The Self Appreciation Society…

Ok, no doubt there is a society in the name of Self Appreciation- this is no link to them!

I read, and participated in, an interesting thread this week on a photography group on Facebook. It was mainly discussing whether being published in Magazines actually does anything for a photographers business. Cash generation was the main query that people were talking about.

It’s an interesting debate, which links into a blog I wrote recently; Staying Motivated in a Creative Industry.

I’m not going to speak on behalf of anyone else here, but purely give my opinion and feelings on this.

Celebrating success is a hugely important thing for me. Photography, as life, can be at times very lonely, very frustrating and can drive self doubt without justification. As photographers, we constantly look for the approval of other photographers, creatives and ‘Jo Public’ too, thats why we upload to Forums, Groups, Instagram, Facebook etc- we just want our work to be appreciated. When in fact there are only two people who’s opinions matter; You and Your client. If you client is happy- job done. If you’re shooting for yourself (again refer back to my previous blog post) then shoot for yourself and no one else. If you’re happy with what you produce- tell the world. Say it out loud .. “I love this image!!!”

Hell I’ve got a studio full of my favourite images which have been framed and hung on the wall. Yes my clients will see them when they’re at my studio- but they are there for me. For me to look at and think, I did that. I made that great image possible.

Don’t get me wrong- these types of images are few and far between. But I liken it to playing Golf (and I am shite at Golf but), every now and again you hit a drive that just feels right, as soon as you hit it you know its flying straight and going the distance towards the flag. Everything felt right. I feel this as a photographer, during a shoot I will capture an image at 1/200 and think THAT was it, all of the planning, effort and work that has gone into the shoot and THAT was the shot I wanted. I usually get quite giddy at this point and inform the rest of the team that THAT was it. Then, being quite pleased with myself, I finish the shoot knowing that if I don’t take another good image on the shoot, I still have THAT image. After the shoot, when I am able to (having waited for it to be published or released) I share the shit out of THAT image. If it gets lots of likes and comments- great- but really I don’t care. I just want people to see THAT image.

Please don’t confused this with blowing my own trumpet…. well it is really. But so what- If I don’t enjoy what I do and what the result is, why the hell am I doing it?

I want my name out there, I want to be published more because I know that it adds credibility when Im pitching to clients, it gives me motive to continue to shoot creatively and it gives me a platform to grow my skills even further.

I’ll rewind 13 months so when I set myself a personal target of being published in a Magazine. I didn’t really care which magazine it was, I just wanted to say that I had been published.

Bringing it right back to May 2016, I have had four front covers of Magazines, had eight editorial shoots featured in both UK and US publications, had an article in a photography magazine, an image in an International photography magazine and had my images used for advertising in both business and lifestyle magazines.

Am I proud?

Fuck Yeah. (Sorry for the swearing Mam)

“So What?” Someone asks in the conversation, “What has that done for you?”

Well for my self esteem and motivation. Shit Loads (Sorry again Mam)

For my business? Enough to make it worth while.

 

I’ve deviated a little from what I wanted to say, and I have to admit, having the kids watch Spongebob Squarepants as I write this has helped me constantly lose my thought trail. Hopefully the reasoning behind the post comes through.

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Part of an 8 page spread in Surreal Beauty Junior Magazine

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Me, looking very pleased with myself.

 

Commercial Photographer Newcastle

 

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Kit- why I don’t spend much..

I’m lucky.

I’m lucky in the way that I really don’t get excited when a new lens or camera is released. I don’t particularly yearn for near gear or want to upgrade every time something new comes out but more importantly I’m lucky in the way that I won’t go and buy new equipment unless I absolutely need it.

I will be filming a Vlog tomorrow on exactly what travel with to shoots.

I like to think I’m quite prudent when it comes to big photographic purchases, in that I very rarely buy new kit. The only time I can justify a substantial purchase is when either my current item breaks, or it can’t do what I want it to do.

So for instance, up until four years ago I was shooting all of my work on a pair of Canon 60d’s. At the time, a perfectly capable camera for my wedding work and portraits that I was shooting. It wasn’t until a shot a wedding, in winter at Matfen Hall (which is just dark inside) that I realised that I needed to upgrade my camera to a 5diii. Although the 60d performed fairly well in low light, I needed to be able to get up to ISO 8000 without too much detriment to the image quality. So, I went and bought a new camera body. Job done.

With lighting equipment, I started my OFC (off camera flash) journey with Neewer Speedlights after attending a Steve Gerrard Workshop and seeing how a simple one OFC set up can dramatically spice up your images. It wasn’t until I was shooting this wedding at Lumley Castle where the flash power just wasn’t enough, and I was running back and forward to the flash to change the power that I realised that I needed a more substantial portable lighting system. So I went and bought an Elinchrom Quadra set up. This opened huge possibilities for me using not only the 400w of power, but also a very effective modelling lamp. Not the mention the ease at which I could adjust the power from the top of the camera using the remote system.

I see a lot of photographers showing off their latest lens purchase, or new camera body and often wonder- how is it going to improve their work. One of the things I teach anyone who comes to my workshops is that you must master the gear you have, no matter what it is, because one day its all you will have with you. The best lens, best light, best camera you have, is the one you know best.

I remember attending a few Wedding Photography workshops over the years, one where people looked at me funny for using the Nifty Fifty, although I don’t have it now (I dropped it while shooting) this is still one of the best lenses I have ever used. I only upgraded to the 1.4 version because there was an error on the sellers website and I got it £100 cheaper than it should have been. Another wedding workshop I attended I noticed a guy sitting at the top of the table, with two bodies, 6-8 lenses and a load of other gear. He didn’t know how to use any of it, he just thought that’s what he should have. Crazy!!

I think the days of photographic snobbery are finally starting to go away, it really doesn’t make a difference on what gear I have. As long as it does what I need and want it to do!

 

 

 

Planning a Fashion shoot… How I do it

As with the style of my product reviews and lighting techniques, the way I do things may not always be the best way to do it, but it is the way that works for me.

No matter what I’m shooting, whether it be an editorial campaign, a model portfolio or testing new equipment for review; I have a plan and then I have in my head that all of my plans could go out of the window.

I prefer shooting outdoors on location for Fashion and Editorial Work for two reasons. I have less control, meaning, I have more of an open mind for change.

So, take my last big editorial shoot which was featured in Surreal Beauty Magazine. I was inspired by a Vanity Fair shoot I first noticed last year featuring Benedict Cumberbatch  which was shot in woodland, with a dark and moody atmosphere. I would watch this video at least once per week trying to figure out, how, where and when I could do something similar.

So in my mind for this shoot was Harriotte (our model) in amongst tall branchless trees, holding the leash of two Great Danes, with a lot of smoke behind and having the scene quite underexposed to give that dead of the night feel. Although we did shoot this image, it wasn’t my favourite from the shoot- infact the most simple set up worked the best for us, and I’ll come around to explaining that later on.

In my mind, to have a successful shoot, I need several elements. A model who “gets” the idea, a strong and consistent beauty team (hair and makeup), an experienced stylist who can build the look based upon the brief, willing photographic assistants and most importantly an open mind from me. I don’t come up with all of my ideas, I’m heavily influenced by the creative teams I work with. If they have something to say, I will listen. If they come up with an idea, I will consider it. If they tell me something won’t work, I take that on board.

Having open communication with everyone involved, in my eyes, helps to get more buy in from the team. Getting everyone involved in the decisions on how to style the hair, which colour lip gloss to use and how to style the outfits means that we’re pooling the knowledge and experience of 6 people instead of just one. I have an open mind to listen to everyone’s input, but I also have the strength to say “No” when it just ain’t adding to the value of the shoot. And by value, I mean the quality of the end product we’re producing.

So, back to this particular shoot. I’ve never shot the type of shoot in woodland- so I didn’t really have an idea on where to do it. I’ve worked a few locations around my studio which have a few trees, but nowhere near the depth that we needed for the shots in my head. We also needed to have somewhere nearby to change outfits, refuel with bacon sarnie and coffee and work from as a base. Luckily, Harriott’s Mother Sarah knew a great spot, literally 25 yards from their back gate. Location- sorted.

As you might have already guessed, Harriotte was the model for this shoot. As soon as I decided to go ahead with it, there really was no one else I wanted for it. In terms of Hair and Makeup, I’m very lucky to work with two awesome ladies on a regular basis for pretty much all of my editorial and beauty work. Rachel White (makeup artist) and Steph O’Neill (hair stylist), these guys we’re brought on board and I created a Pinterest Board to give everyone involved a quick flavour of the sort of look we were going for. Pinterest is an immense tool if you’re looking for inspiration, or looking to collate ideas for shoots to share with the rest of the creative team. While I will often send ideas for hair and makeup to the girls, I pretty much leave them to their own devices now as I trust them to produce great work, no matter what the theme.

So that’s Model, Location, Hair & Makeup, Inspiration and ideas all sorted. The next part, assistants. I like to take assistants on pretty much all of my shoots. Having someone to help with lighting, moving props, pulling out weeds and generally watching out for things I’ve missed is, to me, invaluable. I was very lucky with this shoot to have three assistants with me, Ian kindly offered to bring along his generator in order to power the smoke machine and to be our “smoke maker guy” for the day. I literally could not have shot the sets with the smoke in the background without this guy. If I was working alone, running back and forward between the smoke machine and the camera position just would not be feasible. Colin, a good friend of mine, came along to support with lighting, and the general set up, offering ideas along the way. Again having a VAL (voice activated light stand) means that I am able to keep my position without having to move lighting positions, and I can stay in front of my model keeping dialogue going.

And that is pretty much it- that is how the shoot is planned in a nutshell. I have another big shoot using the same creative team for a magazine front cover and editorial at the end of the month that we will be video and releasing over on my  YouTube channel too, so keep an eye out for that bad boy. But in the mean time don’t forget to watch the behind the scenes for this shoot and see just how we shot the different sets!

 

 

 

 

Single Light Techniques – Part 1

For those photographers who have visited my studio before through a studio creative night, a 1-2-1 session or to help out on shoots would have already heard me rave about using single light set ups.

I’ll rewind a little here before I go too far into the technique and talk a little about why I like them. Are you ready for this? I am lazy. If I can create a stunning image for a client portfolio or magazine editorial with the least amount of faffing around as possible. I will.

I’m a self-taught photographer in terms of lighting. Well actually, I’m taught by YouTube, magazines and a huge amount of trial and error. I am not afraid to try something, even with a client in the shot, and if it doesn’t work, I’m not afraid to say so and change it so that it does work.

My entire approach to studio lighting has been built upon trying to replicate the look I like and then trying my own techniques and perfecting them through trial and error. After all, we learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes. I’d far rather get it wrong three times and then know why I got it right the fourth time- it’s just the way that I am wired.

So, onto the first in a series of single light techniques. I will be posting tutorial videos for all of these techniques over the coming weeks but for those who prefer written word and diagrams, here it is.

This is my favourite single light set up to use, its quick, its easy and if you have the space you can shoot this set up around 180 degrees to your model without having to touch the light itself.

 

 

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A flat surface always works well for this set up- I’ve shot it along a 20ft scoop in my studio, and I’ve also shot this on a 4ft fold out background. Place your model against the wall, as close as you can and set the light up at about 45 degrees to the model. I use a studio strobe with a gridded reflector fitted in order to channel the light into a concentrated area which creates a natural vignette, depending on how you frame the shot. I’m not going to go into the mathematics of the lighting and the power etc- I like shots with lots of contrast so I will tend so shoot at much higher Apertures. So for instance- this shot of Dee below was captured at F18, 1/160sec with ISO 100.

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If you look at the diagram further up the page- my shooting position is more shallow than the light- usually starting at around 20 degrees to the model and the wall behind of the model. Now as I said the beauty of this set up is that you can move around the model (if you have the space) and literally shoot a full 180 degrees without moving the position of the light. Obviously as you move further towards the opposite side of the light, the look is going to change dramatically, so be conscious of where your model is facing and where the light it going to hit.

 

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One of the main variables you can create with this set up is the shape of the vignette of light. For instance, if I was shooting this set up with the light at the same height as the model and pointed directly toward the wall (which I wouldn’t but..) it’s going to produce a pretty definite circle of light. However, if I raise that light, and point it downwards, the vignette becomes stretched into an oval shape down toward the floor. If I moved the set up shallower to the wall, the same would happen with on oval going away from the model. Trial and error and a little experimentation is well worth while with this set up to learn how moving the light by 6″ one way or another can totally change the look of the image.

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As I mentioned above I will be publishing a Video tutorial for this technique over the next few months which will be included in a training app that I will be releasing.

If you’ve any questions on this technique, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to answer.

 

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See my tutorial video below on shooting a very similar effect, but outdoor using a Speed light;

 

 

Pixapro CITI600 – Product Review

Let me start by saying that my product reviews are going to be a little different to what you’ve seen before. I won’t be looking to baffle with all of the science and mathematics about the lighting and all that jazz.

I’m very easily pleased with photography gear; if it does the job I want it to do then that makes me happy. So when I review equipment, I do it on that basis and that basis alone.

 

 

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So does it do what I want it to….

I was lucky enough to have the CITI600 sent to me the week before the Photography Show in Birmingham as I was going to be providing demo’s on the Pixapro stand using this light. Now, I didn’t really get the chance to do a great deal with it prior to the show and ended learning the vast majority of its capabilities while demoing it live to an audience.

First and foremost, the most noticeable characteristic of the CITI600 is the fact that it is battery-powered. Yes, as studio head that is battery-powered. For me this is a god send. I run studio creative nights and have kids portraits sessions which means that a lot of the time there are lots of people in the studio moving around quickly. Being able to take away the hazard and hassle of wires, extension cables and everything that goes with that is a huge huge selling point to me.

This battery can fire 500 full power flashes on one charge. Let that sink in for a minute. That means that if you were shooting at the full 600w, you could fire continuously for 21 minutes (taking into account the recycle time of 2.5 sec). Now I wouldn’t advise this as you’d probably blind your model! So lets strip that back to even shooting at half power- around 1000 flashes at half power means you could literally go all day shooting with this.

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As I mentioned above the CITI600 is as the name suggests 600w of awesomeness. Stepping down in third stops to 1/256th power, meaning the sheer range of power available extremely versatile opening lots of doors as to how it could be used. Not mentioning the three-step LED Modelling lamp which I have used to shoot at very shallow apertures to. The battery boasts an inbuilt charge indicator so that you can see at the press of a button, on or off the head, how much charge you have remaining. The official charge time from empty is around 4 hours, however, I’ve not yet had this down less than 25% of its charge, and the recharge time has generally been around the 1 hour mark for me.

There are of course two versions of this light available; the full manual and the TTL version. If, like me, you’re used to working with manual lighting, it’s a no brainer at the price its retailing right now at £450 (correct 27/04/16), and to be honest at the usual price of £599- its still a bargain! If you’re more inclined to use the TTL version for shooting in ever-changing conditions, or for quick set up- again this light offers extremely high value for money.

The High Speed Sync capabilities of both versions offer sports and dance photographers an easy line into high-powered HSS shooting, with speeds of up to 1/8000sec available. Not to mention the Strobetopic function too for multiple bursts in one exposure.

The bulb itself is very easily accessible and changed with a three prong system, and there will be an update allowing an external head to be plugged into the bulb socket for extra reach if needed.

So, let’s get back to me using this light. Weight wise its manageable for one of my assistants to hand hold even with a soft box attached at 2.6kg, and handles itself well at the top of a light stand too out on location.

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Since arriving back from the photography show I have used this light on quite a few different types of shoots- just to see what it is capable of. Now this is raging from kids portraits in the studio, to a full day Fashion Editorial shoot (see the video at the bottom of the page) and each and every time it has performed brilliantly. I use the standard Pixapro trigger system, rather than the ST- III which is used for HSS and TTL shooting, as I like easy trigger systems and this is a reliable and simple remote. I tend to shoot a lot of my work with the light positioned around 8ft in the air pointing down towards my subject, so being able to adjust the power, and the modelling lamp, from the trigger on my camera is extremely important to me. The screen on the side of the unit is bright, easy to navigate and displays all of the relevant information and menu’s its ease.

Being an S-Fit/Bowens Fit, all of my existing Pixapro adaptors work seamlessly with the CITI600- I mainly use a 95cm Octabox and a 45dregree reflector.

Now I already use a range of location lighting systems such as the Elinchrom Quadra and Pixapro’s own PowerCore600. If I had the choice- at the price of the CITI600 and everything else taken into account- it would be the CITI600 every single time. The fact that I could potentially buy three of these heads for the price of one Elinchrom Quadra system is very appealing.

I can honestly say that I am in awe of this light. It’s very rare that I get excited about equipment, but the more I use this the more it makes sense to swap out all of the other lighting I use and replace it with these. I have yet to use the TTL or the HSS function (as it’s just not my way of working) but the feedback I have seen from other photographers is overwhelmingly positive.

See Pixapro’s Website here

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Model CITI600 Manual Flash
Max Power 600Ws
Guide Number 87m @ ISO100  with Standard Reflector
Colour Temperature 5600±200k
Flash Duration 1/220s – 1/10,000s
Recycle Times 0.01 – 2.5 Seconds Recycle Time
Manual Flash Power Range 1/1 – 1/256 (1/3 Stop Increments)
Power Source Built in (removable) 11.1V / 8700mAh Lithium-ion Battery
Number of Flashes Approx. 500 Full Powered Flashes

Per Charge

Flash Modes Manual / Multi
High speed Sync Up to 1/8,000s
Radio Frequency 2.4GHz (Compatible with PIXAPRO PRO ST-III TTL Triggers)
Work Range 100m with ST-III Transmitter in Open Area
Channels (Radio) 32
Controllable Slave Groups 5 (A, B, C, D, E)
Slave Modes S1/S2
Other Trigger Methods

 

PC Sync Port, 3.5mm Sync port, USB port for Pro AC Trigger Set
Dimensions 220mm x 245mm x 125mm
Net. Weight 2.69kg
Accessory Mount S-Type

 

BOX CONTENT

Item QTY
CITI600 Flash Head 1
Flash Tube 1
Standard Reflector 1
Lithium Battery Pack 1
Battery Charger 1
Power Cord 1
Lamp Cover 1

Staying Motivated in a Creative Industry – Part 1

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As a photographer, or any creative person in general, we can find inspiration in all sorts of different places. It could be the way that shadows fall through imperfect glass panes, the direction of the wind on new spring leaves, or even the motion of a cement mixers drum forever spinning around.

But.

What happens when that inspiration dries up and you struggle to find your next project or you lack the drive to pursue something different?

I’ve seen several photographers I know post about the “lack of inspiration/motivation” over the last few days on various forums and social media, even finding myself doubting my creativity on certain types of shoots. It’s a tough subject to talk about at times; you can’t mention to your clients because they’d soon lose confidence. You can seek advice from your peers, but, you may be worried about what they think of you. You can speak to your family and friends but they might just fob you off with the old “Your work is great, keep doing what you’re doing” line….

 

I certainly can’t speak for the industry, a group of professionals (or amateurs for that matter) but I can speak for myself and what I try to do to keep my creative juices flowing. Is it guaranteed to get my mojo back when I’m feeling that I’ve ran out of steam; absolutely not. However, it does help me get back into the mindset that actually I am capable of creating, I am capable of designing a shoot from the smallest details and I am capable of delivering some great images. OMG – did you see what I said there- I actually praised myself. I know… It’s not something you often see a photographer do. Certainly not that I see anyway. But that is my first step to keeping my motivation- Celebrating success.

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Remember that time…

I’m often a victim of the photography industry as a whole. Seeking the approval of my peers, angling for Instagram likes and comments, trying to be recognised by the photographers I associate with as having “made it”.

But actually, when it comes down to brass tacks;

It. Means. Nothing.

 

There are two types of shoots (for me anyway); those for clients and those for me.

If I’m shooting for a client, whether it be a wedding, a portrait session, corporate headshot; I’m not looking to please myself. I’m not looking to please other photographers. I’m looking to supply a product that my client loves. There are times of shot weddings and thought that I haven’t delivered the type of images that have seen me use my creativity to the level I’m capable of. But, the client loved the images – That is the goal! Celebrate these successes! I have a little notebook of printouts of feedback from my clients that I keep under my desk, so that when I’m feeling as though I haven’t produced or haven’t pushed myself enough, I can read it and see that actually I have delivered what those clients wanted.

I’ll talk about Shooting for me in a little while.

Using a bucket list/check list/job list- whatever you want to call it. In the summer of 2015 I made a bucket list of what I wanted to achieve personally (with my family and kids) and what I wanted to achieve in my business. I must admit, I was rather conservative in what I was aiming for with my business. I simply wanted to get my name out there more for commercial and fashion work. One of the main aims I had was to be published in one Magazine. Tick. I had images published in more than 20 magazines in the  last 6 months of 2015. Now don’t mistake this for a boast. It isn’t, it’s simply my recognition of myself of what I have achieved. You know what? I am incredibly proud of myself for this.

There are lots of other little items on my bucket list too which when ticked out, give me a massive sense of achievement and help me measure my progress and momentum of continuous growth and development.

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Forget about the little things…

One of the greatest bits of advice my Dad ever gave me was when I was about 7 years old. I remember it quite vividly. I was sitting in the car and we had just got a McDonald’s to eat. I complained that there was a Gurken and Onions which I didn’t like. He looked at me in his rearview mirror and said

“Chris, it’s like Shit. It stinks”

And that was it. It has taken me until the ripe old age of 29 to finally embrace that bit of advice and move beyond the little issues, problems and complaints in life.

So what if someone copies a concept of mine.

So what if someone tries to steal my clients or my creative team.

So what, so what, so what…

As soon as I started worrying about the little things less, my life became a lot happier and I found it much easier to stay creative and in a positive mindset.

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Shooting for me…

The single most common bit of advice I give to any photographer who asks how I am where I am is very simple. I shoot for me. I shoot what I want to shoot at least 2-3 times per month. This helps me to practice new techniques, try new themes, develop new working relationships with people in order to help my creativity thrive.

I’ve been extremely lucky to meet and work with some amazing people such as my regular hair stylist Steph and Makeup Artist Rachel. Together we shoot very often, across lots of different themes and types of shoot with the aim of constantly pushing ourselves, constantly looking to get our work published and constantly looking to do the next big thing.

If you’re constantly shooting for clients, while it may be a job you love, it can become difficult to try new things and really get that thrill from doing something new for the first time. Set yourself time, whether it be a day a week or a day a month to shoot totally for yourself. Use tools such as Pinterest to plan what you’re going to do, give yourself time to research if you need to and surround yourself with likeminded people who also want to do something for themselves.

Try it for a few months, and come back and tell me if you feel better- I can hand on heart say this is one of my most important things in my profession to stay sane, stay creative and stay motivated.

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Have an inspiration in the industry…

This one is simple. Look up to someone- admire their work. Don’t be afraid to try and mimic it or create something similar. It’s a great way to learn. I admire a lot of photographers, and as my style has changed and grown, I admire them for different reasons.

Make contact with them- the wonderful thing about social media these days is that the world is so small. It is so easy to talk to your influences and inspiration, ask them advice, ask them how they did it. Most creatives are more than willing to share their secrets.

 

As I sit in Starbucks writing this, I realise there is so much more I could talk about. But I will keep that for a second part of this discussion in a few weeks time.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you’ve found even the smallest amount of use from this.