From the Archive: The Musicians

This week I’m going to talk about a collection of pictures which are relatively recent, but which seem much older. To be honest, anything from 2020 now feels like a different era.

Rachel and Silas

One, a portrait of Rachel Byrt, is already in my Business Portraits portfolio. While the other, featuring Silas Wollston, hasn’t made it in yet, but I think it needs to because it’s a strong image. There are in fact a few potential candidates in the set.

Viola player Rachel and harpsichordist and organist Silas visited my home back in August 2020. It was part social/part portrait session, so for the portraits we made space in our kitchen/dining room for a mini studio. As ever through 2020, the prevailing Covid restrictions were observed.

Working Smart

Being such a tight space, I had to be creative with just a single studio light and a black backdrop which I used as a flag to control the lighting. Our bright yellow feature wall took up backdrop duty. This worked very well for both the colour and black and white photos.

Each portrait required a slightly different setup, but for an impromptu music session I took the studio gear away and captured some action using my medium format film camera.

Because Rachel and Silas are busy professionals, it was important to ensure they had a decent choice of pictures for different areas of their work. Also, without knowing where pictures will be used it was important to have a variety of upright and landscape oriented images. Both Rachel and Silas have their own picture galleries from which they can download what they need, when they need it.

Ready for the Comeback

I would love to do more musician profile work, but of course it’s been a tough time in the creative arts. Fingers crossed 2022 will be the year when live music really gets going again. When it does, I’ll certainly be happy to do my bit whenever it happens.

A Shot In The Arm for Vaccinations

Just as I thought things were getting quieter for August, last week went from just one photography job on the diary to four. Three were last-minute requests, but all were welcome. All of them were thoroughly enjoyable.

Off to the Races!

The photo session I’m featuring here took place on Thursday when I was asked to make a series of images to promote Covid vaccination amongst the younger population.

16 to 25-year olds have been called forward by the catchily titled NHS BANES, Swindon & Wiltshire CCG to have their vaccinations at Bath Racecourse and I was asked to create a set of images showing the journey through the vaccination process.

I’ll only feature the two images which have already been used in the Twitter campaign so far, but the set came to almost 90 images, more of which I’m sure will be published in the future and across multiple media.

The Look and the Flow

A couple of critical factors helped keep this set tight; avoiding holding anyone up and ensuring only those who’d granted permission were included in the photos. This is a delicate area requiring care and diplomacy. The bull-in-a-china-shop approach isn’t my style anyway, and wouldn’t have got me anywhere.

But working nimble and alert and using a simple set-up all helped give the set a certain look. All the shots were taken using available light and the majority were taken on a single, fixed lens (as were the two images here).

In fact using just one fixed lens also helped keep the set unified, and this helps the story to flow. It’s a technique I use whenever possible, and certainly on anything requiring a photo-documentary approach.

Photography with a Purpose

I would have loved to have documented more of the covid crisis right from the start, but without a media outlet or a client commission, it would have been a reckless exercise. I’m pleased I got this opportunity, and though it was brief (and intense!) I can at least hope that my images will help encourage a younger cohort to step up for their jabs.

For the very latest information regarding Covid, please visit NHS.org.

No One’s Bursting My Bubble

I’m not sure “busy” quite describes the intensity of my work recently. The fact is, since April I’ve been busier than at any other time in my 23-year freelance career.

This is a post-covid bubble for sure. Pent-up plans, postponed events and long-neglected websites have suddenly become the focus of many corporate marketing teams, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many to shoot the stills, and now video, they need to bring those plans to fruition.

Biggest Project to Date

One project in particular has dominated my diary. I suspect this won’t be the only blog post I reference to it either, and that has been the stills and video content for Shaw & Co’s new website.

Shaw & Co has been a long-standing client of mine. In fact I first photographed company founder Jim Shaw way back in 2010 when he was at a different, now defunct firm in Bath. But my work with the Bristol-based corporate finance firm came about by a chance google search for a photographer which has kept me going back ever since 2017.

And so for the past 5 years I’ve been taking Shaw & Co’s team shots, head shots and office stock images. But then during 2020 their Chief Marketing Officer Paul Mills brought me into the picture about their plans for a re-brand. This was going to be a bit more than the usual photo session.

This time there would be video alongside stills on the website, so I started to look into whether I could deliver that for them. My cameras were video-enabled, but I knew enough about video to understand you don’t simply switch from stills to video mode and wave the camera about a bit. At least not if you want anything vaguely usable.

Lockdown Learning

Lockdown proved a useful breathing space for me to research and learn the very basics, but there’s nothing quite like having an actual commission on the books to focus the mind. In fact it was essential for me to have a goal to work towards. Video is a huge discipline and you can stray off in all directions if there’s no end-goal. You can also spend your way to bankruptcy if you’re not careful. Knowing what the requirements were for what I needed to deliver allowed me to focus on the kit and the skills I needed to develop as priority.

Being Part of the Process

Perhaps what has been most unusual about this project is just how deeply embedded I’ve been with its development – seeing the brand graphics as they evolved, liaising with the design agency Design By Structure at various stages and even finding my own suggestions being incorporated where appropriate. With some projects I feel I could be a robot with a camera, told to “stand there, shoot that,” but not on this occasion; I was definitely part of the team here.

The website launched this week and given the time period over which it has been developed and implemented, it really is an astonishing achievement. I’ve known much smaller projects to take far longer, which is testament to Paul’s enthusiasm and drive and his ability to enthuse all those around him.

Having Faith Helps

It’s also fair to say that the confidence Paul (and Jim) placed in me has sometimes outstripped my own self-belief, but I’m incredibly proud of the speed of my development and more importantly of the work I’ve turned in.

You can now see the stills and video clips over at Shaw & Co’s new website and even if their work isn’t an area you’re familiar with, I’d love to know your thoughts here.

Is That It Then?

Now I know I said this was a post-lockdown bubble, and things have quietened off a little as we get into August, but I’m still busy with new work and projects which were delayed by covid.

I also know that whatever happens next, I’ve gained valuable skills I can offer new and existing clients. I also know Shaw & Co are keen to build upon what we’ve started, so bubble or not, I’m confident there’s more to come.

IT’S BACK!

After all the grief and uncertainty of the past 15 months, it was a genuine pleasure to be back photographing the SOE Skills Challenge at S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol last week.

There were all manner of Covid securities in place, including testing of all participants and support colleagues (myself included), mask-wearing, cleaning and social distancing.

My Role

Regular readers will have seen me write about this before, but of course last year’s event was cancelled. This year was my 6th Skills Challenge and while it’s become familiar photographic territory for me, each year I try to bring something new to the coverage.

One of my tasks during testing week is to supply “rush” images for the PR team to use for social media posts and updates during the event. I’ll usually choose a selection of the morning’s images and supply these ready-formatted for easy upload to Twitter, Facebook and so on.

Bringing Something New

This year, in addition to those rushes, I decided to deploy my 360 camera so people could get a better sense of the environment and context of the event even while it was happening.

As a result of the interactive 360 panoramas, SOE’s Facebook posts achieved far greater engagement than had been seen previously. For Twitter, the regular still images were perfect (Twitter can’t display 360s properly unless there’s something I’ve missed!)

I don’t have access to SOE’s social media statistics, but my contact was astonished to see how much more widely the posts were liked, shared and commented on compared with previous years. Much of this will have been down to the more immersive 360 images like this one:

As I say, I also supplied regular stills to support the social media posts and of course I’ve since edited and supplied the high-resolution files for SOE’s web and print publications. The images will also be used at the awards ceremony in September, which I’m looking forward to covering too.

Shining A Light on Vital Workers

What I love about this event is how it brings a focus to skilled technicians whose work is vital, yet rarely seen or acknowledged. Next time you’re on a bus or coach, or see one going about its duties on Britain’s roads, you know it’s there and working because of the skills and dedication of engineers, many of whom work unsociable hours to keep our public transport running smoothly.

Next Year?

So now I have a little under 12 months to think about what I will bring next year to keep my coverage fresh and evolving. It might be a change of approach or technique, but I already have a couple of ideas. I guess you’ll just have to watch this space to find out!

Smart Power to the People

When communicating an abstract or technical idea, creative photography is vital for engaging your readers.

In this case study I’ll share some insights of a shoot I undertook for University of Bath late last year.

Background.

We needed to illustrate the university’s research into managed power distribution and supply, in particular the regulation of the “last mile” from the national grid into your home. You might not think the subject electrifying, but actually it’s interesting research and vital to anyone who uses electricity!

The research by Furong Li, Professor in Electrical Power Systems, is looking at how mass data can be used to adjust supply to the home according to real-time demand. Currently the supply is regulated using relatively old data and inflexible systems.

You can see the article here, but in this post I’ll go into the background to the photography.

Concept.

When I was approached by the university’s web content editor, she already had the idea to use a model of a pylon, while I suggested we match that up with a location where a real pylon could reinforce the initial idea.

Furong came up with the location and so we met on a slightly dreary November morning to make the pictures.

Actually the dreariness helped because I wanted to use portable lighting to make the shots more three-dimensional, and the clouds added drama.

Execution.

Having got some basic headshots in the bag “just in case”, we then played with various ideas and positions to ensure there was a good variety of images to choose from; not only for the initial article, but also for other uses down the line.

Photographers often forget to shoot “around” the subject or the idea, leaving the client little to choose from should an initial layout change, or when the shots are needed in different media. I’ve just shown you a couple of the other shots here, with the final choice being visible in the article itself.

This was no huge production; the ideas were simple and effective and the final results are eye-catching. Perfect for an article you want people to notice in a sea of online content.

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.

PR Photography in Lockdown

In my recent article Measured Success I described how a couple of simple items, a tape measure and chalk, allowed me to work a public relations photoshoot and still keep everyone safe.

This week I thought I’d share a bit more about that job with you.

The client was Seko Logistics, who had undertaken to deliver free personal protective equipment (PPE), supplied by Alexandra Workwear, to all 69 care homes in The Order of St John Care Trust group, starting with their home in Thornbury, Bristol.

Now this was never going to make the tight group shot I would normally aim to produce, but given the circumstances I felt the distancing between the people in the photo would not only keep everyone safe, but would also help make the picture visually interesting.

The light was difficult (when isn’t it?), so I had to put up a couple of high powered studio flash units. Without them the people’s faces would have been silhouetted and I also wanted to pick out some detail of the building too. The only giveaway is the shadow of the care nurse which runs contra to the shadows cast by the sun behind the people and building.

That’s ok though. I’d rather ensure the people were sufficiently lit than have to spend ages trying to wrestle with the exposure levels in post production, which would never have looked as good or had the crisp, colourful impact this image has.

The result is a photo which the client has been able to use not only in their own social media feeds, but which has gone around their various industry publications too. I’m always pleased to see my pictures working hard for a client and I know the client is also pleased with how everything went and the result at the end.

So while organisations will be struggling to balance many conflicting requirements right now, it’s wise to keep an eye out for any stories which your business could put out as a press release. With professional care and execution, it’s still possible to get good PR coverage and raise your business profile with something positive.

Beyond the Brief

Next time you’re planning to update the photography for your corporate communications, why not consider allowing some additional creative time within the session? Allowing some creative space beyond the brief could result in some interesting results.

An excellent example of this is from November last year when I was commissioned to create new team head shots for business data analysts Kaiasm – I’m massively paraphrasing what they do for the sake of brevity.

There was one shot which I pretty much took as a bit of a joke; I’d noticed how the data graph behind the founder Liam McGee’s head made him look like he had a halo. When I mentioned this to him, he obliged with a suitable pose and expression and I took the shot.

The photo was included in the final edit because I know clients often enjoy the odd outtake in their set, but I didn’t expect to see it used.

A couple of weeks later, the local paper ran the photo with an article about Kaiasm and their pending expansion plans.

So allowing some creative freedom and a dollop of humour can lead to unexpectedly useful results. That photo will have drawn far more attention to the article than any plain headshot or stock image of the office would have done, and will have conveyed Kaiasm as a business run by human beings, not robots.

Bear in mind the creative possibilities, even the occasional happy accident afforded by engaging a professional photographer, and you may find the results are a revelation.

Sweet Luxury

The other day I was asked to come into a business in Bristol to undertake a portrait session so members of staff could post to Twitter and LinkedIn with fresh, up-to-date (and importantly, professionally-taken) profile photos.

The pictures were taken at the end of an in-house social media training seminar, and I suspect this helped convince attendees of the importance of a decent avatar portrait. I believe this kind of training is an excellent idea for businesses wanting their staff to help promote the brand on online platforms, and of course a clean, clear profile photo gives their posts greater gravitas.

What made it for me though, apart from the lovely welcoming people I got to work with, was the huge amount of space I was given to work in.

If your business has just taken over larger premises and you haven’t quite expanded into it just yet, take the opportunity to make headway on your headshots. While the entire office isn’t crammed with furniture and people, it makes a great space to work in and I can light the portraits better than if I’m shoehorned into a stationery cupboard, or a board room with an immovable table filling it.

Of course once you’ve filled the space, I’ll need to come back to photograph all the newly appointed team members. Don’t worry though, as long as there is room enough, I can make the lighting work. It’s just so much nicer when there’s space a-plenty.

 

Slave to the Algorithm

Photographing events doesn’t get more funner (new word) than when I’m left to get on and be a fly on the wall, and the NWERC is a fine example of an event packed with opportunities for any keen-eyed, camera-toting fly.

Now, rather than me trying to specify the essence of the event, and getting it horribly mangled, how about I let the event speak for itself. From the NWERC website,

“The Northwestern Europe Regional Contest (NWERC) is a contest in which teams from universities all over the Northwestern part of Europe are served a series of algorithmic problems. The goal of each team is to solve as many problems as possible within the 5 hour time limit.”

Got it? Good, but what’s my role in the event? Well obviously to generate photos which can be used by the event organisers, host and participating universities in order to generate publicity for future years’ events.

My main task is to capture the runners-up and winning team as they take to the stage once all the scores are in, which is all good fun in and of itself, but the bit I really enjoy is when I’m roaming the hall during the last hour or so of the coding time.

That’s when the teams are either at their most ecstatic or at their wits end. Last November’s event was the second year running I got the commission, so I knew what to expect and where to go for the best images.

Starting with a fairly spectacular scene showing the sports hall packed with aching brains, I then made my way to ground level to get in amongst the coders and record the triumphs and tragedies as they waged war with algorithmic problems.

And if you’re wondering what’s with all the balloons, a team would receive one each time the automated scoring system detected they’d cracked a problem. You can imagine the pressure of seeing other teams amassing more balloonage (another new word) than yours. I thought some of the teams were ready to float off!

Sadly for me the event isn’t happening in Bath this year, but it may return another year. If it does, I’ll be ready and waiting to get my wings buzzing and my segmented eyes trained back on the subject. As long as I don’t go completely Geoff Golblum, I’ll enjoy being a fly on the wall once again.