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.

An Alamyighty Mess

Sicilian sunset

It’s sunset time for Alamy

I believe I joined online photo library Alamy in 2004. Back then they were offering half decent rates and a healthy sales percentage to photographers.

Over the years the rates have fallen and the percentage paid to contributors has tipped inexorably in favour of Alamy.

However, it’s time to withdraw from what has become a rather photographer-un-friendly agency. The latest revision to their terms and conditions means even less power to the photographer wishing to keep control of their copyright, and even less likelihood of being paid for re-uses of images when a client decides to extend their original usage. It’s an issue too involved for this blog, and anyway you can read all about it over on EPUK.

Alamy’s reputation amongst photographers has been further strained when this week they sent out an email (which I also received) to thousands of contributors telling them the interest in their work had spiked. That is to say, more people were clicking on more of any given photographer’s images to view them. Not buy them, mind you, just looking. That’s lovely then, my bank manager will be pleased.

The problem with this email is it quickly became apparent that they had sent this to a very large number of contributors, telling them they were in the top 10% of contributors being sought out by potential clients.

Mathematically, not everyone can be in the top 10% (to be precise only 1 in 10 can), but while Alamy claim to have informed 4,000 of their almost 40,000* contributors of their good fortune, it seems odd that so many, like myself, only have a few hundred images on the site and personally I’ve not seen any spike in my statistics. I’ve certainly not seen any extra sales either and I hear I’m not unique in this.

It’s impossible to verify that Alamy really has only informed the top 10% contributors, we’ll have to take their word for it, but some have questioned the timing of this email while there are so many complaints about the new T&Cs and quite a few photographers already pulling their collections from the site in protest.

I’m sure Alamy would say that the email and the change in T&Cs are pure coincidence, but if that’s the case, who sanctioned the release of the email now? Did they not know about the T&Cs furore? Are departments within Alamy so unaware of each others’ work and the PR crash this would cause?

tweet and reply between Tim Gander and Alamy

Alamy denies all their contributors got the same email

Another problem with the figures is no one outside of Alamy can question them. Even contributors posting on the members’ forum about the new T&Cs and/or the “10%” email are finding their threads removed by forum moderators, presumably to stop a full-blown revolution and a loss of more contributors.

Now it’s worth mentioning I have 652 images on sale through Alamy. That’s a teeny tiny number compared to more than 55 million they host (again, how did I make the top 10%?!) My point being, if I leave Alamy they will notice my departure in much the same way a cow poo notices the exit of a single fly. Equally, my sales are so infrequent and the rates paid so utterly miserable, that like the aforementioned fly, I will barely notice that I’m no longer standing in poo. But being part of the fly swarm means all the work I do is devalued, and I think it’s time I valued my work more.

When I leave Alamy, which I’m 90% certain I will do (note to Alamy: that’s 90% of 100%, in case percentages are tricky for you) it’s possible I will not offer those 652 images anywhere else. If I do it’ll be through my own website and at prices I set. I might never sell a single frame, but at least I won’t have to get angry at the risible fees and overgenerous licences Alamy sell my work for.

So good bye Alamy. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but clearly you don’t need photographers who care about the value of their work.

PS. If Alamy are having a hard time, you should see the mess Getty Images is in. They’re so much in debt, they can’t even pay their interest charges.

*Alamy’s figures. In fact if they’ve got just under 40,000 contributors (see twitter grab), 4,000 must account for more than 10% of them.

Update: As of this evening I have given Alamy my formal notice to quit as a contributor.

My 2014 In Pictures

This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.

The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.

I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine

 

 

 

The Stupid Economy

Yes, that’s a misquote of the often used “the economy, stupid,” but I thought I’d throw a few thoughts out there about the economy because I covered an “economic dinner” last week (it was a dinner for economists, not a low-budget supper) at which one of the guest speakers was Andy Haldane of the Bank of England.

There was much talk of the economy, interest rates, access to finance and so on, and while I don’t hear everything at these kinds of events on account of I’m busy concentrating on camera and flash settings, angles, focus, and composition, I do get the gist of what’s being said.

But why should anyone care what I, a mere photographer, think is happening with the economy? Why indeed, though it’s fair to say most economists seem to be equally ill-equipped to understand all the statistics about employment, productivity and forecasts on where the economy is headed, so I may as well give it a shot.

Andy Haldane of Bank of England speaks at a lectern at a function in Bath

Andy Haldane of the Bank of England gives an economic forecast at an event in Bath

I was at another function earlier in the year and was approached by a representative of the Bank of England who I thought was going to ask me something to do with photography. Instead he asked me how my business was doing because, he said, “I suspect someone in your line of work feels the ups and downs of the economy rather more immediately than many others.”

I think he’s probably right. Commercial photographers often feel the start of a bust almost before it’s happened because while companies might feel they’re working in isolation and cutting their marketing budgets ahead of an expected downturn, when enough of them do this the photographer feels the downturn before it officially hits. I experienced this in 2008 not long after Northern Rock hit the rocks.

So where are we now and where are we going? Well for a start I’m happy to report that things have picked up over the last two or three years. My turnover is back to where it was pre-crash, and actually marginally up, but it all still feels rather delicate.

Company budgets are still very much under constant revision and my turnover is up because I’ve had more bookings, not because I’ve put my fees up. In fact my fees haven’t changed significantly in about four years.

What can be hard to separate out is whether businesses are booking more photography because they’re feeling more confident or because they’re trying to make up for lost ground having slashed marketing budgets in 2008. I can only speak anecdotally, but I’d say it’s a mixture with a tilt in favour of the latter.

Businesses which have held back spending on photography for more than a couple of years often find that when they come back to review their marketing plans, they’re lacking in pertinent pictures and often have to restart their picture library from scratch. This can be an expensive process, and might force some to further delay commissioning new work. It can become a bit of a vicious cycle.

Then when the decision is made to give the go-ahead on new imagery, because so much is required to recover lost ground it’s understandable that there is some pressure to keep costs down. The end result is, I get more work but I can’t charge any more than I was a few years ago. Many businesses find themselves in a bit of a limbo situation like this.

It really doesn’t require an economist to tell you that the “recovery” is going to be slow and vulnerable. The debt bubble is still in the economy. It was with the banks, now it’s been spread amongst us all, but it is still there and getting worse. This is keeping everyone, businesses and individuals alike, nervous. Of course my best advice would be to not slash your marketing budget (I would say that, wouldn’t I) because it’ll harm your chances of finding new business and retaining existing clients and it’ll cost more to re-start it later.

Now my thoughts on the economy might not be detailed and in-depth, but like any astrologer, if I remain vague I can’t be accused of being wrong can I? Famous last words.

Photography Fees Explained

A couple of weeks ago I promised you an article about how photographers set their rates and where I fit into the market. Then I spotted some shiny things and got distracted and ended up writing about other stuff. Suitably self-chastised, I’m back on track and ready to tackle the subject properly.

I’ll qualify this article by admitting that I can’t explain all photographers’ rates for all genres. This article concentrates on photography for commercial usage by businesses, charities and other organisations. When it comes to rates set by social photographers (think families, pets, dinner dances and weddings) this is structured in a different way because the images aren’t generally licensed for commercial exploitation.

There was a time when commercial photographers worked up an estimate by showing the shoot costs plus their licensing fee based on usage and a fair few still do this, but in my experience I found it difficult to keep explaining all the cost elements repeatedly because the vast majority of clients booking me are not specialist in the field of commissioning photography. More often than not I’m contacted by an office secretary or perhaps an in-house or externally-hired press officer or public relations person.

This isn’t a criticism, it’s just one aspect of how the industry has changed and a few years ago I realised that things had shifted in such a way that I needed to simplify my fee structure in order to speed up the understanding of what I was charging and what was included or excluded.

Lego male minifig with camera takes picture of female minifig.

Now if I was a Lego photographer, I wouldn’t have to worry about running costs*
*random stock photo

What I ended up with was three main packages, one of which hardly anyone ever goes for (ironically my cheapest package, albeit with the greatest number of restrictions). And of the two other packages, the highest fee package is by far the most popular because it’s the most flexible.

If I break down my fees into their constituent elemets, essentially what I’m charging for is a combination of time on site, editing and processing time and the client’s licence to use the images for their corporate communications.

However, if you asked me to make that break-down specific, I couldn’t. I might be able to suggest rough percentages, but they really would be vague and not very informative.

There are of course other factors to account for. Within any freelance photographers fee there has to be an element of skill level and experience charged for. This is probably where I start to look pricey compared to someone who has just picked up a camera, read the instruction book and decided it’s their life ambition to take pictures for money. I reckon 25 years’ experience shows in how I approach clients, how I conduct myself on assignment right through to how the end results look and I consider all of these factors important and worth a premium.

Slightly more tangible are the running costs of being a photographer. Cameras, lenses and supporting equipment (batteries, chargers, bags) as well as a car and its associated costs, public liability insurance, computers, software, image hosting, image storage… All these things and more have to be considered before even a profit and salary (on which tax will be paid) need to be accounted for within a fee.

So where do my fees fit into the overall picture? How did I set them? The simple answer is that before I introduced my current structure I was spending quite a lot of time drawing up estimates for clients who were all of a certain level (SMEs to larger businesses with multiple office locations, but not the Goliath organisations with global span).

More often than not I found my estimates coming to very similar amounts by the time I’d factored in all the costs plus the licence fee. Eventually it just made sense to set up the three packages I have now and they’ve not only attracted more clients with their simplicity and up-front openness, but I spend much less time writing up estimates, which has to be a good thing.

Much of this has the air of a guessing game, but having worked out what it costs to run my business, what I need as a salary, and how many days a year I can expect to get paid commissions, it then comes down to whether I can attain the kind of quality that enough clients are willing to pay my fees to make the whole thing viable. This, in effect, is a business plan and is very much why I charge what I charge. Simple really, but also quite complicated which is probably why cheaper photographers charge what they do, but find they can’t sustain their businesses. That’s a whole other post, which I’m sure I’ve written already.

Better Briefs Make Better Photos

A young woman in a white sleeveless top reaches up to write on a whiteboard, her back to the camera. The subject is the environment.

Provided the brief is fulfilled, off-brief shots like this are very useful

The photographer’s brief is one of the most important precursors to a successful photo session, so it’s worth giving it proper consideration, but if your day job doesn’t revolve around briefing photographers it can be a daunting task to tackle.

Don’t worry though, even when I was dealing with briefs as a staff photographer at The Portsmouth News, it was incredible how many reporters would turn in incomplete briefs. So if you struggle to know what to include, you’re in good company. This article will help you hit the main points required, but if you follow the Who, What, When, Where and Why principle of photojournalism, you’ve pretty much nailed it.

Where and When:

Date, time and location. Without any one of these three you’re on rocky ground before you’ve started. Set them out clearly and fully; just saying “I’ll see you on the 12th” isn’t the same as “Date: 12th September 2014”.

The location address needs to be complete too. I often use sat nav or Google Maps to find a location and an accurate post code helps especially where there are similar road names within the same town or city. Occasionally a post code can bring up a doubtful-looking address, at which point I’ll double-check the location with my client. If the post code and street don’t match up, directions are essential.

As part of the address etc, make sure there is a contact name and number. This should have become apparent during early contact, but make sure it’s all on the brief too.

Who and What:

Is it a series of portraits or is it processes, locations or maybe products which are to be photographed?

It’s incredibly useful to have the names of people to be photographed. These can be ticked off as they’re done. The same with locations and products. These details also make captioning the images later much easier. If it’s products or processes, make sure to use full descriptions rather than acronyms so captions can be completed fully.

Why:

In editorial photography the Who What When Where and Why make up the cornerstones of an accurate caption, describing as they do the contents of the photos, but in corporate communications photography the Why is more about why the image is being taken and what it is to be used for. If I know a photo is to be a cover image for a brochure, I’ll approach it differently to if it’s going to end up as a narrow banner at the top of a web page.

The Creative Brief:

This is the more enjoyable part of raising a brief and will be an amalgam of what you already know you need combined with discussion with me at the planning stage. Thinking about what you need for the project in hand as well as thinking about what future uses might be made of the photos will help in working out how many images and what scenarios are required and finally how much time will be required overall.

In terms of time required, you might already have an idea of what time and budget you can allocate to the photo session and these will have a bearing on whether the brief needs to be adjusted. It’s worth ensuring there is some slack in the schedule to allow for the unforeseen or un-planned off-brief photos, which can be incredibly useful later.

Some practicalities on the day:

Parking and access to the building or site. The majority of my work requires more kit than I can easily carry, which tends to rule out public transport. Make sure there is space to park, preferably near the building entrance or wherever equipment needs to be set up. If off-site parking is the only option I need to know in advance so I can plan my arrival time accordingly.

If a room is set aside for staff portraits, make sure it is the right size (I can advise on this during the planning stage) and isn’t filled with chairs and immovable tables or other furniture. If the photos are to be taken around the offices or production floor, make sure as much as possible that locations are clean and tidy and that anyone to be featured is complying with health and safety regulations – I can’t always know what these are, and it’s such a shame to ditch a great photo because someone is wearing the wrong high-visibility vest for the task they’re doing.

Decisions on location can sometimes be decided upon my arrival, but time has to be allowed for clearing and tidying within the allocated shoot slot.

Cameras are machines, photographers are people. Don’t forget comfort breaks and if it’s a full-day shoot, lunch is a must to keep the little creative cells going.

Attempting to cover all eventualities in this article is likely to miss some possible scenarios, but provided you approach the brief as outlined above, you’ll be a long way down the path of getting it right. Certainly I’m always happy to help and guide clients before the shoot because the better it goes, the happier everyone is.

If you have any questions about anything here, why not post a comment or drop me a line?

high-level photographer

This week I thought I’d talk about what I’ve got coming up because it’s rather big. Next week, the first week in July, I’m taking on quite a challenge. For the first time ever I’ll be photographing the Summer Graduation ceremonies for University of Bath.

This event would normally be covered by the university’s in-house photographer Nic, but he recently broke his collar bone in a cycling accident so I’ve been asked to step in to cover the work he’d normally be doing this time of year. It’s been a busy few weeks taking pictures for the university, but next week will be Intense with a capital I.

Up to four graduation ceremonies a day for three days, including formal portraits of honorary graduates, the procession from Guildhall to Bath Abbey, the presentations inside the abbey and the students and their families celebrating outside after their ceremony. Then I go and do it all again, plus editing and delivering rush shots at the end of each day and editing all the images at the end of the week. I’ll be ready for a lie-down by the end, that’s for sure.

And even before the event I’ve had planning and briefing meetings and today I took a recce to the abbey to see the layout for the ceremonies and also to check out a high vantage point for an alternative shot of the students piling out of the abbey after the procession, which is how this week’s blog photo came about.

After seeing inside the abbey, I was shown up a very dark, winding, narrow spiral staircase (approximate age, 500 years) and onto a balcony above the main entrance to see if the vantage point would work. The lighting and weather on the day will determine if this is going to work out, but in the meantime, here’s a shot I took this morning looking up Abbey Churchyard with the entrance to The Pump Rooms to the left.

A high-level view of Bath Abbey Churchyard, taken from above the abbey door on a sunny day.

A super view across Abbey Churchyard, which will be packed with students and their families next week

fotograf in Deutschland

This week’s post will be a little self-indulgent as I’m going to share some photos taken during my weekend trip to Hamburg, Germany. To make up for this self-indulgence I’m going to keep the words brief and let you skip through the photos and get a taste of my experience there. Besides which, I’m still a little jaded from the journey.

My only observation is this; even when I’m having a break, I still can’t help looking out for photos that don’t exactly fit the “holiday snap” genre. I always feel some responsibility to take photos which aren’t just for myself. Enjoy the weird mix!

 

I think I might POP!

This is one of those “apropos of nothing in particular” sort of posts where I just update you on what’s been going on lately. It will also explain why I didn’t post last week, and why this week’s post is late. I apologise for both failings.

To say things have been busy would be an understatement. I’ve been incredibly hectic with work for University of Bath since their lovely and wonderful staff photographer Nic broke his collarbone in a cycling accident (or did I sabotage his brakes as one client suggested?) Of course I wish Nic a rapid recovery, especially as having broken my own clavicle a few years ago, I know just how ruddy painful it is.

I found out about Nic’s mishap while I was working for two clients in London a couple of weeks ago, and since then it’s been full-on with assignments in London (again), Gloucester, Bath and even Chard in Somerset; not somewhere I get called to regularly, but work is work and the session was a fun little PR piece.

Architectural detail of a grey building in London with wavy walls

Weird architecture in London caught my eye

 

In amongst all the professional fun and games I’ve been finding a little time to take photos for fun. While in London I got to stroll about with my Fuji X20 one evening and came up with this shot.

Perhaps even more exciting was when I discovered a classic 1980’s camera, a Konica Pop, in a Frome charity shop and snapped it up for the princely sum of £15. I popped a roll of black and white film through to see what it could do and I have to say I’m impressed! Not that I’ll be using it for client work. It’s a bit hit-and-miss, but I’m sure I’ll be using it for more fun stuff soon.

You’ll have to be patient for that though because the coming weeks don’t look like they’re going to let up much. I’m going to have to beg your forbearance if my blog posts are occasionally late too, but at least you’ll know it’s because I’m busy rather than that I might be ignoring you. I could never do that.

Tree and wood-slatted wall at University of Bath

A detail of University of Bath campus taken on the Konica Pop