New windows, Malmesbury, UK [Alamy image ref. ANBG7K]

Last week I wrote that most photographers, at some time during their passion, take shots of windows. For many this subject develops into a theme or collection… and I’ve been doing that for at least forty years and don’t feel like stopping.

Accumulations as such may build-up slowly if not thought of as specific themes… until one day you realize you have many, many examples. As far back as 25 years ago I was unaware of how many window shots I had saved until I grouped them together with the idea of producing a slide show (I think it was fellow Nikon UK lecturer Richard Tucker who produced excellent “slide-dissolve” shows with multiple projectors that influenced me in that direction) but when carefully slotted into A4 hanging clear slide files they numbered more than 400.

It was at that point I knew I had to stop… or start to edit very carefully. Editing one’s images was far slower in the film age… I’m not sure whether photographers generally took fewer shots in those days – whilst film and processing was expensive,there was also the tendency to overshoot multiple angles in case of missing something (no instant-replay visual feedback in those days) as well as take multiple shots of the same scene/subject with bracketed exposures for safety… not to mention the doubling-up of colour transparency/negative and black-and-white materials of the same subject with two cameras!

I eventually cut my “usable” collection down to under one hundred examples… of which about half were successfully scanned on a Nikon Coolscan V 35mm film scanner for uploading to Alamy. It is hard word taking this route… film scanning is fraught with difficulties as well as many frustrating minutes and hours of image correction because of dust, fingerprint blemish and possible tramline scratch corrections.

Because of the “imperfections” with 35mm film scans I took the debatable decision to register al mine – some 250 or so – as Royalty Free… using the rational that they were dated subjects and would probably be used small. However, some of my RF sales have been my outright best-sellers in money terms bordering the $500 mark for single image sales… whilst others have been at the bottom of the barrel at one-hundredth of the top figure… yep, go figure!

In fact I have made the decision to gradually remove all my RF images with Alamy and re-register them as RM… I prefer to know their usages rather than be left guessing forever with “unlimited use” licences. An annoyance which I hope is never repeated was when after a Royalty Free image that had been zoomed six months ago (thus an established registered buyer), was licensed three months ago… and then refunded a couple of weeks ago. For an RF image to have a refund after three months in the client’s hands with potentially unlimited use during that time does not sound like correct or ethical business to me. And, as the sum was for only $6 or so it makes me wonder how Alamy could allow not only this refund, but the sale in the first place when their commission would only have been around $2.50 which would be more than their overheads for the actual transaction. I mean, there is a minimum charge for most things nowadays… like when did your plumber last charge $2.50 for turning up at your house to replace a simple tap-washer?

The image was licensed around 30 years after I took it with a Nikon F2 and 28mm lens but as a 4mb file – scanned using a Nikon Coolscan V from the original transparency – by Alamy RF under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

Windows, Malmesbury, UK [Alamy image ref. ANBG5X]

Most photographers, at some time during their passion, take shots of windows. For many this subject develops into a theme or collection… I’ve been doing such for forty or so years and don’t look like stopping, even though I don’t think I’m still “collecting” shots of windows with the same consuming interest. However, whenever I see an interesting one – either from the outside looking at, or from the inside looking through – I can’t help but raise my camera, frame, and click-off a couple of shots just in case they turn out to be more interesting than I thought at that moment.

Perhaps we photographers are preconditioned into thinking about and taking images of windows… after all, the first two famous photographers both used the window as their subject matter. Admittedly, exposures in the early days of photography – or “painting with light” as Hancock of Half-Hour infamy would have exclaimed, were extraordinarily long, and a window would have received and transmitted plenty of light and had enough tonal contrast to record a strong image.

A photograph of the latticed window in Lacock Abbey, made in 1835 by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877) was printed from the oldest, thus first, photographic negative in existence.

However, a decade before in 1825 Nicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833), a French inventor most noted as one of the inventors of photography and a pioneer in the field, produced the world’s first known photograph… a view through an open window – “View from the Window at Le Gras” (La cour du domaine du Gras), although it was a one-off and unlike Fox Talbot’s window image couldn’t be reproduced because there was no original negative.

So we have history behind our choice of such subject matter and don’t need any further excuses. If we did, in this day and age, it would be the use of colour which was probably beyond the comprehension of Niépce and Fox Talbot but certainly beyond the techniques of the time and for many decades after.

Unless I’m walking or cycling around the French countryside, a window or windows are within my eye-line all my waking hours of the day, as with the above… a pair of windows on two adjoining houses opposite my own in Malmesbury, Wiltshire back in the early 1980s. The image was licensed around 30 years later as a 4mb file – scanned using a Nikon Coolscan V from the original transparency – by Alamy RF under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

Plum tree blossom, UK [Alamy image ref. AX668R]

For the past decade in France I’ve very much been a “blue sky” photographer… which is easy really because the climate in the sud-Touraine, compared to my decade or so in the hills of mid-Wales, is sunnier – warmer by around 12 degrees Celsius on average – and also much drier. Where I am now there are about as many days of blue sky with fluffy white clouds as there were in Wales with totally overcast cloud cover and the occasional patch of blue sky peeping through.

When there were blue skies up above in west Wales I would work overtime at the wheel of my car covering as many locations as possible within the limitations of the number of bracketed exposures I could make with a pair of Pentax 6×7 bodies which gave only ten shots to a roll. On this occasion I had been driving back from Shrewsbury and came across this glorious Plum tree on the Shropshire-Powys (English-Welsh) border. I stopped initially after seeing the striking display of blossom against the blue sky… but before becoming aware of a very old woman leaning on the entrance gate to her cottage garden. It was almost a scene from a Helen Allingham painting… but there were essential elements missing such as the traditional old-English garden Hollyhocks and roses, as well as a number of modern appendages in view such as TV aerial, telephone wires, gaudy plastic child’s swing, etc., making it impossible to create a shot of similar Edwardian-period attraction.

The Plum has many forms and varieties… my favourite being the Mirabelle, which I have never seen growing in England, but is common here in France. It was probably cultivated for European soils by the Romans, from origins in the Anatolia Caucasus. Shakespeare refers to cultivated Plums, Prunes and Damsons… and many gardens of his time must have contained a large variety of those fruits. From his contemporary, Gerard, in his own “Herball” (1597)…

“To write of Plums particularly would require a peculiar volume… Every clymate hath his owne fruite, far different from that of other countries; my selfe have threescore sorts in my garden, and all strange and rare; there be in other places many more common, and yet yearly commeth to our hands others not before knowne.”

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 5,000 print-run for use in France for a 1-year period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

Methodist Chapel, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AP2TEK]

Chittoe Heath Methodist Church was built in 1882 and is a simple rectangular chapel with rear extension, built of red brick with yellow detail. However Methodism had been going in the village of Chittoe for many years before that date. The present building was built on land donated by the local squire because the “society”, as it was then, used to meet in a house close to his own manor house. The singing was so exuberant that in desperation he gave the land for the new chapel to be built, as far away from the Parish Church as possible! The building is relatively unchanged since those days and there is a small graveyard beside it. The sign over the door proclaims its “Primitive Methodist” background. It is believed that Chittoe Heath Methodist Chapel was the original inspiration for the BBC radio programme of yesteryear called “The Chapel in the Valley”.

In 1808 the Methodist lay preacher Hugh Bourne was expelled from the Methodist movement. Bourne and his 200 or so followers became known as Primitive Methodists, a name he adopted from a statement that had been made by John Wesley in 1790: “I still remain a primitive Methodist.” Bourne’s followers were also called Ranters.

Bourne built his first Primitive Methodist Chapel in Tunstall in 1811. By 1842 membership had increased to nearly 80,000 with 500 travelling evangelists and more that 1,200 chapels. Membership continued to grow and by 1875 had reached 165,410. Unlike the Wesleyan Methodists, the Primitive Methodists encouraged women evangelists and they also provided many leaders of the trade union movement in the late 19th century.

I can’t remember exactly which lens I used for this image, but am fairly certain it was my Canon 35mm T&S lens rather than 35mm PC (Perspective Control) Nikkor… I briefly had both systems at the time. Many years later I scanned the slide with a Nikon Coolscan V to produce a 48mb image for Alamy (the minimum size accepted by Alamy was reduced to 24mb around two years ago).

Licensed RF (Royalty Free) by Alamy as a 448 x 688 pixel (900 kb) file for unlimited use under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

Slate rockface detail, Wales. [Alamy image ref. B5M6K2]

Back in my days in mid-West Wales the general observation of the landscape and climate was wild, wet and windy. Of course there were many areas and days of beautiful and balmy views and conditions, but the latter were not as common as the former.

What did impress, though, was that no matter how harsh the conditions in that superb blend of coastal to mountainous country, here were always subjects to be found for a photographer. Taking the above image as an example; I was sitting in a small sheltered cove with my wife watching a storm abating over the Irish Sea… and on turning around to return to the car I noticed how the light was highlighting the rocky face that we had been sitting against. The rockface was curved from being cut and carved by man and nature over many years… so the natural light effects on the stone changed in the space of a few yards from being in deep shadow to glancing highlight… as shown here.

I shot several frames according to color and shape combinations (this was in the days of film so relatively restricted in number compared to today’s digital practice and output!) and later chose those which showed the most interesting abstract effect and with no impression of true scale – technical photographs of similar subjects would include a measuring stick or ruler as a reference.

I have to add that I didn’t think this image would ever be licensed commercially… but that just shows how wrong we can be or lacking in imagination (not to mention hope) at certain times with our creative output. How many similar images we include in our uploading to Alamy and other agencies is open to question… but in order to cover all bases we have to do just that – and if we don’t then someone else will… and possibly profit!

This image was licensed by Alamy for a Spanish language magazine under my “Nature” pseudonym, which includes subjects such as this geological detail as well as the obvious plant, animal, insect and sky-scape subjects amongst others.

Old corn mower, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AMM00P]

When I lived for a decade at the foot of the northern escarpment of Wiltshire’s desolate Salisbury Plain, there was not a week when I didn’t venture out across the minor roads crossing that expanse of mixed farmland and Army firing ranges.

There were large areas of a geological ground type known as “Greensand” in the locality which created specific problems for farmers. The green color of greensand is due to variable amounts of the mineral glauconite, an iron potassium silicate with very low weathering resistance; as a result, greensand tends to be weak and friable. It is a common ingredient as a source of potassium in organic gardening and farming fertilizers. The greensand found at the foot of Salisbury Plain is also very soft… which means that although farmers have a rich source of soil for their crops, it is difficult to harvest them because of the weight of modern harvesting machinery. As a result there were many small farms from the area roughly from West Lavington (just south of Devizes) through to, and beyond, Pewsey and Hungerford where it was quite normal to see traditional corn stooks in the fields at harvest time. Local farmers used traditional lightweight machinery to cut, bind and dry their crops for later threshing, rather than trying to drive a modern combine-harvester on the land at the risk of one sinking to it’s axles in the earth.

This image was licensed for three years for a half-page reproduction in an English “crafts” book with a 25,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

George Eliot statue, Nuneaton, UK  [Alamy image ref. AP6M5R]

Photographs specifically taken ‘on commission’ – and especially niche subjects – can yield multiple results many years later… although sometimes it may be a long wait, an unrewarding result, or both!Around twenty-five years ago when working for the two most active ‘part-work’ publishing companies, Eaglemoss and Marshall Cavendish, I and a handful of other freelance photographers would receive regular ‘wants’ lists of subjects between two to three months in advance of being published.

The general subject planning of most weekly part-works – some being spread over 104 issues for a two-year contract period – had been completely broken down well in advance of the first launch issue being announced and printed. However, once established, the picture requests settled down to a reasonable four weeks in advance, which took into account seasonal requirements and availability of newer images.Being so long ago I can’t remember the licensing stipulations negotiated with both those well-known publishers, but compared to Dorling Kindersley, a more recent but notable success story in the non-fiction / educational publishing world, they were pretty easy going as to reuse of images.

I can certainly remember not ever signing an exclusive contract with any of the three aforementioned, and for several years after original part-works had been published, I received many monthly checks from both Eaglemoss and Marshall Cavendish for repeat fees from images reused in ‘foreign rights’ re-launches. Dorling Kindersley were, and are, another matter, and I still come across foreign language reprints as well as entirely new book tittles in the local French library using my images supplied for specific publications in the early to mid ‘80s for which no reuse fee has ever been paid. I still own the copyright to those images, but DK use them without new-use or re-use reproduction fees.

The lead image on this page was originally requested in 1986 by Marshall Cavendish for their “Great Writers” 52-issue part-work series and is of the statue of the famous English writer George Eliot who used a male pseudonym to ensure her works were taken seriously. Although female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s lifetime, she wanted to escape the stereotype of women only writing ‘light-hearted’ romances.

Arbury Hall, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, UK  [Alamy image ref. AP6M6M]

The second image, for the same publication, is of Arbury Hall, a Grade I listed country house – former a monastery, and rebuilt in a mixture of Tudor and 18th-century Gothic architecture – situated in 300 acres of parkland near Nuneaton in Warwickshire. Eliot was born on this estate at South Farm in 1819, the daughter of the estate’s land agent. I also found and took images of South Farm, as well as other locally connected landmarks, churches and villages which have been used during a few times during the past 25 years to illustrate other author’s articles related to Eliot and her writings.

What sometimes puzzles me, however, is why my quarter-century old shots scanned from my 35mm Minolta 9000 AF’s color-transparency films may be more attractive to picture researchers than current digital stock images? The answer sometimes lies in the fact that up-to-date images often show many more distractions, or visual pollution, because of the increase in urban advertising and signage.And as for buildings in landscapes… sometimes both change for years on end through reconstruction or renovation (with scaffolding covering facades), or natural tree growth blocking previously excellent and unobstructed viewpoints.

Twenty-five years on, the reproduction fees for these two images used for a 1-year license in a UK published travel guide (and / or e-book) with an up to 500,000 print run was somewhat less than the original fee paid by Marshall Cavendish for a fortnightly published part-work with perhaps a tenth at most or more than likely as little as one percent (5,000) of the more recent publication’s print-run. But that’s how it goes nowadays!

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