Say CHEESE!

Finding a photographer is as easy as finding cheddar cheese in Cheddar, and in case you were unaware; Cheddar is an actual place and it’s where cheddar cheese originally came from before everyone from the Irish to the Azerbaijanis decided to make “cheddar cheese” themselves and flood the market with their filth. Even so, there is an awful lot of cheddar in Cheddar and it’s easy to find, trust me.

Sorry, I digress. It’s just that living in Somerset, about 30 minutes from Cheddar, I’m a little fussy about where my cheddar comes from. Although, at the risk of prolonging this needless digression further, there’s an excellent Somerset brie which I highly recommend. Apologies to Brieland.

Right, back to my point… which was? Oh yes, photographers are easy to find (yes, I said that already, get on with it Tim!) But actually, like cheddar, not all photographers are the same. Just like Canadian cheddar, there’s a lot of rubbish out there (sorry Canadaland, but your cheddar is pants*). And even amongst the really excellent cheddars, not every cheddar will suit your pallet, just as not every excellent photographer will suit your requirements.

Some cheddars are creamy, smooth and mild. Others are crumbly, borderline gritty with a bite that gives you that weird stinging sensation at the back of your jaw. I actually love a strong cheddar, but it’s not to everyone’s taste and it doesn’t suit all occasions.

So what I’m saying is, yes it’s easy to find a photographer, but make sure they shoot what you need in the style you need it. There is rarely any merit in hiring a wedding photographer to shoot your corporate website (I accept a few exceptions to this rule, but only very few). Likewise, I really don’t ‘do’ food. For that you need a food photographer, who will have all the tools, both mentally and in terms of equipment, to make your dishes look mouthwatering. Hire me to photograph your food and I’ll probably just eat it. It’s also well known I don’t do weddings. Why would I when there are some superb wedding specialists out there?

When hunting out the best photographer for your job, you’ll probably start with a search using the terms for the kind of photographer you’re after, eg: business, portrait, photographer, Bristol, or whatever. This will return MANY sites to consider and you’ll probably want to start by quickly dismissing the part-time photographers, the wedding photographers and the “I have a camera and will literally point it at anything you want me to” photographers.

This is no easy task, but usually a few moments spent looking through their online portfolios will tell you whether or not they do what you need AND are competent at it. Also if a portfolio is a scattergun of different genres, subjects and styles, you might want to move on as this can suggest either that the photographer is not consistent in their field, or that they’ve been stealing other peoples’ photos to build their own portfolio. Perhaps shocking in the age of the internet, but yes this does happen.

It’s taken me years to find the right cheddar for my tastes. I like Wyke Farm Extra Mature for everyday eating and for recipes, while I’ve yet to find a cheddar which quite matches the joy of Westcombe Dairy’s prize-winning offering. So having found my favourites, I stick with them. The same can go for your photographer if it’s a case of shooting the same subject or genre of photography and the photographer shoots to the style and quality which matches your standards.

Just as you can constantly chop, change and shop around for your cheddar cheese, you can constantly chop and change your choice of photographer. However, if your corporate communications end up looking like a ragtag of styles and qualities, well that’s just hard cheese.

*I’m using the UK definition of ‘pants’ as in ‘underwear’. Yes, Canada, I’m sorry, but your cheddar tastes like grey y-fronts. I love Canadians though, and they make the best maple syrup.

The Female Perspective

Once in a while I need to step back from talking about my own work on this blog and take a look around at some of the other incredible work which exists out there.

That’s what I’m doing this week, having just stumbled across a new website which gathers together all the female photojournalists, from the inception of the genre to the present day, and presents them in a single website. The site in question https://trailblazersoflight.com/ is pretty large in itself, but then links off to external sites and articles about each photographer.

You can click on the name of any photographer within the huge list of names to see more about them. Where there is no standalone website representing the photographer, you’ll be taken to an article about them (New York Times seems to feature regularly here). Otherwise, you’ll be taken directly to the photographer’s website.

What strikes me is the sheer quantity of highly respected photojournalists listed. It doesn’t surprise me that they are women, but there are so many at all, and that so few are names I have ever come across previously.

I’ve bookmarked the site so I can work my way through photographer-by-photographer to learn about those photojournalists I’ve never heard of before, as well as to remind myself of the incredible work of those with whom I’m more familiar. Seeing the work of top operators of the field is one of my main sources of inspiration.

Of course the site is extremely important if we’re ever going to highlight the work of women in a male-dominated field, but I think it’s worth setting aside the female-centric focus and just wallowing in the sheer breadth, depth and quality of the work. It’s a shame that many of these names have faded from discussions about photojournalism, where perhaps the more macho side of reportage has taken precedence, but this project is a start in redressing the balance.

Perhaps what is more tragic is that as newspapers and magazines continue to die on their feet, and as shooting true photojournalism becomes ever more dangerous, opportunities for photojournalists of any gender are increasingly difficult to find and fund. I very much hope that female photojournalists will find greater equality with their male counterparts as well as an industry vibrant enough to make the future bright for such talent to flourish and to be recognised.

This is vital if women are to be inspired to take up this noble profession in decades to come, and I see sites such as Trailblazers of Light as an important force for such inspiration where other sources are struggling.

Backup! Backup!

Have you ever lost precious photographs? Some treasured family photos which you accidentally erased, or can only find on an unreadable hard drive? It’s a fear I share, except for me it’s not the photos of personal memories I worry about so much as the corporate website or brochure photos I’ve taken.

Perhaps worry is too strong a word, but it’s true that the minute I’ve finished taking photos for a client, I start taking precautions to ensure the safety of the photos.

Much of my work could be re-shot in the event of a disaster, but think of the inconvenience for my clients to have to re-organise colleagues for a head shot session. It will have been difficult enough to coordinate diaries the first time around; it might prove even trickier the second time. Other events are impossible to re-stage, which means image security is even more critical.

For starters, let’s take the journey back to the office. If I need to stop at a service station (or anywhere) on the way home, I’ll make sure I remove the memory cards from the cameras and take them with me. The same goes for any occasion on which I need to leave my car unattended. In the event of a break-in, all my kit is covered, but I don’t want my client’s photos stolen too.

Once I get back to base I’ll transfer the images from the memory cards and onto my laptop. I duplicate them onto an external hard drive too, so if the laptop suddenly dies I’ve already got one backup copy of the work.

I’ll do my captions and edits on the laptop version, but once that’s done I re-write the work to the external drive again. I then back up the external drive to a duplicate drive before erasing the job from my laptop. In the meantime, I’ll upload the edited high-resolution jpeg files to Photoshelter, which is where my clients access the files from.

At this point I’ll format the camera memory cards ready for the next job, but as you can see, by this stage the image files always exist in at least two places, with the high-res jpegs providing a third backup should both my external drives fail/go up in smoke.

For additional security the primary external hard drive stays at the office and the backup version comes home with me, so in the event of flood, fire, burglary, act of God, I should (SHOULD) be safe in the knowledge that one copy will always survive whatever disaster befalls the other.

All of this means that not only have I minimised the risk of not being able to deliver client images in the first instance, but that should the client subsequently lose the work, I should be able to re-supply it promptly.

Of course if a massive Solar flare strikes Earth, all my hard drives will get wiped. But then so will most of the internet and our energy supplies, water and transport… in fact modern life as we know it will come to a sudden halt and the army will be on the streets fighting pitched battles in a zombie apocalypse.

Some things you just can’t guard against.

What Is Commercial Photography?

While I’ve been having great fun with personal projects, launching a new website and planning for an exhibition, I feel it’s time to bring this blog back to the subject of commercial photography. Which already raises a question: What is Commercial (note the cap C) photography?

Strictly speaking, I don’t often do Commercial photography. If asked to put myself in a pigeon hole, I describe myself as a corporate communications photographer. This is because although I take pictures for (lowercase ‘c’) commercial gain, Commercial photography in its strictest sense means pictures taken to be used in advertising. This distinction can be an important one in certain contexts.

For example, many people believe that a photo taken for a newspaper or magazine editorial article is automatically Commercial because the photographer got paid (hopefully) and the publisher is a commercial enterprise, but this muddies the waters when it comes to describing such issues as data protection and rights to how a photo can be used.

If I go out and take a photo in the street to illustrate an article, it is covered by editorial standards and can be used without obtaining the permission of every single pedestrian who happens to appear in the recorded scene.

Likewise if I take a picture for a personal project, this is covered by an artistic right for the work to be taken and exploited by me. There would be a vanishingly rare chance that the image could infringe anyone else’s rights provided I didn’t use it in a defamatory context. Or, and this brings us back to my central point, a Commercial context such as an advertisement.

Commercial photography with that now familiar capital ‘C’ refers to pictures taken for the purpose of promoting or advertising a product or service. This extends to advertorial, where a business or organisation pays for the placement of an article within a publication which is made to look like it was written by a journalist, but these by law have to be clearly marked as ‘Advertisement”.

Of course the waters get muddied further by images used in social media where the client may have paid for placement, such as on Instagram, where it’s sometimes less clear. All sponsored posts on Instagram are marked as such, but if a client commissions or buys a photo and puts it on their Instagram feed or on Twitter with a view to it bolstering their brand, well that’s now transformed the image from editorial to commercial and we have to be wary of this.

As a rule, any client who commissions me to take photos for their corporate communications (which includes social media feeds), needs to ensure they have all permissions in place at the time I take the shots. It is the client’s responsibility to organise this and it may include property rights too.

So yes, that capital ‘C’ can make all the difference and it’s important to know and respect

 

 

PhaseOne PhaseOut

Late last year PhaseOne announced they would no longer support iView Media Pro, the image cataloguing software which I’ve relied on for almost 20 years to catalogue my digital image library.

I’m trying to be charitable towards PhaseOne for this development as I understand the code which underpins iView is being made obsolete by computer operating system advances (32 bit to 64 bit for the techie-types), though I think they could have been more helpful and understanding in helping photographers make the transition.

Instead I was offered the eye-wateringly expensive option of subscribing to PhaseOne’s editing and cataloguing tools, which I don’t want since I already have LightRoom for editing, or using a third-party cloud-based library solution which is A) quite expensive, B) Cloud-based and C) Doesn’t reflect the way I work.

What iView allows me to do is locate any digital file I’ve taken since I went digital in 2000. A client can request a file from any year since then and I’ll be able to get my hands on it. iView was simple, robust and did only what I needed it to do (which is why it was simple and robust), but nothing lasts forever.

And so I’m looking at NeoFinder, the closest replacement I could find which doesn’t assume I am either an amateur with very small, occasional cataloguing requirements, or NASA with thousands of users and millions of digital assets to keep track of.

The switch-over isn’t going to be entirely pain-free. I had hoped I could just export my iView catalogue to NeoFinder, but to do that I need to have all my CDs, DVDs and external drives connected at once. Setting aside the 9 external hard-drives I now have, there’s the small matter of the 360+ optical discs which would all need to be mounted at once. It’s be fun to try, but it’s not happening.

As I write this, NeoFinder is chugging through my first external drive. That’s around 78,000 image files! This may take some time.

NeoFinder also works differently to iView and this is a bad and a good thing. I used to just select individual key images from a job and throw them into iView, but NeoFinder doesn’t work that way. You pretty much have to build a catalogue of the entire volume (hard drive).

While this can seem slower, it can be done in the background of other tasks – for example me writing a blog post about cataloguing software while my cataloguing software creates a new catalogue. It will also, I think, reduce the risk of important key images being missed, which was something I very occasionally managed to do in the past. It was always a correctible error, but good to know NeoFinder will be more belt and braces.

I appreciate this may not be the most thrilling, inspirational post for you to read so please accept my apologies and this virtual cupcake (non-redeemable anywhere and no cash value), but it’s one of those dull things you can’t live without, like Essential Waitrose Quinoa. If I don’t keep track of all the photos I’ve shot, it becomes a nightmare for me and a deep inconvenience for my clients.

It’s all fine though. I know once I’ve gone through this process, I should be good for the next 20 years. Fingers crossed.

 

Cairncross Review Review (Part the Second)

The silence is deafening and so is the noise.

The problem with the Cairncross Review is that it tackles issues which should trouble us all, and deeply, yet I’m seeing very little discussion of it not only amongst former journalist colleagues and photographers, but also the wider public.

Much of the problem seems to stem from a general lack of awareness that it was even being undertaken. When I look through the list of organisations and individuals who submitted responses to the call for evidence, all the usual suspects are there (Johnston Press, Facebook, Google, The Guardian, News UK), but not a lot from individuals with specific interests in the industry.

From the general public there were 588 responses, but the report doesn’t publish more than excerpts of these submissions. On the one hand, that’s a larger public response than I was expecting. On the other, it’s pretty abysmal given the importance of a thriving local press sector for our freedoms and democracy.

This relatively low response will be a result of factors such as ignorance of the existence of the review, apathy and perhaps most understandably, an exhaustion brought about by the constant white noise of Brexit debate.

And even I am sitting here wondering why I care so much for an industry which has now given me less than half of my professional life. I’m too busy with keeping my own business running (as well as trying to expand my documentary work, which is in itself a response to the collapse in local journalism) to invest in a future which will be entirely out of my hands.

For now I just need to summarise a few points from my reading of a selection of the responses, in no particular order:

  1. Facebook and Google consider themselves innocent in all this, indeed they claim to be putting masses of cash back into regional journalism and it’s the publishers which are failing to take advantage of the new opportunities open to them.
  2. The publishers consider themselves innocent in all this and their sales were fantastic and revenues strong until the nasty digital boys came and smashed up their game.
  3. Neither side can quite bring themselves to admit the truth, instead pushing positions which are self-serving and often delusional.
  4. Government ultimately has no answer to this. Whatever they do will be wrong and will end in tears, corruption and a slow death for local journalism (followed some time later, probably a Wednesday afternoon, by national journalism).

Whatever happens though, I will try to keep an eye on developments. I can’t help it, and I really do believe that if you care for democracy and a diversity of voices in the many media available to us, you should at least make an attempt to bone-up on the broad outlines of the Cairncross Review and the developments which arise from it.

From next week though, I need to get back to talking about my own work and personal projects before the crashing silence and deafening noise get too much.

Cairncross Review Review (Probably part 1)

I’ve been trying to wade through the results from the Cairncross Review into the future of high quality journalism in the UK. I’m not very good at analysing dense, copious amounts of data, but I care and want to try to see where local and regional newspapers are headed (apart from down the plughole). 

What is striking is the content of some of the submissions to the call for evidence which are interesting (ish) reads, especially in the sense that they are a weird mix of kernels of truth and self-deceiving, massive pants-on-fire lies. 

Check out this particular example from the now defunct Johnston Press, written by the then CEO David King: 

“Legacy print publishers have struggled to adapt to the structural changes in the way content is consumed, limited by their geographic publishing models, falling ad revenues, circulation volumes and the need to increase cover prices. In some cases, constraints on investment have been exacerbated by the need to service legacy debt and closed defined benefit pension liabilities, as is the case at Johnston Press.

Yet despite this, to date the traditional publishers have sought to continue to invest in journalism, and remain by far the greatest investors in quality content creation, despite the need to reduce costs. The tech giants, who are the facilitators between audience and content, enjoy the revenue from surfacing this content while not contributing to its cost. These tech giants also control which content the audience sees and which audience a publisher can access. Moreover, they are largely unregulated.” 

There’s so much to unpick on so many levels, all packed into just two paragraphs. Bear in mind also that within JP’s submission, their “facts and figures” don’t examine anything earlier than 2008, handily side-stepping the fact that it was their greed and incompetence since the early 1990s which crippled the pension scheme and ultimately led to the collapse of the entire business in 2018. As for “sought to continue to invest in journalism,” in all known universes, this stretches credulity far beyond snapping point. 

Beyond JP’s corporate culpability it is too easy to dismiss the ‘traditional’ press as just a victim of progress, but whatever the causes, that which is displacing it does not have the same accountability, nor does it have any pretence to uphold democracy. All this is very dangerous indeed. 

Also, these changes in local and regional papers is already affecting the nationals who traditionally relied on a steady flow of fresh, diverse talent from the news rooms and photography pools of the local/regional press. We are now well beyond the point where people without independent means could afford to work for national papers given the collapse in wages and freelance shift rates. The majority of voices we hear are those who can afford to work for the fun of it and their viewpoints largely reflect their relatively privileged positions.

I fear with the likes of Newsquest using the same insane business model as JP, this review and its conclusions have come too late to do anything meaningful beyond arranging the funeral for an industry which has no reason (beyond mis-management) to be a victim of progress or change. The Government is supposed to make some kind of response later this year. Who’s going to put money on that response being anything more than laying on some warm sausage rolls and cheap wine for the wake?

Back to Business

Is it me, or is 2019 already feeling a bit used? a bit secondhand? At least from tomorrow we can officially (because I say so) cease commencing every email with “Happy New Year!” and just get straight to business, polite niceties notwithstanding.

But what should that business be? In my case I’m already seeing the return of clients from last (and previous) years, booking me for repeat events or new corporate photography sessions. I’ve already landed work with new clients and am fielding enquiries from as-yet-unconfirmed new clients, so I can’t complain too much if 2019 already feels a little 2018. That, after all, was a pretty good year for me, so I’m looking forward to more of the same plus some.

If there is a small cloud hovering over the sunny uplands of 2019, it has to be the uncertainty of Brexit. But while businesses work hard to prepare for the unpreparable the one thing they have to avoid is a head-in-the-sand response to marketing.

Oh yes, that ol’ chestnut. Whenever things get tricky, be it recession, austerity, Brexit, bad weather, the season finale of Strictly, you name it, too many businesses batten down the hatches and decide to tighten spending. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but when marketing (which of course includes photography) is often the first victim of pulling the belt in a notch or three, that’s when the harm is done.

Businesses which market through the hard times always come out stronger. Of course the marketing has to be the right type, and photography may not even be what’s needed, but if you need it, you need it. There’s no getting around the fact that sometimes, and quite often, good commerce relies on good communication and good communication relies on really good photography.

An additional risk of suddenly pulling the photography budget (so you’re still marketing, but perhaps you switch to cheaper sources of imagery) is the KERKLUNK sound you hear as your marketing materials go from professional, personal and engaging to ubiquitous, remote and faceless.

I think it’s fair to say that most established businesses with a history, but which don’t want to become history, understand the vital importance of fresh, bespoke, exclusive imagery in their marketing and to suddenly pull the plug when the future looks dicey is the knee-jerk reaction of a business about to find out what free-fall looks and feels like.

So hard Brexit, soft Brexit, don’t make Brexit your exit. If you want to keep doing business, you need to keep marketing because if things do get tough, you need to be seen as the business that’s above it all; still focussed, still professional, still friendly and approachable and above all, still in it for the long-run.

Happy February everyone!

Work Experience Advice

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer any student of photography when seeking work experience is let the application itself be part of the experience. I should preface by saying that I rarely offer work experience placements for a multitude of reasons I won’t go into here, but follow a few simple rules and your application will stand a better chance of finding success.

 

  • Get the photographer’s name right and use it. Just saying “Hi” suggests you’re sending a round-robin email.
  • Don’t send a round-robin email and NEVER use the CC or even BCC functions to send out mass communications.
  • If you cut and paste an email text, make sure you tailor it to each individual recipient.
  • Do your research. Look at the photographer’s website to establish whether they’re working in the specific field you’re interested in.
  • Talk about the kind of photography career you’re interested in, but more in terms of the business than the style. Saying you like to photograph people isn’t the same as saying you want to shoot pictures for businesses (what I call corporate communications photography).
  • When looking at a photographer’s site, look at the kind of work they’re doing and establish from that whether they’re studio-based, work only on location or a mixture of the two. Students often ask to join me in my studio, but it’s possible to work out from my website that I don’t have one.
  • Make sure your contact details are correct, including mobile number and email address.
  • Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar and get someone else to check it for you – this should be someone who is really good at checking these things, so ask a teacher, lecturer or other competent person.
  • Be sure to include your ability to travel – do you have your own transport?

I could go on, but hitting these main points should get your toe in the door at least.

Although I can’t often offer work experience, a competent application will at least get a response from me. Usually I’ll make an offer to have a phone conversation about what the applicant wants to do in the industry, the opportunities and where else to get advice, but I’m astonished how often my email reply goes unanswered. Which of course makes it harder for the next student to get a response from me.

Work experience can be invaluable, it’s how I started out as a press photographer, but the industry structures for training, nurturing and furthering a career have either changed or disappeared since I set out on my journey. Students today will need to find their own tracks into their chosen career, but get these basics right and you never know, you could find yourself ahead of the game and on your way to doing probably the best job in the world.

Zombie Down!

Well there you go. I wrote back in 2014 about how Johnston Press was a zombie company ‘living’ on borrowed time. It seems this particular zombie has finally succumbed to the self-inflicted blows it started raining down on its own head a couple of decades ago.

I don’t expect sympathy for the effect this will have on my JP pension because I was only there for about six years, but I do feel for those journalists and photographers who have had decades of working for local, regional or national who will have all their pensions in one pot and who may yet lose their jobs.

The story isn’t over yet, which of course means continued instability and unease for staff and pension-holders, as the majority shareholder, Christen Ager-Hanssen, has vowed to unwind the deal Johnston Press has signed with a group of investors.

Johnston Press’ chief executive David King claims “our business is profitable with good margins,” but this misses the point that it was the margins sought in previous decades are partly the cause of JP’s woes now. Not only were they too high, they were sought through asset-stripping as opposed to making high quality publications that readers would be loyal to.

Perhaps what is more troubling is that this is the same business model pursued by other publishers, so is this an isolated case? Were JP management just especially inept?

The Cairncross Review was set up to examine the current state of the UK news publishing industry and to look at how it can be protected and helped to thrive, but I fear by the time the review comes to publish its findings, there won’t be any news publishers left to save.