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Trevor Smithers is a successful landscape stock photographer who supplies images through www.alamy.com's online image library. Here he shares some advice in an interview by Peter Bargh of ePHOTOzine.
ePHOTOzine: How long have you been digital?
Trevor Smithers: As I still use traditional film and camera equipment I haven't moved completely digital. However I have been scanning and enhancing images using a PC and Photoshop for around four years - but probably thinking about it for a lot longer.
EPZ: Why did you make the move to digital?
TS: Well for a start the technology is amazing - it's far easier to obtain an image using a computer than in a wet darkroom, you have so much more control.
EPZ: How was the transition from traditional to digital?
TS: Quite easy really as I never had a permanent wet darkroom - I had to set it up each time I needed to do some work.
EPZ: What do you have in mind when taking a landscape and then editing it on the computer?
TS: For a start I don't take an image with subsequent editing in mind - rather, I make sure, as far as possible, that all the elements that go to make up the photograph are present at the time, correct light, exposure, composition etc. The post processing on the computer is then restricted to tonal corrections, cleaning up dust spots, removing elements such as phone lines that would otherwise detract from the final image etc. If you have to do an excessive amount of tonal correction work then the original image was probably to far gone in the first place. There are occasions of course where things like converging verticals need to be corrected and its here that Photoshop comes into its own. I do feel, however, that using the appropriate equipment in the first place produces the best image and one should not rely on image manipulation software to correct poor technique.
EPZ: What's your favourite digital technique?
TS: I don't really have a particular favourite - I just use the tools available to me through Photoshop as appropriate
EPZ: What piece of gear couldn't you be without?
TS: Difficult to answer because all the equipment - cameras, filters, tripod, computer, printer, ink, paper etc all go towards processing the final image.
EPZ: What film do you prefer?
TS: Kodak E100VS transparency film. I used to use Velvia, but I found it difficult to obtain correct exposure and quite difficult to scan - E100VS works for me.
EPZ: You convert many of your photos from colour to monochrome and offer both choices in the library. Which tends to be the more successful and why?
TS: I find that monochrome adds another dimension to the image, often making it visually stronger. You have to be careful of course to choose the right image - converting any image to B&W doesn't always work and it's not just a case of hitting 'convert to greyscale' which rarely works very well. Producing B&W images on a computer is an art in itself especially when you come to making a print. I use Lyson Small Gamut inksets and print onto William Turner 300gms cotton rag paper.
EPZ: Which photographers do you admire?
TS: Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Edwin Smith, Joe Cornish, Lee Frost.
EPZ: What's your biggest frustration in this market?
TS: Trying to second-guess what the market wants.
EPZ: What advice would you give to others entering into stock photography?
1 Edit your images so that those remaining represent the very best you can do - if you get 3 or 4 images from a roll of 36 you're probably on the right track.
2 Is the exposure correct - anything even slightly less than perfect should be rejected.
3 Is the image sharp and the colours correct - no objectionable casts etc.
4 Ask yourself the question - would you buy it.
5 Move up to medium-format - size is important not only for image quality but the impact when an editor looks at it on a lightbox.
6 Give the market what it wants - not what you think it wants. Spend time in the local bookshop or newsstand, read the magazines, look at the images, see what's being used and see if you can do better.
7 Give yourself time to learn digital techniques, especially in using a scanner and image manipulation software.
8 Don't submit poor quality images to Alamy just because they didn't sell elsewhere. If buyers didn't want them before they won't want them now.
EPZ: Has the Internet helped you promote your work?
TS: The main thing here is that you can obtain global exposure - something that was extremely difficult to achieve until the web became accessible to everyone.In this context Alamy.com is a powerful tool for getting images seen by potential buyers but the quality and basic techniques must be high.
EPZ: Despite moving to digital you still like to dabble in advanced traditional techniques such as Polaroid Transfer. Tell us a bit about that.
TS: I make Polaroid Image Transfers by first projecting an image from a 35mm or medium-format transparency on to Polaroid 669 pack film. The Polaroid development process is interrupted prematurely and the 'print' half of the film discarded, the remaining 'negative' section is then transferred to wet watercolour paper (Fabriano 5) and pressed under heat for about 20 seconds. After a further minute or so the negative is lifted from the paper, hopefully leaving the transferred image.
After washing, the print is allowed to dry. At this point I scan the prints at high resolution and any necessary tonal adjustments can be carried out in Photoshop. I then print the image on Lyson's 'William Turner' 100% cotton rag paper using Lyson archival Fotonic inksets.
The technique produces a totally new interpretation of the original scene. The colours are muted and the overall definition is toned down but the image itself is retained. There are three examples in my mini portfolio below.
Visit Trevor's images at alamy.com here.