Space – Time Continuum

A recent experience reminded me once again of the importance of two particular aspects of a corporate portrait photography session, namely space and time. In fact as these two elements are inextricably linked, we can refer to them as a continuum.

Setting aside the fourth dimension for a moment, on this particular occasion I was shown into a vast board room, which would have been perfect except it was mostly filled with immobile boardroom furniture; massive table and countless chairs. At the same time I was told I could only have the room for half an hour, which is approximately how long it would have taken me to set up the lighting kit even if there had been space to do so.

This would have left no time for any photography to happen, let lone the two hours I was booked for. A continuum conundrum, no less.

Thankfully we were able to find an alternative room which, though smaller, had much more clear floor space. It was also available for two hours, which was just about enough – not perfect, as I was booked for three (and could happily have filled them with the shots listed as required), but better than zero minutes by quite a considerable percentage.

Of course when you’re setting up a photo session, coordinating the schedules of everyone involved is often a headache, but it’s worth thinking of the room and the time required as if they were two more people in the schedule. If a room or the time in that room are unavailable, it’s a no-goer.

The time required will depend on how many people are to be photographed and the brief to which I’ll be working (more varieties of poses etc will obviously require more time) and at least 30 minute’s set-up and break-down time should be factored either side of the session.

How much space is needed will depend on whether it’s close head shots or full-length portraits required (full-length requires a great deal more space), but as a rule of thumb for headshots, you need to allow approximately 2.5 – 3m width x 3m length (length being the distance between where I’ll stand and the next wall or immobile obstacle).

This is approximate, but it is a realistic guide. You can easily add another couple of metres to the length for full-length portraits.

The photo on this article shows an example of where I’ve had more space than I knew what to do with (it was in fact one half of a hotel ballroom!), but seeing the set-up gives you some notion of how that space is used.

So remember, when you’re booking all the executives and colleagues for that all-important photo session, don’t forget to plan the room and ring-fence the time. Without those two elements, the space – time continuum breaks down and everything else becomes academic.

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.

How Pro is your Profile?

According to 90% of statistics, 75% of all life forms on Earth are either on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In or all three, while the remaining 25% haven’t developed opposable thumbs and don’t have broadband yet.

Ok I just made all that up, but statistically speaking I’m probably right, and anyway it’s fair to say that if you’re reading this article, you’re also (and probably simultaneously) chatting on Facebook, tweeting and maybe updating your Linked In account, or somesuch useful activity.

What you might also be doing is uploading another comical profile photo to one or all of these accounts, but if you’re using any of them as a way of presenting your “professional” self, should you really be uploading that photo of your bottom with the comedy mustache and glasses? Do your clients really want to see you, lobster-like from the beach, wearing a jaunty party hat, a bottle of wikkid, or whatever in your hand?

Even if your photo is more sober, do you look like one of Interpol’s most wanted; or as if you work in a stationery cupboard, surrounded by files, papers, shelves and broken fax machines?

self portrait of tim gander

The model wasn’t much cop, but at least he’s recognisable.

Your profile photo might be just a couple of hundred pixels, but that’s even more reason to make the most of each and every one of those babies. It’ll be the first thing anyone looks at when they see your profile, or any comment you make on a social or business site. So make it work for you; make sure it’s clear and makes a decent impression.

That isn’t to say it can’t be humorous, but remember that your sense of humour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. My photo is straight and simple, but at least I’m recognisable from it.

So often, that valuable little space on the web page is wasted with a photo that is too detailed to make sense, and the subject of the photo is so small in the frame that their own family couldn’t recognise them. But whether you’re beautiful or have a face like mine, what people want to see is you. They want to know what the person behind the Facebook account or Twitter conversation looks like because normal people engage and do business with other normal people.

Hiding behind an obscure photo, pattern or, perhaps worst of all, a blank space can make your comments on blogs and in discussions look like spam. People want to know you really exist, that you’re not hiding behind a phishing scam. It’s one more opportunity to make an impression and (oh how I hate marketing speak) “build your brand” *gag*.

So do yourself a favour. Get a decent photo, get a friend to take it. If you’ve hired a photographer to take pictures for your business anyway, ask them to shoot you a profile photo with decent lighting. Then stick with that picture for as long as possible, because it will be what people come to recognise you by on all the forums and sites you engage with. Keep changing it, and people will lose track of who you are.

Now go, get it done and don’t let me catch you looking like a drunken party closet terrorist again.