Tethered Capture (seeing the bigger picture)

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the press lately about Royalty and tethering (I won’t expand on that here) and it reminded me that I’ve never really explained what tethering means from a photographer’s point of view and why it might be useful to a client.

Tethering is a method of taking photos while the camera is linked to a laptop via a cable, but what it involves and why you’d want to do it is worth a little further explanation.

Tethered capture, as it’s often called, allows the photographer to review photos on a laptop within about a second of them being taken. Of course pictures can be reviewed on the back of the camera, and that’s my regular way of working. However that tiny little screen, often obscured with nose grease (yum!) isn’t always the best way to check fine detail.

A far better solution is to take test shots, then review them on the laptop screen to see how the light is working and whether any tweaks to clothing or hair might be necessary. Really fine details (a cat hair on a lapel, or a stray hair across an eye) are often only visible when viewed on a larger screen.

The software which allows the pictures to display on the laptop (I use Adobe Lightroom) can also be set to show a rough idea of the final treatment (colour, contrast, sharpening etc) that I’ll be using, so a marketing executive can get an idea of how the finished images will look and we can adjust according to their requirements.

Likewise the sitters also benefit from being able to view the images on a decent-sized screen so they can be happy with their shots before going back to their work. They’ll have a much clearer idea of what we’re getting and this can also help them relax into the shoot. Once we’re happy with the test shots, I don’t tend to look at the screen again until after each person’s sitting.

The other reason I like to work this way if I can is that it means the images are backed up automatically as I shoot – one set on the camera card, a duplicate set on the laptop hard drive. So if there is a failure, I’ve a better chance of recovering images which might otherwise be lost.

Of course tethering only works for the headshot work I do because camera movement is limited by the cable length and the reliability of the connection. I couldn’t shoot a corporate event or a conference using tethering, it just wouldn’t be practical, but for the business headshot it’s a useful tool.

It’s also possible to get camera and computer to communicate via wifi, but this can be too fiddly and unreliable, so I tend to use the cable method.

So if I turn up at your corporate headshot session with a music stand, don’t panic: I’m not about to pull a cello from my rolling case and launch into a Rachmaninoff sonata, sometimes it’s just handy to work tethered and to see the bigger picture.

 

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.

Sweet Luxury

The other day I was asked to come into a business in Bristol to undertake a portrait session so members of staff could post to Twitter and LinkedIn with fresh, up-to-date (and importantly, professionally-taken) profile photos.

The pictures were taken at the end of an in-house social media training seminar, and I suspect this helped convince attendees of the importance of a decent avatar portrait. I believe this kind of training is an excellent idea for businesses wanting their staff to help promote the brand on online platforms, and of course a clean, clear profile photo gives their posts greater gravitas.

What made it for me though, apart from the lovely welcoming people I got to work with, was the huge amount of space I was given to work in.

If your business has just taken over larger premises and you haven’t quite expanded into it just yet, take the opportunity to make headway on your headshots. While the entire office isn’t crammed with furniture and people, it makes a great space to work in and I can light the portraits better than if I’m shoehorned into a stationery cupboard, or a board room with an immovable table filling it.

Of course once you’ve filled the space, I’ll need to come back to photograph all the newly appointed team members. Don’t worry though, as long as there is room enough, I can make the lighting work. It’s just so much nicer when there’s space a-plenty.

 

Space – Time Continuum

A recent experience reminded me once again of the importance of two particular aspects of a corporate portrait photography session, namely space and time. In fact as these two elements are inextricably linked, we can refer to them as a continuum.

Setting aside the fourth dimension for a moment, on this particular occasion I was shown into a vast board room, which would have been perfect except it was mostly filled with immobile boardroom furniture; massive table and countless chairs. At the same time I was told I could only have the room for half an hour, which is approximately how long it would have taken me to set up the lighting kit even if there had been space to do so.

This would have left no time for any photography to happen, let lone the two hours I was booked for. A continuum conundrum, no less.

Thankfully we were able to find an alternative room which, though smaller, had much more clear floor space. It was also available for two hours, which was just about enough – not perfect, as I was booked for three (and could happily have filled them with the shots listed as required), but better than zero minutes by quite a considerable percentage.

Of course when you’re setting up a photo session, coordinating the schedules of everyone involved is often a headache, but it’s worth thinking of the room and the time required as if they were two more people in the schedule. If a room or the time in that room are unavailable, it’s a no-goer.

The time required will depend on how many people are to be photographed and the brief to which I’ll be working (more varieties of poses etc will obviously require more time) and at least 30 minute’s set-up and break-down time should be factored either side of the session.

How much space is needed will depend on whether it’s close head shots or full-length portraits required (full-length requires a great deal more space), but as a rule of thumb for headshots, you need to allow approximately 2.5 – 3m width x 3m length (length being the distance between where I’ll stand and the next wall or immobile obstacle).

This is approximate, but it is a realistic guide. You can easily add another couple of metres to the length for full-length portraits.

The photo on this article shows an example of where I’ve had more space than I knew what to do with (it was in fact one half of a hotel ballroom!), but seeing the set-up gives you some notion of how that space is used.

So remember, when you’re booking all the executives and colleagues for that all-important photo session, don’t forget to plan the room and ring-fence the time. Without those two elements, the space – time continuum breaks down and everything else becomes academic.

Back to Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy February everyone!

Work Experience Advice

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

 

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

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

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

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

Get Shorty

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Gimme Some Room!

Much of my business photography consists of taking portraits of, rather predictably, business people. So far so good.

This pretty much always happens at their place of work because that means less disruption to their busy schedule and I can create a set of portraits covering all the colleagues that happen to be in the building that day. Still so far so good.

Where “so far so good” becomes “ummm” is when I’m shown into a meeting room/stationery cupboard which is so crammed with immobile tables and heavy chairs/stationery that I have no space to actually take pictures.

I do make a point of requesting a space roughly 10 foot square, but sometimes the message gets lost or it’s assumed the boardroom table can be moved when I get there. More commonly now, tables are cabled to the floor with telephone and computer wires, which will only stretch so far before they go PING! and the IT department has to be called in.

So to say I was utterly delighted with the space I was given this week is an understatement – half a ballroom in a hotel. All to myself, with nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing taking up floor space. In fact I had to pull a small table into the room so I could check off peoples’ names as I went without having to squat on the floor.

A photographer's backdrop and studio flash equipment are set up in a large empty room in the Hilton, Walcot Street, Bath, UK

A great space for portraits

I thoroughly enjoyed setting up my backdrop and lights slap bang in the middle of the space. It gave the whole thing a slightly surreal air and the people who came in to have their photos taken were astonished that the room they’d been assigned for their meeting was so much smaller than the one reserved for me.

Of course the ballroom wouldn’t have worked for them because they needed AV and a projector for their presentations which the ballroom didn’t have, but it did make me feel very special and it also meant I had bags of room to control how the lights lit the backdrop and the sitters. It meant I could work towards a very particular look without too much difficulty.

Ok, not the most exciting tale in the world, and it’s not as if I’ll be dining out on that one ever, but it’s a fine illustration of how giving the photographer ample space to work will not only make their life easier, it’ll also mean they can work to achieve more accurate results in-camera and ensure that so far so good endures right through to “that’s a wrap”.

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.