How photography can tell you something about the professional standard of your audio

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Friday June 22, 2012

Photography and audio are as different as chalk and cheese. But professionally, both photographers and sound engineers (or music producers) need to satisfy their clients. If they do, they eat. If they don't, they starve.

"Anyone can take a photograph", one might say. Well yes, anyone can. But can you take stunning photographs day after day, week after week? Can you take photographs that people will pay for? That's a different thing entirely.

We use photographs at Audio Masterclass and Audio Masterclass. Many of the photographs are highly professional in quality. Equipment manufacturers commission highly-skilled photographers to make their gear look sexy, and they hope that these photographs will be seen by as many prospective purchasers as possible. We're happy to help with that when the photos suit our purposes.

But often in Audio Masterclass we just need a photo that illustrates an article in some way, and using an equipment photo wouldn't be relevant. We source these photos from photo libraries.

The first-call photo library for many media organizations is, you may be surprised, This is because many of the contributors to Flickr allow their work to be used free of charge, with just a credit to the photographer, which is most easily provided by linking to their photo stream. Click the photo at the top of this page for an example.

However, finding a really good, striking, photograph on any particular topic on Flickr is tough. Most of the photographs on Flickr are nothing more than casual amateur snaps. Hardly the 'painting with light' that the word 'photography' derives from.

But there is a source of higher-quality photographs - iStockPhoto.

Although the photos on iStockPhoto are not free to use, most of them are quite cheap. And it is possible to pay a one-off licence to use the photo as much as you like. That is very convenient, in comparison with licences where you have to account for how an image is used and perhaps re-license every year.

Now, I say that the photos at iStockPhoto are higher in quality than Flickr, but many of them look more like they were shot by photography students than seasoned professionals. Particularly those that use a model - the combination of inexperienced model and inexperienced photographer make for a less than fully pro result.

To find the best in photography, one has to go elsewhere - to Getty Images. You can look through the Getty catalog and see page after page of truly stunning photographs. This is where the best photographers place their work. As you might expect however, it costs a significant amount of money to license a Getty image. More than Audio Masterclass can afford. Much more.

How this relates to audio is that these three photo libraries illustrate the difference between amateur, semi-pro and fully pro very clearly. The top professionals in photography have the knowledge, skills and experience to turn out work that is simply better than the others can achieve. And there is a big difference between semi and fully pro. So next time you finish a recording project, ask yourself how it stands in the rankings of professionalism.

Is it Flickr, iStockPhoto or Getty?

P.S. The image at the top of the page is nice and certainly better than I could have taken, but a Getty photographer would have gotten rid of the mic stand on the right, and have a selection of a hundred similar images from the same shoot to choose from.

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