Tim Gander’s photography blog.

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”.

Expired Film Teaches Me A Lesson

I’m meant to use this blog to talk about nothing but corporate photography, hitting those all-important keywords, shoehorning them into sentences until Google says “I get it, you’re a corporate photographer shooting portraits and other corporate communications images for businesses who care about the quality of their image and the values it conveys, so we’ll put you at the top of the listings whenever we think you’re what the client is looking for.”

Thanks Google, you’re doing a grand job and I should apologise that I don’t always make it easy for you by writing instead about magazines I like, exhibitions I’ve launched (actually, singular exhibition, but hey I’ll keep working on that), or my return to shooting film as a way of working out new ideas and pursuing my passion for telling the stories of ordinary people.

And this week I’m not making it any easier as once again I’m on the subject of film.

My return to film has been a bit stop/start but it continues. More recently I’ve been working with expired film, that is stock which is well past its use-by date. Yes, film has a use-by date because the light-sensitive chemicals which react to light start to break down.

However, I managed to source a large, mixed bag of film; 35mm, medium format, colour and black and white and I’ve been working my way through it with various trial projects and one project which has been fairly fruitful, that of a series of photos documenting the derelict site in Frome known as Saxonvale.

Saxonvale is an area of the town which has been left partially cleared for many years now while the various landowners and interested parties take their time working out how to make the most money from its redevelopment. You might say I’ve used derelict film to record a derelict site, recording not just the waste discarded there, but also sometimes the people who pass through or visit for their own reasons.

Some of the film stock I’ve used has been in such a poor state it barely rendered an image. One trip was wasted because the film was so utterly degraded it was blank when I processed it. All part of the project and a useful reminder to me that the film is the boss on this one.

In due course I’ll be updating my main website with some of these images, but in the meantime here’s a mini gallery to give you a flavour of the Saxonvale project. If you want to see more of it and some of the other film images I’ve shot lately, head over to my Instagram account where you’ll find me as @takeagander.

Get With The Union

A couple of years ago I mentioned Union magazine in a blog post about how I need to feed my creative soul with things like magazines, Huck being another good example.

Union was started by a small group of individuals including photographer James Cheadle who I first met way back in the early 1990s when he was a darkroom technician at The Bath Chronicle and I was a freelance photographer in the throes of training for my certificate in newspaper photography.

In the intervening years James and I have met on very occasional jobs, but we only kept vaguely in touch. But when I saw he’d launched a magazine, I had to take a look.

I’ve supported the magazine from the start and am the proud owner of all four copies so far published. If I’m not careful I’ll have to build a glass-fronted teak display case with internal illumination to store my burgeoning library, but for now the copies I have will reside in my MFI bedside cabinet.

The magazine is a good read and very much photography led, touching on the quirkier corners of society; girl bikers, religious cult members, gang members and a few more bikers. James’ interest in motorbikes and those who ride them certainly shines through, and while I’m not a particular fan of bikes I really enjoy reading the stories and seeing the biker culture represented insightful, engaging photography.

Always a pleasure too is the added bonus of receiving some Union stickers and even occasionally some defunct, but weirdly fresh, foreign currency.

Union magazine won’t be to everyones’ tastes, and since its first edition some design and typology issues have needed to be worked out, but issue 4 is looking fantastic and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I wish James and the team the absolute best of luck with a magazine which deserves success in a market dominated by the big publishers churning out cookie-cutter, vanilla publications.

Up with the UNION!

Don’t forget the GV!

The GV, or General View, is one of the easiest images to overlook when putting a photographic brief together, but it can be one of the most useful images on the list.

It’s easy to focus on all the meaty stuff – the people, the event, the presentations and so on, but it’s always worth listing the general view if it adds to the narrative of what you’re trying to convey. It can be a really useful image in the PR pack too, giving print and online publications another option when putting their articles together.

The GV might show the location of a project, the exterior of a building, an overview of project progress, or just add context to a story which can’t necessarily be told entirely in a single photo.

Of course even if you don’t list any specific GVs in the brief, any decent photographer should be on the lookout for opportunities for a good GV.

This is a discipline I learned during my newspaper days and certainly during my training period I was pretty good at earning an ear-bending for forgetting to include a GV in the picture set. Happily that lesson remains with me today.

So now when I go to a job I’m often on the lookout for a GV even when it’s not listed because you just never know when it might come in handy. It might even become the most important shot of the day.

 

Listen Up!

In April I had the absolute pleasure of working with a group of young people in Wiltshire to help promote the Healthwatch Wiltshire “Young Listeners” project.

This project involves young volunteers canvassing the thoughts and views of their peers and reporting their findings back to Wiltshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board.The findings are then used to help improve health provision for young people in the county.

My job was to generate a set of images for use across Healthwatch Wiltshire’s Youthwatch web pages and literature as well as for use in press releases and case studies for social media.

They were a lively bunch, full of character and great fun to work with. Two of them stoically posed outside for a press photo in spite of the rain which was coming in sideways, but they were utterly professional about it.

I also shot a short series of portraits, two of which you can see here, to accompany case studies (luckily it wasn’t raining at this point). The client, citing my recent skateboarders project, wanted a similarly gritty and dramatic feel to the photos. I couldn’t reproduce exactly what I’d done with that project so I chose the side of an industrial unit as an out-of-focus backdrop and lit the faces in a dramatic and eye-catching way.

The results have appeared multiple times in local media and have given the client material for their Facebook page and website. It’s a great start to their photo library which they can draw on and build up over time.

 

 

Get Some Gander and Pig In Your Ears

That’s probably the skinniest picture I’ve ever posted on my blog, but if you dare to click the play button you’ll get to hear my voice via the miracle of the internet.

Artist David Chandler interviews local artists and creative people for his Seeing Things programme on Frome FM, but he decided to interview me during the Faces of Routes exhibition. Sadly, due to a backlog of interviews, it couldn’t go up before the exhibition closed, but it’s an interesting interview in any event. Especially during the bits where I’m not talking.

Do listen to the end or you’ll miss the interview with printmaker Chris Pig. That’s two farmyard animals for the price of one!

Keeping Photography Real

Recurrent controversies over the doctoring of photojournalistic images might seem of distant interest to businesses and organisations which only use commercial images, but there is an important crossover area wherein danger lies for every business.

Most businesses using photographs in their corporate communications are in the main either buying stock photos or commissioning them from a photographer like myself. As these pictures are being used to illustrate or promote a commercial venture in some sales capacity (website, brochure, catalogue etc), they don’t have to conform to the standards of photojournalism. Assuming they observe normal laws, their purpose is to illustrate a concept, or the values of the organisation, not some higher truth.

But occasionally businesses will engage a photographer to take press and PR pictures. These of course are destined for use in newspapers, magazines, trade journals perhaps and almost certainly online in social media and so on. The medium really doesn’t matter; such pictures are taken as a matter of record and should be treated as seriously as if they were showing history unfolding.

It doesn’t matter if the photos show a cheque being presented, a ribbon being cut or a visit by an MP or Royalty, the intention of these photos is to illustrate something which has happened in the life of the organisation and should be treated as historical records.

Where a photo is set up, such as for a presentation of an award, a prize, the launch of a new venture or whatever, it’s generally obvious from the way the participants are posed and often looking to camera that the scenario has been choreographed by the photographer, and this is fine because the viewer will understand they’re seeing a staged photo. However, this staging isn’t a licence for elements or people in the picture to be doctored in, out, moved or changed in any way. What happens in front of the camera should be shown in the final result.

Photo purports to show Kim Jong Un standing by a ship's rail at sea pointing to a missile launching from the water. A fake photo.

Some manipulation just draws ridicule, as this North Korean press shot did.

It’s not uncommon for a client to suggest that I can Photoshop something in or out when I’ve taken a photo for press release and often they look at me quizzically when I explain that I cannot do this for ethical reasons. No photographer can because it breaches the editorial code of ethics, and if caught could seriously harm the reputation of the photographer and their hopes of finding future work.

It also does the client no favours when the “internet” gets hold of a story of doctoring or manipulation. The business name may be spread far and wide, but it will be couched in negative terms and with a (possibly) permanent and negative connotation.

And so as tempting as it may be to say “it’s just a group photo,” or “only for the web,” don’t be tempted into breaking ethics for the sake of a “better” image. It could ruin your image.

The Film Thing

It’s official, I have got the film bug quite seriously. I’ve always loved film and I find I’m more drawn to shooting personal projects on film than on digital. In fact with digital I found it hard to get started on personal projects because the process always ended up feeling very much like all my other work. For personal work I needed some kind of demarcation from my corporate communications photography, and I’ve realised film gives me that distinction.

It also makes a difference to those I’m photographing. People seem to engage more with the idea that I’m producing an image of them using a tradition they thought had died. On a subconscious level I wonder if they feel more comfortable knowing they’re not being instantly “digitised”, albeit at some point I have to scan the images in order to be able to print or display them.

Shooting film the way I do with the subjects I tend to be drawn to is often a slower process than digital and I’ve realised people now expect photography to happen much more quickly than perhaps it used to. With film I will take a more considered approach. I’ve never been one to shoot thousands of pictures in the hope of getting one good one, but with film I find I’m taking this further and taking more time to consider the picture I’m taking. Accordingly I find I have to manage my subjects’ expectations and explain things won’t happen as quickly as they may be used to. That seems to relax them too.

A pile of assorted out of date photographic film

Out of date film is on my list of projects

The benefit I’m getting from shooting film is that I’m going back to basics again, re-remembering my core strengths, abilities and values as a photographer and this is feeding back into my corporate communications work. I’m also having more fun sharing the results on Instagram where you can see my feed has become more focussed on my film work.

I have new projects in planning, including a whole series to be shot on out-of-date film which presents a whole new set of challenges.

If you’d like to follow my foray back into film, check out my Instagram account, I’ll be delighted to see you there and even more so if you decide to click the Follow button.

My Latest Camera

Regular clients will be delighted to learn I haven’t stopped investing in camera equipment, though they may be surprised that my latest Canon purchase cost me exactly two whole British Pounds. Yes, £2.00.

On Sunday I paid a visit to the Frome Wessex Camera Fair at the Cheese and Grain venue (where The Foo Fighters recently and very famously played a surprise gig).

There were no superstars on this occasion, but the entry fee was a mere £3.00 which I happily paid. So let’s pretend a portion of that should be considered part of the cost of the camera, but since I also bought a cable release (£3.00) and a handheld light meter (£4.00), at worst the camera cost me £3.00.

My reason for this particular purchase, a Canon Sureshot Supreme, is that this was a camera which came out in the 1980s when I was working at London Camera Exchange in Bath. It caused quite a stir at the time for its modern styling and fast, accurate automation of focus and exposure settings. There was a huge advertising campaign behind it, and though it wasn’t a budget model of its day, retailing as it did at around £120, we sold bucket loads of them.

I spotted this particular one on a table at the fair, but when I looked at it more closely I thought it might be dead (the battery level showed good, but the shutter wasn’t firing). So I negotiated £2.00 for it, took it home, popped a fresh battery in and BINGO! it worked. Clearly the battery level indicator is a die-hard optimist.

So then I thought, what can I do with this? Would it be possible to shoot a set of pictures which might present an interesting project? Does the camera actually work as a photographic tool, or might some part of the electronics or optical system be so old as to be non-functioning? Only one way to find out.

Loaded with a roll of Kodak Tri-X black and white film and with the help of my son Joe and his friends, I set about making a series of portraits that I hoped would make a mini series on skaters and their boards – battle scars and all (the boards more than the skaters).

I tried using the built-in flash in the outdoor setting to see what effect I could conjure with that, but it was pretty horrible, so I went with the daylight-only images in my selection.

My verdict on the camera is it’s not the sharpest lens in the world, but the exposure is good and the overall effect is quite interesting. Not bad for a 30-year-old pocket camera, the current value of which is quadrupled by the loading of a roll of film and a fresh battery.

The result is a series of portraits of these young lads, each standing confidently as teenage boys do with their skateboards acting as shields – to be fair, I asked them to bring the boards up into the frame. But each has their own way of confronting the lens. A couple look away, one would only be photographed blindfolded with his bandana, but I love the unexpected in a photo and if someone chooses to hide their eyes, avert their gaze, or perform some other unexpected motion which reveals something about them, I’m happy to include this as it says more than a straight portrait.

Whatever I like or don’t about these pictures, your opinion is more important and if you’ve a mind to, I’d love to hear what you see in these pictures.

Whether I’ll shoot much on the Sureshot, or just keep it as a museum piece, I’ve yet to decide, but heck, for £2.00 and a roll of film it’s been an interesting exercise.

Thank you to Finlay, Ben, Christy, Joe, Toby and Danni for your help. It probably seemed a peculiar request on the day, but I hope you like the results.