Staying Sharp

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

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

First glimmers of work

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

Film, of course!

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

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

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

 

Continuing Landscapes

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

An Alternative Plan.

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

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

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

Closer To Home.

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

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

My Response.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Bits ‘n’ pieces.

Yes it’s still quiet on the whole, but business is definitely happening.

My Salisbury Plain project has been keeping me busy, and now with film stock secured for the next several months thanks to the generosity of those who support my work, I’ll be able to carry that on for quite some time to come.

In the meantime, I’ve continued updating and tweaking my website with new Testimonials and portraits being the main focus.

On top of all this, work has been coming in. Not thick and fast just yet, but there are promising signs of new clients contacting me as well as old ones getting back in touch.

I’m actually really looking forward to encouraging clients to be more adventurous in the style of business shots I take for them. I have the kit, the skills and the imagination. Now all I need is the right client and the right opportunity.

So if you’re a business looking to get your marketing back up to speed, drop me a line and let’s get the ball rolling.

Get me a coffee!

Last week I spoke about the tentative shoots of recovery as I was starting to receive enquiries and bookings again, but I did temper this with a word of caution that times would be tricky for a while yet.

What this means for many, including myself, is a constant process of working out what’s next and how we can keep going. For my part I’ve already made quite a few adjustments and will have to continue to find new ways of working and earning until the economy recovers, whenever that might be.

Lowering Costs

One fortuitous decision I took at the tail end of last year was to quit the office I’d been renting for the previous 8 years and convert an outhouse at home into a workspace, nicknamed The Bunker. Perhaps I had some incredible foresight into future events because it’s been one of the most beneficial decisions I’ve taken in a long time. Now I’m working rent-free, claiming additional work-from-home tax allowances and I have an editing space designed to my needs.

During lockdown it’s also meant I had an office which opens onto my garden, which has helped save my soul.

Diversifying

I’ve also finally ventured into video. Adding a new skill will make me more valuable to my existing and future clients. It’s also really interesting and creative in a way I hadn’t expected, and allows me to play with sound, which has always been a fascination of mine. I’ve already had enquiries about that, so I’m hopeful it will prove beneficial to my clients.

Rattling the Tin

On the flip side of my client work are my personal projects, which are so vital to my practice. These have obviously suffered through lockdown, but I’m starting them up again as best I can.

There is a challenge here though; personal projects have always been partially funded through client work, which is, as I say, tentative.

Tentative also describes the level of print sales through takeagander.co.uk. These were always a longer-term goal as it’s tough to build them up, so currently they’re not supporting the personal work either.

So I’ve set up a ko-fi account (ko-fi.com/takeagander) where people can support me with small donations if they’re not ready to buy a print. The takeagander website is peppered with “Buy me a coffee” buttons which take you to the donation page. Even the smallest amount will help, so do please spread the word by sharing the link far and wide. And of course you can make a donation here too if you’d like to support my work.

Currently I have a modest £100.00 goal to raise money for film which is already 30% funded. Since it’s only been up a short while, that’s astounding! This will be used for my current project, an un-sentimental journey across Salisbury Plain.

More to Come

Other plans are afoot, but too early to reveal yet. So to get early notice of developments, keep watching this space, or sign up to my newsletter at takeagander.co.uk. You can also see projects unfolding at takeagander on Instagram.

Also, feel free to drop me a line, comment here, or send a carrier pigeon. Moral support really is just as welcome as the financial assistance.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride for all of us, so I’ll keep saying this; if there is some way I can help you and your business, drop me a line and let’s see if we can’t make the road ahead a little smoother.

My Personal Plain

Casual visitors to my website might be a bit confused if they read my blog. I’m supposed to be all Mr Corporate Headshot, Mr Corporate Comms and so on, yet my blog is often about my personal work.

Certainly SEO “experts” would have a thing or two to say about the fact that I’m not plugging the corporate work week-in, week-out, but I’m not sure they understand photography (or people), which in my view is a bit of a shortcoming.

Those experts will presumably have some understanding of search engine algorithms, but I’m more interested in posting material which allows potential clients a more three-dimensional view of my practice.

Which is why this week I am posting pictures from Salisbury Plain*, my current personal project.

After months of barely leaving the house, I was so pleased to be able to get back on the project and I’m happy to share a few of the latest results with you. Some, if not all of these, will be made available as fine art prints via my takeagander website where you can see more images from this project which I made before lockdown.

But given that this blog often veers away from the pure business of corporate communications work, how does a project like this help potential clients choose me over the next photographer? Why do I post personal work here? Let’s turn that around and ask, “What kind of photographer would I be if I didn’t do personal projects?”

Go to a dozen photographer websites and the majority will tell you at some point just how passionate they are about photography. All too often this doesn’t show through their work. I believe they are passionate about being a photographer, but mostly because they like having, or being seen with, cameras. There’s a chasm of distinction between being genuinely passionate about photography, and liking taking pictures (or liking owning nice camera gear).

My personal work is mostly shot on film using a variety of relatively low-tech, often un-glamorous cameras, because photography is the important part to me, not owning the gear or being seen to have the latest equipment. Working this way is also part of my “keep fit” regime in that it keeps my photographic eye honed even during quieter periods (lockdown being an extreme example).

In a world where “everyone’s a photographer” my passion isn’t just about being a photographer, it extends to the purpose of photography, its purpose and value to society. Getting heavy now, huh? Sorry, that’s really a whole other blog post there.

Perhaps next time you’re looking to book a photographer other than myself for a job (yes, I do know this happens!), take a look to see what personal projects they’re working on. If there are none, ask yourself if they’re genuinely as passionate as they say they are.

*I haven’t yet settled on a permanent title. I’m passionate about finding a good one.

Because History Matters

Last Sunday there was a Black Lives Matter rally in my home town and I felt a strange compulsion to cover it as a photographer. Strange because I normally shy away from large gatherings for personal work.

However I support the aims of the BLM cause, and I also felt that since this movement had resonated all the way to the relatively small, rural town of Frome in Somerset, the local story should be told too.

Because no one was paying me to go I decided I would shoot black and white film. There was another motivation for this – given that in 100 years’ time it’s possible that digital images of today will be inaccessible, perhaps shooting on film would present an insurance against digital degradation. Future generations would be able to see us, in protest, working to change the future.

I approached the rally as if I had been commissioned by my local paper, creating a mini series of images suitable for a double page spread. That would give me a structure to work to beyond just taking a random set of pictures, so I prepared my kit, loaded film and set off.

At first I didn’t think many people would be there. The weather was cold and wet, social distancing is still in place, and I hadn’t seen much publicity for the event. However as the start time approached, people arrived in reassuringly high numbers.

There was one particular shot I knew I needed to get to justify my un-commissioned intrusion and it’s the photo I had in mind from the moment I decided to attend. It’s the final shot in this gallery and I was the only photographer with the foresight to capture it.

After the event I decided to turn the pictures around as fast as I could and I posted that last frame to the Frome Facebook page. To say the reaction was intense is an understatement. I don’t think I’ve ever had an image be so widely liked and shared online ever.

Perhaps it is a shame I wasn’t commissioned to go, but I’m glad I did because if such big stories are left to random photos on individuals’ iPhones, there is a risk no permanent record will exist for future historians and generations to refer back to.

In fact I bought this week’s local paper to see how they covered the story.

They didn’t.

On Being a Photographer

“Never Too Old to Learn” is the title of one of the assignments from the newspaper photography course I attended back in 1992.

I remember it particularly well because I ended up contriving a story in which a grandmother was learning to fly helicopters. Of course she wasn’t actually learning to fly helicopters, but since this was just an exercise in illustration it didn’t have to be a true story.

I found a suitably elderly model and a suitably cooperative helicopter pilot, put the two together and took some shots which worked pretty well. All lies, but it fulfilled the purpose of the assignment and the grandmother had a blast.

The reason I’m reminded of this particular college assignment now is because I’ve just bought a copy of “On Being A Photographer” by David Hurn and Bill Jay. Even as a photographer with 30+ years in his back pocket, I still expect to learn a great deal from reading this book.

The other college-days connection here is that David Hurn founded the School of Documentary Photography in Newport. I went to Stradbroke college in Sheffield because that was where budding newspaper photographers went if they wanted to get into the industry. Us Stradbrokers would scoff at the Newport photographers because they had a reputation for swanning about in desert boots while carrying Billingham bags and dreams of shooting for National Geographic.

We were “the real photographers” who would all go on to work for The Independent or Observer magazine, covering conflict and strife around the globe. In reality Newport was a very fine college (the very best for photo-documentary training) and we had as much chance of fulfilling our perceived destinies as those who went to Newport. In other words, not much chance at all.

Actually, most of us did at least make it on to local and regional papers and one or two of us worked with national titles. Even now, one or two of our cohort are still working (albeit occasionally) for international titles.

But Stradbroke for me was 28 years ago. So why have I gone back to the books? In particular one written by the founder of a course I disparaged at the time? Simple; I’ve grown up. I’ve changed and I continue to change. I’m always looking at new sources of inspiration and solid foundations for new knowledge. I slightly wish I’d been able to go to Newport, even better go to Newport AND Stradbroke; that would have been incredible, but it wasn’t possible.

On Being A Photographer has a particular focus on the kind of work I do in my personal projects now and in this regard it will prove invaluable. I know I’ll learn new, better approaches and I’ll have a clearer understanding of how a photo essay should be approached.

It might take me another 30 years, but I hope this book will put me on the path to being a better documentary photographer. I’ll have to let you know how it goes.