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.

Back to Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy February everyone!

Work Experience Advice

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

 

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Get Shorty

Even this short blog post is longer than the super small Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 lens, my absolutely favourite lens. It’s tiny, sometimes referred to as a pancake lens, but so sharp you could cut your thumb on the images it produces, yet costs just £200.00 new. I got mine for £90.00 secondhand.

It’s been the most-used lens through my Saxonvale project, but whenever I get the opportunity I use it for corporate photo sessions too, including portraits as well as for fly-on-the-wall work.

And in my experience it’s tough! I once slipped and fell and landed with my camera (40mm mounted) between me and a mud bank. I heard a click which I thought was the lens mechanism breaking. It wasn’t, it was the sound of one of my ribs fracturing! That hurt for a few weeks, but the lens was fine.

I wanted to write this post after seeing Neil Turner’s post about his favourite lens. Go here to find out which one he reaches for most.

So if I’m ever on a job for you and I put this dinky lens on my camera, check out the smile on my face.

 

Summer Light In Summary

With the weather we’ve been having this August you may not be feeling especially Summery, and it’s true to say I’ve had a challenging few weeks dodging downpours, thunder storms and gales, but it’s often assumed that Summer sunshine is perfect for photography.

Well it can be of course, but as a rule, when I’m taking pictures of people for their business website or press release, if we’re having to work outdoors and the sun is screaming down, it’s not always a great help. The subjects will either be squinting into the light, their eyes streaming, or if I put the sun behind them I’ll end up with silhouetted people unless I balance the daylight with flash – not always a simple task.

Of course there are things I can do to minimise the problem, but sometimes the chosen location and time of day for the photo session mean it becomes a purely technical exercise in overcoming the sun.

In the two photos featured here you’ll see how placing the subjects in the shade has meant they’re not not made to squint into the sun or get hot and bothered, while I’m able to fill in their features with controlled use of flash.

The client, the award-winning The Bristol Pest Controller, needed some images for their website, including a hero image, and they knew the location they wanted. My job was to make it all work for them and their website.

The session happened back in March of this year, but I don’t know if you remember, it was quite sunny back in the Spring! Sunshine in Spring is just as tricksy to work with as sun at any time of year, but finding the right location helps a lot to mitigate the issues.

And of course if it’s sunshine like we’ve had this August, ie not a lot, that can actually be quite helpful as it’s easier to balance overcast daylight and flash. The only problem this Summer seems to be how to avoid getting drenched or struck by lightning during your photo session.

 

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”.

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.

Press Space for Storagebase

At a time when online marketing seems to dominate marketeers’ minds, it’s worth remembering that the local press still has the power to communicate your business to a well-targeted audience.

This is where the press release comes into play. Sometimes maligned, often mis-used or treated like a slightly grubby, distant uncle to all the shiny online marketing channels, press releases often fail through lack of appreciation of their importance.

Done properly though, a press release will get your business valuable editorial space. You can pay a high price for an advert, and while adverts are another good way to get in front of your audience, they’re viewed and treated differently by readers. Editorial is more trusted and allows you to get more of your business’ story into your message.

As an example, I was asked by Avalanche (a creative PR and social media agency, so local to me that we share an office) to work with them and their client, Storagebase, on a press release about their new self-storage facility and head office in Frome, Somerset.

The brief was to take press release photos to introduce the management team, the brand and the building to the local population.

I popped along to meet Storagebase’s MD Ben Morris and Jennie Wood from Avalanche for a pre-shoot site visit so I could get a sense of what shots would work best. Plus I love seeing the insides of buildings before they’re fitted out. This one had some really eye-catching internal structures and I couldn’t resist popping off a couple of shots during the visit.

On the day of the photo session the weather was a little tricky. It had been lashing with rain that morning, but it was dry by the time of the shoot. I’d hoped for blue sky so I could get some dramatic wide shots of the facility, but the sky was the same colour as the building and there was still a lot of construction going on, so I opted for something tight and punchy.

Making sure I included only the important elements (manager, assistant manager, hire van and the branding on the building) I ended up with a couple of photo options to put forward to the local press. Importantly, these included upright and landscape-oriented photos to ensure they would have a picture to fit any available page space.

The result was a picture and copy across three columns of the printed edition as well as an online article, again including the photo.

So when thinking about PR, don’t dismiss the press release. Done with care and skill you not only get eye-catching coverage in print press, but it’ll go in the online editions too. Plus you can often use the same images for other areas of your marketing such as newsletters, tweets, Facebook pages and so on – not always so easy with an advert, even less advisable with poor quality content.

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.