My Personal Plain

Casual visitors to my website might be a bit confused if they read my blog. I’m supposed to be all Mr Corporate Headshot, Mr Corporate Comms and so on, yet my blog is often about my personal work.

Certainly SEO “experts” would have a thing or two to say about the fact that I’m not plugging the corporate work week-in, week-out, but I’m not sure they understand photography (or people), which in my view is a bit of a shortcoming.

Those experts will presumably have some understanding of search engine algorithms, but I’m more interested in posting material which allows potential clients a more three-dimensional view of my practice.

Which is why this week I am posting pictures from Salisbury Plain*, my current personal project.

After months of barely leaving the house, I was so pleased to be able to get back on the project and I’m happy to share a few of the latest results with you. Some, if not all of these, will be made available as fine art prints via my takeagander website where you can see more images from this project which I made before lockdown.

But given that this blog often veers away from the pure business of corporate communications work, how does a project like this help potential clients choose me over the next photographer? Why do I post personal work here? Let’s turn that around and ask, “What kind of photographer would I be if I didn’t do personal projects?”

Go to a dozen photographer websites and the majority will tell you at some point just how passionate they are about photography. All too often this doesn’t show through their work. I believe they are passionate about being a photographer, but mostly because they like having, or being seen with, cameras. There’s a chasm of distinction between being genuinely passionate about photography, and liking taking pictures (or liking owning nice camera gear).

My personal work is mostly shot on film using a variety of relatively low-tech, often un-glamorous cameras, because photography is the important part to me, not owning the gear or being seen to have the latest equipment. Working this way is also part of my “keep fit” regime in that it keeps my photographic eye honed even during quieter periods (lockdown being an extreme example).

In a world where “everyone’s a photographer” my passion isn’t just about being a photographer, it extends to the purpose of photography, its purpose and value to society. Getting heavy now, huh? Sorry, that’s really a whole other blog post there.

Perhaps next time you’re looking to book a photographer other than myself for a job (yes, I do know this happens!), take a look to see what personal projects they’re working on. If there are none, ask yourself if they’re genuinely as passionate as they say they are.

*I haven’t yet settled on a permanent title. I’m passionate about finding a good one.

PR Photography in Lockdown

In my recent article Measured Success I described how a couple of simple items, a tape measure and chalk, allowed me to work a public relations photoshoot and still keep everyone safe.

This week I thought I’d share a bit more about that job with you.

The client was Seko Logistics, who had undertaken to deliver free personal protective equipment (PPE), supplied by Alexandra Workwear, to all 69 care homes in The Order of St John Care Trust group, starting with their home in Thornbury, Bristol.

Now this was never going to make the tight group shot I would normally aim to produce, but given the circumstances I felt the distancing between the people in the photo would not only keep everyone safe, but would also help make the picture visually interesting.

The light was difficult (when isn’t it?), so I had to put up a couple of high powered studio flash units. Without them the people’s faces would have been silhouetted and I also wanted to pick out some detail of the building too. The only giveaway is the shadow of the care nurse which runs contra to the shadows cast by the sun behind the people and building.

That’s ok though. I’d rather ensure the people were sufficiently lit than have to spend ages trying to wrestle with the exposure levels in post production, which would never have looked as good or had the crisp, colourful impact this image has.

The result is a photo which the client has been able to use not only in their own social media feeds, but which has gone around their various industry publications too. I’m always pleased to see my pictures working hard for a client and I know the client is also pleased with how everything went and the result at the end.

So while organisations will be struggling to balance many conflicting requirements right now, it’s wise to keep an eye out for any stories which your business could put out as a press release. With professional care and execution, it’s still possible to get good PR coverage and raise your business profile with something positive.

The Most Personal Yet

My regular readers will already be aware of the importance I place on personal photographic projects, without which I don’t think I’d be the photographer I am.

For the most part I tend to use film for this work because I prefer the change in workflow. However lockdown has presented its own challenges. With limited funds, do I keep shooting film, or save it for when I can next visit Salisbury Plain?

And without the ability to roam about taking the pictures I would normally look for in a personal project, I’ve retreated to the most personal subject of all, my own home life.

Yes I have shot some film, but found myself reaching for the digital camera and developing a new theme: The Home Front.

The Home Front is my deeply personal reaction against the war rhetoric which has been liberally applied to the Covid-19 crisis, in particular by our politicians. I’m a firm believer in the importance of language and how it is used, and since we are not at war, I find it inappropriate to use conflict terminology now.

Apart from anything else I believe it sets a combative tone in the national psyche, and this can have unintended consequences in society. Too much of the “don’t you know there’s a war on” attitude can lead to unnecessary conflict between individuals, or groups.

What The Home Front sets out to illustrate is that while we are facing undeniably difficult times, there is also a great deal to be thankful for. There is also beauty in the small, normally un-observed corners of domestic life.

I know I’m particularly lucky to have a home with a garden, and to be living with someone who is may absolute first choice of lockdown partner. Not everyone enjoys these simple luxuries, but I wanted to illustrate that whatever one’s situation, we are not being shot at or bombed.

The Home Front has been featuring on my Instagram feed this week, and if you’d like to see the set to the end you’ll either have to follow me there, or keep an eye on my Facebook page. In the meantime, here are a couple of the images posted so far.

Measured Success

A PR job this week proved that in spite of everything, photography is being commissioned and it can be done safely.

What is different in this lockdown world is the logistics. I had to think more carefully about how I could execute the photos safely (thinking of my subjects as much as of myself).

So I took some simple precautions. No, I didn’t have a mask or gloves. I didn’t wear a hazmat suit. Neither did I take the pictures from the safety of my car.

I simply took a tape measure and some playground chalk. This meant I could mark out positions two metres apart for people to stand on before bringing them into the scene.

Everyone was at least two metres from anyone else (including myself) at all times. The simplest of tools kept everyone safe.

Of course some types of corporate photography cannot happen right now. For example, office headshots aren’t feasible when businesses have furloughed their staff. Cancelled events and business meetings mean none of that work is available to me right now.

However, it’s probably not a bad time for businesses to consider some positive PR. There are good news stories out there, and we could all do with some of that right now! And using a professional photographer to create the images you need will mean you get high quality photos safely.

If you have a good news story – perhaps it’s related to the crisis, perhaps it isn’t, drop me a line and we can look at options.

Maybe I can “chalk up” a success for you too.

Coping with Corona

My previous post was becoming a bit long-winded as it grew from being a central point of information for clients into more of a diary of my daily doings during lockdown.

So to keep that post a little tidier, this one will brings you more up-to-date with what’s been happening. I suspect subsequent posts will be of a similar vein until paid commissions pick up gain.

The problem with lockdown is I’ve slightly lost track of time. Is it Christmas yet? I’ve sort of forgotten what I’ve done since my last diary update in the earlier post, but I’ll recap briefly here.

On a personal level, I’ve completed a fruit cage in the rear garden, created new planting beds in the front garden, stripped, cleaned and re-installed the rubber door seal on the washing machine. During that episode I discovered a pinhole leak in a copper pipe behind the sink unit, which I was lucky enough to be able to repair (Easter Bank Holiday Monday during lockdown is not a good time to be booking a plumber).

I also accidentally punched a bumble bee in the face, but made up for it by releasing a honey bee from our dining room. Karma restored.

After a friend very kindly posted me some sourdough starter, I’ve returned to making sourdough bread after a two-year hiatus. I’ve baked my first loaf and looking forward to making sourdough pizza this Friday.

“going with the flow”

Work-wise, jobs continue to keel over, but that’s to be expected. I’m keeping my hand in by shooting a mix of digital and film photos because I have to keep practising, my mental health demands it as much as my client work does.

With a view to the future, I’ve started looking at new ways of expanding the fine art print sales side of the business, but that is still a long, slow process rather than a quick fix solution.

I will just add, if you do appreciate my work and you’re interested in having a genuinely beautiful print for your home or office wall, please check out takeagander.co.uk. Pre-orders are being taken and prints will be made once the printer can return to work. It would help me a ton to sell a few prints at this time.

Even though the pictures I’m making now aren’t necessarily going to be offered as prints, making them allows me to explore my own experience of lockdown. Documenting my relatively privileged existence isn’t what really turns me on, but it’s vital I keep making images; not just for my own business, but for my sanity too.

 

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.

 

The Need for Speed

It’s been a few years since my last major website redesign, but my current site appears to be working very well for me. Clients seem to like the simplicity and ease of access, so I see little point in making any design revisions for now.

However what I have become aware of over the last few months has been a gradual, but noticeable, slow-down in loading speed and that, I think, isn’t good enough so I’ve spent some time tackling that this week.

I know my clients are busy people, and a new client looking to find out more about me doesn’t have time to sit there waiting for the homepage to load. They may be looking for a photographer with my style, skills and qualities, but if they can’t get in to see the work, they may never find out what I can do for them.

So I’ve worked with a colleague to do some behind-the-scenes tidying up and optimisation, and I have to say the difference it’s made has been quite startling. It’s possible, depending on how you came to this blog article, that you will have noticed too.

There are still a few more tweaks I need to make; optimising key images is probably the main one, but also as I update and replace images I’ll be fixing those issues by default.

On which note, what I hope to do next is give the content a bit of a polish. Again, it’s been a little while since I updated the galleries with more recent work. I try to keep on top of this, but what with corporate jobs, admin and launching my fine art print site takeagander.co.uk I’ve had to prioritise tasks.

I’m always grateful for feedback, especially from business clients who are always my priority when it comes to setting out how the website works, so do feel free to throw bouquets or brickbats my way so I know how I can do things better.

After all, this website doesn’t exist to massage my ego; it’s there for you, the business client, to find out quickly, easily and with high quality presentation what my photography can do for your business.

Sound Move

In this post I’m back to talking personal photographic projects, this time with one of the quickest I’ve ever done!

A few weeks ago, the local record shop in Frome, Raves from the Grave, was preparing for a move to a new location within the town as they’d outgrown their current store.

In fact they were only moving a couple of streets away, but they’d been in the Cheap Street shop for 12 years (22 years on the same cobbled street and Catherine Hill even before that), so in all that time had become something of a local institution.

I remember my first trip to the Cheap Street store. It was astonishing, with CDs on shelves which extended right up to the ceiling, with more squidged in wherever there was a nook or cranny. The same with DVDs, though I was never a big purchaser of those. The real pleasure though was that they also specialised in vinyl, new and secondhand.

So when I heard about the impending move, I decided someone (me) ought to go in and capture the essence of the place – the heady mix of chaos and order, the colours, lines and hopefully some of the people too.

Of course being a personal project, it had to be shot on film, which also seems appropriate for a record shop (in particular, one selling vinyl).

I only had a two-hour gap in my day and three rolls of film with which to capture what I could, so there was a bit of a challenge, but as a series it sits together pretty well.

Of course Raves from the Grave and I were able to trickle the images out on social media over the course of a week and it was fun to see the reactions to the images. I even started meeting people in town who told me how much they enjoyed the series.

Now the move is pretty much complete and the old shop is soon to be taken over by a new business, a chocolatier I believe, so I’ve captured the end of an era. What with that and Saxonvale, I seem to have a knack of capturing era ends. Maybe I’ve found a new niche!

A Visit to the Barber

This isn’t about getting my hair cut, though my pre-Christmas trim is starting to get unruly. No, this article is about a quick trip I made to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts between Christmas and New Year.

As I said in my previous article, my intention is to make it to more exhibitions this year, but I’m not making this exclusive to photography. Any decent photographer will tell you they draw inspiration from other forms of art; notably painting, though sculpture and other art forms can also inspire. And so what if I’m just a humble corporate photographer? It’s incredibly useful to refresh my understanding of light and its effect on the emphasis of a portrait or scene. Plus, I love art.

If you’re not familiar with the Barber, it’s located within the campus complex of Birmingham University. The building itself, in particular the interior, is a splendour of Art Deco marble, brass and wonderfulness and well worth a visit in its own right, but within the collection you can view, free of charge (we made a donation), works of art by the likes of Manet, Turner, Monet, Picasso and many more. I highly recommend it.

When visiting galleries, I tend to avoid taking photos within the gallery space, even where it is allowed. I’m there to observe, enjoy and learn, not interpret or, more crucially, get in other people’s way. The photo you see here is of a light shining through the window in a door to one of the institute’s lecture theatres, which I took before entering the gallery space. So on this visit I sated my urge to click the shutter, without breaking my personal rule.

I’m not sure when I’ll next get to any kind of gallery, perhaps the Martin Par Foundation for a dose of photography, but I hope to get back to the Barber to really soak up some of what I saw last time. Don’t you find it takes a few trips to really understand a large collection?

So, what I said before…

Only the post before last I posed the question of whether or not I ever stop. Thinking about photography, that is, and the answer surely is confirmed as a resounding NO.

At the end of that post I mentioned the rolls of film I was waiting to process from my holiday in South West Brittany, France, and just writing that line gave me the uncontrollable urge to get those rolls processed. So I processed them and here are the results.

Looking at these photos you might assume I had a rather peculiar holiday, but I actually really enjoyed it. But when I take pictures in my down time, I’m still working on approaches and processes. It’s a constant exercise in “how about” and “what if I”. I’m also developing a new method of digitising film, which will be useful when it comes to putting the Saxonvale book together, so a definite research angle too.

On this occasion I was working with basic kit, with a single stock of film, and exploiting the properties of the film to get a very graphic look from what I shot. This in turn influenced what I photographed and here’s a gallery of some of the results.

For those with the technical interest, these were all taken on a Canon EOS 1N camera with a 40mm lens, using Kodak Tri-X 400 rated at 800iso and push processed in Rodinol. A classic combination of film and developer which yields beautiful results.

Holiday over, back to work.