Why Media Studies Are More Important Than Ever

Where are we now?

Media Studies is a subject which is often viewed with disdain, sometimes suspicion. Certainly at GCSE level it’s often seen as a less academic subject, a bit of an easy one. And to my discredit I’m pretty sure I’ve held that view too. To be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought for many years, but either way I’ve certainly changed my mind now.

I would go even further and say that the subject very much needs to be brought to the fore, studied at all ages and all levels. No longer a Cinderella subject, it must be taught at a high-quality and given the same standing as any ‘mainstream’ subject.

Why this shift in opinion? And why am I bringing this up now? I can give the same answer to both questions – because we’re all now so immersed in media, we barely even recognise it, and when we do, we often misunderstand it.

So What’s the Problem?

Traditionally we think of ‘the media’ as being newspapers, magazines, television, radio, with the internet now a part of how those traditional media operate. But of course social media is also a large part of the media we consume (possibly the largest part).

The information we gain from sites such as Twitter, Facebook and similar are an un-edited deluge of personal opinion (often fed by exposure to other, un-edited social media opinion). It’s trite to say information can be disseminated at break-neck speed via these channels, what is less trivial is the effect it can have.

In particular when the information is untrue, contradicts the truth or even distracts us from core issues, the harm this un-edited information can cause has a real affect on our understanding of events and issues concerning us.

How Can Media Studies Help?

One of my pet peeves is the derogatory use of the term ‘mainstream media’. The term itself is useful to describe the main channels. However those who use it with disdain usually neither understand what they mean by it, or have any real understanding of the media organisations they’re trying to deride. It could even be argued that social media is now mainstream.

I’m not suggesting media studies should be used to simply to fill this knowledge gap. I happen to believe everyone would benefit from it. We can all have a better understanding of all the media we interact with if we start with a broad knowledge of how it works.

We need to become more analytical and critical of the messages we see, regardless of their source. The strained relationship with the truth that we’ve witnessed from Vladimir Putin and, sadly, from our own government is easier to analyse if we have the tools to dissect the message.

Who Should Be Studying Media?

Now I’ve said that media studies needs to be taught at all levels, and by this I mean at least from same age as sex education. We need to start from a young age. With children exposed to 100s, even 1000s of media messages a day it’s vital they have the knowledge to understand what they’re consuming. Their lives are a world away from the 3 channels of TV I grew up with.

Conclusion

Our understanding of the world around us, from local to national, climate change to conflict, is shaped not only by the information we receive, but also by our understanding of the channels by which it comes to us. If we don’t understand the mechanics behind the message, we cannot analyse the message itself. And if we can’t analyse it, we often take it at face value.

In that instance, information becomes weaponised and dangerous. Having the knowledge to counter this would be truly liberating.

A Perfect Storm

Sometimes an email arrives which catches me by surprise, and this week’s post is about one which started with surprise and concluded with a delightful outcome.

The email came from Maisy, now a resident of Brighton, but the story goes back to 2019 when she was living in Glastonbury.

What Maisy sent was, in essence, “Hi Tim, I’m just wondering if you took any pictures of the storm from 2019, July 23/24. I know it was a while ago but I’m looking to buy a photo for my partner, we used to live in Glastonbury and both watched the storm and were astounded, it was the most amazing display of lightening – I saw a picture online from that night which took me to your website and I wondered if I could buy a photo off you. Many thanks in advance Maisy”

Well it was such a spectacular storm that I remembered the night and I knew I had the pictures in my archive, so searched them out and sent Maisy a low-res, watermarked version of the one I’d posted to establish that it was the photo she’d seen.

Having confirmed that it was, I worked out a price (the image isn’t listed on my Takeagander site) and I arranged for printing on beautiful Hahnemühle Photo Rag fine art paper and shipping to Maisy in time for her partner’s birthday.

But I was intrigued about the story behind why she wanted this particular picture. Here is her reply, re-formatted and published with Maisy’s consent:

“Re the image, yes so the story behind it is a little odd! But it was before my partner and I were together; I was in quite a tricky place in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship and he was also in a difficult place taking care of an unwell family member.

At the time of the storm we both went outside (although we viewed it separately, about 5 minutes away from each other) and we were both with other people. Everyone left and we both decided to stay alone and watched it for just over 30 minutes, just watching the lightning.

Although neither of us are very spiritual, we both individually felt this massive pull towards the storm and couldn’t stop looking at it. We both felt like it was the most amazing thing we had ever seen and for some reason we both felt like it was a really special moment and that we weren’t really alone.

Fast forward to a couple months ago, we have been together about a year and a half and I mentioned this amazing experience that I had with the storm years ago and Jai (my partner) knew exactly which storm I was talking about and we realised we shared the same story with lots of strange coincidences. And we both took lots of comfort knowing that even though we were alone watching it, we were both actually experiencing the same thing together.

So it’s a special moment that we share, even though we didn’t share it, if that makes sense!”

Well I don’t know about you, but it makes perfect sense to me and I’m so pleased that a photo I took is now on Maisy and Jai’s wall as a permanent reminder of the incredible experience they shared before they even met. I’ll let Maisy have the final word:

“(Jai) absolutely loved the photo, as soon as he saw it he knew what it was from! He wanted to pass on thanks for such a lovely picture. The storm was a really special moment so I’m glad we can remember it through that photo.”

A Busy Quiet Day

Some days look quiet on the diary, but in practice are anything but restful.

Take yesterday as an example; I had no commissioned work on, so I decided to make a trip to Salisbury Plain to work on my much-postponed project.

That required a 5am alarm call (I had forgotten what a punch in the face that feels like!) This was my first trip to the Plain in many weeks, and the plan was to retry a shot I’d done before, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with.

Unfortunately, after such an early start and a three-mile walk (no, it’s not a great hike, but with medium format camera, lenses and tripod it feels a bit longer), the weather decided to be too dull to make the picture I was after.

Ok, so the six-mile round walk wasn’t a killer, but the early start was giving me a bit of a kicking. Time to head home.

On the way back I swung by my local picture framer to pick up a couple of pieces of non-reflecting glass. This is part of my master plan to keep improving how I digitise my negatives, squeezing every last drop of quality I can from the process. I didn’t stay long, he was busy with framing work for London galleries.

Back home, I tried a bit of admin, but by now my brain was aching for a little sleep, so I took a power nap (ok, 90 mins) to recover before lunch.

Then it was back on the admin, handling client enquiries, a bit of social media work and planning next week.

I did manage a bit of R&R in the evening, but then the lure of photography drew me back again. I’d recently updated some flash equipment, so had a bit of an experimental session with that. Focusing on areas around the home, I looked at how I could use the new gear to create different effects. Call it play, call it fooling around if you will, but a photographer who only works with their new gear once they’re commissioned to use it is a fool.

By the time I’d quit trying things out, it was 10:30pm and I was finally ready to stop, but not until I’d transferred my test flash images to my computer and had a look through the results. So ok, it was nearer 11pm when I finally shut the laptop.

I sometimes beat myself up that I’m not dedicated enough to what I do, but then when I sit back and look at it properly, I don’t think I’m any kind of slouch; I just need to remind myself that even a day which doesn’t produce solid results isn’t a day wasted, it’s a day invested in something yet to happen.

Do You Love Photography?

Loving Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filthy Lucre

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

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

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

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

A Diminished Industry Hurts Us All

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

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

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

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

Pups For Sale

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

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

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

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

Blog Off?

Do people still blog? I’ve been writing this one since October 2009, but does it still serve a purpose?

Over the years I’ve tried my best to inform and entertain my readers (still plural, I think), admittedly with mixed success, but of course it’s also been a way to keep Google happy.

On that score I have to admit it’s been useful for my Search Engine Optimisation. I’m just less convinced it still has the impact it once did. People are using different routes to finding photographers, but it has become a much more fragmented landscape, so which options might work?

LinkedIn

Facebook for businesses (aka LinkedIn) has been a good way for me to keep in touch with existing clients. I can keep up with what they’re doing and I can update them on my latest news. I sometimes use it to message clients directly, though I still prefer email for keeping all correspondence in one place.

That said, LinkedIn is practically useless for finding new clients. People looking for a specific photographer for their needs will find LinkedIn a poor source of reliable information. More often than not a prospective client will canvass their network for recommendations, at which point there ensues a scrambled deluge of suggestions, most of which ignore geography or skill set – a photographer’s a photographer, right? End result, a mis-match and a lost opportunity.

Facebook

Facebook is useful for keeping in touch with a wider friendship network and group interests and I use it to promote my personal project work, but corporate work doesn’t really work on Facebook. I’m careful where I use client work, and Facebook just isn’t the right place to post my commissioned images.

Twitter

Just… no. Like Facebook, Twitter isn’t the best option for business use. It needs personality, which tends to exclude much in the way of a corporate focus. Again, it’s more useful to my personal project work and I like to promote other photographers there, at least those practicing fine art or documentary work.

Other Options

Should I start a podcast? *collective cry of NOOOOO! echoes back at me* Or a YouTube channel? *ditto, see previous*

Except YouTube is perhaps the more interesting option; less for my corporate work, but perhaps more useful to my personal project photography. I have no desire to be a “YouTuber”, but I can see how video might help create wider interest in that work. Which still leaves me wondering what’s best for the corporate work.

In (sort of) conclusion

It seems that while change has been a constant in the exciting world of SEO, that change is accelerating. Couple this with the fact that new platforms are constantly springing up, the risk is that social media is becoming too fragmented.

My gut reaction to all this is that continuing the blog posts is wise. Keeping my website fresh and compliant continues to be the best use of limited time. I also need to investigate new ideas; maybe even some old ones. Books and zines interest me, so they’ll be something I’m focusing on for the personal projects, but what of the corporate side? Perhaps print has a role worth exploring too. Many years ago I made Blurb books of my portfolio and they went down quite well.

So after 557 words, I ‘think’ I’ve concluded that I’ll carry on with the blog. Ideally I’ll use it to showcase my corporate work, but lockdown and on-going restrictions will make that a challenge. Things will pick up though, and when they do I want to be visible to new clients as well as existing ones.

One last thing…

On a bit of a side-note relating more to my personal projects, if you sign up to my takeagander newsletter here before the end of January 2021, you’ll be in with a chance to win a beautiful A4 print from any of my collections!

So cheer yourself up for free, sign up and have a browse to see if there’s a print you’d like on your wall.

The Local Proposition

Are you buying anything from Amazon this Christmas? The campaign to shop local seems to have gained ground, even if the orange behemoth with the A to Z smile is still gaining sales.

The pandemic will have put many in a quandary; desperate to get their Christmas shopping done, but still unable to leave home, it can seem as if there is only one choice, when even online there are many great independent traders now.

However, the shop local/support independents movement is definitely finding new followers. Buying on the high street is beneficial to local economies and communities, while buying online from local, independent businesses is certainly helpful too.

Buy Local for Your Business

So this week I’d like to extend this notion: If buying local for personal reasons is beneficial to the local economy and jobs, please also consider buying ethically-sourced professional services for your business too.

Not just photography, but other creative industries have struggled against the big players for many years now, yet none of the disruptive sites offering creative services has benefitted the wider economy. They might seem to be the cool, new and exciting way to do business, but they dis-benefit independent creatives disproportionately.

Of course as a business owner you probably want to find the best value for money for all the goods and services you need, but have you ever thought about how this might impact the economy in which you’re trying to function?

It might help you in the short term if you can populate your website with images and graphics bought in at below cost of production, but when this process replicates across an entire business economy, who is left with any money to buy your services?

Value vs Cost

Likewise, if you’re unwilling to pay fair rates for the goods and services supplied by others, why should anyone pay your rates for the goods and services you supply? And let’s set aside the impact of using suppliers who pay little (if any) tax back into the society in which you operate.

So undertake a pledge, make it company policy if you like, that from January 2021 you will start the process of making your business more sustainable by helping to sustain others. It might make you very slightly less profitable in the short term, but it will make your business more sustainable in the longer term.

You’ll almost certainly have a more robust business come the next economic upset.

Until 2021…

I’m taking a break from writing blog posts here until January 2021, so I’ll just take this opportunity to thank you for all your kind support through this monumentally challenging year.

If in the meantime you would like to keep up with all my goings on, you can follow me on Instagram (@takeagander) or sign up to my newsletter for very occasional updates on my personal projects and new fine art print offerings.

Thank you, have a happy Christmas and a new, improved 2021.

Tim

The Beat Goes On

While the news seems unrelentingly gloomy at the moment, I’m pleased to say I’ve had some positives to focus on.

I’ve had bits of work in the last couple of weeks and enquiries have also increased. People are looking to promote their businesses once again!

This doesn’t mean a flood of work is about to engulf me, but it’s encouraging to know I still have clients. I also have some great supporters helping me via my ko-fi account*. They’re keeping me funded for the non-client projects I’m engaged in. *HINT: You can do the same from as little as £3.00 one-off payment!

What is especially encouraging is that in an atmosphere of debate about what counts as a viable job, my job – the job I love, which has been put under this particular spotlight for many years now, continues to be considered viable; invaluable, even.

There are many out there who believe professional photography is dead and that every photo ever needed has been taken already. And if it doesn’t already exist, well there’s always that professional photographer in your pocket. They are, of course, quite wrong.

We know automation and technology cannot replace certain needs. Technology still can’t make a decent loaf of bread, so we can’t expect it to make pictures with the right tone and impact. This only comes about through human interaction.

Try to imagine a world without human interaction, how much fun would that be? How creative? We’re experiencing a taste of it now, so we know the answer already.

So while there will be some very difficult times ahead, I’m going to stay focussed and positive. No one is telling me I’m not viable.

A Paradigm Shift in Portraits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider The New Normal.

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

Simplicity is powerful.

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

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

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

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

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

A New Honesty About Costs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

Not legally a competition, but still a chance to win!

Happy Friday! And a really quick post this week.

Following on from my previous post, I’ve decided to make donating a little more interesting.

If I can hit (or exceed!) the £100.00 goal on my ko-fi account by midnight on August 7th, I will select a random donor to receive a FREE A4 fine art print of their choice from any of my personal projects.

So head over to ko-fi/takeagander, drop a donation, however small, and on August 8th, see if you’re the lucky winner. I’ll be in touch to liaise on which image you would like.

Remember, the cheapest A4 fine art print available is £60.00, with many priced at £90.00, so donate what you like and you could bag an absolute bargain! You can see all the projects at takeagander.co.uk.

That’s all folks, now go and enjoy your weekend.

Tim