Tim Gander’s photography blog.

Culture Crush

Since the dawn of mass-market photography, camera manufacturers have held out the promise that if you just buy their latest and greatest camera gear, you will be able to take the same pictures as a professional.

This narrative got ramped up with the birth of digital, which allowed you to see, review and (if necessary) retake a photo without having to wait for your film to be developed.

Camera adverts now routinely proclaim the ability to take your photography to “the next level” or capture incredible detail with greater ease than ever before; it turns out that the previous camera they launched with exactly the same claim was a pile of junk – get rid of it and buy this new one instead! 18 months later, they’ll have superseded the camera you never quite got to grips with, with something they claim takes your photography to the next level. And so it goes on.

Perhaps what is most disappointing is when camera manufacturers try to claim that if only you owned their latest model, you could do the work of a professional. It sends out the message that it’s the gear, not the human behind it, that creates work with purpose or impact. Which is odd, because I have cameras which I only use once every few months, yet all the time they sit on the shelf, they never produce a damn thing. I’ve checked and it hasn’t happened yet.

This sales tactic feeds a nascent belief that professional photographers are not really needed, which in turn makes us look over-priced. Clients then decide that perhaps they’ll have a go themselves (usually with risible results), or they try to hammer their budgets down to almost nothing, because why pay someone if it’s the camera that’s doing all the work?

Until now, these manufacturers have been relatively subtle in this messaging, but hats off to Apple and Adobe for taking this narrative to an entirely new level. In their adverts and promotional posts, they’re basically telling us that creative professionals are an obstacle to creativity.

Apple’s “crush the creative” ad for the iPad was eye-popping on multiple levels, but it’s earned a well-deserved backlash from the creative community. What Apple wants us (you) to believe is that all creative arts and creativity and humanity can be crushed into a 5.1mm thick slab of aluminium. Just think what YOU could do with this – no pesky creative individuals with their annoying invoices necessary.

Adobe, meanwhile, is exhorting people to “skip the photoshoot” as they (Adobe) push their generative AI image making tool to a wider market. So the photographers (designers, illustrators too) who have doggedly supported Adobe for the past 25 years or more are now thrown under the bus of so-called progress.

Perhaps what is even more galling here is that Adobe’s image-generation tool has been trained on the work of photographers who have paid to use Adobe’s products. This isn’t payback for a service we’ve used for free all these years, this is a kick in the nuts.

Ai is obviously not going away, but corporations need to be careful which direction they push it in. There’s a genuine risk that creatives will simply start creating less. The bottom line of the bottom line is that if creatives can find no reward for their work, they’ll stop creating the work. That’s when culture starts to whither at everyones’ expense, though mostly at the expense of those not rich enough to insulate themselves from this onslaught.

It’s easy (actually it’s lazy) to say “that’s progress, get with it or be left behind” except it isn’t progress. It is simply large corporations not having a clue how real creativity works, what it needs to thrive and above all, why real, tangible, physical, sometimes messy culture is so important to the wellbeing of individuals and society and yes, the economy.

By all means embrace the crushing and sidelining of creative endeavour, but don’t complain when life ends up feeling a bit shitter as a result.

How Much Should Photography Cost?

One question which ties up too much time, energy and headspace for most businesses is, “How much should we be paying for photography?”

In the modern business landscape, we have to extend that to videography too, of course. While this article focuses mainly on stills, read to the end for my thoughts on video as well.

The shortest answer I can give is that the corporate communications photography you commission shouldn’t cost you anything. “What?! Free photography?! Where can I get some of that!!” I hear you wail, but of course that notion is ridiculous. Free stuff, as we all know, is often worth exactly what we’ve paid for it.

What I mean is, the photography and videography you commission for your business should, either fairly immediately, or over time, generate more income for your business than it cost to get done. If your photography/videography isn’t winning new clients or gaining fresh business, then you need to look at why it’s not working before deciding you’re paying too much. It could be how you’re deploying the work, it could also be that you’re not paying enough to get the quality you need.

A useful exercise is to start from the other end of the process. Ask what it is you want to achieve with your images, then work backwards to find the solution. That is to say, the photographer you choose is more important than what they charge. Ask yourself if the photographer’s style fits your brand and whether their quality adds a perception of high value to that brand. What they charge should reflect the outcome you’re aiming for. It needs to reflect the quality of their work, the uses to which that work will be put (the Licence to Use) as well as the standard of service they offer.

Just to explain the Licence to Use a little more deeply, a set of photos destined for a one-off press release for a small business won’t command the same fees as a high-production single image used in a national advertising campaign for a global brand.

There are many scenarios between these usage examples, but if you’re open with the photographer about who and what they’re shooting for, they can give far better guidance on the likely fees. And when it comes to the shoot itself, they can plan their own approach and deploy their resources far more effectively for a more successful outcome.

Oh and on that last point, be VERY wary of any photographer who doesn’t ask how the images are to be used. This should be an alarm-bell-moment. If they don’t care what you do with their work, it means they don’t care about your goals. This will be reflected in the results and that’s when photography becomes really expensive, regardless of how cheap it was to acquire.

Much the same approach applies to commissioning video, albeit the costs associated with that tend to focus more on post-production time than on aspects such as licensing. However, if you’re going to commission video, you still need to think carefully about your goals.

Identifying who you’re trying to reach, what their expectations are and how you’re going to win their business should be considered long before commissioning a videographer (ie me!) to press the record button.

If I’m shooting video for a client, of course I want to understand my client’s aims, but I also want to know who they’re trying to win over. If they’re aiming at people who might do business with them, the content, message and production values all need to be of a high quality. There’s no point spending money on a video which is aimless and poor quality. That’s just a waste of money and a drag on valuable resources. It might grab audience attention for a brief moment, but will soon be forgotten in the constant stream of online content marketing. Poor quality production will also harm your brand and cost you sales.

The main message of this post is to think quality first, then work out your budget based on the value you’re likely to gain from the results. Setting out with an unrealistic budget plucked from thin air isn’t going to get you where you need to be, which is why I’m happy to spend time working through these questions with clients before they commit to working with me.

I would be delighted to discuss your stills and video needs, so drop me a line and let’s get your photography and videography making money, not costing it.

If You Want To Get Ahead, Get A Headshot

We all know how important it is to have a professionally-taken business portrait, so how come mine is so old?!

Yes, it’s time for the cobbler to mend his shoes and for the physician to heal himself. The photographer needs to take his own portrait. I’ve been putting it off because like most of you, I don’t like having my photo taken.

But that’s no excuse. Time has pretty much the same effect on everyone – it ages us, and I have no immunity against the ravages of time.

For a start, I have fewer grey hairs now; that is to say, I have fewer hairs. Apart from that, it’s just good practice to update your profile photo every three years (five at a stretch).

The issue is that while a simple selfie is easy enough to do, taking a selfie that looks like a professional portrait is a bit of a circus act. Modern cameras make it easier than it used to be, especially now that the camera can be operated via a phone app, but it’s still quite a feat of organisation and coordination. Maybe I should hire a photographer?

That would be fine by me, except I also take the opportunity of using myself as a model to really work on new ways of setting up, new approaches to getting the correct angle and perhaps more particularly, finding interesting tweaks to my current style. So making my new portrait will also be a chance to adjust and refine my portrait style.

In all likelihood the development will be more incremental than revolutionary, but it’s still a good exercise to go through.

And what could possibly go wrong? Artists and photographers have been making self portraits since the dawn of time. Vincent van Gogh famously did a few, and he turned out fine *googles the life of van Gogh and… “OH MY GOD! WHAT THE ACTUAL…?!!* Ok, maybe I’ll delay making my self portrait for a while longer…

Except there is always an excuse, from “I need to get my hair done” to “I’ve cut off my ear and presented it as a gift to my favourite prostitute”; I’ve heard them all and I can no longer wriggle out of it myself.

Now that I’ve said it, I need to go and do it. And I want you to nag me if I haven’t updated my profile photo in a week’s time. For the record, here’s my current one. Gosh, I looked so young!

And if you’re now realising it’s been six years (or more!) since your business profile portrait was updated for your website or LinkedIn profile, drop me a line and we’ll organise a nice relaxed photo session. No excuses, let’s do it.

Co-working Spaces For Corporate Photography

Tips for hiring a co-working hub when you have no office, or your office isn’t suitable.

While co-working spaces have been a growing trend for more than a decade, the Covid 19 pandemic definitely accelerated the move away from fixed, permanent offices for many businesses.

More generally, the co-working or shared office trend also reflects the post-pandemic rise in entrepreneurial ventures as people move away from wanting to work within large organisations, and more towards fulfilling their own dreams and ambitions.

Even large organisations have migrated teams out of big central hubs in favour of smaller, regional centres. It’s a trend which is currently growing, with little sign of abating.

Whatever the size of your business, there could be many reasons you don’t want a shoot in whatever space you have – perhaps it’s too small, or maybe it’s an uninspiring red brick cube with cramped desk-filled cubbies and a boardroom that serves its function, but isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

The Hiring Option

So if hiring a suitable space in a co-working environment is an option for your next corporate photography session, what are the advantages and disadvantages? And how can you get the most out of it?

This article will guide you through some of the challenges of finding the right spot for your office-less office shots and corporate portraits.

The Advantages

There are genuine advantages to having a photo session in a co-working hub:

• The look to suit you – from ultra-modern to supercool, you can find a space which reflects your attitude, personality and business values. Even better, all that interior design work has been done for you; it’s a photo set ready and waiting for you.

• Flexibility – depending on the requirements of the photo session, you can negotiate anything from a couple of hours to an entire day. Likewise you can scale the size of space you need depending on whether it’s a few simple headshots, images to reflect a meeting, a huddle or colleague collaboration across desks.

• All the kitchen and toilet facilities are there, and in the best hubs the staff will be only too willing and helpful when it comes to accommodating you and your team.

• Accessibility – if people are coming from various locations, co-working hubs are normally easily accessible by public transport or have parking nearby. Most co-working buildings, though sadly not all, are easily accessible by wheelchair too. That’s certainly worth checking in advance.

• A chance to get away from the desk – taking the time away from your usual surroundings to concentrate on your business image is no bad thing. It’s often a good time to have those “blue sky” thoughts while your brain is distracted by having to pose for the camera.

What To Look Out For

Of course you need to be aware of some of the pitfalls of this way of working.

• You’re away from the office! Although, I’d still argue the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of this.

• Finding the right space – with so much choice, it can be hard to find the space that fits your ethos precisely. I’m happy to help with this by offering ideas for locations I’ve used, or ones I’ve spotted and thought would be good. Here’s a search based on Bristol, my main city for work. Likewise for Bath, Chippenham and Swindon.

• Cost – It is an additional cost on top of the actual photography, but by leaving you (the client) to liaise directly with your chosen space, I don’t end up charging VAT on top of VAT, so it might not cost as much as you think.

• Finding enough space – Getting the right look can require a surprising amount of empty floor space, but I can usually advise on the best room to hire based on its size and flexibility.

• Fixtures and fittings – It’s surprising how many great looking spaces become difficult to work in because whichever way you turn, there’s a black monitor screen on a wall, an exposed conduit, light switches, thermostats, fire extinguishers, radiators, shelving, white boards… I could go on. The (often essential, sometimes arbitrary) wall clutter and objet d’art can ruin an otherwise promising space because it all gets into the background of a photo. It’s worth asking the host to send additional current photos of the space to include what’s on the walls from floor to ceiling height. Some things might be easily moved, others will be fixed, but hopefully some will be useful features in the photos.

• Lighting – I bring my mobile studio lighting kit to shape the light how I want it, but it’s still helpful to know in advance what windows or skylights are there and also what the light fittings look like. A chandelier might be groovy in real life, but it can look very odd in a business meeting shot. Again, a handful of current photos from the host can be useful here.

• It’s a shared space – While it might be easy to shut off a meeting room for a photo session, often the shared open spaces are full of photographic possibilities. This requires some diplomacy then if people are already set up and working in these areas, but I usually find a quick conversation about what we’re doing and how long we need is enough to minimise potential irritation.

• Things might change – From one photo session to the next, a co-working space might be refurbished, or they might close down. Ok, it’s a risk, but then few offices stay the same forever and there’s often a time at which it’s good to get everyone’s headshots re-done from scratch. That’s when a fresh space might be worth considering anyway.

Planning Planning Planning

The key to a successful photo session in a shared co-working facility is in planning the timing, location and access. Everything else is just the same as in working in your own space, such as choice of clothing and how you wish to present yourself to the camera.

With a little forward planning, your out-of-office photo session will not only be more successful, it’ll also be a more enjoyable experience.

If you would like more help on this, or any other aspect of planning your next corporate photo or video session, do drop me a line.

With thanks to Paul Albone and Stefanie Blundell of Pohco Consulting and their new venture Pasamelo for posing so brilliantly, and for their BTS shots of me, and to Futureleap Clifton for hosting us so brilliantly. I also recently used Origin in Berkeley Square, Bristol, who have some fantastic spaces and an incredibly friendly and helpful team.

 

GooD PRactice

GDPR, love it or ignore it, it isn’t going away. My view is simple; for as long as I’m making and storing photos of people, often including their names within caption data, then it’s simple enough to comply.

If other photographers don’t want to, that’s up to them, but I see it as having multiple advantages.

For a start, I need to be compliant because in addition to the storing of peoples’ pictures with their names, I have a mailing list for my takeagander newsletter. The newsletter alone is enough to tip me into requiring compliance, but I also want people to understand what information I have on them, how I store it and what I do (and don’t do) with it. GDPR gives me a formal framework within which to set that out, which you can see on my GDPR page.

Working with larger organisations, I see no harm in being able to assure them that the information I gather in the course of assignments is treated with respect and only used for legitimate purposes. I imagine that as data holders and controllers themselves, they might want to know that the work I do for them dovetails with their obligations.

Not all photographers need to be GDPR compliant, it really does depend on what they’re doing, what data they’re collecting and how they’re using it. However, working with businesses and professional organisations, I see my compliance as being part of my professional practice, just like Public Liability Insurance and paying my licences to use software.

Ultimately, I’m not concerned that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is going to send in a SWAT team to batter down my door and arrest me for non-compliance. My compliance with GDPR is for assurance to my clients, and for the continued professionalisation of my business. And the annual fee is less than I spend on coffee in a month.

Let me know your thoughts in GDPR. Is it reassuring? or do you feel irked by it? Or is it just part of your business practice?

Feel free to comment here, or if you’re a client looking for further reassurance, drop me a line. I promise I won’t sign you up to a newsletter!

You Can Photoshop That (truth in pictures)

When does photo manipulation matter?

I’m not going to dwell on recent events regarding the Royal Family and photo manipulation, but I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. This post is not a judgement or criticism of the Princess of Wales, I’m merely using this as a springboard to a wider topic.

Very often I’ll be taking pictures for a client and the phrase “you can fix that in Photoshop” will rear its ugly head. Sure, many things can be fixed in Photoshop (other image editing software is available), but let’s run through the basic considerations before leaping on the cut-n-paste tool.

Editing time

Moving things around in Photoshop during the editing process usually takes a lot longer than physically moving (or removing) them at the time of creating the photo. Any decent photographer will strive to get everything right in-camera, ie at the moment the photo is taken.

On the whole, I build my editing time into my fees so clients know from the get-go what they’ll be paying for a project. If I then need to extend the editing time to correct for something I wasn’t given time to fix on-site and in-camera, I then have to go back to the client with a revised bill. That’s not always popular.

Deadline

Following on from the previous point, if editing takes longer than planned, this can impact my ability to meet a deadline, so why not save the grief by making sure everything is as it should be at the time the photo is taken?

My Sanity

One thing I try to do when shooting corporate portraits, is ensure the sitter’s hair is tidy, that there aren’t strands across their face and that their clothes aren’t covered in bit of fluff, flakes of skin etc. If it’s a post-lunch shoot, I’ll check there’s no food in their teeth before I start.

Sitting at a computer for hours, endlessly retouching stray hairs, spotting out bits of fluff or removing food bits from between teeth (YUCK!) makes me die a little inside. Far better to spot these things in advance and deal with them in real life.

Ethics

Ok, so this ‘could’ get complicated, but I’ll try to keep it clear and simple.

A retouched or manipulated photo can be used in a business website, leaflet, brochure or corporate social media post (provided the post isn’t put out as a news piece).

Manipulated photos are often used in advertising, which explains why McDonalds’ burgers look edible in the roadside billboards, but taste like damp cardboard whenever you come to eating a real one.

A retouched or manipulated photo CANNOT be used in a press release or as a news image, regardless of destination (web, print, social media, projection onto the Moon). The only retouching allowed would be, for example, the removal of dust spots caused by muck on the image sensor. Minor colour, lightness and sharpening adjustments are fine, but the image has to be an accurate reflection of the captured scene.

Does this make advertorial* a grey area? I don’t think so. Provided the article is labelled as advertorial, image manipulation is acceptable because anyone seeing the article will know it’s not a news piece.

There is a real danger in the area of corporate communication via social media, as Amnesty International discovered when they used a series of AI-generated images to highlight their reports into police violence and sexual harassment in Columbia in 2021. In Amnesty International’s case, they did label their images as AI-generated, but their ethical stance was damaged by the use of fake imagery and they subsequently pulled the posts.

Now AI is a whole new kettle of weird fish, but the principle is the same; images put out by organisations as news or current affairs need to be true. The humble, local press release photo is not exempt just because its’ not going to be picked up by the BBC or Reuters.

And it’s easy to think that a small change doesn’t matter; inserting/removing/tweaking the colour of a company logo, moving or removing an element, addressing some sticking-up hair, putting a hard hat on someone who wasn’t wearing one on a building site – all these are no-nos when the images are destined for any kind of news use, which includes press release material. It doesn’t matter if it’s the local mayor presenting a giant cheque to the local hospice, or a national news event; if it’s offered as a news item it has to meet the criteria of a news image.

For more detailed guidelines on what can/cannot be adjusted in a news image, the Getty guidelines are a very good start.

Staged pictures

This set of pictures from 2023 is a great example of when PR coverage involves a mix of ‘live’ and staged images. The captions for each image explain more of this concept:

In the example above, we have three typical types of PR photo from a single event: the fly-on-the-wall shot, the staged-to-look-not-staged shot and the obviously-staged shot. The middle one is perhaps the least honest, but it’s fair to say that nothing has been added or taken away from the scene as it was captured. In the final photo, I seem to recall going round picking up litter to tidy things up, but again it’s an honest photo of the existing scene. The viewer isn’t fooled that the artist was directed to pose, and this is a common kind of PR photo, but nothing was manipulated in editing software.

What about…?

It’s debatable whether some historical news images would be allowed today. The Independent newspaper’s in-house style of very heavy vignetting in the 1980s and 90s would potentially fall foul of today’s code of ethics. At the very least, a caption note would have to be added to say that the sky had been ‘burned in’.

Other historical pictures were stitched together to recreate a scene from multiple images, but each individual image was not a manipulation; they’ve merely been sequenced into a panorama or extra-wide view of something which existed in front of the camera. Such a photo would require a special note to editors today, but could still likely pass the truth test.

The bottom line

Most importantly, we live in an age where it’s too easy to manipulate images. This degrades the public’s trust in what they see, so it’s more important than ever to ensure that what goes into our news media is true and honest. An insignificant tweak here, a slightly heavy-handed adjustment there and before you know it, a photo is no longer an honest record of a scene or event.

In the course of liaising with a client on their brief, I endeavour to make sure I know the end-purpose of the work. If I’m satisfied they’re purely for corporate communications, I’ll allow for more adjustments than if they’re for editorial. I can adjust images to enhance certain aspects of an image. I might extend a plain backdrop, I’ll tidy up stray hairs and flecks on clothing and more besides.

However, I still prefer to get all these aspects tidied up in real life. It saves my time and my sanity!

*Advertorial is when a client pays to have an editorial-style piece placed in a newspaper or magazine. It’s basically an advert, but usually has the look of an editorial article. Advertorials must always be labelled as such.

Case Study

When an old photo of my lighting kit popped up in my Facebook memories, the first thing I spotted was the bottle of wine. Of course it was. Not only did it remind me of the generosity of a particular client at the time, but it also sparked an idea to write an article about how kit has changed over time. So I took a photo of my kit today to compare and contrast.

Picture 1 was taken in 2015 and shows (apart from the wine) my portable studio flash lighting equipment of that era (in fact, this kit was already several years old by then).

Sadly the photo was already cropped square, so I can’t tell you what was in the rest of the bag; I’m guessing you’d see the second flash head, a spare battery and some other bits and pieces. I clearly took the photo for the purpose of showing off the bottle of wine I’d been given.

So, apart from the wine (shut up about the wine now, Tim), what else is different? Let’s go through some of the components in the bag, and then compare them with today’s kit in Picture 2. I’ve made these pictures BIG so you can see the labels.

At the top-left in Picture 1, you’ll see a trigger and receiver. Nothing remarkable there, except today’s receivers are built into the flash heads themselves. This saves having to Velcro a trigger to the back of the head and rely on a cable to send the firing signal to the flash. It’s a little bit tidier now.

The other disadvantage of the old system was that you could only adjust the power of the flash head by walking up to the controller pack and turning a dial. Modern units can be controlled from the camera, which saves a lot of time and back-and-forth.

This old kit was pretty revolutionary in its day. It was the first properly powerful, affordable kit that ran off batteries. It could be used outdoors and the light could be adjusted through softboxes, umbrellas or any number of other modifiers to achieve a particular look.

But technology moves on, and its main disadvantages over my current kit are power and control. The kit in Picture 2 is at least 50% more powerful than the kit it replaced. This might not seem that much, but it makes a big difference in photographic terms. The more modern design also has the advantage that each flash head is independently controllable from the other, and the increments of control are far finer than with the old kit.

The other disadvantage of the older kit was the build quality. The manufacturer, Lumedyne, is US-based and their kit looks and feels as though it’s been built by keen mechanics in a shed. Sometimes not all that well either. I remember screws dropping out, a control knob falling off and on one occasion, a loud POP! and a puff of blue smoke as an internal component blew up.

I probably had that kit for a decade though, and while it was expensive at the time, it more than paid for itself.

Thankfully, I’ve had the newer kit (made by Godox) for almost as long already, and it’s not showing any signs of ageing. I’ve added an extra spare battery as one of the originals isn’t taking a charge as well as it used to, but that’s about it.

Apart from technological advances, the other reason I switched to Godox was because Lumedyne is no longer distributed in the UK, so replacing parts or expanding the kit would be difficult.

Possibly more impressive than any of the technical advances of the contents is the case itself. Both flash kits have been safely transported inside the same LowePro Pro Roller 2 case, which must now be circa 20 years old. About a year ago, I finally replaced the wheels but apart from that this case just keeps… rolling.

The wine, sadly, is a distant memory, but good quality wine is readily available in several outlets. So next time I work with you, have a peek inside my rolling camera case while my back is turned. If there’s a wine bottle-shaped space in there, feel free to pop something nice in, like a Tempranillo or a Malbec. Some technology never really needs updating, just replenishing.

 

Two Cameras, Two Brains, One Photographer

Following on from my previous post focusing on my work with advanced propulsion R&I centre IAAPS (IAAPS for short) near Bristol, this week’s post centres on the official launch held in September last year.

However, rather than talk specifically about the opening itself, I’m going to use this as a case study to delve into the logistics and thought processes employed when covering an event like this.

This area of photography uses a different part of the brain from industrial work, which is very measured, precise and considered compared to the fly-on-the-wall, reactive style required for an official opening, especially one on the scale of the IAAPS launch.

The truth is, I enjoy both. Industrial photography is a chance to slow down, be methodical and produce images with a bit more finesse, while the launch event gets my editorial brain whirring. I’m having to react to emerging scenarios as I work my way through the brief and the events as they unfold.

Each aspect of an event like this requires a subtly different approach; choices around composition, timing, reading the light, lens selection – at times I’m making multiple decisions all at once. In these situations it helps to have both cameras on my shoulders; one for wide shots, and the other for long shots, which saves a lot of lens swapping.

And yet I have to remain calm and composed because no one needs a stressed photographer in the room.

Keeping a level of control starts with having a properly constructed brief in advance of the event, something IAAPS’ head of marketing communications is good at.

Armed with a solid brief, I can keep an eye on the timings of various key moments as well as check off the pictures I’ve achieved. Having a list I can work through methodically means I can keep the scale of the task in context. I can also look for additional off-brief pictures.

Reacting to changing moments and requirements is where the stress can creep in once again, but knowing how to pace a job and when to tie up an element of coverage is a skill in self-management.

For example, it’s easy to get bogged down in trying to capture absolutely everyone as they gather and chat. These make for good “flavour of the day” pictures, but not every attendee needs to be recorded. These pictures have their uses, but at some point, I have to gauge when opening speeches are about to start.

For this, I have one eye on the schedule, and one on the key speakers. Their behaviour changes as they realise they’re about to step up to the podium, and that’s my cue to ensure I have the right kit and settings already sorted.

Of course, I will have arrived ahead of the event to check out things like the light levels on the stage or the positioning of the podium, but these can change at the last minute, so it’s good to do a final check before speeches and presentations kick-off. Ideally, I’m in position before the speaker steps up onto the stage.

For speeches, I’m looking to capture the speakers with their heads up, eyes open and preferably making some kind of hand gesture. It’s also important to capture a variety of shots with design space around the subject, as well as a choice of upright and landscape orientations.

All this is to ensure that when the images are put out to press release, there’s something to fit the space on the page. If they’re used in corporate communications, either online or in print, that design space might be handy for a text box or graphic element.

Simultaneously, I’ll be looking for interesting and unusual angles, tight shots on the speakers as well as wider views showing the venue and audience.

If a speech is only a few minutes long, I have to make sure I divide the time carefully and prioritise the must-have images over the nice-to-have extras.

In the case of the IAAPS launch, there was a series of speeches followed by a ribbon-cutting. So I made sure that as the final speech drew to a close, my kit and I were both ready for that moment. This included organising the group, arranging the props and making sure the photographer behind me, who’d brought the wrong lens for the job, could also get a few shots without the back of my head being in the way.

This particular event was a busy one. After the ribbon cutting came tours of the facility for stakeholders and members of the press, so I was back in fly-on-the-wall mode, looking for interactions between visitors and the cells and capturing more images for potential press and industry journal use.

With an event like this, it’s important to pace the coverage. It’s too easy to get into a spin or to phase out and lose concentration. To most people, it might look like ‘just taking pictures of something happening’, but without a considered and measured approach, things can run away from the photographer very quickly. It’s important to take a moment every so often to pause and re-check the brief, the progress and the next stage, all while looking for ways to ensure the resulting pictures have as much impact as possible.

While there were no surprises at the end of this event, I always check in with my lead contact before pulling away. It’s also a good chance to double-check any urgent image requirements as sometimes the client will want a selection for immediate social media use or a press release.

Of course, the end of a job isn’t the end of the job; there’s captioning, editing, filing, supply and a whole load of other tasks around fully completing a job. Perhaps that’s a blog post for another time though. After 951 words, it’s time to take a break.

Future Power

Happy New Year! Let me kick off by wishing all my clients, past, present, and future a wonderful 2024 full of pleasant surprises.

Now we’ve had our fun and a bit too much chocolate, I’m kicking off the first blog post of 2024 by looking at some specific work I carried out between 2022 and 2023. Not for nostalgic reasons, but because it illustrates several aspects of my approach to various photographic tasks and challenges.

There’s a fair bit of ground to cover, so I’m dividing this into two posts. Make sure you’ve signed up to my blog if you don’t want to miss the second instalment!

This particular work was undertaken for the advanced propulsion R&I centre IAAPS (IAAPS for short) at Bristol and Bath Science Park near Bristol. I came to working with IAAPS through another client, University of Bath, which owns and part-funded the £70 million research facility.

Chances are you won’t have heard of IAAPS but in essence, it’s where vehicle propulsion research meets real-world implementation. Advances made here will find their way into internal combustion, hybrid, electric and hydrogen engines of the future. This could include propulsion fuels and methods not yet discovered!

What makes this a great case study for me is that my work for IAAPS has covered portraits, industrial, and event photography. The images have been used on the website, in press releases, and in printed promotional literature, because while IAAPS’ main function is automotive propulsion research, like any business it has to attract clients and investors to maintain its status in the top three research facilities of its kind in the world.

This requires marketing, which requires marketing materials. That’s where the photography comes in.

Let’s get into the photography then.

Portraits.

I won’t dwell on this aspect too much as I only had to do a handful of images of the Engineering Director and the Principal Engineer at a time when some creative editorial images were required for trade press and the website.

This was in 2022 when the facility, though substantially built, was still a building site. We were also still under COVID rules, so in I went, fully compliant with Health and Safety and COVID regulations.

Operating a camera while wearing a hard hat, goggles, gloves and a mask had its own challenges. The peak of the hard hat interfered with the flash trigger on top of my camera, while the mask caused my goggles to constantly steam up. Gloves don’t make operating the controls of a camera easy, but being fog-blind while trying to look through a viewfinder that isn’t up to your eye is “a bit awkward”.

Still, the session was short and these were hardly the biggest problems faced by humankind, so I was happy to fulfil the brief.

There was enough infrastructure already in place for me to use a backdrop which added some context, I just had to avoid including any dangling wires or ducts which hadn’t been finished and tidied away. In the event, a single softened flash on the subject and a second flash to clean up the backdrop gave me the results I needed.

Industrial.

More interesting in photographic technical terms was the industrial photography. In 2023, I was booked in to take pictures of completed test cells where the research and testing take place.

For much of this work, I was able to use a tripod which opened up new photographic possibilities.

With the camera “locked off” I could use the High Resolution (HR) mode of my cameras. While the pictures would be used mainly on the website, where super-high resolution is less important, I was thinking ahead to when the client might want to use the images on large printed displays such as pop-up banners.

In this mode, the camera takes 8 pictures of the same scene, shifting the image sensor in each of eight directions as it goes. This captures details which would otherwise fall between pixel sites on the sensor. The camera combines the eight images into a single high-resolution RAW file which is four times larger than the native image resolution of the camera. In short, I’m capturing a 96MB file instead of the standard 24MB one.

So if my client ever needs to blow the image up to fill an exhibition display, the resolution will hold up far better than if they’re trying to print from a regular file. To my knowledge, HR mode outstrips the resolution of any comparable camera on the market. It could be bettered by a medium-format camera, but then the cost of the shoot becomes somewhat prohibitive, and almost certainly overkill for the needs of my client.

This technique works best where both the camera and the scene are completely still. Since the camera is on a tripod, and nothing is moving in the test cells, it’s the perfect scenario for using HR.

Alongside the general views of the cells, I was also tasked with capturing details of the rigs, vehicles, sensors and other equipment. Often this involved hand-holding the camera, so HR mode wasn’t going to work because of the risk of movement between each of the eight frames being captured. Also, you can’t use flash in HR mode, and some of the equipment required additional illumination using my portable studio flashes to lift shadows or to add a touch of additional colour using gels.

The gallery above shows a selection of the original images alongside screengrabs from the IAAPS site to show them in context.

These images are less likely to be blown up to create a full-bleed banner display, but high quality was still an obvious consideration when I took them, so of course I made sure I had one of my favourite lenses in my bag for this purpose.

One of the joys of the latest cameras (you may have heard the term “mirrorless”, which I won’t explain here) is that you can adapt older lenses to fit them. The Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 macro lens, launched in 1979, is designed for close-up photography. Indeed it’s considered by many as the benchmark by which all other close-up lenses are measured. I have no idea when mine was made, but they were in production for decades.

It’s also an excellent all-round lens for non-close-up work, being sharp and with no discernible distortion. It was perfect for the detail shots in the test cells where I was working at standard distances one minute, and extreme close-ups the next.

I decided to use this lens because I knew it covered everything I needed. I have more modern lenses with close-focusing abilities, but the Nikkor has the edge on overall quality. While it’s possible my client might not have detected the difference between images taken on one lens or another, I do believe in capturing the best-quality images I can.

What the old lens lacks is autofocus (or auto anything!) but manual focus just requires a little more care and concentration. It can slow you down, but that’s no bad thing as it also encourages more thought about composition.

Industrial photography can feel slow. You have to be hyper-aware of the details such as finger marks or dust on equipment as well as the usual considerations of lighting, composition and exposure, but I also enjoy the discipline this imposes.

There is no point rushing industrial pictures. It can take a considerable amount of preparation before even thinking about taking a picture, but my IAAPS client is happy to trust me to do what’s needed to get the best possible results. They’re dealing with high-end clients in an industry which is all about precision; being sloppy in the photography isn’t worth the risk.

While I know there will be additional trips to IAAPS for me in the coming year, I’ll welcome enquiries from anyone considering commissioning industrial photography for their promotional needs. Hopefully, this article gives a useful insight to my process.

My portfolio is always evolving, so check it out here if you’d like to see more of my work.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Yes, it’s that time of year when we all take a look in the rearview mirror to see what we’re leaving behind, simultaneously stepping on the gas, and accelerating into the year ahead. Or maybe we’re just trying to get away from zombies!

Assuming we’re not being chased out of town by the undead, I am of course building up (in a rather clumsy way) to my annual look at what has been and what is to come.

Except I’m not going to do that this time around, or at least not in quite as much depth as I normally would. I’m just going to say that 2023 had its highs and lows, and I have plans for 2024 which will evolve as I go.

At this point, I could sign off, wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and be done, but that wouldn’t be particularly satisfactory, would it? Maybe it would, but tough; you’re here now.

No, for this post I’m going to use broad brush strokes which I hope will also stimulate some thoughts within you, my current or potential clients.

Looking Back – 2023

While my stills work held up remarkably well, video demand seemed to drop off sharply. Instinct tells me clients are struggling to decide whether video is worth the investment. My advice is, talk to me! I’ll be happy to discuss your ideas and will be honest about your best options.

All too often I have clients come to me with only the vaguest idea that they want ‘some video of a thing’. But rather than allow me to guide them further, they either kill the project or go to someone who will happily turn their half-baked plans into a massive invoice. Don’t fall into that trap.

Even the stills work was a bit up and down this year. I’ve done pretty well, but I can tell businesses are struggling to see through the fog of wars, climate crisis, cost of living, and so on. Some are taking positive steps to keep their marketing on track, while others see marketing as a cost (bizarrely).

If you can’t stretch to video, keep using stills to keep your brand fresh and alive. They’re far more cost-effective than video and more adaptable, but they also need a clear direction (purpose and brief). Again, talk to me if you want to develop the germ of an idea.

Overall, 2023 has been ok. Its school report would read, “Could do better”.

A highlight of 2023 was a trip by rail and bike to Côte Sauvage, Brittany.

Looking Forward – 2024

So let’s gaze into the crystal ball.

I predict it’s going to be more of the same because the uncertainties that have troubled businesses since (to put it frankly) the Brexit vote of 2016 are not going to be resolved in the next few weeks or even months. Domestically we’re going to have a general election, so there will be plenty of people waiting to see how that shakes out. Which is frustrating because it could be yet another year of bumpiness. And who’s to say something else won’t come along in the meantime to create more market jitters?

My advice is, if you want to do something, do it. If you don’t, someone else will and they’ll steal all the credit (and potentially your clients).

Moving on from the pure business aspects of the year ahead, I’ve decided to have another look at something rather more ephemeral; the ethics of my business.

That isn’t to say that for the past 25 years as a freelance photographer, I’ve operated unethically but I feel we’re at a juncture where it’s not a bad idea to have a fresh think about how we all work and how we treat each other.

Towards the end of this year, I finally managed to update my Terms and Conditions (something I’d planned to do last Christmas!) and in 2024 I plan to add an Ethical Statement that will cover a wide range of aspects, from use of AI in images, to how I approach my personal project work.

This isn’t going to be easy as I don’t want to just put up a bunch of warm, fuzzy words and say job done. This will, in effect, put into text the moral rules by which I already work, but will also tie in some new issues which have emerged more recently.

There’s no harm in any business or organisation, however ethical they already say they are, spending a little time having a deep think about whether their ethical practices are up-to-date and whether they genuinely implement them. Perhaps every business should have an Ethical Statement against which their actions can be measured.

So look, I’m not going to make great proclamations about how I see the year ahead. It’s all too up in the air for that, but I have set out a couple of road signs.

At the risk of labouring my metaphors, I’m going to pull up at the side of the road to stretch my legs, before getting back in the car, stepping on the non-greenhouse-gas-emitting accelerator peddle and zooming off into the bright new dawn of 2024.

Thank you to every one of my clients, suppliers, friends, and colleagues who’ve made 2023 bearable. Let’s do the same, but more and better, in 2024.

Happy Christmas!

Tim