E: tim@timgander.co.uk | M: 07703 124412

Blog

Tunes On, Pop-Up and Drop In

I tried something a bit different yesterday, some might even call it radical, but let’s not get carried away.

Some background first; My office is based in a shared work hub in Frome in lovely Somerset. Here I can do my editing and admin and because the building hosts several other businesses, I have contact with a range of people working in everything from the charity sector to web developers, app developers, event stylists and many more. There’s even an oil rig support business here, which I suppose is handy for the North Sea.

A portrait photography setup with lights, backdrop and camera on a tripod.

My go-anywhere portrait studio is perfect for business headshots.

Over the past year or so many new businesses have taken up office space at the work hub as it’s expanded, and I realised there might be an opportunity to help them with a simple, social media portrait session.

Normally if I go to a single business to spend time taking corporate portraits I’ll charge a minimum of £250+vat, and more often than not it turns into a half-day at between £450 and £600, but this would be prohibitive for many of the micro businesses based in the hub. So how about setting up a pop-up studio in the communal space and offering a quick portrait session to anyone who wanted to come along and just charge for the images they download?

Obviously I had to keep the deal simple and decided to offer a no-sitting-fee session with downloads starting at just £30 including VAT for a small file suitable for LinkedIn, Twitter and the like, with a rising scale of fees according to the size of file downloaded.

The day went pretty well, especially since it was a first time for this event. I came in for 08:30 am to set up my studio, organised some tunes to add a relaxing ambience to the space and made test shots before the first arrival.

Black and white business portrait of David Evans of Ghost Ltd

The portraits are designed to be simple and clear so they’ll work right down to avatar sizes.

I had a steady trickle of people (I wouldn’t say I was killed in the rush) and I got the impression that even some of those less keen to be photographed actually quite enjoyed the experience.

I delivered the images in personal galleries to each of the sitters just two hours ago and the portraits have already started to sell!

What was even more encouraging was the number of people who expressed an interest in getting more

photography organised in future for things like website refreshes, so there was a promotional side-effect to my cunning plan too.

It’s possible I’ll turn this into an annual or even six-monthly event because I’m sure as word gets around, more people will want to sign up. In the coming days I’m going to make contact with other hubs in the area to see if they would like to host something similar. This little idea could grow.

 

How Low Can LowePro Go?

This might seem like a relatively trivial point considering the state of the world, but something which has been irking me with increasing frequency is the use of certain words and themes in photography and the marketing of photographic equipment.

What prompts me to write this today is seeing the mini-site promoting LowePro’s latest camera bags, the ProTactic 350AW and 450AW.

For the sake of clarity, I’ve been a long-term fan of LowePro and use their bags almost exclusively now. I have a large roller case for one of my portable studio lighting kits, a shoulder bag for occasions when I just need a few pieces of kit for a specific job, a belt pack for when I can really whittle things down, and my current workhorse, a small rolling backpack. So it’s not as if I don’t like their products, but the marketing angle taken for these bags seems to positively encourage a connection between photography and combat.

Starting with the product name, why has the word “professional” been conflated with “tactic”? Tactic could be a reference to football, but let’s be honest, all the text and visuals surrounding these products are nudging us into thinking about confrontation otherwise the models would be shown freezing to death in the February sleet on the touchline at the grounds of Tottenham Athletic FC (I know nothing about football, but I used to cover it for various papers so I know the pain of photographing a deep-winter evening match).

Screengrab from LowePro ProTactic camera bag mini-site showing two models in distressed urban setting taking photos.

I see four camera bags, only two photographers. Perhaps two fled when things got dicey.

The models used in the stills on the site appear to be “shooting from cover”, even though they’re dressed for an evening at a trendy loft bar rather than coping with some kind of urban riot, but that’s just slick marketing and I have to give credit for them not being dressed in desert boots and camouflage.

The text reinforces the macho, military messages with the phrase “Mission-Critical Access” which I take it means these bags have zips with which to access the various internal compartments. Really? Mission-critical?! How about weapon-ready compartments for putting your cameras and lenses in? Or an ammo pocket for memory cards and batteries?

There’s a video to accompany the marketing. It’s got some young, trendy-looking photographers leaving their studio apartments, traveling by skateboard and motorbike so they can get some mission critical shots of erm… graffiti, or accessing the top of a high building (hopefully legally) to take photos of lightning on the city skyline while drinking latte from a flask (or is it freeze-dried army surplus broth?)

I don’t like photographers referring to themselves as “shooters” and I’m uncomfortable with companies marketing their equipment or accessories in a way which promotes photography as some kind of conflict game. Last week I watched McCullin, the documentary on Don McCullin’s life as a photographer of conflicts and famines. He didn’t mention what bags he used in Vietnam, but I suspect he didn’t buy ones called War Junky 101 or something.

It’s in poor taste to harvest phrases from such terrible events as wars and commercialise them to attempt to make photography seem cooler by associating it with conflict which, while seemingly still very much in vogue, is definitely not cool.

Being a Bit Flash

This blog isn’t a “tricks of the trade” kind of a deal, but sometimes there’s no harm in demonstrating that I work in a particular way not because I want to show off what I can do, but because the client ends up with appealing images and the “look” they’re after. I’ll keep the technical stuff to a minimum, but hopefully you’ll get the point just by looking at the differences between the top and bottom photos.

University of Bath student Noel Kwan poses for a prospectus shoot on the Claverton Down campus.

This is the frame I submitted to the client. Flash was used to fill in the shadows on Noel’s face

You may recall this image from my round-up of 2014, a prospectus brochure shot for University of Bath. It’s taken outdoors, but with flash used carefully to brighten Noel’s face. It’s got a slightly surreal look to it because it does look a bit like a studio-lit portrait, and I wouldn’t always use this look for outside portraits, but it does make the shot quite eye-catching.

This technique helps to isolate the model from the background, but leaves the background clear enough to add some context.

The photo below shows how this image looks when flash hasn’t fired (I probably clicked the shutter before the flash was ready). I’ve done some processing to make it a more acceptable shot, and it’s not a “bad” photo, just not the finish I was hoping to achieve.

University of Bath student Noel Kwan poses for a prospectus shoot on the Claverton Down campus.

In this frame the flash didn’t fire, and the difference is obvious

One problem with it is that without flash it’s harder to keep the highlights in the background from going completely white and losing all detail as I bring up the exposure for Noel’s face. The lighter background also has the effect of pulling attention away from Noel.

The other thing you’ll notice is the catch-light in Noel’s eyes, lacking in this version, which adds another bit of sparkle to the final image.

Of course you might prefer the image where flash didn’t fire, but remember this was shot to the requirements of the client. My job is to create what they want and often this means matching the style to that used by their in-house photographer. Personally I like the extra layer of polish which the appropriate use of flash gives, and other clients seem to like it too, so you might spot it as you look around my website.

Go on, have a look, see if you can detect where else I’ve used this technique.

 

Space, the Final Frontier for Product Photography

Ask me what kind of photography I do and in my elevator pitch I’ll tell you it’s corporate photography for business websites, brochures and press releases, specialising in people, places and products.

You might note that the word “products” comes at the end of that sentence and that’s because I’m primarily a “people” photographer, but I do occasionally find myself trying to find the best angle on an inanimate object and over the years I’ve done quite a few of those too. What has held me back a little has been the lack of space to shoot larger pieces. Even small items require a surprising amount of space for all the equipment you need to do them properly.

Last week though I was able to try out a great new space in the building where my office is based. It’s an event space anyone can hire, but it happens to be perfect for a decent sized studio. It’s also large enough for me to do full-length portraits should the need arise. Last week’s shoot (large metal racks) was a good test of the space and it worked extremely well.

Photographic studio set up using a white backdrop and four studio flash heads arranged in pairs either side of the backdrop.

A great space for photographing products or people

The big advantage of this is that I now have access to a space which can accommodate all the backdrops, lighting and paraphernalia of a photographic studio without the constant overhead cost of running a full-time studio; a cost which I’ve seen crush a few photographers. I’m very pleased that I don’t have to be crushed!

If you need either people or products photographed in a comfortable, flexible space, just contact me and we’ll talk it over.

 

 

It’s The Sun Wot Dumped Page 3

There will be acres of coverage in print and on the web about the ending of the “tradition” of a topless female on page 3 of The Sun, but for what it’s worth here are some of my thoughts. I should qualify this article by saying I don’t think I’ve always been the “new man” I’m painting myself to be here, but I’ve always found Page 3 to be rather weird (a word which crops up a few time in this article).

Back in the days when I often had to buy The Sun and other papers as part of my job, I was never especially comfortable opening the cover page and being confronted with bare breasts. It wasn’t the breasts per se, I’m not prudish about toplessness or nudity in the right context, and I don’t carry a napkin with me in case of a breastfeeding emergency in my local cafe.

I think what always made me feel awkward when reading P2 or the other stories on P3 was the rather bizarre context-less context. Let me explain further; the models themselves were mostly flat-lit and posed against a garish backdrop, which left them with little personality. They never looked entirely comfortable to me and the poses and the pointlessness of their being in the paper at all frankly made it all a bit, well, weird.

Sometimes they were posed in front of a plain colour backdrop, other times a faked out-doorsy sort of a thing, which looked even weirder. The studio style changed over the years, but it was always with the intention of putting a topless woman in a completely abstract context without any effort to apply any artistic values.

Of course if you’re going to run a topless model photo every day (setting aside the question “why would you?”), it inevitably becomes a sausage-machine process and art will go out the window, sacrificed on the altar of repeatability and efficiency. Which further degrades the integrity of the model, the photographer, the images and the licence to justify the whole exercise.

The other problem of context is that in which the paper would be read, often in public or in a place visible to the public, or in homes with children. If you’re looking at a photo, painting or sculpture of a topless woman in an art gallery it’s within the context of considering art for art’s sake. You might not like what you see, or you might think it’s amazing, but the Page 3 photos were never art and they didn’t bring a splash of art to the page. So having them visible in public was never about bringing “art” to a wider audience. It was all about a woman being used to sell more papers.

Page 3 model Leilani poses in a London park with gardening items with a backdrop of daffodils for a News of the World reader offer

P3 model Leilani poses for a newspaper reader offer. Those are seed bags, not Class A drugs!

Now I’m not going to argue with a woman’s right to pose however and for whomever she wishes and I’ve nothing against artistic nudity. I even worked with one or two Page 3 models in my press days (not in a P3 context though), and they were professional and great to work with, but Page 3 has definitely had its day and it was never an especially glorious day. It probably started as a bit of a dare, a giggle for the blokes, but in the tobacco and alcohol-fuelled, testosterone-driven newsrooms of the 1970s, no man was going to stand up and say “actually guys, this is a bit offensive and weird really isn’t it?” They’d have been chucked out or branded a “poofter” at a time when newsrooms were full of manly men.

On the one hand the loss of Page 3 has little affect on my life. I haven’t bought or read The Sun for many years, but I’m pleased that one area of misogyny can be laid to rest. Unfortunately this has come at a time when artless, exploitative nudity in all its forms is more visible than ever. It’s a bit like blowing out the candle once the house has burst into flames, and Page 3 endures on The Sun’s website which one day will be more widely read than the printed version, which you might be comforted to know really isn’t that many readers in the greater scheme of things.

 

 

Sorry!

I had planned a post this week, but events overtook me. I hope to be back on track next week. In the meantime, here’s some music.*

 

*Nope, no music here.

New Year, New Winge

First up, happy New Year! Now a bit of a moan to kick off 2015…

I really can’t be bothered with following the lives of celebrities or “celebrities”, but I have become aware of the campaign by Hannah Weller, wife of Paul Weller, to have a law introduced which would make it illegal for “the media” to publish photos of children without explicit or implied consent.

This campaign was born out of the Daily Mail’s publication of photos of the Wellers’ children. The Mail was taken to court and lost, though they are appealing the decision. The Mail tends to be a law unto itself and the contested photos should not have been published in the first place, but that’s what the codes and existing laws are there to deal with. We don’t need more laws just to protect celebrities and their offspring.

My instinct on this matter is that while I sympathise with parents who may have a valid reason not to have photos of their children published, there is already plenty of legislation covering the protection of children’s identities as well as the editors’ code of conduct which further sets out what publications should and should not be allowed publish with regards images of children.

A line of school children in high-visibility vests make their way along a village road in the rain.

That children in crowds would be exempt shows how poorly thought-out this campaign is

It’s already quite problematic trying to take pictures when children are present, and taking a picture and publishing it are two very different things, but laws such as this which are designed to deal with an extremely specific circumstance tend to become misunderstood and abused. Some people already believe it is illegal for someone to take their photo in a public place, adding legislation just gives another opportunity for a half-remembered, misunderstood piece of legislation to be used to prevent perfectly ordinary, innocent activities.

The campaign concentrates on images published in “the media” which is a vague notion these days and might or might not include social media, including accounts run by non-media organisations. Could an individual posting a photo of a child in the street find themselves before a court?

I hope common sense wins the day. It would be a shame if children became invisible or anonymous in our culture. Already some loal newspapers won’t publish anything more than a first name, even where permission to photograph a child has been given, and this is an unnecessary concession to the paranoia of some parents (or over-protectiveness by schools, colleges, clubs and so on).

A new law will add another layer of criminalisation of a lawful activity and a new opportunity for overzealous protection of children. If the Victorians believed children should be seen and not heard, we could end up in a position where they are entirely invisible.

My 2014 In Pictures

This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.

The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.

I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine

 

 

 

The News Itch

Sometimes I hanker after the good old days when I was rushing about covering news events. Of course most of it was pretty mundane stuff (community group cheque presentations, councillors on self-promoting visits to local Scout clubs and so on), but covering Magistrates or Crown Court, while often time-consuming was an interesting challenge. Or a stakeout waiting for some local scallywag to emerge from their last known address, house fires, road traffic accidents… these were not enjoyable, but you felt you were doing a useful job bringing the news to your readers.

Yes, I miss the rush of covering hard news and sometimes I ponder how difficult it would be to start covering local news without the backup of a recognised publication. The problem is, I often spot newsworthy things around my home town of Frome, but there isn’t a local newspaper that would pay for the photos and I’m not prepared to give them away for free to a commercial entity. Instead I occasionally post pictures on my photography Facebook page, and it’s interesting to see how many hits these posts get. It often results in a little spike in visits to the page, which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be doing more.

Police cordon off an area outside The Cornerhouse pub in Frome, Somerset, after a fight.

It’s not art, but local incidents get little coverage in the papers

Naturally it always comes back to questions of whether I can afford to peel off from whatever task I’m on to go and take pictures of an incident just to share them on my Facebook page, as well as the question of whether, as an individual without the remit of a picture editor, I can really justify approaching police and fire officers to get the necessary details for the caption and gain the access required to get pictures which fully tell the story.

At least when I was a card-carrying press man I had something which said “within the constraints of the law and my professional codes of conduct, I have a right to be here taking photos.” I find it harder to do now that I’m just another bloke with a camera.

With the local publications increasingly ignoring the difficult-to-get or the stories breaking out of hours, I suspect I’ll find myself taking more pictures of the things which happen around my town. I’ll rely on experience and training to know what I can cover and how far I can push my access, because lord knows I have no interest in getting arrested or punched, but if you want to see how I get on and keep up with what I do, you can always Like my Facebook page or keep an eye on this blog.

If you’re like-minded and local, why not get in touch? It might come to nothing, but you never know, we might be the start of a new publishing empire!

My Dried Grape for Existence (Raisin d’être)

People get into photography for all kinds of reasons and I don’t need to list them here, but since the early days of my career my motivation has been that I wanted to take pictures which were of a high enough standard that I would get commissioned (paid) to take pictures which would be published.

This started with newspapers and magazines, but since my business focuses so much more on commercial and corporate photography now, I get the same thrill by being commissioned by business clients to take photos for their websites, brochures and press releases.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s always been the endorsement of being asked to take pictures in exchange for filthy lucre which has been my motivational drug, which leads me neatly to the argument about taking pictures for money as somehow demeaning photography.

Millions of people take pictures for fun, many thousands take pictures for artistic reasons, but amongst true artists there are vanishingly few who pursue their passion with a view to never making money from it. Money, whatever we think of it, is the ultimate endorsement of what we create.

Cover of University of Bath's Donor Report

Making pictures for publication is what motivates me

For me, though I don’t put my work under the heading of art, the opposite of my principle motivation would be to take photos just so people could tell me how great they are, without anyone telling me in cash terms whether or not my work is up to snuff. Likes and shares on Facebook and Instagram are all very well, but it’s too easy for someone to endorse a photo on the web with pretty much zero commitment or investment in that photo. A Like might not even mean they like the photo and you may never know what motivated someone to  give it a click. It’s possible they made a slip of the finger which they couldn’t be bothered to reverse.

No, for me the joy of photography, my reason to strive and improve in it, is to see it used, published and put to work in return for the thing (the ONLY thing) which allows me to carry on doing it; money.

Charging money for photography doesn’t diminish it, doesn’t decrease its value. If you want to decrease the value of your photography, all you have to do is give it away, whereupon it becomes either worthless or impossible to value. If anything, giving photography away diminishes photography as a whole, a consequence which I believe has done much harm to the industry and resulted in a great deal of very poor work being used where it should never have seen light of day.

Taking pictures for money doesn’t weaken my wish to be the best I can be, it enhances my motivation. Nor does it stop me banging the drum for photography worth paying for. My raison d’être may be filthy lucre, but around that sits a joy in my work, a joy in giving my clients what they want and need and ultimately being able to say I’ve stayed true to my principles for 25 years.*

*I haven’t the slightest idea where this article came from. It just sort of wrote itself. Thank you for reading.