What are commercial limits for 35mm film photography?

Discussion in 'Presentation & Marketing' started by q_x, May 18, 2013.

  1. q_x

    q_x Member

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    What I wanted to ask about is pretty broad subject (I'm a simple person, so I tackle complex problems easily :D)

    I'm usually on the artistic side of photography, chatting about aesthetics, meaning, communication, visual language, and relations to other works or media. Besides that, I'm living frugal life and I'm working in a different way (typesetting). I don't care about making money with my photos, so I can do what I want within some time frames and budgets, or the lack of it. But I'm trying to imagine how life of a "professional photographer" looks like nowadays. Not the bottom line feeder, not a full time job in advertisement (shooting sausages or weddings or models portfolios are the things I can imagine painfully well). How about a not-so-busy freelance photographer, or a landscape photography enthusiast, like me? I'm thinking if and how it could be possible to mend how I live into something more adventurous (to take the subject really broadly). Or what to avoid to help myself in the future. I know marketing techniques (having galleries online, exhibitions offline, creating a bit of a buzz, publishing albums)... Is there any reasonable way to actually work with 35mm film (that's shooting for money, not with own artistic creation)? Any advantage? (I feel like being banned ASAP for asking this)

    What can be and what shouldn't be done with 35mm format? I don't mean creatively, but professionally. Is it reasonable to work (and earn money) in the analog way with 35mm format? How one can "sell" traditional film photography attitude nowadays, where people carry DSLRs that take more photos faster with better quality (raw file has greater contrast range recorded, I think) and can process photos in multiple ways, some of which were unimaginable before the 90s? I believe this idea just has to be treated differently, than just pushing scans on stocks... I'd bankrupt on scanning in no time this way, and any decent scanner is more, than year's worth of my salary.

    What are the strong points with the 35mm film? Ethics, I guess, doesn't count where the industry starts. And the fact, that 99% of digital photography should simply be treated like a pollution, whereas we care for every single shot on film. We can't care more, than a guy with a camera hooked to his laptop, taking a closer look rightaway, in second or less. Film doesn't make the image any better or worse (or?), but it looks like a lost battle in terms of both quality and quantity, and we're left behind with our mindfulness as an only virtue. Mindfulness and Velvia.

    What are technical limits of 35mm? Again, limits not from creative perspective, but for the industry (whoever buys the images or pays to make some)? I know it would be good enough for a magazine cover if it's not cropped much, but not enough to advertize coffee brand worldwide. I guess it's good and reasonable to make photos on film when I make "not many photos" (which is how I roll with my landscape work), as opposed to taking burst after burst (sport, journalism) and fighting to deliver the photos before anyone else. I hope the age of natgeo-ish surplus is over in our silver world, with the attitude of having "film carrying and loading assistents", using helicopters where it's hard to walk and shooting thousand of photos per hour.

    Finally, are there any professional do's and dont's with small format?
    I know some already:
    As for a "don't", I expect that slide film is pretty much obsolete due to excellent Ektar and Portra color reproduction and fine grain. Or maybe not, and Velvia is the standard sometimes?
    As for "do's" - small grain films 90% of the time, best prime lenses one can buy, accurate exposures, light covers, moderately tight framing (my 92% coverage focusing screen seems to cheat plastic scanning frames in the right way), best scanners (not flatbed), good archiving startegies (light-tight boxes to store color materials, avoiding moisture and dust). And making plenty of quality photos (isn't it against the medium?).
    But what I know is from creative standpoint, I don't know how the other side rolls and what they may expect, want or demand to see.

    Final rant: I have a feeling, that what I ask is not the question, that should be answered. I hope you're wiser than I am.
     
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  2. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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  3. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Can you simplify your question?
     
  4. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Profitable commerce requires a salable product.

    Salable products are typically well defined and designed to suit an equally well defined market that is willing and able to buy the product.

    So, the question you need to answer is "can you find and get access to a market that is willing and able to buy your prints at a profitable price?"

    When you can answer yes, sure you can make money.

    Until you find and get access to "that" market, no matter how good your work is, your "business" will struggle.
     
  5. thegman

    thegman Member

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    35mm films like Ektar or Velvia/Provia have resolution comparable to a modern full frame DSLR, so if you're happy with the resolution of that DSLR, you can likely be happy with film.

    As for technical limits, depends on your standards really, same as digital.

    For me, the strong points of 35mm is small size of cameras, for other uses, I prefer medium format.

    For "industry", I would imagine it varies wildly. Some publications are happy use to mobile phone photos, and some will demand perfection, and there will be everything in between.
     
  6. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Few commercial photographers shot 35mm, in fact those I knew didn't own any 35mm cameras. 35mm was mainly used professionally by newspaper photographers and amateurs.

    I mainly shot 35mm colour slide and B&W at rock concerts, and snapshots on E4 later E6 films. You couldn't compete with people using 120 and LF with a 35mm camera where it was practical to use a larger format..

    Before I moved to MF & a couple of years later LF (1976) I was shooting portraits commercially on 35mm but these were more environmental portraits, people in their natural surroundings.

    That was then, now it's very different, some of the work I do can't easily be done on film - the specialist films went a few years ago (and I don't want to experiment again). Clients want digital files quickly, no delays while negataives are processed and scanned, and I always do my own processing and after shooting a rock concert would do a C41 and E6 run the next day. There's a lot of work involved and that cuts potential earnings. So in my case I decided if they need fast digital results then an all digital work flow was the best option.

    That leaves more time for shooting personal work and some commercial work on film, and I much prefer film.

    Ian
     
  7. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    When you're stuck with lemons, sell lemonade.
     
  8. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    35mm went out of fashion years ago for commercial use; commercial (ad studios, fashion, sports etc.) is dominated by digital. Wedding pros have commonly invested in the high-end $45,000+ Hasselblads. I watched a pro working one of these amazing beasts recently (leased equipment) capturing magnificent night sky shots flawlessly. Doing that on film is far, far more interesting, fun and educational, and of course you see reciprocity failure in all its ruddy glory. Love it. But swing to the other side where people want things now, not in four hour's time and you have to consider the edge that digital work has over analogue. And the fact that the analogue pro market is several orders of magnitude smaller than the beast in the digital spectrum.

    You must have that WOW! factor in your work. Truth be told, even at quite sensible enlargements with quality optics and careful exposure, 35mm doesn't cut it that much alongside medium format, allowing or requiring, as it does, an understanding of precise judgement-based metering far removed from poking around with fancy matrix/evaluative displays.

    Nobody would buy my Ilfochrome Classic prints shot on 35mm now. They turn around and see the better hybridised prints from MF, with better contrast, outstanding clarity, sharpness and tone. But 35mm is great for personal use, for fulfilling a desire to produce quality work at the relatively least expensive end of things and for travel, when one lens can cover all eventualities. Work within your capacity and understanding for shooting quality work and you never know, people may take a shine to you and actually buy it. :smile:
     
  9. q_x

    q_x Member

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    Thanks for your support!

    If I could break it down, I would. Sorry :sad:

    I guess it's the point here. Thanks for this simple (yet very effective) explanation, even though it leaves me in the dark, at least I know there's a point trying.
    What I'm interested in mostly, is buyer's perspective. What market may or will demand.

    One deal is "lemme put your shots in our mag", but it's another when you hear "We'd like to purchase your photos from this two sessions. Please provide us with three full resolution unretouched samples to evaluate". What I was asking for is an advice how not to screw the second situation ahead of the time. of course "it depends", but are there any things to keep in mind all the time? How to make such a situation happen in the first place? Looks like after 10 or 15 years of digital revolution it's not easy already.

    That doesn't sound optimistic at all. But I admire your honesty here. There are times where trying harder simply can't be good enough, this is how I understand it.
    I've got a reply to the other thread I've started, asking for an FSU rangefinder selection - not for serious work, for making my romantic art. And I got a reply there to get my hands on 4x5 camera first. Now I see the point (and I think I could make a camera like that myself, what an adventure it would be!).


    desertratt
    I get the point. I have no troubles making big prints out of compact cameras myself. No one buys it, cause I haven't tried to sell it. What are your arguments for using film, i mean in detail? Where you see this "step up"? In quality? I guess it's not ease of cooperation with modern photo printing services.

    :D
    What a brilliant point here!

    There's an article here on APUG, full of clever sentences, and there's one about luck there.
    http://www.apug.org/forums/forum220/64675-my-advice-aspiring-photographers.html
    Thanks for yet another real life example. I can see, that geting serious with photography (unlike mural painting, for example, a thing I did while ago as well) requires expensive, modern equipment, at least most of the time. 45k USD is over 15 years of my current salary (just what I've got myself into...). I could work some more, or say "bye bye" to PhD - making it is a lose-lose situation anyway.
    I'm also starting to see, that there's little I don't know already to avoid. And "do's" are medium and large format, which are really expensive to start with and, with 4x5, really expensive to, hmm, "shoot", or rather "work with".

    Thank you all for your input!
     
  10. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    What!?
    You can enter medium format for under $1,000. I did. And that was for mint equipment. True, it was once a prohibitively expensive format to work with. Serious photography does not require "expensive, modern equipment" — at any time. APUG members around here are no doubt creating beautiful work with equipment between 20 and 60 years old, possibly much older, their investment being in knowledge and skill honed over time, not fancy equipment. That is the work of artisans who know their stuff and aren't so much carried away with equipment like, for example, Leica, which makes photography seem terribly expensive to people casually viewing it as a hobby. Large format can be expensive (e.g. a Linhof kit will still set you back a few thousand dollies); I avoided it for that purpose, among other reasons. It comes down to your skill in photography, the equipment is secondary, but it defines the shape and form of your work and the breadth of your experience; as with any format, you work with it, much the same as you see the world with your camera, and not just through it.
     
  11. q_x

    q_x Member

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    Yahica TLR is about the cheapest option I see to get into "professionaly looking" medium format, about 200-300 USD, it comes with at least semi-decent lens, I'd need a wide angle gizmo for it. I could probably afford an used Mamyia or Kiev 88 in a year or so, but this hardware needs repairs way often, than I could afford. Not sure about other brands, I know only prices with those. My friend bought Mamyia 645 in working condition, borked it in a weekend or so, serviced it, got it back, fired once, borked, and serviced it again. The service was about as much, as a body itself.

    We're not talking about craftsmanship here, but market needs, this is why the thread is here. My question was if it's reasonable to organize a workshop around 35mm gear. People's answers varied from selling lemonade (which was brilliant) to getting into LF (which sounds most reasonable). I assume I'll have the set of skills to start with.

    I live in Poland. Despite being 31, I'm still a student. I can earn as much as 200 "dollies"/month (I guess we're talking USD), still have to pay for food, trains, flat, electricity, laundry, water, films, prints etc. Prices are about the same all over the world (shipping to Australia maybe changes something, but you guys have bigger market anyways). I can't work more and be able to study as hard, as I should - in fact it's too much work already. No point trying, I've lost a year this way, and there's no reason to waste another. I can work for more cash/hour, which I'm trying to do. Polish wages are funny, but this is how neocolonialism looks like, I'm either providing cheap labor here, cheap labor elsewhere, or I'm being labeled with "unemployed troll" and left to starve. I'm daring to break out of this stupid circle, just need to get some more experience with what I do (hence I troll the forum).

    I can sell something to buy something else, or borrow some gear. Borrowing makes possible to eat cookie and have cookie. I've sold Pentacon Six that needed some service, it was with TTL prism (I hate both the camera and the prism with passion), and I still can borrow one, in working condition. I could buy lighter tripod this way, and it was something left, so I got Moskva. Eat two cookies, have three. I won't haul any Pentacon up a hill, regardless if mine or borrowed, it's too heavy to take it with me.

    How much MF "click" costs? 1-2 USD is my estimation, for a color film, development and my own scanning. How much do you think I can afford? If I write "it's too much", well, maybe for some odd guy somewhere "up there" it somehow is. I'd be happy to live a bit different life, really. I'm during fixing my stuff, and I think I'll finally do what I want, that's hiking and photography full time or after hours, even if I got myself into some impassable swamp that will take years to get out from.
     
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  12. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Okay, let's try again.

    1-Figure out where you think you can or will be able sell your prints? (eBay, Galleries, Cafes, Agents, ...)

    2-Go try a sell some real product (made from your35mm negs) in that market?

    3-Did it work? Can you make money at what that market will pay? Why/Why not?

    4-Solve the problems you find.

    5-Start again at 1 or 2 as appropriate.
     
  13. q_x

    q_x Member

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    I know how marketing looks like, markbarendt, just no clues how far I can go with 35mm film SLR and not be perceived as a lifeform from outer space.
     
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  15. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Why are you worried about our (your peers) opinions on an artistic question?

    I'd suggest that it's a good bet that most of us here aren't in the market for your prints. I would hazard a guess that most of us here want to make our own instead, so our opinions are irrelevant to your business success.

    The only way to figure out if your market thinks you're from outer space or the best thing since sliced bread is to test "your" market and see where they draw the line. For all we/you know they may be looking for an "outer space" perspective.

    The 35mm format and the tools that support it have proven themselves commercially workable over and over and over again. The evidence of it's viability is overwhelming. There are plenty of examples of main stream people succeeding and selling lots of work from 35mm film, Steve McCurry for example clear up to 40x60 inch prints. All of National Geographic photographers from the film age, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Sebastian Salgado... The list is huge.
     
  16. q_x

    q_x Member

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    Yups, journalists, street photographers...

    I do my best with whatever there is to photograph, and I'm getting better at it. I'm just wondering. Looking around and thinking if maybe I'm doing something wrong again. Like the format. I'm almost convinced to MF and LF after this talk here (if I had more cash...) Or Ektar vs. Velvia for landscape - still no clues here, I guess I'll buy both when I'll go through this few rolls I have already.

    To you give an example of what I'm worried with: what led me to selling almost all I've got, buying best gear I could, and in consequence to writing this rather long question, was a photo I wanted to print as 40x60cm (still no clues if you've been writing about 40x60 cm or inches, but it's a nice coincidence) for an exhibition I'll have next month. As far, as I can recall, I've took it with T50 lens "aus Jena", which is DDR version of Tessar, and my old trusty Praktica it came with. I don't know if someone did something wrong, like putting one lens back to front some time ago, or it was me being stupid while taking photo or scanning, the image had no sharpness. It was OK on 10x15cm print, but looked almost like a pinhole image after scanning, just as if I'd scan the 10x15 print itself. The solution was simply to choose and scan one more photo - this time on a "real" scanner.

    The problem was not a gear failure, which happens, but it was in my workflow - that is the fact I was relying on poor quality 10x15 prints to judge my work. I should be aware of the failure earlier, or take care while taking photos. It shouldn't go this way. No clues how many photos I've wasted. And since then, I'm really worried and taking care, reviewing and reevaluating all I've done so far.
    What I'm afraid of is also a situation when I'd hear "no, no, sir, we don't need your photos, we're looking something better. (You should have known X, Y or Z while making those.)". Good if I'd hear "Get back with A, B or C, then we'll talk" afterwards. Hence the question about reasonable limits of what I have and can work with.

    I know this is photographers place, not photo agents, maybe that's why there are no definite (yet still personal) answers.
     
  17. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Inches, McCurry sells as large as 40x60 inches, so roughly 100x150cm.

    That is true for all of us. We all have to find/figure out ways to reliably get what we want as a final product. Keep experimenting and learning.

    You are trying to get an objective answer about a subjective subject, I don't think a definitive answer exists. There are though objective ways you can figure it out.

    Here's an article I read this morning that demonstrates what I'm saying. It's from a different industry, my wife's a programmer, the process shown for developing a salable product is just as valid for photographers as it is for programmers.

    http://sixrevisions.com/user-interface/ux-design-mistakes/

    There are a variety of examples in photography too. The f/64 group of Ansel Adams et al, created a product style that the group adhered to in order to get more gallery time for its members. See their manifesto.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_f/64
     
  18. q_x

    q_x Member

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    Thanks!

    For a quick rant, we have serious misunderstanding here with what pictorialism was (mostly due to the censorship and propaganda in the 50s), and, reading f/64 manifesto, I see where it could have started. Their job was fair, but their statement regarding pictorialism was pure demagogy, not true, at least from what I see on pictorial photos.

    There's an interesting group group here from the 50s-60s, they've blurred the line between what's "pictorial" and what's "f/64-ish". Google for "Kielecka Szkoła Krajobrazu" and you'll get it. Not much there is, but you'll get the point. I'm still puzzled about this guy (Pierściński) from a small village, who grew up in post WWII Poland, in poverty and aggressive propaganda, got his hands on a Zorki or Fed, which were really rare back then, and did what he did. How? Why?

    Programming is close to my heart, I did some media manipulation years back, I was doing things like writing a simple program enabling me to VJ (play and "scratch" a video) or make live granular synthesis with a gamepad.

    Quoting the article:
    And that's what I do here basically. Made choice, now asking, what seems to be the easiest, fastest, least expensive and most social form of validating.
    But I'm getting what you're saying, I think. To work more, with mindfulness, care and passion, and be less distracted by whatever is distracting me.
    To justify myself, I've started my day with a coffee and 3 hour walk through a nearby landscape park, making photos and being eaten alive by the mosquitoes.
     
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  19. M Carter

    M Carter Member

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    Hmmm... I was an Art Director for a major US retailer (JCP) from the late 80's and into the 90's. 80% of my group's location and studio fashion was shot 35mm, for retail store POP, direct mail, sunday supplements, and catalogs. It was generally the AD's choice, and we chose 35 for the speed on set and the amount of choices when editing.

    The guys I were hiring were shooting for pretty big names - national brands and manufacturers, and doing plenty of 35 at the top of the food chain. MF was too slow to get 30-60 frames of each look.

    I opened my own studio a few years before digital began to limp into view, and did the same thing - I did shoot MF for clients like Joan Vass, who were concerned with the textures of knits coming through, but plenty of 35 - I shot an AMR annual-report type of thing fully 35, stuff for some national brands - it all came down to what format was best suited.

    I did a lot of work shooting 320t 35mm with very limited DOF and multiple exposures, and duped those to 8x10 velvia in a cheap enlarger with a flash taped to the condenser box - in that case the 35 was all about pretty grain. There were lots and lots of guys shooting more esoteric work 35, especially with the choices in emulsions back then. (Anyone remember Polagraph?)

    It's all pretty moot for commercial work now. Few people are buying film; the convenience, speed, and cost of digital are too compelling. Especially now that even a cheap DSLR body can shoot tethered with full control of the RAW conversion, AD's can direct color, contrast, temp, etc. from the set and walk away with a hard drive of shots with the "vision" of the client and shooter baked in. Camera choices seem to be "do you need movements or not", with lower budget stuff being fully DSLR, product stuff using the pricier back systems with movements.

    I'd guess there's a market for film commercially, if there's some beautiful effect you're selling or the client wants to believe they're doing something special. This would likely be at the very high end, or for very esoteric brands or boutique-level designers.

    For the gallery market, I would assume there's still some "purist" feeling about film vs. digital. It certainly seems like good marketing to play on the public's perception that "anyone can shoot digital", that photography has changed completely and that film and chemistry is some kind of dark ancient art.
     
  20. lightwisps

    lightwisps Subscriber

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    Poisson,
    I have no problem selling Ilfochromes made from 35mm and those prints range from 11X14 to 20X24. And I don't give them away by a long shot.
     
  21. q_x

    q_x Member

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    If an artist is selling his prints, not his labour, 35mm would surely suffice for most of the time.

    So thanks a bunch, M Carter, for the view from the other side of the business. Frankly, I was waiting for a person like you to tell me how the situation looks from the side of Art Director, or a buyer in general, and I guess "moot" is the right word here in connection with 35mm.

    I still don't feel like I need to rethink my approach, that's going into one system with digital and film bodies, as decent, as I can afford. With summer on it's way I think I'll start building a proper portfolio soon.

    Cheers!
     
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  22. MartinP

    MartinP Member

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    If you want to use film and sell stuff, then stick to black-and-white. Forget scanning anything - it has no benefits of any sort for you in differentiating yourself from a million other photographers. Print yourself, if you want something digitised then shoot the print.

    A Pentacon Six will give you gorgeous 120 negatives. However, if you buy any sort of ancient scrapped camera then you will get unreliable results. P6's are available refurbished and with a guarantee, but not for free.

    It seems the budget in time is effectively zero, but how about large pinhole photos shot direct to paper-negs, for example 40x50cm or larger, maybe retouched with pencil on tracing paper behind the neg image etc.? Lots of unusual and unique results for you. That would make your work different and interesting, especially where local purchasers could recognise the 'where' but not the 'how', plus you could make your own gear cheaply with foamboard and blackout cloth.
     
  23. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    hi q_x

    i think the sky is the limit to be honest.
    you can print as large or as small as you want with 35mm
    you can take it with you wherever you want, its nostalgic, its new
    the lenses are as sharp or as soft as you want. 35mm is really a great format.
    and with the whole hybrid electronic thing, you can make, big-negatives and alternative process prints ...

    i am sure if you asked what the limits were of MF or a fixed lens MF/TLR people would say
    how you will be limited ...

    just use what you have and learn what YOUR limitations are, usually it is the person who is limited, not the equipment.
     
  24. q_x

    q_x Member

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    MartinP, making art (pretty much what I've done so far) and being commercial photographer are two different beasts, and I was asking about the latter mainly, even though I'm curious in general about how you all make your living, or how a bigger market operates.
    I did fair amount of tinkering with pinholes (I think if you dig deep enough, you'll find some magic I've posted here on APUG).
    I haven't scanned a sinlge bw negative for printing purposes yet, unlike some color negatives. As for hybrid vs. analog workflow, I think it's all said and done already. And I'd rather think hard, later work hard, so that what comes out, is distinct regardless of techniques and materials utilized. Acid-free photo paper may only help, when the photo is good :D

    Pentacon Six, well, I've sold it recently to get a semi-decent tripod that I could actually carry on my back, and there was some money left for Moskva 5, which is my only MF camera now. Pentacon was deteriorating really quickly, mostly shutter curtains. In my hands it was hopeless brick anyways, even with the brilliant lens in front of it, there was still the clumsy guy behind. I'm not missing it. There are some modern options left on a budget, like Yashica or Mamyia TLRs. (Or a shoebox or a suitcase. I could even do some non-camera work, why not. With cyanotype, it would be a viable non-darkroom option as well :D )
     
  25. q_x

    q_x Member

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    jnanian, commercial photoraphy has it's own ideas and values, I'm afraid, but I get what you mean.
     
  26. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    Location:
    local
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    hi q_x


    you mentioned you like making landscape photographs, or whatever, find a publication or an agency or ? that might have use for what you like to do
    for example, tourbooks or tourism companies, calendar companies, greeting cards .. all love that sort of thing.
    in the end, it really isn't the way the image was created, it is the image itself ... and in the end, if you can't market yourself, you might as well
    not bother even trying because a lot of commercial photography is 75-80% self promotion ...

    have fun !
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 2, 2013