My Personal Plain

Casual visitors to my website might be a bit confused if they read my blog. I’m supposed to be all Mr Corporate Headshot, Mr Corporate Comms and so on, yet my blog is often about my personal work.

Certainly SEO “experts” would have a thing or two to say about the fact that I’m not plugging the corporate work week-in, week-out, but I’m not sure they understand photography (or people), which in my view is a bit of a shortcoming.

Those experts will presumably have some understanding of search engine algorithms, but I’m more interested in posting material which allows potential clients a more three-dimensional view of my practice.

Which is why this week I am posting pictures from Salisbury Plain*, my current personal project.

After months of barely leaving the house, I was so pleased to be able to get back on the project and I’m happy to share a few of the latest results with you. Some, if not all of these, will be made available as fine art prints via my takeagander website where you can see more images from this project which I made before lockdown.

But given that this blog often veers away from the pure business of corporate communications work, how does a project like this help potential clients choose me over the next photographer? Why do I post personal work here? Let’s turn that around and ask, “What kind of photographer would I be if I didn’t do personal projects?”

Go to a dozen photographer websites and the majority will tell you at some point just how passionate they are about photography. All too often this doesn’t show through their work. I believe they are passionate about being a photographer, but mostly because they like having, or being seen with, cameras. There’s a chasm of distinction between being genuinely passionate about photography, and liking taking pictures (or liking owning nice camera gear).

My personal work is mostly shot on film using a variety of relatively low-tech, often un-glamorous cameras, because photography is the important part to me, not owning the gear or being seen to have the latest equipment. Working this way is also part of my “keep fit” regime in that it keeps my photographic eye honed even during quieter periods (lockdown being an extreme example).

In a world where “everyone’s a photographer” my passion isn’t just about being a photographer, it extends to the purpose of photography, its purpose and value to society. Getting heavy now, huh? Sorry, that’s really a whole other blog post there.

Perhaps next time you’re looking to book a photographer other than myself for a job (yes, I do know this happens!), take a look to see what personal projects they’re working on. If there are none, ask yourself if they’re genuinely as passionate as they say they are.

*I haven’t yet settled on a permanent title. I’m passionate about finding a good one.

Is your photographer GDPReady?

With the Facebook data scandal still simmering in the headlines, most people will assume that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into effect on May 25th only applies to large organisations, but it also affects a great many photographers. In particular it impacts on those, like me, who regularly photograph people for business websites, press releases, social media and so on.

In a rather large nutshell, anyone who handles data has to get their house in order and register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) before the deadline or face sanctions. I’ve registered, paid the annual fee, and I’m going through the data I have to ensure it’s secure and compliant.

What this largely means for me is that I need to work through my client galleries removing old ones or ensuring they’re not accessible to anyone except the client. I also need to make updates to my website to ensure people have an understanding of what GDPR means in relation to my work and how I handle their data.

Some galleries are publicly shared because I’ve been asked to make them so, but even then I’ll be looking at closing access to the oldest ones. All this is going to take some time as I’ve been running the system for many years now, but as I add more client work to the delivery system I’ll be making sure it’s only visible to those who need to see it. The only exception to this will be where the person I’ve photographed has given permission for me to allow their images to be searchable.

There is a slight conflict around all this in that as a photographer I should have the right to use my work to promote myself, otherwise clients needing my services won’t be able to find me, but I have to balance this with keeping and handling personal data (a face coupled with a name and place of work for example) in a responsible manner.

There are ways of making all this work, but it’s going to take more than a few weeks to really hone it. Thankfully, for the most part, my entire back catalogue of digital work dating back 18 years isn’t stored online or I think I’d have a mental breakdown at the enormity of the task. While I use cloud storage to deliver images to clients and to allow them to have an online database of the images I’ve shot for them, all my original work is backed up to off-line hard drives which keeps them secure from a data breach point of view.

The other good news is that the personal work I undertake, such as the current Saxonvale project, falls under the artistic exemption of GDPR. Of course this doesn’t mean I can be slap-dash with peoples’ personal data, but because of its nature it’s less prone to result in either a complaint or an investigation by the ICO.

Even so, I have taken images for that project which will only ever see light of day in print form because they’re too sensitive to be shared online, and that raises an interesting question about the future of photography; will we find the internet a less useful space for getting important stories out if there’s a risk of a data breach in publishing online?

Only with a few judgements behind us on data breach cases will we build a true picture of what is or is not a breach of GDPR because it’s not entirely clear from the regulation text itself given the multitude of potential scenarios. In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to keep within the rules.

To be honest, it’s mostly just common sense and courtesy and of course you’ll want to make sure any photographer you work with is compliant. Well now you know of at least one photographer who is working towards that goal.

On My Hobby Horse

When a professional musician isn’t gigging or recording, they’ll be practicing; running up and down the scales, trying new techniques, working on pieces they may have to (or would like to) perform some time. When they do this, we don’t consider them to be indulging in a hobby, it’s just part of being a professional.

Professional photographers also need to practice between gigs. Of course we can’t sit in a room or studio and just run up and down the shutter speeds on the camera for an hour or two. We have to find pictures to take, pictures which stretch our abilities and keep our brains photographically sharp. That’s where the personal project comes in, at least for me.

I’m not very good at just going out with a camera and taking random photos. In particular I’m not very good at photographing pretty scenes just for the pleasure of it. I have to find a theme and work to that, but sometimes when I’m doing this I’m told “It’s nice you still have photography as a hobby.”

Ok, I’m not massively irked by this kind of reaction. It’s understandable when photography is such a hugely popular hobby. I’m even aware of people who think that being a professional photographer is simply a case of translating one’s hobby into paid work. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy meeting people and taking pictures for businesses, but I’m not sure I’d spend a day taking head shots against a white backdrop just for the giggles.

However, this mode of thinking ignores the possibility that a personal project has the potential to turn into something with a value beyond just being practice between gigs. Currently I have a number of projects on the go which pay nothing up-front, but about which I’m hugely excited and I hope will excite other people too, once they come to fruition.

The problem could be in the term “personal work” or “personal project” which implies I’m only taking the pictures for my personal photo album, but it’s the term most widely recognised by photographers and publishers to mean a project which is exploring an idea without having a defined end point or deadline, or a pre-determined place for publication.

For now at least we have to stick with the term, so perhaps I should just get off my hobby horse and await the day when the terms are more widely understood and photography between gigs is recognised as having a value.

It’s fair to say that over the last year or two, my actual hobbies (cycling, playing guitar) have been rather squeezed out of my life by my personal photo essay work. It’s up to me to re-adjust that balance, but photography is definitely not my hobby.

2016, a personal review

Normally I’d post a “year in pictures” round-up just about now, but I’ve decided to do something a little different this time just because.

Instead I’m going to focus on the more off-beat, off-diary photos I’ve taken. You’ll have seen most of them, but not all, in various blog posts through the year, but it’s fun to pull them together into a single gallery to enjoy again.

So sit back with your cuppa and your mince pie and enjoy…

 

 

Working Effextively

If you look at my corporate communications photography you won’t see much in the way of special effects or filters. I would describe my style as clean, bright, modern and (influenced by my news background) mostly un-touched by stylistic manipulations.

That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the work of photographers whose images might be more stylised in their finish, but it has to be done with purpose, consistency and definitely mustn’t be overdone. So it’ll be interesting to see if the release by Google of their Nik Collection imaging software as a free download (up to now it’s been a relatively expensive suite of editing tools) will have a noticeable effect on many professional photographers’ portfolios.

Will there be a rush to explore and play with the multitude of effects (believe me, there are many, possibly hundreds), each tweakable to one’s heart’s content?

I decided to download the software myself and have a play. After all, I am sometimes asked to do black and white conversions; this requires more than just removing colour from an image. I’ve always been happy with how I do this in Lightroom, but could the Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom enable me to do this better or quicker?

The other plugin I wanted to try was the Analog Efex Pro 4 part of the suit as I wanted to see if there were colour treatments which might suit some of my clients looking for a particular look for the web or brochure images.

The gallery on this page shows some of the results of my “playing about.” I’ve included one version which shows what can happen if you just apply one of the automated effects without due care and attention. I’ll leave you to guess which one it is.

Roll your mouse over the preview images to see what software was used and click on an image to see it larger.

I have to say that in my limited time using the software I’ve found the vast majority of it to be surplus to requirement, but then there are always great swathes of any imaging software which most photographers never use, it’s just a matter of finding the useful bits and sticking to using those.

Perhaps a bigger issue for me, and I’m willing to accept this might be a novice mistake, is that I can’t see how to apply edits across a range of images in one go, known as synchronising in Lightroom. I’m assuming there is a way of doing this (maybe saving edits as a preset?), but if not then it could mean using any of these editing tools is going to be long-winded for anything other than occasional, individual files.

On a lesser note, the difference between a Lightroom mono conversion and a Silver Efex one seems to be a matter of preference and probably some more tweaking in the software. If there isn’t an easy way to synchronise adjustments across images within the Nik software, it’ll be of little benefit.

I suspect I will turn to the Nick software on occasion, but maybe more for personal projects or experimentation on individual files. I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to start applying filters regularly to my images by default, probably only when a client requests it.

 

 

Keeping Organised

Any freelance will tell you that there is a great deal of admin involved in keeping things running smoothly. As a photographer one of the more critical elements of my admin, apart from making sure I keep my accounting up to date, is to ensure my photo archive is accessible.

By this I mean that if I need to look up an assignment I shot a decade ago, this shouldn’t be an exercise in rummaging through a suitcase full of random CDs, DVDs and hard drives hoping to find the one I need (and keeping fingers crossed that it hasn’t become damaged and un-readable).

Since I went digital in 2000 I’ve kept a catalogue of every assignment I’ve ever undertaken. It’s a simple piece of software which I use to record each job. It pulls keywords from the captions I’ve written to the image files, so when I go to search I just need a place or person’s name or something relevant to the assignment and the catalogue will return thumbnails of any pictures with matching keywords.

When I click on a thumbnail the software tells me which disk or drive that image (and therefore the rest of the job) is stored on. Since all my storage is kept in strict order it’s easy to find any job pretty fast.

The software, called Media Pro, has changed little over the years; I can’t remember who developed it because it has been owned by various companies including Microsoft. It’s now owned by a company called Phase One and I have to say it’s been brilliant.

The beauty of its simplicity is that even when Phase One took it over I didn’t have to start all over again, re-importing every job from the last 15 years. I just had to buy a new licence to use Media Pro, and the software automatically recognised my catalogue file.

Now you might be wondering why I’d bother to bore you with all this back-story, but the simple fact is that clients occasionally need me to relocate a job from a few years ago (and they’re often on a deadline when they ask me to do this) and my ability to reach back, find older work and resupply the images as needed is a valuable part of my service.

Of course this facility requires admin time, reliable storage and very occasionally a little extra cost in paying for a new licence, but I take these factors into consideration when setting my fees.

When you’re looking to hire a photographer it’s well worth checking what their storage and archive policies are; how long do they store images for? Do they have a system for retrieving long-forgotten jobs at short notice? Is their archive duplicated and held in different locations to protect against loss through flood, fire or theft?

No one can 100% guarantee to keep everything for ever, but I’ve kept my system safe and accessible for over 15 years now. I wonder how many other photographers can say that?

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016!

Traditionally I would do a “year in pictures” post about now with a photo from each month of the year, but this year I thought I’d just pick out a slightly random selection of this year’s pictures from various assignments, personal projects and even the odd holiday snap for you to enjoy.

This is the last post for this year, but I look forward to being able to bring you lots of exciting stuff next year.

I just wanted to say a massive thank you to all my lovely clients, and to wish all my readers a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year!

Without further ado, here’s a round-up of 2015. Click an image to enlarge and you can scroll through from there. Enjoy!

Cycle Challenge

Covering the launch of the new Matrix IC7 cycle training bikes at University of Bath’s Sports Training Village last week presented some interesting challenges, but also made for some interesting photo opportunities – sadly I can’t show show you some of the more creative images as the university hasn’t had use of those pictures yet, but just getting the basics covered presented interesting challenges.

When I arrived on location, the bikes were set up for a spinning class at which a group of cycling enthusiasts, athletes and sports trainers were taking part in a session. The purpose of this was to introduce them to the bikes and their various high-tech features, while also creating a suitable scenario for me to get some shots of the bikes in action.

My first problem was that of how to light the scene; this was a fairly large group of people in a very tight space, with a massive source of light coming from behind them.

With careful positioning of the camera and a bit of shifting of a few distracting objects I managed to get enough room to include the group without being able to see my flashes which were set up, just outside my field of view, at each end of the space in order to bathe the cyclists with enough light to counteract the daylight which would have silhouetted them. I didn’t have much leeway to move about, so the main shots pretty much had to be taken from one position.

Having achieved the basics though, I was able to take additional pictures showing details of the bikes and small sections of the group as well as a few more creative images experimenting with slower shutter speeds and camera/lens movement.

When the group took a break I was able to set up a very quick photo of sports Team Bath athlete Eva Piatrikova as an alternative to the wide group photos.

By the end of the session I had pictures suitable for promoting the spinning/training sessions available at the university and by the end of the afternoon I’d delivered an image suitable for immediate social media use, with the rest of the images edited and delivered the next morning.

Team Bath posted an article using two of the pictures, tweeted one and will use others in future materials to promote the cycle training sessions, so if you’re a keen cyclist wanting to improve your technique or want to learn the basics, now you know where to sign up.

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!

My Dried Grape for Existence (Raisin d’être)

People get into photography for all kinds of reasons and I don’t need to list them here, but since the early days of my career my motivation has been that I wanted to take pictures which were of a high enough standard that I would get commissioned (paid) to take pictures which would be published.

This started with newspapers and magazines, but since my business focuses so much more on commercial and corporate photography now, I get the same thrill by being commissioned by business clients to take photos for their websites, brochures and press releases.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s always been the endorsement of being asked to take pictures in exchange for filthy lucre which has been my motivational drug, which leads me neatly to the argument about taking pictures for money as somehow demeaning photography.

Millions of people take pictures for fun, many thousands take pictures for artistic reasons, but amongst true artists there are vanishingly few who pursue their passion with a view to never making money from it. Money, whatever we think of it, is the ultimate endorsement of what we create.

Cover of University of Bath's Donor Report

Making pictures for publication is what motivates me

For me, though I don’t put my work under the heading of art, the opposite of my principle motivation would be to take photos just so people could tell me how great they are, without anyone telling me in cash terms whether or not my work is up to snuff. Likes and shares on Facebook and Instagram are all very well, but it’s too easy for someone to endorse a photo on the web with pretty much zero commitment or investment in that photo. A Like might not even mean they like the photo and you may never know what motivated someone to  give it a click. It’s possible they made a slip of the finger which they couldn’t be bothered to reverse.

No, for me the joy of photography, my reason to strive and improve in it, is to see it used, published and put to work in return for the thing (the ONLY thing) which allows me to carry on doing it; money.

Charging money for photography doesn’t diminish it, doesn’t decrease its value. If you want to decrease the value of your photography, all you have to do is give it away, whereupon it becomes either worthless or impossible to value. If anything, giving photography away diminishes photography as a whole, a consequence which I believe has done much harm to the industry and resulted in a great deal of very poor work being used where it should never have seen light of day.

Taking pictures for money doesn’t weaken my wish to be the best I can be, it enhances my motivation. Nor does it stop me banging the drum for photography worth paying for. My raison d’être may be filthy lucre, but around that sits a joy in my work, a joy in giving my clients what they want and need and ultimately being able to say I’ve stayed true to my principles for 25 years.*

*I haven’t the slightest idea where this article came from. It just sort of wrote itself. Thank you for reading.