Culture Crush

Since the dawn of mass-market photography, camera manufacturers have held out the promise that if you just buy their latest and greatest camera gear, you will be able to take the same pictures as a professional.

This narrative got ramped up with the birth of digital, which allowed you to see, review and (if necessary) retake a photo without having to wait for your film to be developed.

Camera adverts now routinely proclaim the ability to take your photography to “the next level” or capture incredible detail with greater ease than ever before; it turns out that the previous camera they launched with exactly the same claim was a pile of junk – get rid of it and buy this new one instead! 18 months later, they’ll have superseded the camera you never quite got to grips with, with something they claim takes your photography to the next level. And so it goes on.

Perhaps what is most disappointing is when camera manufacturers try to claim that if only you owned their latest model, you could do the work of a professional. It sends out the message that it’s the gear, not the human behind it, that creates work with purpose or impact. Which is odd, because I have cameras which I only use once every few months, yet all the time they sit on the shelf, they never produce a damn thing. I’ve checked and it hasn’t happened yet.

This sales tactic feeds a nascent belief that professional photographers are not really needed, which in turn makes us look over-priced. Clients then decide that perhaps they’ll have a go themselves (usually with risible results), or they try to hammer their budgets down to almost nothing, because why pay someone if it’s the camera that’s doing all the work?

Until now, these manufacturers have been relatively subtle in this messaging, but hats off to Apple and Adobe for taking this narrative to an entirely new level. In their adverts and promotional posts, they’re basically telling us that creative professionals are an obstacle to creativity.

Apple’s “crush the creative” ad for the iPad was eye-popping on multiple levels, but it’s earned a well-deserved backlash from the creative community. What Apple wants us (you) to believe is that all creative arts and creativity and humanity can be crushed into a 5.1mm thick slab of aluminium. Just think what YOU could do with this – no pesky creative individuals with their annoying invoices necessary.

Adobe, meanwhile, is exhorting people to “skip the photoshoot” as they (Adobe) push their generative AI image making tool to a wider market. So the photographers (designers, illustrators too) who have doggedly supported Adobe for the past 25 years or more are now thrown under the bus of so-called progress.

Perhaps what is even more galling here is that Adobe’s image-generation tool has been trained on the work of photographers who have paid to use Adobe’s products. This isn’t payback for a service we’ve used for free all these years, this is a kick in the nuts.

Ai is obviously not going away, but corporations need to be careful which direction they push it in. There’s a genuine risk that creatives will simply start creating less. The bottom line of the bottom line is that if creatives can find no reward for their work, they’ll stop creating the work. That’s when culture starts to whither at everyones’ expense, though mostly at the expense of those not rich enough to insulate themselves from this onslaught.

It’s easy (actually it’s lazy) to say “that’s progress, get with it or be left behind” except it isn’t progress. It is simply large corporations not having a clue how real creativity works, what it needs to thrive and above all, why real, tangible, physical, sometimes messy culture is so important to the wellbeing of individuals and society and yes, the economy.

By all means embrace the crushing and sidelining of creative endeavour, but don’t complain when life ends up feeling a bit shitter as a result.

GooD PRactice

GDPR, love it or ignore it, it isn’t going away. My view is simple; for as long as I’m making and storing photos of people, often including their names within caption data, then it’s simple enough to comply.

If other photographers don’t want to, that’s up to them, but I see it as having multiple advantages.

For a start, I need to be compliant because in addition to the storing of peoples’ pictures with their names, I have a mailing list for my takeagander newsletter. The newsletter alone is enough to tip me into requiring compliance, but I also want people to understand what information I have on them, how I store it and what I do (and don’t do) with it. GDPR gives me a formal framework within which to set that out, which you can see on my GDPR page.

Working with larger organisations, I see no harm in being able to assure them that the information I gather in the course of assignments is treated with respect and only used for legitimate purposes. I imagine that as data holders and controllers themselves, they might want to know that the work I do for them dovetails with their obligations.

Not all photographers need to be GDPR compliant, it really does depend on what they’re doing, what data they’re collecting and how they’re using it. However, working with businesses and professional organisations, I see my compliance as being part of my professional practice, just like Public Liability Insurance and paying my licences to use software.

Ultimately, I’m not concerned that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is going to send in a SWAT team to batter down my door and arrest me for non-compliance. My compliance with GDPR is for assurance to my clients, and for the continued professionalisation of my business. And the annual fee is less than I spend on coffee in a month.

Let me know your thoughts in GDPR. Is it reassuring? or do you feel irked by it? Or is it just part of your business practice?

Feel free to comment here, or if you’re a client looking for further reassurance, drop me a line. I promise I won’t sign you up to a newsletter!

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Yes, it’s that time of year when we all take a look in the rearview mirror to see what we’re leaving behind, simultaneously stepping on the gas, and accelerating into the year ahead. Or maybe we’re just trying to get away from zombies!

Assuming we’re not being chased out of town by the undead, I am of course building up (in a rather clumsy way) to my annual look at what has been and what is to come.

Except I’m not going to do that this time around, or at least not in quite as much depth as I normally would. I’m just going to say that 2023 had its highs and lows, and I have plans for 2024 which will evolve as I go.

At this point, I could sign off, wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and be done, but that wouldn’t be particularly satisfactory, would it? Maybe it would, but tough; you’re here now.

No, for this post I’m going to use broad brush strokes which I hope will also stimulate some thoughts within you, my current or potential clients.

Looking Back – 2023

While my stills work held up remarkably well, video demand seemed to drop off sharply. Instinct tells me clients are struggling to decide whether video is worth the investment. My advice is, talk to me! I’ll be happy to discuss your ideas and will be honest about your best options.

All too often I have clients come to me with only the vaguest idea that they want ‘some video of a thing’. But rather than allow me to guide them further, they either kill the project or go to someone who will happily turn their half-baked plans into a massive invoice. Don’t fall into that trap.

Even the stills work was a bit up and down this year. I’ve done pretty well, but I can tell businesses are struggling to see through the fog of wars, climate crisis, cost of living, and so on. Some are taking positive steps to keep their marketing on track, while others see marketing as a cost (bizarrely).

If you can’t stretch to video, keep using stills to keep your brand fresh and alive. They’re far more cost-effective than video and more adaptable, but they also need a clear direction (purpose and brief). Again, talk to me if you want to develop the germ of an idea.

Overall, 2023 has been ok. Its school report would read, “Could do better”.

A highlight of 2023 was a trip by rail and bike to Côte Sauvage, Brittany.

Looking Forward – 2024

So let’s gaze into the crystal ball.

I predict it’s going to be more of the same because the uncertainties that have troubled businesses since (to put it frankly) the Brexit vote of 2016 are not going to be resolved in the next few weeks or even months. Domestically we’re going to have a general election, so there will be plenty of people waiting to see how that shakes out. Which is frustrating because it could be yet another year of bumpiness. And who’s to say something else won’t come along in the meantime to create more market jitters?

My advice is, if you want to do something, do it. If you don’t, someone else will and they’ll steal all the credit (and potentially your clients).

Moving on from the pure business aspects of the year ahead, I’ve decided to have another look at something rather more ephemeral; the ethics of my business.

That isn’t to say that for the past 25 years as a freelance photographer, I’ve operated unethically but I feel we’re at a juncture where it’s not a bad idea to have a fresh think about how we all work and how we treat each other.

Towards the end of this year, I finally managed to update my Terms and Conditions (something I’d planned to do last Christmas!) and in 2024 I plan to add an Ethical Statement that will cover a wide range of aspects, from use of AI in images, to how I approach my personal project work.

This isn’t going to be easy as I don’t want to just put up a bunch of warm, fuzzy words and say job done. This will, in effect, put into text the moral rules by which I already work, but will also tie in some new issues which have emerged more recently.

There’s no harm in any business or organisation, however ethical they already say they are, spending a little time having a deep think about whether their ethical practices are up-to-date and whether they genuinely implement them. Perhaps every business should have an Ethical Statement against which their actions can be measured.

So look, I’m not going to make great proclamations about how I see the year ahead. It’s all too up in the air for that, but I have set out a couple of road signs.

At the risk of labouring my metaphors, I’m going to pull up at the side of the road to stretch my legs, before getting back in the car, stepping on the non-greenhouse-gas-emitting accelerator peddle and zooming off into the bright new dawn of 2024.

Thank you to every one of my clients, suppliers, friends, and colleagues who’ve made 2023 bearable. Let’s do the same, but more and better, in 2024.

Happy Christmas!

Tim

End of an Era?

“Perhaps I’m joining dots which aren’t there, but with the passing of Elliott Erwitt, I’ve found myself pondering the state of the photographic industry and whether it’s truly entering a new era.

We talk about eras as if there’s some sudden cut-off point between a time when everything is one way and then suddenly it’s all changed. That new era then chugs along solidly until there’s another great upheaval.

Era Today, Gone Tomorrow

Of course, this is nonsense. It doesn’t matter how sudden a change is, there is always a transition period. And that speed of transition will happen more quickly for some, while others will barely notice it happening in their lifetimes. It also comes down to the nature of the era under scrutiny; in the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the use of bronze didn’t vanish. Likewise, though obviously on a smaller scale, the same goes for the transition of film photography to digital, or black and white to colour.

Back to why Erwitt’s passing got me thinking about this then. Well, it wasn’t just that. Nor was it the passing of Larry Fink, but it’s fair to say we’re well into an era when great photographers of the 21st Century succumb to the inevitability of chronology, and that in itself is enough to signal a shifting paradigm.

That AI Thing

The passing of ‘the old guard’ comes as AI-generated images have started to make an impact on the world of photography. That’s why this feels to me like a moment of deeper change.

Recently, World Press Photo tried to allow AI image generation in one of its categories. How anyone in their right mind thought AI should have any place whatsoever in a World press photography prize is beyond comprehension. They have now withdrawn the permission to use AI or Generative Fill, but that was after some stiff criticism from photographers.

My concerns around the widespread use of AI in image creation are currently threefold:

1 The data training required for machine learning is a mass copyright infringement almost impossible for creators to track and prosecute. They’ll certainly be last in line to benefit from it financially.

2 Trust in genuine imagery will collapse, leaving us even more exposed to false narratives by toxic groups and regimes.

3 The public will become increasingly ‘anti-photographer’ if they become fearful that, whether with the photographer’s permission or not, the images can be scraped and used to generate images of a damaging or downright nasty nature. We’re already seeing a massive rise in AI-generated child abuse imagery and unless it’s addressed head-on, it’ll only get worse. In return, photographers will find it increasingly difficult or even impossible to document news or simply everyday life if they can’t include people.

A Visual Desert

One way or another, left un-addressed, each of those three concerns will eventually lead to a collapse in our visual culture. All that will be left will be kittens, sunsets and pretty landscapes, and none of those will be real either. The visual white noise of the internet will finally blot out anything of worth.

We can’t live in the past, yet all too many photographers, myself included, yearn for some kind of good old days. A time when photographers, like Elliott Erwitt, Diane Arbus and many besides, could document even the simplest human activities without feeling as though we were committing some kind of crime. A time when pictures mattered more and had greater value, both culturally and in hard currency terms.

Here is my meagre hope; that while AI won’t go away, it will at least settle down into its own genre, an art form in its own right and a play thing for people with too much time on their hands. I hope also that, like the resurgence of vinyl and analogue photography, non-AI-tainted photography might see an increased appreciation. It might even lead to improved values for professional photographers’ work. Miracles may happen.

AI to Restrain AI

Manufacturers are starting to integrate Content Credentials technology into cameras so images can be verified as having been altered (or not), meaning media outlets (and thereby the public) will know that what they’re seeing is authentic. With luck this will make it far easier to separate true from false, but it’s just the start. We need to reach a point where AI imagery can exist without it casting doubt on the veracity of news images.

The Image above was generated through deepai.org using this headline from The Guardian, “Sellafield nuclear site has leak that could pose risk to public”. It would be tempting (but on the whole, wrong) for media outlets to use AI-generated images to illustrate their stories. To be clear, The Guardian did not use this image to illustrate its story.

The Next 40+ Years

Whatever era we’re leaving behind, whatever we’re moving into, change will be both fast and slow depending on your perspective. Whatever happens, we’ll look back on this decade, at the photographers who have passed (and who will yet do so) and we’ll be tempted to draw an arbitrary line and say this was the end of an era.

The truth is, the current era started almost 20 years ago, and it will easily take another 20 years to stop starting by which time it’ll be about ready to start stopping. By which time I’ll be 107 years old (or more likely dead). Either way, it’s highly likely I’ll have stopped caring.

 

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.

Carry On Lurking

Social media is a funny old place. I can post images to my Instagram account, Facebook, Threads, X… (to be honest, the list is starting to become overwhelming) and see very little activity. Likes elude me.

For the most part I ascribe this tumbleweed reaction to a couple of issues. Firstly, many people are a bit tired and bored of social media. It’s been around a while and the novelty has long worn off.

The next aspect I would describe as Like Fatigue. I’ve experienced Like Fatigue myself, and it’s when you scroll through a feed, see something you like, but don’t feel compelled to ‘Like’ it with a press of the thumbs-up, heart or whatever. It just seems like too much effort!

People are busier than ever. We all have lives to live, jobs to hold down and commitments beyond the digital sphere. Even if we have time for social media, it’s more limited than ever before. This not only follows on to my next point, but also circles back to what I alluded to in my opening line – there’s just too much choice!

Due to lack of time, not only can I not always hit every channel with every picture I take, but audiences drift between SM platforms and might not see what I’ve posted (boohoo me, I know).

Then there’s the dead hand of the algorithm. I’ve lost count of the people I’ve lost track of because the algorithm no longer serves up their posts in my feed. Sometimes I’ll suddenly remember someone whose work I used to like and I have to go and search them out to see if they’ve posted anything I’ve missed. I’m sure I have followers who’ve had a similar experience of losing track of me due to algorithm constipation.

But there is one group who have always existed; the Lurkers. Right from the very start of my Social Media dealings I’ve known there were people who saw my posts, enjoyed them, but never Liked or commented on them. I would be oblivious that they’d seen them at all. Then one day I’ll be on a corporate job, or shooting some PR event, and someone will come to me to tell me in person how much they enjoy my personal project work. Indeed I’ve even had bookings as a result of what someone has seen!

I also suspect some clients book me because my Social Media postings of my personal work have helped to keep me in their minds when it came to booking a photographer.

Bear in mind, the work I post on social media has little in common with my client work, but it clearly has the effect of engaging clients and reminding them that I exist. I’m also convinced it shows people a different side to my work, and they enjoy that.

This last point is a small, subtle, but significant one to me. Shooting personal work can often feel isolating and even pointless. It can also feel self-indulgent to go off and spend time on what might be called non-business work, but because it acts as a soft marketing tool, it’s a mistake to assume it has little value.

While it’s lovely to see a post get Likes and attention from followers, it’s too easy to dismiss my lurkers. So I want to thank them and let them know I appreciate them. I understand there may be many reasons they don’t tap the heart icon, or give my work the thumbs-up, but that’s ok.

My lurkers probably outnumber my active followers, but in my (non-scientific) reckoning they’re also more likely to be clients, or they’re more likely to recommend me to new clients. So I’m absolutely not going to complain about their apparent passivity.

Lurkers, I thank you and you are welcome to lurk all you like. I know you’re there and that’s all that really matters. So as Kenneth Williams never said, “Carry On Lurking!”

AI AI, What’s All This Then?

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ll be aware of a great deal of chatter about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and its increasing influence on all our lives. I suspect some of that chatter is AI-generated, but how would we know?

Of course in this article I’ll be contemplating AI’s impact on the future of photography. I think it’s going to be interesting.

The AI Roadmap

I say interesting because you can see that AI is at the foothills of its potential (good or bad). Give it a few years and you’ll see it progress beyond what we can imagine right now.

Also bear in mind that different areas of photography will be affected in different ways and at a different pace.

Right now, AI images of people are creepy, weird and downright unnerving (see examples below generated using DeepAI.org).

Inanimate objects are generally better, but are they convincing? I’d say this is where progress will advance most rapidly. For now, many product shots are rendered using computer graphics anyway, so AI will probably simply change how those renders are generated. Product photographers will still find themselves in demand for the more bespoke shoots.

Some areas could see no impact at all. Do you want AI-generated family photos? How about a wedding? What would be the point?

We’ve Been Here Before

Thinking about images for business, I see AI as having parallels with micro-payment stock photography of a decade or so ago; businesses embraced it as an easy way to fill the gaps between words on their websites, but many have reverted to commissioned work as it’s more convincing.

There is currently a cost barrier to AI. It’s more expensive and time-consuming to get usable visual AI content for marketing purposes than it is to commission original work. However, even if the cost and quality of AI become non-issues, there’s the question of the human factor.

Microstock flourished while it was novel and before businesses realised they needed to connect with clients and consumers on a human level. They discovered their audiences weren’t engaging with the over-polished models and unrealistic scenarios of the stock world. Where we are now is that stock images supplement pictures of ‘real’ people, but they can’t replace them. The same will stand for AI.

In fact commissioned work (in my personal experience) has grown over the past decade. It will continue to grow as businesses use more video, which stock (and AI) imagery won’t be able to compete with for a very long time (if ever).

What stock could never replace, AI won’t be able to either. If anything, AI will replace stock imagery and we’re starting to see that happen.

Stocks and ShAIrs (ouch)

Shutterstock, the bete noir of photography and the murderer of the viable stock image industry, have seen the future. And the future is bleak.

They now have their own AI image-generating portal, which I suspect not only undercuts their contributing photographers, but might also be using the existing library of 400 million+ images (supplied by those same contributors) to feed the neural engine which generates the AI images. It’ll be interesting to see how Shutterstock plans on ‘rewarding’ contributing photographers when their images are reduced to AI fodder. An AI-generated image will contain data from hundreds (maybe thousands) of images from the library, so who gets paid for that data. Will photographers know which pixel was theirs?

Am AI Safe From All This?

Notwithstanding my tortured AI-themed puns, I can see how AI might impact certain areas of my work, but since I mostly concentrate on photographing real people, and since this is what businesses need, it’s hard to see how AI can impact that.

And AI currently works best when used to generate static content. Video would require an unimaginably high level of computing power (read ‘cost’) which doesn’t yet exist. I say yet, but processors based on quantum physics are emerging in laboratories and could be in our devices soon enough.

Ultimately I don’t think it matters what AI does, because one thing it can never replicate is reality. It will have its uses, but for my typical client there is nothing that can beat the human touch. I am going to confidently say, there never will be.

One More Thought

This is perhaps the most troubling thought too. AI has already been used to generate ‘deepfake’ news images and video. We can’t stop this, but news outlets will need new tools and rules to spot and stop this. That is where the real danger of AI lies. The last two words of that sentence are the perfect note to end on.

Bye Bye 2022

What. A. Year!

It’s fair to say 2022 has been a bastard. I don’t even want to list the reasons here because it’s too depressing, we all know what I mean.

So perhaps it’s unsurprising if I feel a little guilty that I’m sitting here in a (relatively) warm home, with food in the cupboards while I look back on what has been an unexpectedly successful year for me. But feeling guilty isn’t constructive, so I need to do more in 2023 to give and give back where it can help others. I did some of this in 2022 and hope to do more 2023.

2022’s Achievements (and disappointments)

Before writing this, I checked what goals I’d set for 2022 to see if I’d achieved any of them. It turns out, I didn’t set much in the way of targets, but there was a vague hint in that post about something big.

That ‘something big’ was getting my book What Happened Here designed and launched in time for Photo|Frome in June, which I just about managed. Sadly, for the official launch I caught covid and had to bail out, which didn’t help initial sales of the book. However, it’s been going steadily ever since and even my local bookshop were keen to stock it! So now people can buy online from me, or walk into Winstone’s Hunting Raven in Frome and purchase a softcover copy in-person.

Photo|Frome 2023

Photo|Frome 2022 was a huge success, and while I did what I could to help with setting up, not long after launch I was under quarantine so missed most of the festival. We’re already working hard to make Photo|Frome 2023 happen, but finding cash for an event in the teeth of a recession will be no small task. If you’re able to help, do drop me a line!

What Else in 2023

My hope is that having diversified into video during lockdown, this recession might not hit me as hard as previous ones have. Businesses actively wanting to ride out the storm will need a combination of stills and video for their marketing. Being able to offer both is a huge advantage. Of course I can’t predict how much it’ll help, but I’m glad I have the additional skill now.

And Finally…

I’m going to leave you with a smattering of 2022 images, all from personal projects and trips made this year. They illustrate my key photographic interests when not on commission.

It just remains for me to wish you all a super Christmas and all the very best for the coming year. Let’s hope that in 2023 Putin is deposed, the Iranian government is replaced by people who understand civility and China stops acting like a petulant toddler.

Oh and thank you, in what ever way you’ve supported me over the past 12 months. It doesn’t go unnoticed!

It’s A Steel!

It’s awards season! And not to be left out, I found myself at the Digital Impact Awards Europe gala dinner at Park Plaza Riverbank in London last week. Swanky, eh?!

Now I should clarify that I wasn’t personally up for an award, but was there as a guest of my client, Shaw & Co, and their brilliant branding agency, Design By Structure, who were shortlisted in two categories, ‘Best Digital Rebrand’ and ‘Best Use of Digital – Professional Services’.

I was invited to take a guest seat at the table because in my client’s words, “Your images and video are a central thread through our branding. You have to be there.” So I went, and I’m glad I did.

The Dream Warm-Up

The evening started brilliantly with a warm-up act by one of my comedy heroes, Mark Steel, who did his ‘grumpy about how rubbish everything is’ style of comedy aimed squarely at the difficulties of dealing with life in a digital world; passwords we can never remember and which are a PITA to recover was one superb stream-of-consciousness rant from the master of rants.

Mark co-hosted the evening, reading out the shortlisted entries to an increasingly loud (read drunk) audience, and occasionally threatening to have the next award handed to a member of the waiting staff if no one was going to listen to the announcements.

The Competition

My client and their agency were up against some really big brands (with even bigger budgets), so we didn’t expect anything much beyond the nice dinner and some free bubbly, so when they scored Highly Commended in both their nominated categories, they were absolutely delighted.

Bear in mind, this is a brand working with a fraction of the marketing budget of the likes of Canon Europe, DHL and Diageo who all scooped top awards, so to even have a nomination was a great result. Two nominations, even better, and to score Highly Commended in both, just astonishing.

Cornering the Comedian

To top my evening off I managed to corner Mark Steel to shake his hand and trouble him for the inevitable selfie, at which point he asked if I fancied having a beer with him! So we talked about his Radio 4 show, Mark Steel’s In Town, life as a comedian (how you can tell if someone’s going to make it in standup), then on to football, tennis and the joys of learning a foreign language (Mark is fluent in French so go find his Paris show on that previous link).

I have to admit, I came back on the train the next morning with something of a fuzzy head, but it was more the lack of sleep than an excess of alcohol. But as tired as I was, the thrill of seeing how my work played a part in a client’s success was heightened further by the experience of meeting someone else whose work I admire. Thanks for being a proper, down-to-earth gent, Mark, it was a pleasure to share a beer with you.*

*To be clear, we didn’t share the same bottle as that would have been weird and gross.

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.