Tim Gander’s photography blog.

Lens Love

It may surprise you to know this, but I have little time to get sentimental about camera equipment. I do enjoy working with my old film cameras, but my digital gear is just tools for the job.

The exception to this is one lens which I’ve been using a lot lately. It’s one of those little gems that just seems to quietly help you get the job done.

The Joy of 40mm

I’ve long favoured fixed 40mm lenses. I discovered the joys of a 40mm lens when I bought Canon’s dinky 40mm f/2.8 STM lens, which I use on my Canon film bodies. This prompted me to buy a Voigtländer 40mm f/2 lens for my 1973 Nikon F2. However for my new digital gear I only had zooms.

That is until I picked up the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary lens. Yes, 45mm is close enough to 40mm for me.

Reading forums, this lens divides opinions. Some write it off for being too “slow” (as in, the maximum aperture isn’t nearer f/1.4). It’s claimed not to be sharp, but my God is this lens ever sharp! It is light, quick to use, engaging and I just love the results it can deliver.

I’ve used it on quite a few jobs recently, and almost exclusively on the recent Covid vaccination jobs I’ve shot for NHS BANES, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG. Its unobtrusive size, speed of use and quality were perfect for the fly-on-the-wall images I needed.

Practice Practice Practice

Between commissions I’ve been trying this lens out extensively. As I’m sure I’ve said many times before, using a commission to get familiar with kit is not a great idea. It’s best done in down time, not at a client’s expense.

So this morning I spent more time with the Sigma lens working on some tests shots with a new flash unit, another piece of kit recently acquired as I transform my equipment line-up to better serve my clients’ needs.

One of my favourite test subjects at home is our dining table, which we bought via Facebook from an artist. We were going to strip and re-varnish it, but decided we love the paint splashes and gouges so much we’ve left it as-is. It makes a great backdrop to still life images, which are perfect for controlled equipment tests.

This image might become part of my Home Front series, which I started during the first lockdown of 2020. At the very least it was a good exercise in testing this new lens/flash combination, but the more I worked on the picture, the more I liked what it said as a photo, above and beyond mere test subject.

A Busy Quiet Day

Some days look quiet on the diary, but in practice are anything but restful.

Take yesterday as an example; I had no commissioned work on, so I decided to make a trip to Salisbury Plain to work on my much-postponed project.

That required a 5am alarm call (I had forgotten what a punch in the face that feels like!) This was my first trip to the Plain in many weeks, and the plan was to retry a shot I’d done before, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with.

Unfortunately, after such an early start and a three-mile walk (no, it’s not a great hike, but with medium format camera, lenses and tripod it feels a bit longer), the weather decided to be too dull to make the picture I was after.

Ok, so the six-mile round walk wasn’t a killer, but the early start was giving me a bit of a kicking. Time to head home.

On the way back I swung by my local picture framer to pick up a couple of pieces of non-reflecting glass. This is part of my master plan to keep improving how I digitise my negatives, squeezing every last drop of quality I can from the process. I didn’t stay long, he was busy with framing work for London galleries.

Back home, I tried a bit of admin, but by now my brain was aching for a little sleep, so I took a power nap (ok, 90 mins) to recover before lunch.

Then it was back on the admin, handling client enquiries, a bit of social media work and planning next week.

I did manage a bit of R&R in the evening, but then the lure of photography drew me back again. I’d recently updated some flash equipment, so had a bit of an experimental session with that. Focusing on areas around the home, I looked at how I could use the new gear to create different effects. Call it play, call it fooling around if you will, but a photographer who only works with their new gear once they’re commissioned to use it is a fool.

By the time I’d quit trying things out, it was 10:30pm and I was finally ready to stop, but not until I’d transferred my test flash images to my computer and had a look through the results. So ok, it was nearer 11pm when I finally shut the laptop.

I sometimes beat myself up that I’m not dedicated enough to what I do, but then when I sit back and look at it properly, I don’t think I’m any kind of slouch; I just need to remind myself that even a day which doesn’t produce solid results isn’t a day wasted, it’s a day invested in something yet to happen.

A Shot In The Arm for Vaccinations

Just as I thought things were getting quieter for August, last week went from just one photography job on the diary to four. Three were last-minute requests, but all were welcome. All of them were thoroughly enjoyable.

Off to the Races!

The photo session I’m featuring here took place on Thursday when I was asked to make a series of images to promote Covid vaccination amongst the younger population.

16 to 25-year olds have been called forward by the catchily titled NHS BANES, Swindon & Wiltshire CCG to have their vaccinations at Bath Racecourse and I was asked to create a set of images showing the journey through the vaccination process.

I’ll only feature the two images which have already been used in the Twitter campaign so far, but the set came to almost 90 images, more of which I’m sure will be published in the future and across multiple media.

The Look and the Flow

A couple of critical factors helped keep this set tight; avoiding holding anyone up and ensuring only those who’d granted permission were included in the photos. This is a delicate area requiring care and diplomacy. The bull-in-a-china-shop approach isn’t my style anyway, and wouldn’t have got me anywhere.

But working nimble and alert and using a simple set-up all helped give the set a certain look. All the shots were taken using available light and the majority were taken on a single, fixed lens (as were the two images here).

In fact using just one fixed lens also helped keep the set unified, and this helps the story to flow. It’s a technique I use whenever possible, and certainly on anything requiring a photo-documentary approach.

Photography with a Purpose

I would have loved to have documented more of the covid crisis right from the start, but without a media outlet or a client commission, it would have been a reckless exercise. I’m pleased I got this opportunity, and though it was brief (and intense!) I can at least hope that my images will help encourage a younger cohort to step up for their jabs.

For the very latest information regarding Covid, please visit NHS.org.

No One’s Bursting My Bubble

I’m not sure “busy” quite describes the intensity of my work recently. The fact is, since April I’ve been busier than at any other time in my 23-year freelance career.

This is a post-covid bubble for sure. Pent-up plans, postponed events and long-neglected websites have suddenly become the focus of many corporate marketing teams, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many to shoot the stills, and now video, they need to bring those plans to fruition.

Biggest Project to Date

One project in particular has dominated my diary. I suspect this won’t be the only blog post I reference to it either, and that has been the stills and video content for Shaw & Co’s new website.

Shaw & Co has been a long-standing client of mine. In fact I first photographed company founder Jim Shaw way back in 2010 when he was at a different, now defunct firm in Bath. But my work with the Bristol-based corporate finance firm came about by a chance google search for a photographer which has kept me going back ever since 2017.

And so for the past 5 years I’ve been taking Shaw & Co’s team shots, head shots and office stock images. But then during 2020 their Chief Marketing Officer Paul Mills brought me into the picture about their plans for a re-brand. This was going to be a bit more than the usual photo session.

This time there would be video alongside stills on the website, so I started to look into whether I could deliver that for them. My cameras were video-enabled, but I knew enough about video to understand you don’t simply switch from stills to video mode and wave the camera about a bit. At least not if you want anything vaguely usable.

Lockdown Learning

Lockdown proved a useful breathing space for me to research and learn the very basics, but there’s nothing quite like having an actual commission on the books to focus the mind. In fact it was essential for me to have a goal to work towards. Video is a huge discipline and you can stray off in all directions if there’s no end-goal. You can also spend your way to bankruptcy if you’re not careful. Knowing what the requirements were for what I needed to deliver allowed me to focus on the kit and the skills I needed to develop as priority.

Being Part of the Process

Perhaps what has been most unusual about this project is just how deeply embedded I’ve been with its development – seeing the brand graphics as they evolved, liaising with the design agency Design By Structure at various stages and even finding my own suggestions being incorporated where appropriate. With some projects I feel I could be a robot with a camera, told to “stand there, shoot that,” but not on this occasion; I was definitely part of the team here.

The website launched this week and given the time period over which it has been developed and implemented, it really is an astonishing achievement. I’ve known much smaller projects to take far longer, which is testament to Paul’s enthusiasm and drive and his ability to enthuse all those around him.

Having Faith Helps

It’s also fair to say that the confidence Paul (and Jim) placed in me has sometimes outstripped my own self-belief, but I’m incredibly proud of the speed of my development and more importantly of the work I’ve turned in.

You can now see the stills and video clips over at Shaw & Co’s new website and even if their work isn’t an area you’re familiar with, I’d love to know your thoughts here.

Is That It Then?

Now I know I said this was a post-lockdown bubble, and things have quietened off a little as we get into August, but I’m still busy with new work and projects which were delayed by covid.

I also know that whatever happens next, I’ve gained valuable skills I can offer new and existing clients. I also know Shaw & Co are keen to build upon what we’ve started, so bubble or not, I’m confident there’s more to come.

IT’S BACK!

After all the grief and uncertainty of the past 15 months, it was a genuine pleasure to be back photographing the SOE Skills Challenge at S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol last week.

There were all manner of Covid securities in place, including testing of all participants and support colleagues (myself included), mask-wearing, cleaning and social distancing.

My Role

Regular readers will have seen me write about this before, but of course last year’s event was cancelled. This year was my 6th Skills Challenge and while it’s become familiar photographic territory for me, each year I try to bring something new to the coverage.

One of my tasks during testing week is to supply “rush” images for the PR team to use for social media posts and updates during the event. I’ll usually choose a selection of the morning’s images and supply these ready-formatted for easy upload to Twitter, Facebook and so on.

Bringing Something New

This year, in addition to those rushes, I decided to deploy my 360 camera so people could get a better sense of the environment and context of the event even while it was happening.

As a result of the interactive 360 panoramas, SOE’s Facebook posts achieved far greater engagement than had been seen previously. For Twitter, the regular still images were perfect (Twitter can’t display 360s properly unless there’s something I’ve missed!)

I don’t have access to SOE’s social media statistics, but my contact was astonished to see how much more widely the posts were liked, shared and commented on compared with previous years. Much of this will have been down to the more immersive 360 images like this one:

As I say, I also supplied regular stills to support the social media posts and of course I’ve since edited and supplied the high-resolution files for SOE’s web and print publications. The images will also be used at the awards ceremony in September, which I’m looking forward to covering too.

Shining A Light on Vital Workers

What I love about this event is how it brings a focus to skilled technicians whose work is vital, yet rarely seen or acknowledged. Next time you’re on a bus or coach, or see one going about its duties on Britain’s roads, you know it’s there and working because of the skills and dedication of engineers, many of whom work unsociable hours to keep our public transport running smoothly.

Next Year?

So now I have a little under 12 months to think about what I will bring next year to keep my coverage fresh and evolving. It might be a change of approach or technique, but I already have a couple of ideas. I guess you’ll just have to watch this space to find out!

Film to Film

One week I’m banging on about the joys of shooting old-school (skool) film, this week I’m talking about this frightfully modern video fandango.

In November 2020 I blogged about my video progress and things have, well, progressed! I now have a couple of small projects under my belt, one delivered and one still ongoing, and more in the pipeline. It’s been a massive learning curve, but I’m enjoying the challenge and the new creative direction.

The Backstory

For many years I held off getting into video because I had no personal need for it and enquiries from clients asking if I did it numbered single digits per year.

Then towards the end of 2019 enquiries seemed to grow. Mostly from clients who were already working with me for their stills as they wanted to add video to their marketing toolkit.

Lockdown

And then 2020 happened, and we all know what that meant. So during the first lockdown I investigated, cogitated and decided to learn the basics and see where it took me.

Of course as a stills photographer I already had many of the basics, but video is obviously a lot more than just pictures which move, and I’m not just talking about the addition of sound here either.

A New Energy

I’m glad I got the ball rolling because as we’ve emerged from the latest lockdown, client work has really sprung back to life and it’s including a lot of video.

While I’m keeping it fairly simple at this stage (sit-down interviews, testimonials and informational clips), as my abilities and capabilities grow I’ll be able to cover a wider variety of briefs.

In the meantime I’m cramming to learn editing as I know that will make me a better camera operator, just as learning to picture edit made me a better photographer when I was starting out in stills.

As ever, keep watching this space for further updates on this new direction and if you’re a business looking to step up from iPad videos to something more polished, drop me a line and let’s talk.

Staying Sharp

If you think staying sharp is kind of essential photographer, you’re right. And not just in the sense of getting pictures in focus, though that’s important too.

Staying sharp is what all professionals must do, regardless of their field. However with a year-long (on and off) lockdown drawing to a close, I’d come to realise I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be.

First glimmers of work

Back in March I was aware that client enquiries were just starting to pick up again. Hooray! Except that against all my best efforts, I’d really not been shooting as much as I needed in order to keep my skills honed. So I got in touch with my son-in-law (honorary title, but it’s how I consider him) to ask if I could come over and make some pictures of him at work. He’s a car mechanic – a very good car mechanic – and I needed a subject that would give me a challenge – poor/changeable lighting, moving subject, having to be aware of my surroundings.

Film, of course!

Jake very kindly agreed, so I ended up shooting a couple of sessions on different days at his lockup just outside Frome. Oh and just to give myself an additional challenge, I shot a mixture of 35mm and medium format film. Ok, so I did that for the fun factor too, but also I knew it would really suit the aesthetics of Jake’s work place, with all the grime and textures inevitable in a working mechanic’s workshop.

The images here are a small selection of those I ended up posting to Instagram (@takeagander) so you can check out more of them there.

By the way, picking up on the motoring metaphor, work in the last few weeks has gone from 0 – 60 in record time. I’m glad I took the opportunity to re-sharpen my skills, but I miss the relative tranquility of pleasing myself with nothing more than a couple of cameras and a bag load of film.

 

Do You Love Photography?

Loving Photography

The recent acquisition of Unsplash by Getty has prompted me to think about what the love of photography actually means.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the sale here, you know how to use Google. But I do want to examine what people mean when they say they love photography. Many of these people are contributors to sites such as Unsplash, yet I have to question the nature of their love of photography.

Of course I can’t tell people what to do with their photos, but equally we should be aware that something is happening (has already happened) to photography which leaves us all much more vulnerable than we might think. It has harmed society incrementally such that we’ve barely registered the change. More on that later.

When I talk about my love of photography, I use the phrase in a global sense; I love coming up with ideas, shooting them and presenting them. Some make money, some don’t, but they’re never available for exploitation without suitable remuneration.

And loving photography doesn’t just mean loving the act of taking pictures. In that global sense, loving photography also means nurturing the industry of which you claim to be a part. In short, it means acting like a professional. At the very least, it means not causing harm.

For others it seems to mean a love of having people and brands exploit their work. Some see this as beating professionals at their own game, which is just downright weird. That is not a healthy love.

Filthy Lucre

I can’t criticise the work people upload, much of which is of a very high standard (albeit it’s often very sterile), but they should be paid fairly for its use.

Some will argue that you can’t truly love photography if you want to make money from it. Hogwash. Utter c**p. In fact I would say the opposite; anyone hooked on views and downloads is more in love with their own ego than anything.

And what if, instead, brands had to pay for what they took from Unsplash? Would they download and use it then? What does it say to a photographer if no one is willing to pay actual money to use their work?

So why does this even matter? It’s just some pictures, right? Wrong.

A Diminished Industry Hurts Us All

The devaluation of the photographic industry over the past 20 years has left us with fewer sources of high quality photo-journalism. Our once thriving press has become less diverse, even where it tries to be polarised in opinion. Think the PR machine at No 10 dishing out the same sanitised pictures to all outlets. Those outlets, having no budget (or claiming not to at least) will use free over paid every time. So the visual voice becomes homogenised across titles and channels. Diversity suffers as a result.

This degradation has affected the national voice in other ways beyond photography. While there’s a clamour for greater diversity in our media, we see fewer articles written by people from less privileged backgrounds because only those with independent means can afford to work on the poor (or non-existent) rates on offer.

I certainly can’t afford to work for the fees our national newspapers pay – I’m a grown up, not a school child. But I’m a white guy so boohoo me. What about women? Or people from poorer backgrounds? Or those whose ethnicity makes it more likely they won’t have independent means? The talent is undoubtedly there, but the access isn’t because it’s flooded by people who can afford to “donate” their work. This is what’s happened in photography too.

You might not see the connections between newsroom budgets and free stock image sites, but all areas of the photographic economy affect all other areas. That’s why all photographers need to look after their own areas of interest in an holistic way and take responsibility for their actions.

Pups For Sale

And so back to the happy punters who give their work for free to Unsplash. They’ve been sold a pup; a dream that their altruism is the engine of a creative industry of which they are a part. That perhaps one day they’ll be spotted amongst the millions of lemmings and picked out for plum commissions.

Except it’s not, they’re not, and they wont. It’s just shutting down creativity for the truly creative. It’s shutting out those voices which haven’t the spare income to be heard. It favours the motivations of individual egos over the cause of the wider industry, and it’ll now be feeding that cuddly little independent, Getty Images.

Anyone who says they love photography should ask themselves what they’ve done for it lately. If they’ve become hooked on giving their work away, they need to question their devotion to it.

Perhaps if they’re amongst those who’ve fed Unsplash with free material, Getty’s acquisition of all their images might help peel the scales from their eyes. It might be time to redefine their relationship with photography and understand what a true love of photography looks like.

Continuing Landscapes

Photographically speaking, this latest lockdown has been pretty tough. Commissions and personal projects alike have taken a hit, but there are glimmers of hope on both fronts. This post is about the personal work.

An Alternative Plan.

As a result of the travel ban I’ve been unable to continue with the Salisbury Plain project, but that hasn’t stopped me making new work.

It’s definitely slowed me down because I’m having to learn a new landscape; the one nearer to home.

I could have chosen to ignore landscapes for now, but it’s an area I need to keep working on and improving so I don’t get rusty. When I do return to Salisbury Plain, I need to make sure I’m on my game.

Closer To Home.

I’m describing Closer To Home as an interim project. I nearly called it Treading Water, because that’s what it feels like. I’m treading water while I wait for lockdown to lift, and I’m often literally treading water as I hike through rain-soaked fields. But Closer to Home describes my (temporary) withdrawal from the Salisbury Plain project to concentrate on more local landscapes.

What I really wanted to find out was whether I could transfer the Salisbury Plain approach to another landscape. To an extent I can, but there’s a definite shift in tone when there’s no military layer to the project. Because the local landscape is quieter, I need to reflect this.

My Response.

What both types of landscape have in common is something I’ve always felt about the English countryside, that it isn’t as benign as we’d like to think it is.

Our countryside is industrialised, it is someone else’s business. It’s also constantly under threat from poor management, fly-tippers and development, which makes its existence more precarious and precious.

Whether I can express these themes through my images is down to me to keep working at them, which is why I haven’t let lockdown stop me.

So far I haven’t offered these images as fine art prints, but drop me a line if you’re interested. You can see many more on my Instagram account.