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Entering The Press Photography Dark Ages

Bizarrely, having written in my last blog post about the Pine Range fire which I covered for The Bath Chronicle in 1991, I was heading back to my flat from a family gathering on Sunday evening to discover the sheltered housing complex on the opposite side of my building from where Pine Range once stood was surrounded by fire crews, engines and hoses. A fire had broken out in one of the flats and 11 residents had to be evacuated, with one resident being taken to hospital suffering smoke inhalation.

Aside from the obvious concern that everyone had been evacuated safely I couldn’t help feeling I should take a few photos, in spite of the fact I had a fair number of other commitments that evening, limited time and no obvious client for any photos I would take.

But the news photographer blood which still courses through me was buzzing and telling me to get on with it and at least take a few frames to offer up to the local paper. More in hope than expectation; time was a paper would have torn my arm off at the elbow for a set of pictures from an event they couldn’t get to and would happily have paid for them. Times have changed so very much though.

Fire crews attend a fire at Gorehedge residential home for the elderly in Keyford, Frome.

A general view gives some idea of the scale of the operation

I don’t often find myself covering this kind of story any more. Most of what I do for publications is press release work, which of course doesn’t include things like un-planned fires. I had to pause and ask myself if it was still valid for me to take pictures at an incident if I don’t have an immediate client for the shots. I don’t even carry a National Union of Journalists card any more, having let my membership lapse some years ago.

I honestly don’t think any of that matters though. Whether or not a newspaper wants to use my photos is entirely their call. As a trained, experienced news photographer I still feel I have a duty to record events if I am able. I can’t know at the time of taking a photo whether I will have captured something banal, tragic or incredibly newsworthy. All I can do is call on all my training and experience and get on with taking pictures.

Now that local newspapers no longer cover local stories and events with anything approaching enthusiasm perhaps it’s more important than ever that photographers with the right training and skills create quality visual records of what they witness.

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Looking at the paltry photographic coverage the Bath Chronicle gave the Tour of Britain last week, and The Frome Standard’s belated attempt at photographing a major news event on their own doorstep (their photos were taken over three hours after the event), it’s possible that historians of the future will look back on the stories of our time and wonder why the photos from the early 2000s are worse than the ones taken a century before on far more primitive equipment.

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates

 

 

Blast from the Past – Frome Pine Range Fire

Sometimes I like to pull something from my archive and share it with you, so here’s a photo from February 1991 showing the Pine Range furniture factory in Frome being attended by fire crews as it’s gutted by fire. I apologise for the quality of the reproduction here, it’s an old newspaper cutting and I no longer have access to the original negative – a common occurrence of my very early work which is held by The Bath Chronicle (more likely the negatives no longer exist).

Fire crews attend the fire at Pine Range, Frome, February 1991

Fire crews attend the fire at Pine Range, Frome, February 1991

I vaguely recall the circumstances surrounding this call-out. I was a freelance at “The Chron” at the time and I was probably working late, printing the day’s shoots ready for the next day’s paper, when a reporter came into the photography department to see if a photographer might be around to attend a breaking story. Luckily for them, I was.

The story had come through of a big fire in Frome, so we headed out in my car (to be pedantic, probably my then-girlfriend’s car) to see what was up. I know it was late at night, might even have been around midnight, when we got there to find a few fire crews in attendance at the building which was billowing smoke.

It was such a bitterly cold night that the run-off water from the fire hoses was freezing to the road, and I recall struggling to walk up the incline to the scene because of all the ice under foot.

There wasn’t a huge amount to photograph, I just had to make sure I got the building and fire engines to fill the frame. After taking a few different angles, I was pretty much finished. There wasn’t much light about, and I recall using my large hammerhead Metz flashgun to illuminate the entire scene.

It was hardly a moment for great art, but I would have headed back to the Chronicle offices straight after to process my film and make some prints so the picture desk could choose one for the paper the next morning. I probably rolled into bed in the early hours and would have been back on duty about half eight the next day.

One small coincidence of this job is that from where I currently live my living room window overlooks the site of the Pine Range building, which was subsequently demolished and is now a block of flats. Hardly Circle of Life stuff, but curious all the same.

Photography should tell a story

I’m tempted to write about the launch of the Fuji X30 this week, but not so tempted by the prospect that I will tackle the task head on.

The X30 is the predictably-titled update to the X20, which I own and enjoy using very much when I’m not taking photos for clients.

Now don’t get me wrong, given the chance to play with an X30 and possibly review it I’ll jump at it, but reading reactions to the specifications and design of this new camera on forums and it’s just a bit depressing how much some (too many) people fuss over what is essentially a new toy.

Why do people get so vexed about new cameras? I can’t shake the feeling that new cameras now get more comment and discussion than pictures do. Even more crucially, more discussion than pictures which actually tell a story get. Photojournalism struggles to get seen and when it does it’s often accompanied with “these amazing pictures were taken with an iPhone/compact camera/blah blah” as if the device on which the story is being recorded is more important than the story itself.

a block wall with the shadow of a tree cast onto it

The X20 is a fun camera and a good compact, but we need more real stories and less emphasis on equipment

I fear this is often because the story isn’t strong enough to stand on its own legs and has to be puffed with details about what gear the photographer used. This may or may not be because the story is paid for via advertising from the manufacturer, which gets in the way of the story.

This isn’t healthy.

Of course it isn’t entirely honest to compare today’s photographer with those whose careers started when newspaper photography was respected and dominant in our news media, but you rarely hear the likes of Don McCullin talk about which camera he used in Vietnam or Uganda, apart from the one which caught a bullet in Cambodia and saved his life, but I think we can forgive that particular piece of gear-talk.

The fact is though that when the likes of McCullin talk about their work, they’re not gear-obsessed. They’re obsessed with photography, with telling stories and communicating. They’re not obsessed with the equipment they use, whether it’s the latest thing or how many megapixels it has. In fact there’s an article here in which McCullin says he doesn’t trust digital cameras because “they’re full of connivance” so he’s still shooting film and producing outstanding work without any of the “connivance” of the latest digital equipment.

The fact is this obsession with gear is leading us away from real photography. The camera has become more important than the image and the message has been buried in technical specifications and comparisons with this make and model or that one.

I’m looking forward to a time when the technology settles down and photography can once again be about photographs, when cameras are just a means to an end. Right now photography seems to be about the means when it should be about the story.

Holiday Schnapps

Even though I’m on holiday with my son Joe this week, I thought I’d drop you all a line and share some photographic impressions of my time in the Tyrol, Austria. I’ve banged on before about how I enjoy taking photos for myself and how even though photography is my job, I enjoy the freedom of taking photos just to please myself.

The funny thing is though, when I’m in such a pretty part of the world as this, I’m not so keen on the “chocolate box” images which can be so hard to avoid. I want to take photos you wouldn’t find on Google Images – during a trip to Paris earlier this year, it struck me how many people walk up to The Eiffel Tower, take some snaps, then walk away. Shooting as if all they wanted was a frame or two to prove they were there, when they could always see much better photos on the internet any time they wanted.

Of course I have taken some of the bog-standard kitsch photos, which will have been taken by countless others and many probably better than my efforts, but I salve my conscience by not spending too much time on those, but looking for the unusual too. Images which while not literal, will also remind me of moments in my holiday without entirely overwriting my inner memories of it. I’m sure some people spend so much time peering at a camera screen and have so many stills and videos of their excursions, they must struggle to remember anything fun about where they went and what they did. My photos are meant to be those impressions which sit at the edge of the experience. I’m not photographing the main experience, but the little moments around it, leaving me to relax and enjoy the bulk of my trip without a camera glued to my face.

And so here, half-way through my trip, are a few of those peripheral moments. Don’t worry, I promise not to post every last photo I take. Some might pop up in future blogs and others will remain private. A couple have already surfaced on my personal Facebook page, but I wanted these to illustrate this weeks point. I hope you enjoy them.

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Post-poned

I’m off on my hols tomorrow and while I had planned to publish this week, life had other plans for me and I’ve run out of time. With a bit of luck, I’ll drop you a blog postcard from Austria next week.

In the meantime, take care and I’ll see you soon!

Tim

Better Briefs Make Better Photos

A young woman in a white sleeveless top reaches up to write on a whiteboard, her back to the camera. The subject is the environment.

Provided the brief is fulfilled, off-brief shots like this are very useful

The photographer’s brief is one of the most important precursors to a successful photo session, so it’s worth giving it proper consideration, but if your day job doesn’t revolve around briefing photographers it can be a daunting task to tackle.

Don’t worry though, even when I was dealing with briefs as a staff photographer at The Portsmouth News, it was incredible how many reporters would turn in incomplete briefs. So if you struggle to know what to include, you’re in good company. This article will help you hit the main points required, but if you follow the Who, What, When, Where and Why principle of photojournalism, you’ve pretty much nailed it.

Where and When:

Date, time and location. Without any one of these three you’re on rocky ground before you’ve started. Set them out clearly and fully; just saying “I’ll see you on the 12th” isn’t the same as “Date: 12th September 2014″.

The location address needs to be complete too. I often use sat nav or Google Maps to find a location and an accurate post code helps especially where there are similar road names within the same town or city. Occasionally a post code can bring up a doubtful-looking address, at which point I’ll double-check the location with my client. If the post code and street don’t match up, directions are essential.

As part of the address etc, make sure there is a contact name and number. This should have become apparent during early contact, but make sure it’s all on the brief too.

Who and What:

Is it a series of portraits or is it processes, locations or maybe products which are to be photographed?

It’s incredibly useful to have the names of people to be photographed. These can be ticked off as they’re done. The same with locations and products. These details also make captioning the images later much easier. If it’s products or processes, make sure to use full descriptions rather than acronyms so captions can be completed fully.

Why:

In editorial photography the Who What When Where and Why make up the cornerstones of an accurate caption, describing as they do the contents of the photos, but in corporate communications photography the Why is more about why the image is being taken and what it is to be used for. If I know a photo is to be a cover image for a brochure, I’ll approach it differently to if it’s going to end up as a narrow banner at the top of a web page.

The Creative Brief:

This is the more enjoyable part of raising a brief and will be an amalgam of what you already know you need combined with discussion with me at the planning stage. Thinking about what you need for the project in hand as well as thinking about what future uses might be made of the photos will help in working out how many images and what scenarios are required and finally how much time will be required overall.

In terms of time required, you might already have an idea of what time and budget you can allocate to the photo session and these will have a bearing on whether the brief needs to be adjusted. It’s worth ensuring there is some slack in the schedule to allow for the unforeseen or un-planned off-brief photos, which can be incredibly useful later.

Some practicalities on the day:

Parking and access to the building or site. The majority of my work requires more kit than I can easily carry, which tends to rule out public transport. Make sure there is space to park, preferably near the building entrance or wherever equipment needs to be set up. If off-site parking is the only option I need to know in advance so I can plan my arrival time accordingly.

If a room is set aside for staff portraits, make sure it is the right size (I can advise on this during the planning stage) and isn’t filled with chairs and immovable tables or other furniture. If the photos are to be taken around the offices or production floor, make sure as much as possible that locations are clean and tidy and that anyone to be featured is complying with health and safety regulations – I can’t always know what these are, and it’s such a shame to ditch a great photo because someone is wearing the wrong high-visibility vest for the task they’re doing.

Decisions on location can sometimes be decided upon my arrival, but time has to be allowed for clearing and tidying within the allocated shoot slot.

Cameras are machines, photographers are people. Don’t forget comfort breaks and if it’s a full-day shoot, lunch is a must to keep the little creative cells going.

Attempting to cover all eventualities in this article is likely to miss some possible scenarios, but provided you approach the brief as outlined above, you’ll be a long way down the path of getting it right. Certainly I’m always happy to help and guide clients before the shoot because the better it goes, the happier everyone is.

If you have any questions about anything here, why not post a comment or drop me a line?

New Reviews News

It’s been a bit of a shame that lately I’ve been so busy taking pictures I’ve barely had time to blog, yet I have so few photos I can post here from these crazy times as I’m bound by client exclusivity. Hopefully there will be some interesting case studies I can post as the brochures, banners and web publications I’ve been shooting for come to be published.

One thing I can tell you about actually consists of three things, that is to say three other articles I’ve recently written over on my PhotoEspresso blog.

SanDisk memory card and Hähnel battery arrive from Clifton Cameras in Bristol for review

A memory card and a very orange camera battery were included in my review

The articles came about as a result of an approach from Clifton Cameras in Bristol asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their website in return for a couple of items I could purchase and have refunded, thereby gaining the user’s experience of the site. A sort of sponsored post if you like.

In the event I turned it into three posts because the items I received are worth reviewing and discussing on a photography help site and because it’s always useful to have fresh things to write about for that blog, which has a different purpose to my main one here.

Anyway, I ordered the items – a memory card and a camera battery, wrote a review for each and I’ve just published the Clifton Cameras website review. The whole exercise has been useful and enjoyable. It would be good to build up the paid blogging part of what I do, so if anyone out there knows anyone looking for someone to write honest reviews, critiques or general photography-related articles, send them my way!

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on which assignments I can feature here as they become available. Stay tuned!

Case Study: In-House Magazine Photography

Double page spread of photos by Tim Gander in House of Fraser Host magazine

The final spread layout in Host magazine

I’ve been dying to show you this for some time, but I had to wait for the feature to appear in the House of Fraser in-house magazine before I could share it with you here.

The story behind this job is that I was contacted by Word of Mouth Communication who write, design and publish the House of Fraser in-house magazine Host. They asked if I’d be interested in going to the Jollys store in Bath to take portraits of some of the staff for the City Spotlight section of the magazine which features the places they most like to kick back and relax.

Naturally I was delighted to undertake the commission because I love shooting portraits and I enjoy anything with an editorial element, so I got in touch with my contact at the store in advance of the date of the shoot just to make sure everyone was briefed and we all knew what we were doing.

The only downside on the day was the heavy rain, but I shot a few exterior images before going into the store to meet my subjects.

Jody Brown, Sales Manager, Jollys of Bath, enjoys a coffee at Adventure Cafe

Jody Brown, Sales Manager, Beauty enjoys a coffee at Adventure Cafe

After a couple of small group photos outside and a portrait of the store manager, I set off with my subjects Jodie, Alex and Josh to visit their various hangouts, asking permission to take photos at each one. All the bars and cafes in Bath were very helpful and finding the best places at each venue to do a variety of portraits suitable for the magazine was pretty easy, there always being an interesting corner or feature to use.

Stylistically the photos needed to be bright, colourful, up-beat and polished to look good in a high-quality colour magazine. Of course I didn’t have all day to do this, since I was taking time out of people’s busy days, but using portable studio lighting and a consistent approach meant I could keep things moving along while producing a set of pictures which sit well together.

Jodie, Alex and Josh enjoyed themselves and this also shows in the results. You could say it all looks rather Jolly!

Ultimately though, when I take photos for a client it’s them I have to please even more than myself, so I’ll leave the last word to Paul O’Regan of Word of Mouth: “It was good to work with you on this one. We were delighted with the way you handled the project and with the photographs you provided.”

Josh Gottschling, who works in womenswear, likes to go for drinks with friends in Revolutions bar and restaurant on George Street, Bath.

Josh Gottschoing, Sales Adviser, Womenswear cools down with a soft drink cocktail at Revolution

The Graduates

Yet again, sorry for the lack of a post last week, but I was incredibly busy photographing the University of Bath Summer graduation ceremonies. Eleven ceremonies in three days, days which easily ran to 12 or 13 hour stints, but which were ultimately successful. Success is when the client sends emails saying that the pictures they’re seeing come through after each day’s ceremonies are over are exactly what they needed. Success is also managing to not mess up even though I’d never done this before, and rarely have I had to cover an event with quite so many requirements from different parts of the client organisation.

Now all the editing is done and the photos delivered, I thought I’d pluck a few of my own favourites from the assignment and let you have a peek inside what is a pretty big event in Bath and certainly for the University of Bath and the graduating students and their families.

Bedel Bearer Evearl Walker polishes up the mace prior to the first procession

Bedel Bearer Evearl Walker polishes the mace prior to the first procession

HRH Prince Edward, Chancellor of University of Bath, exits Bath Abbey after a degree ceremony.

The university’s new chancellor, HRH Prince Edward, looking relaxed in his role

Bath Abbey during University of Bath graduation ceremonies.

The abbey is a superb setting for the ceremonies

A parent using an iPad inside the abbey to photograph the ceremony

One parent likes to record the ceremony on her iPad

A University of Bath graduate smiles and gives the camera a thumbs up

One of my tasks was to capture the fun of the day

Two female students make a selfie while smiling and pulling funny faces

Selfies at graduation are a new trend

A graduate pokes his tongue out while shaking the hand of the Pro-Chancellor

One graduate wins his bet

A graduate makes her way back to her seat after receiving her certificate, the grandeur of the abbey seen behind her.

A graduate makes her way back to her seat after receiving her certificate

A group of smiling, camera-wielding parents in Abbey Churchyard

Proud parents line up to get photos of their sons and daughters

University of Bath graduates throw their hats in the air in celebration

The obligatory hat-throwing shot

University of Bath Summer Graduations, Ceremony 11 hat-throwing

A different take on the hat-throwing shot

Graduates standing on top of an open-top bus throw their mortar boards in the air

Top deck hat-throwing

 

high-level photographer

This week I thought I’d talk about what I’ve got coming up because it’s rather big. Next week, the first week in July, I’m taking on quite a challenge. For the first time ever I’ll be photographing the Summer Graduation ceremonies for University of Bath.

This event would normally be covered by the university’s in-house photographer Nic, but he recently broke his collar bone in a cycling accident so I’ve been asked to step in to cover the work he’d normally be doing this time of year. It’s been a busy few weeks taking pictures for the university, but next week will be Intense with a capital I.

Up to four graduation ceremonies a day for three days, including formal portraits of honorary graduates, the procession from Guildhall to Bath Abbey, the presentations inside the abbey and the students and their families celebrating outside after their ceremony. Then I go and do it all again, plus editing and delivering rush shots at the end of each day and editing all the images at the end of the week. I’ll be ready for a lie-down by the end, that’s for sure.

And even before the event I’ve had planning and briefing meetings and today I took a recce to the abbey to see the layout for the ceremonies and also to check out a high vantage point for an alternative shot of the students piling out of the abbey after the procession, which is how this week’s blog photo came about.

After seeing inside the abbey, I was shown up a very dark, winding, narrow spiral staircase (approximate age, 500 years) and onto a balcony above the main entrance to see if the vantage point would work. The lighting and weather on the day will determine if this is going to work out, but in the meantime, here’s a shot I took this morning looking up Abbey Churchyard with the entrance to The Pump Rooms to the left.

A high-level view of Bath Abbey Churchyard, taken from above the abbey door on a sunny day.

A super view across Abbey Churchyard, which will be packed with students and their families next week