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.

A Frightfully Good Adventure!

It’s pretty exciting when friends launch into a new adventure. Even more exciting when they ask you to get involved!

I’ve known Neil and Suzy Howlett for quite a few years now, but was totally unaware they were writing a book together until they got in touch to ask if I was interested in taking their author photos for Return to Kirrin, an affectionate pastiche of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books.

Return to Kirrin imagines the Five as adults in 1979, a period of punk and political turmoil, and brings them together for new adventures on Kirrin Island.

My brief for this project was to create a set of images which could be used for a range of promotional purposes. Neil and Suzy wanted a look which was neither too staid, nor too whacky. A fine line to tread indeed.

I decided their garden would be perfect, in particular the little covered bench structure which was a usefully muted colour and had some mystery and a certain wistful charm about it.

We needed to achieve shots of Neil and Suzy together as well as a couple of individual portraits so that whatever they needed, wherever they needed it, there would be an image to fit the use. They also needed to look good and legible at smaller sizes. Landscape and vertical formats had to be catered for too, so as well as the wide shots you see in the gallery, I also made sure there was a good selection of upright shots in the set.

You can already see one of the images in use on the book’s Amazon page, where of course you can also buy your own copy.

The morning of the photo session was blessedly dry – rain would have been pretty unhelpful, and there was some lovely soft sunlight filtering into the garden. I still used a supplementary portable studio light to lift the shadows and to create a slightly ‘hyper real’ look and feel.

For the individual portraits I continued with the portable light, but matched it more closely to the daylight so it became less noticeable, more natural, but the test shots without it left the colours a little flat.

Now the book is out and available to buy, it’ll be fascinating to see how the images get used. For Neil and Suzy, I sincerely hope the sales go wild and I hope my photos help achieve the coverage they so richly deserve. In the meantime, you can follow the book’s adventures on the Return to Kirrin Facebook page.

Two Decades and a World Away

Yes, I was there too. Another press photographer who covered Diana’s funeral and because my words will be lost in the blizzard of articles and analysis on this the 20th anniversary of her death, I’ll point you towards this excellent article by Fleet Street photographer Brian Harris before offering a few brief thoughts of my own.

For myself, I was a lowly local news photographer at the time and was astonished to be assigned an official pass to cover the funeral from a position directly opposite the main door of Westminster Abbey.

Like Brian, I remember being hissed at by the crowd as I made my way to the position. I remember the weird atmosphere as people cheered the stars of music, TV and film as they arrived for the service. I also remember seeing the shot of the card on the coffin which just read “Mummy” and yes it was a cracking shot, but Brian’s was more graceful.

As for my effort, well it wasn’t the strongest image of the day, but I found myself focusing on the expressions of the pallbearers, members of the Welsh Guards who were clearly struggling to hold their emotions together. The shot summed up the occasion and emotions of the day in a fairly tight frame.

So considering it’s not a shot I had never wanted to have to take, I’ll live with it and leave it here as part of a much larger record of a sad day which changed all who were involved at least a little and for ever.

 

Summer Light In Summary

With the weather we’ve been having this August you may not be feeling especially Summery, and it’s true to say I’ve had a challenging few weeks dodging downpours, thunder storms and gales, but it’s often assumed that Summer sunshine is perfect for photography.

Well it can be of course, but as a rule, when I’m taking pictures of people for their business website or press release, if we’re having to work outdoors and the sun is screaming down, it’s not always a great help. The subjects will either be squinting into the light, their eyes streaming, or if I put the sun behind them I’ll end up with silhouetted people unless I balance the daylight with flash – not always a simple task.

Of course there are things I can do to minimise the problem, but sometimes the chosen location and time of day for the photo session mean it becomes a purely technical exercise in overcoming the sun.

In the two photos featured here you’ll see how placing the subjects in the shade has meant they’re not not made to squint into the sun or get hot and bothered, while I’m able to fill in their features with controlled use of flash.

The client, the award-winning The Bristol Pest Controller, needed some images for their website, including a hero image, and they knew the location they wanted. My job was to make it all work for them and their website.

The session happened back in March of this year, but I don’t know if you remember, it was quite sunny back in the Spring! Sunshine in Spring is just as tricksy to work with as sun at any time of year, but finding the right location helps a lot to mitigate the issues.

And of course if it’s sunshine like we’ve had this August, ie not a lot, that can actually be quite helpful as it’s easier to balance overcast daylight and flash. The only problem this Summer seems to be how to avoid getting drenched or struck by lightning during your photo session.