Beyond the Brief

Next time you’re planning to update the photography for your corporate communications, why not consider allowing some additional creative time within the session? Allowing some creative space beyond the brief could result in some interesting results.

An excellent example of this is from November last year when I was commissioned to create new team head shots for business data analysts Kaiasm – I’m massively paraphrasing what they do for the sake of brevity.

There was one shot which I pretty much took as a bit of a joke; I’d noticed how the data graph behind the founder Liam McGee’s head made him look like he had a halo. When I mentioned this to him, he obliged with a suitable pose and expression and I took the shot.

The photo was included in the final edit because I know clients often enjoy the odd outtake in their set, but I didn’t expect to see it used.

A couple of weeks later, the local paper ran the photo with an article about Kaiasm and their pending expansion plans.

So allowing some creative freedom and a dollop of humour can lead to unexpectedly useful results. That photo will have drawn far more attention to the article than any plain headshot or stock image of the office would have done, and will have conveyed Kaiasm as a business run by human beings, not robots.

Bear in mind the creative possibilities, even the occasional happy accident afforded by engaging a professional photographer, and you may find the results are a revelation.

Creative Field

Assuming for a moment that Mark Twain actually said “golf is a good walk spoiled,” I wonder if he would have been happier taking a good walk with a camera?

Last weekend I went for a walk in the countryside just outside Frome and as I returned across a familiar field, the way the evening sunlight glinted off the grass struck me as especially interesting. So I took a photo. Nothing special there of course, but having taken that photo I decided it wasn’t enough just to show the field as I saw it from my (approx 6’1″) stance. I wanted to explore other ways to convey what I was seeing and feeling as I stood there. I was getting dangerously artsy.

And so I used the same technique I employ when working for a client; I stood quietly for a few moments, considering options, looking at the light, the field, the grass and thinking about what other possibilities might present themselves.

I tried a very low angle which emphasised the narrow footpath through the grass as well as the sunlight glinting off the blades and then I tried for one more shot. Far more abstract this time, but still making use of the sunlit highlights, I lowered the shutter speed and rotated the camera as I took the shot. I might have looked a little daft, but no one was around and I wouldn’t have cared if they were. I was having fun! To be honest, I could have spent hours there interpreting that field in different ways, but for this post I just wanted to illustrate what’s possible with something seemingly lacking in options.

It’s all too easy to see what’s in front of you and assume there is either no photo to be had, or that there is only one way to photograph it. Taking time, engaging the brain and having a think about what, if anything, you’re trying to capture or say in a photo is not only an excellent way to explore ideas, it also saves you taking up golf.

Another Chapter

Smiling portrait against a grey background of author Sally M Gander

Standard head shot for small usage

Author portrait sessions are fun, I just don’t get to do them very often. That’s a slight understatement because in fact I believe in the last 15 years as a freelance I’ve done the grand sum of two. The first was in May 2003 for sci-fi writer Karen Traviss for her book City of Pearl, the second was in November last year for young adult fiction writer Sally M Gander* as part of the launch of her debut ebook, The Big Deep. A gap of just over a decade. Hardly London buses then.

What’s fun about them is that they are an opportunity for more creative input than I tend to get with, for example, corporate portraits. Using Sally as an example, we were able to discuss style and mood which feeds into considerations of location and, for me at least, what kit to use. Also, since the writing world has changed so dramatically since the halcyon days of 2003, we needed to consider context a lot more.

Author Sally M Gander's photo session in the street is interrupted by a passerby hugging her

A hazard of taking portraits in the street

Not only will these photos be needed for a possible inside jacket, but also for all kinds of social media, blog use, press use, print and digital. In fact I suspect the shoot covered Sally for pretty much everything barring projection onto the London gherkin (not sure what my obsession with all things London is this week).

We started the session with some fairly straight head shots, indoors against a white backdrop, then switched to grey. Some smiling, some straight-faced as these are useful for when a portrait is to be used very small somewhere.

After the warm indoor part we ventured onto the chilly streets of Frome and worked on getting more mood into the shots and making sure there was a variety of landscape and portrait orientations and shots with left/right emphasis. In order to work fast I stuck to just two lenses, a 35mm and a 105mm, and a single flash to augment the rather nice daylight.

Even keeping it simple takes some time. Add in the odd interruption (a hazard of taking photos on the street) and a couple of changes of location, and by the time I’d finished Sally’s eyes were watering so much it looked as if she might be crying. It’s possible she was, it was bitterly cold.

Landscape portrait of Sally M Gander, author, taken in Shepherds Barton, Frome

A landscape-oriented shot is also useful

The session finished, later that day I did the editing and processing on the files and delivered them to Sally, who said they were absolutely the best photos ever taken of her (I paraphrase, but she was definitely pleased).

So now all I have to do is wait another decade for my next writerly client. I’ll let you know when it happens.

Frome-based author Sally M Gander poses by a stone wall in Frome

An alternative backdrop and different expression change the mood completely

To buy Sally M Gander’s debut novel The Big Deep, click here.

*Yes, there is a relationship between myself and Sally M Gander. We are married. We are separated. We are friends.