and couldn’t continue to shoot events anymore. But that’s another story..

I am an internet junkie, and I spend a lot of time surfing. It was more fun ten years ago, but there are still fun things on the net that are not solely aimed at making money although they are few and far between. That too is another story. But what I also do, is try and learn things like food photography by watching experts on Youtube or Vimeo, or reading blogs and other sources for tips and tricks.

_DSC3763From the get go I was a little depressed by the seemingly endless photographers who all mandate that, to be a good food photographer, one must use a tripod. I understand the usefulness. I get how having that stable support lets you play with shutter speed far beyond what you can do by hand. I do understand it, I respect those who create fascinating and creative images that make me just stop and stare…

But….

_DSC3733I simply can’t do it. I cannot give up that control. For me, photography is a passion, it is an artistic extension of what I see. It is also the way I move in relation to whatever I am shooting, capturing the light, the angles, everything. This is partially because of my event shooting background where everything is candid and immediate and absolutely fluid. When I started shooting food I brought the same skill sets to bear.

So that’s why I have a problem with tripods. It is, for me, abdicating the passion I feel having my camera in my hands. The way I move and view the world through the viewfinder. Tripods (in my mind) are much the same as hiring someone else to do the work for me. I simply cannot do it and consider it “my” work. Plus it’s boring to be a button pusher. :)

I can already hear many photographers howling in the wings about me saying that. And in all fairness, if I was making a blanket statement about all photographers they’d be right to do so. But this is a personal preference. I need to be “hands on” when I make what I make. Its part of how I do things and who I am a photographer. So I work hard to not need one, and I think I’ve been successful. But I’ll let all of you be the judges of that. Happy shooting!

cutting the cord

_DSC3239I’ve been working hard at building my own stock site these last few months and it is finally getting close to how I want it. Close enough to even start gaining some sales. I’m excited about it, but one thing that I have been longing to do is to start reducing my presence in the various agencies that take the lion’s shares of commissions from every license sold for one of my images.

The forums for us stock photographers have been extremely negative in recent months (or years depending on your outlook). Sales are hitting new lows. Earnings are getting cut for long time sellers, hobbyist and pro alike, and very few new artists are making the money starting out as easily as it was even only a few years ago. A few of us used to refer to it as “chicken little syndrome” but enough mainstream producers are feeling the pinch that it’s no longer just a few sour grapes.

You can’t make wine out of raisins

Part of the problem is there are too few barriers to entry for photographers. All you need is a decent camera and enough quality to start uploading. The other issue is the inherent problem with free market enterprise where the only measure of success is constant growth of profit. It is not enough to have profit. It must grow, and grow again. Sadly, a lot of agencies (IMHO) seem to gain profit at producers’ expense by slashing commissions or worse, clever subterfuges to gain more commission share with clever math or marketing strategies. One company even sells through a parent company, taking commissions twice before giving the photographer their cut.

Unfair? Absolutely. Unsustainable? Also absolutely. We call it “the race to the bottom” and it is much discussed with few solutions thrown out there by image producers. Our quality and creativeness keeps growing, but sadly our income streams gain less and less because agencies are doing whatever they can to grow, or at least retain, their customers.

So what’s a fella to do?

_DSC3081One of the things I have long been interested in is self-hosting. Having my own platform to sell direct to my customers. I set the pricing, curate my images, and establish myself as a solid producer. I have tried many freeware and shareware solutions, and toyed with the idea of buying a shopping cart “out of the box” product but I couldn’t get things exactly the way I envisioned..

A few years ago a (now) friend of mine invented a WordPress theme with stock photographers in mind. The software worked very well and until recently I kept it as the backbone of my website. More recently, he invented a new and improved version that I found very easy to implement and use with almost any WP theme, allowing for greater versatility, usability and it is overall a better buyer (and administrator) experience.

But what about agencies and sales?

One thing that consistently comes up when we all talk about self hosting, is how to compete with agencies. Personally, I never understood that point of view. Why on earth would I even attempt to directly compete with a multimillion dollar business with a marketing budget many, many times what I could hope to make in income in my lifetime? It just makes no sense to me.

So I lean towards direct marketing to potential customers within my (proven) niches. I think having a few, half dozen or dozen regular customers who cannot find an image anywhere else should be the direction I should go in. So far, so good. I’ve made some sales, and I am making inroads into a few industry specific areas. Time will tell. Besides that, I have other reasons to self host that I will go into down the road (ie. another place to have a repository of all my stock images, backups, orphan works issues, etc…). I like having at least a little control over my images again.

Feeling good!

_DSC6503What this somewhat long rambling discourse means is that I have been pruning both the niche images I have online, plus the agencies I have decided to contribute to. I am kicking about half of my agencies to the curb, no longer happy to take a smaller and smaller cut in commissions, lower sales, and the “take it or leave it” attitude that many agencies seem to have. I have also removed my “niche-est” images from almost all sites. Its a process, and I’m almost done. Soon potential customers will be able to find my unique content only on my website. I have only 4 agencies left that I am selling on out of a high of 10, and I think I have all my niche shots gone from those.

Oh yeah, my stock website is www.photominingstock.com. :) Happy shopping!

 

Mmmmmm burgers

We got some of the tastiest hamburger from Urban Digs a little while ago, but because of many reasons (steak, bacon, etc 😉 ) we hadn’t had a chance to delve in and try it. Urban Digs is a local farm just down the road from us here in Burnaby, BC and we get a lot of our meats and vegetables from them.

Once I unwrapped the meat, I thought it would look great raw, and I think I was right, don’t you?

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Rather than make something really involved, we opted for hamburgers. You just can’t beat a good old fashioned hamburger. I thought about barbequing them but my wife thought they would cook much better on our cast iron pan and she was so right.

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We got some white potatoes and twice cooked them to make the crispy, and some freshly made buns.  We happened to have a delicious pepper mustard and fresh pickles (also courtesy of Julia over at Urban Digs) and my wonderful wife’s home made cole slaw.

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There you have it! It tasted absolutely wonderful.

Some recent #foodislife stuff

I’ve been working on a complete overhaul of one of my other websites which has been keeping me busy. But I thought I should write a bit of an update of all the wonderful meals we’ve done recently. If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen a few of these, but I think they’re worth sharing twice.

I have also seen a pretty decent improvement in my photography as well, and while I am not 100% sure what’s changed, I believe its a combination of different lighting set ups and better staging. Luckily, my wife has taken a very active interest in how her food hits the plates.

_DSC2241Above is our orange ginger beef dish. With thick udon noodles, fresh orange slices and a lot of ginger, this dish is very flavourful. We usually by a big inside round roast at a big box store and I slice it into nice thin strips. I usually get enough for 3-4 meals (we vaccuum seal and freeze).

We marinate the beef overnight with garlic, ginger and some soy plus whatever my wife thinks will add more taste. I prep all the veggies and it all comes together easily and quickly. Delicious!

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Marrying into a Jewish family introduced this country boy to many new and very tasty foods. My favorite is matzoh ball soup. We keep a few one litre frozen tubs of chicken soup stock that we make from whole chickens a few times a year (we have a big freezer). A few of those, plus some whole carrots, maybe a little chicken to be a little different from tradition, plus big tasty matzoh balls, makes for a comforting, sleepy meal.

Below are a few that I shot for our great friends over at Urban Digs farm. We have a great arrangement combining delicious, ethical foods and photography. I made some fresh bread to go with fresh seiglundi potatoes, toulouse sausage and huge, delicious duck eggs.

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We also got some beautiful swiss chard that we combined with spuds and steak. Here is “before”.

_DSC1897And “after”….

_DSC1967But spring has arrived, and that means summer salad season is coming up. After a harsh winter with literally millimeters of snow (I live in sunny BC, I think we had one afternoon of snow 😉 ), it’s time to open the windows and have some fresh food. A simple chicken salad suited us very nicely.

_DSC2001My wife loves mangoes. So when they are in season we always buy them by the case. One of our favorite recipes is this citrus-y summer salad of fresh mango, veggies, glass rice noodles and cucumber. We often add bbq pork tenderloin to it as well.

_DSC2076More recently, we tried to make eggs benedict. Using rosemary ham from the deli, and a recipe we found online, these surpassed our expectations. Absolutely delicious!

_DSC2198Finally, last night we put the cast iron pans to use and made this crispy, tasty pork rib chop with decadent mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and broccoli. Succulent and extremely filling!

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So that’s been my last couple of weeks. I have many more foods and photos but I wanted to show you just a taste of what my daily life is like. :) Enjoy!

Home made take out

_DSC1498There’s always something fun about getting take-out. The no-fuss, no work, no clean up aspect plus the tasty, decadent (sinful?) food orgy of food that you know is probably very bad for you. I’m guilty of it, and we try to get away from it when we can. We meal plan, we buy healthy things, but at the end of the day, sometimes you just want a treat.

So what we’ve taken to doing at home is that when there is time, we try and recreate some of our take-out favorites. A bit more time spent, but less expensive and certainly healthier.

This time we made one of our favorite Chinese take-out items, beef with broccoli. It was dead simple. We bought a roast from one of the big box stores and I spent a little time slicing it into stir fry portions. I vaccuum sealed the majority in one pound bags for other meals, and saved a pound for our supper. I then sliced 2 large carrots, chunked an onion up, 2 cloves of garlic and about 2 cups of broccoli florets.We also started the rice cooker with some brown rice.

My wife fired off the meat after a little dusting of corn starch and placed the almost-done beef in a bowl. In the now-seasoned pan she made a rich gravy and added the vegetables and seasoned to taste. As they got done she added the beef back in. A few stirs and some simmering, and it’s done.

We plated it over the rice and I decided on an oval plate for my photos for submission to my agencies.

stir fry beef

 

Blueberry pancakes

blueberry pancakes

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, the beach was just at the edge of the lawn. Or more accurately, through the trees in the lawn (that were hell to mow around) and over the very steep embankment. But I grew up in cottage country. During the summers there were always kids hanging around. Pam and Chris, Rene, Mike, Teddy, Sean, Paul, Mikey, all the cousins… and a lot who came and went just for one summer at a time.

At least once or twice each summer, my father would make a huge bucket of pancake batter and spend all morning flipping pancakes for all the kids. I don’t know how they all knew (no phones) but over the course of breakfast the crowd would get bigger and bigger.

blueberry pancakes

Dad would also do custom shapes for the pancakes on demand. He’d do cartoon characters, sea animals, etc. I wish I could say that they were works of art, but they took some imagination for sure. :)

My dad was a born entertainer, and the kids loved hanging around and he’d tell stories while he made their breakfasts. Even some adults would show up. It was that kind of place. No invites necessary, just pop in and if someone is home, there you go.

We would watch him do all the flapjacks in this enormous cast iron pan, batter, bubbles, flip and so on. And then feast on them with lots of butter and maple syrup. Sticky, full and slightly sick, we’d all run off afterwards to play on the beach.

My wonderful wife made me these this past weekend. My father passed away on Saturday, and it seemed fitting to have something that had a really good memory attached.