Runner’s World magazine in the UK publishes a regular feature, a double-page spread called ‘Rave Run’. The October 2019 issue of their magazine features an image of mine from a photo shoot with Arc’teryx athlete Tessa Strain (née Hill) on Liathach, a Munro in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. My thanks to Runner’s World Art Director, Wayne Hannon, for continuing to choose my images.
A blog series where I’ll share a list of outdoor and adventure films by category (e.g. mountain biking and bikepacking) that I’ve enjoyed watching and would recommend, having viewed each many times over (either for the characters, storyline, scenery or the cinematography, but usually a combination of all four).
Mountain biking and bikepacking films I’d recommend
Fast Forward - A short introduction to Lael Wilcox, an ultra-endurance adventure cyclist from Anchorage in Alaska who (source: Wikipedia) has ridden over 100,00 miles around the world, holds the women’s record for the 2,745-mile Tour Divide mountain bike race and was the first American to win the 4,200 mile TransAm bike race. Records and ultra distances aside, Lael appears to be someone who simply lives for the joy of riding her bike, often in adventurous locations (an assumption that’s confirmed by my Alaskan friends, Dan Bailey and Amy Sebby, who know Lael well and share her enthusiasm for the outdoors). In 2015, Lael, ahead of her Tour Divide race, cycled to the start line in Banff, Canada from her home town of Anchorage in the USA (adding 2,100 miles to her journey).
GBDuro 2019 - Lachlan Morton first came to my attention in a film showcasing his involvement in Dirty Kanza, a 200-mile gravel and dirt road race in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, USA. An Australian professional road-racing cyclist, with team EF Education First, Lachlan was given permission to undertake a series of totally different challenges, dipping his toes into the waters of off-road cycling in a series of endeavours which I assume is in partnership with cycling brand, Rapha. GBDuro saw him in the UK, as he toed the line of the inaugural GB Enduro, a 2,000km self-supported mountain biking race up the length of Great Britain. This was followed up with his involvement in the classic Leadville 100 race in America, followed by a finish in the gruelling Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross race in Yorkshire. The main reason I keep returning to these films is the hugely engaging character of Lachlan himself.
High Altitude Lines - Joey Schusler is an former professional downhill mountain biker racer turned adventure athlete and cinematographer with a list of quality films under his belt. An initial production he was involved in that attracted my attention was a mountain bike trip to the Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes, as it combined wild camping and mountain biking in a rugged landscape, which is one of my favourite ways to spend time). High Altitude Lines is another in this genre, part of a series of films for Yeti Cycles (one of Joey’s sponsors) labelled the Tribe, and it’s a short film about travelling by bike (sometimes utilising what they term as the “pull and drag” and “over the shoulder” techniques) as they journey for 10 days, fly-fishing in alpine lakes dotted across the San Juan mountains in Colorado, USA.
No Quarter: Unridden Lines Crossing the Purcells - A quality film of a remote and difficult mountain biking adventure in the Purcell mountain range in British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada. Produced by Max Berkowitz and Kevin Landry (the latter who coined the term ‘the trail that never begins’ to describe the brutal nature of the terrain), the adventurers include Andrew McNab and former Bike magazine Editor-in-Chief Brice Minnigh (who you can learn more about in another film by Joey Schluser about their Trail to Kazbegi).
Patagón - Montanus are two friends from Italy, Francesco D'Alessio and Giorgio Frattale, who produce high-quality films from trips they make as part of their ‘all seasons bikepacking project’. The pair first came to my attention with this film about a bikepacking trip they made to Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia. It’s an example of outdoor footage that perfectly pushes my buttons as regards to making me want to be at the location on screen, mimicking the activity of the protagonists. A follow-up film the pair released, about their Iceland Divide, invokes similar feelings (although that film is somewhat tempered for me, perhaps controversially, by the fat bikes the pair use. I totally agree fat bikes are often the best tool for the job but, regardless of model, I think they lack aesthetics and, in my opinion, are really quite ugly to look at (‘pot, kettle, black’ I may hear you call). This is totally unlike the superb sketches Francesco and Giorgio produce to accompany the narrative of their trips, which you can view on the Montanus website).
The Ridge - Possibly the most-watched mountain bike film in the world? Scotland creative content agency Cut Media jet-launched their career with this film of trials cyclist Danny MacAskill skilfully navigating parts of the technical and narrow Black Cuillin ridge on the Isle of Skye in the West Highlands of Scotland. The aerial footage of Danny atop the Inaccessible Pinnacle (after carrying his bike up there, sans ropes), is awesome.
(Little known fact - I pitched an idea to Red Bull about Danny skills biking in the Cuillin mountains (visualising him atop the Cioch, a’la Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery in the film ‘Highlander’). They responded by saying “Thanks, but we think he’s up there filming at the moment”)
Wild Horses: The Silk Road Mountain Race documentary - The film of the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018 a c.1700km self-supported bikepacking race that starts and finishes near Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan (crossing twelve mountain passes above 3500m in between). Narrated by race organiser Nelson Trees, who originated the idea for the race with the late Mike Hall, the storyline focuses on the front runners, a group of ultra-endurance cyclists, including Jay Petervary, at the time a Salsa-sponsored cyclist, as they battle inclement weather, the harsh mountain landscape plus sleep deprivation as they relentlessly pedal their way to the finish.
It surprises me the number of photographers I’ve spoken with who don’t have an overly considered risk management approach as to how they operate the business. Yes, they may have workflow and backup processes in place to protect their images but in the wider context of mitigating risk across their whole business, it suggests to me that many are leaving themselves unknowingly open to risk from a legal perspective should something go wrong.
Important - This is not legal advice. It’s a sharing of knowledge as to how I approach the management of risk in my photography business. My list of risks is not exhaustive. Consult a lawyer if you need an expert view.
Whose photo shoot is it?
A key thing I’d recommend you agree early on in your contractual discussions is clarity as to whose shoot it is, i.e. Are you working for the client and they’re recruiting you along with other resource (such as models)? Is the client contracting out the production of the whole shoot to you (and therefore they assume all the accountabilities?). Will you be working directly for the client but sub-contracting elements of the work to your own crew to help you complete the job (e.g. an assistant or a digital technician)? The answer to this question will dictate for that piece of work what risks are applicable to your business and which sit with you and which sit with your crew or client. My recommendation is you make sure that everyone is aware of the potential risks and explain what steps you’re putting in place to mitigate the risks that are relevant to you. Highlighting what’s left helps to protect yourself and it supports your client.
What risks does a photographer need to consider?
A solid approach to risk management is a key attribute for a photographer. It’s not as creative or as fun as taking photographs and it won’t stop things going wrong (a key skill for a photographer is problem solving) but the goal I’d suggest is to plan ahead and limit your liabilities as far as possible. You’ll soon realise you won’t be able to mitigate every risk but the goal, as far as possible, is to be aware of the risks you’re carrying in your photography business and be comfortable with your approach to these before you perform any work. Consult a lawyer for professional advice.
Working for yourself
Here is a selection of risks that you are likely open to as a photographer once you have been commissioned for a photography shoot;
Risk you have to do more work than expected - Is the scope of the work you’re being contracted to do fully documented and signed off by all parties? Consider what you’re being asked to do and ensure you’re happy you’ve adequately budgeted for it in terms of cost and time in your photography estimate. Are there additional images being requested on set? Extra processing required after submission? Be clear up front if this is above and beyond the cost of any estimate you’ve provided and the contract you’ve agreed.
Risk you hurt yourself (and can’t complete the work) - Especially so in the world of outdoor and adventure sports photography, when you could be photographing people running, hiking, trekking in remote places, mountain biking down rough ground or surfing and kayaking in turbulent waters, there’s a higher chance than usual of you hurting yourself whilst on a job, e.g. breaking an ankle or wrist and not being able to work. Personal accident insurance could cover you in such an eventuality. Be up front with the insurance company about your activities and ensure you are covered accordingly.
Risk you break equipment (and can’t complete the work) - Outdoor photography is especially hard on camera gear. Rain, sand, dust, salt water, rocks, etc. can all have a catastrophic effect on your equipment and stop your shoot short. Equipment insurance will help but ‘real-world’ insurance is better - ensure you have a backup for each piece of equipment you need on a shoot (including peripheral items such as cables). Being able to switch to working equipment quickly and confidently in a crisis is a professional approach and will make you look competent in front of your client.
Risk you do poor work - Not something many people want to admit, but we’re all human and mistakes can (and likely will) happen over the course of your career. Knowing the capabilities of your equipment, being able to use it inside out and avoiding the need to try anything you’ve not practiced repeatedly prior to a shoot is the best advice I would offer photographers against the potential for work that’s not quite as good as it could or should be. Private indemnity insurance can offer you peace of mind that any issues you experience won’t be catastrophic financially (although your reputation, i.e. your brand, will almost certainly take a hit).
Risk you hurt others - Public liability insurance can cover you for costs that are brought upon you in a court of law related to claims made by members of the public related to your business activities. Think of someone walking past your shoot location who trips over your camera bag and hurts themselves.
Risk you’re seen as liable for the crew’s actions - You’ve been hired by a client to create photographs. A budget has been allocated to the shoot for a Production Manager to manage the shoot and keep it running on time. Included also is funds for an assistant, who the client has agreed you will bring to the shoot as they are also a skilled digital technician (ensure you charge the latter’s rates), plus a person who will carry strobes and other equipment to the photography location. You’ve recommended the services for a Safety Officer, a professional mountain guide you know who can help identify and manage risk across the photo shoot overall. Plus there’s two or three models needed for the images and a stylist responsible for hair, make-up and wardrobe. That’s a crew of people who are all working together to help you create photographs for the client. The key question to ask yourself in such situations is, who is hiring who and, if it’s you, how do you protect yourself from potential issues?
(In the example above, the only crew I’m responsible are those I’ve brought to the shoot, i.e. the assistant and the load carrier (but only in certain ways - see the ‘Working with a crew’ section below). The production manager, safety officer, models, stylist are all contracted by the client (as am I) and I’d want my documentation to make it clear for the client that I appreciate they are an integral part of the shoot, and I do have quality expectations of them, but I have no obligations as to how they act, nor the effectiveness of their work).
Risk you’re seen as liable for the client’s actions - As above, but with a different example. What if your client or a member of their staff hurts a member of the public on a shoot? Or injures a member of your crew and they are unable to work? Is it clear who will be liable and therefore whose insurance needs to be claimed off? You may wish to propose to the client that they put in place shoot-wide insurance that covers everyone involved in the production of the photographs. If they say no, make sure there are no expectations at all that your insurance covers anyone other than you on the shoot (unless you’ve clearly agreed it with a client up front, e.g. you’re taking on a full production role, which I’d always recommend includes shoot-wide insurance).
Risk you lose work - You may well have a complex but efficient backup system in your office which packages your content nicely onto appropriate RAID so it’s stored in multiple locations both on and offline. But what happens on set? How big an issue would it be for you if your memory card stopped working, for whatever reason, and you lost all the images from the shoot before it had finished? If yes (even though it’s unlikely given the quality of today’s ‘big brand’ memory cards (I use SanDisk and Lexar), consider backing up your images in camera to two separate memory cards or transfer them wirelessly to a laptop whilst your shooting (read my CamRanger review). Another method would be to quote the client up front for the recruitment of an aforementioned Digital Technician, who can be responsible for backing up your images regularly whilst you shoot (plus flagging picked images for your client and processing them for approval).
(Note - If your client accepts there is a risk here but doesn’t wish to pay to mitigate it, record this in your documentation for the shoot, e.g. an email summarising decisions and actions or a RAID document you’ve produced which details risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies).
Risk your client doesn’t accept your work - Make it clear in your terms and conditions what classes as a finished product (i.e. what good looks like according to the brief). Ideally, you don’t want to be guessing if your client will like your work when you send it across. Enabling them to review images and sign them off as being compliant with the brief in the field will remove that pressure. Being tethered to a computer whilst you work will also aid that process. (If the client won’t be at the shoot, include a clause in your terms and conditions that says you as the photographer has the final say as to what constitutes and ‘on brief’ image) .
Risk you can’t use or re-use your work - The copyright in your photographs should remain with yourself as the Photographer, otherwise you won’t be able to use of your work outside the boundaries of which it was shot (and, depending what is in the contract, perhaps not at all). Include a clause in your terms and conditions that details that you, as the Photographer, own the copyright to all your work and you retain the right to use the images for the purpose of self promotion at any time and for all purposes outside the terms of any licensing period you are providing for the client. (The only proviso may be if you’ve been asked to embargo the images for a period of time).
Working with a crew
This section applies when you’ve agreed with the client that you’re responsible for hiring people to help you carry out the logistics of the shoot. This could include load carrying, models or more technical tasks such as production management, camera and lighting or a digital technician. I’d strongly recommend, if you are responsible for contracting with someone directly, mapping out the specifics of that relationship with that person and ensuring you have a detailed contract in place which outlines the nature of the contract, what good looks like for them and which limits your liabilities. Be especially clear that you’re both working for the client if you’re not employing any crew as a direct employee.
Risk they consider you liable for any loss of income - In the outdoor and adventure photography world, this is especially relevant when you’re hiring, for example, professional athletes as models and there is a risk that they hurt themselves and are not able to earn their income. Position yourself in such a way that any resource you contract work to is aware there are risks and they’re accepting that they are competent enough to independently identify and mitigate those risks and are fully responsible for accepting any consequences of their actions. If it is not clear to you what the risks are (your crew will be the experts in their own field so seek their advice), schedule a session with each one and potentially a safety officer to discuss the shoot beforehand and agree any boundaries you’re not willing to cross. (This doesn’t stop you from always being vigilant on set. If you’re not comfortable photographing someone performing a task, or you see someone acting in a manner that could be dangerous to themselves or others, say so).
Risk they don’t perform - For various reasons, the standard of work you receive from a member of any crew you recruit may, on occasion, be less than what you expected. Choosing your resource wisely will mitigate this (e.g. you‘ve worked with the person before or you’ve taken recommendations from trusted friends) but it’s only fair to be clear to people up front what you expect. Document this for the crew and ask that they agree to it before you confirm their role in the shoot.
Risk they hurt themselves - Imagine you’re on a photo shoot and you’ve hired an assistant to help you carry gear to the location. For an adventure photography shoot, this could be to a crag where you’re photographing climbers, or you’ve hiked to the top of a mountain to take images of runner at dawn. You’re confident in your own abilities to manage the risks in such a situation but how do you get peace of mind that your assistant is competent and won’t put themselves or others at risk (and, potentially, consider you liable for any loss of income should they get hurt on what they see as your photo shoot). Ensure they’re aware that your insurance only covers you and your recommendation is they have their own business insurance in place. (You may only choose to work with people who have appropriate insurance in place).
Risk they hurt others - As above, recommend to each member of your crew that they have their own Public Liability Insurance (and also consider whether you wish to contract with anyone that doesn’t).
Risk work is lost - If you hire a competent digital technician they will bring quality processes to the shoot as well as their expertise, which should include regular backups to minimise the risk of images being lost. Asking for assurance of this makes entirely good business sense, as does outlining what you expect from a digital technician and what good looks like. Document this in a contract you agree with them before the shoot.
Risk models don’t sign model release - In the example I gave above, it’s the Client who has hired models but the model release I’d suggest is of most value to photographers as it dictates how your images can be used (and how you can use them in the future). Make it a key task in the shoot to ensure that you or someone on your behalf is responsible for securing a signed model release.
Risk they damage equipment and the shoot can’t be completed (or they consider you liable) - If you’re hiring crew for the photography shoot, check what equipment is included in the crew rate and seek assurance, like you, that they’re bringing back-up equipment in case of equipment failure. Flag up front that, if a member of your crew’s equipment becomes damaged during the shoot, they need to be sure that it’s covered on their insurance, or a shoot-wide insurance policy.
Working with a client
The following risks apply either to commercial work or where you’re selling something direct to a consumer, e.g. a print or a workshop.
Risk they expect more than you’re expecting to provide - I’d recommend you clearly outline what you’re providing as part of your service offering but, more importantly, what you’re not. This will help identify potential gaps in people’s understanding.
Risk they hurt themselves on set and they think you’re liable - As mentioned above, be clear on what you are responsible for and what not
Risk they don’t like your work - Again, covered above by you including a clause in your contract that the client signs off work in the field (or, if they’re not attending the shoot, they’re accepting that you as the photographer have the right to decide what good looks like).
Risk they pay you too long after the shoot (and you’re out of pocket) - Request an up-front payment of the full production expenses in your estimate when you have to do work ahead of the shoot. (Include any expenses for your crew).
Risk they don’t pay you at all - It’s unusual but cover yourself by including clear terms in your contract that outline the implications of any non-payment of work that is delivered on brief. Consider requesting a deposit up front, e.g. 20% of your shoot fee and your crew’s fee on top of the full production expenses.
Risk they use your images where or when they’re not supposed to - Make sure any model release and your usage license clearly outlines the boundaries of where the images can be used. Be specific about any exclusions and expiry date. If your client has recruited the model directly then you should not be open to any risk because the contract is between the client and the model (but you do have a vested interest in the content of the release if you want to use the images going forward). If it’s you who has contracted with the model and agreed the model release, and the client uses the images outside the terms of that release, the model may be entitled to claim additional funds for any breach of contract. Be sure that it’s not you that will be liable for those costs.
Nearly all my thoughts above are based around my being able to identify who is responsible for what in a photo shoot and ensuring that any risks I may be inadvertently exposed to as a business are mitigated as fully as possible. I’d summarise this as follows;
Consider all the risks you may be open to as a business
Put processes in place to mitigate those risks
Put controls in place to assure yourself that your processes are working
Check those controls on a regular basis
Use contracts to protect yourself, as far as possible
Don’t blindly accept other companies’ contracts. Take control of your business and protect yourself.
I started my photography business using the advice provided by Lisa Pritchard in her excellent book, ‘Setting up a Successful Photography Business’. Included in the appendix is a series of templates Lisa recommends for business contracts (including an excellent one for terms and conditions). For that reason alone, and more, I’d say this is an essential purchase for any photographer.
Part three in a three part series on digital marketing for photographers, with hints and tips for how to help photography buyers find you online.
If you build it, will they come?
Possibly. The minimum I’d suggest photographers do when setting up a website is to optimise it for organic search traffic. You’ll put yourself in a decent position to be found online but there’s no guarantee of numbers and you’ve no control over who your visitors are, it all depends on the keywords people choose. Whether you choose to spend more time driving specific traffic to your website is purely a business choice, which you’ll have made when you created your marketing strategy and decided how much of your time you wish to devote to it (you may have decided its makes most sense to do the minimum for your website and focus your efforts on offline marketing, valuing human interaction as a way to build up relationships over online communications, or building up engagement using social media instead). I’d imagine most photographers will include at least two of these different approaches in their digital marketing strategy, keen not to put all their eggs in the proverbial single basket.
Additional ways to drive traffic to your photography website
Let’s say that you’ve made the decision to maximise traffic to your website. What tools are available to the photographer who wants to use digital marketing to increase their brand awareness and help them secure more income? Before you look at your options, I’d suggest it’s important to understand clearly the purpose of your website. Is it;
Purely for brand awareness
Brand awareness and product (You’ve got something that you sell, on top of your creative services)
Brand awareness and education (You’ve got information of value you like to share, on top of your creative services)
A combination of the above
Once you’re clear on the service your website provides for your business, you can consider your objectives and tailor them accordingly. For example, let’s say you’re selling a product (e.g. fine art prints or an online training course direct to a client). You’re below your monthly targets. You do some calculations and you know you need x numbers of visits per month to make £y in sales. Your objective could therefore be purely to increase numbers and what might make sense is a paid search advertisement (see below) which you conduct on certain keywords to increase your monthly visitors. (You may wish to simply review the content and the calls to action you use first, tweaking them to see if that helps). But what if you have new commercial advertising work that you want to share? You also want to increase eyeballs on that but it’s highly likely your audience isn’t the same type of people who will buy your fine art prints. So your approach instead may be to issue an email campaign (personalised to individual art buyers or shared more widely using an email distribution list which you’ve collated online) which showcases your work and encourages people to hire you. Or you could run a social media campaign. What’s key is to understand what your audience wants or needs from you, so you can drive them to appropriate, engaging content, tailor your calls to action and maximise your desired result.
a.) Paid search on top of organic search
Organic search is visits to your website purely off the back of search engine traffic, with no input by yourself other than the efforts you put into search engine optimisation. It’s the default approach I’d highly recommend all photographers adopt if they have a website (see ‘Do I need a website in 2019?’). Paid search is where Google and other search engines allow you to bid on search keywords and you pay them to have your business advertised when those keywords are used.
The majority of photographers I’d imagine will rely on organic search traffic (appreciating that SEO is free to work with once you’ve purchased your website). If you play in the paid search market you’ll likely have a specific thing you’re wishing to sell (e.g. a course or a book), done a lot of research as to what you think will work and you’ll have an established plan for measuring and establishing what return you’re getting on your investment. If not, I’d suggest employing an agency to review your strategy for you. Effective paid search can have a positive effect on your bottom line (think selling fine arts landscape prints for clients buying office art) but it would be easy to spend a lot of money for little tangible benefit.
Blogging is an effective way of generating interest and increasing your site traffic (especially so because the amount of content you can generate but also because frequency of site updates is a ranking factor for Google and other search engines). You just need to be keen to write content and have a plan or content strategy for what you want to say and how often you say it. If not, I’d suggest you consider whether it’s best to start as a stale blog is a surefire way to lose the interest of your clients.
Some things to think about -
Don't underestimate how much work it is to maintain a blog. There’s a fair amount of effort in writing regularly, e.g. continual idea generation, researching, drafting, editing and fact-checking.
Don’t think you have to write every day, or even every week or month. Choose a timetable that suits you and be consistent.
Choose a topic you’re confident your clients will be interested in and write naturally and enthusiastically about it (Google recognises quality content, as do humans). Be sure to include your keywords in your copy.
Write two or three blogs rather than just one if it is overly lengthy (your blog will be more readable but there’s also SEO benefits, for example four separate blogs about a list of outdoor and adventure films, tailored by genre will be more effective than one blog post which covers all genres, as you can tailor the keywords and be more specific)
What do you want a person to do after they’ve read your blog? (Does it make sense to include a call to action at the end? For example, ‘Visit page x’ or ‘Read blog y’?). If it is useful to provide your clients with more information, you could link to content on the web and on your website (Google uses internal links to help it identify what it thinks is the most important content on your website)
How are you going to measure if you’ve met your goals? Consider key performance indicators (KPIs) and use analytics tools to see if you’ve been successful (for example, if you use Google Analytics, use Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder to append tracking data to your hypertext links).
Once you’ve written your content, share it far and wide. You’ve put a lot of effort into it so aim to get it seen by as many people as possible,
Tip - Consider other publishing mediums. Why not approach a popular third party website and offer to write a blog for them? This could an editorial publication or a corporate blog. Just be sure the reward is worth your while (it doesn’t have to be monetary, the extra brand awareness may be valuable enough but do ensure you get some value and don’t give your work away for free).
c.) Email marketing
If your content is compelling and you have the ability to include an online form on your website that correlates to a database (e.g. using a supplier such as Mailchimp), you can persuade clients to share their contact details and permit you to communicate with them offline. These ‘warm’ leads need continually nurtured and you’ll be wanting to produce regular content if you wish to keep them engaged.
Email marketing I find to be similar to blogs. The focus is on producing interesting, engaging content that people wish to hear about. You could, in theory, simply summarise your blog posts in your email and send those but if your clients have already visited your website, they’re seeing the same information again. Is this a bad thing? Perhaps not, as it can reinforce your name and your work in their mind. But what if you produced specific content just for clients who had signed up to your email newsletter? There is a skill to encouraging people to sign up and stay signed up and it’s wise to think outside the box but primarily it’s about your great, engaging content. You’ll quickly realise people will soon leave if you’re not holding their attention.
Three standard approaches to email marketing are;
Email ‘blasts’ - Where you sign up to a company who manages large databases of email addresses and then you ‘blast’ those lists with your content (‘Dear Sir/Madam’ style), hoping that the email addresses are still up-to-date and people find it of interest. (Typically, I experienced a tiny open rate (less than 1%) when I trialled this for my business)
Personalised email - You research individual clients you wish to work with and tailor a personalised message for them, addressing them by their name and referencing recent work (I experienced a 50% open rate when I adopted this approach instead)
Email newsletters - You have a form on your page and the quality of your content encourages people to sign up to find out more about you and be contacted by you when you publish new work
If you were your client, which would you rather receive? I’m fairly certain it’s going to be either of the latter two emails. For the second option, yes, it takes much longer to find someone and ensure you have the right contact, research the work they’ve been responsible for and then create a communication that references that and demonstrates why you feel you can do similar work for them and why they should choose you over the photographers they’ve already hired. But if you don’t gather email addresses for an email newsletter (and even if you do), I’d highly recommend you consider it as the difference in open rates is dramatic.
Caution - In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), dictates what data you can capture from your clients and the essential controls you need to ensure are in place to manage their information and keep it secure. My legal page outlines how I manage my GDPR obligations. I’d recommend you consult a lawyer to ensure you’re compliant according to the activities you undertake in your own business.
d.) Social media
You may, like me, find it’s very easy to get distracted with social media, spending time admiring the (apparently) amazing lifestyles of those around you and forgetting the value it can add to your own business. Social media marketing is a subset of digital marketing, and a highly effective method of finding and engaging with clients online. Typically, users will stay on a platform (more so now the app owners keep you browsing in app) and your efforts at SEO will be more focused on helping you to be found in the app itself (rather than people going to your website) but how you act and the content you produce will all contribute to increasing your brand awareness. In most cases, the higher the number of followers you have, the greater you’re seen to be performing (which I’d suggest isn’t always the case) but, even if your numbers aren’t as high as your peers, there’s a few things you can do that will give you a baseline level of optimisation in your channels overall that could increase the number of visitors to your website (and, regardless, will help clients’ impressions of you overall).
Instagram - Instagram’s strength comes in its ability to engage your clients with visual content. Publish strong images with a consistent theme plus commentary that stands out and demonstrates your worth. Treat it like your blog and post regularly and consistently (using Stories for sharing more fun things about you and, for example, behind the scenes). From an SEO perspective, Instagram is not a great application (Facebook, who owns Instagram, blocks access for Google to your images) but it’s worthwhile considering a few things. Match your username to your domain name, as far as possible and include keywords and your website URL in your profile.
Twitter - Much better for SEO than Instagram but still limited by the number of characters you can use. Key considerations are to include keywords in your profile and link to your website and regularly provide links in your posts back to your website (Google ranks inbound links very highly).
LinkedIn - Optimal I’d suggest for SEO out of all the social media platforms (perhaps on a par with Facebook) as you can write long-form articles but, based on some trials I performed, not as beneficial as blogging on your website (I published a sacrificial article on both at different times and my website post ranked better).
Facebook - As with the others, match your username to your domain name, put keywords in your biography and link to your website. There’s also the option, like LinkedIn, to use their highly targeted paid advertising tool, similar to Google’s paid search, which could increase your number of followers.
There are other social media platforms, e.g. YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr or Snapchat (which Cory Richards and Adrian Ballinger took much advantage off on an ascent of Everest) but what’s key is finding out where your clients spend their time and focusing your efforts there. (Plus, I’d recommend, using platforms you enjoy. I stopped using Facebook because, although it may have advantages to me as a business, using it simply makes me annoyed). I do think you’ll enjoy a much better return on your investment by targeting just a few social media platforms and customising your approach in each, rather than trying to use all of them (posting on one platform and copying it across to the others isn’t an optimal social media strategy). However you use social media, make sure you talk about yourself consistently and be sure to give out the same message regardless of the platforms you use. Follow others, especially photography buyers and interact with them. Build up a relationship online so when you do get some work you’re not brand new to them and they have confidence in how you conduct yourself as a business. Above all, keep trying new things and be sure to measure (and celebrate) your success. Don’t be afraid to adapt.
I’ve just touched on what you can do as a photographer with digital marketing techniques. You’re obviously better consulting the experts. Useful digital marketing and search engine optimisation information and services can be found online, including;
There’s many others.
Part two in a three part overview of digital marketing for photographers, with hints and tips for how to help photography buyers find you online.
I’m a photographer, not a web developer!
Google, it’s said, has around 200 page ranking factors it uses to measure a web page before it positions you within its search engine page rankings (SERPs). As a photographer, unless you’re also a web developer, you’re likely not able to concern yourself with (or care) what many of these are (some will be driven by the content management system that you choose to host your website) but there are some simple things you can do at content level which can help your success. Overall, the key thing I’d suggest is to always think about your client. If you aim to make it easy for them and optimise their user experience, you should, in theory, be rewarded as a result by search engines.
Optimising your website for search
As photographers, there’s a number of things we can do to customise our website and maximise our presence online. These techniques, under the umbrella term ‘search engine optimisation’ (SEO), apply regardless if you are building your website yourself or commissioning an agency to build one for you. The content that follows is targeted at photographers who are building a website themselves, using templated solutions from a supplier. If you’re commissioning someone to build your website for you, you can use the content as a means to help you choose an appropriate web development agency. (If your intended supplier doesn’t ask you questions related to the below, I’d question their suitability for your needs).
a.) Defining keywords
Keywords are simply the words your clients type into Google (or other search engines) when they are seeking something of interest. Simply put, the more relevant the keywords you choose are to the keywords your client uses, the higher the chance you have that your website will be ranked in search and be found by your clients. A focus for photographers looking to improve their search engine page rankings is therefore to understand your client base and establish what keywords your clients use when they browse the internet and are seeking to find photographers online. You can then tailor your content to include these keywords and match their needs. If you agree your keyword strategy up front, it’s really fairly easy afterwards to ensure your content always aligns to it.
Depending how considered your approach is to SEO, there are tools that can help you identify keywords, including Google’s KeyWord Planner and ahrefs Keyword Explorer. Both of these tools, plus other solutions, are paid-for applications and will give you lots of detail (e.g. the price you’d pay to advertise on those keywords). The stripped-down functionality of Google’s search field may be of use instead (simply type in a keyword into the search box on Google.com and it will tell you via a drop-down menu what other people have been searching for related to those keywords). Alternatively, if you’re simply looking to generate some keywords you want to use on your web pages and your blog to drive traffic to your website, a suitable tool I’d suggest initially is your brain. Establish the keywords you most want to be recognised for and then think about other topics that are related to those words.
Example keywords I use as an outdoor sports photographer based in Scotland, UK;
UK, Scotland, photographer, Edinburgh, commercial, advertising, editorial, photography, outdoor sports, outdoor, adventure, adventure sports, active lifestyle, outdoors, athlete, mountaineering, hiking, trekking, running, trail running, mountain running, surfing, cycling, mountain biking, landscape, travel, tourism, fitness, health, environment, etc.
b.) Choosing a domain name
If you’ve followed the advice I shared about choosing a web hosting company from an SEO perspective, the technical aspects of your domain name will be optimised for search, working without the www prefix and being presented to your clients via a secure connection, i.e. HTTPs. A steer for what to call your domain name would be to choose something that is short and memorable and, if you wish, contains a keyword related to photography. Aim for a domain name that is easy to remember and shy away from using multiple keywords in your name, which Google could class as spammy, plus hyphens or underscores, as they could make it more difficult for your clients to recall or type your address.
You may wish to choose what you do for your domain name, or to use a company slogan, for example;
The choice is yours but there’s a risk that search engines (and your clients) class this keyword-targeted approach as spam-like and related to poor quality content (think of similar sites in other industries with lots of adverts). I’d recommend choosing a simple domain name, e.g. firstnamelastname.com or firstnamelastnamephoto.com and using the content itself on your website to generate your SEO. (The value being you can get much more breadth with your content - customising individual web pages for targeted search - than you can with just your domain name).
c.) Structuring your website
A good way to start thinking about how to structure your website is to research other photography websites. There’s only so many options to categorise your content when you’re presenting photographs and you’ll likely find the majority of the sites you visit are structured around a variation of a theme (Homepage, Portfolio, Galleries, Projects, About, Blog, Contact).
You may be tempted to try something different to stand out, and people do, but most photography buyers will expect some standardisation across websites and you may make it difficult for them if you break from ‘the norm’. I’d recommend to focus on wowing clients with the quality of your photographs rather than a fancy website and keep it simple as possible.
Tips for creating a site map
Have a portfolio page so buyers short of time can clearly see what you offer
Aim for three clicks max for a client to find lower-level content (ideally two clicks). For example, if they’re on your homepage, Galleries (1 click), Adventure sports (2 clicks).
Make your labels clear and concise and relevant to the page you’re sending your clients to (Labels are the words your client clicks on. Depending on your CMS, these can be different to the labels you provide for search engines - see adding page meta data below)
Have an About page that clearly describes who you are and what you do
Consider a biography if you have an interesting back story that supports or adds to your brand
Ensure your contact details are easily accessible (name, location, phone number and email address)
Should you have one website or multiple websites? Research I’ve conducted would suggest that photographers focus their business on a speciality rather than being a jack of all trades, the rationale being that photography buyers are more likely to hire someone who has high-quality images only of, e.g. outdoor sports and related topics on their website, rather than a photographer who has diluted their approach by mixing in outdoor sports along with their pet, wedding and baby photography. There’s nothing to stop you presenting a multi-faceted approach for your clients, and, if you’ve chosen a CMS that supports it, optimising each page from an SEO point of view, but industry commentary would suggest that best practice is to specialise. On that basis, I’d recommend you create a separate website for each genre of your photography (or instead, if you are fortunate enough, put all your efforts into one genre).
c.) Adding page meta data
Once you know how many pages you’re going to create for your website, think about how you’re going to describe each page for search engines. This is valuable because when Google or other search engines crawl your website, they attribute value to it and you build up this value over time as more people visit or link to your content. (The more value your site has for a specific topic, the higher you will rank in search engine page rankings for searches related to that topic). Meta data is simply information you’re able to add to your web pages which enables search engines to understand better what you offer.
Page URLs - If you can tell from a page URL what is going to be on a page before you visit, then it’s highly likely a search engine will be able to as well. Aim to keep your page URLs clear and concise and ensure they are relative to the content of your page. Unlike domain names, do use hyphens to separate keywords, which help search engines and will aid usability.
Examples from my website;
Page titles and description - A page title and description is a simple summary of your web page that describes what it contains. The goal from a technical perspective is you’re telling search engines up front what they can expect to find in your website but, as the information is displayed publicly in search engine page results, a good title and description can help clients clearly understand your speciality when they come across your name (and can also help your name to be front of their mind when they think of, or search for, your speciality). There’s a skill in choosing appropriate keywords for each page so they don’t overly compete with each other but, collectively, give search engines a rounded view of what you offer.
An example from my website;
Page title - Outdoor photography | Sports, adventure, lifestyle - Colin Henderson Photography
Description - Photographer based in Scotland, UK. specialised in a variety of subjects such as sports, outdoor recreation and employment, adventure tourism, travel and landscapes.
Tip - Your page title is also displayed on a browser tab so it will be visible to your clients when they’re on your website and could help pique their interest. Ensure your page titles are easily readable and place your most important keywords (i.e. those most relevant to the content) at the start.
d.) Writing page copy
You’ve set up your web pages, labelled them so they make sense to your clients and appended meta data so they’re optimised for SERPS. Your next step is to add relevant content to your web pages which you’ve researched and you’re confident will interest and engage your client.
My simple advice for writing online copy is to find something you care about, write naturally and don’t stuff your text full of the same keywords. Decide up front what your primary keywords are for each of your web pages and mention these on the page. Avoid repetition, as far as possible, and use synonyms where appropriate to help round out your writing and give search engines a broader view of the message you’re trying to get across.
e.) Formatting your web pages
Formatting your web pages (using bold text, italics, margins, tables, etc.) makes it easier for clients to view your content and understand what you’re trying to say. Categorising your content using headers helps search engines and makes it easy for clients to scan your web pages and identify key information. Keywords in your page headings is an SEO ranking factor (especially H1) and bear in mind that search engines (and humans) like order and structure.
H1 - Outdoor sports photography hints and tips
H2 - Essential camera gear
H3 - Camera bodies
H3 - Camera lenses
H2 - What to photograph
H3 - Athletes
H3 - Landscapes
f.) Describing your images
The need for image search first materialised back in 2000, when Google began to support people searching for photographs (the instigator its said being multiple searches people made for ‘Jennifer Lopez’s green dress’). Google developed image search which enables you to use keywords to help your images rank in search as well as your web pages.
Image descriptions (also known as 'Alt text’ or 'Alt attributes') are useful for search engines (and also for visually-impaired users who use screen-readers). They allow you to describe what is in your image. As with page titles, keep them short and descriptive and aim to include your keywords.
An example of an image description on my website;
Athlete Donnie Campbell mountain running near Le Brévent, Chamonix, with Mont Blanc in the background
g.) Considering page weight
Finally, but just as importantly as all the above (potentially more so but it’s at the foot of the page), keep in mind that the more images you add on a page the greater your page weight. Google and other search engines will very likely penalise your website if it loads too slowly. Bear this in mind when you’re creating your site map and consider breaking content into two or more pages if you wish to share lots of images. Aim to keep your image file size as small as possible but note there may be a trade off because, if the image isn’t big enough and your web template has a full screen option, it may not render very well on larger screens (the majority of my images are between 500KB and 1MB in size). My advice would be to know your target audience - if they always use fast internet connections and larger desktops it may make business sense to optimise the experience for them. (Not many clients will have this luxury, especially when they’re on the move - think mobile). Alternatively, you may wish to choose a web template where your images are presented in a smaller size if page speed will become an issue. As ever, it’s a consideration of all of the above that will help you to be most successful. I’d recommend making use of Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to get a feel for how weighty your page is overall and Chrome DevTools to get more detailed information.
My background outside photography includes many years working with digital marketing, supporting a FTSE 100 company to produce high-quality digital solutions for their customers. I’m sharing some high-level information from my experience in that field as I feel it can benefit photographers plus others in the industry (for example, if photographers adopt a good online approach, it makes it easier for e.g. Art Directors and other photography buyers to find the right people for their needs).
Do I still need a website in 2019?
Despite the current heady days of Instagram and other widely-used social media applications, at the time of writing, accepted wisdom should still steer photographers towards the need for a stand-alone portfolio website. Whether your business approach is to sell direct to customers (D2C) or to a corporate client or via an agency (B2B), interested parties may want to find out more about you than what you’re able to share on social media and, at the time of writing, a website is still the best platform to do this. By mapping out the approach you take to building to your website, optimising it for search and producing consistent, regular, high-quality content that represents what you can offer, you’ll drive the right traffic to your business and put yourself in the best possible position to find work and retain clients.
Web hosting for your photography website
From a digital marketing perspective, choosing a web hosting company that enables you to customise the content you publish online and optimise it for search is key. Important aspects to consider are;
Domain name services (DNS) - Google considers security a ranking factor so check that your domain name come with an HTTPs prefix and the HTTP version automatically forwards to the HTTPs version. In addition, you may find that your clients don’t type in the www when they enter website addresses so you’ll want confidence in your DNS that your domain will work both with and without the ‘www’ prefix (e.g. www.colinhendersonphoto.com and colinhendersonphoto.com both point to https://www.colinhendersonphoto.com). If you have a blog, investigate if you can position it under your primary domain, e.g. www.colinhendersonphoto.com/blog, rather than using any default URL of your blogging platform, e.g. colinhendersonphoto.wordpress.com, so the SEO value you receive is attributed to your website.
URL rewrites - URL rewrites are related to DNS. They’re not an essential feature when you’re choosing a web hosting solution but if you move content around in your website structure (or change a page name) and still want to retain your SEO value, the functionality enables you to tell search engines when they land on the old page to go to the new page. Common options are a 301 redirect (permanent move) or a 302 (temporary move).
Canonical URLs - Whether you will ever need or want to use canonical URLs as a photographer I’d suggest will depend on the complexity of your content strategy. If you plan to publish the same content on different pages on your website (e.g. you’ve written copy for one of your web pages and you’ve used the same copy on your blog) or you regularly copy one of your blog posts and add identical copy to a page on your LinkedIn profile (or another social media site or website), canonical URLs are a functionality that enables you to tell search engines which single page to rank so the different pages don’t compete against each other and harm SEO.
Content management system - If you plan to add content regularly to your website, you’ll appreciate a content management system that makes it easy for you to create, edit and update pages, one which has a simple (WYSIWYG) content editor so you can format your text and add HTML markup such as headers, italics and bold text to aid online viewing.
Meta data - Page meta data is a key consideration for Google and other search engines as to how and where they rank your content. Look for a solution that will let you customise your site and page titles, page descriptions and URLs.
Blog - The advantages of blogging for SEO can’t be over-stated. Blogs enable you to cover the peripheral aspects that are relevant to your business and which may be of interest to your clients and they strongly support your efforts to build up brand awareness. (The ability to present your blog using Google’s AMP functionality may make your blogs rank better but be aware of what your pages will look like to your client (Tip - Possibly nothing like your nicely branded website).
Analytics - Not a component of SEO, but functionality that will let understand how many people are viewing your content and what they do next is key if you want to maximise the return on your investment (even if it was just your time).
Note - I use Squarespace for my content management solutions, specifically for their SEO capabilities (fully customisable meta data, advanced DNS capability and blogging functionality) but also because they had a web template I wanted to use. Photoshelter had a similar web template and great database functionality plus sharing tools but I didn’t rate their their SEO capabilities (e.g. random parameters added to your database images) and their mobile functionality is behind the times (no pinch and zoom on mobile devices). Up front, Photofolio were my first choice (I like the work that owner Rob Haggart does on aphotoeditor.com) and using their CMS was very easy but I couldn’t find a template I liked and the effort involved in customising the ones they offered outweighed the value I saw in it. I have also used Wordpress in the past, which comes with SEO plugins such as Yoast that makes things easier, but, overall, I’ve found Squarespace to be most suitable for my needs. Your mileage of course may vary and I’d encourage you to trial them all.
Web hosting solutions for photographers
(There will be more).
Tip - Consider choosing a web hosting company that also hosts your domain name. Not for SEO advantages but for ease of administration (the less suppliers you have, the easier it is to keep track of who you’re paying for what and in this instance you’re not at great risk of putting all your eggs in too few baskets). There may also be cost benefits for your business, e.g. if you’re in the UK and you use a US supplier, your bank likely charges you transaction fees on each overseas payment.
A blog series where I’ll share a list of outdoor and adventure films by category (e.g. sea and whitewater kayaking) that I’ve enjoyed watching and would recommend, having viewed each many times over (either for the characters, storyline, scenery or the cinematography, but usually a combination of all four).
Sea and whitewater kayaking films I’d recommend
Chasing Niagara - World-class professional kayaker Rafa Ortiz’s dream to kayak Niagara Falls is documented in this film supported by Red Bull (Rafa’s sponsor) as he works his way up to the skills, courage and decisions required to navigate himself into a position where he can safely kayak over Niagara Falls and plunge 170ft into the famous white waters on the border of the USA and Canada. The documentary follows Rafa and his friends as they train towards the big event, including paddling the ‘steepest navigable section of whitewater in the world’ in the Rio Santo Domingo, a river that winds its way through the mountains of Guatemala and southern Mexico, and the 100-foot high Sahalie Falls in Canada. (During the film, they seek advice from Tyler Bradt, who, in 2009, completed the highest kayak descent on a river, dropping a remarkable 189ft off Palouse Falls in Washington state, USA).
Into the Tsangpo Gorge - I first learnt about the Tsangpo Gorge in Ian Baker’s book ‘The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place’ which was published in 2006. As is often the case, when I find something I’m interested in, I go into full-on research mode to find out more and I discovered this film, from 2002, which follows seven kayakers as they attempt to descend the ‘Everest of Rivers’ in the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, a thin strip of tumultuous white water at the foot of a gorge, over 19,000ft deep (three times deeper than the Grand Canyon), which is reported to descend 9,000ft in 150 miles.
Kayaking the Aleutians - An award-winning film by Justine Curvengen (see ‘Into the Sea’ below), documenting a hugely-committing 2500km trip between Alaska and Russia following the archipelago of the wild and remote Aleutian Islands (‘the birthplace of the winds’) with Sarah Outen, a fairly novice paddler who was on a journey of her own to circumnavigate the world under her own steam.
Solo - Lost at Sea - A documentary about the tragic end to the life of Andrew Macaulay, a hugely experienced Australian sea kayaker who went missing and was presumed drowned in 2007 just 56km off the New Zealand coast after paddling nearly 1600km across the Tasman Sea. I first learnt about Andrew in Justine Curvengen’s ‘This is the Sea’ series (see below, the Antarctica expedition is in series 3) and his sheer enthusiasm during that adventure stuck in my mind as someone I wanted to learn more about and see more from. The radio call which opens the film, of Andrew’s initially garbled message calling for a rescue, is especially haunting. Like many other athletes who push the boundaries of their sport, Andrew died early in his life, single-minded enough it appears to continue to squeeze the envelope of what is possible in his sport, whilst at the same time battling personal demons about the pain whilst doing so of leaving loved ones behind.
This is the Sea - A series of sea kayaking and adventure films from Justine Curgenven, an expedition sea kayaker and film-maker who has documented many of her trips and presented them across her ‘This is the Sea’ series, which she’s interspersed with quality footage from other sea kayakers. Episodes I’ve watched often include Justine and Hadas Feldman’s paddle up the Pacific coast of Kamchatka (which included teaching a Russian soldier how to kayak, after the authorities forced them to take him along), Justine’s circumnavigation of Isla Grande in Tierra del Fuego with Barry Shaw and an excellent film from Andrew Macaulay, Laurie Geoghegan and Stuart Trueman documenting their sea kayaking expedition to Antarctica.
There’s also the following kayaking films I’ve not seen but which I would like to, as I’d like to find out more about their journey and the people involved;
Kadoma - A film from professional kayaker Ben Stookesberry about his and Chris Korbulik’s ill-fated expedition with South African adventurer Hendri Coetzee to make the first descent of the Lukuga River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tragically, during their trip, Coetzee was snatched silently from his boat by a crocodile, right next to Stookeberry and Korbulik and presumed dead. The film is said to focus more on the trip itself and the three kayakers’ interaction with each other as well as the local communities they pass by. (EDIT - You can watch Kadoma on YouTube so I’ve updated the link).
Walled In - Another film by Ben Stookesberry that’s hard to get a hold of in the UK, Anecdoted by Ben as having taken eight days exploration for just 4 minutes of kayaking, it documents their adventurous journey to attempt the first descent of Marble Fork of the Kaweah river in Sequoia National Park in California. The trailer alone for this film is what makes me want to see it.
A blog series where I’ll share a list of outdoor and adventure films by category (e.g. trail and mountain running) that I’ve enjoyed watching and would recommend, having viewed each many times over (either for the characters, storyline, scenery or the cinematography, but usually a combination of all four).
Trail and mountain running films I’d recommend
Crossing Corsica - A French winemaker, originally from Lille and now based in the Beaujolais region of France, Francois D’Haene is one of ultra running’s elite, the winner of many long-distance trail races such as Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in France (three times), Grand Raid on Réunion island in the Indian Ocean (three times) and Ultra Trail Madeira. This 27-minute documentary narrates how Francois, who is sponsored by the French outdoor brand Salomon, attempts to set the fastest known time on the GR20, a 180km route with 12000m of ascent that follows the spine of the Mediterranean island of Corsica. (See also the same route run by North Face athlete Rory Bosio in the film ‘Running on Empty’)
Crown Traverse - I’ve watched the Crown Traverse many, many times. It’s the story of two American ultra runners, Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe, who, accompanied by photographer Steven Gnam, attempt to run 965km from Montana, USA to Banff in Canada across the ‘Crown of the Continent’ (aka Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks). All shot from an athlete perspective, the film captures perfectly I think the joy of being outside in a remote and beautiful mountain landscape, moving at a comfortable pace under your own steam.
Curiosity - The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) is a 170km ultra running race around Mont Blanc, visiting the countries of France, Italy and Switzerland. This film, by Camp 4 Collective on behalf of The North Face. follows three of their athletes (Rory Bosio, Hal Koerner and Timothy Ollson) as they prepare for and run in the 2015 race.
Hardrock 100: The Unknown - Starting and finishing in Silverton, the location of an old mining camp in Colorado, USA, the Hardrock 100 is one of the world’s coveted long-distance races. One hundred miles long, (in case you were in any doubt) the route involves 66,000ft elevation change (33,050ft ascent and descent) and climbs to an altitude of 14,048ft (only 1700ft less than the highest summit in Europe, Mont Blanc). Film-maker Billy Yang’s film ‘The Unknown’ follows the struggles and achievements of Timothy Ollson as he races in the 2016 race. (See also Billy’s Hardrock film from 2017 called ‘The Gathering’ plus other race footage online, including ‘Kissing the Rock’ by Matt Trappe and ‘Pacing the Hardrock’ by Jeff Pelletier).
John Muir Trail | A 359km Collective Adventure - Another record attempt by elite ultra and mountain runner Francois D’Haene, this time accompanied by a group of friends as he aims for the fastest known time on the John Muir Trail, an (as-advertised) 330km-long route in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. (‘The Long Haul’ by Journeyfilm documents a previous run on the John Muir Trail by Hal Koerner and Mike Wolfe).
Nolan’s 14 - I had an ultra running ‘star spot’ in Chamonix this year, when I walked past Joe Grant as he sat in a restaurant. He was eating at the time so I didn’t interrupt (I don’t think I ever would) but if I had done, I’d have congratulated him on his successful completion of Nolan’s 14, a c.100 mile route across 14 14,000ft peaks in Colorado’s Sawatch range (which was named after a Joe Nolan was challenged by Fred Vance in 1991 as to how many peaks he could do in a given distance). Joe (Grant’s) feat was documented in this Black Diamond-sponsored film by US film-maker and photographer, Matt Trappe (whose Instagram stories of UTMB in 2019 I was very impressed with).
Salomon Running TV - A great example of a brand using storytelling as a means of content marketing in a series of long-standing films by South African film-maker Dean Leslie, commissioned by the French outdoor company, Salomon. Episodes I particularly like are;
Down - Tom Owens and Ricky Lightfoot running full-speed downhill in Iceland
The Bob Graham - Ricky Lightfoot on a winter Bob Graham Round in the Lake District
Into Patagonia - Dakota Jones revisiting the delights of Patagonia with a revised frame of mind.
Fast and Light - A profile of Swedish elite trail runner Emilie Forsberg
Running Happy - More films produced by Dean Leslie include ‘Running Happy’, following South African runner Ryan Sandes as he circumnavigates Mont Blanc with a group of friends, plus Lessons from the Edge, which documents Ryan and his friend Ryno Griesel as they run 1406km across Nepal on the Great Himalayan Trail.
Unbreakable - A tale of the famous Western States ultra distance race in 2010, documenting the background plus the race of four runners (Hal Koerner, Kilian Jornet, Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka), who were all undefeated at the time, as they competed against each other (and others) in this 100-mile race across the trails of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Expensive to download in 2019 but it’s 105 minutes long and, when I watch it, I’m always happy I paid the price.
I’m currently negotiating a price for the commercial use of a series of images I’ve captured, which a UK company wishes to use for advertising purposes on a new website they’re designing. The difficulties I’m finding these days as a photographer is securing what I feel is a fair price for my images in an industry that, by and large (in a world of micro-stock, good-quality cameras, apps such as Instagram and a world that likes to share) is perilously close to the bottom in regards to the price of stock photography. I thought therefore I’d share the process I go through when a client asks me to provide them with a price for an image and what steps I take to secure what I feel is a fair price for the intended use.
Why do I care about intended use? In the photography business, photographers license the use of images to clients rather than sell images outright so they retain the rights to the image for future use. The car rental business is a common analogy, where, if you place yourself in role as the client, you’re hiring a car for a specific use for a specific period of time and the price you pay is appropriate to your usage. To add some complexity to the car analogy, there’s also the value of the photograph to you and how valuable it is to the client, plus how unique your image is (e.g. can your client easily get similar images elsewhere?). As a photographer, it’s important to understand these things and be diligent to ensure the payment you receive for your photographs is an accurate reflection of the usage you provide. There’s many considerations when it comes to licensing images and it’s really not so simple when you factor in there’s no agreed list of prices online that you can refer to for specific usage (such as those communicated online by a car hire firm). I often wish photographers were more open about the prices they receive (or charge) so we can do more as photographers to ensure as an industry that we’re being rewarded appropriately for what is, by and large, a very expensive occupation to have. (As an example, view my photography gear list).
1.) Pricing images for editorial use
The first thing I’ll do when I receive a request for use of an image by a client is to check the purpose. Is the usage going to be editorial reasons (such as a magazine) or for commercial use (e.g. for advertising purposes)?
If a client wishes to use my photography for editorial purposes, my next step is always to ask what they plan to do with the image (e.g. illustrate a cover, fill a double-page spread. use it in a table of contents, etc.). More often than not, the Editor or Art Director will also share the price that they’re willing to pay for that use (the common field of play in the markets I operate being the magazine sets the rates for editorial use rather than the photographer). In 2019, I find there’s little point negotiating this price unless my image is very unique but I’m not afraid to walk away if I think the value is too low (nor do I shy away from requesting additional fees if there is a creative writing to be delivered on top of the photography, e.g. above and beyond a standard caption). My main thought process is, am I happy with the price that’s being offered (see the accepting reduced rates section below) and what usage license will I offer in return.
When is editorial use not editorial use?
Editorial use I class as use by a magazine, newspaper or trade publication that’s purely for consumers’ information only, either for knowledge or entertainment. Editorial use by a company where the goal of the editorial piece is to help them sell products (e.g. on a blog) I something I'd class as commercial use.
(This is not always black and white. On one occasion, I had a puzzle. An editorial magazine wanted to use my image but the page they would use it on was being used to selling products for companies who had paid for advertising space. Is that commercial or editorial use? I decided it was editorial as I had no corporate client to bill the work to. It’s a tricky job pricing stock photography).
Don't be afraid to query rates. A returning client in 2019 offered me a specific amount for a double-page spread in their magazine, at a rate three figures lower then their previous commission. When I checked, politely, if that was due to falling advertising revenue, I received a reply saying that it was their mistake and I should bill for the higher figure.
2.) Pricing images for commercial use
The two types of commercial use licenses commonly offered by photographers are Royalty Free and Rights Managed. Both types of licenses have pros and cons and, depending on my client, one license may be more suitable for them than the other.
Royalty Free - A Royalty Free license is a license clients can purchase which provides them with the permission to use an image in perpetuity, in any fashion they choose, print or digital. In other words, I’m giving a copy of that image to my client along with a license that says they own that copy from then on (important - just the copy, not the copyright) and they can use the image how they wish without having to pay me any more money in the future. Royalty Free is a common license I’ll be asked to provide by clients working for smaller or medium-sized companies as most of these companies don't set aside the bigger budgets (or have a need) to pay for the exclusive use that is often offered under a Rights Managed license (see below). The advantage to me as a photographer in terms of Royalty Free licenses is that these are generally licensed for non-exclusive use and I can continue to license the image to other clients for the duration of any existing contracts (plus the transactions are fairly quick as there's no complex negotiation required).
Rights Managed - Images offered on a Rights Managed basis enable photographers to retain more control about how their images are used by a client, plus they give us the ability to re-license images once an initial contract has ended if our clients wish continued use outside the terms that have been agreed. I’ll grant a license for a specific use of a photograph, which I’ve agreed during negotiations with the client, giving them full permission to do what they want with the image but only within the parameters of that specific use. They only pay for what they need, which suggests the value I derive from those images is completely linked to the client’s use. Or is it?
3.) What price to charge for an image license?
The answer? Only you will know. If a client shares how they’re going to use your image but asks you what your price is, they’re putting you slightly more in the driving seat. On such occasions, the internet is your friend. Stock photography websites such as Getty Images share their prices online and you can establish what they charge their clients for editorial use. (I have in the past compared a few different stock agencies and calculated an average price but I’d caution against this as their prices can vary dramatically). I prefer to choose a single stock agency that I’m happy to use as a benchmark and revisit it regularly to see how their prices are changing. I also research rate cards to see if I can find out what magazines and newspapers are charging clients to purchase advertising space in their magazines and conduct lots of research before I provide clients with a quote (including asking other photographers what they charge and whether they feel the price I am proposing is undercutting the market). My primary goal is to arm myself with enough knowledge so I can make sensible decisions as to how to run my business (and please my clients) but in a way that doesn’t harm me or other photographers.
The general approach I take to agree a price is to;
Decide how unique my image is
Define how much it means to me
How much it means to my client
What the client’s budget is
Duration of use?
Exclusive or non-exclusive use?
Consider any price being offered against research I’ve conducted
Decide if the rate is appropriate for me
Decide my own price
Negotiate if appropriate
Share the image plus the usage license (including terms and conditions)
Finalise and close
Why would you choose to accept a reduced rate?
Sometimes, a magazine or corporate client will offer you a rate that is not comparable with the value you've placed on your image. You can negotiate, walk away or, alternatively, decide to accept that rate if you feel you’re going to gain in a different way. Chase Jarvis, an American photographer and creative entrepreneur has some good advice that I regularly refer to, about only accepting work when two out of three criteria have been satisfied. It’s based on commissioned work but the principles I think are good to keep in mind and can be easily adjusted for stock photography, by changing them to what’s important to you. It’s guidance I value and which helps me makes me feel that I’m making my business decisions for the right reasons.
Licensing images at reduced rates can harm yourself plus other photographers by making it easier for the market to drive the price down. It’s tempting to take what money you can get (accepting that clients have limited budgets) but your photography has a value (and if clients are approaching you, they value it too). My recommendation would be you establish a price that reflects the value of your photography and don’t accept reduced rates without negotiating as hard (but politely) as possible to ensure you’re getting something from the contract that is of sufficient value to you.
4.) Protecting yourself with image licensing contracts
It’s surprising to me how many photographers I know commission photo shoots or license images with little regards for personal or business risk management. For each and every usage license I provide a client, I protect both myself and my client by ensuring my invoice contains clear instructions on the terms of the license (including the duration of use and any restrictions) plus a copy of my terms and conditions, which outlines, amongst other things, that I retain the copyright and what risks the client is running if they use the image in a non-agreed way.
If you’re looking for a template for your photography terms and conditions, Lisa Pritchard’s excellent book ‘Setting up a Photography Business’ contains the wording I originally used for my terms and conditions, which I modified to suit my needs after consulting with a lawyer. In regards to stock photography, I've established what risks I am open to in regards to clients using my images in a way I’m not aware of (or have not licensed) and I make sure to protect myself (with my client in mind) as far as possible.
Jim Pickerell - Negotiating Stock Photo Prices (Out of date and generally out of stock but packed full of useful information and you may find copies being sold second-hand online)
Richard Weisgrau - The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating (Amazon link, non-affiliate)
Lisa Pritchard - Setting up a Successful Photography Business (Amazon link, non-affiliate)
A new blog series where I’ll share a list of outdoor and adventure films by category (e.g. climbing and mountaineering) that I’ve enjoyed watching and would recommend, having viewed each many times over (either for the characters, storyline, scenery or the cinematography but usually a combination of all four). There’s some less polished videos in the series overall, presumably shot on a tiny budget, plus others which appear to have had the help of much bigger budgets but where I’m likely doing a disservice to the skills of the film-makers and their ability to do more with less. Either way, I’d suggest all are worthy of your time if you enjoy quality storytelling from the world of outdoors and adventure.
Climbing and mountaineering films I’d recommend
A Line Across The Sky - Primarily a first person POV film of Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold enoying what included, I’d imagine, lots of their own type of ‘type-2’ fun as they become the first climbers to traverse the long-coveted (but little attempted) 5km long skyline of the Chaltén/Fitzroy massif in Argentine Patagonia. The relaxed attitude and camaraderie of the two friends I’d imagine completely belies the serious of their situation and the prodigious skills needed for their success.
Cerro Torre - The late, great David Lama solving the puzzle on the vertiginous headwall of Cerro Torre, a striking, ice-encrusted rock spire on the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentine Patagonia. (See Werner Herzog’s ‘Scream of Stone’ for context). The helicopter shots as Lama and his climbing partner Peter Ortner are on route are sublime. (A separate film, Cumbre’, which documents Marco Pedrini’s solo climb of Cerro Torre in 1985 is also worth a watch).
China Jam - I’ve watched a few films from Belgian brothers Nico and Olivier Favresse and their friends, including Sean Villaneuva O’Driscoll, whose idea of fun is hard, adventurous free climbing on difficult mountains around the world (including Baffin Island, Greenland and Patagonia). In China Jam, Evrard Wendenbaum joins them as they explore the Tien Shan mountains on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border and make a first ascent in deteriorating conditions of the South-East Pillar of Kyzyl Asker (5842m).
Cold - The kickstarter to Cory Richards’ career as a National Geographic photographer as he, Simone Moro and Denis Urubko become the first people to climb an 8000m peak in Pakistan in winter.
Cold Haul - A film by big-wall specialist and the self-proclaimed ‘second-best climber in Hull’, this self-shot effort by UK climber Andy Kirkpatrick and fellow alpinist Ian Parnell documents their successful ascent of the Lafaille route on the west face of Aiguille du Dru in winter, high above Chamonix in France. An entertaining film that provides a glimpse into the technicalities of top-grade aid climbing but also visualises the harsh reality of what it takes to look after yourself whilst climbing and sleeping on an alpine wall in winter.
Dawn Wall - The climbing equivalent of a buddy movie as Tommy Caldwell recruits Kevin Jorgensen for his 7-year project to free climb the Dawn Wall, a 1000m-high, hugely technical climbing route on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in America. Possibly unique as being the only climb to be beamed live to an audience of (perhaps) millions, when the mainstream media took interest and set up camp in Yosemite meadows. (The film by the crew behind the scenes of the Dawn Wall movie is also worth a watch).
Desert Ice - A film directed by Keith Ladzinski which showcases the adventure, excitement, effort and fun involved in two climbers finding and climbing steep ice on the walls of the steep slot canyons in South-West Utah in the USA. (Scott Adamson, one of the main protagonists in Desert Ice and who I believe was a friend of Keith’s, is sadly presumed dead after he went missing in 2016 during an first ascent attempt on the Ogre II in Pakistan, along with climbing partner Kyle Dempster. For a taster of who Kyle himself was as a person, see his self-shot travel-log ‘The Road from Karakol’).
Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey - Fred Beckey I’m surmising was someone who the people who knew him either really admired, liked, disliked or were hugely frustrated by. A prolific climber and a life-long ‘dirtbag’, all the way to his death in 2017 at age 94 years old, Beckey put up hundreds of first ascents in the North Cascades mountains in Washington state and other mountain regions, documenting these in a number of books he wrote, with a mindset laser-focused on climbing. A fascinating film about someone I’d heard lots about but knew little.
Free Solo - An expertly-shot, multi-award-winning epic (it won categories at both the 2019 Oscars and Emmys) this now well-known film showcases Alex Honnold’s jaw-dropping solo climb of the 2307m high El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. I watched it three times in the first week of its release and it’s such a stunning achievement, especially when you consider Alex’s mental strength, that, given climbing is still a fairly niche activity, it will likely never get Alex the full respect he deserves. View on a big screen if you can.
Higher Ground - A collection of films about climbing and mountain culture by Chris Alstrin and Alex Lavigne which narrates for the viewer a variety of different climbing specialisms, including technical mixed climbing, solo ice climbing and winter alpine climbing. I’ve especially enjoyed returning to the footage of Sean Isaac and Shawn Huisman repeating their first ascent of ‘Cryophobia’, a 225m route graded M8 WI5+ in the Canadian Rockies (with its opening words by Jeff Lowe) and the profile of Vancouver-based photographer, Andrew Querner.
Meru - Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk and Conrad Anker scale the Shark’s Fin on Meru Central, a 6310m-high peak in the Garhwal Himalaya that vexed multiple parties before them. (Check out their original edit, Return to Meru - originally, I recall, titled Samsara - to see the story-telling value that I’m presuming Jimmy Chin’s wife, Chai Vasarhelyi, a documentary film-maker and director, brought to the film (including the importance of Conrad Anker’s mentorship to the group, Jimmy Chin’s survival of an avalanche plus a focus on Renan Ozturk’s uphill battle following a near fatal fall he suffered whilst working in Wyoming's Grand Tetons range).
Metanoia - A biopic of the late Jeff Lowe, a hugely talented and driven climber who was highly instrumental in the sport’s development over his 40+ year career.. The film details his life and climbs (including the legendary near miss on the 2500m long north ridge of Latok 1) with a focus on Lowe’s winter solo ascent of the Eiger north face in 1991, his change of approach to life thereafter and the winding down of his climbing career as his body succumbed to the effects of a unknown neurodegenerative disease (which was said to be similar to ALS), which left him in a wheelchair.
Mountain - A visual feast of cinematography from the aforementioned Renan Ozturk, accompanied by words from Wilhelm Dafoe (narrating from Robert McFarlane’s book ‘Mountains of my Mind) played along to orchestral music from Richard Tognetti, which is performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. What’s not to like?
Slovak Direct - I first read about the Slovak Direct route on Denali’s massive, 3,000m-high south face in Steve House’s book ‘Beyond the Mountain’, when he recounted how he, Mark Twight and Scott Backes adopted a cutting-edge, non-stop approach that led them to ascend this highly-technical climbing route in just 60 hours. (The first ascentionists, Blažej Adam, Tono Križo and František Korl pioneered the route in 11 days). The seriousness of their climb was brought to life for me in this film by US climbers Jesse Huey and Mark Westman, which the pair produced to document their fifth ascent of the route in 2010. (Watch also a UK ascent of the Slovak Direct route in this film by Andy Houseman and Nick Bullock).
Splitter - A fine testament to the highly admirable personal qualities of the late Jonny Copp, an American alpinist and skilled photographer / filmmaker who documented three climbing trips to Canada, Patagonia and Pakistan for this DVD that was released by Copp and Ross Holcomb in 2004. Jonny Copp was instrumental in helping me establish some facts for my trekking guidebook to Patagonia and I always looked forward to seeing his photos, writing and footage from his expeditions. Sadly, in 2009, he died along with Micah Dash and film-maker Wade Johnson whilst attempting a first ascent on a remote peak called Mount Edgar in China’s Sichuan Province. (Sender Films has a tribute to the trio in their First Ascent series, including footage from their Chinese expedition. Patagonia also opened their Tin Shed video series, I recall, with a film from Jonny entitled Long Ways)
A small selection of the mountain landscape images I captured from Aiguille du Midi station during a short break to Chamonix in France. My wife and I spent a week hiking and trekking beneath incredible alpine peaks such as Aiguille du Dru (Les Drus), Aiguille Verte, Aiguille du Plan and Le Brévent in often glorious sunshine, visiting alpine refuges on the way and rewarding ourselves with fresh blackberry and apple tart, washed down with copious amounts of tea and coffee. A great way to spend time together and unwind in the mountains.
Sharing a mountain landscape image from a recent non-work trip to the Alps which captures the summit of Mont Blanc and Les Bossons Glacier above Chamonix in France. (You can view a larger size of this image in my ‘Mountain Panoramas’ gallery).
You can see tourists and climbers on the left for scale plus there's a group of climbers heading up the steep, serac-strewn slopes that are down and to the left of the summit. (I think these slopes are the popular Trois Monts route to the summit but the trail stops half-way up the slope. If anyone can tell me why folk would be traversing under ice seracs at 11am when the sun is shining, I'm really curious to know - my understanding being that's just silly dangerous and folk usually summit Mont Blanc at dawn when the slopes are frozen).
I recently shared a stripped down gear list for occasions where I want to travel light outdoors but still wish to capture professional-quality images. Although the items of equipment I listed in that post are lighter than a full bag of camera gear, they are still too heavy for me to carry on occasions when I’m not working and I’d like to challenge myself a little in the mountains.
My inspiration for challenging days out on the hills comes from the athletes I photograph as well as my friends. I’m definitely not a mountain or a fell runner but I’ve had plenty of photography shoots with professional runners (and follow their adventures online) and the ease and speed at which they travel over rough ground has made me realise that I enjoy moving quicker than walking speed in the mountains (something which I have attempted to do in the past with a full camera backpack but my lower back seeks to constantly remind me).
In 2017, I purchased the lightest-weight camera I own, a Sony RX100 V for personal outdoor adventures where I want to move a bit quicker but still capture decent-quality images, especially when they aren’t the focus of my trip. The images I’m able to capture with the Sony RX100 are on the borderline of what I’d class as being acceptable for professional purposes (I’m happy to use them for editorial submissions and blogs) but the trade off when I’m not working is immeasurable. I can fit the camera into a stretchy front pocket of my backpack and easily fast-walk or jog with it up and down hills without any impairment on my activity, whilst still being able to document my day or take shots I can use later for editorial or e.g. location scouting purposes.
The type of outing I’d carry along a Sony RX100 on would be a trail run in the Alps, a long-distance mountain bike time trial or an attempt at multiple Munro summits in Scotland, where my objective is to achieve a relatively big thing (for me) in a certain period of time and I don’t wish to be encumbered with a heavy pack.
An example of this was when I was looking for ideas for a challenging day out in Scotland. My focus was on Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. If I wished to climb a lot of Munros in a day, Kintail’s South Glen Shiel ridge allows for 7 summits to be ticked off in a fairly easy fashion. Opposite them on the north side of the glen, there are 7 Munros that I could do the following day (or perhaps even on the same day).
The record for the most amount of Munros in a single day is 30 by Jim Mann from England who ticked off their summits in 22h 05mins in July 2017. The record for total Munro completions overall is Steven Fallon, who’s completed 15 rounds (of 282 hills, sometimes more) over a twenty year period. A qualified mountain guide, Steven is also an accomplished hill runner and his website has a number of running options if you’re looking to join groups of Munros together to make a longer day and set yourself a challenge.
I settled on Steven Fallon’s Kintail Sisters and Brother route, a 39km circular route with c.4000m ascent that includes two nearby Munros and takes in 9 Munro summits. The route starts and ends at the outdoor centre at Morvich and my goal was to complete the round in a certain timescale, using some adjustments I prefer to Naesmith’s formula (which I calculate at 4km/h for every km travelled and 1 hour for every 600m ascent). This isn’t running pace but to achieve it means not stopping so I figured it was a good enough challenge and it would provide me with a day out that would test me but not break my legs (figuratively speaking, not literally). In the end, I didn’t quite manage to complete the route in Naesmith’s timings (it took me 16 hours instead of 15) but I still felt in great shape at the end and it was a memorable day out.
Glen Shiel Sisters and Brothers route (including two additional Munros)
Distance: 39km / 24 miles
Ascent: 4105m / 13,467ft
Time: 16 hours 03 minutes
(Steven’s website records this route as 35km / 22 miles in distance with 3,140m / 10,300ft ascent but my calculations were as above, which I corroborated with a friend).
A'Ghlas Bheinn (918m)
Beinn Fhada (1032m)
Ciste Dhubh (979m)
Aonach Meadhoin (1001m)
Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg (1036m)
Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (1027m)
Sgurr na Carnach (1002m)
Sgurr Fhuaran (1067m)
One of the reasons I wanted to attempt Steven’s Kintail route was because I have an itch to attempt Tranter’s Round and the time I took in Glen Shiel would give me an indication if that was feasible. It’s relatively tight, with an additional 5 miles and 8,000ft I’d need to cover in the remaining 8 hours (which sounds straightforward enough but at my pace, which will no doubt be slowing by then, it only gives me one hour to play with).
Shooting landscapes at 9.00pm in the rain on the Snæfellsness peninsula the day after working for the Ísland (Iceland) Extreme Triathlon. It’s still quite light in Iceland in August, the island being a good distance north, and the sun only dipped beneath the horizon for a short period of time each day. I had a few hours to spare before my flight home.
I visited Iceland recently on the request of Extreme Tris to shoot their inaugural Ísland Extreme Triathlon. My intention after the event was to spend some time exploring a unique image I felt I could create of the famous Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain. The common ‘Instagram’ composition of this peak, which is next to Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, is a wide angle lens from c.150m away, with a waterfall in the foreground. The shot I had in my head was a drone-style image which I wanted to capture from above the mountain, after climbing to the top of the cliffs to the west of the peak, which would give some indication of Kirkjufell’s location on the coastline with the remote west fjords of Iceland in the background. Unfortunately, some really poor weather put paid to that shot and all I managed was some quick images of the peak from the side of the road as I photographed the race. It gives me a perfect excuse to go back.
In July 2019, despite some challenging weather that included thick mist and driving rain, I had the pleasure of shooting promotional photographs for the inaugural Ísland (Iceland) Extreme Triathlon on the Snaefellsnes penisula in western Iceland. The race, a long course triathlon where competitors are challenged with a 3km swim beneath Kirkjufell, a 180km cycle around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and a marathon 42.2km run over the side of Snæfellsjökull, a glacier-capped stratovolcano, is the brainchild of US race directors Aaron Palaian and Tony Saap, who operate a company called ExtremeTris.com and put on the Ísland Extreme Triathlon with support from local athletes. Aaron and I first met in 2017 when I photographed him ahead of his participation in the Celtman Extreme Triathlon and we kept in touch. It was good fun to catch up with Aaron (and to trade insults, as only friends can do) but also to meet Tony and to visit the wonderful country of Iceland and meet other new friends. I’m definitely keen to go back.
Ísland Extreme Triathlon 2019
Geir Omarsson (Reykjavik, IS) - Finish Time: 10:09:43
Raphael Vorpe (Ittigen, Switzerland) - 10:48:17
Pétur Gundnason (Reykjavik, IS) - 10:51:48
The first female home was Erin Green (Wilmington, NC, US) in a time of 15:34:39.
I’m often shooting environmental portraits of people in my assignments so I can a.) increase the scope of the images I shoot and b.) give clients a wider choice of photography they can use to tell their story and engage with their customers.
Nearly all of my photography is conducted outdoors, as opposed to a studio, so when shooting portraits there's a limit to the amount of lighting equipment I want to carry, unless it's essential and I've hired an assistant. My focus is on having gear with me that is lightweight, multi-functional and easy to use.
The type of light modifiers I would choose for environmental portraits include an umbrella, a reflector/diffuser, a softbox or a grid. Softboxes are my preference but, as with umbrellas, the larger the modifier the softer the light and when you're outdoors it's more difficult to control larger pieces of equipment (especially in the wind) so I'm often looking for something that’s in between.
The Lastolite Ezybox Pro Square is a medium-sized softbox (60cm x 60cm) that allows me to diffuse and direct light but not weigh me down. I find it to be an ideal piece of equipment for shooting in outdoor locations in remote places. (I can double it up with a diffuser to soften the light more if need be).
Out of the box it comes with an outer and inner diffuser (both removable), a speed-ring and clamp, two stabilising rods and a packing case. You can buy a telescopic handle as an accessory but I usually just ask a companion to hold the flash using the clamp provided or we’ll mount it on a monopod instead.
What I like about the Lastolite Ezybox Pro Square softbox
Ease of use - It’s very easy to set up and I can be ready to shoot within minutes
Directional light - It's easier to control where you want the light to hit with a softbox, as opposed to an umbrella which blasts light everywhere
Functionality - It accepts two Nikon SB-910 speedlights with Pocketwizard TT5 transceivers attached or, with the addition of a spigot (purchased separately), a single Elinchrom Quadra RX or ELB400 strobe head
Packability - It collapses flat to fit inside the provided packing case (which in turn neatly fits inside a F-Stop Satori camera backpack)
What I would change
Nothing really, other than glueing the blunt protectors which fit on the ends of the rods which are used to stabilise the softbox as I’ve lost three of them.
Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe - Accepts just a single speedlight but it’s super easy to use.
Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 Plus - I have the original version, which I find difficult to fit onto my Speedlight, especially with cold hands, but Lastolite have changed how you attach it in version two of their product
Professional photography equipment is heavy, there's no getting away that fact. Metal cases, mounts and barrels on the larger camera bodies and 'fast' lenses raise durability and quality but they also increase weight. By the time other equipment is factored in for a job (e.g. wide-angle lenses, telephotos, fish-eyes, strobes/flashes, radio triggers, batteries, light stands, modifiers, etc.), you can easily be looking at 10kg+ of equipment needing carried to create images.
Sometimes, I don’t need or want to take a lot of gear (even with an assistant) or I’m physically not able to. On such occasions, here is a list of 5 pieces of equipment I'll use when I need professional-quality images but I want to reduce the weight (e.g. I'm shooting someone on a hiking or biking expedition or the trekking stage of an adventure race);
Nikon D810 camera body - My main camera these days is a Nikon D4s for sports and a Nikon D810 for landscapes but, if I’m looking to reduce weight, I’ll happily take the D810 for sports (or, if the weather is poor, perhaps fall back on a D700 camera body I have used for a long time (I’m much less bothered about my D700 being ruined than I would be with my D810, even with camera insurance).
Nikon 16-35mm F4 lens - The lightest option I’d take would be a Nikon 24mm F2.8 lens (which works well with my older D700 camera bodies) but the high resolution of the D810 camera body is very unforgiving and I prefer newer solutions such as the 16-35mm F4 VR or 24-70mm F2.8 ED VR lenses. (My eyes always stray to my awesome Nikon 24mm F1.4 lens but having a versatility of a zoom trumps it when it’s a ‘one lens to do all’ day out).
Westcott 5-in-1 reflector - Not taking any lighting equipment means you're a slave to the ambient light, which isn't always ideal. If you plan to shoot environmental portraits, a 5-in-1 reflector is a lightweight alternative that enables you to, e.g. diffuse the light, fill in shadows or change the warmth of your shots to match the sunset. A Tri-grip reflector would be easier to hold but I find the original, collapsible models easier to pack.
Joby Ultrafit Sling Strap - A simple camera strap that screws into the bottom of the camera. It's easy to adjust and I find it comfier to use than the default camera straps. I wear it across my chest and it's long enough to cinch the camera down near my hip when I'm moving.
Zing Pro SLR neoprene case - I used one of these years ago on an expedition to the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap but it appears to have gone to that place things go where you're sure you've not thrown them out or sold them but you can't find them anymore. I recently purchased a new one and it's a really neat solution for protecting your camera against bumps and moisture, being a single piece of thick neoprene that you place your camera in and seal over the lens.
Exped Packsacks - AKA dry-bags. Professional cameras are fairly weatherproof but they're not invincible, as my frequent repair bills will testify to. Using the Zing camera case means my camera and lens is not as protected from the elements as, say, in the Lowepro Toploader Pro camera bag I usually carry outdoors. Placing the camera inside a dry bag inside my rucksack or camera backpack when I'm not using it gives me a really compact and weatherproof solution I have complete confidence in.
So there you have it. Six pieces of photography equipment I find useful when I want to travel light but still take professional-quality photos.
(Another option: Check out Nikon’s latest mirrorless cameras. Or perhaps Sony, whose full-frame camera bodies are lighter than Nikon or Canon’s. (I carry the Sony RX100 for outdoor photography when I’m not working for a client and I want to travel really light but still wish to capture decent quality images)
Stormy day on the Mönch, a 4107m high peak in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps.
Sample images from a photo shoot with Donnie Campbell, a professional ultra-distance trail runner and running coach who is sponsored by Salomon, the French sporting company.