Space – Time Continuum

A recent experience reminded me once again of the importance of two particular aspects of a corporate portrait photography session, namely space and time. In fact as these two elements are inextricably linked, we can refer to them as a continuum.

Setting aside the fourth dimension for a moment, on this particular occasion I was shown into a vast board room, which would have been perfect except it was mostly filled with immobile boardroom furniture; massive table and countless chairs. At the same time I was told I could only have the room for half an hour, which is approximately how long it would have taken me to set up the lighting kit even if there had been space to do so.

This would have left no time for any photography to happen, let lone the two hours I was booked for. A continuum conundrum, no less.

Thankfully we were able to find an alternative room which, though smaller, had much more clear floor space. It was also available for two hours, which was just about enough – not perfect, as I was booked for three (and could happily have filled them with the shots listed as required), but better than zero minutes by quite a considerable percentage.

Of course when you’re setting up a photo session, coordinating the schedules of everyone involved is often a headache, but it’s worth thinking of the room and the time required as if they were two more people in the schedule. If a room or the time in that room are unavailable, it’s a no-goer.

The time required will depend on how many people are to be photographed and the brief to which I’ll be working (more varieties of poses etc will obviously require more time) and at least 30 minute’s set-up and break-down time should be factored either side of the session.

How much space is needed will depend on whether it’s close head shots or full-length portraits required (full-length requires a great deal more space), but as a rule of thumb for headshots, you need to allow approximately 2.5 – 3m width x 3m length (length being the distance between where I’ll stand and the next wall or immobile obstacle).

This is approximate, but it is a realistic guide. You can easily add another couple of metres to the length for full-length portraits.

The photo on this article shows an example of where I’ve had more space than I knew what to do with (it was in fact one half of a hotel ballroom!), but seeing the set-up gives you some notion of how that space is used.

So remember, when you’re booking all the executives and colleagues for that all-important photo session, don’t forget to plan the room and ring-fence the time. Without those two elements, the space – time continuum breaks down and everything else becomes academic.

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.

Gimme Some Room!

Much of my business photography consists of taking portraits of, rather predictably, business people. So far so good.

This pretty much always happens at their place of work because that means less disruption to their busy schedule and I can create a set of portraits covering all the colleagues that happen to be in the building that day. Still so far so good.

Where “so far so good” becomes “ummm” is when I’m shown into a meeting room/stationery cupboard which is so crammed with immobile tables and heavy chairs/stationery that I have no space to actually take pictures.

I do make a point of requesting a space roughly 10 foot square, but sometimes the message gets lost or it’s assumed the boardroom table can be moved when I get there. More commonly now, tables are cabled to the floor with telephone and computer wires, which will only stretch so far before they go PING! and the IT department has to be called in.

So to say I was utterly delighted with the space I was given this week is an understatement – half a ballroom in a hotel. All to myself, with nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing taking up floor space. In fact I had to pull a small table into the room so I could check off peoples’ names as I went without having to squat on the floor.

A photographer's backdrop and studio flash equipment are set up in a large empty room in the Hilton, Walcot Street, Bath, UK

A great space for portraits

I thoroughly enjoyed setting up my backdrop and lights slap bang in the middle of the space. It gave the whole thing a slightly surreal air and the people who came in to have their photos taken were astonished that the room they’d been assigned for their meeting was so much smaller than the one reserved for me.

Of course the ballroom wouldn’t have worked for them because they needed AV and a projector for their presentations which the ballroom didn’t have, but it did make me feel very special and it also meant I had bags of room to control how the lights lit the backdrop and the sitters. It meant I could work towards a very particular look without too much difficulty.

Ok, not the most exciting tale in the world, and it’s not as if I’ll be dining out on that one ever, but it’s a fine illustration of how giving the photographer ample space to work will not only make their life easier, it’ll also mean they can work to achieve more accurate results in-camera and ensure that so far so good endures right through to “that’s a wrap”.

Tunes On, Pop-Up and Drop In

I tried something a bit different yesterday, some might even call it radical, but let’s not get carried away.

Some background first; My office is based in a shared work hub in Frome in lovely Somerset. Here I can do my editing and admin and because the building hosts several other businesses, I have contact with a range of people working in everything from the charity sector to web developers, app developers, event stylists and many more. There’s even an oil rig support business here, which I suppose is handy for the North Sea.

A portrait photography setup with lights, backdrop and camera on a tripod.

My go-anywhere portrait studio is perfect
for business headshots.

Over the past year or so many new businesses have taken up office space at the work hub as it’s expanded, and I realised there might be an opportunity to help them with a simple, social media portrait session.

Normally if I go to a single business to spend time taking corporate portraits I’ll charge a minimum of £250+vat, and more often than not it turns into a half-day at between £450 and £600, but this would be prohibitive for many of the micro businesses based in the hub. So how about setting up a pop-up studio in the communal space and offering a quick portrait session to anyone who wanted to come along and just charge for the images they download?

Obviously I had to keep the deal simple and decided to offer a no-sitting-fee session with downloads starting at just £30 including VAT for a small file suitable for LinkedIn, Twitter and the like, with a rising scale of fees according to the size of file downloaded.

The day went pretty well, especially since it was a first time for this event. I came in for 08:30 am to set up my studio, organised some tunes to add a relaxing ambience to the space and made test shots before the first arrival.

Black and white business portrait of David Evans of Ghost Ltd

The portraits are designed to be simple and clear so they’ll work right down to avatar sizes.

I had a steady trickle of people (I wouldn’t say I was killed in the rush) and I got the impression that even some of those less keen to be photographed actually quite enjoyed the experience.

I delivered the images in personal galleries to each of the sitters just two hours ago and the portraits have already started to sell!

What was even more encouraging was the number of people who expressed an interest in getting more

photography organised in future for things like website refreshes, so there was a promotional side-effect to my cunning plan too.

It’s possible I’ll turn this into an annual or even six-monthly event because I’m sure as word gets around, more people will want to sign up. In the coming days I’m going to make contact with other hubs in the area to see if they would like to host something similar. This little idea could grow.

 

A Word (or 717) on Photography Fees

It’s a chicken and egg sort of scenario; you need a photographer for your next project, be that headshots, a PR campaign or website refresh, but you don’t know what the cost will be. If you look around on photographers’ websites you might get an idea from their fees pages (most photographers don’t publish guideline fees, which can be unhelpful), but even then, you don’t know what the budget should be.

In the meantime, the CEO or company accountant will want to set a budget for you to go and spend without exceeding it, but they won’t necessarily know what’s involved or what a photographer is likely to charge.

The other problem is you might not know how much time will be required to get what you need. It’s likely it isn’t your job to know, because you probably don’t book photography regularly enough to get a feel for what can be achieved in a given time period. Well, let me simplify and shorten the process of working out what you should be looking to spend.

high view of conference attendies mingling, shaking hands and drinking teas and coffees

Bear in mind events, conferences and large gatherings tend to generate more images which can affect fees

Start with the brief. I set out here what’s required in a brief and it’s important to make sure you have some idea of how many photos are required and what they are to be of. Take into account that mixing headshots, product shots, more feature-friendly portraits and other disciplines will extend the amount of time required because each will need a different set-up. Lighting, lenses and location will often change from one scenario to the next.

Now look at what uses the images will be put to. List them all from social media to local press/public relations (PR), trade PR, national PR, through company website, brochure, pitch documents and general corporate communications and also say if they’re going to be used in advertising. This is really important because any photographer worth their salt will set fees to reflect the levels of use you require (my standard fees cover all uses from social media, through press/public relations to company website use, but paid-for advertising is negotiated separately).

If it’s an event with set timings, look at the time period for which coverage is required. Having a start and finish time will help define the time the photographer needs to spend on site.

Consider any special requirements; props, backdrops, locations, transport and so on.

All of this can be talked through with a photographer, but the more information you have from the start, the easier it’ll be for a photographer to put an estimate together. Every so often I’ll get an email asking how much I’ll charge for “some photos,” which really isn’t enough information to work on.

Once you have a reasonable idea of what’s required, you can start to find photographers who cover the kind of work you need to get done. Use relevant search terms (discipline and location i.e. “corporate photographer Bristol”) in a search engine to find what you need. Check out online portfolios for the quality, style and content which most closely matches your brief, then call or email the most likely-looking candidates.

Of course I can’t speak for other photographers, but armed with this level of information I can help a client choose which of my fee packages will best suit their needs. It might be we have to negotiate on elements which don’t fit the standard fees, or it might be a reduced fee will cover everything. On the whole I find my fee structure helps the client get what they need with the minimum of admin and to-ing and fro-ing over details.

Even with a fairly detailed brief, I like to follow up an enquiry with a phone call just to clarify any points I need more information on and also to introduce myself personally to the client. It’s good to know who you’re going to be working with, and that cuts both ways.

This might seem like a bit of an effort, but it’s well worth it to get the best from the photographer before, during and after the event. Next week I’ll expand on how photographers set their fees and where I fit in the market. I bet you can’t wait!

Better Briefs Make Better Photos

A young woman in a white sleeveless top reaches up to write on a whiteboard, her back to the camera. The subject is the environment.

Provided the brief is fulfilled, off-brief shots like this are very useful

The photographer’s brief is one of the most important precursors to a successful photo session, so it’s worth giving it proper consideration, but if your day job doesn’t revolve around briefing photographers it can be a daunting task to tackle.

Don’t worry though, even when I was dealing with briefs as a staff photographer at The Portsmouth News, it was incredible how many reporters would turn in incomplete briefs. So if you struggle to know what to include, you’re in good company. This article will help you hit the main points required, but if you follow the Who, What, When, Where and Why principle of photojournalism, you’ve pretty much nailed it.

Where and When:

Date, time and location. Without any one of these three you’re on rocky ground before you’ve started. Set them out clearly and fully; just saying “I’ll see you on the 12th” isn’t the same as “Date: 12th September 2014”.

The location address needs to be complete too. I often use sat nav or Google Maps to find a location and an accurate post code helps especially where there are similar road names within the same town or city. Occasionally a post code can bring up a doubtful-looking address, at which point I’ll double-check the location with my client. If the post code and street don’t match up, directions are essential.

As part of the address etc, make sure there is a contact name and number. This should have become apparent during early contact, but make sure it’s all on the brief too.

Who and What:

Is it a series of portraits or is it processes, locations or maybe products which are to be photographed?

It’s incredibly useful to have the names of people to be photographed. These can be ticked off as they’re done. The same with locations and products. These details also make captioning the images later much easier. If it’s products or processes, make sure to use full descriptions rather than acronyms so captions can be completed fully.

Why:

In editorial photography the Who What When Where and Why make up the cornerstones of an accurate caption, describing as they do the contents of the photos, but in corporate communications photography the Why is more about why the image is being taken and what it is to be used for. If I know a photo is to be a cover image for a brochure, I’ll approach it differently to if it’s going to end up as a narrow banner at the top of a web page.

The Creative Brief:

This is the more enjoyable part of raising a brief and will be an amalgam of what you already know you need combined with discussion with me at the planning stage. Thinking about what you need for the project in hand as well as thinking about what future uses might be made of the photos will help in working out how many images and what scenarios are required and finally how much time will be required overall.

In terms of time required, you might already have an idea of what time and budget you can allocate to the photo session and these will have a bearing on whether the brief needs to be adjusted. It’s worth ensuring there is some slack in the schedule to allow for the unforeseen or un-planned off-brief photos, which can be incredibly useful later.

Some practicalities on the day:

Parking and access to the building or site. The majority of my work requires more kit than I can easily carry, which tends to rule out public transport. Make sure there is space to park, preferably near the building entrance or wherever equipment needs to be set up. If off-site parking is the only option I need to know in advance so I can plan my arrival time accordingly.

If a room is set aside for staff portraits, make sure it is the right size (I can advise on this during the planning stage) and isn’t filled with chairs and immovable tables or other furniture. If the photos are to be taken around the offices or production floor, make sure as much as possible that locations are clean and tidy and that anyone to be featured is complying with health and safety regulations – I can’t always know what these are, and it’s such a shame to ditch a great photo because someone is wearing the wrong high-visibility vest for the task they’re doing.

Decisions on location can sometimes be decided upon my arrival, but time has to be allowed for clearing and tidying within the allocated shoot slot.

Cameras are machines, photographers are people. Don’t forget comfort breaks and if it’s a full-day shoot, lunch is a must to keep the little creative cells going.

Attempting to cover all eventualities in this article is likely to miss some possible scenarios, but provided you approach the brief as outlined above, you’ll be a long way down the path of getting it right. Certainly I’m always happy to help and guide clients before the shoot because the better it goes, the happier everyone is.

If you have any questions about anything here, why not post a comment or drop me a line?

What does the photography client want?

This maybe a dangerous question to ask, but then they don’t call me Mad Crazy Tim for nothing. Ok, so they don’t call me Mad Crazy Tim, but it’s a dull Wednesday morning and I’m struggling for jokes here…

I ask the question because while some of my articles are aimed at those with a passing interest in photography, some at designers and others at the voices in my head telling me to burn stuff, I’m also aware that existing and potential clients sometimes swing by and read these articles, so this time I’m asking them/you the question – cue close camera shot of my screen as I type, á la Carrie Bradshaw:

What does the photo-buying client want?

Hmm, that’s not as sexy as the stuff Carrie asks.

female with brain activity recording cap on.

If only I could read clients’ minds.

You see it’s all very well me putting up a website, getting it found, showing my work etc, but as with any business there are two sides. There is the quality, service and pricing structure I put out there, and then there is what the client actually wants from a photographer. And unless I ask the question every now and then, how can I possibly match what I offer to what you, the clients need and want?

I know many clients want a fast turnaround. They’re keen to get the ball rolling with their project, and waiting to see the results of a shoot can be frustrating. Especially now we all expect things to happen instantaneously through the web. I know when I order something from Amazon, I’m expecting the courier to be knocking on my door within seconds of me hitting the Confirm Order button. To this end, I aim to have the client gallery up within 24 hours. With afternoon and evening assignments the link is often with the client by the following morning. Even Amazon would struggle to compete with that speed of delivery.

And all this speed of service is fine and dandy, but I want to know what clients, either design or direct clients, want even before the shoot begins. How much involvement do you want from your photographer?

I know I’m always keen to speak to designers and their clients at the earliest possible stage. It means I can have input and also see how everyone else’s minds are working before I start taking pictures. I need to know what pictures the designers and clients have in their heads, because the last-minute brief may not convey this. But sometimes (ok, often) I can see I’ve been called long after the creative discussions have happened. Maybe that is what clients want, or maybe they don’t know it would be better to involve me sooner.

What else might clients and their designers expect? Ok, free photos would be nice but let’s stay in the real world here. What I mean is, is there some service, some input or anything else either before, during or after a shoot that clients wish could be done to help them?

This article is essentially a plea for help and information, because designers and businesses will often raise with me issues they’ve had with other photographers, but I know that unless I directly ask for feedback (which I often do) I might never hear good ideas on improving my service. I also ask because non clients have good ideas too.

Of course if I get no feedback at all, I’ll just have to assume I’m perfect, which is what I thought all along…

DIY or Die Trying

If you’ve read my previous two posts (using stock and using commissioned photography for your website) you’ll have a fair idea where I stand when it comes to shooting your own photos or getting a friend or relative to do it for you.

To sum up the main pitfalls, perhaps the biggest risk with getting a friend/relative/pet to take a few snaps for you as a favour is that having put them to the trouble, if the shots turn out so terrible they make you want to tear out your eyes, you’ll still feel beholden to use them – to promote your business. Oh dear.

The problem with taking them yourself is you might feel they’re excellent shots, but you’re too close to the action to be your best critic. You know what was involved in taking the pictures and what hard work it was, and you’ll be terribly proud of the results, but no one else will see that. They’ll just see the photos for what they are, however good or bad.

Having said all that, some business owners will always opt for DIY to save the expense of using a professional, so I’ll set out some basic pointers to help you make the best of your efforts.

  • Plan ahead:

Work out what pictures are required, maybe talk to your web designer if you have one, rather than taking thousands of random shots and hoping for the best. Which people, services and processes are key? Don’t forget though that a photo of your office building/machinery/entire staff contingency isn’t necessarily going to make more business for you. This isn’t about what pleases you about your business, it’s about what attracts clients and customers.

  • Choose locations with care:
tim gander on telephone

The phone-cam look; not good.

So often you’ll see business portraits of people who have been lined up against a wall and shot Mafia-style. You can see the fear in their eyes! Or they’ve been surprised at their desk, mid-phone conversation, mouth gurning in an embarrassing contortion, or more likely miming a swear word. The flash has obliterated their features, and the red-eye is excruciating. Try taking them to a more relaxed location. Keep them distant from ugly or distracting backgrounds, use shaded daylight to avoid squinting and ugly shadows, and use the telephoto function to crop in close so their face fills the majority of the frame.

bath commercial photographer tim gander portrait.

Still not pretty, but a better photo.

  • Stay legal:

If you want to photograph people or locations not directly connected to your business, make sure you have either model releases or property releases where necessary.

  • Think quality:

As tempting as it might be to set your camera up so you can get 10,000 images on a single memory card, the quality will drop dramatically and this will show in the end result. You might also need the pictures for print publications too, and this will require even better quality than web use. Also, for the love of Sweet Jesus, don’t (DON’T!) take photos on your mobile phone with the hope of getting anything that resembles professional quality. It’s just not going to happen.

This short article can only cover the most basic of basics, but if you’re using non-professional photography in your business, perhaps another option would be to get a corporate photography trainer in (such as my good self) to at least train someone up to improve the results you’re getting. It could be a one-off session gets you on the right track, and at least when I leave the building, the skills stay with you. Drop me a line today to find out more.