Tim Gander’s photography blog.

Who’s Afraid of False Reports?

What will you be doing this weekend? Don’t tell me, I don’t care because I’m going to be buried in Stephen Leslie’s book, just released, called Mostly False Reports.

If you don’t know Leslie’s work, I’m not talking about Virginia Woolf’s father (also a Stephen Leslie) who died, oh I dunno, quite a long time ago. No, this is London-based film director, screenwriter, and street photographer Stephen Leslie. He’s still very much alive.

I’m not a huge fan of street photography, so I’m very picky about who within that genre I follow or take note of. Leslie is one of them. Dougie Wallace and Matt Stuart also spring to mind (I realise there are no female photographers in there so if someone can point me their way I’d love to see that perspective too).

For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly how Leslie’s work showed up on my radar, probably through Instagram, but however it was, my interest in his work was cemented through his YouTube channel where he posts excellent if occasional videos focusing on photographic themes or specific photographers. His knowledge of photography, its practitioners, and history is impressive, but he rarely speaks of his own work.

What Leslie does with his images, exemplified in his latest book, is to compose made-up narratives around the photos he’s taken. The images already benefit from Leslie’s often witty, observational style, but the additional twist of his text, usually in the style of a very short story, delivers yet another layer. Not all the narratives are entirely false, so the reader is left to consider what is true and what is false.

Others will be better equipped to critique this book with more skill than I possess, but without wishing to appear arse-licky I think it’s brilliant. The photography is quirky and entertaining, even thought-provoking (as only the best street photography is). It has a high-quality feel, the design is simple and elegant and the effort and attention to detail are clear.

So you do your thing this weekend, I’m going to be curled up with this book until I’ve been through it cover-to-cover (and possibly back again).

If you’d like your own copy, you’ll have to hope it goes on general sale at some point because so far it’s only been available through the Kickstarter campaign which brought it to fruition. There’s no point asking to buy my copy, it’s not for sale! EDIT: Contact Stephen directly to order your copy. Scroll to the bottom of the page on this link for his contact form.

Have a great weekend

End of an Era?

“Perhaps I’m joining dots which aren’t there, but with the passing of Elliott Erwitt, I’ve found myself pondering the state of the photographic industry and whether it’s truly entering a new era.

We talk about eras as if there’s some sudden cut-off point between a time when everything is one way and then suddenly it’s all changed. That new era then chugs along solidly until there’s another great upheaval.

Era Today, Gone Tomorrow

Of course, this is nonsense. It doesn’t matter how sudden a change is, there is always a transition period. And that speed of transition will happen more quickly for some, while others will barely notice it happening in their lifetimes. It also comes down to the nature of the era under scrutiny; in the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the use of bronze didn’t vanish. Likewise, though obviously on a smaller scale, the same goes for the transition of film photography to digital, or black and white to colour.

Back to why Erwitt’s passing got me thinking about this then. Well, it wasn’t just that. Nor was it the passing of Larry Fink, but it’s fair to say we’re well into an era when great photographers of the 21st Century succumb to the inevitability of chronology, and that in itself is enough to signal a shifting paradigm.

That AI Thing

The passing of ‘the old guard’ comes as AI-generated images have started to make an impact on the world of photography. That’s why this feels to me like a moment of deeper change.

Recently, World Press Photo tried to allow AI image generation in one of its categories. How anyone in their right mind thought AI should have any place whatsoever in a World press photography prize is beyond comprehension. They have now withdrawn the permission to use AI or Generative Fill, but that was after some stiff criticism from photographers.

My concerns around the widespread use of AI in image creation are currently threefold:

1 The data training required for machine learning is a mass copyright infringement almost impossible for creators to track and prosecute. They’ll certainly be last in line to benefit from it financially.

2 Trust in genuine imagery will collapse, leaving us even more exposed to false narratives by toxic groups and regimes.

3 The public will become increasingly ‘anti-photographer’ if they become fearful that, whether with the photographer’s permission or not, the images can be scraped and used to generate images of a damaging or downright nasty nature. We’re already seeing a massive rise in AI-generated child abuse imagery and unless it’s addressed head-on, it’ll only get worse. In return, photographers will find it increasingly difficult or even impossible to document news or simply everyday life if they can’t include people.

A Visual Desert

One way or another, left un-addressed, each of those three concerns will eventually lead to a collapse in our visual culture. All that will be left will be kittens, sunsets and pretty landscapes, and none of those will be real either. The visual white noise of the internet will finally blot out anything of worth.

We can’t live in the past, yet all too many photographers, myself included, yearn for some kind of good old days. A time when photographers, like Elliott Erwitt, Diane Arbus and many besides, could document even the simplest human activities without feeling as though we were committing some kind of crime. A time when pictures mattered more and had greater value, both culturally and in hard currency terms.

Here is my meagre hope; that while AI won’t go away, it will at least settle down into its own genre, an art form in its own right and a play thing for people with too much time on their hands. I hope also that, like the resurgence of vinyl and analogue photography, non-AI-tainted photography might see an increased appreciation. It might even lead to improved values for professional photographers’ work. Miracles may happen.

AI to Restrain AI

Manufacturers are starting to integrate Content Credentials technology into cameras so images can be verified as having been altered (or not), meaning media outlets (and thereby the public) will know that what they’re seeing is authentic. With luck this will make it far easier to separate true from false, but it’s just the start. We need to reach a point where AI imagery can exist without it casting doubt on the veracity of news images.

The Image above was generated through deepai.org using this headline from The Guardian, “Sellafield nuclear site has leak that could pose risk to public”. It would be tempting (but on the whole, wrong) for media outlets to use AI-generated images to illustrate their stories. To be clear, The Guardian did not use this image to illustrate its story.

The Next 40+ Years

Whatever era we’re leaving behind, whatever we’re moving into, change will be both fast and slow depending on your perspective. Whatever happens, we’ll look back on this decade, at the photographers who have passed (and who will yet do so) and we’ll be tempted to draw an arbitrary line and say this was the end of an era.

The truth is, the current era started almost 20 years ago, and it will easily take another 20 years to stop starting by which time it’ll be about ready to start stopping. By which time I’ll be 107 years old (or more likely dead). Either way, it’s highly likely I’ll have stopped caring.

 

See The Portfolio, Understand The Process

With the exception of David Bailey, every photographer has to keep their portfolio fresh and updated regularly. While for some that still means a printed volume, for most photographers it’s their website, which is what I’ve been working on lately.

The question photographers have to ask themselves as they work through this process is, “What makes a picture worth adding to my portfolio?” The question you might ask yourself is, “Why should I care?”

Well if a client understands the thinking behind what makes a good portfolio, they can also understand what a portfolio says about the photographer behind it.

There’s plenty to think about, but it’ll start with context (ie. what kind of photographer they are and what kind of work they want to attract), but setting that aside for now, the best way for me to illustrate the subject is by setting down my thoughts. Through this process, I hope you’ll gain some useful insights too.

1. Why Update My Portfolio?

This one’s simple – a regularly updated online portfolio keeps Google (and other search engines) happy. Each time a search engine indexes a website it’s looking for fresh content. Fresh content boosts the value of the site and elevates it in search rankings. I get a fair bit of work this way, so I need to keep my portfolio updated.

2. What to update it with?

Every few months I go through my Portfolio pages to see what’s especially old, or what might no longer be relevant to the types of work I’m doing or want to do.

Showing certain kinds of work will attract enquiries from certain kinds of clients, which is why my site is fairly heavily skewed towards showing corporate portraits – that’s both the work I do and the work I want.

Age isn’t everything – I’ll keep older pictures in if they’re strong and still serve a purpose, but on the whole, I’m looking at recent jobs to see what might be suitable to add to or replace existing work.

When I’m trawling through my recent archive I’ll be searching for images that fall into one of the three portfolio categories: Business Portraits, Corporate Communications, Editorial & PR.

3. What Makes A Portfolio Picture?

That’s where it gets trickier, and while I don’t think I nail this one every time, I see photographers who haven’t mastered the challenge at all. They include their favourite pictures, but this is the wrong place to start.

The challenge is to disassociate yourself from the making of the picture. A portfolio picture isn’t good just because you like it. It isn’t good because it was hard to make, or because you made a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

A portfolio picture has to be good in its own right. While Google won’t even care if a picture is interesting, in focus or correctly exposed, a potential client has to be convinced by the quality of what they see. What they won’t see is the effort or the circumstances surrounding the making of that image, so its entire strength will come from its quality and content.

4. What Is The Context?

I mentioned the context in my introduction, and there I was referring to the type or field of photography being promoted. A wedding photographer will have different considerations than an industrial, architectural or food photographer.

Similarly, I need to apply different considerations when choosing images for any of my three categories. Let’s briefly go through those:

Business Portraits

Here I want to show the quality and style of my portraiture, but I’m also looking for some variety. Beyond the basic headshot against white, I also want to show I can create different styles, moods and even orientations (upright or landscape). I also include a few images to suggest that a portrait can mean more than a simple headshot and can include some context, which stylistically starts to overlap with Corporate Communications.

Corporate Communications

This is broader than just headshots, so it’s an opportunity to show greater creativity. These images might include props or location elements; they might be staged or fly-on-the-wall action images. People presenting, interacting with others or with their environment are fairly typical examples of the Corporate Communications image.

I should add that the term Corporate Communications refers to everything I do for my clients, but I sub-categorise these images to differentiate them from pure Business Portraits or Editorial & PR images.

Editorial & PR

This gallery is unusual in that I’ll often include screen grabs of the images ‘out in the wild’ in news media sites, allowing clients to make the connection between my work and the possible exposure it will bring them.

The nature of the category means I might be showing work which has more of a story to tell, but the image should still be as self-explanatory as possible (though my captions will also help explain the context and reason for the image).

For this category, I’m looking for images of a news or feature style. They were shot for a newspaper, press release or corporate news web page and therefore have a different look to those shot for general Corporate Communications.

Site-Wide Refresh

While the focus of this article has been on the portfolios, I also regularly update my homepage image as this is the first impression potential clients get. It also makes the site more attractive to search engines as they favour new content over old.

As if all that wasn’t enough, this time around I’ve also updated some of the featured pictures for the top-level Portfolio menu, again keeping the site a bit fresh for returning visitors and search engines alike.

Summing Up

In essence, if you’re a client casting around for a photographer for your next project, it’s worth having a bit of insight into what you’re being presented and why.

If a portfolio doesn’t even present examples of the genre you need, move on to the next site. For example, photographers who showcase family portraits are probably not going to grasp the particular challenges and requirements of corporate or business portraiture.

It’s important to match genre as well as style and quality to your requirements to avoid costly mistakes, and I hope this article goes some way towards avoiding that scenario.

Now you’ve read this, why not take a look back at my website? I’d love to hear if it’s changed your perception of what you see.

Carry On Lurking

Social media is a funny old place. I can post images to my Instagram account, Facebook, Threads, X… (to be honest, the list is starting to become overwhelming) and see very little activity. Likes elude me.

For the most part I ascribe this tumbleweed reaction to a couple of issues. Firstly, many people are a bit tired and bored of social media. It’s been around a while and the novelty has long worn off.

The next aspect I would describe as Like Fatigue. I’ve experienced Like Fatigue myself, and it’s when you scroll through a feed, see something you like, but don’t feel compelled to ‘Like’ it with a press of the thumbs-up, heart or whatever. It just seems like too much effort!

People are busier than ever. We all have lives to live, jobs to hold down and commitments beyond the digital sphere. Even if we have time for social media, it’s more limited than ever before. This not only follows on to my next point, but also circles back to what I alluded to in my opening line – there’s just too much choice!

Due to lack of time, not only can I not always hit every channel with every picture I take, but audiences drift between SM platforms and might not see what I’ve posted (boohoo me, I know).

Then there’s the dead hand of the algorithm. I’ve lost count of the people I’ve lost track of because the algorithm no longer serves up their posts in my feed. Sometimes I’ll suddenly remember someone whose work I used to like and I have to go and search them out to see if they’ve posted anything I’ve missed. I’m sure I have followers who’ve had a similar experience of losing track of me due to algorithm constipation.

But there is one group who have always existed; the Lurkers. Right from the very start of my Social Media dealings I’ve known there were people who saw my posts, enjoyed them, but never Liked or commented on them. I would be oblivious that they’d seen them at all. Then one day I’ll be on a corporate job, or shooting some PR event, and someone will come to me to tell me in person how much they enjoy my personal project work. Indeed I’ve even had bookings as a result of what someone has seen!

I also suspect some clients book me because my Social Media postings of my personal work have helped to keep me in their minds when it came to booking a photographer.

Bear in mind, the work I post on social media has little in common with my client work, but it clearly has the effect of engaging clients and reminding them that I exist. I’m also convinced it shows people a different side to my work, and they enjoy that.

This last point is a small, subtle, but significant one to me. Shooting personal work can often feel isolating and even pointless. It can also feel self-indulgent to go off and spend time on what might be called non-business work, but because it acts as a soft marketing tool, it’s a mistake to assume it has little value.

While it’s lovely to see a post get Likes and attention from followers, it’s too easy to dismiss my lurkers. So I want to thank them and let them know I appreciate them. I understand there may be many reasons they don’t tap the heart icon, or give my work the thumbs-up, but that’s ok.

My lurkers probably outnumber my active followers, but in my (non-scientific) reckoning they’re also more likely to be clients, or they’re more likely to recommend me to new clients. So I’m absolutely not going to complain about their apparent passivity.

Lurkers, I thank you and you are welcome to lurk all you like. I know you’re there and that’s all that really matters. So as Kenneth Williams never said, “Carry On Lurking!”

Head Space

Corporate portraits, one of the under-sung heroes of corporate communications. An evil necessity (for those who don’t enjoy having to sit for one), but the only way your potential clients get to see the people who make your business tick.

But in the planning of a portrait session, I think one of the most over-looked aspects of the whole process is the question of where is best for the photographer to set up. What considerations need to be factored into the planning to make it all run as smoothly as possible?

Best Place for Portraits?

Location, location, location, as the property gurus like to say, but it’s also true when finding a spot in your office in which to set up for headshots.

The first, and possibly most crucial element required is space. The more the merrier. The greater the area I have to work in, the more options I have to create a consistent look across the set of portraits.

Occasionally a client will tell me they have an empty room I can work in. There might be a 30ft faux mahogany table and 20 heavy swivel chairs in there, but as far as they’re concerned, it’s an empty room.

So now I recommend a minimum empty floor space of at least 3m (10ft) square. Bigger is better, but I can work with that.

How High?

Ceiling height also has a role to play. Many modern offices have relatively low-slung ceilings, and these can make certain lighting set-ups difficult or impossible.

For example, my preferred arrangement is to have my main studio light pointing down over the sitter’s head, just in front of their face. A low ceiling makes this difficult/impossible, especially if the ‘house style’ is to have subjects standing for their shots. It’s easier if I can sit them, but even then some ceilings are too low. This particular arrangement also requires a bit more floor space, so double whammy if I’m in a small space with a low ceiling.

Occasionally I get super lucky and find myself in a room which has a plain wall. It might not sound much, but if I don’t have to account for the space a backdrop takes up, this can save valuable space in a small room.

Background Effect

Speaking of backdrops, if a client wants a particular look to the backdrop, I then have to think about how I light it separately from the subject. Once again this takes up more space as I have to work a flash in between the back of the subject and the background. Given enough space and the right lighting set-up, I can turn a white wall into anything from pure white to pure black, or light it with a coloured gel, but all these options need space.

Stray Light

Other sources of lighting in the room can also affect how much space is required, or they can influence the final outcome.

As I’m generally working with flash for headshots, I don’t need bags of daylight or ceiling lights. I just need to be able to see well enough and for the camera to be able to focus accurately, so some light is good, too much can be bad.

What I mean by too much is when sunlight is screaming in through a side window and splashing onto the subject or backdrop. Or when ceiling lights are beaming down onto the subject’s head, which can cause ugly colour casts. These casts are often difficult to correct in post-production, so I do my best to avoid them when taking the photos.

A Little Test

There are many factors which influence how I set up my gear for a portrait session. It can even be that the same set up in the same space on a different day can yield slightly different results, but change the room from one session to the next and it becomes a real challenge to get one batch of headshots consistent with a previous set.

To round off the article, I’ve dug out a small selection of different spaces and set-ups I’ve used over the last few years – I always try to take a reference shot for when a client calls me in again. I wonder if you can work out which set-up was used for the portrait at the end?

 

Of course the best way to ensure I have the space I need for your next corporate portrait session is to get in touch and arrange a conversation. So drop me a line, let’s see if we can work out your best location, location, location.

Mind Your Language

It is often said photography is a language which communicates across multiple cultures. Well this is true, to a point, but like all languages it can also be misunderstood.

Like any language, photography can be used badly, in the wrong context or just carelessly. In fact one thing we were taught during news photography training (in my case, back in 1992!) was that context is incredibly important. A photo which is perfectly innocent in one context can be offensive, even libellous in another. It’s often down to the words accompanying a picture, but it could include the wider context too – what other pictures are placed alongside it, a headline or even the publication in which a picture appears.

But back to photography as a language…

This Summer I’ve been on a bit of a whistle-stop tour. I was in Co Durham to spend time with my brother and sister-in-law, then off to Austria to for a few days with my sister, and after a week back home I was off again, this time to Brittany for a ‘proper’ holiday with my wife.

In each case I took a film camera with me, and in each case I responded differently to my surroundings. With Brittany I took the decision to keep the photography much more casual, otherwise I would have had no real holiday at all. Ok, I did take a small film camera, but I haven’t processed the films yet and I was pretty pleased with some of the iPhone photos I shot there.

Actually, I also only had a small film camera with me in Austria too, but I put more effort into finding pictures which interested me beyond just the snap. For Co Durham I had a ‘proper’ camera; a Mamiya 6 medium format film camera.

Beyond all this blah blah about film cameras vs iPhones, what’s interesting is how each location had a different effect.

For Co Durham I’d made the decision I was going to visit a couple of areas which were documented by Mark Power in his excellent book The Shipping Forecast (buy it if you have any interest in what photography CAN be). So I spent a very wet day visiting Seaham, Easington Colliery and (in addition to Mark’s locations for sea area Tyne), Peterlee.

I came away with pictures which say something about those areas – I’m always more interested in making photos which describe how a place feels rather than just how it looks.

The ‘problem’ with taking pictures in places like Innsbruck, Austria, or around Côte Sauvage, Brittany, is they’re just very beautiful places. You really have to work (and walk) to get to where the shine is not so shiny. For Brittany this just wasn’t going to happen anyway, but I still see a reaction to my surroundings in the photos I took. There was still some kind of essence of Brittany in my shots, but you can see that as my travels progressed from Co Durham to Austria to Brittany, my approach changed. Frankly, in Austria I failed to get anything other than fairly typical tourist shots, but I did try!

I’m just going to share a handful of images with you, and perhaps you’ll see better what I mean about the different reactions to each location. After all, if photography is a language, it’s probably best if I let it speak for itself.

 

I’m Still Alive!

Gosh, I have been a bit slack – I haven’t posted here since King Charles III came to the throne! Well sometimes life just runs away from you, then you get out of the habit. Before you know it, well here we are…

What started this un-planned hiatus was a thing called Photo|Frome (see photofrome.org if you haven’t heard of it). Being in charge of outdoor exhibitions meant I had no time in the run-up to the launch on June 24th to write anything anywhere.

To be fair, the result of all the hard work stunned even cynical ol’ me. Here’s a bit of a tale about it all.

Working closely with Italian photographic collective T House (Hugo Weber, Alex Zoboli and Angelo Leonardo), we achieved a first for Frome. We took over an entire outside wall of Frome Library and covered it in vinyl prints from our various projects (one project from each of us). The photos below barely do it justice, but you get a better idea of what I’m talking about.

While T House specialise in outdoor exhibitions of photographic works, they tend to work using large paper-based posters applied directly to walls. In the case of Frome Library we had to work differently due to the uneven surface we were dealing with. We needed to use vinyl prints mounted on timber frames screwed to the building wall. This was not going to be easypeasy!

Famous artists have minions install their work for them; in our case this was definitely a DIY affair.

T House organised the artwork and printing of the vinyls, while from my end I organised liaison with the library manager, measuring the building, ordering the timber, fixings, scissor lift and general logistics (none of which I’d ever done before, so somewhat daunting). To be fair, T House had the tougher job in curating the work and dealing with me and my constant doubts about what we could/couldn’t do.

Installation took two of the hottest days of the year to complete, but the effect was powerful. I was worried locals and visitors wouldn’t ‘get it’ or like it, or have any reaction at all, but there was a full spectrum of reactions – none of which involved just ignoring the work, so that was a major achievement. The giant portrait of Monika was a particularly popular selfie spot.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also commandeered some 60 metres of perimeter hoardings at Saxonvale in Frome. This is a place many of you will know that I documented between 2017 and 2019 (which became the book What Happened Here). It was the perfect place to show our combined projects, continuations of the images we installed at the library.

The only slight concern was that this part of our exhibition was being undertaken without permission of the landowner, Somerset Council. However I calculated that it would take longer than the three week run of the festival for anyone to raise a complaint and anything to come from that. I was correct, and in fact nobody complained. We even gave Somerset Council a name-check on the information panel, so it looked official (sneaky!)

T House set about curating the images for this second mammoth installation. This time working with 2 metre by 1.4 metre poster paper sheets, they stapled images from each of our projects as far along the hoardings as we could go before running out of posters.

It took another two, hot days to get this work up, but removal commenced a bit sooner than we’d anticipated as our installation antagonised some of the local graffiti artists by covering their art. Less than 12 hours after the posters went up, they were sprayed, tagged and torn. But that was ok, it meant the work got far more exposure than we could have hoped for, and the ‘intervention’ became part of the narrative of the installation. None of this was planned, but it was all good. Some visitors were even taking fragments of poster away with them as keepsakes!

 

Three weeks after all this effort, and it was time to un-install everything. To be fair, the graffiti artists and the weather did most of the work for us at Saxonvale, but the library show needed to come down in a more controlled manner.

This time I didn’t have a team of three highly-caffeinated Italians, but my son Joe stepped in and we got the lot down safely in one long (sometimes excessively wet) day.

It would be easy to question the value of all this effort, but I know that what we did had a huge impact locally. It was also a big hit with the many thousands of national and international visitors to the Photo|Frome festival. On a personal level I now have three very special Italian friends whose enthusiasm, professionalism and the sheer exchange of ideas has helped me enormously. I’m very much looking forward to working with T House again.

So having not posted for a few weeks, this one has turned into something of a marathon essay. I haven’t even touched on the wider Photo|Frome festival (which really was a very special thing), or my involvement in the various aspects of it. Nor have I mentioned any of the client work which of course carried on over that period.

To say I was a little burned out after all that would be an understatement, but I’m now looking forward to a period of breaks and holiday time in the coming weeks. That will mean another interruption to my blogging, but I’m hoping to get more regular again in September.

For now, have yourself a splendid Summer and I’ll see you again soon!

Coronation Coverage

Away from the hubbub, pomp and ceremony of London this past weekend, I sought out a more local view of the coronation.

Taking the opportunity to work on my Salisbury Plain project, I set out to see the scale of the preparations and celebrations in that area. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but neither did the outcome surprise me – a mixture of nothing much and concentrated activities.

This is just a small selection of my favourites. I wish I could have covered more ground, shot more variety and really fleshed out the story, but my intention wasn’t to shoot an entire coronation photo feature. What I wanted to get was a few images to fit within the wider project. Plus there was a lot of ground to cover in a very short timeslot.

I’ll leave the photos to speak for themselves.

Sound Advice

Another from my occasional series offering hints, tips and advice on video.

Sound vs Vision

Do you have any idea how important sound is to a successful video?

It’s one thing to have great visuals and a compelling storyline, but the one thing that will push your audience away is poor sound.

Ask any decent videographer and they’ll tell you this. More important than picture quality, is the quality of sound.

Now I’m no sound engineer, but I have built up enough basic understanding to know how to organise a video shoot to get the sound quality my clients need. That’s even when they don’t know what they need. Mainly that involves not allowing interviews to happen right next to a road drill. It means knowing when to use a boom mic, when to use a lav mic etc.

One of the first things I learned was to get the mic as close as possible to the sound source. That means those little shotgun mics you see mounted on cameras, well they’ll do an ok job. But if you really want to hold audience attention, nothing beats a close mic on the speaker.

Sound Analogy

In this way, I find it easier to think of sound and microphones in the same way I think about light and studio flash. By placing a flash close to the subject I can more easily control the balance between flash and ambient light (that is, daylight or room light).

Similarly, bringing the mic closer to the subject captures more of the speaker’s voice, less of the background noise. With sound it’s then easier to mix in ambient sound from a separate recording of the space if needed. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it helps.

Terminology

I don’t wish to bog you down in the complexities of sound capture, but it’s worth understanding a couple of basics. Why, as a client, would you need to know this stuff? Well it’s so when I talk to you about where best to shoot an interview, you have an understanding of what I’m thinking about and why certain options might be ruled in or out.

Depending on the space and its ambient noise, there are some basic choices to start with. First will be location. Of course this might be dictated by what the visuals demand, but wise choice of microphone will help eliminate the issues a particular location might have.

There are a few different types of mic, and the below are the ones I use:

Close-up photo of a SE Electronics pencil condenser mic clipped to the end of a stand against a white background.

A pencil condenser mic will give the best result for indoor interviews

Lav mic. For outdoors, lav mics work pretty well. A lav (aka lavalier, or lapel microphone) clips to the lapel. They’re designed to pick up as much voice as possible, ignoring background noise, but they’re not perfect. I have a couple of lav mics for when I need two people on sound.

Boom mic. A boom mic is a long, slim microphone that sits on the end of a boom arm. Sometimes shielded in a blimp (one of those Zeppelin-looking things, sometimes covered in fur), a boom mic is designed to pick up sound from a very specific angle and is best for outdoors use when conditions permit. It’s a bit like how a telephoto lens is designed to narrow-in on a scene. I have one for when the need arises. In fact it was the first mic I used regularly because they can be picked up quite cheap.

Pencil Condenser mic. My personal favourites. These look like stubby boom mics (see photo). They can have a variety of ‘fields of view’ depending on their internal design. For reasons of sound physics (ie something I don’t understand well enough to explain), they work better indoors than boom mics. I have two of these as I prefer them to lav mics and they’re great for two-person interviews.

A Trunk Full of Sound

Now a proper sound engineer will have a suitcase full of microphones. Many of each variety, more than I’ve mentioned above, and duplicates of each in case of technical failure. They’ll have mics which will have cost £thousands because they need the best quality and longevity. Consequently, for the services of a sound engineer, expect to pay a hefty price. It’s not unjustified, but it’s more like Hollywood budget than SME marketing funds. By contrast, I have more than my average client needs, but nothing like the quantity or quality of a full-on sound engineer.

My aim with sound is to make sure my clients get better than they thought they needed because THAT is what will hold audience through their video. And if getting people to watch your video to the end isn’t your goal, what is?

Real World Example

As a real example of the challenges faced by the videographer tackling sound, the video below was recorded in a very echoey space with noisy engineering works going on next door. Setting the mic as close as possible to the sitter helped with the worst of it, but now I have better mics and more experience, I’d do an even better job today!

For more examples, see my Video page. Or just to have a chat about whether I can help with your next video project, drop me a line.

 

Grape Expectations

I am so sorry for that headline. Be assured, that’s the worst pun in this post!

One of the joys of my work is in meeting and photographing creative people who are passionate about their particular field of business.

When this work comes through recommendation, that makes it even more rewarding.

And so it was with Neil Tully MW (that’s Master of Wine to the uninitiated).

Neil, founder and creative director of Amphora Design in Bath, came to me through recommendation, even though he couldn’t remember who’d recommended me.

But that’s less important than the fact that Neil’s requirements were a perfect fit for what I do.

Neil needed fresh images for his professional social media and industry profile listings, but also for less predictable uses. He’s occasionally asked to supply pictures for editorials too, so I bore that in mind for our shot list.

Getting the right variety

A brief like this can seem woolly and vague, but I knew his photo session should cover the following:

  • Plain headshot against white/plain background
  • Headshots with some background interest
  • Feature-style images showing more of Neil in his surroundings

 

Vintage Chateau

The next question was where to do the session.

Amphora Design is the international wine industry’s specialist design and branding consultancy, but that doesn’t lend itself to an easy backdrop for pictures. One office of computers looks much like any other.

After a little more discussion, Neil and I decided that since his business location wouldn’t give us any specific advantages in terms of backgrounds, his home would be the better choice.

It turns out that Neil’s home in rural Somerset had the perfect combination of light, space and architectural interest to give us options for everything we needed.

A handsome, period building with room to set up a backdrop and lights, we also had a choice of feature backgrounds. Tall windows meant I could use natural light too, even though the day was quite grey.

A wonderful finish

We got the headshots done first because they’re the ‘safety shots’. If nothing else quite works, at least you’ve got the basic portraits in the bag. Headshots can often end up being rather routine, but on this occasion I had time to add a mix of closer and landscape oriented options which also worked well. They’ll give Neil more design scope too.

Then we moved on to the more editorial-style pictures. Using window light and an interesting, but uncluttered background created a more relaxed, less formal set of pictures. Perfect for PR and editorial use.

And before we knew it, we were done. A tidy set of images, taken over a couple of hours of conversation and laughs, it barely felt like work at all.

But that’s the joy of meeting and photographing creative people who are passionate about their particular field of business.

If you’re passionate about yours, but your images don’t show this, drop me a line and let’s get started.

Cheers!

Tim