Back to Personal Projects


It has been quite a while since I managed to get out and work on my personal project, People’s Frome, but on Wednesday afternoon last week I did manage to get out for a couple of hours. The weird thing is that whenever I decide I’m going to go and work on it, I worry there won’t be anything which will present itself to help move the project along.

And yet, almost every time I do go out, I find something that works. I guess that’s what they call making your own luck.

This particular trip was a bit of a mixture though. I’d taken a walk into the area of Frome which has so far been the anchor to the project, The Mount, and not seen anything worth a look. The light was rather flat and uninteresting; one of the strengths of this project so far has been how the light has helped set the tone. This time though, light wasn’t on my side.

The shot I came up with did include some serendipity though. I’d decided to show this path and fence with its view through to the Knights Maltings estate beyond (a relatively modern development which hugs up to a precipitous bank, above which sits The Mount). I’d taken a few shots when I heard a dog walker coming along behind me. We exchanged hellos as he passed and I waited for dog and owner to get to the right part of the frame to complete the shot.

Just as they got there, the dog cocked its leg and I grabbed the frame. I’m not going to pretend this is a modern classic, yet there is a lot about this image which pleases me; the balance between the rather grim fence and ticky-tacky housing beyond and the humour of the dog taking a leak and the way all the elements work together.

On the down-side, once I’d got this shot I carried on down the path, but while trying to traverse some flood water which was blocking my way, I managed to slip and fall forwards onto my camera. The camera was fine (once I’d cleaned all the mud off it), but I’ve been putting up with a very sore, possibly broken rib since. I guess that’s what they call suffering for your art.

Experiment Time!

Last weekend I had a sudden urge. I dug out my old film camera, found a roll of Fuji film in the fridge (three years out of date, but what the heck) and headed out into miserably wet weather to see what I could find.

To my astonishment, having shot the roll, I discovered Frome Photo Centre still runs a one-hour service, so I headed off for coffee and cake at Paccamora while my film was being processed and printed.

Now I no longer have a film scanner, so had to use a slightly Heath Robinson arrangement to digitise the negatives, and even then they don’t come out as positive images. A bit of work on them in software is required to achieve positives, and the colours aren’t perfect, but it’s a chance to be experimental. See what you think…

The exercise was fun, despite the fact I was soaked by the end. The portrait of Anthony pleases me because it was literally a frame to finish the roll and I used a 30-year-old flash gun to light him, yet it looks so natural. At some point I’ll organise a decent scan of this shot.

I’d like to get back to shooting more film, if only for personal projects, but will probably do black and white rather than colour because I know I can process this myself and get exactly the quality I want. Of course if a client wants a job shot on film, I’ll jump at the chance. For all the benefits of digital, film still has a certain quality about it which digital can’t quite replicate. It would be interesting to talk to a client who wants that difference in their marketing imagery.

As if this wasn’t enough, I decided to pop out on Sunday evening with my friend Nik Jones, a graphic designer based in Frome, to shoot some long-exposure pictures. This time in digital. Nik wanted some pointers on getting photos of trailing car lights, so we headed to a bridge over the Frome bypass.

As a result of that little adventure, I turned a series of still images into this GIF animation using


So my weekend spanned everything from old-school film to new-school animation, and while all this might seem to serve little purpose beyond a weekend’s entertainment and a blog post, exercises like this get me thinking about new approaches and techniques which I can apply to client work. It would certainly be interesting to speak to anyone interested in having either film-based photography on their website or even a GIF. I can think of interesting applications for both.

On Your Marks for Auction

Remember my post the other week about how it isn’t all about the gear? Well here’s a perfect example of that theory.

I have to confess, I don’t know a huge amount about the work of the American photographer Mary Ellen Mark (she passed away in May of this year), but I knew the name and now know a fair bit more about her since I can across the story (via Petapixel) about one of her cameras going for sale on Ebay. Mary Ellen’s estate has put the camera up for auction partly to raise money for American Red Cross, but presumably also to raise money for themselves.

I don’t know why they want or need to sell it; perhaps they’re looking to dispose of some assets in order to cover death duties and protect her archive. Whatever the full story is, speculation seems a little pointless.

Screen shot of the Ebay listing for Mary Ellen Mark's Nikon FM2 camera with 28mm lens.

What strikes me though is that if you look through her archive of work and understand that she counted People Magazine and Life Magazine among her clients, the Nikon FM2 (which we’re told she probably used for these clients) is an incredibly basic camera. No whistles, no bells, yet her work is clearly that of someone who could interpret a scene in an engaging way, but with the minimum of camera gear.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t photographers today, with highly sophisticated digital cameras, working in an equally simple but effective way. I know there are, but as I alluded in my earlier post, there is often too much emphasis on camera features and not enough on just getting the technique and style down and telling a good story.

Whether this particular camera has collectible value simply due to its provenance is also an interesting debate to be had. The FM2 was a Japanese, mass-produced camera and you can pick one up on Ebay for less than £200. Bidding on Mary Ellen’s camera has (at the time of writing) already exceeded $2,200.00, so clearly there are interested collectors out there. My instinct tells me her estate view this camera as not central to the story of her work and that her more exotic cameras will remain with them. Again, pure speculation.

Of course whoever buys it will be sorely tempted to put a film through it, assuming it’s still in working order. If it was me I don’t think I could bring myself to do it unless I knew my shots were going to be iconic (I know that’s a bizarre constraint and I can’t really explain it). But then would it be sadder just to place it in a cabinet for display? Well I’m happy to say I can’t match the bids, so that particular quandary won’t be troubling me. If you happen to buy it, do let me know how it goes.

Press Space for Storagebase

At a time when online marketing seems to dominate marketeers’ minds, it’s worth remembering that the local press still has the power to communicate your business to a well-targeted audience.

This is where the press release comes into play. Sometimes maligned, often mis-used or treated like a slightly grubby, distant uncle to all the shiny online marketing channels, press releases often fail through lack of appreciation of their importance.

Done properly though, a press release will get your business valuable editorial space. You can pay a high price for an advert, and while adverts are another good way to get in front of your audience, they’re viewed and treated differently by readers. Editorial is more trusted and allows you to get more of your business’ story into your message.

As an example, I was asked by Avalanche (a creative PR and social media agency, so local to me that we share an office) to work with them and their client, Storagebase, on a press release about their new self-storage facility and head office in Frome, Somerset.

The brief was to take press release photos to introduce the management team, the brand and the building to the local population.

I popped along to meet Storagebase’s MD Ben Morris and Jennie Wood from Avalanche for a pre-shoot site visit so I could get a sense of what shots would work best. Plus I love seeing the insides of buildings before they’re fitted out. This one had some really eye-catching internal structures and I couldn’t resist popping off a couple of shots during the visit.

On the day of the photo session the weather was a little tricky. It had been lashing with rain that morning, but it was dry by the time of the shoot. I’d hoped for blue sky so I could get some dramatic wide shots of the facility, but the sky was the same colour as the building and there was still a lot of construction going on, so I opted for something tight and punchy.

Making sure I included only the important elements (manager, assistant manager, hire van and the branding on the building) I ended up with a couple of photo options to put forward to the local press. Importantly, these included upright and landscape-oriented photos to ensure they would have a picture to fit any available page space.

The result was a picture and copy across three columns of the printed edition as well as an online article, again including the photo.

So when thinking about PR, don’t dismiss the press release. Done with care and skill you not only get eye-catching coverage in print press, but it’ll go in the online editions too. Plus you can often use the same images for other areas of your marketing such as newsletters, tweets, Facebook pages and so on – not always so easy with an advert, even less advisable with poor quality content.