ISSUE 017 - March 15, 2008

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CraigPJ (a.k.a Craig Jewell)

What do you do when you are not shooting photos?

I work in IT as a Middleware/Integration Support Engineer, Web Developer and Programmer for a large 3G Mobile/Cell phone service provider.

My hobbies include music (collecting and mixing, learning the guitar), reading about technology and photography, watching sport (particularly cricket) and acting like a child with my 3 year old daughter.

When I'm not shooting photos, a large proportion of my time is spent processing photos. I shoot on average about 500 photos a week (only in RAW), so the sorting and processing can be very time consuming. Typically about 3-4 hours a day (normally from 8pm to midnight), 7 days a week is dedicated to processing and post-processing photos.

How did you get into photography?

I got interested in "real" photography as opposed to happy-snap-ography in 2003 when I bought a Pentax Z20 film SLR from a neighbour for about $30. Although the lenses I had were in hindsight pretty poor (one even had fungus growing on it), it produced a few reasonable photos and I became hooked. For me the limiting factor was always the cost of film and processing. That was the major factor in pushing me towards my first digital camera, a Panasonic FZ10 in early 2004. My other major justification in going digital was the impending birth of our daughter Eleanor and my desire to "document" her development.

I have never looked back. For the first 32 years of my life, my hobby of passion was music. Since about 2004 it has been massively superseded by photography (although I still love music).

How did you find freeimages and what drew you to it?

I read a short article about freeimages in the technology section of an Australian weekend newspaper. It sounded interesting, and at the time I had about 20000 photos gathering dust on my hard drive, so I immediately signed up and started uploading.

The thing that drew me to freeimages was the thought that someone out there might have a use for some of the photos in my archive. When I joined, I had only been taking photos seriously for about two years. I had a passion for photography, but felt I had a lot to learn that wasn't necessarily available in books; the type of stuff that you only learn by speaking to other photographers and viewing their work.

Freeimages and its forums and comment system felt like the ideal place to learn, share (knowledge and photos) and get feedback on my photography.

In the beginning, not having much of a clue about stock photography, I wasn't too selective with the type of photos I uploaded, so received quite a few "Sorry, but we are not looking for that type of image" rejections. Thankfully over time I learned what was required and rejections for this reason have since become scarce.

How has freeimages helped in your development as a photographer?

Freeimages has really taught me to look for a photo opportunity in every part of my day-to-day activities. Some of the most amazing and popular photos on freeimages are actually of quite mundane objects or activities. It could be a fleeting yet interesting moment in a photographer's daily life; an expression on a person's face; an interesting person who thinks they are not being observed.

As a result of this realisation, I now carry my camera virtually everywhere with me. I use a camera bag which just looks like a normal smallish backpack which serves as my work bag and camera bag. It allows me to have my laptop for work and to always carry my trusty Pentax K10D and 3 or 4 lenses without looking too obviously like a photographer.

Besides teaching me an unbelievable amount about the technical and artistic aspects of photography, freeimages and its contributors have also opened up my eyes to, and prompted me to try, so many different styles of photography that I might not have attempted otherwise.

There are many inspirational photographers on freeimages that I have learned from and been inspired by, most notably, but certainly not confined to: Michael Bretherton (charcoa1), Rodolfo Clix (clix), Steve Ford Elliott (SteveFE), Simona Simona Dumitru (createsima), Davide Guglielmo (brokenarts), Dez Pain (xymonau), Tom Denham (tdenham - Come back please Tom!).

From viewing your portfolio you have a nice eye for composition. Your images are simple yet always interesting. Does this occur instictively or do you put a lot of thought into your shots?

Thanks for the compliment. I don't particularly feel that I consciously put a large amount of thought into my shot, although I do tend to "work a subject over" quite thoroughly with the camera. I usually have a feeling for roughly what will make a striking composition and work around that, sometimes resorting to creative cropping to get the exact composition I am after.

If I find an interesting subject, I will usually try to shoot it from as many different angles and focal lengths or distances, and apertures (depths of field) as possible. Since I bought my DSLR, I've picked up several decent quality prime (fixed focal length) lenses for bargain prices in junk/pawn shops or on ebay (usually old large aperture manual focus lenses which are built like little tanks).

I have found that far from limiting my options, using primes (as opposed to zoom lenses) has improved my photography by forcing me to think more about my framing and composition. It has improved my attention to detail and my ability to focus my attention on the most interesting details of a subject. During my daily lunch breaks from work, I will usually go out on an hour long photographic excursion in the Brisbane CBD, or along the river and using a different focal length from day to day allows me photograph the exact same subject time and again ,each time with a totally different perspective and emphasis.

Your portfolio is very broad, covering a wide array of topics? How do you pick your subjects?

Without a doubt, if you don't count my wife and daughter, then my favourite subjects are nature and architecture.

Luckily for me there is no lack of nature for me to shoot, because Australia has some amazing wildlife (particularly bird-life) and flora. In addition, my wife and her family are all fantastic gardeners with extensive and beautiful gardens. I really enjoy spending time in these gardens and botanic gardens and parks with my camera.

It is thanks to my wife (who studied architecture), that I have become more and more interested in architecture and photographing it over the years that I have been interested in photography.

With respect to other subjects, as I've said, I almost always carry my camera with me. In addition, everywhere I go, I'm constantly on the lookout for interesting things to photograph. These include things lying on the ground, textures, colours, contrasts, shapes, interesting people, reflections, interesting weather phenomena, architectural detail and many more.

If I find something interesting, I could spend up to up to an hour or more photographing it as thoroughly as possible ("working it over"). If I'm unable to shoot it for some reason (eg. the light is not right) and its a permanent feature, I'll make a mental note of it and come back some other time to shoot it. Even when I'm commuting by bus I spend most of my time staring out of the window and making mental notes of interesting subjects and perspectives for those subjects that I can return at another time to shoot.

If you look at my gallery, you'll see that it can be divided into two distinct groups of photos, namely the photos that I specifically took for stock (isolated objects, a few concepts and a few textures), and photos which I didn't take specifically as stock. Only about 2% of the photos that I take, do I even consider uploading to freeimages, and only a small proportion of these photos are taken specifically with stock in mind.

In addition to stock sites, I upload virtually all of my "keepers" to flickr to share with friends and family (and as a backup). If you're interested in seeing my other work, feel free to visit my home on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/people/craigjewell/).

What about shooting stock do you find to be most challenging?

A lot of the time, coming up with stuff that is striking, useful stock, new and original, is the most challenging part. So many people do stock photography nowadays that it is very difficult to come up with something truly original and if you do then it is all the more difficult to get it noticed. That being said I don't by any means consider much of my work to be truly original. A lot of it consists of ideas borrowed and shaped in my own way (some more so than others). Often I'll see a shot by someone else and wonder how it was done. I will challenge myself to learn and emulate the technique or effect. I feel that every new technique I learn is expanding the possibilities in my photography.

Another challenging aspect of stock, which is more applicable to microstock sites than to freeimages, is producing work that is consistently approved across the many and varied sites. It can be quite frustrating when a single shot that you put 5 hours into getting the lighting right, shooting, processing, isolating and annotating, gets rejected for a miniscule detail that you might have overlooked. Equally frustrating is when one site rejects a photo for not being suitable or useful, even though that same photo is getting good downloads everywhere else. Thankfully I found quite early on that the best course of action is just to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, re-process the photo or take some more photos.

Where do you see your photography going in the future?

At the moment, I feel I'm at the point where I would like to start stepping up to the next level. I've started taking microstock more seriously and it has already payed for a fair amount of equipment.

Until now, I've built up my makeshift studio in my office under the house (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/craigjewell/sets/72157603169049005/), on almost zero budget using mainly things that I had lying around the house. Although it does a more that adequate job, it has its limits (e.g. working under 1.5 kW of hot halogen spotlights in the heat of a Brisbane summer day can be excruciating).

I'd like to start building a more professional studio setup to be used for larger shoots. My hope is to perhaps start doing some part time freelance work and portraiture. My long term plan is to start working professionally within the next 3-5 years (but no rush). I will say however, that at the moment I can't see myself giving up freeimages anytime soon. I really enjoy the feedback from downloaders and seeing what they've used my photos for. The occasional magazine, brochure, puzzle or book in the post, makes it especially worthwhile and rewarding. Even though I upload to several microstock sites, I still always upload lower resolution (with a longest side of 1700 pixels) to freeimages first.

In the future, I'd also like to start doing more un-posed people and street photography. I feel that this is my real weakness because I am always self conscious when shooting strangers. I find it difficult to shoot first and ask later, which is required if you really want to capture spontaneous people photos. I hope to build up my confidence by finding an accomplished and confident street photographer to shoot with and learn from.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to chat with you.


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» Using the Pattern Stamp Tool
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» Creating HDR Images
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