2020 and BEYOND!

Often at the close of a year I’ll put together an annual review, but 2019 was different in that it was the close of a decade.

So why didn’t I do a review of the decade? Simply put, I ran out of time. After three months of Bunker conversion, the end-rush to get it ready to coincide with the looming termination date of my tenancy at The Old Church School (eight years there!) PLUS client work PLUS admin PLUS Christmas, I had to make some harsh decisions about what I could and could not fit in.

In fact I was so busy, it barely sank in until quite late in December that we were in fact staring down the barrel of the 2020s. By the time I’d twigged, it was too late to put anything meaningful together. Sorry about that.

However, I’m now fully set up in the new space and although it’s early days, so far it’s working very well and I’m proud of what I accomplished in renovating what was a tatty-looking concrete structure, turning it into a genuinely usable, some may say attractive, workspace. I’m particularly chuffed that the only part of the project I didn’t tackle was the electrical installation. I may be insane, but I’m not mad! My general DIY skills have definitely improved with this project though, just don’t ask me to convert your shed/bunker/garage for you.

Returning to the subject of the turn of the decade, perhaps it’s a shame I didn’t get to look back and reflect, but I actually feel more in the mood for looking forward. After all, my photography of ten years ago is nothing like the work I’m doing now, and even further removed from where I want to take it in the coming years.

Through this year and the next few years, I’ll be working hard to build the fine art projects and prints side of my business (takeagander.co.uk) while continuing to invest in my corporate work, which still represents the bulk of my business.

The launch (see previous post) of the open air exhibition of panels from What Happened Here was a great end to the year and an indicator of the kind of outcome I’m looking for with my personal work – getting it out there and noticed and looking for new opportunities to shoot fresh work and see where it takes me.

With the corporate work I will of course keep developing my style, skills and services, but this relies in part on the personal projects which help me develop new practices outside of client time; I don’t believe in using my clients as guinea pigs for experiments.

What I’m aiming for is more of the same as in recent years, only bigger and better; my corporate work feeding my ability to shoot personal projects, with income from fine art prints and other uses of that work building up into it’s own sizeable income. I have plans, some vaguer than others, but plans nonetheless.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign off now and start putting those plans into practice. In the meantime, do watch this space for news on forthcoming deals on fine art prints – I hope to announce something big soon.

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.

Anyone for Tea?

In February this year I received an enquiry from a completely new venture. So new, in fact, that it hadn’t actually launched yet, which is always interesting because it often means I have even more opportunity than usual to add some of my creative input into the project.

The client, Tea for Three marketing and communications, consists of three directors, Helen Rimmer, Debbie Clifford and Michelle Gordon-Coles, and together they make a very dynamic team with backgrounds in journalism, public relations, charities, corporate communications and education.

It also has to be said, I’ve rarely worked with a team so completely on the same wavelength as each other. It’s obvious their personalities just mesh perfectly and I think this will feed their undoubted future success.

I gleaned all this from the pre-shoot planning meeting I had with Helen and the few hours I spent taking photos with the trio.

We started in a beautiful stone-walled meeting room at Glove Factory Studios where, having arranged Debbie, Helen and Michelle around a table in such a way as to keep the composition tight, I just left them to chat, smile, laugh and drink tea while I captured a series of moments from different angles until there was a good selection of images to draw on.

They had also arranged a trip up the road to Merkin’s Farm cafe for more tea (clearly their fuel of choice) so I could take more individual shots as well as a couple of more posed groups with a less “officey” look, aka outside with some nice countryside in the background.

During both sessions I was keen to not only fulfil the brief, but also to look out for angles and details that would give them those extra shots which are so necessary on a website; you know, those photos nobody knows they need until it comes to actually building it and realising they don’t have quite enough!

The end result is a set of photos which really show the coherence of this vibrant team as well as their very relaxed, friendly (while still utterly professional) approach to marketing. And judging from the testimonial Helen sent through (shamelessly requested by myself), I think Tea for Three were either very happy with the results or had got slightly tipsy on Darjeeling.

We had a very specific brief for Tim to follow, we didn’t want to come across as too corporate or stuffy and wanted our photos for our website to show us as friendly and down to earth. We were a little bit nervous but Tim soon put us at ease. He was great fun to work with and very patient when we laughed too much!

“Tim has a great eye for detail and came up with lots of ideas we hadn’t thought of. We were really pleased with the end results and would definitely recommend Tim.”

Helen Rimmer, Tea for Three Ltd.

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.

 

 

Case Study: Corporate Publication Cover Photo

One of the aspects of my photography work which really gives me a kick is seeing it used well in a corporate publication.

A typical example is this photo which I took during the 2014 Summer Graduations for University of Bath. I was inside Bath Abbey covering one of the ceremonies, getting shots of students striding proudly up to the stage to receive their degrees, but I needed more general shots too.

I took the opportunity during some applause to go quietly towards the rear of the abby where students were seated, watching the proceedings on TV monitors, while they waited their turn to be transformed from graduand to graduate.

It was the perfect situation for finding images of students looking happy and anticipating their own journey to the stage. Add to this the fact that they were looking up at screens and I had the perfect opportunity to get shots of them looking like they were anticipating their futures too.

During the course of those Summer Graduations (11 ceremonies over 3 days) I supplied a large library of images to the university. Some were for immediate social media use, some for press release and even more to be held in their photo library for future publications such as this, the Impact Report, which highlights the positive impact donations have on students and their research and studies.

Though I had no idea at the time I took it that this photo would make the cover of a publication, I think it works really well in this context. It has impact and it illustrates the concept of anticipation and potential, of a bright future for youngsters starting their graduate careers.

Much of the time I can’t be certain where or how a client will use the photos I take for them, but it’s always encouraging to see when a designer has used their own skill and vision to make the most of it.

All Dressed Up…

Not all my work involves taking portraits of business people in offices, though it’s fair to say a lot of what I do is exactly that.

Just before Easter I started on a project with BBSRC, one of the UK’s research councils, to produce a set of images of their facilities for use in their new website, on social media and in printed reports – in fact all their corporate communications. They’re moving away from using generic stock wherever possible and towards featuring their own research scientists and facilities to better communicate what they do.

This first stage of the project required some forethought and planning, because I was going to visit research units where biosecurity is a consideration. In other words, I couldn’t just walk in from the outside, with my camera, and start snapping away.

It wasn’t a full “hazmat” situation, but I was required to take a shower and change into supplied underwear, scrubs, disposable boiler suit, gloves, hair cover and face mask before going in, and although my camera gear was unlikely to cause a problem, I opted to use it for the most part inside a waterproof housing. Not least because at a future date, I’m going to have to use the housing in a facility requiring even greater biosecurity than at this one, so it was a good opportunity to try using the camera in the housing while wearing a face mask and gloves.

Thankfully I didn’t have to spend the entire day shooting like this because an underwater camera housing is rather like a penguin; graceful under water, unbelievably clumsy on dry land. It was great practice and I learned a few things about what I could and could not do when working this way, but it didn’t half make my hands ache as I tried to work the lens and controls through the PVC camera housing. I also discovered that with the face mask, my view into the viewfinder would steam up every time I breathed out. I did a lot of breathing control during this session!

To respect the client’s licensing, I won’t be sharing the photos I took for them here, but as the project progresses I hope I can show you some behind-the-scenes and outtakes along the way.

Photographing Children for Corporate Communications

School pupils in casual clothes arrive at University of Bath campus with suitcases

Making sure faces are hidden is an obvious solution when identities can’t be shown.

One area of photography which can really give clients the jitters is the use of children in promotional and editorial materials, and rightly so. Extra care should be taken when featuring people under the age of 18 in corporate communications, but this doesn’t mean they have to be invisible or horribly pixelated to disguise identity.

In some areas I do feel protection can be heavy-handed and overzealous. I particularly dislike the habit amongst local newspapers, and it’s a habit which seems to come and go with the tide, to only feature children’s first names or no names at all. Newspapers form part of our local history and are to some extent historical documents. A photo captioned simply with “James wins the 100m swimming competition” is pointless and silly. James has a surname and deserves recognition for his achievements just the same as any adult, but I won’t labour the point here.

What I want to focus on instead is how I get around issues of keeping youngsters’ identities safe where it is necessary to do so while still fulfilling the brief and communicating some kind of narrative.

My approach will vary according to the situation, the brief and age of the children. I sometimes have to account for special behavioural needs which will again guide my approach, but in any case there is always a way to take interesting, well-composed, properly lit photos which show the client at their best and respect the dignity of the youngsters involved.

THe hand of a child colouring in with a pencil

Details of activities is another good way to give a picture life without giving away an identity

One important thing to remember is that if children are identifiable in something which is to be used to promote a business or organisation, permissions will be needed and care taken about how images are used. I will always liaise with my clients at the briefing stage as to the requirements and limitations of a photo session involving minors, and there’s nothing like good old common sense to make sure everything goes smoothly before, during and after the event.