Monday, September 28, 2009

Commercial Assignments

Occasionally I have taken on a commercial assignment. A few years ago I shot Mount Royal College. There were no questions about who owned the images - I did, and I simply charged for the images produced, the prints made. I have used those images in my first book and any time the college wants to use the images in a new way, they need to get my permission and I charge accordingly. It was an arrangement that worked well for both parties.

This last weekend however, I was asked by one of my patients to handle an industrial assignment - they are redesigning their website. I was escorted and had access to the entire complex, inside and out.

It was clear from the start that they wanted to control the images, that I could not use these images for my own purposes - not unreasonable because that's what they were paying for. In fact, I did ask that if I were to find something of artistic merit, would it be possible to get permission to use specific images. Already I have found two that I would like to show you, to make prints, to publish or even to sell.

You might be wondering why I'd even agree to such an arrangement which could limit my use of the images. Simple. They wouldn't agree to the assignment under any other terms - take it or leave it. Actually they didn't say that, but it was understood.

Some time ago I was photographing a log pile and the plant manager was concerned that his competition could do a log inventory on the basis of my images and so he wouldn't let us into the middle of the plant but did let us photograph from the driveway - given the speed those log carriers whipped round corners with gigantic loads, I was very happy to be where I was thank you very much.

I was refused access to ADM flour mill - apparently there are proprietary methods and machines which they don't want their competitors to see.

In the case of this weekend, the largest concern was of inadvertently photographing a safety issue, not because they are careless, rather the contrary, because they are very aware of safety and rule issues and work hard to have a good plant, but human beings being what they are, anyone can make a mistake now and again and a photograph taken at just the wrong moment before someone else catches the mistake could create problems for the plant. I fully sympathize and simply hope that the images that I particularly like and want access to are not ones to raise any concerns.

When presenting a customer with images, it really isn't practical to hand over 1000 unedited full resolution images which might require 40 DVD's or their own hard drive. You can either set up an action in Photoshop or the equivalent in Lightroom to process the images to small jpegs and put those on a single CD, or you can publish the images to a private website, password protected for client use. In the case of my weekend customer, head office is elsewhere and so publishing to a private website makes the most sense.

You probably don't want to give your customer every image - why should they have to plow through all your mistakes or closed eyes or whatever. In fact, what I'm doing is I have gone through every image taken so far (900 or so) and marked them in Bridge as being either useable or not (zero or one score). I am now in the process of editing the one score images and saving them to a separate folder. So far I have corrected colour balance, perspective, and tonality on about 100 images, selecting the best of the one score images, and I'm about half way through. Anything for printing will likely need more editing work, but these edits are useable already. Some are cropped but keep in mind that clients often need to do their own cropping to specific shapes and so coming in really tight on the subject is going to create problems for them - one thing to crop out something that spoils the image, another to eliminate excess sky or wall when it might just be handy.

I swore that as soon as I was finished with my second book (that was last week), I'd start to switch over to Lightroom with suitable keywords for searching for my several thousand images, but it looks like it might be after this assignment. I may have to get tough on myself.

Before accepting an assignment, make sure that both parties understand who is going to hold the original files, have publishing rights to them and who is going to get printing done. For my assignment this weekend I am simply charging for my time and have given them some sample prints 13X19 on epson enhanced matte - relatively cheap, easy to stack feed, easy to look at in any light. They are welcome to pin them to the wall but have already warned them that before spending money on framing and whatnot, I'd recommend they let me make "final" prints with more editing and care in printmaking. Still, they served to let the customer know where he stands in terms of useable quality.

Anyway, these are issues you need to consider if you contemplate taking on a commercial assignment.

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