Blog Off?

Do people still blog? I’ve been writing this one since October 2009, but does it still serve a purpose?

Over the years I’ve tried my best to inform and entertain my readers (still plural, I think), admittedly with mixed success, but of course it’s also been a way to keep Google happy.

On that score I have to admit it’s been useful for my Search Engine Optimisation. I’m just less convinced it still has the impact it once did. People are using different routes to finding photographers, but it has become a much more fragmented landscape, so which options might work?

LinkedIn

Facebook for businesses (aka LinkedIn) has been a good way for me to keep in touch with existing clients. I can keep up with what they’re doing and I can update them on my latest news. I sometimes use it to message clients directly, though I still prefer email for keeping all correspondence in one place.

That said, LinkedIn is practically useless for finding new clients. People looking for a specific photographer for their needs will find LinkedIn a poor source of reliable information. More often than not a prospective client will canvass their network for recommendations, at which point there ensues a scrambled deluge of suggestions, most of which ignore geography or skill set – a photographer’s a photographer, right? End result, a mis-match and a lost opportunity.

Facebook

Facebook is useful for keeping in touch with a wider friendship network and group interests and I use it to promote my personal project work, but corporate work doesn’t really work on Facebook. I’m careful where I use client work, and Facebook just isn’t the right place to post my commissioned images.

Twitter

Just… no. Like Facebook, Twitter isn’t the best option for business use. It needs personality, which tends to exclude much in the way of a corporate focus. Again, it’s more useful to my personal project work and I like to promote other photographers there, at least those practicing fine art or documentary work.

Other Options

Should I start a podcast? *collective cry of NOOOOO! echoes back at me* Or a YouTube channel? *ditto, see previous*

Except YouTube is perhaps the more interesting option; less for my corporate work, but perhaps more useful to my personal project photography. I have no desire to be a “YouTuber”, but I can see how video might help create wider interest in that work. Which still leaves me wondering what’s best for the corporate work.

In (sort of) conclusion

It seems that while change has been a constant in the exciting world of SEO, that change is accelerating. Couple this with the fact that new platforms are constantly springing up, the risk is that social media is becoming too fragmented.

My gut reaction to all this is that continuing the blog posts is wise. Keeping my website fresh and compliant continues to be the best use of limited time. I also need to investigate new ideas; maybe even some old ones. Books and zines interest me, so they’ll be something I’m focusing on for the personal projects, but what of the corporate side? Perhaps print has a role worth exploring too. Many years ago I made Blurb books of my portfolio and they went down quite well.

So after 557 words, I ‘think’ I’ve concluded that I’ll carry on with the blog. Ideally I’ll use it to showcase my corporate work, but lockdown and on-going restrictions will make that a challenge. Things will pick up though, and when they do I want to be visible to new clients as well as existing ones.

One last thing…

On a bit of a side-note relating more to my personal projects, if you sign up to my takeagander newsletter here before the end of January 2021, you’ll be in with a chance to win a beautiful A4 print from any of my collections!

So cheer yourself up for free, sign up and have a browse to see if there’s a print you’d like on your wall.

2020 is so last year!

Happy New Year! I think…

Perhaps just as Windscale became such a toxic brand that it was renamed Sellafield, or that the News of the World became The Sunday Sun, so too 2020 has just been re-branded 2021. It’s not a new year at all, just a re-packaging of a disastrous previous year. Or is it?

I refuse to be as downbeat and dour as I’m often minded to be. Yes, this new lockdown has scuppered three paid gigs which were in the diary, but they’re postponed, not cancelled. One was a video gig, the other two are headshot sessions for an existing client.

It’s also frustrating that I’ve once again had to put the Salisbury Plain project on hold. But like the bookings, it’s just delayed, not abandoned.

There are some positives too. Ive just taken in a little product photography, which is an area I don’t normally tackle. And I’m about to ship my very first signed, large format fine art print to a client who has hinted they’d like to invest in several of my prints.

I’ve set up a photography package for startups as they’re going to be big for the next few years. You can check that out here.

So this year is going to start with many challenges and it’s not going to get any easier for a while, but I’m very glad that I started taking my fine art work seriously well before 2020 and that I used the March 2020 lockdown as the starting point for my video practice. All this combined with adding new ideas to my corporate photography package means when things do pick up, I’m already equipped with multiple strands to my business, each of which will grow with time.

So I wish you all the best in your ventures for the coming year, whatever they are. If I can be of any help at all, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to discuss your plans.

In the meantime, stay safe!

The Local Proposition

Are you buying anything from Amazon this Christmas? The campaign to shop local seems to have gained ground, even if the orange behemoth with the A to Z smile is still gaining sales.

The pandemic will have put many in a quandary; desperate to get their Christmas shopping done, but still unable to leave home, it can seem as if there is only one choice, when even online there are many great independent traders now.

However, the shop local/support independents movement is definitely finding new followers. Buying on the high street is beneficial to local economies and communities, while buying online from local, independent businesses is certainly helpful too.

Buy Local for Your Business

So this week I’d like to extend this notion: If buying local for personal reasons is beneficial to the local economy and jobs, please also consider buying ethically-sourced professional services for your business too.

Not just photography, but other creative industries have struggled against the big players for many years now, yet none of the disruptive sites offering creative services has benefitted the wider economy. They might seem to be the cool, new and exciting way to do business, but they dis-benefit independent creatives disproportionately.

Of course as a business owner you probably want to find the best value for money for all the goods and services you need, but have you ever thought about how this might impact the economy in which you’re trying to function?

It might help you in the short term if you can populate your website with images and graphics bought in at below cost of production, but when this process replicates across an entire business economy, who is left with any money to buy your services?

Value vs Cost

Likewise, if you’re unwilling to pay fair rates for the goods and services supplied by others, why should anyone pay your rates for the goods and services you supply? And let’s set aside the impact of using suppliers who pay little (if any) tax back into the society in which you operate.

So undertake a pledge, make it company policy if you like, that from January 2021 you will start the process of making your business more sustainable by helping to sustain others. It might make you very slightly less profitable in the short term, but it will make your business more sustainable in the longer term.

You’ll almost certainly have a more robust business come the next economic upset.

Until 2021…

I’m taking a break from writing blog posts here until January 2021, so I’ll just take this opportunity to thank you for all your kind support through this monumentally challenging year.

If in the meantime you would like to keep up with all my goings on, you can follow me on Instagram (@takeagander) or sign up to my newsletter for very occasional updates on my personal projects and new fine art print offerings.

Thank you, have a happy Christmas and a new, improved 2021.

Tim

Video Progress

Actually I made this film several weeks ago now, but I’ve had so much else on that I haven’t had a chance to talk about it until now.

Frome-based IT solutions company Netitude, in particular MD Adam Harling, were very generous in giving me time to come in and make a short film about their experience through (the first) lockdown.

The result (which you can see here) is a huge step up from where I was when I first tried the video function of my DSLR. I’m far more confident now that I can make and edit short interview films and I’ve done more video since which I hope to share in due course.

What I’m aiming to offer clients is affordable access to simple video production, but at a quality they cannot achieve by sticking an iPhone on a stand. I also believe my photographer’s experience and skills bring an added level of style and quality to the work.

For the time being I’m pegging my video rates to my stills rates, with post-production being the only additional cost. This makes professional video far more accessible to a much wider range of clients.

If you have a video project in mind, drop me a line and we can discuss it in more depth.

Are We On The Same Page?

I’m sure there is a thesis being written by somebody somewhere examining the changes in the use of (and attitudes to) photography since the launch of Web 2.0. Setting aside technological changes for a moment, the proliferation of photography and the way it is presented, received and perceived has changed beyond all recognition. But should that be so?

PICTURES ON A PAGE

What’s brought me to write this is reading Harold Evans’ bible of news photography “Pictures on a Page”, first published in 1978. For whatever reason, I had never read it before. I wish I had as it’s the undisputed last word on how editorial images are shot, presented, the ethics and so on.

Thankfully I learned most of its lessons through training, observing and doing, but this book cements what I know while adding some delicious new ideas I’d not considered so closely before. But though it’s a book from a very different era, does that make it irrelevant? I think not. In fact I believe its main tenets are more important than ever, and not only in the realm of editorial.

While Evans’ book talks about story, cropping, emphasis and so on, I would say that the vast majority of images taken today are not composed with such factors in mind. Even if we take pictures for a story, few photographers have any clue who will end up using their photos or the design into which they will be placed. Largely gone are the days when a photographer knew which publication they were shooting for, let alone which page or position.

Is it the web’s fault?

Back when I shot regularly for newspapers, I often knew how the pictures were to be used and could ensure I gave the images the emphasis needed to work on a left or right-hand page. I also knew when to give an image a direct, or neutral emphasis, but today’s photographer is effectively shooting blind when it comes to design; they have to make their images work in all contexts, which can be the enemy of good image design.

This isn’t true in absolutely every case, but it must account for the majority of work shot today and it’s leading to a morass of images lacking any emphasis at all. The effect is compounded by the need to shoot predominantly in landscape orientation to suit the restrictions of web page designs, leading to another level of homogenisation.

Even in the work I do now for my corporate clients, I occasionally wish there was a little more scope for using emphasis and picture design as a creative tool. Websites shackled to a template leave little room for intelligent design, especially given that responsiveness rules over all other considerations. Again, you can only shoot for that by keeping any daring design ideas to a minimum, which can render them lifeless.

Pictures are more than just content and colour.

Pictures on a Page includes wonderful insights into how we “read” images, but even that perception has changed with the proliferation of photographic images which pour over us like a monumental waterfall on a daily basis.

If the book is taken solely as a series of essays on how news pictures are taken, edited and presented in newspapers, and their effect on our perception of the world, perhaps it could be seen as old-fashioned now, but I think that would be missing the point.

The best pictures, regardless of where they are published, will still have an impact beyond just colour and content. They will take us on a visual journey within their own frame and guide us to a point either within, or more interestingly perhaps, outside the image area itself. We risk losing that in a flat web world, so perhaps books such as Pictures on a Page will become more important than ever. Perhaps that theoretical thesis will reach the same conclusion.

A Hand Up for Startups

Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say, and a lot of people are going to be doing a lot of inventing in the coming months and years.

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Brainstorming a new venture?

People who have been made redundant and those who have just had enough of the daily office grind will be setting up new ventures, which in the teeth of the fiercest of recessions is a brave thing indeed.

Which is why I’ve launched a new service to help anyone considering such a move. Called Startup Exclusive, this is a photography package designed to give new ventures the vital images they need for their websites, marketing materials and social media channels.

From headshots to product shots, or pictures illustrating the services they offer, new business startups will have the basic images they need to get going and at a price that shouldn’t sink them at launch.

At the very least I’ve always prided myself on publishing a fee structure which allows clients to get an idea of what to expect before they’ve even called me, and with Startup Exclusive added to my fees guide, they’ll be able to work the cost of bespoke photography into their business plan long before they’ve committed to booking me.

So if you, or anyone you know, is considering a new venture, point them to my website so they can at least get a sense of what’s available and what the likely fees will be. You never know, I could end up documenting the birth of something really big.

On Reflection

Glasses. Don’t you love ’em? They’re never where you need them. You spend ages hunting for them only to discover they’re already on top of your head. Yet even though contact lens technology has leapt forward, they don’t work for everyone and so we still need our specs a lot of the time.

I didn’t need to wear glasses at all until I hit 45, then BAM! my near vision went. I couldn’t work out why I was struggling to see the images on the back of my camera. I thought I needed a longer neck strap, then longer arms. Then I realised, I needed an eye test.

Now I can work fine with glasses. Ok, it’s a bit of a pain, but on the whole I’ve got used to them. The bigger issue tends to be when a portrait sitter wears glasses; how do we avoid reflections from the lenses? Well here are some helpful tips if you’re a glasses wearer.

To wear, or not to wear? Is it even a question?

The first question (so yes, it is a question) is whether you should wear glasses at all when having your portrait taken. My answer is always, if you’re known for wearing glasses, if you wear them the majority of the time, then wear them for the shoot.

Someone who habitually wears glasses can look uncomfortable without them. I’m always happy to do with-and-without, but vanity shouldn’t be the deciding factor (that’s for you to decide) and neither should the risk of reflections (a technical issue for me to work through).

What can be done to avoid reflections?

Mainly it’s a lighting issue. Uncontrolled daylight can make it impossible to avoid some reflection in the glasses, but for portraits I almost always use portable studio flash as my sole lighting source. This gives me more control over the final look, as well as over reflections.

Then I choose lighting modifiers which minimise the risk of reflections. The position of my lights is also a major factor, but there are also things you, as the glasses-wearing sitter, can do to help.

Probably the most important factor is the quality of your glasses. Spectacles with good quality coated lenses are best. You may remember gasping at the cost when your optician quoted for non-reflective coatings, but they are designed to transmit as much light as possible to your eyes which means you can see things more clearly. Happily they also mean less light bounces off the surface of the lenses and *hey presto* less reflection back to the camera.

Now the most expensive coatings in the world are useless if your lenses are double-coated in fingerprints, chip grease and cat hair, so make sure they’re scrupulously clean right to the edges. Once cleaned, you’ll probably see a lot better too! Use a good quality cloth and cleaner fluid if they’re really manky, but go gently – you don’t want to damage them. Your optician should be able to advise on the best cleaning methods.

Anything else?

Yes, head position will also be a factor in the same way the position of the lights will help exclude reflections. This is something I guide people on once they’re in front of me, so there isn’t any general advice I can offer beyond “listen to the photographer and do as they ask”. I’m happy to boss you about (gently of course) if it means a great end result.

The only other thing which can be an issue for glasses wearers is when the frame cuts across the eyes. This is normally avoided by ensuring your spectacles are properly seated on your nose, not slipping forward. This is less a reflection issue, but it can help with the positioning of your face in relation to the lights, so it’s also important.

But that’s it really; the right lighting, decent quality lenses, keeping them clean and head/face position. It’s a bit of a team effort, but on reflection, I think it’s worth it.

The Beat Goes On

While the news seems unrelentingly gloomy at the moment, I’m pleased to say I’ve had some positives to focus on.

I’ve had bits of work in the last couple of weeks and enquiries have also increased. People are looking to promote their businesses once again!

This doesn’t mean a flood of work is about to engulf me, but it’s encouraging to know I still have clients. I also have some great supporters helping me via my ko-fi account*. They’re keeping me funded for the non-client projects I’m engaged in. *HINT: You can do the same from as little as £3.00 one-off payment!

What is especially encouraging is that in an atmosphere of debate about what counts as a viable job, my job – the job I love, which has been put under this particular spotlight for many years now, continues to be considered viable; invaluable, even.

There are many out there who believe professional photography is dead and that every photo ever needed has been taken already. And if it doesn’t already exist, well there’s always that professional photographer in your pocket. They are, of course, quite wrong.

We know automation and technology cannot replace certain needs. Technology still can’t make a decent loaf of bread, so we can’t expect it to make pictures with the right tone and impact. This only comes about through human interaction.

Try to imagine a world without human interaction, how much fun would that be? How creative? We’re experiencing a taste of it now, so we know the answer already.

So while there will be some very difficult times ahead, I’m going to stay focussed and positive. No one is telling me I’m not viable.

A Paradigm Shift in Portraits

At the risk of stating the obvious, the C word is creating difficulties for all kinds of businesses, but what’s been making the news agenda this week is the problems caused by the new home-working paradigm.

For all the benefits to office workers who no longer have a daily commute, the businesses relying on the office economy, from landlords to sandwich vendors, are in trouble.

Even with some hope of an end to the mass contagion of a couple of months ago, it’s not as if there are many signs that businesses and their staff are clamouring to return to the old ways of working.

So if you’ll indulge me to be somewhat selfish for a moment, this has a knock-on effect for my trade too.

When deciding to update a website with fresh office photography, most of my clients will choose a date when the majority of their staff are in. Not only does this mean I can get shots of a busy office, but I’ll also get fresh head shots of as many people as possible in a single visit.

That is no longer (necessarily) possible. If businesses are only inviting small teams in at any given time, there might never be an opportunity to photograph enough people to make a session viable, unless some new thinking is employed. That’s what I’d like to set out here.

Consider The New Normal.

Low-key portrait of a young female architectural assistant wearing glasses, looking directly into camera, not smile.

Simplicity is powerful.

Things have to change, at least for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. This means I have to work smarter and differently, and clients have to understand the new constraints in the round.

Traditionally, if a client required a series of headshots against white (grey, or black, but usually white), I would hoof several bags of kit plus an unwieldy backdrop into the office. This might involve multiple trips to/from the car, or a client would help carry my kit in.

This isn’t ideal when you have multiple doors, lifts and other obstacles to tackle and heightens the risk of cross-contamination.

So perhaps a change of approach is needed: I can work more nimbly if all I need is basic kit and no backdrop. Perhaps the age of the headshot against white is over. It will enforce a wider change in look and feel to the portraits too, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

If done with skill and care, a new style can look just as professional.

A New Honesty About Costs.

Ouch, but wait: A photographer can make multiple trips to an office in order to capture all the colleagues in smaller sessions, but inevitably this increases cost. Well perhaps this just requires an adjustment in perception. Photography has been cheap as chips for many years now, so perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate budgets and accept it may never be as cheap again.

Alternatively, to keep costs down, be more selective about who ends up on the About Us page. Ask the question, “Who needs to be visible?” Occasionally I’ve felt as if I’m photographing people just so they don’t feel left out or under-valued. Sometimes I’ve felt this was more a concern of the client than it was of the person standing in front of me who I’m working to relax out of an expression of “I hate having my picture taken, so why am I included in this?” Think about who really needs to appear in corporate communications.

Combining the new normal with an acceptance of higher cost (or being more selective), it’s worth considering that if people are going to work from home more, perhaps that’s where their portraits need to be taken.

Does your corporate imagery have to pretend people are working in an office building when they’re not? It’s also possible, through either photographic or post-production techniques, to diminish the domestic influence in the photograph and create a consistent look across all the portraits even where multiple locations are involved.

I can even bring a backdrop into the home if needed. It’s often easier than getting it into an office building.

Again this has cost implications, but are they insurmountable? By being selective and canny, I think costs can be kept reasonable.

The Bottom Line

The “bottom line” isn’t the bottom line. It’s worth remembering that powerful, engaging photography for your business isn’t about Value for Money, it’s about quality and aesthetics. As un-measurable as that might seem, that is what will help sell your services.

All of this starts with creative conversations, so talk to me. Let me know what you’re trying to achieve and I’ll help you achieve it in the best way possible.

Bits ‘n’ pieces.

Yes it’s still quiet on the whole, but business is definitely happening.

My Salisbury Plain project has been keeping me busy, and now with film stock secured for the next several months thanks to the generosity of those who support my work, I’ll be able to carry that on for quite some time to come.

In the meantime, I’ve continued updating and tweaking my website with new Testimonials and portraits being the main focus.

On top of all this, work has been coming in. Not thick and fast just yet, but there are promising signs of new clients contacting me as well as old ones getting back in touch.

I’m actually really looking forward to encouraging clients to be more adventurous in the style of business shots I take for them. I have the kit, the skills and the imagination. Now all I need is the right client and the right opportunity.

So if you’re a business looking to get your marketing back up to speed, drop me a line and let’s get the ball rolling.