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.

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.

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.

 

My 2014 In Pictures

This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.

The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.

I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine

 

 

 

Photography Fees Explained

A couple of weeks ago I promised you an article about how photographers set their rates and where I fit into the market. Then I spotted some shiny things and got distracted and ended up writing about other stuff. Suitably self-chastised, I’m back on track and ready to tackle the subject properly.

I’ll qualify this article by admitting that I can’t explain all photographers’ rates for all genres. This article concentrates on photography for commercial usage by businesses, charities and other organisations. When it comes to rates set by social photographers (think families, pets, dinner dances and weddings) this is structured in a different way because the images aren’t generally licensed for commercial exploitation.

There was a time when commercial photographers worked up an estimate by showing the shoot costs plus their licensing fee based on usage and a fair few still do this, but in my experience I found it difficult to keep explaining all the cost elements repeatedly because the vast majority of clients booking me are not specialist in the field of commissioning photography. More often than not I’m contacted by an office secretary or perhaps an in-house or externally-hired press officer or public relations person.

This isn’t a criticism, it’s just one aspect of how the industry has changed and a few years ago I realised that things had shifted in such a way that I needed to simplify my fee structure in order to speed up the understanding of what I was charging and what was included or excluded.

Lego male minifig with camera takes picture of female minifig.

Now if I was a Lego photographer, I wouldn’t have to worry about running costs*
*random stock photo

What I ended up with was three main packages, one of which hardly anyone ever goes for (ironically my cheapest package, albeit with the greatest number of restrictions). And of the two other packages, the highest fee package is by far the most popular because it’s the most flexible.

If I break down my fees into their constituent elemets, essentially what I’m charging for is a combination of time on site, editing and processing time and the client’s licence to use the images for their corporate communications.

However, if you asked me to make that break-down specific, I couldn’t. I might be able to suggest rough percentages, but they really would be vague and not very informative.

There are of course other factors to account for. Within any freelance photographers fee there has to be an element of skill level and experience charged for. This is probably where I start to look pricey compared to someone who has just picked up a camera, read the instruction book and decided it’s their life ambition to take pictures for money. I reckon 25 years’ experience shows in how I approach clients, how I conduct myself on assignment right through to how the end results look and I consider all of these factors important and worth a premium.

Slightly more tangible are the running costs of being a photographer. Cameras, lenses and supporting equipment (batteries, chargers, bags) as well as a car and its associated costs, public liability insurance, computers, software, image hosting, image storage… All these things and more have to be considered before even a profit and salary (on which tax will be paid) need to be accounted for within a fee.

So where do my fees fit into the overall picture? How did I set them? The simple answer is that before I introduced my current structure I was spending quite a lot of time drawing up estimates for clients who were all of a certain level (SMEs to larger businesses with multiple office locations, but not the Goliath organisations with global span).

More often than not I found my estimates coming to very similar amounts by the time I’d factored in all the costs plus the licence fee. Eventually it just made sense to set up the three packages I have now and they’ve not only attracted more clients with their simplicity and up-front openness, but I spend much less time writing up estimates, which has to be a good thing.

Much of this has the air of a guessing game, but having worked out what it costs to run my business, what I need as a salary, and how many days a year I can expect to get paid commissions, it then comes down to whether I can attain the kind of quality that enough clients are willing to pay my fees to make the whole thing viable. This, in effect, is a business plan and is very much why I charge what I charge. Simple really, but also quite complicated which is probably why cheaper photographers charge what they do, but find they can’t sustain their businesses. That’s a whole other post, which I’m sure I’ve written already.

What Kind of Photographer Am I? (or not)

Scene of a section of Cley Hill, Wiltshire, at dusk with blue sky and the sun just touching the edge of the hill.

Cley Hill is a favourite area for me to walk. I find detail shots work better than trying to capture the whole thing, which always ends up looking like a small pimple in the landscape.

It’s quite possible I’ve mentioned here and there that while my main photographic work concentrates on taking pictures for businesses and publications, I don’t try to fill diary gaps with weddings. I repeat I DON’T DO WEDDINGS.

I believe in concentrating on what I do best, marketing my strengths and leaving my weaknesses to those who can fulfil those tasks better than I.

But weddings aren’t the only discipline I don’t cover. I haven’t shot sport in several years. I used to do a fair bit of football for the Mail on Sunday when I lived in Portsmouth. I can’t say I enjoyed it especially, not helped by my general disdain for football, and I’d certainly never claim I got to be anything as good as any of the top sports photographers in the land, but I turned in good quality results on deadline and even got the occasional exclusive. I covered Wimbledon a couple of times, but really I think it’s best these things are left to people who have the experience and the passion to turn in stunning results time after time. Otherwise, I’m just another person with a camera clogging up the photographers’ pit.

If there is one area I wish I was better at, and which I really need to give myself a kick up the arse to do more of, it has to be nature and landscapes. Not because I expect these to be an important part of my business in the sense of making a living from them, but because on the odd occasion I get to take such images, I enjoy the challenge and sometimes the results.

One thing which is true of all good (or great) photography is that it’s not the camera or any of the other fancy equipment, but the eye, experience, foresight, passion and determination of the wetware behind the eyepiece (the photographer) which makes it great.

Now I’m setting myself a goal; I may never be a ground-breaking landscape photographer, but I’m going to try harder to get out there, shoot landscapes and find a style and an angle which pleases me, which might also inform my corporate work and which might actually please others too. You never know, it might become a respected body of work, but I appreciate that might have to happen posthumously.

I wonder if anyone fancies forward-dating a cheque for the first million-pound image I sell after I die?

 

Portable Portraits

If there is one thing I do an awful lot of, it’s business portraits. The days when businesses will tolerate having stock image models represent them on their websites and in brochures seem finally to have passed, at least among businesses wishing to maintain any kind of credibility in their marketing. If you’re a high-street accountancy firm in Bristol, pictures of orange-tanned, square-jawed Canadian actors pretending to be Bristol-based accountants just don’t really work any more.

In fact they never did, but fashions come and go and now I find I pick up a lot of business from clients wishing to obliterate any sign of perma-tan or American dentistry from their About Us pages. Heck, we’re not all super-models but we are who we are and shouldn’t try to hide behind fakery.

All this is great for my business, and as dull as it might sound to be photographing business people in air-conditioned offices on build-fill-repeat office parks all over the country, getting to meet so many people is fun and interesting. And part of my job is to put people at their ease, so there are always a few laughs involved. And laughing is medically proven to be good for you, so me and my clients are reaping health benefits too, right?

Now if you’re a business wanting to get away from the look of the business clone offered by iStockphoto, apart from a few minutes of your colleagues’ time as they sit for their portraits (this can take as little as 10 minutes!) the only other things I need are somewhere to park (as close to the office as possible is ideal as there is a fair bit of kit to carry in) and a spare meeting room.

a portable studio lighting set-up in an office

A decent-sized meeting room is perfect

I’ve included a photo of a typical set-up to give you some idea of the kind of space I need. It isn’t a huge amount, but it helps if tables can be moved and chairs tend to fill a room up pretty well, so if they can be taken out before the shoot this is really helpful.

The distance between myself and the sitter is usually less than 2 metres, and I need enough width to get a decent space between the lighting heads, but again 2 or 3 metres tops is ample.

All my equipment is battery powered, so no need to be near power sockets. In fact I was doing a portrait session in an office in Edinburgh last year when there was an unexpected power cut. Since none of the staff could get on with their work, I was able to work on through the list of names pretty efficiently.

So there you have it, if you use portraits on your website, in brochures or pitch documents, there’s no need to believe that getting proper shots of your people will be a massive logistical nightmare. If you’re still not sure, why not get in touch and I’ll be happy to tell you more about the practicalities and fees.

My Year In Pictures

This being my last blog post for 2013, it’s time to do the annual round-up of pictures (YAAAAAY! – I don’t hear you saying).

It’s been an interesting year though, with a mixture of former clients returning and new clients finding me and becoming new regulars. In fact it’s probably been my busiest year since I went freelance 15 years ago, but I’d say the variety of work has narrowed as I’ve been doing far more corporate headshots than ever before.

Rather than showing you a business portrait for each of the twelve months, I’ve dug a little deeper for a mixture of shots including one or two personal ones, un-commissioned by clients.

Of course I would like to extend my heart-felt thanks to each and every client that has booked me this year and I very much look forward to working with you again in 2014.

Thanks also to all my beautiful blog readers (yes, I can see you, you lovely, lovely people). I hope you’ll stick with me for another year and put up with my overt self-promotion, my rants and lucid musings. If I could hug you all I would.

All that remains to say is happy Christmas and have a fantastic New Year. I think my next post will be January 7th, so see you in 2014!

Tim

In Bolton a police officer directs traffic in heavy snow

January: Bolton is hit by a blizzard and traffic grinds to a halt

A scientific instrument glows green in a dark surrounding

February: No, I have no idea what it is, but I can tell you it’s a highly sophisticated piece of technology at Porton Down

March: At the Renewable Energy Market Place event in Exeter, two designers explain their concept vehicle to a visitor

March: At the Renewable Energy Market Place event in Exeter, two designers explain their concept vehicle to a visitor

Farmers at Standerwick farmers' market watch as cattle pass through the gate after auction

April: From my Standerwick personal project, cattle come through the gate at auction

CEO Phil Brockwell in front of a Citation 525 jet aircraft at Bristol Flying Centre

May: Phil Brockwell of Bristol Flying Centre poses in front of one of his Citation 525 jets for a trade magazine cover shot

An out of focus boy sitting at a table with in-focus paint brushes in the foreground, taken for Cornerstones Schools, Warrington

June: A shoot for Cornerstone Schools requires use of blur to obscure subject identity

A young man in a lecture theatre holds up a white card with the number 46 written on it as part of a maths Summer camp event at University of Bath

July: Students enjoy maths games at University of Bath Summer School

4 seated people and one standing, backs to the camera, with a view overlooking Branscombe bay, Dorset

August: A weekend break results in a 74 mile cycle ride to Branscombe with office colleagues

A nurse is blurred as she pushes a wheelchair at Frome Medical Centre with smooth plastered and painted wall dominant to the left of the frame

September: Tasked with photographing the plaster-work of a contractor, I had to make a wall at Frome Medical Centre look interesting

A group of seated business people in an auditorium listen to a presentation as one man leans forward to hear better

October: It’s not always easy to find interesting images at a business symposium, but this audience member does at least look interested in the presentation

Sophie Wessex smiles as she holds a netball aloft and aims to take a shot at the net

November: Sophie Wessex takes a shot at netball during a visit to University of Bath in which HRH Prince Edward was installed as the new Chancellor

Waitress poses in the street in front of a photo flash on a stand with a white brolly

December: Eleonora, waitress at Frome’s Paccamora Café, poses for a Wex Photographic article demonstrating flash photography techniques