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.

Routes to Exhibition

Happy New Year! Ok, so 2016 might not have been your favourite year, but the bright side for me was lots of great work with wonderful clients and some personal highlights I won’t go into here.

To make sure my 2017 kicked off with a January-blues-beating personal project, I’ve launched into one which is exciting in a number of ways; I was able get it under way quickly, it’s local, it has a finite duration, has a tangible purpose and perhaps best of all it looks like it’s going to culminate in a local exhibition.

It all started when, just before Christmas, I had been trying to formulate ideas for a personal project I could launch in the New Year. I wanted something which would not only please me, but also have some kind of impact either on those involved, or on its audience.

Then I saw a tweet from Routes, the youth drop-in centre in Frome. I’d always been vaguely aware of their work with young, often vulnerable people in the town, but didn’t have much detail beyond that.

Routes tweeted that their funding is coming to an end in March 2017, after which they would have to find a new source of revenue or close. While I can’t afford the £80,000 + per year to keep them running, I felt I could help them publicise their plight so I got in touch with the centre manager Sarah Stobbart, an absolute ball of energy and a real doer.

The idea was simple; I would take portraits of those who who either use or had used Routes and the pictures could be used for press releases and grant funding applications. Sarah added the idea of holding an exhibition of the portraits somewhere in the town, and so the ball got rolling.

I started shooting on January 3rd because there’s no time like the present, and with all those willing to participate we now have 13 youngsters, Sarah and her colleague Silky shot for the project.

The local press have picked up the story and one local paper is looking to publish the portraits with case studies as a series, while a local cafe/art space has agreed to host the exhibition for free for two months.

At some point I’ll create a portfolio gallery of the final images on my website, but I’ve included a couple of examples here to give you a taster of the work.

The main purpose of all this is to get funding for Routes to continue their work, so I’ll leave you with this plea from Sarah:

“If you would like to show your support and help to keep this vital service operating for young people in Frome, there are a number of ways you can help our appeal. 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. By holding a fundraising event to help raise funds and awareness! Or become a ‘Friend’ of Routes!- Contact Sarah Stobbart (Routes Project Manager) on 01749 679553 Ext 5020 or e-mail sstobbart@mendipymca.org.uk”

Right On The Button

Earlier this year I was involved in covering the Summer graduation ceremonies for University of Bath, my principle role being to generate images for rapid turnaround for social media use by the press team.

So when they asked if I could do the same for their Winter graduation ceremonies this week I was delighted to be able to help.

It was a hectic task because I was there on Wednesday to cover three ceremonies and turn pictures around after each one, but it did remind me a little of the old press days of having to beat deadlines. It involved some very tight editing to ensure the best pictures got sent as fast as possible; no real time to “umm” and “ahh” about which pics to pick because by the time I’d selected, captioned, edited and delivered, the next ceremony was about ready to start.

When I’m doing this I tend to put on my social media hat (figuratively speaking since I don’t actually own an actual social media hat) and go for the pictures I think will work best on Facebook and twitter. This means setting aside the more formal shots in favour of less posed, more spontaneous ones and of course this requires me to be more attuned to those kinds of shots as the event is unfolding.

The awarding of an honorary degree to retired Formula One racing driver Jenson Button added an extra frisson and urgency to the second ceremony of the day. Luckily I’d managed to get some shots of the local hero (and, I believe, international heart throb) arriving which I was able to file before the ceremony started so the press team could tweet fresh photos before he’d even gowned-up.

Before the third ceremony started I’d filed more photos of Jenson as well as photos of students celebrating their graduations, then I was straight back in to covering the final ceremony of the day which again I filed straight after for the press team to share.

By the end of the day I’d shot about 800 images, but everything went smoothly, the feedback was great and when I got home I took a look at the responses on Facebook and Twitter. It was good to see people had been following the feeds, liking, commenting and sharing, which was of course the point of my being there.

On a slightly different note, time allowing I’m going to do one more blog post this year which will probably be my round-up of 2016 in pictures. After that I’ll take a bit of a rest until January 2017.

Yes, but is it art?

Last week I was setting up to photograph an industry awards event in Bristol which I knew would include some group photos as well as individual presentations.

During my preparations I took this photo of a row of chairs to check my lights and their outputs so that when it came to doing the group photos, everything would be pre-set without further setting up.

It wasn’t until I got back to base and started editing the images that the photo sort of jumped out at me. It has a quiet, expectant air. It is clean, but imperfect (stains on the seats, the 13 amp socket on the wall). I’m not much good at artistic analysis so I’ll resist too much hyperbole.

I posted it as a bit of a joke on a photographers’ Facebook forum and was pleasantly surprised by how the other photographers saw and participated in the joke. I titled it “Consciousness of Dolphins #5.”

Yet every time I look at it, something about it stirs me. The geometry of the wall behind and the way one edge exactly intersects with the chair back; the simple colour palette (here I go again, cod art terms I really should resist), and even the way the chairs anticipate the use to which they are about to be put. I can’t help feeling I’ve created something which might, had I been born with a triple-barrelled name or tutored in a Zurich art college, have been considered art.

But no. My belief is that art isn’t random. The artist must know what they are trying to achieve before they create a piece and that the art is what happens between the idea forming in the artist’s mind and the finished article coming into existence. You can’t screw up a piece of tin foil, mount it on a mahogany plinth and then decide what the message is. Likewise I can’t take a test shot with the purpose of checking my settings, then decide I’ve created art.

Still, I will say this: without being pretty, it is an engaging photograph. While I could say that’s good enough for me, what’s even better is that when the groups turned up, my settings were correct. Insofar as the photo has a purpose, that was it and that really is good enough for me.

It’s SOE Challenging!

Last month I was asked, for the second year running, to take pictures of the Institute of Road Transport Engineers (IRTE) Skills Challenge which takes place in Bristol.

This is a three-day event during which teams of individuals are put forward by various bus and coach operators to test their skills in, amongst other things, vehicle electronics, braking systems, fabricating, testing and diagnostics.

The photos are used by the Society of Operation Engineers (SOE) to help promote the event through their website, printed material and for the first time this year I was also sending “rush” pictures to the PR team for live use in social media.

It’s fair to say the three days are quite a challenge photographically too. I have to ensure I get good pictures of each entrant because the photos will be used at the subsequent awards event to accompany the prize presentations to winners.

As the challenges are live and timed I have to ensure I get my shots with as little disruption to the participants as possible. At the same time, because of the nature of the challenges, it would be all too easy to just run around getting nothing more than pictures of the tops of peoples’ heads as they concentrate on what they’re doing when what I really want to see are their faces and expressions.

The lighting can also be quite tricky. Sometimes it’s relatively easy as the event takes place in a large engineering hangar with some daylight coming in through skylights in the roof, but this isn’t always ideal, especially when there’s not much sunshine outside or where a contestant is working in a tight corner with little light on their face. I like my lighting to be clean, with as little colour cast as possible.

So I work fast with a small set-up; usually with a wide zoom lens for flexibility and a single flash on a stand, firing into an umbrella for portability and to reduce the influence of the indoor lighting. The umbrella also keeps the light looking natural and soft.

The greatest challenge is always in the machine shop where contestants will be working with metal cutters, grinders and welding equipment. It’s hot, noisy and there are all kinds of health and safety issues to consider.

Photographing welding is an especially tricky art because I have to wear a welding mask to protect my eyes which means I can’t see so well to compose and focus my shots, but the results are often the most interesting, with sparks flying and the intense glow from the welding torch.

Of course a shot of someone welding doesn’t show their face, so I’ll always ensure I get a shot of them doing something else as well, such as inspecting a weld or measuring for a cut.

What’s really great though is that tomorrow I’ll see the entrants again as they go to a prize-giving at the Jaguar Experience in Birmingham. I’ll be taking pictures of the prize presentations and of the overall event for industry public relations and again to promote the event for next year.

As I’ve never been to the Jaguar Experience and don’t know what the venue will be like for photographs, it’ll be a whole new challenge!

Graduation Time!

If I’ve been a little quiet the last couple of weeks it’s because of sheer pressure of work; it’s hard to take photos and blog at the same time, but I wanted to give you a quick post to let you know I’m still alive and clicking (see what I did there?)

This week has been a busy one for me as I’ve been helping out with the University of Bath’s coverage of their Summer (haha) Graduations. In between other work, my task has been to capture celebratory images to show the joy and fun as students receive their certificates in Bath Abbey.

Within minutes of the end of a ceremony I’ve been dashing off to a quiet corner to edit, caption and deliver the images so the press office could get them up on Facebook and twitter. Apart from some torrential rain, it’s all been pretty smooth.

I leave you with a selection of photos taken over the last three days.

Paws for Thought

Sourcing photos for a local charity fundraiser is the kind of thing which all too easily falls into the “an iPhone snap will do” category, but when you’re aiming to gain PR exposure across a range of publications, there’s no point wasting good public relations effort with poor imagery.

That’s also the view of Jennie Wood of Avalanche PR, so I was delighted when she came to me for this particular project.

On Friday June 10th 2016, the fifth annual Kennel Break Challenge will be hosted at the Bath Cats and Dogs Home and Jennie was tasked with getting the word out to local business people encouraging them to get involved.

The idea is that participants get locked in a kennel with nothing but a laptop and mobile phone, which they use to raise pledges from their contacts. Once they reach £1,000 in donations they get released, ideally in under an hour, but up to a maximum of three.

For the press release photo session at Bath Cats and Dogs Home, ambassador for the home and former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE, came to the Claverton Down centre so we could get a series of photos of her in kennels with rescue dogs.

Jennie and I arrived ahead of schedule so we could work out the best angles and options for the photos. I also wanted to ensure we had a choice of larger and smaller dogs to work with, so I liaised with senior fundraiser at the home Zena Jones who checked which dogs would be suitable.

Sharron arrived promptly and after introductions, and a few moments discussing what I was after in terms of photos, we got on with the task in hand.

In true April style the weather was a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers and bitingly cold, so I had to work fairly fast to ensure Sharron didn’t leave with hyperthermia. Even so, within half an hour we’d generated a selection of upright and landscape-oriented photos, with and without dogs and with a choice of large and smaller dogs (which created a choice of tighter and looser compositions). Job done!

This week’s gallery includes one of the cutest photos I’ve taken in a long time as well as some of the cuttings showing how the photos got used in both local and national publications, helping to raise the profile of this great cause.

Contextual Portraits

One thing I love about being a photographer is the chance to meet a wide variety of people, all with different backgrounds, interests and personalities.

As a prime example, this week started with a delightful encounter with local ceramicist Jane Gibson who runs a gallery in Bradford on Avon. Jane needed images of her work to send to art galleries and for her website update.

With a simple backdrop and lighting set-up I was able to create lovely fresh images of Jane’s quirky work, but when I’d finished photographing the pieces I also felt a portrait of Jane would be useful for the promotion of her art. Thankfully she didn’t need too much persuading.

Although Jane’s specialism is ceramics, she also offers a selection of her paintings and I wanted to suggest this in the background of the picture without it overwhelming the photo or being too distracting. I think Jane looks beautiful in the soft window light of her studio with subtle hints of her work behind her.

I particularly enjoy taking portraits with context, and this is a good example of what I mean. A contextual portrait is a great way to broadcast not only what you look like, but also what you do or where and how you work. This can really engage the viewer and hold their attention in a way a headshot against a plain background won’t always achieve.

Most of next week I’ll be working exclusively on contextual and action portraits, which I hope to share with you soon. It’s going to be challenging, but huge fun.

Anyone for Tea?

In February this year I received an enquiry from a completely new venture. So new, in fact, that it hadn’t actually launched yet, which is always interesting because it often means I have even more opportunity than usual to add some of my creative input into the project.

The client, Tea for Three marketing and communications, consists of three directors, Helen Rimmer, Debbie Clifford and Michelle Gordon-Coles, and together they make a very dynamic team with backgrounds in journalism, public relations, charities, corporate communications and education.

It also has to be said, I’ve rarely worked with a team so completely on the same wavelength as each other. It’s obvious their personalities just mesh perfectly and I think this will feed their undoubted future success.

I gleaned all this from the pre-shoot planning meeting I had with Helen and the few hours I spent taking photos with the trio.

We started in a beautiful stone-walled meeting room at Glove Factory Studios where, having arranged Debbie, Helen and Michelle around a table in such a way as to keep the composition tight, I just left them to chat, smile, laugh and drink tea while I captured a series of moments from different angles until there was a good selection of images to draw on.

They had also arranged a trip up the road to Merkin’s Farm cafe for more tea (clearly their fuel of choice) so I could take more individual shots as well as a couple of more posed groups with a less “officey” look, aka outside with some nice countryside in the background.

During both sessions I was keen to not only fulfil the brief, but also to look out for angles and details that would give them those extra shots which are so necessary on a website; you know, those photos nobody knows they need until it comes to actually building it and realising they don’t have quite enough!

The end result is a set of photos which really show the coherence of this vibrant team as well as their very relaxed, friendly (while still utterly professional) approach to marketing. And judging from the testimonial Helen sent through (shamelessly requested by myself), I think Tea for Three were either very happy with the results or had got slightly tipsy on Darjeeling.

We had a very specific brief for Tim to follow, we didn’t want to come across as too corporate or stuffy and wanted our photos for our website to show us as friendly and down to earth. We were a little bit nervous but Tim soon put us at ease. He was great fun to work with and very patient when we laughed too much!

“Tim has a great eye for detail and came up with lots of ideas we hadn’t thought of. We were really pleased with the end results and would definitely recommend Tim.”

Helen Rimmer, Tea for Three Ltd.

A Wee Bit of PR Goes A Long Way

At the start of last week I was asked by University of Bath to come into the Department of Chemical Engineering for a photoshoot with a difference. They needed pictures to accompany a press release for their research into urine-powered fuel cells (see what I did in the headline? So droll…) So, forget rechargeable batteries, these new cells take a trickle charge!

It’s not easy working in gown and goggles (a prerequisite of being in the lab) and there was some time pressure and not a huge amount of space to work in, it being a working lab, but by the end of the session I’d captured a range of shots suitable for different outlets.

What I perhaps hadn’t appreciated was just how far and wide the images would go. I knew they were being distributed by the university press office and Press Association, and they appeared on the BBC and Sky News websites, many newspaper sites (as well as in print) and on industry and tech-oriented websites.

So next time urine the need for some PR, why not give me a call? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Below is a selection of hits from around the web. Click to enlarge.