Sweet Luxury

The other day I was asked to come into a business in Bristol to undertake a portrait session so members of staff could post to Twitter and LinkedIn with fresh, up-to-date (and importantly, professionally-taken) profile photos.

The pictures were taken at the end of an in-house social media training seminar, and I suspect this helped convince attendees of the importance of a decent avatar portrait. I believe this kind of training is an excellent idea for businesses wanting their staff to help promote the brand on online platforms, and of course a clean, clear profile photo gives their posts greater gravitas.

What made it for me though, apart from the lovely welcoming people I got to work with, was the huge amount of space I was given to work in.

If your business has just taken over larger premises and you haven’t quite expanded into it just yet, take the opportunity to make headway on your headshots. While the entire office isn’t crammed with furniture and people, it makes a great space to work in and I can light the portraits better than if I’m shoehorned into a stationery cupboard, or a board room with an immovable table filling it.

Of course once you’ve filled the space, I’ll need to come back to photograph all the newly appointed team members. Don’t worry though, as long as there is room enough, I can make the lighting work. It’s just so much nicer when there’s space a-plenty.

 

Women in Business

Have you ever noticed how male-dominated a lot of business imagery is? And then if there is diversity, it tends to be a rainbow nation of ethnicities and all genders in a slightly bizarre “aren’t we all just so happy to be here with our lattes and iPhones pointing and laughing into the middle distance” sort of a way.

My advice always is to avoid the cliché by featuring your own business and your own colleagues in the images for your website. That way, you’ll represent a natural cross-section of your team.

However there is one area of my own website where I will always favour an image of a female business person over that of a male. The reasons aren’t purely for promoting women in business, but that too is a factor in my policy when deciding which photo should be on the home page.

The thing is, my work consists mostly of corporate portraits, with editorial-style business pictures, conference photography and various other forms of corporate communications photography following in behind, so it makes sense to make my main image a portrait.

Following on from that, for the most part people looking to book me for the work I do will find my website through Google (other search engines are available, but nobody ever uses them) and more often than not it’s marketing managers, office managers and personal assistants who find me. And they’re overwhelmingly female.

So yes, perhaps cynically, I want to make sure that landing on my home page is a comfortable experience for those most often given the responsibility of booking me. Certainly I see no reason why the “hero/ine image” needs to be male, and there’s something to be said for offering a main image to which my core clients can relate.

There is also the practical consideration that if someone landing on my home page sees a male face, there’s a risk they’ll think they’re looking at a photo of me, which if not necessarily upsetting, might at the very least appear conceited. I save my site visitors that particular pleasure for the About page, which when you see it you’ll understand why vanity is probably one of the few vices I don’t suffer from. The reason I feature my face at all is because I believe in practicing what I preach.

This post was inspired by the person who is the latest to be featured on my home page, Hazel, who works for a firm in Bristol. The other week I asked Hazel if she’d mind being featured, and the points outlined above are pretty much how I framed my request. Hazel completely understood and had no qualms about being featured on my home page, which is great because not all headshots necessarily fit, but her company’s portrait requirements work well within the space.

So thanks Hazel! And to anyone out there I photograph in future, especially women, don’t be surprised if I ask you too – I do like to update that page whenever I can. Equally I’ll understand if you’d rather not be featured, but at least if you’ve read this article you’ll understand why I’ve asked in the first place.

 

Niall on a par with Parr

It isn’t often I get to see the launch of a new photographic exhibition. I either seem to be working, or have other family commitments, or it’s too far away, but yesterday evening was a real treat as it brought together two very excellent photographic forces in one space and time.

Niall McDiarmid’s Town to Town exhibition launched at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, and this was too good an opportunity to miss and I’m glad I didn’t.

First of all there’s the Foundation itself. There are highly regarded photographers who have achieved great success without necessarily putting anything back into the profession. Of course this isn’t a prerequisite of success, but it’s wonderful when someone of Martin Parr’s renown decides to set up a foundation and an exhibition space dedicated to photography which includes facilities for research, teaching and more importantly the patronage of photographers who don’t get the exposure they deserve.

All these principles are at the heart of what the Martin Parr Foundation is about, and this is such a rare thing in the world of photography that it can only be a force for good. That it’s in Bristol rather than the capital (Parr lives in Bristol and clearly loves the city) is an added bonus as London is already well-served with gallery space.

Town to Town is drawn from many years’ work by Niall, who has travelled the UK in search of the diversity and colour which makes up our society today. You can read more about the exhibition and Niall’s work here, but it’s clear from seeing this work that in an era when documentary photography often struggles for an outlet and recognition, it’s incredibly important that our society is documented.

We all live in our social bubbles, online and in real life, and seeing such colour and diversity reminds us that other people live lives which may be different to our own, but with many of the same hopes and dreams which we carry too.

If you do manage to get along to the exhibition (entry is free and it’s easy access from Bristol Temple Meads station) you’ll be rewarded with an astonishing array of characters all captured with Niall’s subtle eye for colour and detail. There’s a definite formula to his photos but the uniform approach, broken only occasionally, simply reinforces the fact (to me at least) that all our differences are what make us all so similar.

Oh and it was a delight to see Martin Parr there (he doesn’t know me, but I did a cross-the-room man greeting* and he responded in the universally accepted way**), and I also managed a quick word with Niall who is just such a humble being and deserves a great deal of recognition for his work. And before anyone says it, no he’s not the new Martin Parr; he is Niall McDiarmid.

*A mimed “alright?” with a nod and a smile. When walking around Frome, this is a common greeting between males who don’t know each other.

** A mimed “yup” or similar with corresponding nod and smile as above.

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!

 

App-Propriate Portraits

Last week I had the pleasure of shooting new business portraits and office scenes for Calvium, an app-development agency based in the heart of Bristol. They needed new portraits to pull the style of their Our Team page together as well as office scenes, meetings and detail photos for their website and other marketing materials.

I was going to write a detailed case study outlining how the job came about, how it went and all the usual details I like to include in a blog post, but when Calvium’s marketing manager Charlie sent me over a testimonial, I realised she’d written about a situation a lot of businesses find themselves in, so thought it best just to let her words do the talking.

Here’s what Charlie sent me:

“Over the last 18 months, Calvium has grown exponentially. Multiple new staff members and an office move had rendered what little photography we previously had out of date. Having a bank of good images that I can use to convey our brand and personality on our website and other materials, is vital to my marketing strategy. It was also important we had all of our staff on the website in a consistent style, representing a united team.

After tentatively contacting a few photographers following a google search, Tim called me back straight away to discuss our needs. Having never orchestrated an entire office shoot before, I knew what I wanted to achieve as a result of the photo’s but I was unsure of what specific instructions to give. I wanted to hire someone that could understand what I wanted, come in and take charge of the situation. Tim absolutely did this, taking my very vague brief and translating it into some fantastic photo’s. He even managed to eek a smile out of the most unwilling of participants! 

I’m very thankful to Tim for helping me cross off something that’s been on my list for a long time and I would have no hesitation in recommending him to other small businesses or SME’s.”

Charlie Harman – Marketing & Operations, Calvium Ltd.

Fancy a Challenge?

Last week was huge fun as I was booked to cover the IRTE Skills Challenge 2015 for the Society of Operations Engineers. The event, hosted by S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol spanned four days and involved teams of bus and coach technicians tackling challenges from diagnosing electrical faults in a wiring loom to repairing a metal box section in the bodyshop.

It was full-on and all-go as I set about making sure I had a good selection of photos of each of the 50+ competitors over the course of the event, as well as group photos, detail shots and general views.

The pictures will be used on the SOE website, on social media and in press releases and you can see an edited selection of the pictures here.

This was my first year covering the event which has been running for 5 years now, but hopefully I’ll be invited back next year. I was really impressed with how helpful everyone was, especially the candidates who were under pressure of time and having to concentrate while I worked around them.

It was a fascinating challenge to see how to get the best angles and light the subjects in the most effective way. Welding shots are always fun as they have to be done through a welding mask (or risk permanent eye damage!), but here’s one of my favourite images showing competitor Tim Laws Chapman of FirstGroup grinding a tidy finish to his welded section in the body shop.

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!

Case Study: Communicate Magazine

A call out of the blue from a completely new client is always welcome, so in January when the editor of Communicate Magazine called me and asked if I could shoot some profile photos of an interviewee in Bristol, I was happy to pick up the brief.

Communicate Magazine, “The single voice for stakeholder relations,” focuses on PR and communications within the business world as opposed to PR and marketing to the buying public. One of its regular features is an interview with someone involved in PR or marketing, talking about their motivations, background, experiences and so on.

My task was to take strong profile portraits of Dan Panes, head of communications for First Great Western, at Bristol Temple Meads station.

When I met Dan at the station car park he was on the phone being interviewed by the Communicate editor. In fact he was on the phone for quite some time (it’s the nature of the job sometimes that you have to wait for the journalist to get their job done before you can start yours), in which time the weather went from cold, but dry, to hailstones and a blustery wind.

As Dan came off the phone and we got to say hello properly, it was obvious we were going to have to take the shots undercover. We did have a go at one location, but as hail stones started to bounce off our heads, we dashed for the main station.

We opted to do the shots on Platform 1. Not a simple task as I needed to take photos which would lend themselves to having text laid over. Too much clutter and distraction wouldn’t help this cause, and railway stations are often visually chaotic places on the whole, what with signs, gantries, people, barriers and, of course, trains all jostling for attention. The other problem was the light, or lack thereof. Dan reminded me I couldn’t use flash on a platform, so we moved further along to where the overhead canopy ended so I could get as much of the almost non-existent daylight on him as possible.

While this helped ease the distractions of having people, trains and signs in the background, it did bring in the mass of parked bikes, but in the final design I think the semi-opaque graphic overlay has helped relieve this to ensure the text remains legible.

The sweeping curve of the canopy and rails pull the viewer’s eye to Dan and create impact and direction to the photo. I tried a couple of other angles and locations around the station as well as upright options, but this is the only one which tells the viewer we’re looking at someone connected to rail travel, all the other options being more abstract.

I enjoy the challenge of making a picture work in circumstances which are less than ideal, and taking into account the considerations for page layout, the weather, location and the fact that you can’t spend all day on a set of pictures of a busy person, the resulting images worked well within the article.

Communicate’s editor was pleased with what I submitted, and to be honest it doesn’t matter how happy I am with a set of photos, it’s the client’s opinion which matters.

New Reviews News

It’s been a bit of a shame that lately I’ve been so busy taking pictures I’ve barely had time to blog, yet I have so few photos I can post here from these crazy times as I’m bound by client exclusivity. Hopefully there will be some interesting case studies I can post as the brochures, banners and web publications I’ve been shooting for come to be published.

One thing I can tell you about actually consists of three things, that is to say three other articles I’ve recently written over on my PhotoEspresso blog.

SanDisk memory card and Hähnel battery arrive from Clifton Cameras in Bristol for review

A memory card and a very orange camera battery were included in my review

The articles came about as a result of an approach from Clifton Cameras in Bristol asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their website in return for a couple of items I could purchase and have refunded, thereby gaining the user’s experience of the site. A sort of sponsored post if you like.

In the event I turned it into three posts because the items I received are worth reviewing and discussing on a photography help site and because it’s always useful to have fresh things to write about for that blog, which has a different purpose to my main one here.

Anyway, I ordered the items – a memory card and a camera battery, wrote a review for each and I’ve just published the Clifton Cameras website review. The whole exercise has been useful and enjoyable. It would be good to build up the paid blogging part of what I do, so if anyone out there knows anyone looking for someone to write honest reviews, critiques or general photography-related articles, send them my way!

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on which assignments I can feature here as they become available. Stay tuned!

Plane Portrait (ouch!)

One of the things I love about my work is meeting interesting people and finding myself in interesting places. A fine example of this was an unexpected assignment for Centreline Air Charter, based at Bristol Airport, where I was asked to take a portrait of Centreline’s CEO Phil Brockwell for European Business Air News, who were to run a front page story on the company. Centreline didn’t have a suitable image and called me up to help them.

EBAN might very well not be a publication you’re familiar with unless you happen to own an aircraft operation in Europe, Russia, the Middle East or Africa. You don’t? Fair enough. To be fair, I’d not heard of it until the call came, but I strongly believe that all publications, even trade ones, deserve decent photography.

Phil is one of the friendliest CEOs I’ve ever met and it’s not every day I’m asked “where would you like the jet?” I suggested the South of France, but Phil meant where on the runway apron. Maybe next time, eh?

One of the difficulties I had with this particular portrait was that the sun was especially harsh, in the wrong spot (it almost always is, ask any photographer), and we needed one of Centreline’s shiny white aircraft in the background too.

My choice was either to have Phil squinting into the sun, or silhouetted against the bright backdrop. I had one other trick up my sleeve; bright backdrop but with tricksy fill-in flash on Phil (or Phil-in flash if you will… ouch) so that both background and subject would look good.

Having had the jet moved to where the shot would work best, I set up Phil where he needed to be and set my flash and camera to mitigate the sun, took a few test shots, made adjustments, took some more test shots until I could see we were getting close, made further slight adjustments, then got on with the real deal.

I knew I couldn’t spend a ton of Phil’s time getting things right, but it was nice to be given enough time to set things up properly and also get a variety of shots so that Centreline’s public relations handler would have a choice of images to put over to the magazine.

Apart from having to come off the runway for a coffee break while another jet came into land, the whole shoot was done in under an hour. More than 10 minutes is a real luxury when shooting CEO portraits and I was grateful for the time, but I also think the results were worth it.

The same day I delivered the images to Centreline’s PR, captioned and ready for publication. Their (and my) preferred shot made it to the cover of EBAN as planned and you can see the result below and read more of Centreline’s story here. A good result I’d say and a very satisfying assignment. I certainly didn’t wing it (ouch, again).

European Business Air News front page featuring Phil Brockwell, CEO of Bristol Flying Centre

European Business Air News front page featuring Phil Brockwell, CEO of Centreline Air Charter