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

Get me a coffee!

Last week I spoke about the tentative shoots of recovery as I was starting to receive enquiries and bookings again, but I did temper this with a word of caution that times would be tricky for a while yet.

What this means for many, including myself, is a constant process of working out what’s next and how we can keep going. For my part I’ve already made quite a few adjustments and will have to continue to find new ways of working and earning until the economy recovers, whenever that might be.

Lowering Costs

One fortuitous decision I took at the tail end of last year was to quit the office I’d been renting for the previous 8 years and convert an outhouse at home into a workspace, nicknamed The Bunker. Perhaps I had some incredible foresight into future events because it’s been one of the most beneficial decisions I’ve taken in a long time. Now I’m working rent-free, claiming additional work-from-home tax allowances and I have an editing space designed to my needs.

During lockdown it’s also meant I had an office which opens onto my garden, which has helped save my soul.

Diversifying

I’ve also finally ventured into video. Adding a new skill will make me more valuable to my existing and future clients. It’s also really interesting and creative in a way I hadn’t expected, and allows me to play with sound, which has always been a fascination of mine. I’ve already had enquiries about that, so I’m hopeful it will prove beneficial to my clients.

Rattling the Tin

On the flip side of my client work are my personal projects, which are so vital to my practice. These have obviously suffered through lockdown, but I’m starting them up again as best I can.

There is a challenge here though; personal projects have always been partially funded through client work, which is, as I say, tentative.

Tentative also describes the level of print sales through takeagander.co.uk. These were always a longer-term goal as it’s tough to build them up, so currently they’re not supporting the personal work either.

So I’ve set up a ko-fi account (ko-fi.com/takeagander) where people can support me with small donations if they’re not ready to buy a print. The takeagander website is peppered with “Buy me a coffee” buttons which take you to the donation page. Even the smallest amount will help, so do please spread the word by sharing the link far and wide. And of course you can make a donation here too if you’d like to support my work.

Currently I have a modest £100.00 goal to raise money for film which is already 30% funded. Since it’s only been up a short while, that’s astounding! This will be used for my current project, an un-sentimental journey across Salisbury Plain.

More to Come

Other plans are afoot, but too early to reveal yet. So to get early notice of developments, keep watching this space, or sign up to my newsletter at takeagander.co.uk. You can also see projects unfolding at takeagander on Instagram.

Also, feel free to drop me a line, comment here, or send a carrier pigeon. Moral support really is just as welcome as the financial assistance.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride for all of us, so I’ll keep saying this; if there is some way I can help you and your business, drop me a line and let’s see if we can’t make the road ahead a little smoother.

Looking back, Looking Forward

One aspect of blogging regularly is that, as with a diary, you have a record of your past preoccupations.

In these turbulent times that could be a comfort, perhaps, but it can also be weird.

For example, as I was working out what to write today I found myself looking back at pre-pandemic posts and thinking, “Wow! I really had no idea what was coming.”

Which lead me to darker thoughts about whether we’ll get to look back on this time from some sunny uplands, or whether even this will start to look like some halcyon dream.

Of course I hope for the former, but listening to Norman Lamont on the radio yesterday, talking about how we’ll have to pay down the debt we’re currently running up, I couldn’t help wondering if we’ll be able to do that before the next pandemic. Or maybe China will blow up, or Kanye West will become President of the USA and World markets will decide to crash just for the sake of it.

Good grief! This post got awful dark, awful quick.

Ok, here’s the future – everything is going to be fantastic. Business will pick up again, green technology will mean the planet is saved, and all that debt? Well if every country in the world is up to its neck in debt, we just have to find the person we owe the money to and ask them to play nice or else.

Now I’ve either predicted the future, or jinxed it completely. Don’t blame me though, start with the guy we owe all that money to.

Latest Covid Update for Clients

15th June 2020.

Welcome to the new Covid Updates post (replacing the article published 30th March which you can still see here if you wish).

This post is designed to give you the latest information on where I am with regards my trading position and more importantly, my approach to working with clients as more businesses look to re-engage and get their corporate photography and video organised.

My Trading Position.

I’m still solvent and trading and looking stable for the foreseeable future. I’ve added a video service (please enquire), which means I can help you in more ways than before. All my image delivery systems are paid-up and fully functioning, so you can continue to access your online photo libraries with confidence.

Safety.

Of course I’m looking forward to working with high-quality clients once again, but this has to be safe for all involved.

Photography and video sessions will require a greater level of planning than before, which will probably require greater lead times. It’s possible some styles and types of photography will remain difficult, even impossible, for a while yet. Speak to me about what you’re hoping to achieve and we’ll work it through together.

Before attending your place of work I will need to be briefed on your safety measures and procedures.

Please bear in mind that carrying photographic equipment along with backdrops, lighting and stands can result in many more touch-points than might normally be expected. Where in the past clients have helped carry bags, this may not be appropriate. More comprehensive planning will allow me to do this safely. In some cases I will recommend a change in approach, which might mean your pictures won’t match with previously-taken sets. We’ll have to work and think differently for a while.

Set-up times will be extended and we will need to build this into the timings.

I will be using face coverings while working. They are not medical-grade, but will reduce the risk of me spreading coronavirus (assuming I have it and am asymptomatic – please see below for more on this).

I will bring my own alcohol hand gel, but please ensure there is ample access to hand washing facilities and hand gel and make sure I know where these facilities are.

If I feel I am starting to show symptoms of coronavirus prior to a job, I will do everything I can to ensure your event is covered by an alternative photographer, or we can re-arrange the date. Of course this virus can develop symptoms quickly and last-minute changes may be unavoidable. Likewise, if you or anyone in your team starts to show symptoms, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Postponements and cancellations.

I will work closely with you in the run-up to the photo session. If a cancellation or postponement becomes necessary for either party, we can discuss and agree the best way forward. I will do all I can to help. As a rule I charge the full assignment fee on jobs cancelled less than 24 hours prior to commencement, but I will take a view of this on a case-by-case basis.

My clients are my priority.

I will do everything I can to help you through this weird and challenging time and to get the imagery you need for all your visual communications, but I can help in other ways too. I’m here to help if you need to kick ideas around, or with reviewing your current imagery to see where improvements might be necessary. Steps such as this can mean that once you’re ready to go ahead with your next project, we’ve already done the groundwork.

In the meantime, keep well, stay safe and I look forward to working with you soon.

 

Tim

On Being a Photographer

“Never Too Old to Learn” is the title of one of the assignments from the newspaper photography course I attended back in 1992.

I remember it particularly well because I ended up contriving a story in which a grandmother was learning to fly helicopters. Of course she wasn’t actually learning to fly helicopters, but since this was just an exercise in illustration it didn’t have to be a true story.

I found a suitably elderly model and a suitably cooperative helicopter pilot, put the two together and took some shots which worked pretty well. All lies, but it fulfilled the purpose of the assignment and the grandmother had a blast.

The reason I’m reminded of this particular college assignment now is because I’ve just bought a copy of “On Being A Photographer” by David Hurn and Bill Jay. Even as a photographer with 30+ years in his back pocket, I still expect to learn a great deal from reading this book.

The other college-days connection here is that David Hurn founded the School of Documentary Photography in Newport. I went to Stradbroke college in Sheffield because that was where budding newspaper photographers went if they wanted to get into the industry. Us Stradbrokers would scoff at the Newport photographers because they had a reputation for swanning about in desert boots while carrying Billingham bags and dreams of shooting for National Geographic.

We were “the real photographers” who would all go on to work for The Independent or Observer magazine, covering conflict and strife around the globe. In reality Newport was a very fine college (the very best for photo-documentary training) and we had as much chance of fulfilling our perceived destinies as those who went to Newport. In other words, not much chance at all.

Actually, most of us did at least make it on to local and regional papers and one or two of us worked with national titles. Even now, one or two of our cohort are still working (albeit occasionally) for international titles.

But Stradbroke for me was 28 years ago. So why have I gone back to the books? In particular one written by the founder of a course I disparaged at the time? Simple; I’ve grown up. I’ve changed and I continue to change. I’m always looking at new sources of inspiration and solid foundations for new knowledge. I slightly wish I’d been able to go to Newport, even better go to Newport AND Stradbroke; that would have been incredible, but it wasn’t possible.

On Being A Photographer has a particular focus on the kind of work I do in my personal projects now and in this regard it will prove invaluable. I know I’ll learn new, better approaches and I’ll have a clearer understanding of how a photo essay should be approached.

It might take me another 30 years, but I hope this book will put me on the path to being a better documentary photographer. I’ll have to let you know how it goes.