Oi! Tim! What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken?

I don’t much enjoy trying to answer that question (especially when it’s asked like that), but since it’s a question I get asked, well sometimes at least, I thought it might be an idea to do an article on it.

Probably the simplest answer is that I tend to like whichever was the best photo from my most recent assignment at the time of asking. I do tend to prefer more recent work, perhaps because with every brief, with each new location, there are challenges to be met and overcome and I still love to learn something new from each shoot. And maybe it’s that having a press background, I tend to see older work as having passed its sell-by date.

Of my press photography, I’d still say my favourites are my photo of Tony Blair campaigning in Oldham in 2001 and the portrait of Tony Benn in Bath. Those pictures seem to sum up the evangelical character of the former prime minister, while the other sums up the thoughtful, statesmanlike manner of Mr Benn. More recently, the unguarded shot of Richard Noble of the SSC Project pleased me in its informality and got a decent showing in Director magazine

news cutting bath chronicle 1992 election showing chris patten defeat

Capturing a historical moment has a certain buzz.

When I look at my recent commercial photography, I’m often drawn to the simple, relaxed corporate portraits, especially where I’ve captured something of the subject’s character, but I also have a fondness for the beekeeper portrait, which was not only tricky to light, but was tricky to shoot since I was in full protective gear and surrounded by bees at the time. The beekeeper was a decent chap too, and gave me some honey after the shoot. Of course, what’s important is how the photo looks, not what was involved in getting it to look that way, but each picture has an emotional attachment for the photographer, which is why we’re often the worst judges of our own work.

Looking at my gallery of public relations photography, I’d single out the portrait of the barbary lion, partly because he’s so handsome and also because everyone who sees that photo reacts with a “wow” or similar, which is always encouraging.

Apart from the lion, I’m quite fond of the PR photo which I took for the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative. The idea of making it look as though the fridges in the middle of a field might actually be working tickles me, and adds an extra dimension of interest to the shot.

portrait photo actress penelope keith

Actress Penelope Keith in mid-interview. Never published, but still a favourite.

There are many photos and assignments I’d rank as favourites, but going back beyond the last 12 years leads me to that period when I was a staff photographer, so don’t have the copyright in those shots, which means I can’t publish them here.

There’s the shoot I did in Norway with the Royal Marine Reservists, which included a striking shot of a marine bursting up through freezing lake water during a survival exercise, his shocked expression and the water droplets cascading from his hair making it almost uncomfortable to view the photo. Or the single frame I managed to get of HM The Queen arriving at Portsmouth Harbour train station on a drizzly night, simple headscarfe and clearly not expecting a photographer, though smiling all the same.

Delving even deeper into the past, I’ve featured here a couple of favourites from the very beginning of my career, when I freelanced for the Bath Chronicle. Now I think about it again, it isn’t just my recent work I’m happiest with. I think I have some pretty cracking older shots too…

How about you?

Whether you’re a professional or amateur, do you have a favourite of your own? Or perhaps there’s a photographer you admire, or a particular photo that sticks in your mind. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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.

Two for the Price of One!

self portrait of tim gander

Your leader is speaking; please be seated.

Hello my lovely, loyal readers.

This is just a quick update to bring you the thrilling news that not only can you read my semi-cogent ramblings here, but also now at the Warehouse Express blog site. The articles I submit there will not be featured on my main blog, though I’m sure I’ll find an excuse to link them from here, so if you want to keep up with my every utterance, you’ll just have to bookmark the Warehouse Express blog page. Click here for the first exclusive article I’ve posted there just for you…

And that is all. Move along now, there’s nothing else to see here.


Electile Dysfunction Problems – what’s next?

We may have just had the most exciting election since Blair took power from the Tories in 1997, but the result has been somewhat surreal and indecisive. At least now David Dimbleby can finally take a nap and Gordon Brown can finally switch his smile off for good. No more face-strain for Gordon, no more wincing for us.

I suppose we have to accept that the most pressing job of the new government will be to sort out the dog’s breakfast we laughingly call our economy, though to be fair to Gordon and Labour, it really wasn’t their fault. The problem is, as it’s not the Government’s fault, by logical extension there also isn’t a great deal any government can do to correct it apart from push some debt around until it pops up somewhere else, like a fiscal version of whack-a-mole.

I don’t wish to dwell too much on the economy though. I’m happy to leave it to others with far larger brains than mine to make an even bigger mess of it at the expense of those of us least able to cope with the consequences. What I’m really interested in for the purpose of this blog is what a Tory/Lib Dem government will do about copyright, orphan works and extended collective licensing.

photo of tile mural in sicily protected by copyright watermark.

Will all photos on the net have to be disfigured just to protect them?

Yes, I know it’s not a major issue right this minute, but it will become one very quickly and we can’t be sure when it will sit up and slap us in the face, so we need to be prepared.

Let’s look back first to those halcyon days when a Parliament wasn’t hung and prime ministers weren’t a double act. When the Digital Economy Bill was passed into law (the DEB almost certainly will be revisited soon) and the orphan works clause was debated, albeit briefly, in the Commons.

What happened then, just to recap, was that under lobbying pressure from photographers and the Stop43 campaign, Conservatives (with an eye on the electoral prize) agreed to drop Clause 43, while Labour (perhaps thinking they had more chance of a majority than they actually did) decided they didn’t need to drop Clause 43 – or perhaps it was their bargaining chip for getting the rest of the DEB through all along, whatever. Meanwhile, Don Foster for the Lib Dems argued to amend the clause, but keep it. This despite the fact he’d been told in great detail why this was a bad idea.

So now that we have a Tory/Lib Dem coalition government, do we really know where the parties stand? The Conservatives said at the time of the DEB debate that there would need to be a proper review of copyright, OW and ECL after the election, and it would appear that at face value they have some sympathy with photographers and other creators of original content. But then we have the Lib Dems, who clearly don’t understand the issues.

With some luck the Lib Dems will see the light, and the Tories won’t be lobbied so mercilessly by publishers, aggregators and content thieves that they lose sight of the fact that photographers generate a great deal of wealth for business and the country. It’s part of our industry and our culture. It’s our heritage too. Without professional photographers, all users of images would suffer and visual innovation would stall.

It’s going to require a mammoth effort from core groups of photographers to draw up required minimum standards for any review and subsequent legislation, but it will also require the effort of individuals who claim to care about photography. They will need to keep in close contact with local groups, who in turn should keep an eye on developments at national level so that when the time comes, our voices won’t be drowned out by big business and freetards.

A Spot of Bother – Beware The Blob!

I’m quite convinced that when I talk to some clients about post production, they think I’m just a con artist trying to make life difficult, complicated and expensive for them. Perhaps they put me in the same category as a car mechanic, who stands there sucking his teeth, telling you all the expensive things he’ll have to do to your car to make it run properly. Like emptying the ashtray, or fitting a new phalange.

Why can’t I just shoot the photos and hand over a CD of everything and let the client go on their merry way? Well I could, but before I let my pictures go, one of the most important tasks I carry out is to ensure the images are clean.

I don’t mean I check them for naughty lady bits. Hopefully on an average corporate shoot there isn’t even the remotest risk of that. What I mean is the fuzzy blobs that show up on a photo when dust attaches to the camera sensor*.

This is a common problem for digital SLR cameras. Every time I change a lens, I’m letting dust into the gaping mouth of the camera, and the next time the shutter is fired the dust gets attracted by static charge onto the sensor which shows up as a grey mark on the image.

Some SLRs have special cleaning settings which shake the sensor down on startup, in the hope that the dust can be vibrated off. But these systems are only effective up to a point. I regularly clean my sensor manually, but I have to change lenses on most shoots, letting more Hoffman – sorry, I mean Dustin.

dust spot on digital photo sensor.

Top and bottom-left, blobs tend to show up more against blue.

So when I get the images onto my computer, in addition to the setting of resolution for print or web use, colour and exposure tweaks, captioning etc ad infinitum, I check each and every frame for those dreaded blobs. If not viewed at the right percentage (size) on screen, they can easily be missed, but they’ll manage to show up nicely on your website, and even more so in print.

To the extent that they’ll look ugly on a photo, they can wreck an expensive print run of brochures, so tell me, do you feel lucky? Do you think you can spot and eliminate The Blob? Apart from anything else, do you really have the time to sit there and take blobs off every photo you use? And what if you miss one?

Next time you think the photographer resembles a shark with the scruples of a politician, just remember the alternative could be worse; a photographer who doesn’t care enough about your project to do proper post-production.

*To be pedantic, it isn’t the imaging sensor which gets the dust on it, but a filter which sits directly in front of the imaging chip. This filter, known as a high-pass filter, is there to reduce the amount of infrared light getting to the sensor, as this gives photos a strange colour cast. Digital camera sensors are very sensitive to infrared light, so the filter is necessary to counteract it.

On the Button

Boy awaits arrival of Jenson Button, holding Jenson Button book.

Waiting for his hero.

A slight departure from my normal blog, but it’s been a bit of a special occasion in Frome today.

On a beautiful sunny Spring day, in the Frome Market car park (dolled up for the occasion) Jenson Button, Formula One World Drivers’ Champion, was granted the Freedom of Frome Town.

By my guesstimate there must have been around 3,000 people there to greet him as he took to the stage to be presented the award by the town Mayor, Councillor Damon Hooton. Children craned to get a glimpse, women shouted their love, and men cheered his every word.

The whole shebang was over in just under an hour, during which Jenson was introduced, the Mayor did a recap of Jenson’s life in Frome and presented the award, after which Jenson answered questions previously submitted by members of the public.

He was very PC, denying ever having raced the roads around Frome as a youngster, but charming, humble and down-to-earth.

Once the main duties were completed, Jenson set about meeting his fans, posing for photos, signing autographs on everything from post cards to books to bits of car. All the while smiling, and clearly enjoying the whole event.

Enough of my blather, here are some photos from today.

jenson button and cllr hooton

Jenson receives the Freedom of Frome Town from the Mayor, Cllr Hooton.

crowd scene

Fans of Jenson pack the car park.

jenson button in frome, somerset, england

Jenson waves to fans. Lots of them women, for some reason…

jenson button in frome, somerset

Jenson signs cards, books and bits of cars.

If you’ve tuned in for a bit of a photography perspective, I shot these photos on a Canon 5D with 1.4x converter on a 70-200 f2.8 lens (pre-IS model), apart from the crowd and signing photo which was shot on my new Canon G11, which I’m testing out prior to using it for a bona-fide shoot.