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.

Tah Dah!

Well I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but I hope you’ll think it’s worth it. My new site takeagander.co.uk is now live!

The name comes from my Instagram handle, takeagander, and since that’s where I’ve been posting work from my personal projects it seemed fitting to create a website which tied in with that. I was also incredibly lucky that the business which was holding the URL takeagander.co.uk had let their subscription lapse and they didn’t renew it before it expired. Get in there!

So now I have a site where I can bring projects together and offer high-quality fine art prints of the images, which I hope will fund new projects in turn. Of course that’s the dream and it’s very early days, but with the site having been launched less than a week ago, I’m thrilled to have made sales already.

I’ve kept the offer simple for now, just two paper types and a range of sizes, but if there’s anything you’d like to see (framing options, canvas prints perhaps?) let me know and I’ll look into the possibilities.

The galleries are set to grow in size and increase in number as I add new images and entire new series, so I hope you’ll bookmark it for regular visits. You can even sign up for updates, which I promise will be kept infrequent.

Of course this is all in addition to my on-going corporate communications work, but I have found that personal projects have really helped keep me fresh and energised when tackling commissioned assignments. It’s great to have both sides of my career up and running.

Please do let me know what you think of the new site, or perhaps more importantly the photos on there. I have to say the quality of display is impressive compared to how images render pretty much anywhere else on the web.

Of course if you see something you’d like to hang on your home or office wall, I’d be thrilled to make your custom, but you’re welcome to just say hello.

Women in Business

Have you ever noticed how male-dominated a lot of business imagery is? And then if there is diversity, it tends to be a rainbow nation of ethnicities and all genders in a slightly bizarre “aren’t we all just so happy to be here with our lattes and iPhones pointing and laughing into the middle distance” sort of a way.

My advice always is to avoid the cliché by featuring your own business and your own colleagues in the images for your website. That way, you’ll represent a natural cross-section of your team.

However there is one area of my own website where I will always favour an image of a female business person over that of a male. The reasons aren’t purely for promoting women in business, but that too is a factor in my policy when deciding which photo should be on the home page.

The thing is, my work consists mostly of corporate portraits, with editorial-style business pictures, conference photography and various other forms of corporate communications photography following in behind, so it makes sense to make my main image a portrait.

Following on from that, for the most part people looking to book me for the work I do will find my website through Google (other search engines are available, but nobody ever uses them) and more often than not it’s marketing managers, office managers and personal assistants who find me. And they’re overwhelmingly female.

So yes, perhaps cynically, I want to make sure that landing on my home page is a comfortable experience for those most often given the responsibility of booking me. Certainly I see no reason why the “hero/ine image” needs to be male, and there’s something to be said for offering a main image to which my core clients can relate.

There is also the practical consideration that if someone landing on my home page sees a male face, there’s a risk they’ll think they’re looking at a photo of me, which if not necessarily upsetting, might at the very least appear conceited. I save my site visitors that particular pleasure for the About page, which when you see it you’ll understand why vanity is probably one of the few vices I don’t suffer from. The reason I feature my face at all is because I believe in practicing what I preach.

This post was inspired by the person who is the latest to be featured on my home page, Hazel, who works for a firm in Bristol. The other week I asked Hazel if she’d mind being featured, and the points outlined above are pretty much how I framed my request. Hazel completely understood and had no qualms about being featured on my home page, which is great because not all headshots necessarily fit, but her company’s portrait requirements work well within the space.

So thanks Hazel! And to anyone out there I photograph in future, especially women, don’t be surprised if I ask you too – I do like to update that page whenever I can. Equally I’ll understand if you’d rather not be featured, but at least if you’ve read this article you’ll understand why I’ve asked in the first place.

 

Summer Light In Summary

With the weather we’ve been having this August you may not be feeling especially Summery, and it’s true to say I’ve had a challenging few weeks dodging downpours, thunder storms and gales, but it’s often assumed that Summer sunshine is perfect for photography.

Well it can be of course, but as a rule, when I’m taking pictures of people for their business website or press release, if we’re having to work outdoors and the sun is screaming down, it’s not always a great help. The subjects will either be squinting into the light, their eyes streaming, or if I put the sun behind them I’ll end up with silhouetted people unless I balance the daylight with flash – not always a simple task.

Of course there are things I can do to minimise the problem, but sometimes the chosen location and time of day for the photo session mean it becomes a purely technical exercise in overcoming the sun.

In the two photos featured here you’ll see how placing the subjects in the shade has meant they’re not not made to squint into the sun or get hot and bothered, while I’m able to fill in their features with controlled use of flash.

The client, the award-winning The Bristol Pest Controller, needed some images for their website, including a hero image, and they knew the location they wanted. My job was to make it all work for them and their website.

The session happened back in March of this year, but I don’t know if you remember, it was quite sunny back in the Spring! Sunshine in Spring is just as tricksy to work with as sun at any time of year, but finding the right location helps a lot to mitigate the issues.

And of course if it’s sunshine like we’ve had this August, ie not a lot, that can actually be quite helpful as it’s easier to balance overcast daylight and flash. The only problem this Summer seems to be how to avoid getting drenched or struck by lightning during your photo session.

 

First sight of new site

The launch of a new website really isn’t the sort of thing that excites interest anymore, but since I’ve just given mine a jolly good wash and brush-up I thought I’d say a little bit about the thinking behind some of my design decisions.

You’ve probably already forgotten what the previous site looked like, which is fine – I can’t remember what my local high street looked like when Woolworths was still there. That’s human nature, nothing personal, but just to say it was designed to be light, inviting and easy to navigate. In this regard it worked pretty well, but was starting to look a little small on a larger screen.

Screen size was also a consideration back when the previous site was being planned because one of my demands at the time was for it to be responsive (it would work on everything from a desktop screen to a mobile phone) and in that regard it was ahead of the game. But time and websites stand still for no person, and earlier this year (quite a bit earlier as it happens) I embarked on the design of my new site, the fourth version since 2004.

I’ve kept the ethos of “light, inviting and easy to navigate” and pushed that a little further by having portfolio previews on the home page instead of having them only available via a Portfolio link or a drop-down menu. So now from the home page it’s easy to click straight to the gallery you want to see (Business Portraits, Corporate Communications or Editorial & PR as well as three galleries linking to personal work).

The next decision was a tougher one; whether to have full-bleed images which filled each page, or the lightbox gallery style I’ve gone for. There are many website templates for photographers that really push the full-bleed, but these are really only any good if you take exclusively landscape-oriented photos. I do so many portraits and photos in portrait orientation I would struggle to make that design work. So I still have image previews which click to enlarge the image to best suit its orientation.

I won’t list all the changes and their benefits here, but the one thing I was determined to crack was image quality.

Often a website template won’t show the images to their best because of the way image files are crunched in the back-end of the system. It’s easy to upload huge image files and let WordPress (my platform of choice) make the decisions and calculations to display the images within the page, but I found it far better to upload the images at the size they would display so the system wouldn’t re-crunch the image data and make them look soft. I want my images to appear crisp because it’s easy to hide slightly soft photos behind a wall of compression. I want potential clients to see the quality of my work.

While writing this article I did a little internet parlour trick using Wayback Machine and found my original website from 2004. Apart from the odd missing image, it’s still there in all its teeny tiny glory. There’s just a screenshot in the gallery below, but you’ll get a sense of how primitive it was.

Now I’m not going to kid myself that this new site is the best photography website ever, but I’ve looked at dozens of photographers’ sites and concluded that the perfect website doesn’t exist. At the very least though I now have a site which I can adapt, change, tweak and improve as required.

All I can say is, I’ve worked very hard to make this site as helpful, useful and engaging as possible. Only time will tell if I’ve succeeded, but feel free to comment below, I’ll consider all feedback.

It’s SOE Challenging!

Last month I was asked, for the second year running, to take pictures of the Institute of Road Transport Engineers (IRTE) Skills Challenge which takes place in Bristol.

This is a three-day event during which teams of individuals are put forward by various bus and coach operators to test their skills in, amongst other things, vehicle electronics, braking systems, fabricating, testing and diagnostics.

The photos are used by the Society of Operation Engineers (SOE) to help promote the event through their website, printed material and for the first time this year I was also sending “rush” pictures to the PR team for live use in social media.

It’s fair to say the three days are quite a challenge photographically too. I have to ensure I get good pictures of each entrant because the photos will be used at the subsequent awards event to accompany the prize presentations to winners.

As the challenges are live and timed I have to ensure I get my shots with as little disruption to the participants as possible. At the same time, because of the nature of the challenges, it would be all too easy to just run around getting nothing more than pictures of the tops of peoples’ heads as they concentrate on what they’re doing when what I really want to see are their faces and expressions.

The lighting can also be quite tricky. Sometimes it’s relatively easy as the event takes place in a large engineering hangar with some daylight coming in through skylights in the roof, but this isn’t always ideal, especially when there’s not much sunshine outside or where a contestant is working in a tight corner with little light on their face. I like my lighting to be clean, with as little colour cast as possible.

So I work fast with a small set-up; usually with a wide zoom lens for flexibility and a single flash on a stand, firing into an umbrella for portability and to reduce the influence of the indoor lighting. The umbrella also keeps the light looking natural and soft.

The greatest challenge is always in the machine shop where contestants will be working with metal cutters, grinders and welding equipment. It’s hot, noisy and there are all kinds of health and safety issues to consider.

Photographing welding is an especially tricky art because I have to wear a welding mask to protect my eyes which means I can’t see so well to compose and focus my shots, but the results are often the most interesting, with sparks flying and the intense glow from the welding torch.

Of course a shot of someone welding doesn’t show their face, so I’ll always ensure I get a shot of them doing something else as well, such as inspecting a weld or measuring for a cut.

What’s really great though is that tomorrow I’ll see the entrants again as they go to a prize-giving at the Jaguar Experience in Birmingham. I’ll be taking pictures of the prize presentations and of the overall event for industry public relations and again to promote the event for next year.

As I’ve never been to the Jaguar Experience and don’t know what the venue will be like for photographs, it’ll be a whole new challenge!

Contextual Portraits

One thing I love about being a photographer is the chance to meet a wide variety of people, all with different backgrounds, interests and personalities.

As a prime example, this week started with a delightful encounter with local ceramicist Jane Gibson who runs a gallery in Bradford on Avon. Jane needed images of her work to send to art galleries and for her website update.

With a simple backdrop and lighting set-up I was able to create lovely fresh images of Jane’s quirky work, but when I’d finished photographing the pieces I also felt a portrait of Jane would be useful for the promotion of her art. Thankfully she didn’t need too much persuading.

Although Jane’s specialism is ceramics, she also offers a selection of her paintings and I wanted to suggest this in the background of the picture without it overwhelming the photo or being too distracting. I think Jane looks beautiful in the soft window light of her studio with subtle hints of her work behind her.

I particularly enjoy taking portraits with context, and this is a good example of what I mean. A contextual portrait is a great way to broadcast not only what you look like, but also what you do or where and how you work. This can really engage the viewer and hold their attention in a way a headshot against a plain background won’t always achieve.

Most of next week I’ll be working exclusively on contextual and action portraits, which I hope to share with you soon. It’s going to be challenging, but huge fun.

Anyone for Tea?

In February this year I received an enquiry from a completely new venture. So new, in fact, that it hadn’t actually launched yet, which is always interesting because it often means I have even more opportunity than usual to add some of my creative input into the project.

The client, Tea for Three marketing and communications, consists of three directors, Helen Rimmer, Debbie Clifford and Michelle Gordon-Coles, and together they make a very dynamic team with backgrounds in journalism, public relations, charities, corporate communications and education.

It also has to be said, I’ve rarely worked with a team so completely on the same wavelength as each other. It’s obvious their personalities just mesh perfectly and I think this will feed their undoubted future success.

I gleaned all this from the pre-shoot planning meeting I had with Helen and the few hours I spent taking photos with the trio.

We started in a beautiful stone-walled meeting room at Glove Factory Studios where, having arranged Debbie, Helen and Michelle around a table in such a way as to keep the composition tight, I just left them to chat, smile, laugh and drink tea while I captured a series of moments from different angles until there was a good selection of images to draw on.

They had also arranged a trip up the road to Merkin’s Farm cafe for more tea (clearly their fuel of choice) so I could take more individual shots as well as a couple of more posed groups with a less “officey” look, aka outside with some nice countryside in the background.

During both sessions I was keen to not only fulfil the brief, but also to look out for angles and details that would give them those extra shots which are so necessary on a website; you know, those photos nobody knows they need until it comes to actually building it and realising they don’t have quite enough!

The end result is a set of photos which really show the coherence of this vibrant team as well as their very relaxed, friendly (while still utterly professional) approach to marketing. And judging from the testimonial Helen sent through (shamelessly requested by myself), I think Tea for Three were either very happy with the results or had got slightly tipsy on Darjeeling.

We had a very specific brief for Tim to follow, we didn’t want to come across as too corporate or stuffy and wanted our photos for our website to show us as friendly and down to earth. We were a little bit nervous but Tim soon put us at ease. He was great fun to work with and very patient when we laughed too much!

“Tim has a great eye for detail and came up with lots of ideas we hadn’t thought of. We were really pleased with the end results and would definitely recommend Tim.”

Helen Rimmer, Tea for Three Ltd.

Case Study: PR Agency Website

Following on from my earlier post about the joy of seeing my corporate communications photography used well in a print publication, this week I’m highlighting another client using photos well, this time online.

Briscoe French is a public relations, copywriting and media relations company based on the South Coast of England, but with a client list which is rapidly expanding into international territories they needed to refresh their website.

With this in mind, they came to me to see what I could do to bring their imagery in line with their aim of attracting larger clients both in the UK and Europe. The beauty of this project for me was that the photos were going to be prominent and would set the tone of the site.

While director Kevin Briscoe normally expects a detailed brief from his clients before the agency starts work, he had to admit to me that rather than handing me a brief, he wanted to hear my ideas. As much as I like working to a tight brief, I also enjoy being involved in the creative process, so I knew this project was going to be fun.

Having spent some time getting an understanding of the areas of the business which needed to be illustrated, the obvious starting point was to get the team corporate portraiture and group photos done. Because I did this during a team meeting session I could also get started on all those useful detail shots and action pictures which help illustrate a business in a less formal way.

Once the portraits, team shots and detail photos were in place, it was time to think about what other images were required to illustrate BF’s areas of expertise and their aspirations. A trip to London gave us a wealth of locations with a business feel to them and I was able to explore ideas that would help convey the notion of Briscoe French being a get-up-and-go agency, always there for their clients.

One example is the portrait of Kevin taken on Millennium Bridge with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background, a shot which risked being a cliché.

I wanted to create an image which would make him stand out from the background and also give a sense of him being steady while everyone else swirls past (it’s also helpful if members of the public aren’t identifiable in a corporate website). For my own professional pride this needed to be achieved in-camera, not with Photoshop tricks.

After three photo sessions in three locations we had everything needed to illustrate all the services Briscoe French offer, and stock images designed to communicate their style of doing business – professional, approachable, friendly and always there for their clients.

The only main photos on the site I didn’t take are the traffic control one and the one taken from space (maybe next time I’ll get to go into orbit for a client).

Now the project is complete, Briscoe French has an online library of nearly 300 media-ready images which they can use on their website, in their blog, social media, press releases and client pitch documents.

To read what Kevin and many of my other clients have to say about me and my work, why not take a look at my Testimonials page?

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.