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!

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.

Having a Gas

Camera bags in decontamination unit in scientific facility.

That rather murky image shows my camera gear being gassed.

The other week I was taking stock images for a client in a scientific research facility which required all kit I take in with me be subjected to 90 minutes decontamination.

This method is used to decontaminate all kinds of sensitive scientific equipment, so my hosts reassured me my gear would be fine. I’m pleased to say it caused no problems at all, and afterwards I could have eaten my lunch off my camera if I’d wanted. I didn’t fancy that though, so I used a plate as usual.

Speaking of having a gas, I’m getting married this weekend (huge party!), so I’m going to have a blog rest for a couple of weeks. I could probably do with a bit of a Summer blogging break anyway (still available for commissions of course!), but I should be back to regular posts by the end of August.

I shall wish you all a lovely Summer filled with more sun than rain and I will catch you again soon!

Experiment Time!

Last weekend I had a sudden urge. I dug out my old film camera, found a roll of Fuji film in the fridge (three years out of date, but what the heck) and headed out into miserably wet weather to see what I could find.

To my astonishment, having shot the roll, I discovered Frome Photo Centre still runs a one-hour service, so I headed off for coffee and cake at Paccamora while my film was being processed and printed.

Now I no longer have a film scanner, so had to use a slightly Heath Robinson arrangement to digitise the negatives, and even then they don’t come out as positive images. A bit of work on them in software is required to achieve positives, and the colours aren’t perfect, but it’s a chance to be experimental. See what you think…

The exercise was fun, despite the fact I was soaked by the end. The portrait of Anthony pleases me because it was literally a frame to finish the roll and I used a 30-year-old flash gun to light him, yet it looks so natural. At some point I’ll organise a decent scan of this shot.

I’d like to get back to shooting more film, if only for personal projects, but will probably do black and white rather than colour because I know I can process this myself and get exactly the quality I want. Of course if a client wants a job shot on film, I’ll jump at the chance. For all the benefits of digital, film still has a certain quality about it which digital can’t quite replicate. It would be interesting to talk to a client who wants that difference in their marketing imagery.

As if this wasn’t enough, I decided to pop out on Sunday evening with my friend Nik Jones, a graphic designer based in Frome, to shoot some long-exposure pictures. This time in digital. Nik wanted some pointers on getting photos of trailing car lights, so we headed to a bridge over the Frome bypass.

As a result of that little adventure, I turned a series of still images into this GIF animation using gifmaker.me.

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So my weekend spanned everything from old-school film to new-school animation, and while all this might seem to serve little purpose beyond a weekend’s entertainment and a blog post, exercises like this get me thinking about new approaches and techniques which I can apply to client work. It would certainly be interesting to speak to anyone interested in having either film-based photography on their website or even a GIF. I can think of interesting applications for both.

App-Propriate Portraits

Last week I had the pleasure of shooting new business portraits and office scenes for Calvium, an app-development agency based in the heart of Bristol. They needed new portraits to pull the style of their Our Team page together as well as office scenes, meetings and detail photos for their website and other marketing materials.

I was going to write a detailed case study outlining how the job came about, how it went and all the usual details I like to include in a blog post, but when Calvium’s marketing manager Charlie sent me over a testimonial, I realised she’d written about a situation a lot of businesses find themselves in, so thought it best just to let her words do the talking.

Here’s what Charlie sent me:

“Over the last 18 months, Calvium has grown exponentially. Multiple new staff members and an office move had rendered what little photography we previously had out of date. Having a bank of good images that I can use to convey our brand and personality on our website and other materials, is vital to my marketing strategy. It was also important we had all of our staff on the website in a consistent style, representing a united team.

After tentatively contacting a few photographers following a google search, Tim called me back straight away to discuss our needs. Having never orchestrated an entire office shoot before, I knew what I wanted to achieve as a result of the photo’s but I was unsure of what specific instructions to give. I wanted to hire someone that could understand what I wanted, come in and take charge of the situation. Tim absolutely did this, taking my very vague brief and translating it into some fantastic photo’s. He even managed to eek a smile out of the most unwilling of participants! 

I’m very thankful to Tim for helping me cross off something that’s been on my list for a long time and I would have no hesitation in recommending him to other small businesses or SME’s.”

Charlie Harman – Marketing & Operations, Calvium Ltd.

Welcome Break

Welcome back after my holiday hiatus.

One of the wonderful things about doing what I do is that whenever I go on holiday, I always have a professional photographer with me. Not everyone is so fortunate and there is even a growing trend to hire a photographer to take your holiday snaps for you.

Don’t worry though, I’m only going to talk briefly about my Summer* holiday and show you just a couple of the photos I took during my week off. The point being, as much as this blog is for showcasing what I do for my clients (and hopefully for you if you become one of them), it’s sometimes good to share what I do outside of my paid work so you get to see how I think when I’m not tied to a photographic brief.

My trip this year involved a week’s camping in South Devon; Slapton, to be precise, and to be even more pedantic, during a week-long weather warning from the Met Office. Yes, it rained quite a lot and got so windy that my windbreak broke.

In spite of all that, I had a wonderful time relaxing with my lovely partner. Long walks (we clocked up in the region of 25 miles in the first 3 days) and some of the most incredible seafood I’ve ever eaten.

And when I’m on holiday, yet still carrying a camera, what do I look for in a photograph? Well I do occasionally find myself taking some of the same clichéd photos that any tourist takes, but mostly I look for something unusual to sum up an experience in a less obvious way than simply lifting my camera and recording what’s in front of me.

It’s always a balance between enjoying the holiday and its moments and using the camera to record them. I certainly resist taking photos until I see something I really want to capture, and rarely trouble myself with anything that thousands of people will already have captured ad-nauseam.

Hence the two images here. Both are simple and both lack any real context. Looking at them, you wouldn’t necessarily know where they were taken, but for me they form the kernel of much bigger memories. I hope though that in spite of that, you can see some beauty in them that doesn’t rely on you knowing the context in which they were taken, so they stand on their own as pictures worth looking at.

Enough artyfarty nonsense, here they are.

*I heard a lovely quote the other day, I’m only sorry I don’t know who originally came up with it, but it goes “I love the English Summer. It’s my favourite day of the year.”

News of Frome Views

Earlier this year I left the Alamy stock image library in order to preserve my professional integrity (I won’t bore you with details here), since which time I’ve been giving some thought about my future relationship with stock photography in general.

I’ve never been a great fan of stock photography partly because I always prefer to work on commission, where a client knows what they want and therefore I know I’m taking pictures which have a definite purpose. Stock photos mostly exist for no reason at all and will never be published; the idea of taking photos which just languish on a server somewhere seems sad to me.

Additionally, because stock photography is a numbers game, a photographer has to dedicate themselves pretty much full time to taking stock photos in order to make a living from it. The lack of motivation I have for doing nothing but stock shots all day combined with the exclusion of all commissioned work would kill the joy I have for my job.

Having said all that, I have decided there is room in my professional life to spend time taking pictures which interest me and which might also have a stock image value. I don’t have to offer them through an agency and I can set my own prices, but there is an additional benefit which you don’t get with a stock library, namely that by hosting the photos on my own gallery, I create content which is indexed by Google. It creates another small piece in the search engine optimisation jigsaw.

Even if I never sell a photo, the photos I host will have the benefit of helping to attract search result enquiries. I can adjust, chop and change what I offer, which will also signal to Google that I’m an active, creative photographer based in Somerset. They also show potential clients another side to what I do and might offer inspiration for their next project. All of this can only happen by keeping the images closely tied to my own website. When they’re held remotely by a stock library, the link between the image and the creator is weakened.

The images here are just a small taster, and though the collection itself is very small at the moment it will grow and you can see the full set here.

 

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.

Horse Meat Found in Cheap Photography

I was listening to Billy Bragg being interviewed on the radio the other day and while he was never one of my favourite artists, he has always made a fair amount of sense. On this occasion he was even good enough to admit his voice was never his strong point. Perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an apology for his vocal on Between the Wars.

During this interview Billy was talking about the state of the record industry and the difficulty young working-class singers and songwriters face when trying to get a big break because of the way the industry has changed. The interviewer suggested that surely the market would seek out the best talent, regardless of background, to which Bill replied, “You know what happens if we leave it to the market, you get horse meat in your burgers.”

The wider point Mr Bragg was making was that the record industry no longer has a filter in the form of the likes of John Peel who would have plucked an artist from obscurity on the basis of a few good songs regardless of background. Billy believes it’s often the privileged kids from public schools who get the break and as he put it are “clogging up the charts.”

This “class” issue is an interesting one affecting photojournalism, and has lead to a situation where photographers have to self-fund coverage of events, then hope to sell the images to publishers who can force prices down because as they see it the pictures have already been shot and the photographer will be grateful to claw back some of their costs, never mind make a living. Success is now more to do with whether you can fund your shoots rather than pure talent.

I rarely shoot editorial in the purest sense now. Newspapers rarely call me up to shoot assignments for them (my previous post explains where they get pictures from since the collapse of their budgets), though I still shoot PR pictures in a style to suit newspapers. I won’t fund assignments in the hope of selling something later. I do shoot personal projects and if I sell something from those that’s fine, but it’ll be at my own prices and on my own terms.

Horses racing the final furlong at Bath Racecourse

Is your corporate image a winner, or a Findus dinner?

In the corporate photography sector there is also downward pressure on prices, but I decided a couple of years ago, even in the grip of a deep recession, to set my rates and stick to them. I have to say I’m glad I did because when I see some of the work being churned out by photographers charging significantly less than me, I’m happy to boast that their clients are not getting what I offer. I don’t think I’m some David Bailey of the corporate photography world, but I know what I do well, I stick to doing it and I charge what I believe is a fair rate for the quality and service I offer.

I genuinely believe if a corporate client is only interested in getting the cheapest photography they can find, they won’t get anything worth having. Newspapers have already proved this theory. Their imagery is more horse meat than beef right now. Businesses wanting to avoid the Findus fate will invest properly in their images because people aren’t stupid. They can spot bull in photos and they don’t need a DNA test for that.

Tri-ing Weather

For the last two weeks everyone (almost) was going Olympic mad and while I was pretty cynical about the whole thing in the build-up, ten minutes into the opening ceremony I was completely won over.

Professionally-speaking, apart from covering the torch relay as it left University of Bath, I’ve had very little involvement in the Olympics. However, I did get to cover the “Triathlon Live” Give It A Tri event in Bristol’s Millennium Square last week, an event held at various locations around England and organised by Triathlon England to bring active sports to the public.

Teams and individuals visiting the event could try swimming, cycling and running, all on machines and in a high-tech swimming pool and against the clock. It was great fun, but the weather tended to keep the crowds away from the open-air seating where they could sit and watch live Olympic events on a giant screen.

It did make for some interesting shots, a couple of which I’ve featured here.

Swimmer in swimming pool with virtual current generated by water pumps.

When the sun came out, the water was lovely.

Man under large Union flag umbrella in deckchair at Millennium Square, Bristol.

It may have been thirsty work at Wimbledon, but in Bristol there was an abundance of water.