Co-working Spaces For Corporate Photography

Tips for hiring a co-working hub when you have no office, or your office isn’t suitable.

While co-working spaces have been a growing trend for more than a decade, the Covid 19 pandemic definitely accelerated the move away from fixed, permanent offices for many businesses.

More generally, the co-working or shared office trend also reflects the post-pandemic rise in entrepreneurial ventures as people move away from wanting to work within large organisations, and more towards fulfilling their own dreams and ambitions.

Even large organisations have migrated teams out of big central hubs in favour of smaller, regional centres. It’s a trend which is currently growing, with little sign of abating.

Whatever the size of your business, there could be many reasons you don’t want a shoot in whatever space you have – perhaps it’s too small, or maybe it’s an uninspiring red brick cube with cramped desk-filled cubbies and a boardroom that serves its function, but isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

The Hiring Option

So if hiring a suitable space in a co-working environment is an option for your next corporate photography session, what are the advantages and disadvantages? And how can you get the most out of it?

This article will guide you through some of the challenges of finding the right spot for your office-less office shots and corporate portraits.

The Advantages

There are genuine advantages to having a photo session in a co-working hub:

• The look to suit you – from ultra-modern to supercool, you can find a space which reflects your attitude, personality and business values. Even better, all that interior design work has been done for you; it’s a photo set ready and waiting for you.

• Flexibility – depending on the requirements of the photo session, you can negotiate anything from a couple of hours to an entire day. Likewise you can scale the size of space you need depending on whether it’s a few simple headshots, images to reflect a meeting, a huddle or colleague collaboration across desks.

• All the kitchen and toilet facilities are there, and in the best hubs the staff will be only too willing and helpful when it comes to accommodating you and your team.

• Accessibility – if people are coming from various locations, co-working hubs are normally easily accessible by public transport or have parking nearby. Most co-working buildings, though sadly not all, are easily accessible by wheelchair too. That’s certainly worth checking in advance.

• A chance to get away from the desk – taking the time away from your usual surroundings to concentrate on your business image is no bad thing. It’s often a good time to have those “blue sky” thoughts while your brain is distracted by having to pose for the camera.

What To Look Out For

Of course you need to be aware of some of the pitfalls of this way of working.

• You’re away from the office! Although, I’d still argue the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of this.

• Finding the right space – with so much choice, it can be hard to find the space that fits your ethos precisely. I’m happy to help with this by offering ideas for locations I’ve used, or ones I’ve spotted and thought would be good. Here’s a search based on Bristol, my main city for work. Likewise for Bath, Chippenham and Swindon.

• Cost – It is an additional cost on top of the actual photography, but by leaving you (the client) to liaise directly with your chosen space, I don’t end up charging VAT on top of VAT, so it might not cost as much as you think.

• Finding enough space – Getting the right look can require a surprising amount of empty floor space, but I can usually advise on the best room to hire based on its size and flexibility.

• Fixtures and fittings – It’s surprising how many great looking spaces become difficult to work in because whichever way you turn, there’s a black monitor screen on a wall, an exposed conduit, light switches, thermostats, fire extinguishers, radiators, shelving, white boards… I could go on. The (often essential, sometimes arbitrary) wall clutter and objet d’art can ruin an otherwise promising space because it all gets into the background of a photo. It’s worth asking the host to send additional current photos of the space to include what’s on the walls from floor to ceiling height. Some things might be easily moved, others will be fixed, but hopefully some will be useful features in the photos.

• Lighting – I bring my mobile studio lighting kit to shape the light how I want it, but it’s still helpful to know in advance what windows or skylights are there and also what the light fittings look like. A chandelier might be groovy in real life, but it can look very odd in a business meeting shot. Again, a handful of current photos from the host can be useful here.

• It’s a shared space – While it might be easy to shut off a meeting room for a photo session, often the shared open spaces are full of photographic possibilities. This requires some diplomacy then if people are already set up and working in these areas, but I usually find a quick conversation about what we’re doing and how long we need is enough to minimise potential irritation.

• Things might change – From one photo session to the next, a co-working space might be refurbished, or they might close down. Ok, it’s a risk, but then few offices stay the same forever and there’s often a time at which it’s good to get everyone’s headshots re-done from scratch. That’s when a fresh space might be worth considering anyway.

Planning Planning Planning

The key to a successful photo session in a shared co-working facility is in planning the timing, location and access. Everything else is just the same as in working in your own space, such as choice of clothing and how you wish to present yourself to the camera.

With a little forward planning, your out-of-office photo session will not only be more successful, it’ll also be a more enjoyable experience.

If you would like more help on this, or any other aspect of planning your next corporate photo or video session, do drop me a line.

With thanks to Paul Albone and Stefanie Blundell of Pohco Consulting and their new venture Pasamelo for posing so brilliantly, and for their BTS shots of me, and to Futureleap Clifton for hosting us so brilliantly. I also recently used Origin in Berkeley Square, Bristol, who have some fantastic spaces and an incredibly friendly and helpful team.

 

You Can Photoshop That (truth in pictures)

When does photo manipulation matter?

I’m not going to dwell on recent events regarding the Royal Family and photo manipulation, but I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. This post is not a judgement or criticism of the Princess of Wales, I’m merely using this as a springboard to a wider topic.

Very often I’ll be taking pictures for a client and the phrase “you can fix that in Photoshop” will rear its ugly head. Sure, many things can be fixed in Photoshop (other image editing software is available), but let’s run through the basic considerations before leaping on the cut-n-paste tool.

Editing time

Moving things around in Photoshop during the editing process usually takes a lot longer than physically moving (or removing) them at the time of creating the photo. Any decent photographer will strive to get everything right in-camera, ie at the moment the photo is taken.

On the whole, I build my editing time into my fees so clients know from the get-go what they’ll be paying for a project. If I then need to extend the editing time to correct for something I wasn’t given time to fix on-site and in-camera, I then have to go back to the client with a revised bill. That’s not always popular.

Deadline

Following on from the previous point, if editing takes longer than planned, this can impact my ability to meet a deadline, so why not save the grief by making sure everything is as it should be at the time the photo is taken?

My Sanity

One thing I try to do when shooting corporate portraits, is ensure the sitter’s hair is tidy, that there aren’t strands across their face and that their clothes aren’t covered in bit of fluff, flakes of skin etc. If it’s a post-lunch shoot, I’ll check there’s no food in their teeth before I start.

Sitting at a computer for hours, endlessly retouching stray hairs, spotting out bits of fluff or removing food bits from between teeth (YUCK!) makes me die a little inside. Far better to spot these things in advance and deal with them in real life.

Ethics

Ok, so this ‘could’ get complicated, but I’ll try to keep it clear and simple.

A retouched or manipulated photo can be used in a business website, leaflet, brochure or corporate social media post (provided the post isn’t put out as a news piece).

Manipulated photos are often used in advertising, which explains why McDonalds’ burgers look edible in the roadside billboards, but taste like damp cardboard whenever you come to eating a real one.

A retouched or manipulated photo CANNOT be used in a press release or as a news image, regardless of destination (web, print, social media, projection onto the Moon). The only retouching allowed would be, for example, the removal of dust spots caused by muck on the image sensor. Minor colour, lightness and sharpening adjustments are fine, but the image has to be an accurate reflection of the captured scene.

Does this make advertorial* a grey area? I don’t think so. Provided the article is labelled as advertorial, image manipulation is acceptable because anyone seeing the article will know it’s not a news piece.

There is a real danger in the area of corporate communication via social media, as Amnesty International discovered when they used a series of AI-generated images to highlight their reports into police violence and sexual harassment in Columbia in 2021. In Amnesty International’s case, they did label their images as AI-generated, but their ethical stance was damaged by the use of fake imagery and they subsequently pulled the posts.

Now AI is a whole new kettle of weird fish, but the principle is the same; images put out by organisations as news or current affairs need to be true. The humble, local press release photo is not exempt just because its’ not going to be picked up by the BBC or Reuters.

And it’s easy to think that a small change doesn’t matter; inserting/removing/tweaking the colour of a company logo, moving or removing an element, addressing some sticking-up hair, putting a hard hat on someone who wasn’t wearing one on a building site – all these are no-nos when the images are destined for any kind of news use, which includes press release material. It doesn’t matter if it’s the local mayor presenting a giant cheque to the local hospice, or a national news event; if it’s offered as a news item it has to meet the criteria of a news image.

For more detailed guidelines on what can/cannot be adjusted in a news image, the Getty guidelines are a very good start.

Staged pictures

This set of pictures from 2023 is a great example of when PR coverage involves a mix of ‘live’ and staged images. The captions for each image explain more of this concept:

In the example above, we have three typical types of PR photo from a single event: the fly-on-the-wall shot, the staged-to-look-not-staged shot and the obviously-staged shot. The middle one is perhaps the least honest, but it’s fair to say that nothing has been added or taken away from the scene as it was captured. In the final photo, I seem to recall going round picking up litter to tidy things up, but again it’s an honest photo of the existing scene. The viewer isn’t fooled that the artist was directed to pose, and this is a common kind of PR photo, but nothing was manipulated in editing software.

What about…?

It’s debatable whether some historical news images would be allowed today. The Independent newspaper’s in-house style of very heavy vignetting in the 1980s and 90s would potentially fall foul of today’s code of ethics. At the very least, a caption note would have to be added to say that the sky had been ‘burned in’.

Other historical pictures were stitched together to recreate a scene from multiple images, but each individual image was not a manipulation; they’ve merely been sequenced into a panorama or extra-wide view of something which existed in front of the camera. Such a photo would require a special note to editors today, but could still likely pass the truth test.

The bottom line

Most importantly, we live in an age where it’s too easy to manipulate images. This degrades the public’s trust in what they see, so it’s more important than ever to ensure that what goes into our news media is true and honest. An insignificant tweak here, a slightly heavy-handed adjustment there and before you know it, a photo is no longer an honest record of a scene or event.

In the course of liaising with a client on their brief, I endeavour to make sure I know the end-purpose of the work. If I’m satisfied they’re purely for corporate communications, I’ll allow for more adjustments than if they’re for editorial. I can adjust images to enhance certain aspects of an image. I might extend a plain backdrop, I’ll tidy up stray hairs and flecks on clothing and more besides.

However, I still prefer to get all these aspects tidied up in real life. It saves my time and my sanity!

*Advertorial is when a client pays to have an editorial-style piece placed in a newspaper or magazine. It’s basically an advert, but usually has the look of an editorial article. Advertorials must always be labelled as such.

Case Study

When an old photo of my lighting kit popped up in my Facebook memories, the first thing I spotted was the bottle of wine. Of course it was. Not only did it remind me of the generosity of a particular client at the time, but it also sparked an idea to write an article about how kit has changed over time. So I took a photo of my kit today to compare and contrast.

Picture 1 was taken in 2015 and shows (apart from the wine) my portable studio flash lighting equipment of that era (in fact, this kit was already several years old by then).

Sadly the photo was already cropped square, so I can’t tell you what was in the rest of the bag; I’m guessing you’d see the second flash head, a spare battery and some other bits and pieces. I clearly took the photo for the purpose of showing off the bottle of wine I’d been given.

So, apart from the wine (shut up about the wine now, Tim), what else is different? Let’s go through some of the components in the bag, and then compare them with today’s kit in Picture 2. I’ve made these pictures BIG so you can see the labels.

At the top-left in Picture 1, you’ll see a trigger and receiver. Nothing remarkable there, except today’s receivers are built into the flash heads themselves. This saves having to Velcro a trigger to the back of the head and rely on a cable to send the firing signal to the flash. It’s a little bit tidier now.

The other disadvantage of the old system was that you could only adjust the power of the flash head by walking up to the controller pack and turning a dial. Modern units can be controlled from the camera, which saves a lot of time and back-and-forth.

This old kit was pretty revolutionary in its day. It was the first properly powerful, affordable kit that ran off batteries. It could be used outdoors and the light could be adjusted through softboxes, umbrellas or any number of other modifiers to achieve a particular look.

But technology moves on, and its main disadvantages over my current kit are power and control. The kit in Picture 2 is at least 50% more powerful than the kit it replaced. This might not seem that much, but it makes a big difference in photographic terms. The more modern design also has the advantage that each flash head is independently controllable from the other, and the increments of control are far finer than with the old kit.

The other disadvantage of the older kit was the build quality. The manufacturer, Lumedyne, is US-based and their kit looks and feels as though it’s been built by keen mechanics in a shed. Sometimes not all that well either. I remember screws dropping out, a control knob falling off and on one occasion, a loud POP! and a puff of blue smoke as an internal component blew up.

I probably had that kit for a decade though, and while it was expensive at the time, it more than paid for itself.

Thankfully, I’ve had the newer kit (made by Godox) for almost as long already, and it’s not showing any signs of ageing. I’ve added an extra spare battery as one of the originals isn’t taking a charge as well as it used to, but that’s about it.

Apart from technological advances, the other reason I switched to Godox was because Lumedyne is no longer distributed in the UK, so replacing parts or expanding the kit would be difficult.

Possibly more impressive than any of the technical advances of the contents is the case itself. Both flash kits have been safely transported inside the same LowePro Pro Roller 2 case, which must now be circa 20 years old. About a year ago, I finally replaced the wheels but apart from that this case just keeps… rolling.

The wine, sadly, is a distant memory, but good quality wine is readily available in several outlets. So next time I work with you, have a peek inside my rolling camera case while my back is turned. If there’s a wine bottle-shaped space in there, feel free to pop something nice in, like a Tempranillo or a Malbec. Some technology never really needs updating, just replenishing.

 

Two Cameras, Two Brains, One Photographer

Following on from my previous post focusing on my work with advanced propulsion R&I centre IAAPS (IAAPS for short) near Bristol, this week’s post centres on the official launch held in September last year.

However, rather than talk specifically about the opening itself, I’m going to use this as a case study to delve into the logistics and thought processes employed when covering an event like this.

This area of photography uses a different part of the brain from industrial work, which is very measured, precise and considered compared to the fly-on-the-wall, reactive style required for an official opening, especially one on the scale of the IAAPS launch.

The truth is, I enjoy both. Industrial photography is a chance to slow down, be methodical and produce images with a bit more finesse, while the launch event gets my editorial brain whirring. I’m having to react to emerging scenarios as I work my way through the brief and the events as they unfold.

Each aspect of an event like this requires a subtly different approach; choices around composition, timing, reading the light, lens selection – at times I’m making multiple decisions all at once. In these situations it helps to have both cameras on my shoulders; one for wide shots, and the other for long shots, which saves a lot of lens swapping.

And yet I have to remain calm and composed because no one needs a stressed photographer in the room.

Keeping a level of control starts with having a properly constructed brief in advance of the event, something IAAPS’ head of marketing communications is good at.

Armed with a solid brief, I can keep an eye on the timings of various key moments as well as check off the pictures I’ve achieved. Having a list I can work through methodically means I can keep the scale of the task in context. I can also look for additional off-brief pictures.

Reacting to changing moments and requirements is where the stress can creep in once again, but knowing how to pace a job and when to tie up an element of coverage is a skill in self-management.

For example, it’s easy to get bogged down in trying to capture absolutely everyone as they gather and chat. These make for good “flavour of the day” pictures, but not every attendee needs to be recorded. These pictures have their uses, but at some point, I have to gauge when opening speeches are about to start.

For this, I have one eye on the schedule, and one on the key speakers. Their behaviour changes as they realise they’re about to step up to the podium, and that’s my cue to ensure I have the right kit and settings already sorted.

Of course, I will have arrived ahead of the event to check out things like the light levels on the stage or the positioning of the podium, but these can change at the last minute, so it’s good to do a final check before speeches and presentations kick-off. Ideally, I’m in position before the speaker steps up onto the stage.

For speeches, I’m looking to capture the speakers with their heads up, eyes open and preferably making some kind of hand gesture. It’s also important to capture a variety of shots with design space around the subject, as well as a choice of upright and landscape orientations.

All this is to ensure that when the images are put out to press release, there’s something to fit the space on the page. If they’re used in corporate communications, either online or in print, that design space might be handy for a text box or graphic element.

Simultaneously, I’ll be looking for interesting and unusual angles, tight shots on the speakers as well as wider views showing the venue and audience.

If a speech is only a few minutes long, I have to make sure I divide the time carefully and prioritise the must-have images over the nice-to-have extras.

In the case of the IAAPS launch, there was a series of speeches followed by a ribbon-cutting. So I made sure that as the final speech drew to a close, my kit and I were both ready for that moment. This included organising the group, arranging the props and making sure the photographer behind me, who’d brought the wrong lens for the job, could also get a few shots without the back of my head being in the way.

This particular event was a busy one. After the ribbon cutting came tours of the facility for stakeholders and members of the press, so I was back in fly-on-the-wall mode, looking for interactions between visitors and the cells and capturing more images for potential press and industry journal use.

With an event like this, it’s important to pace the coverage. It’s too easy to get into a spin or to phase out and lose concentration. To most people, it might look like ‘just taking pictures of something happening’, but without a considered and measured approach, things can run away from the photographer very quickly. It’s important to take a moment every so often to pause and re-check the brief, the progress and the next stage, all while looking for ways to ensure the resulting pictures have as much impact as possible.

While there were no surprises at the end of this event, I always check in with my lead contact before pulling away. It’s also a good chance to double-check any urgent image requirements as sometimes the client will want a selection for immediate social media use or a press release.

Of course, the end of a job isn’t the end of the job; there’s captioning, editing, filing, supply and a whole load of other tasks around fully completing a job. Perhaps that’s a blog post for another time though. After 951 words, it’s time to take a break.

Future Power

Happy New Year! Let me kick off by wishing all my clients, past, present, and future a wonderful 2024 full of pleasant surprises.

Now we’ve had our fun and a bit too much chocolate, I’m kicking off the first blog post of 2024 by looking at some specific work I carried out between 2022 and 2023. Not for nostalgic reasons, but because it illustrates several aspects of my approach to various photographic tasks and challenges.

There’s a fair bit of ground to cover, so I’m dividing this into two posts. Make sure you’ve signed up to my blog if you don’t want to miss the second instalment!

This particular work was undertaken for the advanced propulsion R&I centre IAAPS (IAAPS for short) at Bristol and Bath Science Park near Bristol. I came to working with IAAPS through another client, University of Bath, which owns and part-funded the £70 million research facility.

Chances are you won’t have heard of IAAPS but in essence, it’s where vehicle propulsion research meets real-world implementation. Advances made here will find their way into internal combustion, hybrid, electric and hydrogen engines of the future. This could include propulsion fuels and methods not yet discovered!

What makes this a great case study for me is that my work for IAAPS has covered portraits, industrial, and event photography. The images have been used on the website, in press releases, and in printed promotional literature, because while IAAPS’ main function is automotive propulsion research, like any business it has to attract clients and investors to maintain its status in the top three research facilities of its kind in the world.

This requires marketing, which requires marketing materials. That’s where the photography comes in.

Let’s get into the photography then.

Portraits.

I won’t dwell on this aspect too much as I only had to do a handful of images of the Engineering Director and the Principal Engineer at a time when some creative editorial images were required for trade press and the website.

This was in 2022 when the facility, though substantially built, was still a building site. We were also still under COVID rules, so in I went, fully compliant with Health and Safety and COVID regulations.

Operating a camera while wearing a hard hat, goggles, gloves and a mask had its own challenges. The peak of the hard hat interfered with the flash trigger on top of my camera, while the mask caused my goggles to constantly steam up. Gloves don’t make operating the controls of a camera easy, but being fog-blind while trying to look through a viewfinder that isn’t up to your eye is “a bit awkward”.

Still, the session was short and these were hardly the biggest problems faced by humankind, so I was happy to fulfil the brief.

There was enough infrastructure already in place for me to use a backdrop which added some context, I just had to avoid including any dangling wires or ducts which hadn’t been finished and tidied away. In the event, a single softened flash on the subject and a second flash to clean up the backdrop gave me the results I needed.

Industrial.

More interesting in photographic technical terms was the industrial photography. In 2023, I was booked in to take pictures of completed test cells where the research and testing take place.

For much of this work, I was able to use a tripod which opened up new photographic possibilities.

With the camera “locked off” I could use the High Resolution (HR) mode of my cameras. While the pictures would be used mainly on the website, where super-high resolution is less important, I was thinking ahead to when the client might want to use the images on large printed displays such as pop-up banners.

In this mode, the camera takes 8 pictures of the same scene, shifting the image sensor in each of eight directions as it goes. This captures details which would otherwise fall between pixel sites on the sensor. The camera combines the eight images into a single high-resolution RAW file which is four times larger than the native image resolution of the camera. In short, I’m capturing a 96MB file instead of the standard 24MB one.

So if my client ever needs to blow the image up to fill an exhibition display, the resolution will hold up far better than if they’re trying to print from a regular file. To my knowledge, HR mode outstrips the resolution of any comparable camera on the market. It could be bettered by a medium-format camera, but then the cost of the shoot becomes somewhat prohibitive, and almost certainly overkill for the needs of my client.

This technique works best where both the camera and the scene are completely still. Since the camera is on a tripod, and nothing is moving in the test cells, it’s the perfect scenario for using HR.

Alongside the general views of the cells, I was also tasked with capturing details of the rigs, vehicles, sensors and other equipment. Often this involved hand-holding the camera, so HR mode wasn’t going to work because of the risk of movement between each of the eight frames being captured. Also, you can’t use flash in HR mode, and some of the equipment required additional illumination using my portable studio flashes to lift shadows or to add a touch of additional colour using gels.

The gallery above shows a selection of the original images alongside screengrabs from the IAAPS site to show them in context.

These images are less likely to be blown up to create a full-bleed banner display, but high quality was still an obvious consideration when I took them, so of course I made sure I had one of my favourite lenses in my bag for this purpose.

One of the joys of the latest cameras (you may have heard the term “mirrorless”, which I won’t explain here) is that you can adapt older lenses to fit them. The Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 macro lens, launched in 1979, is designed for close-up photography. Indeed it’s considered by many as the benchmark by which all other close-up lenses are measured. I have no idea when mine was made, but they were in production for decades.

It’s also an excellent all-round lens for non-close-up work, being sharp and with no discernible distortion. It was perfect for the detail shots in the test cells where I was working at standard distances one minute, and extreme close-ups the next.

I decided to use this lens because I knew it covered everything I needed. I have more modern lenses with close-focusing abilities, but the Nikkor has the edge on overall quality. While it’s possible my client might not have detected the difference between images taken on one lens or another, I do believe in capturing the best-quality images I can.

What the old lens lacks is autofocus (or auto anything!) but manual focus just requires a little more care and concentration. It can slow you down, but that’s no bad thing as it also encourages more thought about composition.

Industrial photography can feel slow. You have to be hyper-aware of the details such as finger marks or dust on equipment as well as the usual considerations of lighting, composition and exposure, but I also enjoy the discipline this imposes.

There is no point rushing industrial pictures. It can take a considerable amount of preparation before even thinking about taking a picture, but my IAAPS client is happy to trust me to do what’s needed to get the best possible results. They’re dealing with high-end clients in an industry which is all about precision; being sloppy in the photography isn’t worth the risk.

While I know there will be additional trips to IAAPS for me in the coming year, I’ll welcome enquiries from anyone considering commissioning industrial photography for their promotional needs. Hopefully, this article gives a useful insight to my process.

My portfolio is always evolving, so check it out here if you’d like to see more of my work.

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.

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

 

 

Is Video The Answer?

Is video the answer? Well that depends on the question. This is the second in a short series of articles discussing the various pros, cons and considerations needed to get the most out of video. You can read the first in this series here.

The Fundamental Question

So I’m starting with the fundamental question you should ask yourself, “does my business need video?”

Certainly it’s hard to avoid these days; from YouTube to Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and frankly any platform you care to name, video has become a solid part of any social media activity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your business has to jump in to keep up.

If you want to jump to the spoiler, just scroll to the bullets at the end of this post. If you want more in-depth reasoning, read on.

The first factor to consider is whether your clients/prospective clients would learn anything from the addition of video to your communications. If you just want a ‘vanity video’ that’s fine, but be aware it might not appeal to those outside your organisation.

So flip your perspective and start from the client point of view. Ask whether you think they would sit through a 60-second clip that showcases your product or service. If your video doesn’t say something fresh and doesn’t get to the point quickly, you could be wasting your resources.

You might at this stage consider whether stills and text might not serve you better. Plus if you haven’t got those nailed down on your website, are you sure you’re ready to jump into video?

It’s all too easy to get bedazzled by stats that tell you there are a billion videos uploaded to the internet every 15 seconds, but that doesn’t mean anything. If what you upload doesn’t serve your cause, it isn’t doing its job.

What’s Your Story?

This isn’t to say you should avoid using video at all costs. In fact there are many businesses missing a trick by avoiding the fundamental question altogether.

The reason will often be that they don’t believe their product is worth a video, or that it wouldn’t work because it’s a ‘boring’ product or service. But most businesses have a core story to tell. It could be about their product/service, or it could be about their capability. At the absolute basic level, it might not be about what they sell so much as about the team that makes it all happen; their people.

The people that make up an organisation are often their greatest asset and as humans we like to connect with the experiences of others. So why not bring out the human side of your business? Showcase who you are, not necessarily what you do. Short colleague interviews could be one idea to consider.

Flip It Again

This option can be more complicated, but consider asking your clients what they think about working with you, and commit their views to video. Testimonials are a powerful tool, but with video testimonials remember to keep asking the question, ‘if I wasn’t me, would I watch this?’ They need to be concise. They also need to avoid being self-indulgent (ie too long!)

Time Is Money

Yes, the longer your video is, the more expensive it’ll be to produce. Longer videos require more footage and more editing, and editing costs really can spiral quickly. Think about your own attention span and ask how long you’re happy to sit and watch a product/service video. I bet it’s not much more than 60 seconds, 90 tops.

So you could spend £thousands on all the footage and editing, only to have no one watch the result beyond the first 30 seconds. I’ll wager there are plenty of people who pre-check the length of a video before they’ll even click on it. If they see it’s two, three or more minutes long, they might not click Play at all!

Takeaways (things to ask yourself)

  • Is your product or service suited to video explanation/promotion?
  • Who is your audience and what do you want them to take from it?
  • How short (not how long!) does your message need to be?
  • Would you be better off with a series of short clips?
  • How will you promote the video (and where will you host it) once it’s made?
  • Are there other areas of your website and marketing which need attention first?

That’s a Wrap!

I’ll keep returning to this subject because there are as many angles to cover as there are kinds of businesses in the world, so no single article can cover every scenario. However I hope this has got you thinking about the basics before launching into something that requires time and commitment (and not inconsiderable funds).

In the meantime, if you’re considering dipping your toes into video and would like some personal advice, feel free to drop me a line.

Thanks for reading!

Tim Gander is a freelance photographer and videographer based in Somerset. He covers all aspects of corporate communications, serving clients in the South West, centring on Bristol and Bath. You can see examples of Tim’s video work here.

Through The Round Window

You have to be of a certain age (and British) to get that headline, but it was all I could come up with for this week’s post!

Spotting an Opportunity

This is a tale of how having an eye for a picture can lead to something much bigger.

One day in March of this year, I was shooting business portraits for a central Bristol client when I became aware of an unusual scene through the office window.

There was a building going up incredibly rapidly, Lego-style with large sections being craned into place at a speed I’d not witnessed before. It was only a few hundred yards away, so I had a clear view of its progress.

Anyway, I couldn’t spend the day watching this, but there were occasional lulls in the procession of people who sat for me when I could check on its progress.

Then, during an extended lull in sitters, I could tell something big was about to be craned into place, so I grabbed my second camera with a 200mm lens and shot a few frames. I was fascinated to see this amazing wall panel with its round window as it was gently guided into place by the crane operator, assisted by the construction workers on the deck.

The Decisive Moment

I wanted to capture the moment the worker’s hand connected with the edge of the panel, and that turned out to be the perfect shot. It seemed important to show the coordination and teamwork going on here.

Just as the section was lowered into its final position, my next sitter walked in. We broke the ice by chatting about the new building that was going up, how Bristol is transforming at a bewildering rate, then got on with the business of business headshots again.

The Follow-Up

Once I’d finished all the portraits for the day, I went down to the building site, got the details of the construction company and made contact with them to see if they’d be interested in licensing any of the images.

When I sent a sample gallery through, including the iconic picture, they said it was too remarkable a photo to pass up! So we agreed a fee and they got the high-res image to use for their corporate communications.

The Unexpected Bonus

I thought that would be the end of it, but they’ve since commissioned me to shoot a set of progress pictures for a newsletter, and it sounds as if they’re looking to book me again later in the year.

The project is Assembly in Bristol; three office buildings constructed using a “kit of parts” method. All the wall panels, stairs, landings, floors and lift shafts are cast off-site, then craned into place. It means the buildings go up with astonishing speed.

I’ll be returning to my headshot client again soon and it’ll be interesting to see the building again so many months on. If there’s time, I’ll be sure to make another progress photo through the office window.

The Pop-Up Job

One of the toughest tasks for a photographer can be to shoot a photo which works well in an extreme shape. Ultra-wide and extreme deep crops from a standard image ratio can create challenges. Shooting a full-bleed image for a pop-up stand is a perfect example of this.

A good illustration of what I’m talking about is the recent shoot I undertook for University of Bath’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. They needed a new image for their Sports Performance course pop-up banner which was needed for the university open day on September 10th. It wasn’t a massively tight deadline, but things had to move apace to get the image to the designer in good time.

The concept was to have a student in sports kit with a library scene behind. I’d shot something similar back in 2013, but where on that occasion I photographed the student against a plain backdrop so they could be cut out and placed against a library shot (literally a library shot of the library), on this occasion we decided to get the whole image done in-camera.

Twin netball players Jasmine and Jemma Nightingale very kindly volunteered to model and we set the shoot up on the 4th floor of the university library. It had the benefit of being relatively quiet, so I wouldn’t disturb too many students, and it just happened to have the right aisle configuration to work. It’s amazing how many aisles just weren’t right. Too narrow, a pillar, a window on the back wall, not “library-ish” enough; I eventually found one aisle I could work with.

I set up portable studio lighting to get full-length, even light on the sitter (I shot mostly individuals of Jemma and Jasmine). Even this was quite awkward because there wasn’t much floor space for lighting stands, and I also had to set up lights behind the sitter to lift the background so it didn’t look gloomy.

There were overhead strip LED lights in the ceiling which also needed to be on, but they were motion-sensor controlled. Every now and then I’d have to jog down the aisle to make the lights come back on. I certainly got my steps in that day!

Of course I forgot to do the BTS shot (I’ll remember one day!), so I can only show you the end result.

But the location worked well. I made pictures with each student individually and a few of them together. The latter didn’t work so well for the tight upright format, but did make good alternative shots the university can use in other ways.

Once I was happy we had what we needed, I packed down the kit and we headed outside for a few alternative shots, again mainly for other uses.

Among my favourite shots from that session is the one of Jasmine and Jemma walking through the scene – their confident smiles and purposeful strides set against a modern University of Bath building (it happens to be the School of Management) make this a multi-purpose image that will sit well in either a web or print design.

One other technical aspect I brought into play was Lightroom’s new Enhance feature. Using AI, Lightroom can double the resolution of the camera’s native image. In the case of the pop-up stand image, that meant I could supply a file which was now 12,000 pixels on the longest side rather than 6,000, giving the designer a greater quality print out on the finished display.

Thanks to Sophia who sent me the photo of the stand in-situ on the open day, and I have to say I’m really pleased with how well the image works in the design, how it really ‘pops’ and catches the eye.

This kind of project is a creative and technical challenge, but with pre-shoot planning, adaptability on the day and careful treatment of the image files afterwards, it all comes together for a really satisfying result.

If you’re looking to have images taken for potential use in exhibition materials, bear in mind that they may need to be taken specifically for the format you’re working in. Stock images probably won’t be high-enough resolution (and will be too generic anyway), so feel free to drop me a line to discuss your needs and ideas to ensure you’re getting the best for your project.