Tim Gander’s photography blog.

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.

 

 

Latest on Routes

Screen grab of the archive thumbnail images from the Faces of Routes exhibition.

The brilliant people who sat for the Faces of Routes photo session.

Great news! Frome’s best and only youth drop-in centre, Routes, has been saved for at least another year following a concerted campaign to raise awareness and funds.

Local businesses have run various fund-raising schemes and events and these, along with my Faces of Routes project and exhibition, have raised over £60,000 in donations with a few more bits and pieces still coming in, plus the outcome of a National Lottery application which was started before the appeal was made.

Routes manager Sarah Stobbart assures me the bulk of the money was raised as a result of the exhibition, with a very large chunk being donated by an individual who saw the pictures during a visit to Cafe La Strada in the town centre. I don’t know much detail about who, but I believe the sum was £30,000, which is brilliant and I’m thrilled to know that the service has gained valuable breathing space.

Of course this isn’t the end of the story, but with such a lot of good will and awareness raised this will make future funding applications that little bit easier. I still believe Routes should be properly funded by responsible organisations such as local government, but perhaps this stay of execution will allow these avenues to be explored further.

Sarah got in touch to say, “I truly think that the portraits, the use of them and the associated press has contributed massively to the fundraising campaign for Routes being successful – you’ve no idea how glad I am that you got in touch to begin with!”

In the meantime it’s fantastic to know that youngsters from Frome and the surrounding villages have somewhere they can seek help, guidance and a listening ear. I’ll be keeping an eye on things and will update here whenever there is significant news.

To all my blog readers who donated, a very heartfelt thank you. This has been the best personal project I’ve ever undertaken and without so much support it could have been a very futile gesture.

Thank you.

Don’t Condemn the Photographer

I’d hoped to be writing about something else this week, but events…

Yesterday’s news will be written up as the worst terrorist attack to befall London since the July 7th bombings of 2005 and understandably it’s an event which is saturating our news channels and of course our social media feeds too. I learned of the attack on Twitter.

Twitter is also where Reuters published the incredible and upsetting photos taken by their photographer Toby Melville who just happened to be under Westminster bridge when the attacker ran his car into pedestrians before attacking and killing PC Keith Palmer.

I’m not going to re-publish the pictures here not because I believe they should be censored, but because I just don’t have the right to use them You can see some of them and read Toby’s account of what he witnessed here, though be warned they are stark.

What struck me as I started to see reaction to Toby’s photos on Twitter was how quickly people rushed to judge him for taking the photos, many believing he should have done more to help the victims. Well it’s easy to judge from the safety of a Twitter account, the comfort of a chair and without the chaos of a breaking news story physically surrounding you. As far as I can see, Toby did what he is professionally trained to do and once he’d called in the emergency services (as many others would have simultaneously done) he got to doing what he (professionally speaking) does best.

While others were already attending the victims and paramedics were starting to arrive, Toby recorded, as any professional newsgatherer should, what he witnessed. That he kept calm enough to compose and take photos that far surpassed any fuzzy phone photos taken by the public is testament to the difference between a trained news gatherer and a member of the public armed with a phone. If anyone had the required legitimacy to use a camera at this terrible scene, it was Toby. And if nobody had taken any images at all, well that would be incredibly peculiar and a failure to record a historical, if tragic, event.

But gathering the images is just the first part. Having filed them the next step was up to Reuters staff to edit and disseminate the images and one in particular raised strong criticism on social media. It showed the bleeding face of a woman who was clearly badly injured while a fellow pedestrian attended her. I notice in their write-up of Toby’s account they’ve omitted that particular photo.

The Editors’ Codebook suggests this particular image, by which I mean the publishing of it rather than the taking of it, could be in breach of the code of practice, but I italicise that because the code doesn’t exclude the coverage of such scenes and it would require some thoughtful consideration (not hot-headed social media condemnation) to decide if it was in breach of the code.

Going back to Toby’s part in this, we have to decide as a society what we’re willing to censor and we have to be cautious of condemning the professional photographer for being witness on our behalf. It is not the job of the photographer to decide what is too unpleasant to be photographed, but it is the job of the editor to only publish what is publishable.

We must also avoid hypocrisy; we might not like seeing pictures of dead people from conflicts and tragedies in other countries, or even in other times, but I see nothing like the same level of criticism when they’re posted online as when similar photos are shot and published showing tragedies so much closer to home.

My advice to Toby’s critics would be that they should do more to understand the role of the professional photojournalist and to take pause before jumping in to condemn those who bear witness on behalf of us all. If an incident such as this happens when a properly trained photojournalist happens to be on the spot, we should be grateful that bad news is covered properly and neither outlawed or suppressed by a mis-guided belief that our sensibilities should trump the truth except when the victims are on another continent.

 

Light Reading

I like to end the day with a little light reading (currently John le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel), but much of my work involves reading the light. Painful punning aside, what I mean is when I’m out taking pictures I’m studying the light; the quality, the quantity, the colour and so on.

Typically I’ll be in an office getting ready to take photos for my client and what I’ll be considering is the light source (window, overhead strips, or a mixture of the two), how much of it there is and what its qualities are.

Most office lighting is great as far as the client is concerned. To the human eye it will appear bright and white, but the human eye and brain are incredible feats of biological engineering and capable of filtering out all kinds of crazy colours and of seeing details which a camera simply can’t.

These two shots demonstrate a rather extreme, if non-typical, example of what I mean.

I was asked to take photos of a group of scholars for University of Bath at an event hosted at The Roman Baths in Bath (let’s see how many times I can work the word Bath into this blog post shall we?)

One of the shots required was a mass group of all the scholars, not too formal, but arranged along one end of the Great Bath. This was an evening job and being early February there was no daylight left. In fact the only available light was from spot lights pointing at the back wall, and a couple of gas torches either side of the pool.

Given this situation, I knew just from looking at it that whatever I did with the camera settings I wouldn’t get a usable image without the addition of flash. Since camera-top flash (which I hate anyway) wouldn’t be attractive and would probably just illuminate the steam from the water, I set up a pair of flashes on stands at the far end of the bath from me, one each side of the bath pointing towards the students.

The test shot (left) shows what the camera sees without the addition of flash. Obviously the students weren’t there for the test shots as I wanted to make sure they weren’t hanging around while I got the settings right, but my stand-ins Rachel and Chris did a fine job.

So if I’m coming to your office to shoot a series of “simple” pictures, don’t be surprised if I bring quite a lot of lighting kit even if the light looks fine to you. It’s rare that the available light on a location is already attractive enough to render the best photos, but if I can illuminate 100 students across a steamy pool of water on a chilly night, I can probably make something visually appealing in your office space.

Routes in the News

Yes, Routes has been dominating my blog lately, but this has to be one of the most important projects I’ve worked on in a very long time, so I hope you’ll indulge me a little longer.

This is just a round-up of where we are with the exhibition, donations and stuff.

I’m pleased to say I’ve had some really positive feedback about the exhibition from people I’ve met in the street, through Facebook and twitter, but what’s even better is that Sarah, the Routes centre manager, tells me people have been donating on the strength of seeing the pictures in Cafe La Strada.

We were a little worried that the cost of getting the pictures printed and framed wouldn’t be met, but with a local grant and donations from individuals we’ve covered that now. Phew!

Now it would be valid to ask why Routes spent money on an exhibition when the centre so desperately needs cash to keep going, but the fact is the portraits and case studies and the exhibition itself have generated a great deal more local awareness than could otherwise have been achieved, especially in the few weeks they have before the funding expires.

Take a look at the local press coverage just this week. Imagine what it would cost to buy a full-page advert in a local paper, yet this week we made the front page and a full-page spread inside. This is in addition to the coverage we had in the last couple of weeks on the launch of the exhibition in both local papers as well as an online article in one of the most popular photography sites on the internet.

With that in mind, I have to give full credit to Sarah for having the foresight to suggest the exhibition.

The latest news I have is that grant funding for at least a proportion of the running costs is on the cards. Fingers very much crossed that this comes through and for the balance to be covered by other funding bodies, but in the meantime if you would like to donate, you can do so by Texting MEND41 an amount from £1 to £10 to 70070, or by a cheque made payable to YMCA Mendip to ‘Routes’ Drop-In Centre, 1A Palmer Street, Frome, BA11 1DS. Donate online by clicking on the BT Mydonate button at http://tinyurl.com/j9jukt9 and select Routes as your chosen project.