Sweet Luxury

The other day I was asked to come into a business in Bristol to undertake a portrait session so members of staff could post to Twitter and LinkedIn with fresh, up-to-date (and importantly, professionally-taken) profile photos.

The pictures were taken at the end of an in-house social media training seminar, and I suspect this helped convince attendees of the importance of a decent avatar portrait. I believe this kind of training is an excellent idea for businesses wanting their staff to help promote the brand on online platforms, and of course a clean, clear profile photo gives their posts greater gravitas.

What made it for me though, apart from the lovely welcoming people I got to work with, was the huge amount of space I was given to work in.

If your business has just taken over larger premises and you haven’t quite expanded into it just yet, take the opportunity to make headway on your headshots. While the entire office isn’t crammed with furniture and people, it makes a great space to work in and I can light the portraits better than if I’m shoehorned into a stationery cupboard, or a board room with an immovable table filling it.

Of course once you’ve filled the space, I’ll need to come back to photograph all the newly appointed team members. Don’t worry though, as long as there is room enough, I can make the lighting work. It’s just so much nicer when there’s space a-plenty.

 

Royal Visits Invictus in Bath

Royal visits are a unique kind of photographic assignment, as I was reminded when Prince Harry visited University of Bath on Friday for the trials of the Invictus Games which take place in Orlando, Florida, in May.

I stepped into the assignment at fairly short notice due to the university’s staff photographer being laid low by a stomach bug – you really can’t cover an event like this if you’re feeling queazy!

Prince Harry was visiting to see UK athletes taking part in the trials and of course help to raise awareness of the games which were founded to give injured, wounded and sick military personnel a chance to test their sporting skills to the highest standards.

My role in covering the visit was to get pictures the university could use the same day on their website and for press release to showcase the fact they were hosting the trials at their excellent Sports Training Village.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at 9am, but pretty soon a fairly large contingent of press photographers had gathered in the briefing area. Harry was due to arrive just after 11am, so once all the press photographers had gathered, we headed track-side for further briefing and to choose our positions.

Please click photos for a larger view:

My pass was for the outdoor fixed positions, which meant I could move about within certain areas. Other photographers had Rota passes, which is the Royal press office system for ensuring an event doesn’t become clogged with photographers. Those carrying a Rota pass will often have greater, or extended access to an event, but they will be required to allow use of their pictures by any legitimate media outlet that requests them.

Even before the arrival of the Prince I made sure I was getting on with fulfilling my brief; getting shots of the gathered media to show the wide interest and shots of athletes warming up or taking part in trials.

The weather was blustery, sometimes raining and not fantastically warm, so it was a relief when the Prince arrived on schedule. The Royals tend to be fairly prompt unless they’re coming from another event. If that overruns, you just have to be patient and ready.

To cover the Royal visit as he moved around the Sports Training Village running track, chatting to officials and athletes, I worked two camera bodies; one with a wide zoom on and the other with a telephoto zoom (with a 1.4x extender attached for extra reach). Since most of the action was happening at quite a distance away, the long end of my telephoto lens was a godsend. I could see plenty of the other photographers had their huge 500mm and 600mm lenses and were using them a lot, while I had to make the best of my zoom and just make sure I had clean shots I could crop into. I really didn’t need to see into Prince Harry’s soul for my purposes, so it was all fine.

I took my last frame around midday when the facility for Fixed Position passes ended and the Prince went indoors to continue the tour. That was my cue to get my laptop and edit a selection of images for the university homepage news feed and a news article. The rush pictures were chosen, captioned, edited, delivered and added to the website well within the hour. I could then leave the campus, head to my office and do a more considered edit on my large monitor and the job was done.

Royal visits are often a case of “get what you see.” Not much tends to be set up specifically for stills and this leaves you looking for compositions which are tidy not because you set them up, but because you’ve chosen a good position and the composition happens to come together nicely. Expressions will be fleeting and you have to be ready with your camera to capture them, which is why it often looks like Royal photographers never take their eyes from their cameras – they can’t afford to miss a shot.

On this occasion I was surrounded by photographers who shoot a lot of Royal events. Some travel the world with the royals and have built entire careers doing this. For my part, I’ve covered a few Royal events over the years, but it always makes a refreshing, adrenaline-fuelled change from the norm. I shall look forward to the next one.

 

Cycle Challenge

Covering the launch of the new Matrix IC7 cycle training bikes at University of Bath’s Sports Training Village last week presented some interesting challenges, but also made for some interesting photo opportunities – sadly I can’t show show you some of the more creative images as the university hasn’t had use of those pictures yet, but just getting the basics covered presented interesting challenges.

When I arrived on location, the bikes were set up for a spinning class at which a group of cycling enthusiasts, athletes and sports trainers were taking part in a session. The purpose of this was to introduce them to the bikes and their various high-tech features, while also creating a suitable scenario for me to get some shots of the bikes in action.

My first problem was that of how to light the scene; this was a fairly large group of people in a very tight space, with a massive source of light coming from behind them.

With careful positioning of the camera and a bit of shifting of a few distracting objects I managed to get enough room to include the group without being able to see my flashes which were set up, just outside my field of view, at each end of the space in order to bathe the cyclists with enough light to counteract the daylight which would have silhouetted them. I didn’t have much leeway to move about, so the main shots pretty much had to be taken from one position.

Having achieved the basics though, I was able to take additional pictures showing details of the bikes and small sections of the group as well as a few more creative images experimenting with slower shutter speeds and camera/lens movement.

When the group took a break I was able to set up a very quick photo of sports Team Bath athlete Eva Piatrikova as an alternative to the wide group photos.

By the end of the session I had pictures suitable for promoting the spinning/training sessions available at the university and by the end of the afternoon I’d delivered an image suitable for immediate social media use, with the rest of the images edited and delivered the next morning.

Team Bath posted an article using two of the pictures, tweeted one and will use others in future materials to promote the cycle training sessions, so if you’re a keen cyclist wanting to improve your technique or want to learn the basics, now you know where to sign up.

Back to my roots

With my roots firmly set in newspaper photography, it’s always a pleasure to get a commission to shoot pictures for a client that require that newspaper style. It’s not the same as shooting for a corporate website or brochure which generally requires a bit less story telling and tends to be more polished. For a newspaper style you can work faster and produce a wider range of image options. It’s ok to pull in props from what’s around you if it helps, and you’re not looking for a totally slick look, which can leave a photo looking less genuine when it’s for a news context.

A good recent example is a job I shot for Positive Outcomes, a national training company, who offer a range of training and apprenticeship services to companies and organisations and training to help a whole range of people looking to improve their work skills.

In this example two people, Holly Drew and Alistair Johnstone, completed their on-the-job training while volunteering at the St Peter’s Hospice charity shop in Westbury on Trym, Bristol and I was asked to produce a set of images suitable for local press and web use to help tell their story.

After about an hour on site I had a good selection of images, both upright and landscape orientations to suit picture desk requirements. I thought perhaps you’d like to see a selection of the results.

Showing Holly and Alistair interacting as they work adds an extra layer to the picture story

Offering a vertical alternative reduces the risk of a photo being ditched just because it doesn’t fit the page design

Showing Holly and Alistair at work in the stock room is another opportunity to show them at work

DIY or Die Trying

If you’ve read my previous two posts (using stock and using commissioned photography for your website) you’ll have a fair idea where I stand when it comes to shooting your own photos or getting a friend or relative to do it for you.

To sum up the main pitfalls, perhaps the biggest risk with getting a friend/relative/pet to take a few snaps for you as a favour is that having put them to the trouble, if the shots turn out so terrible they make you want to tear out your eyes, you’ll still feel beholden to use them – to promote your business. Oh dear.

The problem with taking them yourself is you might feel they’re excellent shots, but you’re too close to the action to be your best critic. You know what was involved in taking the pictures and what hard work it was, and you’ll be terribly proud of the results, but no one else will see that. They’ll just see the photos for what they are, however good or bad.

Having said all that, some business owners will always opt for DIY to save the expense of using a professional, so I’ll set out some basic pointers to help you make the best of your efforts.

  • Plan ahead:

Work out what pictures are required, maybe talk to your web designer if you have one, rather than taking thousands of random shots and hoping for the best. Which people, services and processes are key? Don’t forget though that a photo of your office building/machinery/entire staff contingency isn’t necessarily going to make more business for you. This isn’t about what pleases you about your business, it’s about what attracts clients and customers.

  • Choose locations with care:
tim gander on telephone

The phone-cam look; not good.

So often you’ll see business portraits of people who have been lined up against a wall and shot Mafia-style. You can see the fear in their eyes! Or they’ve been surprised at their desk, mid-phone conversation, mouth gurning in an embarrassing contortion, or more likely miming a swear word. The flash has obliterated their features, and the red-eye is excruciating. Try taking them to a more relaxed location. Keep them distant from ugly or distracting backgrounds, use shaded daylight to avoid squinting and ugly shadows, and use the telephoto function to crop in close so their face fills the majority of the frame.

bath commercial photographer tim gander portrait.

Still not pretty, but a better photo.

  • Stay legal:

If you want to photograph people or locations not directly connected to your business, make sure you have either model releases or property releases where necessary.

  • Think quality:

As tempting as it might be to set your camera up so you can get 10,000 images on a single memory card, the quality will drop dramatically and this will show in the end result. You might also need the pictures for print publications too, and this will require even better quality than web use. Also, for the love of Sweet Jesus, don’t (DON’T!) take photos on your mobile phone with the hope of getting anything that resembles professional quality. It’s just not going to happen.

This short article can only cover the most basic of basics, but if you’re using non-professional photography in your business, perhaps another option would be to get a corporate photography trainer in (such as my good self) to at least train someone up to improve the results you’re getting. It could be a one-off session gets you on the right track, and at least when I leave the building, the skills stay with you. Drop me a line today to find out more.