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.

PR Photography in Lockdown

In my recent article Measured Success I described how a couple of simple items, a tape measure and chalk, allowed me to work a public relations photoshoot and still keep everyone safe.

This week I thought I’d share a bit more about that job with you.

The client was Seko Logistics, who had undertaken to deliver free personal protective equipment (PPE), supplied by Alexandra Workwear, to all 69 care homes in The Order of St John Care Trust group, starting with their home in Thornbury, Bristol.

Now this was never going to make the tight group shot I would normally aim to produce, but given the circumstances I felt the distancing between the people in the photo would not only keep everyone safe, but would also help make the picture visually interesting.

The light was difficult (when isn’t it?), so I had to put up a couple of high powered studio flash units. Without them the people’s faces would have been silhouetted and I also wanted to pick out some detail of the building too. The only giveaway is the shadow of the care nurse which runs contra to the shadows cast by the sun behind the people and building.

That’s ok though. I’d rather ensure the people were sufficiently lit than have to spend ages trying to wrestle with the exposure levels in post production, which would never have looked as good or had the crisp, colourful impact this image has.

The result is a photo which the client has been able to use not only in their own social media feeds, but which has gone around their various industry publications too. I’m always pleased to see my pictures working hard for a client and I know the client is also pleased with how everything went and the result at the end.

So while organisations will be struggling to balance many conflicting requirements right now, it’s wise to keep an eye out for any stories which your business could put out as a press release. With professional care and execution, it’s still possible to get good PR coverage and raise your business profile with something positive.

Emergency Blog

Do you know what? I have written and re-written this article about half a dozen times, trying to say so many things about how I hope everyone is ok and about what my coping strategy is.

The problem is, since we’re all in the same boat, anything I write looks like opportunist marketing, so I’ll just say this:

  • Stay safe, obviously.
  • If I can help with anything, let me know. Even if it’s just to pick my brains.
  • I am determined to be here for my clients all through this and well beyond.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck at home and need a diversion, check out takagander and consider buying a print (if there is anything you like). This will help keep me sane while everything else is in shutdown.

And if you do buy a print, use TAKEA20 at checkout to get £20.00 off any canvas print, or £20 off any fine art print (or multiple prints) when you spend £150.00 or more. Hurry though, the offer expires on March 20th. There, I just marketed again! Ugh.

A final few words for now:

It’s going to be tough to plan new photography for your business when we don’t have a timescale for this situation, but do speak to me now because we can all hit the ground running whenever the brakes come off. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Take care,

Tim

Say CHEESE!

Finding a photographer is as easy as finding cheddar cheese in Cheddar, and in case you were unaware; Cheddar is an actual place and it’s where cheddar cheese originally came from before everyone from the Irish to the Azerbaijanis decided to make “cheddar cheese” themselves and flood the market with their filth. Even so, there is an awful lot of cheddar in Cheddar and it’s easy to find, trust me.

Sorry, I digress. It’s just that living in Somerset, about 30 minutes from Cheddar, I’m a little fussy about where my cheddar comes from. Although, at the risk of prolonging this needless digression further, there’s an excellent Somerset brie which I highly recommend. Apologies to Brieland.

Right, back to my point… which was? Oh yes, photographers are easy to find (yes, I said that already, get on with it Tim!) But actually, like cheddar, not all photographers are the same. Just like Canadian cheddar, there’s a lot of rubbish out there (sorry Canadaland, but your cheddar is pants*). And even amongst the really excellent cheddars, not every cheddar will suit your pallet, just as not every excellent photographer will suit your requirements.

Some cheddars are creamy, smooth and mild. Others are crumbly, borderline gritty with a bite that gives you that weird stinging sensation at the back of your jaw. I actually love a strong cheddar, but it’s not to everyone’s taste and it doesn’t suit all occasions.

So what I’m saying is, yes it’s easy to find a photographer, but make sure they shoot what you need in the style you need it. There is rarely any merit in hiring a wedding photographer to shoot your corporate website (I accept a few exceptions to this rule, but only very few). Likewise, I really don’t ‘do’ food. For that you need a food photographer, who will have all the tools, both mentally and in terms of equipment, to make your dishes look mouthwatering. Hire me to photograph your food and I’ll probably just eat it. It’s also well known I don’t do weddings. Why would I when there are some superb wedding specialists out there?

When hunting out the best photographer for your job, you’ll probably start with a search using the terms for the kind of photographer you’re after, eg: business, portrait, photographer, Bristol, or whatever. This will return MANY sites to consider and you’ll probably want to start by quickly dismissing the part-time photographers, the wedding photographers and the “I have a camera and will literally point it at anything you want me to” photographers.

This is no easy task, but usually a few moments spent looking through their online portfolios will tell you whether or not they do what you need AND are competent at it. Also if a portfolio is a scattergun of different genres, subjects and styles, you might want to move on as this can suggest either that the photographer is not consistent in their field, or that they’ve been stealing other peoples’ photos to build their own portfolio. Perhaps shocking in the age of the internet, but yes this does happen.

It’s taken me years to find the right cheddar for my tastes. I like Wyke Farm Extra Mature for everyday eating and for recipes, while I’ve yet to find a cheddar which quite matches the joy of Westcombe Dairy’s prize-winning offering. So having found my favourites, I stick with them. The same can go for your photographer if it’s a case of shooting the same subject or genre of photography and the photographer shoots to the style and quality which matches your standards.

Just as you can constantly chop, change and shop around for your cheddar cheese, you can constantly chop and change your choice of photographer. However, if your corporate communications end up looking like a ragtag of styles and qualities, well that’s just hard cheese.

*I’m using the UK definition of ‘pants’ as in ‘underwear’. Yes, Canada, I’m sorry, but your cheddar tastes like grey y-fronts. I love Canadians though, and they make the best maple syrup.

How Soon Is Now?

Well that’s got The Smiths fans reading. Hello, both of you.*

What that slightly odd headline is nodding towards, in a painfully contorted way like Morrissey performing William, It Was Really Nothing, is that while a photo might be taken for quick social media use, bear in mind you may wish to use it later for other things.

So, what difference does it make if you approach the task with only Twitter or Facebook in mind? You might want to ask yourself if it matters there’s only half a person in the frame, or the resolution is poor.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but your photos and your brand should work hand in glove across many media. The quality shouldn’t oscillate wildly from one media to another otherwise your message is going nowhere fast.

The point of photography is to communicate your message; get it wrong and the world won’t listen.

I hope this post has per suedehead you that such a little thing makes such a big difference.

*The more astute amongst you will have spotted a few familiar references and one rather painful pun.

SO LONG, SEO-UCKERS!

In April 2010 I wrote a blog article about the frustration caused by photographers who don’t do what I do getting their websites SEOd as if they did. Not only frustrating for me, but also for clients genuinely looking for a corporate, commercial or press photographer in the Bath, Bristol and Somerset areas (see what I did there?).

The majority of perps in the search-engine fraud were wedding photographers fishing for the extra calls, but if a client clicked to their site looking for examples of that type of work, they were often disappointed; galleries entitled Corporate Photography or Press Photography often containing nothing but… wedding images. Something of a waste of time, and I was frustrated by a lack of intelligence on Google’s part to seek out and demote these sites, making search results more relevant.

I’m happy to report that Google do appear to have been reading my blog, and now a search using the terms you would expect a potential client to use to find me sees my website listed top or at least on the first page. Especially pleasing when I’m competing against a glut of photographers in places like Bristol and ranking highly for Somerset.

Dr Vince Cable speaking at Innovator of the Year awards, London

A press picture for a corporate client, and definitely not a wedding photo

How have I achieved this? Well I stick to using simple, standard terms, and ensuring the images I upload for my clients are properly tagged, captioned, keyworded etc and plugging away at things like this blog.

In other words, my SEO efforts are honest. I don’t WANT to be found under wedding searches, or family portrait searches or plumbing and electrical searches. I want to be found for what I do, and it’s nice to be able to report that I’m getting new clients as a result. I’m not saying I do a perfect job, but I do my best and try to avoid keyword loading.

Hopefully those wedding photographers didn’t spend too much time or pay too much money to SEO ‘experts’ only to have their sites demoted by Google, and I do indeed hope they’re getting top listings for what they actually do.

Case Study: Business Portrait Consistency

contact sheet of business portraits

Reasonable consistency across different sites is possible with the right set up and approach.

A recent commission, spread over a number of days, consisted of corporate portraits of around 50 partners and staff in accountancy firm Moore Stephens.

Simple enough, apart from three considerations: Firstly the portraits all needed the same look, secondly the staff are spread across five office sites (Salisbury, Chichester, Newport, Southampton and Guildford) and finally the style needed to match that which I’d established with the client on a shoot which happened over a year ago.

The first task then was to pull the previous headshots from my archive and double check the look and lighting of them. That’s easy enough, and I remembered what setup I’d used so simply had to replicate that for the new shots.

The simplicity of that setup also made it easier to replicate it across the sites. This was handy because different offices have different amounts of space for me to work in, so compact is good.

Different offices will also have different kinds of lighting in them, and different amounts of daylight. Really I needed to kill the daylight and ceiling lights, and set up using my portable studio lighting so that again the look would remain as consistent as possible.

I’d previously chosen quite a flat, “airy” kind of lighting because as nice as it is to use dramatic side-lighting, it can be a lot less flattering. And while everyone at Moore Stephens is attractive in person, I have to consider how they’ll look in a photo.

With corporate portraits I often emphasise to the client that these photos aren’t meant to flatter them or look good on the mantlepiece, their purpose is to make them look friendly and professional to their existing and potential clients. Even so, when shooting dozens of headshots while trying to keep people tied up for as little time as possible, the set-up I used ensured that the pictures are consistent, as flattering as they need to be and simple to execute.

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so far I’ve had some very complimentary comments about how it all turned out.

If you have a lot of people in your business that need to be photographed, it’s worth thinking about how the look you want will translate into images which can be replicated for other staff at other sites, and how well that look will suit the people being photographed. And if it all gets too complicated, this will affect how easy it is to get everyone photographed in a sensible amount of time.

Goldilocks and the photo.

Can brilliant corporate photography save a failing business? No. BUT it will be part of what makes success easier to achieve. Conversely if a business is using snaps or stock imagery, this can be, as an American business guru might put it, a drag coefficient on your success rocket. *blech!*

I don’t pretend that the photos I take will turn you into an overnight sensation and put you in contention for The Sunday Times Rich List, but it’s fair to say that when marketing departments go to the trouble of getting a lively, engaging web design together with compelling text and a user-friendly interface, what often lets the whole project down is the lazy or cheap approach to the accompanying imagery.

call centre staff on telephone

Quality photos say “quality business”.

Head shots of key staff needn’t be cheesy, and they certainly mustn’t be low quality just because they’re going to be used small. You never know when you might need to reproduce one to a larger scale and in print, and that’s when poor lighting and composition as well as poor resolution really start to show up. The purple gargoyle look doesn’t suit anyone. Neither is it helpful if an over-compressed file leaves you looking like you have some kind of skin disease.

Photographs of products and processes, people, places (and all the stuff not starting with p) all require a level of quality. After all, shot once you can use these images over and over again and they’ll pay for themselves in time, whereas low-grade, badly taken images will simply remind potential clients how little you care for quality every time one of these photos shows up.

Equally, if you get great imagery but either don’t use it at all or don’t use it properly, you’ll be wasting your money and you’ll think it wasn’t good value. This comes back to using a quality photographer who can give good after care, and a marketing specialist who knows how to use pictures for maximum impact.

Where’s all this going? Well I believe it’s possible to overstate the importance of photography in business, but what’s happened since the mass-accessibility of digital is that things have swung too much in the other direction. General opinion is often that photography has no, or very little importance. Often I’ve seen web designers refer to the photos in their designs as “eye-candy”. If the photos are just eye-candy, why bother with any imagery at all? And why do I have so many clients if what I do has no impact on their business?

If your business uses photography it should be as a way of communicating something to existing and potential clients. Not just showing that which is in front of the camera, but the quality, composition and presentation of the photo will all be shorthand for the kind of business you are.

Now, that’s not going to save a business which is already circling the drain, but dismissing photography on your website and in your literature as “so much fluff” won’t help you to the top of your market either. As Goldilocks might have said, you need to get the balance just right.

Photo case study: Location portrait.

I’ve written before on the subject of Photoshop, the pitfalls, dangers and terrors, but “meh”, nobody listened so I thought I’d show a recent example of where I have used some photo manipulation to benefit the final photo.

You see when I shoot for corporate clients, I prefer to get things pretty much spot-on in the camera, rather than taking any old muzzy smudge and hoping I can sort it all out later on the ‘puter. I have heard tales of “professional” photographers who work this way, and it tends to end in tears and a lot of wasted CEO/staff time, not to mention the wasted marketing budget, because by the time somebody has spotted that the Emperor’s new clothes are in fact a figment of the imagination, the cheeky little monkey with the winning smile and the expensive looking camera has caught the next plane to Rio with the company cheque already safely banked.

I digress; back to Photoshop, or to use the verb form, “photoshopping”. Not to be confused with the act of shopping for photos.

In the case where I was asked to get a website cover shot for Clucas Communications the brief was to get a double portrait of Peter and Sibylle Clucas against a white background so the designer could either leave the subjects against white or undertake a cutout more easily. In the event the final shot is used as a cutout against a white page, which works well.

That would seem easy enough, except that the shooting conditions were tricky (to get enough space we ended up setting up the shot outdoors with portable background and lights), so these were not perfect studio conditions. My one compromise then was that I knew I could get the background white-ish, but it wouldn’t be fully white as if we were in the studio with perfect lighting.

Below are the results, and the sharp-eyed among (amongst? amo amas amat?) you will notice that pretty much all I’ve done is go at the background with the dodge tool to lighten the highlights (only affecting those areas which are already almost white) to achieve a perfect whiteness any soap manufacturer would be proud of.

 

before and after photoshop examples of corporate portraits

Spot the difference. Can't see it? Oh well...

And despite the fact that most weeks I’ll have to listen to some smart Alec or Alice telling me what I can fix in Photoshop, I still stick to the principle that for my work, Photoshop is great for removing the dust spots that are the curse of the digital SLR and correcting the odd colour cast and generally preparing an image so that it is technically viable for either print or web. I’m not going to make a rainy day sunny, or drop the Taj Mahal into the background to make the view from your office window look more interesting. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll be wanting a different breed of photographer. One that will probably be in Brazil by the time you realise those “interesting” photos are in fact junk.

Taking the long view.

 

austrian mountains

Gratuitous pretty photo as metaphor for taking the long view.

 

It’s all a bit doom and gloom in light of the latest government spending review (aka GSR, or gun shot residue since someone will have to pull the trigger), so I thought I’d offer an opinion from my own perspective as well as show you a pretty photo that might help calm the raggedy nerves.

I know I’m “only” a commercial photographer, but the benefit of what I do is that I get to see inside a variety of businesses, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and difficulties to face as we all find ourselves caught between the axe man and the tax man. Of course, what is common amongst the businesses I get to visit is that they all want to update their marketing with fresh designs and imagery because not to do so is to risk becoming invisible amongst the welter of competing businesses on the web.

Now I don’t want this to be yet another article extolling the virtues of online marketing. There are enough web, e-marketing and search engine optimisation gurus out there to fill the Titanic many times over, and many are about as useful as a busted lifeboat as the economy lists hard to starboard and the icy waters of recession fill the steerage class quarters and… enough of that analogy, you get the picture.

The problem for businesses that need a decent website or brochure and don’t yet have them is that as we face massive public sector cuts AND the hike in VAT, the company budget will never be there to turn a poor or non-existent website or brochure into a useful marketing tool. Those businesses that have delayed too long may have to fare this storm with nothing but whatever they have right now, which might be no more than a poorly designed flyer which does nothing but demonstrate the startling array of text fonts and colours available on the MD’s nephew’s computer.

Alternatively, companies can start to spend not less, but more wisely. Taking the time and effort to find the real experts in whatever needs doing. Of course I mean finding the right commercial photographer (not a mate’s wedding photographer), as well as the professional web designer, graphic designer, copy writer and marketing expert so that the resulting website, brochure or leaflet, all work much harder and have a much longer shelf life.

I know this all sounds dull and isn’t producing belly laughs, but however ghastly this recession is or continues to be, one thing is certain; it will end one day, and businesses that have invested carefully in whatever areas of marketing work for them will find themselves stronger on the other side, and without Leonardo Dicaprio’s frozen, lifeless fingers still gripping whatever piece of driftwood has kept them afloat while they await rescue or the receivers.