Tim Gander’s photography blog.

A Frightfully Good Adventure!

It’s pretty exciting when friends launch into a new adventure. Even more exciting when they ask you to get involved!

I’ve known Neil and Suzy Howlett for quite a few years now, but was totally unaware they were writing a book together until they got in touch to ask if I was interested in taking their author photos for Return to Kirrin, an affectionate pastiche of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books.

Return to Kirrin imagines the Five as adults in 1979, a period of punk and political turmoil, and brings them together for new adventures on Kirrin Island.

My brief for this project was to create a set of images which could be used for a range of promotional purposes. Neil and Suzy wanted a look which was neither too staid, nor too whacky. A fine line to tread indeed.

I decided their garden would be perfect, in particular the little covered bench structure which was a usefully muted colour and had some mystery and a certain wistful charm about it.

We needed to achieve shots of Neil and Suzy together as well as a couple of individual portraits so that whatever they needed, wherever they needed it, there would be an image to fit the use. They also needed to look good and legible at smaller sizes. Landscape and vertical formats had to be catered for too, so as well as the wide shots you see in the gallery, I also made sure there was a good selection of upright shots in the set.

You can already see one of the images in use on the book’s Amazon page, where of course you can also buy your own copy.

The morning of the photo session was blessedly dry – rain would have been pretty unhelpful, and there was some lovely soft sunlight filtering into the garden. I still used a supplementary portable studio light to lift the shadows and to create a slightly ‘hyper real’ look and feel.

For the individual portraits I continued with the portable light, but matched it more closely to the daylight so it became less noticeable, more natural, but the test shots without it left the colours a little flat.

Now the book is out and available to buy, it’ll be fascinating to see how the images get used. For Neil and Suzy, I sincerely hope the sales go wild and I hope my photos help achieve the coverage they so richly deserve. In the meantime, you can follow the book’s adventures on the Return to Kirrin Facebook page.

Post Apocalyptic?

Yesterday I was nominated by my friend and office colleague David to take part in a Facebook seven-day black and white photo posting challenge. A personal photo each day, no people, no caption or explanation and I’m meant to nominate someone else each day.

Now much as I love David, he knows I’m not a massive fan of this kind of thing, but he’s a big fan of my photography so couldn’t resist just to see how I’d handle it. He also likes to watch me squirm, so that’s two excellent reasons for him to nominate me.

You might wonder why I’m not a big fan of this kind of thing then. Well, since you’ve made the mistake of asking, I’ll tell you.

I’ve been on Facebook for, oh I dunno, many years. Twitter and Instagram too. Over the years I’ve posted pictures I’m very proud of and some junk I probably should have left on my hard drive or in my head. Of late I’ve been working to get my feeds looking more consistent in quality, more coherent in style and less scattered with random junk. This kind of posting challenge may not help.

Therefore I’ll have to be careful that what I post adheres to qualities I can be proud of. Tough to do every single day. But that isn’t the only reason – When I post pictures online I’m aware there is a trade-off happening; I’m exposing my work to a wider audience, getting more eyeballs on my pictures and helping my search engine optimisation, while the social media platforms are benefitting from a constant supply of free content and data they can mine, monetise and aggregate for future, as yet un-defined purposes.

Perhaps I’m being too conspiracy-theorist about this, but here’s a final point to consider; I’m meant to nominate one person every day of the challenge. That’s seven people over seven days (and even I remember from my school times tables terrors, that comes to 49). Each of those 49 people is meant to nominate 7 people, so that’s 343. 343 x 49 = 16,807. You get the idea, if nobody drops the chain we’re quickly into millions of people posting more millions of photos (I tried to work it out, my brain melted).

So mana for Facebook as it keeps people going back to their pages, interacting and laying rich soil for the advertisers who pay Facebook to display their wares in our feeds. We’re all working to feed it like we’re being paid, feeling guilty if we don’t, and so it goes on.

Thankfully we’re not all robot slaves. I was the only person David nominated during his 7 days. My wife got nominated, made it to day 4 and then forgot to continue. There is hope for the human race when we don’t follow the peer pressure and the made-up rules.

So my plan is to post a photo each day, only nominate if I can think of someone who would like to be nominated and I’ll state here that I won’t be accepting future nominations for this kind of thing. If it’s a nomination to be King of the World, I might accept that, but not another photo challenge please.

Impressions of London

The other week my son Joe and I took a day trip to London. We try to make it each year, normally in Summer, but this year was a little later than normal.

Apart from the tradition of the trip, Joe also had some pictures to take for his college photography course. So naturally I took a film camera to capture some of my own impressions and just to have a play with more film.

Joe’s work took precedence, so I did only get around to shooting one roll of Kodak Tri-X which, because it was a dismal day, I rated at 800iso.

Here are the results, with special thanks to Brick Lane’s finest leafleteer Charlie Kloos for posing while I messed about with a Pentax lens from the 1960s, which was a little tricky to focus as the evening light started to fail.

 

The Film Fad

When I started shooting film again I thought it might just be an itch that needed to be scratched, but Im enjoying it so much that the current project on the Saxonvale area of Frome really is building into something interesting.

If you’d like to see all the images so far you’ll need an Instagram account where you’ll find me as @takeagander, but in the meantime here’s a selection of recent posts. All shot on expired film, all the flaws and colour-shifts are a result of the age of the film used.

And no, this isn’t just a hipster fad for me; I love shooting film and the way it makes me slow down and think. Wherever possible it’ll be my medium of choice for all my personal projects from now on, so sorry if I keep banging on about it.

Inspired By Inertia

Having no scheduled shoots this morning I decided to process the two films I shot yesterday evening for my Saxonvale project (it’s a long term project which I’ve been posting on Instagram as @takeagander).

So there I was, up to my elbows in my dark bag, wrestling (circa 30-year-old East German black and white) ORWO 120 films onto processing reels when I heard a knock at the front door. I knew exactly who and what it was, but couldn’t risk fogging my film to go and answer the door.

Thankfully our post lady didn’t just push a “we tried to deliver” card through the door, instead she found a safe place to stow the package and told me on the card where it was.

I was also grateful that the films loaded remarkably easily (very old 120 film tends to resist being unfurled), so as soon as they were safely in the developing tank I retrieved the package.

It was a book I’d been looking forward to receiving for some months, J.A (Jim) Mortram’s Small Town Inertia.

The book is a searingly poignant collection of black and white images and testimonies detailing the daily struggles of people in the small Norfolk town where Jim lives.

Unapologetically political, very anti-Tory, anti-globalisation and definitely anti-austerity, Jim’s book documents his subjects in a way which brings home in the starkest possible terms the effects of unemployment, mental and physical illness and addiction under successive governments which have sought to sideline these issues in favour of a market economy unfettered by the constraints of conscience.

It is to some extent due to my awareness of Jim’s work that I have sought to spend more of my time on documentary and working in traditional film. The Faces of Routes project, though shot digitally, would almost certainly not have happened if I hadn’t had my social conscience re-awakened by seeing images from the Small Town Inertia project a year or two ago.

Of course my work is very different to Jim’s and nowhere near as comprehensive (or, of course, as good). Jim has been deeply involved in the lives of his subjects, often helping them with bureaucratic paperwork or just daily tasks, and this shows in the photos.

However, even though my projects tend to be more random, less overtly political and involve being less embedded with my subjects, I will continue to be inspired by the work of J.A Mortram and others like him.

To which end, I’d better get this morning’s negatives scanned and added to my own personal project. It’s all very well to be moved and inspired, but if I’m to genuinely honour the work of others, there is no better way than to keep on pursuing my own.

If you would like your own copy of Small Town Inertia you can buy it here. Visit Jim Mortram’s website here.

How Soon Is Now?

Well that’s got The Smiths fans reading. Hello, both of you.*

What that slightly odd headline is nodding towards, in a painfully contorted way like Morrissey performing William, It Was Really Nothing, is that while a photo might be taken for quick social media use, bear in mind you may wish to use it later for other things.

So, what difference does it make if you approach the task with only Twitter or Facebook in mind? You might want to ask yourself if it matters there’s only half a person in the frame, or the resolution is poor.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but your photos and your brand should work hand in glove across many media. The quality shouldn’t oscillate wildly from one media to another otherwise your message is going nowhere fast.

The point of photography is to communicate your message; get it wrong and the world won’t listen.

I hope this post has per suedehead you that such a little thing makes such a big difference.

*The more astute amongst you will have spotted a few familiar references and one rather painful pun.

Two Decades and a World Away

Yes, I was there too. Another press photographer who covered Diana’s funeral and because my words will be lost in the blizzard of articles and analysis on this the 20th anniversary of her death, I’ll point you towards this excellent article by Fleet Street photographer Brian Harris before offering a few brief thoughts of my own.

For myself, I was a lowly local news photographer at the time and was astonished to be assigned an official pass to cover the funeral from a position directly opposite the main door of Westminster Abbey.

Like Brian, I remember being hissed at by the crowd as I made my way to the position. I remember the weird atmosphere as people cheered the stars of music, TV and film as they arrived for the service. I also remember seeing the shot of the card on the coffin which just read “Mummy” and yes it was a cracking shot, but Brian’s was more graceful.

As for my effort, well it wasn’t the strongest image of the day, but I found myself focusing on the expressions of the pallbearers, members of the Welsh Guards who were clearly struggling to hold their emotions together. The shot summed up the occasion and emotions of the day in a fairly tight frame.

So considering it’s not a shot I had never wanted to have to take, I’ll live with it and leave it here as part of a much larger record of a sad day which changed all who were involved at least a little and for ever.

 

Hot New Set of Wheels

I’ve no idea what mileage my camera bag has done, but its wheels have been showing signs of distress for quite some time. So rather than fork out £300+ for a new bag, the old one probably ending up in landfill, I decided to give it a new lease of life with fresh wheels.

Luckily, inline skate wheels are a perfect fit for the existing bearings. I’d wanted to replace the bearings too, but standard bearings have a different bore which doesn’t fit the axle shafts for my bag. It’s not a critical issue as the old bearings still run, and I think I’ll be able to source the correct bearings once I have time to do more research.

One slightly stomach-churning moment was when I realised how much human hair had become entangled in the axles (I must be running over a lot of human hair!), but with everything removed, cleaned and re-greased, I was able to fit the new wheels and get the ol’ bag rolling again.

It now runs smoother, quieter and more easily over rough ground. In fact this photo was taken after a rather punishing outing over stones, flint and slate pieces for a recent assignment, but I’ve included one of the old wheels to show how much they had worn down and their general state.

Plus I think the skate wheels look rather fancy. Hopefully I can now get to your jobs slightly faster than before!

Summer Light In Summary

With the weather we’ve been having this August you may not be feeling especially Summery, and it’s true to say I’ve had a challenging few weeks dodging downpours, thunder storms and gales, but it’s often assumed that Summer sunshine is perfect for photography.

Well it can be of course, but as a rule, when I’m taking pictures of people for their business website or press release, if we’re having to work outdoors and the sun is screaming down, it’s not always a great help. The subjects will either be squinting into the light, their eyes streaming, or if I put the sun behind them I’ll end up with silhouetted people unless I balance the daylight with flash – not always a simple task.

Of course there are things I can do to minimise the problem, but sometimes the chosen location and time of day for the photo session mean it becomes a purely technical exercise in overcoming the sun.

In the two photos featured here you’ll see how placing the subjects in the shade has meant they’re not not made to squint into the sun or get hot and bothered, while I’m able to fill in their features with controlled use of flash.

The client, the award-winning The Bristol Pest Controller, needed some images for their website, including a hero image, and they knew the location they wanted. My job was to make it all work for them and their website.

The session happened back in March of this year, but I don’t know if you remember, it was quite sunny back in the Spring! Sunshine in Spring is just as tricksy to work with as sun at any time of year, but finding the right location helps a lot to mitigate the issues.

And of course if it’s sunshine like we’ve had this August, ie not a lot, that can actually be quite helpful as it’s easier to balance overcast daylight and flash. The only problem this Summer seems to be how to avoid getting drenched or struck by lightning during your photo session.

 

Gimme Some Room!

Much of my business photography consists of taking portraits of, rather predictably, business people. So far so good.

This pretty much always happens at their place of work because that means less disruption to their busy schedule and I can create a set of portraits covering all the colleagues that happen to be in the building that day. Still so far so good.

Where “so far so good” becomes “ummm” is when I’m shown into a meeting room/stationery cupboard which is so crammed with immobile tables and heavy chairs/stationery that I have no space to actually take pictures.

I do make a point of requesting a space roughly 10 foot square, but sometimes the message gets lost or it’s assumed the boardroom table can be moved when I get there. More commonly now, tables are cabled to the floor with telephone and computer wires, which will only stretch so far before they go PING! and the IT department has to be called in.

So to say I was utterly delighted with the space I was given this week is an understatement – half a ballroom in a hotel. All to myself, with nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing taking up floor space. In fact I had to pull a small table into the room so I could check off peoples’ names as I went without having to squat on the floor.

A photographer's backdrop and studio flash equipment are set up in a large empty room in the Hilton, Walcot Street, Bath, UK

A great space for portraits

I thoroughly enjoyed setting up my backdrop and lights slap bang in the middle of the space. It gave the whole thing a slightly surreal air and the people who came in to have their photos taken were astonished that the room they’d been assigned for their meeting was so much smaller than the one reserved for me.

Of course the ballroom wouldn’t have worked for them because they needed AV and a projector for their presentations which the ballroom didn’t have, but it did make me feel very special and it also meant I had bags of room to control how the lights lit the backdrop and the sitters. It meant I could work towards a very particular look without too much difficulty.

Ok, not the most exciting tale in the world, and it’s not as if I’ll be dining out on that one ever, but it’s a fine illustration of how giving the photographer ample space to work will not only make their life easier, it’ll also mean they can work to achieve more accurate results in-camera and ensure that so far so good endures right through to “that’s a wrap”.