On Being a Photographer

“Never Too Old to Learn” is the title of one of the assignments from the newspaper photography course I attended back in 1992.

I remember it particularly well because I ended up contriving a story in which a grandmother was learning to fly helicopters. Of course she wasn’t actually learning to fly helicopters, but since this was just an exercise in illustration it didn’t have to be a true story.

I found a suitably elderly model and a suitably cooperative helicopter pilot, put the two together and took some shots which worked pretty well. All lies, but it fulfilled the purpose of the assignment and the grandmother had a blast.

The reason I’m reminded of this particular college assignment now is because I’ve just bought a copy of “On Being A Photographer” by David Hurn and Bill Jay. Even as a photographer with 30+ years in his back pocket, I still expect to learn a great deal from reading this book.

The other college-days connection here is that David Hurn founded the School of Documentary Photography in Newport. I went to Stradbroke college in Sheffield because that was where budding newspaper photographers went if they wanted to get into the industry. Us Stradbrokers would scoff at the Newport photographers because they had a reputation for swanning about in desert boots while carrying Billingham bags and dreams of shooting for National Geographic.

We were “the real photographers” who would all go on to work for The Independent or Observer magazine, covering conflict and strife around the globe. In reality Newport was a very fine college (the very best for photo-documentary training) and we had as much chance of fulfilling our perceived destinies as those who went to Newport. In other words, not much chance at all.

Actually, most of us did at least make it on to local and regional papers and one or two of us worked with national titles. Even now, one or two of our cohort are still working (albeit occasionally) for international titles.

But Stradbroke for me was 28 years ago. So why have I gone back to the books? In particular one written by the founder of a course I disparaged at the time? Simple; I’ve grown up. I’ve changed and I continue to change. I’m always looking at new sources of inspiration and solid foundations for new knowledge. I slightly wish I’d been able to go to Newport, even better go to Newport AND Stradbroke; that would have been incredible, but it wasn’t possible.

On Being A Photographer has a particular focus on the kind of work I do in my personal projects now and in this regard it will prove invaluable. I know I’ll learn new, better approaches and I’ll have a clearer understanding of how a photo essay should be approached.

It might take me another 30 years, but I hope this book will put me on the path to being a better documentary photographer. I’ll have to let you know how it goes.

 

I’ll Make These b****y Pictures Move!

There is a vague recollection in the furthest reaches of my mind of my dad making a joke about “moving pictures” while shaking a photo up and down in his hand. It involved the “b” word and was very funny. You had to be there.

Which brings me in the clunkiest way possible to the announcement that I have added moving pictures to my suite of client services. They’ll even have sound! And they’ll be in glorious colour (actually, black and white is also an option, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Yes, lockdown has given me the opportunity to learn a huge amount about shooting video, recording sound and using editing software to bring it all together. I’m not going to pretend I’m the next Martin Scorsese, I still have much to learn, but I’ve used the time to get the basics nailed down.

My focus will be on corporate testimonials, talking heads and interview pieces, giving businesses the material they need to keep putting fresh material out on social media. I think video is well suited to this kind of use and will help my clients communicate more effectively than they might with just a text-based blog.

To give myself material with which to practice camera settings, focus, exposure, colour balance, sound recording, editing, and so on, I shot a short film at home using the best model I could find in my house (my wife). She did a fantastic job, and while the result is probably not what you would call corporate style, it demonstrates much of what I’ve learned in this exercise. You can see the film here.

The result is just over 4 minutes long and it’s entitled A SHEDx Talk with Dr Helen Roberts. I hope you get a few minutes to watch it, because the feedback I’ve had so far has been that it is calming, soothing and inspiring!

 

PR Photography in Lockdown

In my recent article Measured Success I described how a couple of simple items, a tape measure and chalk, allowed me to work a public relations photoshoot and still keep everyone safe.

This week I thought I’d share a bit more about that job with you.

The client was Seko Logistics, who had undertaken to deliver free personal protective equipment (PPE), supplied by Alexandra Workwear, to all 69 care homes in The Order of St John Care Trust group, starting with their home in Thornbury, Bristol.

Now this was never going to make the tight group shot I would normally aim to produce, but given the circumstances I felt the distancing between the people in the photo would not only keep everyone safe, but would also help make the picture visually interesting.

The light was difficult (when isn’t it?), so I had to put up a couple of high powered studio flash units. Without them the people’s faces would have been silhouetted and I also wanted to pick out some detail of the building too. The only giveaway is the shadow of the care nurse which runs contra to the shadows cast by the sun behind the people and building.

That’s ok though. I’d rather ensure the people were sufficiently lit than have to spend ages trying to wrestle with the exposure levels in post production, which would never have looked as good or had the crisp, colourful impact this image has.

The result is a photo which the client has been able to use not only in their own social media feeds, but which has gone around their various industry publications too. I’m always pleased to see my pictures working hard for a client and I know the client is also pleased with how everything went and the result at the end.

So while organisations will be struggling to balance many conflicting requirements right now, it’s wise to keep an eye out for any stories which your business could put out as a press release. With professional care and execution, it’s still possible to get good PR coverage and raise your business profile with something positive.

The Most Personal Yet

My regular readers will already be aware of the importance I place on personal photographic projects, without which I don’t think I’d be the photographer I am.

For the most part I tend to use film for this work because I prefer the change in workflow. However lockdown has presented its own challenges. With limited funds, do I keep shooting film, or save it for when I can next visit Salisbury Plain?

And without the ability to roam about taking the pictures I would normally look for in a personal project, I’ve retreated to the most personal subject of all, my own home life.

Yes I have shot some film, but found myself reaching for the digital camera and developing a new theme: The Home Front.

The Home Front is my deeply personal reaction against the war rhetoric which has been liberally applied to the Covid-19 crisis, in particular by our politicians. I’m a firm believer in the importance of language and how it is used, and since we are not at war, I find it inappropriate to use conflict terminology now.

Apart from anything else I believe it sets a combative tone in the national psyche, and this can have unintended consequences in society. Too much of the “don’t you know there’s a war on” attitude can lead to unnecessary conflict between individuals, or groups.

What The Home Front sets out to illustrate is that while we are facing undeniably difficult times, there is also a great deal to be thankful for. There is also beauty in the small, normally un-observed corners of domestic life.

I know I’m particularly lucky to have a home with a garden, and to be living with someone who is may absolute first choice of lockdown partner. Not everyone enjoys these simple luxuries, but I wanted to illustrate that whatever one’s situation, we are not being shot at or bombed.

The Home Front has been featuring on my Instagram feed this week, and if you’d like to see the set to the end you’ll either have to follow me there, or keep an eye on my Facebook page. In the meantime, here are a couple of the images posted so far.

Measured Success

A PR job this week proved that in spite of everything, photography is being commissioned and it can be done safely.

What is different in this lockdown world is the logistics. I had to think more carefully about how I could execute the photos safely (thinking of my subjects as much as of myself).

So I took some simple precautions. No, I didn’t have a mask or gloves. I didn’t wear a hazmat suit. Neither did I take the pictures from the safety of my car.

I simply took a tape measure and some playground chalk. This meant I could mark out positions two metres apart for people to stand on before bringing them into the scene.

Everyone was at least two metres from anyone else (including myself) at all times. The simplest of tools kept everyone safe.

Of course some types of corporate photography cannot happen right now. For example, office headshots aren’t feasible when businesses have furloughed their staff. Cancelled events and business meetings mean none of that work is available to me right now.

However, it’s probably not a bad time for businesses to consider some positive PR. There are good news stories out there, and we could all do with some of that right now! And using a professional photographer to create the images you need will mean you get high quality photos safely.

If you have a good news story – perhaps it’s related to the crisis, perhaps it isn’t, drop me a line and we can look at options.

Maybe I can “chalk up” a success for you too.

Coping with Corona

My previous post was becoming a bit long-winded as it grew from being a central point of information for clients into more of a diary of my daily doings during lockdown.

So to keep that post a little tidier, this one will brings you more up-to-date with what’s been happening. I suspect subsequent posts will be of a similar vein until paid commissions pick up gain.

The problem with lockdown is I’ve slightly lost track of time. Is it Christmas yet? I’ve sort of forgotten what I’ve done since my last diary update in the earlier post, but I’ll recap briefly here.

On a personal level, I’ve completed a fruit cage in the rear garden, created new planting beds in the front garden, stripped, cleaned and re-installed the rubber door seal on the washing machine. During that episode I discovered a pinhole leak in a copper pipe behind the sink unit, which I was lucky enough to be able to repair (Easter Bank Holiday Monday during lockdown is not a good time to be booking a plumber).

I also accidentally punched a bumble bee in the face, but made up for it by releasing a honey bee from our dining room. Karma restored.

After a friend very kindly posted me some sourdough starter, I’ve returned to making sourdough bread after a two-year hiatus. I’ve baked my first loaf and looking forward to making sourdough pizza this Friday.

“going with the flow”

Work-wise, jobs continue to keel over, but that’s to be expected. I’m keeping my hand in by shooting a mix of digital and film photos because I have to keep practising, my mental health demands it as much as my client work does.

With a view to the future, I’ve started looking at new ways of expanding the fine art print sales side of the business, but that is still a long, slow process rather than a quick fix solution.

I will just add, if you do appreciate my work and you’re interested in having a genuinely beautiful print for your home or office wall, please check out takeagander.co.uk. Pre-orders are being taken and prints will be made once the printer can return to work. It would help me a ton to sell a few prints at this time.

Even though the pictures I’m making now aren’t necessarily going to be offered as prints, making them allows me to explore my own experience of lockdown. Documenting my relatively privileged existence isn’t what really turns me on, but it’s vital I keep making images; not just for my own business, but for my sanity too.

 

Covid-19, The Update Post

The purpose of this blog post is to keep clients informed of my status during the Covid-19 crisis, should they need to know.

I’ll be keeping in direct touch with current clients only as required since I know they’ll all be scrabbling to keep their operations afloat.

This post will be linked from my Home page to keep visitors to the site informed.

Any updates to my status or activities will be posted at the foot of this article, preceded with a date to ensure clarity. If you want to know the very latest news with regards my coronavirus plans, scroll to the very end of this post.

Current Status:

In broad terms, I can tell you that my current status is ok. I am solvent (improved by forthcoming government assistance for the self-employed) and I am fit and well as I practice social distancing and keep journeys to a minimum.

Bookings:

My diary has emptied of advance bookings for at least the next two months. Normally I would also be picking up last-minute work, but of course that is also currently impossible. I want to be as fair as possible with my clients so I propose the following:

  • Any bookings which coincide with a lockdown period can be postponed for a future date without any surcharges.
  • Any bookings which have to be cancelled entirely may incur a fee, however this will be discussed with the client to find the best solution for a positive outcome.
Current Plans:

I have a plan to keep busy, starting with a programme of website updates, tweaks and improvements.

I’ve already brought my accounts up-to-date (sorting my sock drawer is next!) and my fine art print site takeagander.co.uk is also replete with the latest images. Sadly my print supplier has had to close temporarily, so although I can still take print orders, I won’t be able to fulfil them until the printer can re-open. Updates on that are more likely to be found on the takeagander website.

To my clients:

I want to assure all my clients that I have every intention of still being here for them when this is all over. Luckily I had already completed a programme of reducing overheads in the final quarter of 2019, which basically means I have no office rent or associated costs around my neck right now.

All my subscriptions continue to be covered, including for Photoshelter, which means all my client galleries should continue to be secure and accessible at all times. If you experience any problems with your gallery, let me know and I’ll be happy to help.

Anyone requiring help:

I remain open to enquiries, even if they cannot be confirmed bookings at this time. If you have a question I can help with, or you want to start an early conversation about a potential future project, I’ll be delighted to hear from you. If you just need to hear a voice other than your own, call me.

That’s all for now folks. Keep safe, keep well. I can’t wait to work with you again soon.

Updates:

2nd April 2020 – My main task this week has been to make tweaks to the website, some minor and others more involved. Due to a server issue on Monday/Tuesday progress was slow, but I’m glad to say everything is back to normal and I’ve done most of what I intended to complete.

This has included:

  • Writing this blog post, then ensuring there is a link to it directly from the home page.
  • Updating the Personal Projects galleries, making them smaller, more manageable and improving ease of navigation to them.
  • Updating the Business Portraits, Corporate Communications and Editorial + PR galleries with fresh content.
  • Re-writing the text for all the galleries.
  • Back-end tidying of the site structure. Whether this has any discernible effect is up for debate.
  • Re-jigging the About Me page with refreshed text and links to Testimonials and takeagander.co.uk
  • A tweak to my fees to help build a stronger business for the future.

I still need to work through my T&Cs and find a place to display my lovely, shiny GDPR certificate, but this week really has seen impressive progress.

I almost forgot to mention, my image archiving catalogue is also now bang up to date with the last couple of months’ jobs. A rarity indeed.

3rd April 2020 – Yesterday morning felt like four hours of shovelling pixels as I made adjustments to my website. So I spent the afternoon shovelling compost as we work to improve our veg-growing capacity at home. I’m so grateful to have a garden, something so many people don’t have.

Most of today will be spent freshening up my LinkedIn profile page, then it’s back to the website to make some additional changes and improvements.

Back again! I’ve spent the entire morning freshening up my LinkedIn profile, though I’m sure there is more I could do. I’ve also improved access to my GDPR statement and certificate on my website.

I might head back out to the garden for the next couple of hours before my backside fuses to my chair.

6th April 2020 – It’s 05.11 on Monday morning and I seem to be awake. My sleep has been erratic for at least a decade, so this isn’t Coronavirus-stress-related.

At the risk of descending this blog into the realm of the personal, as I face the new week I wanted to share a word on my weekend. Having a garden big enough to do things in is a luxury these days, and I feel extremely privileged to have one large enough for four raised veg beds, a greenhouse, shed and tiny pond.

Although the pond is small, it attracts frogs and other wildlife, and is currently teaming with tadpoles. I’ll be spending time in the coming weeks defending the froglets from the many neighbourhood cats.

Tasks I achieved this weekend: A fresh coat of exterior paint on The Bunker, construction of a brassica cage, construction of two new garden table tops to replace rotten ones using scrap timber (they look better than they sound). Oh and a bit of sunburn! I’m normally very careful in the sun, but really didn’t appreciate that the breeze was deceiving me.

So today I’ll be back to working on my to-do list. I have a couple of rolls of colour film to send off for processing and thankfully the lab can still run safely. I also have a grocery run to do for an isolated resident, but I’m awaiting their list.

Good luck with your week, whatever it involves.

Final update on this post, since this is meant to be a point of useful information for clients, I’ll start a new post which will act as my on-going diary. Carry on reading there if you’re desperate to know how I’m doing.

Friday 22nd May 2020

My plans and risk assessments are well underway as clients start to make enquiries once again. I will have hand sanitiser and reusable mask with me on all jobs. Gloves are not necessary and I believe they present additional risk, so I will only wear gloves if they are required and are supplied by the client. I will wash my hands on arrival, departure and at any point during my time on site that is sensible to do so. Please bear with me because I suffer from hay fever and may need to wash my hands more frequently than normal.

I will work with my clients and subjects to maintain suitable distancing as much as possible.

I will ask that clients allow more liaison time prior to jobs in order that we can plan to minimise the risks to all involved, including of course myself.

If you have particular requirements or suggestions based on your own risk assessments, please feel free to share them with me.

Video

With clients looking for new ways to communicate to their audiences, I have used a large proportion of my lockdown time to get up to speed on good quality video capture, sound recording and editing. I have invested in the equipment required to ensure I am ready to talk to you about your next video project, so do drop me a line if you’re considering adding video to your corporate communications toolbox.

Blue Sky Thinking

Many of us are having to adapt to a new normal, myself included. So for the duration I’m going to post what I can, when I can.

It’s been 18 years since my press card expired, so sitting idly while the biggest World news story of all time breaks is an uncomfortable experience. Which is why I’m doing what I can.

Yesterday’s walk, for example, allowed me to at least click the shutter. I’d been thinking about how I might safely record at least one aspect of this crisis, and then I looked up.

What I saw was clear, blue skies. Not the normal blue, but a blue free of pollution, and that includes the ubiquitous contrails left by aircraft.

Now I appreciate the lack of contrails means many in the aviation sector will be suffering, but this raises new questions for us.

Right now all our thoughts are focused on a single issue, but climate change will return. While we’re asking for mortgage holidays, the climate is getting a pollution holiday. On the down-side, how long before surgical gloves, masks and test kit tubes turn up in dolphins?

And once the brakes come off the economy, how long before we go back to our old ways?

Will contrails once again scar the blue skies?

Quiet Skies is the mini series resulting from yesterday’s walk. I may build on it, we’ll have to see, but I wanted to create something thought-provoking and hopefully beautiful.

So while you can, get out there and remember to look up once in a while. This is how the sky used to look.

Emergency Blog

Do you know what? I have written and re-written this article about half a dozen times, trying to say so many things about how I hope everyone is ok and about what my coping strategy is.

The problem is, since we’re all in the same boat, anything I write looks like opportunist marketing, so I’ll just say this:

  • Stay safe, obviously.
  • If I can help with anything, let me know. Even if it’s just to pick my brains.
  • I am determined to be here for my clients all through this and well beyond.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck at home and need a diversion, check out takagander and consider buying a print (if there is anything you like). This will help keep me sane while everything else is in shutdown.

And if you do buy a print, use TAKEA20 at checkout to get £20.00 off any canvas print, or £20 off any fine art print (or multiple prints) when you spend £150.00 or more. Hurry though, the offer expires on March 20th. There, I just marketed again! Ugh.

A final few words for now:

It’s going to be tough to plan new photography for your business when we don’t have a timescale for this situation, but do speak to me now because we can all hit the ground running whenever the brakes come off. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Take care,

Tim

Beyond the Brief

Next time you’re planning to update the photography for your corporate communications, why not consider allowing some additional creative time within the session? Allowing some creative space beyond the brief could result in some interesting results.

An excellent example of this is from November last year when I was commissioned to create new team head shots for business data analysts Kaiasm – I’m massively paraphrasing what they do for the sake of brevity.

There was one shot which I pretty much took as a bit of a joke; I’d noticed how the data graph behind the founder Liam McGee’s head made him look like he had a halo. When I mentioned this to him, he obliged with a suitable pose and expression and I took the shot.

The photo was included in the final edit because I know clients often enjoy the odd outtake in their set, but I didn’t expect to see it used.

A couple of weeks later, the local paper ran the photo with an article about Kaiasm and their pending expansion plans.

So allowing some creative freedom and a dollop of humour can lead to unexpectedly useful results. That photo will have drawn far more attention to the article than any plain headshot or stock image of the office would have done, and will have conveyed Kaiasm as a business run by human beings, not robots.

Bear in mind the creative possibilities, even the occasional happy accident afforded by engaging a professional photographer, and you may find the results are a revelation.