Do You Love Photography?

Loving Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filthy Lucre

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

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

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

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

A Diminished Industry Hurts Us All

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

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

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

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

Pups For Sale

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

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

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

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

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 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

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.

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.

A Paradigm Shift in Portraits

At the risk of stating the obvious, the C word is creating difficulties for all kinds of businesses, but what’s been making the news agenda this week is the problems caused by the new home-working paradigm.

For all the benefits to office workers who no longer have a daily commute, the businesses relying on the office economy, from landlords to sandwich vendors, are in trouble.

Even with some hope of an end to the mass contagion of a couple of months ago, it’s not as if there are many signs that businesses and their staff are clamouring to return to the old ways of working.

So if you’ll indulge me to be somewhat selfish for a moment, this has a knock-on effect for my trade too.

When deciding to update a website with fresh office photography, most of my clients will choose a date when the majority of their staff are in. Not only does this mean I can get shots of a busy office, but I’ll also get fresh head shots of as many people as possible in a single visit.

That is no longer (necessarily) possible. If businesses are only inviting small teams in at any given time, there might never be an opportunity to photograph enough people to make a session viable, unless some new thinking is employed. That’s what I’d like to set out here.

Consider The New Normal.

Low-key portrait of a young female architectural assistant wearing glasses, looking directly into camera, not smile.

Simplicity is powerful.

Things have to change, at least for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. This means I have to work smarter and differently, and clients have to understand the new constraints in the round.

Traditionally, if a client required a series of headshots against white (grey, or black, but usually white), I would hoof several bags of kit plus an unwieldy backdrop into the office. This might involve multiple trips to/from the car, or a client would help carry my kit in.

This isn’t ideal when you have multiple doors, lifts and other obstacles to tackle and heightens the risk of cross-contamination.

So perhaps a change of approach is needed: I can work more nimbly if all I need is basic kit and no backdrop. Perhaps the age of the headshot against white is over. It will enforce a wider change in look and feel to the portraits too, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

If done with skill and care, a new style can look just as professional.

A New Honesty About Costs.

Ouch, but wait: A photographer can make multiple trips to an office in order to capture all the colleagues in smaller sessions, but inevitably this increases cost. Well perhaps this just requires an adjustment in perception. Photography has been cheap as chips for many years now, so perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate budgets and accept it may never be as cheap again.

Alternatively, to keep costs down, be more selective about who ends up on the About Us page. Ask the question, “Who needs to be visible?” Occasionally I’ve felt as if I’m photographing people just so they don’t feel left out or under-valued. Sometimes I’ve felt this was more a concern of the client than it was of the person standing in front of me who I’m working to relax out of an expression of “I hate having my picture taken, so why am I included in this?” Think about who really needs to appear in corporate communications.

Combining the new normal with an acceptance of higher cost (or being more selective), it’s worth considering that if people are going to work from home more, perhaps that’s where their portraits need to be taken.

Does your corporate imagery have to pretend people are working in an office building when they’re not? It’s also possible, through either photographic or post-production techniques, to diminish the domestic influence in the photograph and create a consistent look across all the portraits even where multiple locations are involved.

I can even bring a backdrop into the home if needed. It’s often easier than getting it into an office building.

Again this has cost implications, but are they insurmountable? By being selective and canny, I think costs can be kept reasonable.

The Bottom Line

The “bottom line” isn’t the bottom line. It’s worth remembering that powerful, engaging photography for your business isn’t about Value for Money, it’s about quality and aesthetics. As un-measurable as that might seem, that is what will help sell your services.

All of this starts with creative conversations, so talk to me. Let me know what you’re trying to achieve and I’ll help you achieve it in the best way possible.

First Shoots of Recovery?

“Ok, here’s the future – everything is going to be fantastic. Business will pick up again” is what I wrote only last week.

Now I don’t wish to jinx what is clearly a very tentative, timid signal, but I am starting to get more bookings again, which is just fantastic!

Of course it’s early days and there will be tough times ahead. I think things will continue to be difficult and unpredictable for at least the next 12 months. I also think that the businesses which want to survive and thrive will keep on top of their marketing and this will involve fresh photography.

That businesses are starting to re-focus on the future is particularly encouraging, so let’s keep this week’s post brief and positive.

If you’re thinking in terms of getting your website bang-up-to-date or looking for an opportunity to get some PR going, drop me a line.

We can do this together.

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.