Tim Gander’s photography blog.

Take a Butchers At This

After all these years, I still get a buzz from sniffing out a good little story.

This one came out of a chance conversation with my local butcher, Nigel.

A few days before Valentine’s Day I’d popped along to pick up some eggs, ham… the usual, when Nigel asked if I’d be willing and able to help with something. Being the top bloke Nigel is, of course I said yes.

A year previously, Nigel’s premises had been destroyed by fire when an arsonist set light to a car parked outside the shop front. He wanted to know if there was some way of getting the remains of the shop clock framed for posterity.

 

The Dalí-esque clock.

He showed me the half-melted clock (which had stopped when the fireball ripped through the shop) and said although he felt it was a silly thing to keep, it was a reminder of the tough year he’d had – this of course in addition to the pandemic.

The best I could do was to recommend contacting local framers to see if someone could make a box frame for it. But before I left, I had an idea.

I asked if I could pop back later and take a photo of him with the clock to mark the anniversary of the fire. And though I could sense his surprise at the idea, he agreed.

And so on the Friday before Valentine’s Day I returned when the shop was quieter and Nigel posed outside for me.

Happy Valentine’s!

That Sunday, which was Valentines Day and the actual anniversary of the fire, I posted the photo with some copy to the Frome Facebook page.

I know there’s a lot of affection in the town for Nigel and his business, but I didn’t expect the reaction my post got. Hundreds of Likes and not a single negative comment.

As a result, Nigel was contacted by customers who hadn’t realised he’d re-opened and someone got in touch to ask if he could make a box frame for the clock, so there were some real-world results to this exercise.

The PR takeaway.

What this also demonstrates is that there are very accessible PR opportunities out there, and with an intelligently crafted photo and copy, the reach can be surprising, the results heartwarming.

It’s well known that well-taken photos and well-written words will reach far more people than an advert (or badly executed photo and copy), and will be far cheaper than equivalent advertising to reach the same audience.

The trick is, knowing when you have a good little story.

I make PR pictures for clients who want to get their message noticed. Drop me a line to discuss your next PR or branding project.

Post-Pandemic Chic

Looking towards a post-pandemic world, it could be argued that people have become accustomed to a “Zoom aesthetic”. We’re used to seeing colleagues and clients on fuzzy webcams, over poor connections and with a variety of peculiar (occasionally embarrassing) backdrops. I’ve even been on a Zoom workshop in which one participant’s webcam was upside down, so does image really matter anymore?

Will the new aesthetic stick like a virus?

Does this mean we no longer need polished portraits for our business profiles? After all, models and celebrities have been doing selfie shoots for magazine features and advertisements through lockdown and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm.

Well ok, so they’re usually living in beautiful homes in sunny climes. They have the means to simply purchase whatever kit they need to capture the best image, and many of them are well aware of how to work with lighting and angles to best effect. They’re also working towards a different result than that required in a corporate website.

 

Quality still matters.

I would argue that quality matters even more now than it did a year ago. Zoom, Teams and Webex (who?) have been a hoot, but that’s not the look you need when a client visits your website or social media channels.

When clients find your website, they still view every element of it as an extension of your values. Good quality reflects well, and all the small cues, such as how well the site is designed, how well the copy is written and (of course) the quality of your photography will all influence the visitor’s impression of your business.

Of course it’s different when you’re speaking to someone on Zoom or Teams. The context is different and the two of you are likely on a level playing field of awkwardness. Even then, if you’re pitching to a potential client via video call, you’ll make sure you’ve sorted out your bookshelf first. No one needs to see your collection of Victorian “art” catalogues. Or you’ll use one of those weird green screen-style photo backdrops that makes half your face vanish every time you shift in your seat.

Making that call.

If that’s the aesthetic you’re going for within your website, I wish you well, but I reckon most people will want to forget the Pandemic Look as soon as they can. They certainly won’t want to be reminded of it in your About Us section.

Drop me a line about your next photography project, be it business profile pictures, office shots, social media stock images or video and let’s get Covid out of the picture.

Blog Off?

Do people still blog? I’ve been writing this one since October 2009, but does it still serve a purpose?

Over the years I’ve tried my best to inform and entertain my readers (still plural, I think), admittedly with mixed success, but of course it’s also been a way to keep Google happy.

On that score I have to admit it’s been useful for my Search Engine Optimisation. I’m just less convinced it still has the impact it once did. People are using different routes to finding photographers, but it has become a much more fragmented landscape, so which options might work?

LinkedIn

Facebook for businesses (aka LinkedIn) has been a good way for me to keep in touch with existing clients. I can keep up with what they’re doing and I can update them on my latest news. I sometimes use it to message clients directly, though I still prefer email for keeping all correspondence in one place.

That said, LinkedIn is practically useless for finding new clients. People looking for a specific photographer for their needs will find LinkedIn a poor source of reliable information. More often than not a prospective client will canvass their network for recommendations, at which point there ensues a scrambled deluge of suggestions, most of which ignore geography or skill set – a photographer’s a photographer, right? End result, a mis-match and a lost opportunity.

Facebook

Facebook is useful for keeping in touch with a wider friendship network and group interests and I use it to promote my personal project work, but corporate work doesn’t really work on Facebook. I’m careful where I use client work, and Facebook just isn’t the right place to post my commissioned images.

Twitter

Just… no. Like Facebook, Twitter isn’t the best option for business use. It needs personality, which tends to exclude much in the way of a corporate focus. Again, it’s more useful to my personal project work and I like to promote other photographers there, at least those practicing fine art or documentary work.

Other Options

Should I start a podcast? *collective cry of NOOOOO! echoes back at me* Or a YouTube channel? *ditto, see previous*

Except YouTube is perhaps the more interesting option; less for my corporate work, but perhaps more useful to my personal project photography. I have no desire to be a “YouTuber”, but I can see how video might help create wider interest in that work. Which still leaves me wondering what’s best for the corporate work.

In (sort of) conclusion

It seems that while change has been a constant in the exciting world of SEO, that change is accelerating. Couple this with the fact that new platforms are constantly springing up, the risk is that social media is becoming too fragmented.

My gut reaction to all this is that continuing the blog posts is wise. Keeping my website fresh and compliant continues to be the best use of limited time. I also need to investigate new ideas; maybe even some old ones. Books and zines interest me, so they’ll be something I’m focusing on for the personal projects, but what of the corporate side? Perhaps print has a role worth exploring too. Many years ago I made Blurb books of my portfolio and they went down quite well.

So after 557 words, I ‘think’ I’ve concluded that I’ll carry on with the blog. Ideally I’ll use it to showcase my corporate work, but lockdown and on-going restrictions will make that a challenge. Things will pick up though, and when they do I want to be visible to new clients as well as existing ones.

One last thing…

On a bit of a side-note relating more to my personal projects, if you sign up to my takeagander newsletter here before the end of January 2021, you’ll be in with a chance to win a beautiful A4 print from any of my collections!

So cheer yourself up for free, sign up and have a browse to see if there’s a print you’d like on your wall.

2020 is so last year!

Happy New Year! I think…

Perhaps just as Windscale became such a toxic brand that it was renamed Sellafield, or that the News of the World became The Sunday Sun, so too 2020 has just been re-branded 2021. It’s not a new year at all, just a re-packaging of a disastrous previous year. Or is it?

I refuse to be as downbeat and dour as I’m often minded to be. Yes, this new lockdown has scuppered three paid gigs which were in the diary, but they’re postponed, not cancelled. One was a video gig, the other two are headshot sessions for an existing client.

It’s also frustrating that I’ve once again had to put the Salisbury Plain project on hold. But like the bookings, it’s just delayed, not abandoned.

There are some positives too. Ive just taken in a little product photography, which is an area I don’t normally tackle. And I’m about to ship my very first signed, large format fine art print to a client who has hinted they’d like to invest in several of my prints.

I’ve set up a photography package for startups as they’re going to be big for the next few years. You can check that out here.

So this year is going to start with many challenges and it’s not going to get any easier for a while, but I’m very glad that I started taking my fine art work seriously well before 2020 and that I used the March 2020 lockdown as the starting point for my video practice. All this combined with adding new ideas to my corporate photography package means when things do pick up, I’m already equipped with multiple strands to my business, each of which will grow with time.

So I wish you all the best in your ventures for the coming year, whatever they are. If I can be of any help at all, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to discuss your plans.

In the meantime, stay safe!

The Local Proposition

Are you buying anything from Amazon this Christmas? The campaign to shop local seems to have gained ground, even if the orange behemoth with the A to Z smile is still gaining sales.

The pandemic will have put many in a quandary; desperate to get their Christmas shopping done, but still unable to leave home, it can seem as if there is only one choice, when even online there are many great independent traders now.

However, the shop local/support independents movement is definitely finding new followers. Buying on the high street is beneficial to local economies and communities, while buying online from local, independent businesses is certainly helpful too.

Buy Local for Your Business

So this week I’d like to extend this notion: If buying local for personal reasons is beneficial to the local economy and jobs, please also consider buying ethically-sourced professional services for your business too.

Not just photography, but other creative industries have struggled against the big players for many years now, yet none of the disruptive sites offering creative services has benefitted the wider economy. They might seem to be the cool, new and exciting way to do business, but they dis-benefit independent creatives disproportionately.

Of course as a business owner you probably want to find the best value for money for all the goods and services you need, but have you ever thought about how this might impact the economy in which you’re trying to function?

It might help you in the short term if you can populate your website with images and graphics bought in at below cost of production, but when this process replicates across an entire business economy, who is left with any money to buy your services?

Value vs Cost

Likewise, if you’re unwilling to pay fair rates for the goods and services supplied by others, why should anyone pay your rates for the goods and services you supply? And let’s set aside the impact of using suppliers who pay little (if any) tax back into the society in which you operate.

So undertake a pledge, make it company policy if you like, that from January 2021 you will start the process of making your business more sustainable by helping to sustain others. It might make you very slightly less profitable in the short term, but it will make your business more sustainable in the longer term.

You’ll almost certainly have a more robust business come the next economic upset.

Until 2021…

I’m taking a break from writing blog posts here until January 2021, so I’ll just take this opportunity to thank you for all your kind support through this monumentally challenging year.

If in the meantime you would like to keep up with all my goings on, you can follow me on Instagram (@takeagander) or sign up to my newsletter for very occasional updates on my personal projects and new fine art print offerings.

Thank you, have a happy Christmas and a new, improved 2021.

Tim

Video Progress

Actually I made this film several weeks ago now, but I’ve had so much else on that I haven’t had a chance to talk about it until now.

Frome-based IT solutions company Netitude, in particular MD Adam Harling, were very generous in giving me time to come in and make a short film about their experience through (the first) lockdown.

The result (which you can see here) is a huge step up from where I was when I first tried the video function of my DSLR. I’m far more confident now that I can make and edit short interview films and I’ve done more video since which I hope to share in due course.

What I’m aiming to offer clients is affordable access to simple video production, but at a quality they cannot achieve by sticking an iPhone on a stand. I also believe my photographer’s experience and skills bring an added level of style and quality to the work.

For the time being I’m pegging my video rates to my stills rates, with post-production being the only additional cost. This makes professional video far more accessible to a much wider range of clients.

If you have a video project in mind, drop me a line and we can discuss it in more depth.

Are We On The Same Page?

I’m sure there is a thesis being written by somebody somewhere examining the changes in the use of (and attitudes to) photography since the launch of Web 2.0. Setting aside technological changes for a moment, the proliferation of photography and the way it is presented, received and perceived has changed beyond all recognition. But should that be so?

PICTURES ON A PAGE

What’s brought me to write this is reading Harold Evans’ bible of news photography “Pictures on a Page”, first published in 1978. For whatever reason, I had never read it before. I wish I had as it’s the undisputed last word on how editorial images are shot, presented, the ethics and so on.

Thankfully I learned most of its lessons through training, observing and doing, but this book cements what I know while adding some delicious new ideas I’d not considered so closely before. But though it’s a book from a very different era, does that make it irrelevant? I think not. In fact I believe its main tenets are more important than ever, and not only in the realm of editorial.

While Evans’ book talks about story, cropping, emphasis and so on, I would say that the vast majority of images taken today are not composed with such factors in mind. Even if we take pictures for a story, few photographers have any clue who will end up using their photos or the design into which they will be placed. Largely gone are the days when a photographer knew which publication they were shooting for, let alone which page or position.

Is it the web’s fault?

Back when I shot regularly for newspapers, I often knew how the pictures were to be used and could ensure I gave the images the emphasis needed to work on a left or right-hand page. I also knew when to give an image a direct, or neutral emphasis, but today’s photographer is effectively shooting blind when it comes to design; they have to make their images work in all contexts, which can be the enemy of good image design.

This isn’t true in absolutely every case, but it must account for the majority of work shot today and it’s leading to a morass of images lacking any emphasis at all. The effect is compounded by the need to shoot predominantly in landscape orientation to suit the restrictions of web page designs, leading to another level of homogenisation.

Even in the work I do now for my corporate clients, I occasionally wish there was a little more scope for using emphasis and picture design as a creative tool. Websites shackled to a template leave little room for intelligent design, especially given that responsiveness rules over all other considerations. Again, you can only shoot for that by keeping any daring design ideas to a minimum, which can render them lifeless.

Pictures are more than just content and colour.

Pictures on a Page includes wonderful insights into how we “read” images, but even that perception has changed with the proliferation of photographic images which pour over us like a monumental waterfall on a daily basis.

If the book is taken solely as a series of essays on how news pictures are taken, edited and presented in newspapers, and their effect on our perception of the world, perhaps it could be seen as old-fashioned now, but I think that would be missing the point.

The best pictures, regardless of where they are published, will still have an impact beyond just colour and content. They will take us on a visual journey within their own frame and guide us to a point either within, or more interestingly perhaps, outside the image area itself. We risk losing that in a flat web world, so perhaps books such as Pictures on a Page will become more important than ever. Perhaps that theoretical thesis will reach the same conclusion.

A Hand Up for Startups

Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say, and a lot of people are going to be doing a lot of inventing in the coming months and years.

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Brainstorming a new venture?

People who have been made redundant and those who have just had enough of the daily office grind will be setting up new ventures, which in the teeth of the fiercest of recessions is a brave thing indeed.

Which is why I’ve launched a new service to help anyone considering such a move. Called Startup Exclusive, this is a photography package designed to give new ventures the vital images they need for their websites, marketing materials and social media channels.

From headshots to product shots, or pictures illustrating the services they offer, new business startups will have the basic images they need to get going and at a price that shouldn’t sink them at launch.

At the very least I’ve always prided myself on publishing a fee structure which allows clients to get an idea of what to expect before they’ve even called me, and with Startup Exclusive added to my fees guide, they’ll be able to work the cost of bespoke photography into their business plan long before they’ve committed to booking me.

So if you, or anyone you know, is considering a new venture, point them to my website so they can at least get a sense of what’s available and what the likely fees will be. You never know, I could end up documenting the birth of something really big.

On Reflection

Glasses. Don’t you love ’em? They’re never where you need them. You spend ages hunting for them only to discover they’re already on top of your head. Yet even though contact lens technology has leapt forward, they don’t work for everyone and so we still need our specs a lot of the time.

I didn’t need to wear glasses at all until I hit 45, then BAM! my near vision went. I couldn’t work out why I was struggling to see the images on the back of my camera. I thought I needed a longer neck strap, then longer arms. Then I realised, I needed an eye test.

Now I can work fine with glasses. Ok, it’s a bit of a pain, but on the whole I’ve got used to them. The bigger issue tends to be when a portrait sitter wears glasses; how do we avoid reflections from the lenses? Well here are some helpful tips if you’re a glasses wearer.

To wear, or not to wear? Is it even a question?

The first question (so yes, it is a question) is whether you should wear glasses at all when having your portrait taken. My answer is always, if you’re known for wearing glasses, if you wear them the majority of the time, then wear them for the shoot.

Someone who habitually wears glasses can look uncomfortable without them. I’m always happy to do with-and-without, but vanity shouldn’t be the deciding factor (that’s for you to decide) and neither should the risk of reflections (a technical issue for me to work through).

What can be done to avoid reflections?

Mainly it’s a lighting issue. Uncontrolled daylight can make it impossible to avoid some reflection in the glasses, but for portraits I almost always use portable studio flash as my sole lighting source. This gives me more control over the final look, as well as over reflections.

Then I choose lighting modifiers which minimise the risk of reflections. The position of my lights is also a major factor, but there are also things you, as the glasses-wearing sitter, can do to help.

Probably the most important factor is the quality of your glasses. Spectacles with good quality coated lenses are best. You may remember gasping at the cost when your optician quoted for non-reflective coatings, but they are designed to transmit as much light as possible to your eyes which means you can see things more clearly. Happily they also mean less light bounces off the surface of the lenses and *hey presto* less reflection back to the camera.

Now the most expensive coatings in the world are useless if your lenses are double-coated in fingerprints, chip grease and cat hair, so make sure they’re scrupulously clean right to the edges. Once cleaned, you’ll probably see a lot better too! Use a good quality cloth and cleaner fluid if they’re really manky, but go gently – you don’t want to damage them. Your optician should be able to advise on the best cleaning methods.

Anything else?

Yes, head position will also be a factor in the same way the position of the lights will help exclude reflections. This is something I guide people on once they’re in front of me, so there isn’t any general advice I can offer beyond “listen to the photographer and do as they ask”. I’m happy to boss you about (gently of course) if it means a great end result.

The only other thing which can be an issue for glasses wearers is when the frame cuts across the eyes. This is normally avoided by ensuring your spectacles are properly seated on your nose, not slipping forward. This is less a reflection issue, but it can help with the positioning of your face in relation to the lights, so it’s also important.

But that’s it really; the right lighting, decent quality lenses, keeping them clean and head/face position. It’s a bit of a team effort, but on reflection, I think it’s worth it.

The Beat Goes On

While the news seems unrelentingly gloomy at the moment, I’m pleased to say I’ve had some positives to focus on.

I’ve had bits of work in the last couple of weeks and enquiries have also increased. People are looking to promote their businesses once again!

This doesn’t mean a flood of work is about to engulf me, but it’s encouraging to know I still have clients. I also have some great supporters helping me via my ko-fi account*. They’re keeping me funded for the non-client projects I’m engaged in. *HINT: You can do the same from as little as £3.00 one-off payment!

What is especially encouraging is that in an atmosphere of debate about what counts as a viable job, my job – the job I love, which has been put under this particular spotlight for many years now, continues to be considered viable; invaluable, even.

There are many out there who believe professional photography is dead and that every photo ever needed has been taken already. And if it doesn’t already exist, well there’s always that professional photographer in your pocket. They are, of course, quite wrong.

We know automation and technology cannot replace certain needs. Technology still can’t make a decent loaf of bread, so we can’t expect it to make pictures with the right tone and impact. This only comes about through human interaction.

Try to imagine a world without human interaction, how much fun would that be? How creative? We’re experiencing a taste of it now, so we know the answer already.

So while there will be some very difficult times ahead, I’m going to stay focussed and positive. No one is telling me I’m not viable.