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 I dug out my old film camera, found a roll of Fuji film in the fridge (three years out of date, but what the heck) and headed out into miserably wet weather to see what I could find.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

Fun Experience in Frome

This week is mainly a thank you to Frome visitors Imogen and Ben who became accidental models when I was out and about last week with work experience photography student Becky Collis.

It was a quiet Monday afternoon when we took a stroll up Catherine Hill seeking a photographic opportunity for Becky to get to grips with. I spotted this stylish couple, classic film cameras in-hand, walking up the hill and approached them to ask if they would pose for us for a few minutes.

They were gracious enough to agree and patient enough to let Becky and I take turns at posing and photographing them. I decided we should apply newspaper rules to the task, so the photo had to have a news feel to it, would require captions and a speedy turnaround at the end.

The photos below show Becky in action, followed by her portrait of Imogen and Ben, then her action shot of me followed by my version. Just click to see them larger and to cycle through the set.

Becky caught some nice light outside Kushi clothing store, who also kindly allowed us use of their bench, while I opted to bring them away from the window front. The light wasn’t as pretty, but I got the separation I wanted from the background. My preference would have been to use portable lighting to lift the daylight, but this was also an exercise in minimal equipment (precisely because I didn’t have portable lighting with me).

Within about 40 minutes we’d returned to the office, processed and captioned our images and delivered them to online galleries in the same way as we would have delivered them to clients. Job done and a nice little exercise.

So thank you Imogen and Ben (good luck with your studies!) and thank you Kushi for the loan of your bench. It was the perfect bench test!

 

Hot Off The Back Of My Camera

Between paid assignments I’m working to expand my portfolio with personal shoots, so having spent the entire morning editing and delivering a job for a client from a shoot in Surrey yesterday (more about that in a future post), I grabbed my gear and got down to H&B Tyres in Frome for a mini portrait session.

I’d popped into H&B previously to check that it would be ok/possible to do some photos as and when I was able, and was given the OK by the owner, Mike as well as a green light from a couple of the tyre fitters there.

I wanted to use the opportunity to take portraits of these guys because A) The staff area is a fascinating jumble of car parts and machinery and B) I wanted to take “formal” portraits in a setting I don’t typically find myself in. Most of what I shoot happens in nice, clean offices with predictable lighting against a plain or office backdrop. I wanted a bit more of a challenge to see what would come of it.

From the shoot, which finished just over an hour ago, I’ve pulled one image for this blog post. I think one or two more may well find their way into my portfolio galleries.

In the meantime, meet Donald who, as it happens, is a fan of Don McCullin’s work. I think Don the tyre fitter’s pose might well have been influenced by Don the photographer’s work.

Case Study: Communicate Magazine

A call out of the blue from a completely new client is always welcome, so in January when the editor of Communicate Magazine called me and asked if I could shoot some profile photos of an interviewee in Bristol, I was happy to pick up the brief.

Communicate Magazine, “The single voice for stakeholder relations,” focuses on PR and communications within the business world as opposed to PR and marketing to the buying public. One of its regular features is an interview with someone involved in PR or marketing, talking about their motivations, background, experiences and so on.

My task was to take strong profile portraits of Dan Panes, head of communications for First Great Western, at Bristol Temple Meads station.

When I met Dan at the station car park he was on the phone being interviewed by the Communicate editor. In fact he was on the phone for quite some time (it’s the nature of the job sometimes that you have to wait for the journalist to get their job done before you can start yours), in which time the weather went from cold, but dry, to hailstones and a blustery wind.

As Dan came off the phone and we got to say hello properly, it was obvious we were going to have to take the shots undercover. We did have a go at one location, but as hail stones started to bounce off our heads, we dashed for the main station.

We opted to do the shots on Platform 1. Not a simple task as I needed to take photos which would lend themselves to having text laid over. Too much clutter and distraction wouldn’t help this cause, and railway stations are often visually chaotic places on the whole, what with signs, gantries, people, barriers and, of course, trains all jostling for attention. The other problem was the light, or lack thereof. Dan reminded me I couldn’t use flash on a platform, so we moved further along to where the overhead canopy ended so I could get as much of the almost non-existent daylight on him as possible.

While this helped ease the distractions of having people, trains and signs in the background, it did bring in the mass of parked bikes, but in the final design I think the semi-opaque graphic overlay has helped relieve this to ensure the text remains legible.

The sweeping curve of the canopy and rails pull the viewer’s eye to Dan and create impact and direction to the photo. I tried a couple of other angles and locations around the station as well as upright options, but this is the only one which tells the viewer we’re looking at someone connected to rail travel, all the other options being more abstract.

I enjoy the challenge of making a picture work in circumstances which are less than ideal, and taking into account the considerations for page layout, the weather, location and the fact that you can’t spend all day on a set of pictures of a busy person, the resulting images worked well within the article.

Communicate’s editor was pleased with what I submitted, and to be honest it doesn’t matter how happy I am with a set of photos, it’s the client’s opinion which matters.

Tunes On, Pop-Up and Drop In

I tried something a bit different yesterday, some might even call it radical, but let’s not get carried away.

Some background first; My office is based in a shared work hub in Frome in lovely Somerset. Here I can do my editing and admin and because the building hosts several other businesses, I have contact with a range of people working in everything from the charity sector to web developers, app developers, event stylists and many more. There’s even an oil rig support business here, which I suppose is handy for the North Sea.

A portrait photography setup with lights, backdrop and camera on a tripod.

My go-anywhere portrait studio is perfect
for business headshots.

Over the past year or so many new businesses have taken up office space at the work hub as it’s expanded, and I realised there might be an opportunity to help them with a simple, social media portrait session.

Normally if I go to a single business to spend time taking corporate portraits I’ll charge a minimum of £250+vat, and more often than not it turns into a half-day at between £450 and £600, but this would be prohibitive for many of the micro businesses based in the hub. So how about setting up a pop-up studio in the communal space and offering a quick portrait session to anyone who wanted to come along and just charge for the images they download?

Obviously I had to keep the deal simple and decided to offer a no-sitting-fee session with downloads starting at just £30 including VAT for a small file suitable for LinkedIn, Twitter and the like, with a rising scale of fees according to the size of file downloaded.

The day went pretty well, especially since it was a first time for this event. I came in for 08:30 am to set up my studio, organised some tunes to add a relaxing ambience to the space and made test shots before the first arrival.

Black and white business portrait of David Evans of Ghost Ltd

The portraits are designed to be simple and clear so they’ll work right down to avatar sizes.

I had a steady trickle of people (I wouldn’t say I was killed in the rush) and I got the impression that even some of those less keen to be photographed actually quite enjoyed the experience.

I delivered the images in personal galleries to each of the sitters just two hours ago and the portraits have already started to sell!

What was even more encouraging was the number of people who expressed an interest in getting more

photography organised in future for things like website refreshes, so there was a promotional side-effect to my cunning plan too.

It’s possible I’ll turn this into an annual or even six-monthly event because I’m sure as word gets around, more people will want to sign up. In the coming days I’m going to make contact with other hubs in the area to see if they would like to host something similar. This little idea could grow.

 

Being a Bit Flash

This blog isn’t a “tricks of the trade” kind of a deal, but sometimes there’s no harm in demonstrating that I work in a particular way not because I want to show off what I can do, but because the client ends up with appealing images and the “look” they’re after. I’ll keep the technical stuff to a minimum, but hopefully you’ll get the point just by looking at the differences between the top and bottom photos.

University of Bath student Noel Kwan poses for a prospectus shoot on the Claverton Down campus.

This is the frame I submitted to the client. Flash was used to fill in the shadows on Noel’s face

You may recall this image from my round-up of 2014, a prospectus brochure shot for University of Bath. It’s taken outdoors, but with flash used carefully to brighten Noel’s face. It’s got a slightly surreal look to it because it does look a bit like a studio-lit portrait, and I wouldn’t always use this look for outside portraits, but it does make the shot quite eye-catching.

This technique helps to isolate the model from the background, but leaves the background clear enough to add some context.

The photo below shows how this image looks when flash hasn’t fired (I probably clicked the shutter before the flash was ready). I’ve done some processing to make it a more acceptable shot, and it’s not a “bad” photo, just not the finish I was hoping to achieve.

University of Bath student Noel Kwan poses for a prospectus shoot on the Claverton Down campus.

In this frame the flash didn’t fire, and the difference is obvious

One problem with it is that without flash it’s harder to keep the highlights in the background from going completely white and losing all detail as I bring up the exposure for Noel’s face. The lighter background also has the effect of pulling attention away from Noel.

The other thing you’ll notice is the catch-light in Noel’s eyes, lacking in this version, which adds another bit of sparkle to the final image.

Of course you might prefer the image where flash didn’t fire, but remember this was shot to the requirements of the client. My job is to create what they want and often this means matching the style to that used by their in-house photographer. Personally I like the extra layer of polish which the appropriate use of flash gives, and other clients seem to like it too, so you might spot it as you look around my website.

Go on, have a look, see if you can detect where else I’ve used this technique.

 

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

 

 

 

Case Study: In-House Magazine Photography

Double page spread of photos by Tim Gander in House of Fraser Host magazine

The final spread layout in Host magazine

I’ve been dying to show you this for some time, but I had to wait for the feature to appear in the House of Fraser in-house magazine before I could share it with you here.

The story behind this job is that I was contacted by Word of Mouth Communication who write, design and publish the House of Fraser in-house magazine Host. They asked if I’d be interested in going to the Jollys store in Bath to take portraits of some of the staff for the City Spotlight section of the magazine which features the places they most like to kick back and relax.

Naturally I was delighted to undertake the commission because I love shooting portraits and I enjoy anything with an editorial element, so I got in touch with my contact at the store in advance of the date of the shoot just to make sure everyone was briefed and we all knew what we were doing.

The only downside on the day was the heavy rain, but I shot a few exterior images before going into the store to meet my subjects.

Jody Brown, Sales Manager, Jollys of Bath, enjoys a coffee at Adventure Cafe

Jody Brown, Sales Manager, Beauty enjoys a coffee at Adventure Cafe

After a couple of small group photos outside and a portrait of the store manager, I set off with my subjects Jodie, Alex and Josh to visit their various hangouts, asking permission to take photos at each one. All the bars and cafes in Bath were very helpful and finding the best places at each venue to do a variety of portraits suitable for the magazine was pretty easy, there always being an interesting corner or feature to use.

Stylistically the photos needed to be bright, colourful, up-beat and polished to look good in a high-quality colour magazine. Of course I didn’t have all day to do this, since I was taking time out of people’s busy days, but using portable studio lighting and a consistent approach meant I could keep things moving along while producing a set of pictures which sit well together.

Jodie, Alex and Josh enjoyed themselves and this also shows in the results. You could say it all looks rather Jolly!

Ultimately though, when I take photos for a client it’s them I have to please even more than myself, so I’ll leave the last word to Paul O’Regan of Word of Mouth: “It was good to work with you on this one. We were delighted with the way you handled the project and with the photographs you provided.”

Josh Gottschling, who works in womenswear, likes to go for drinks with friends in Revolutions bar and restaurant on George Street, Bath.

Josh Gottschoing, Sales Adviser, Womenswear cools down with a soft drink cocktail at Revolution

The selfie, a fine tradition

I’m a little nervous about this week’s post in that instead of featuring a photo of some poor, unsuspecting client, it features me. This potentially opens up my comment box to many hilarious responses, but that’s ok, it’s probably justified.

Self-portrait of Tim Gander reflected in a shop window near Paris

The man behind maketh the photo (click to enlarge)

The reason for inflicting this narcissistic portrait on you isn’t just that selfies have been a feature of the news in recent months (most notably David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service), but having taken the shot, it sparked a thought about photographers and selfies as something of a tradition.

First a little background to how this photo came about… I was in a little town near Paris, France at the weekend for a wedding (don’t worry, I was a guest, not the photographer – I haven’t gone completely mad!) and had some time to kill between arriving and the start of the service, so I took my camera and went for a wander around the streets.

Now I can’t speak for other photographers, but give me a super-reflective surface like a shop window and some interesting light and I can’t resist playing around to see what I can do with it, and this particular shop window seemed to call to me to make a selfie.

I’d just lined up for the best shot I thought I could get when I spotted a man in the reflection, walking along having a fairly lively conversation with himself. I waited until he moved through to the right spot and caught him in mid-animation. Without him I think the shot would have been about 50% less interesting, and possibly not even worth keeping. You can tell me if you think it’s worth keeping anyway, it’s probably not for me to say.

I’m not saying this photo is anything special, but where the selfie of iPhone fame tends to be of drunk teenagers gurning at themselves, there are plenty of examples of photographers who have used themselves as models when experimenting with light, composition and reflections. Take a look at the Vivian Maier official website and you’ll see she really played with the genre.

I suppose what I’m trying to say in probably too many words is that there is no shame in taking selfies. They can be flippant and fun, they can be more considered and exploratory. I could be honest and admit that mine is even more self-absorbed than a quick iPhone snap (which I’ve also done on occasion), but when there is no one else around to model, well you just have to go with what you’ve got.

I find them a useful way of trying out something new, I just wish I had a better model to work with.

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.