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.

Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AP2RYJ]

A few days ago, in response to a question on the Alamy Forum entitled Street Photography, David Kilpatrick wrote the following which I had not really considered before…“Check Alamy against your landscape subjects. If there are no similar images, stick to RM. If Alamy if flooded with RM landscapes of the same scenes, but very few RF, maybe designate them RF (same would apply in reverse). And remember that most national parks, private lands, owned forests, etc can not be RF in theory as they include property.”

Which made me think about an unexpected RF (Royalty Free) sale of an image of Bradford-on-Avon I received in 2008. Of the 138 (relatively few in number) images of that beautiful English woollen town on Alamy, I counted 20 listed as RF, including all seven of my own shots. To those who have never visited that famous location, the view of the old lockup and one time chapel on the ancient stone multi-arch bridge across the river Avon, with the terraces of Georgian stone buildings spread out on the hilly background, has to be the definitive image of that famous West-country town. However, there are only seven out of 138 images of this un-missible view on Alamy, and of those seven (including three of mine) only one is a vertical shot (again mine). Can it be true that most photographers rarely turn their cameras through ninety degrees to see and take a completely different view? My goodness… when I was much more active as a freelancer, the vertical shot was almost the first one to look for because “magazine covers make more money” was literally engraved on one’s mind – although more likely written on a scrap of paper Cellotaped as an aide-memoire to the inside of the lid of one’s camera case!

But to retrace my steps a little… when I took my shots of that attractive town bridge back in the early 1980s it required an extra-wide-angle lens to get it all in from the restricted viewing point… and at that time there were only a few such lenses available for professional camera systems. I had been trying the Canon F1n system (only for about 12 months until an F1n body suffered internal breakages never experienced in the previous two decades of hard photography with my preferred Nikon F and F2 cameras) which included the Canon FD 17mm wide-angle lens. At f/4 wide open it was not very easy to focus, and the corner sharpness was not too good either, but it allowed me, then, to capture many extra-wide type shots which today are more commonplace with the proliferation of exotic, but less expensive, lenses such as the 10~24mm and 12~24mm zooms for Nikon for example… oh, and not forgetting the remarkable 8~16mm lens recently introduced by Sigma for a variety of DSLR camera fittings which has received very good reviews. These are exciting times for photographers!

But I digress… the advice from David is excellent and worth following if shooting new areas and worth rechecking on if you have old stock shots languishing in the “never zoomed probably doomed” category. My original decision to list most of my 1980s shots as RF on Alamy was more to do with the fact that they were all scanned 35mm trannies which had not only been home-processed, but sent to editorial offices through the post enclosed in slide sleeves more than a few times, handled by researchers probably sipping their morning coffee… and were therefore thought (rightly or wrongly) to be of lesser quality because of increased grain and noise as well as odd colour shifts, harsh contrast and heavy retouching of dust and camera film-gate tramlines (remember those?) compared to today’s clean digital files straight from the camera.

My surprise was to see the above image licensed by Alamy under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym in September 2008 as a 2 MB compressed Royalty-free image for a sales figure of $421.96 despite it having harsh contrast and a rather bleak winter feel. Even though I have no idea of it’s final use or uses, it did have ample space across the plain sky as well as on the deep shadowed foreground areas for titles and text overlays if needed for a magazine cover, book cover, poster or advertisement. Oddly, considering the normal viewing angle and attitude of our eyes, my horizontal / landscape format examples of this same scene have never sold or ever been zoomed!

Workman spraying beams. [Alamy image ref. B7FW5Y]

Under the pseudonym “Fabricate”, one of several I categorize my various Alamy stock subjects under, I have a growing number of building construction work images on sale. Obviously, to show progress in various stages of construction one has to be on hand or fairly near to a location to show present in any meaningful coverage when a building project may span six months to five years or more.

That, however, has proven to be the least of my problems in this category which, I increasingly suspect, is supplied free by PR agencies and the contractors themselves – especially when working on a large scale project. My main problem has been to capture activity on sites where those engaged in work or inspection have been wearing any of the recognized safety equipment such as helmets, reflective jackets or overalls, protective footwear, goggles or other eye protection, ear defender, respiratory equipment or masks for protection against breathing-in dust, sprays or fumes.

Added to that basic personal list – which most people should usually be wearing at least one item of – there is the on-site protection including ladders, hoists and lifts, handrails and edge barriers, safety nets and protective covering against falling debris!

Even on single single house building projects some of the above should always be worn and used as fixtures. But I suspect that to be true only in inner-city projects where inspection visits are more common, unannounced or lax through repeated casualness.

As a result, I have curtailed my normal “on-spec” coverage of building work and tend to seek out sites where full adherence to the safety rules and regulations are being complied with. Why? Because I find (although I have no sales proof) that trade magazines and journals only use images which have the correct procedures being seen to be employed. After all, there must be inspectors who check on these things and seek out contractors flaunting safety regulations. To borrow an analogy from the aircraft industry… “If you think the price of servicing is expensive… to should see the cost of an accident!”

Whenever I had had the opportunity, whilst renovating houses in years gone by, I frequently set-up a few posed shots of simple “D-I-Y” tasks which could be found on the regular “wants-lists” – from part-work publishers such as Marshall-Cavendish and Eaglemoss Publications – sent out on a monthly basis when they had major 104-part series under way.

The example above (a self-portrait) was one of many taken whilst restoring a Devizes house once occupied by General Wolfe… and from which numerous images were used for single reproductions as well as a 9-page feature in the specialist “Traditional Homes” magazine.

After several uses over the past 25 years, the original 35mm transparency was not in the best condition, but careful scanning using a Nikon 5000 CoolScan I brought out enough faithful detail and color to be acceptable by Alamy where it has more recently sold as 1/4 page size image on secondary page of USA-based website for 1-month under my “Fabricate” pseudonym.

Sunset, Aberdovey, Wales. [Alamy image ref. AMM3BW]
When I was still shooting film and publishing “Camera & Darkroom” magazine in the UK – back in the last century… and it really does seem that long ago – it was ridiculously easy and cheap to process my own film. 

So I shot a crate-load of black-and-white negatives and color transparencies (my 35mm film cataloging system reached well over 10,000 rolls towards the end of that era) and frequently experimented with color filters on both types of film.

In fact I frequently became confused, when shooting quickly, as to which camera had what type of film stock being wound through. For much of my photographic career I’d used matching Nikon camera bodies, from Fs and then F2s to FMs, FEs and then F3s… with one body being chrome and the other black. 

But when the Nikon F4 came along… well, as Henry Ford would have put it, the choice was any color so long as it was black… hence the occasional confusion as to what I had held to my eye, and whether the visually exciting filtered effect was appropriate for the type of film.

Having said that experimentation, by definition, can work when you least expect it to… you just have to explore all the possible permutations, and note what you’ve done if you want to repeat it. With photography being a visual medium note-taking can sometimes be ignored… the effect being plain to see. However, it does help to record some basic exposure data if you want to learn how and why a visually interesting effect came out as it did.

Anyway, as I said, 35mm film (Fuji 100D loaded from bulk 30.5 meter rolls) and home-processing in E-6 chemistry bought in 5-litre packs was cheap. So with the fishing boat image above, a subject I must have photographed on at least a hundred different occasions – that frequent were my visits to the local Aberdovey sea front during a happy decade living in west Wales – I was using yellow, orange and then red filters on various lenses from the still current 20mm AF Nikkor to a very old manual 80-200mm Nikkor zoom probably dating from my F2 days.

Exposures were not so much bracketed for safety, but altered for intentional over and under exposure so that I had a range of shots showing moods from high-key to silhouette. Of my 33 examples of “Aberdovey + boat” on Alamy, 13 of the images are of this boat… and around half of those have had their mood changed with a selection of filters from warm Amber and cool Blue to the previously mentioned Yellow, Orange and Red. I think that whilst most photographers – myself included – regard the use of these types of filters for stock images on Alamy as rather passé (you don’t see many 1970s type of Cokin Tobacco T2 “graduated sky” shots either, thankfully). 

However, I scanned a representative selection of these “filtered” trannies with a Nikon 5000 Coolscan and, after the usual several hours of retouching all the grime and dust marks, I had them sail through Alamy’s QC without any problems… although I never imagined any of them would be looked at or even zoomed. 

So imagine my surprise at this orange filtered image being sold on the first day of business for 2011… being used in a UK monthly magazine with a print-run of up to 50,000, inside editorial spot size, under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

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