Slave to the Algorithm

Photographing events doesn’t get more funner (new word) than when I’m left to get on and be a fly on the wall, and the NWERC is a fine example of an event packed with opportunities for any keen-eyed, camera-toting fly.

Now, rather than me trying to specify the essence of the event, and getting it horribly mangled, how about I let the event speak for itself. From the NWERC website,

“The Northwestern Europe Regional Contest (NWERC) is a contest in which teams from universities all over the Northwestern part of Europe are served a series of algorithmic problems. The goal of each team is to solve as many problems as possible within the 5 hour time limit.”

Got it? Good, but what’s my role in the event? Well obviously to generate photos which can be used by the event organisers, host and participating universities in order to generate publicity for future years’ events.

My main task is to capture the runners-up and winning team as they take to the stage once all the scores are in, which is all good fun in and of itself, but the bit I really enjoy is when I’m roaming the hall during the last hour or so of the coding time.

That’s when the teams are either at their most ecstatic or at their wits end. Last November’s event was the second year running I got the commission, so I knew what to expect and where to go for the best images.

Starting with a fairly spectacular scene showing the sports hall packed with aching brains, I then made my way to ground level to get in amongst the coders and record the triumphs and tragedies as they waged war with algorithmic problems.

And if you’re wondering what’s with all the balloons, a team would receive one each time the automated scoring system detected they’d cracked a problem. You can imagine the pressure of seeing other teams amassing more balloonage (another new word) than yours. I thought some of the teams were ready to float off!

Sadly for me the event isn’t happening in Bath this year, but it may return another year. If it does, I’ll be ready and waiting to get my wings buzzing and my segmented eyes trained back on the subject. As long as I don’t go completely Geoff Golblum, I’ll enjoy being a fly on the wall once again.

2017 In Review

In keeping with a tradition which stretches back oh, at least some years now, it’s time for me to review my year in pictures. I hope you enjoy the brief selection of photos in the gallery below.

Actually, what an incredible year it’s been! I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a busy year since I went freelance 19 years ago, so I’m looking forward to 2018 more in anticipation than trepidation.

January was a total whirlwind as the Faces of Routes project went from conception to launch in less than five weeks. The reaction from Frome people and beyond was stunning (and I don’t often use that word) and the Routes service was saved for another few years. In an ideal world, this service would be centrally funded, but for now it relies on donations and grants.

The Routes project largely came about because I was itching to do a personal project with a bigger purpose, but it also gave me the boot up the backside I needed to spur me on to undertake more personal projects generally. So it was good timing when a neighbour offered me his old medium format camera and lenses at a very reasonable price.

I’d been meddling with film again in a lighthearted way, but finding myself well-equipped with a solid film camera, and having dusted off my old 35mm film equipment, something was starting to take shape.

After a couple of false starts, out of some random whim that I can’t now remember having, I acquired a freezer drawer full of expired film of varying types and formats and the Saxonvale project was born. It doesn’t yet have its own gallery in my portfolio, but you can spot some examples in my Personal Favourites section.

So far Saxonvale has largely been an Instagram project, but I’ll add more to my website in time.

Through all this, the paid work has just kept coming; January turned out to be much busier than I would normally have expected. In fact that pattern repeated through the year, including August when my diary would normally have tumbleweed blowing across it.

Now it’s mid December and things are definitely winding down a bit for Christmas, but it’s been another good month. So I’ll leave you with some highlights from the year and take this opportunity to thank you all, clients and casual visitors alike, for all your support through 2017.

I wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy New Year and all the very best for 2018. Oh and this will be my last post this year, see you all in January!

 

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”.

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.

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.

No Snow Now

We’ve not had a real Winter for a few years now; no prolonged, hard frosts or heavy snow falls, but then I think snow fall has always been a bit special in England (unless you live north of the Watford Gap, in which case you probably spend most of your year digging your car out of 6ft drifts). That’s why when it does happen, everyone tweets about it and all transport grinds to a halt.

So when I got my first, ancient photographic portfolio down from the attic the other day, I was delighted to stumble across this snow picture which I must have taken circa 1988 when I was freelancing for The Bath Chronicle.

It must have been a slow news day when the flakes started to fall and I recall being sent out in rather un-promising conditions to go and get a photo to illustrate the “blizzard”.

The snow really was rather light, so I had a bit of a heavy heart, but as I made my way to Victoria Park in Bath, it started to get rather heavier. I recall this would have been mid-morning and the deadline for the last edition of the paper would have been imminent, bearing in mind I had to get back to the office, process and print my photos and get them to the subs desk before I missed the last deadline.

Thankfully, by the time I got to the park there was a decent covering. At least enough to show it had snowed, even if it wasn’t a white-out. I remember lifting my camera to frame the scene and being vaguely aware of the sound of a cyclist coming up behind me. I didn’t have time to look round, so just waited for them to pass into my frame, which is when I got this frame.

From memory I believe I took two or three more pictures in quick succession, but the first one was the best.

Happy that I had something I dashed back to the office and got the print to the desk on time.

Sadly I don’t have the cutting, so I can’t say which page it appeared on, but I do remember there was a letter from a reader a week later saying how much they enjoyed the photo. Bearing in mind they had to write and post a letter rather than just clicking a Like button and saying “wow” I was very pleased to have got some appreciation for the photo.

It’s not a super-dramatic weather photo, but I still like how I lined it all up and got lucky with the extra element of the cyclist. Even better that she was all wrapped up in black on a black bike, which just adds to the atmosphere of the scene.

Well now that Winter is over and we’re into spring, maybe I’ll get a good, contemporary monsoon-style downpour photo soon. Something for people to Like and say “wow”.

Royal Visits Invictus in Bath

Royal visits are a unique kind of photographic assignment, as I was reminded when Prince Harry visited University of Bath on Friday for the trials of the Invictus Games which take place in Orlando, Florida, in May.

I stepped into the assignment at fairly short notice due to the university’s staff photographer being laid low by a stomach bug – you really can’t cover an event like this if you’re feeling queazy!

Prince Harry was visiting to see UK athletes taking part in the trials and of course help to raise awareness of the games which were founded to give injured, wounded and sick military personnel a chance to test their sporting skills to the highest standards.

My role in covering the visit was to get pictures the university could use the same day on their website and for press release to showcase the fact they were hosting the trials at their excellent Sports Training Village.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at 9am, but pretty soon a fairly large contingent of press photographers had gathered in the briefing area. Harry was due to arrive just after 11am, so once all the press photographers had gathered, we headed track-side for further briefing and to choose our positions.

Please click photos for a larger view:

My pass was for the outdoor fixed positions, which meant I could move about within certain areas. Other photographers had Rota passes, which is the Royal press office system for ensuring an event doesn’t become clogged with photographers. Those carrying a Rota pass will often have greater, or extended access to an event, but they will be required to allow use of their pictures by any legitimate media outlet that requests them.

Even before the arrival of the Prince I made sure I was getting on with fulfilling my brief; getting shots of the gathered media to show the wide interest and shots of athletes warming up or taking part in trials.

The weather was blustery, sometimes raining and not fantastically warm, so it was a relief when the Prince arrived on schedule. The Royals tend to be fairly prompt unless they’re coming from another event. If that overruns, you just have to be patient and ready.

To cover the Royal visit as he moved around the Sports Training Village running track, chatting to officials and athletes, I worked two camera bodies; one with a wide zoom on and the other with a telephoto zoom (with a 1.4x extender attached for extra reach). Since most of the action was happening at quite a distance away, the long end of my telephoto lens was a godsend. I could see plenty of the other photographers had their huge 500mm and 600mm lenses and were using them a lot, while I had to make the best of my zoom and just make sure I had clean shots I could crop into. I really didn’t need to see into Prince Harry’s soul for my purposes, so it was all fine.

I took my last frame around midday when the facility for Fixed Position passes ended and the Prince went indoors to continue the tour. That was my cue to get my laptop and edit a selection of images for the university homepage news feed and a news article. The rush pictures were chosen, captioned, edited, delivered and added to the website well within the hour. I could then leave the campus, head to my office and do a more considered edit on my large monitor and the job was done.

Royal visits are often a case of “get what you see.” Not much tends to be set up specifically for stills and this leaves you looking for compositions which are tidy not because you set them up, but because you’ve chosen a good position and the composition happens to come together nicely. Expressions will be fleeting and you have to be ready with your camera to capture them, which is why it often looks like Royal photographers never take their eyes from their cameras – they can’t afford to miss a shot.

On this occasion I was surrounded by photographers who shoot a lot of Royal events. Some travel the world with the royals and have built entire careers doing this. For my part, I’ve covered a few Royal events over the years, but it always makes a refreshing, adrenaline-fuelled change from the norm. I shall look forward to the next one.

 

Case Study: Local NHS photography project

Sometimes I get a brief which sets a tone and style, but still leaves me plenty of room for creativity. This is always very rewarding work, but carries with it that extra frisson of responsibility – what if my pictures aren’t what the client envisaged? What if I stray off-piste? And in today’s example, working with NHS Bath And North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS BANES CCG for short) I knew I had to get each shoot right first time as public money has to be spent very wisely.

NHS BANES CCG needed fresh images for their annual review and new website. In the past they’d used stock imagery quite heavily, but there was a recognition that people engage better with pictures which are clearly not posed by stock models. Also, as useful as stock images can be for some applications, they can’t reflect all the subtle uniqueness of a local health service, and so I was approached with a view to getting the ball rolling on a new image library which their designers and PR managers could draw on as required.

I was sent to cover various events and illustrate different services within the CCG, but apart from an expressed wish to see light, engaging images with backgrounds knocked out of focus to emphasise the people, I was pretty much left to cover these sessions using a combination of set-up poses and fly-on-the-wall techniques.

Probably my favourite of all the photo sessions was the morning I spent with the Singing for the Brain group, who meet weekly and give those with dementia and their carers a chance to socialise and stimulate their memories through singing and fun activities. Capturing the pleasure on the faces of people as they met for tea and cake, and then when they got into the singing session, was really up-lifting.

The team I worked with were very pleased with what I turned in and I’ll be gradually adding to their library in the year ahead, so I’m looking forward to finding out even more about what the CCG does, meeting the people who run the services, the people who benefit from them and creating pictures which encapsulate the whole story.

Case Study: Dental Laboratory

Judging by the number of photo shoots I’ve undertaken for dental practices over the last few years it’s become obvious that like most businesses, dentists have also come to realise that fresh, illustrative images really help to bring a website together.

When JSL dental laboratory first made contact with me to arrange photography for their new website, I could be forgiven for thinking they were another dentist, but JSL are a dental laboratory, not a dental practice. That is to say, they make the crowns, bridges, ceramic teeth, implants and so on which dentists use to make our smiles beautiful again.

JSL’s laboratory in The Circus in Bath is a tight space to work because it’s a fully-equipped lab, which meant my my main challenge was getting good angles on people and equipment as well as finding the space to place an off-camera flash when needed, but having gone over the required shots with marketing coordinator Joanna Lye we worked out the order the photos could happen in (bearing in mind it’s also an extremely busy dental lab with dental technicians Julian and Britta completing the team).

With this, as with all such commissions, my job wasn’t just to photograph a variety of people and things, but also to consider different dimensions to give the web designer the widest choice for their page grids. With a combination of portraits, team shots, technicians-at-work and details, there was a good selection of images by the end of the half-day session and you can see the finished JSL site here and a selection of screen grabs below.

Tweaked Fees

Those of you familiar with my pricing structure will be aware that it’s based around the gallery delivery service, whereby I upload photos to the client’s gallery and the client gets to download what they need, when they need it. They can request access for their colleagues or designers – anyone who requires access can have it, but the gallery always remains secure to the client.

This service has been running incredibly well, but it occurred to me that the most basic package, Gallery Essential, was basically a waste of space on my website. Nobody used it because it was designed back when the economy was going in reverse. The idea was a business could get photos taken and held in the gallery for a very basic fee and then they would just buy individual images as and when they needed them and budget allowed.

Screen grab of Tim Gander's photography fee structure.

A new structure to help more clients

However, it became clear to me that most businesses want at least a basic set of images back from a shoot for immediate use and were always willing to upgrade to either Gallery 30 (now renamed Gallery Standard) or more commonly to Gallery Unlimited, which is by far the most popular package.

The other issue this presented was that it left me no obvious place on my website in which to inform potential clients that a package was available for shoots lasting just an hour or two. I hope I’ve fixed this now by replacing Gallery Essential with Gallery Starter, which gives a client up to two hours on-site for £250 and with unlimited image downloads.

The reason I don’t limit the number of image downloads on this most basic fee is because a typical two-hour shoot will be booked for covering a small to medium PR event or a short portrait session. The numbers of images taken by the end of this kind of shoot shouldn’t result in an unreasonable amount of post-shoot editing time, which is built into all my fees.

I still have limits on the Gallery Standard package because in half-day and full-day shoots the image numbers climb rapidly, and really these larger packages are aimed at different requirements.

In addition to the new Gallery Starter I’ve increased the number of image downloads included in Gallery Standard, and yet most clients will still want the sheer simplicity of Gallery Unlimited. It’ll be interesting to see how these changes work, but if you have any (sensible) suggestions, I’ll be happy to consider them. You know where to find me!