Buckle Up! It’s going to get rough (again)

The previous 15 years has been a tough time for many, myself included, so what will this coming recession mean and what can I do to help your business?

The short answer to either of those questions could be ‘not a lot’, but I think there are ways we can coordinate our approach and help each other. Here’s a broad outline of my plans as we head into choppy waters.

In the wake of the pandemic, I set up a Startups Exclusive package. Aimed at those starting up new businesses, perhaps as a result of being made redundant or deciding on a career change after being furloughed, this is my most competitive package and is a gesture to help individuals or teams of up to three to get their branding images in the bag. It is limited to genuine startups though, so please don’t try to book this if you’re an established business 🙂

Since the fallout of the pandemic is still with us, compounded by Putin’s nasty little war, it seems fair to keep this package going for the foreseeable future.

The other way I can help your business communicate with your audience is through video work.

Now I’m not going to pretend video is cheap. Cheap video is cheap, but that doesn’t work for most professional businesses. Even the YouTube and Instagram influencer crowd has had to up their game, but good quality video, the kind you’d want representing your brand, has become far more accessible than it used to be.

With sensible pre-production planning, a day’s video shoot can often be edited a number of ways to suit different platforms and target specific audiences. It requires close collaboration and good communication to get the most out of a video session, but the results achievable with relatively modest outlay can be far better polished than anything a solo photographer could offer just a few years ago.

To help clients save valuable marketing budget, I’m very open with clients about what I can do for them in terms of video. Before there’s any commitment between us, I’m happy to discuss an outline brief with you. If your project requires a crew or production company, I’ll tell you I’m not the solution you need. You’ll either have to increase your budget and find the right supplier, or trim your expectations to match your available budget.

If what you want is office B roll (a flavour of your team, culture and working environment, for example), that I can do. I can undertake interview projects, short promo videos – it basically comes down to what you require and what resources will be needed to achieve that.

Ultimately, where this helps businesses is they can now access a quality of video they simply couldn’t raise budget for previously, and video has definitely become more important in corporate communications than ever it was previously.

Underpinning the services I offer, I’ve always believed that communication, coordination and flexibility are the best routes to success. I’ve been freelance for almost 25 years now, and in that time I’ve seen clients flourish and I’ve seen clients fail.

Thankfully far more have flourished than have failed, but I can honestly say that the failures were always the ones least open to communication with me, least willing to take advice on how best to make a project work and a realistic view of the resources required. I was simply a tool for the task, rather than a collaborator in their project.

It will have been a wider, embedded corporate culture which lead to this failure for sure, but if you’re open to communicating, being realistic about what it costs to achieve your goals and can be flexible to adapt to changing needs, we can help each other.

The one thing to keep in mind is that I want you and your business to succeed, even through the toughest times. If we can achieve that, just think what we can achieve in calmer waters!

If any of this chimes with you, why not drop me a line? It’d be great to hear from you.

Post-Pandemic Chic

Looking towards a post-pandemic world, it could be argued that people have become accustomed to a “Zoom aesthetic”. We’re used to seeing colleagues and clients on fuzzy webcams, over poor connections and with a variety of peculiar (occasionally embarrassing) backdrops. I’ve even been on a Zoom workshop in which one participant’s webcam was upside down, so does image really matter anymore?

Will the new aesthetic stick like a virus?

Does this mean we no longer need polished portraits for our business profiles? After all, models and celebrities have been doing selfie shoots for magazine features and advertisements through lockdown and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm.

Well ok, so they’re usually living in beautiful homes in sunny climes. They have the means to simply purchase whatever kit they need to capture the best image, and many of them are well aware of how to work with lighting and angles to best effect. They’re also working towards a different result than that required in a corporate website.

 

Quality still matters.

I would argue that quality matters even more now than it did a year ago. Zoom, Teams and Webex (who?) have been a hoot, but that’s not the look you need when a client visits your website or social media channels.

When clients find your website, they still view every element of it as an extension of your values. Good quality reflects well, and all the small cues, such as how well the site is designed, how well the copy is written and (of course) the quality of your photography will all influence the visitor’s impression of your business.

Of course it’s different when you’re speaking to someone on Zoom or Teams. The context is different and the two of you are likely on a level playing field of awkwardness. Even then, if you’re pitching to a potential client via video call, you’ll make sure you’ve sorted out your bookshelf first. No one needs to see your collection of Victorian “art” catalogues. Or you’ll use one of those weird green screen-style photo backdrops that makes half your face vanish every time you shift in your seat.

Making that call.

If that’s the aesthetic you’re going for within your website, I wish you well, but I reckon most people will want to forget the Pandemic Look as soon as they can. They certainly won’t want to be reminded of it in your About Us section.

Drop me a line about your next photography project, be it business profile pictures, office shots, social media stock images or video and let’s get Covid out of the picture.

On Reflection

Glasses. Don’t you love ’em? They’re never where you need them. You spend ages hunting for them only to discover they’re already on top of your head. Yet even though contact lens technology has leapt forward, they don’t work for everyone and so we still need our specs a lot of the time.

I didn’t need to wear glasses at all until I hit 45, then BAM! my near vision went. I couldn’t work out why I was struggling to see the images on the back of my camera. I thought I needed a longer neck strap, then longer arms. Then I realised, I needed an eye test.

Now I can work fine with glasses. Ok, it’s a bit of a pain, but on the whole I’ve got used to them. The bigger issue tends to be when a portrait sitter wears glasses; how do we avoid reflections from the lenses? Well here are some helpful tips if you’re a glasses wearer.

To wear, or not to wear? Is it even a question?

The first question (so yes, it is a question) is whether you should wear glasses at all when having your portrait taken. My answer is always, if you’re known for wearing glasses, if you wear them the majority of the time, then wear them for the shoot.

Someone who habitually wears glasses can look uncomfortable without them. I’m always happy to do with-and-without, but vanity shouldn’t be the deciding factor (that’s for you to decide) and neither should the risk of reflections (a technical issue for me to work through).

What can be done to avoid reflections?

Mainly it’s a lighting issue. Uncontrolled daylight can make it impossible to avoid some reflection in the glasses, but for portraits I almost always use portable studio flash as my sole lighting source. This gives me more control over the final look, as well as over reflections.

Then I choose lighting modifiers which minimise the risk of reflections. The position of my lights is also a major factor, but there are also things you, as the glasses-wearing sitter, can do to help.

Probably the most important factor is the quality of your glasses. Spectacles with good quality coated lenses are best. You may remember gasping at the cost when your optician quoted for non-reflective coatings, but they are designed to transmit as much light as possible to your eyes which means you can see things more clearly. Happily they also mean less light bounces off the surface of the lenses and *hey presto* less reflection back to the camera.

Now the most expensive coatings in the world are useless if your lenses are double-coated in fingerprints, chip grease and cat hair, so make sure they’re scrupulously clean right to the edges. Once cleaned, you’ll probably see a lot better too! Use a good quality cloth and cleaner fluid if they’re really manky, but go gently – you don’t want to damage them. Your optician should be able to advise on the best cleaning methods.

Anything else?

Yes, head position will also be a factor in the same way the position of the lights will help exclude reflections. This is something I guide people on once they’re in front of me, so there isn’t any general advice I can offer beyond “listen to the photographer and do as they ask”. I’m happy to boss you about (gently of course) if it means a great end result.

The only other thing which can be an issue for glasses wearers is when the frame cuts across the eyes. This is normally avoided by ensuring your spectacles are properly seated on your nose, not slipping forward. This is less a reflection issue, but it can help with the positioning of your face in relation to the lights, so it’s also important.

But that’s it really; the right lighting, decent quality lenses, keeping them clean and head/face position. It’s a bit of a team effort, but on reflection, I think it’s worth it.

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.

Emergency Blog

Do you know what? I have written and re-written this article about half a dozen times, trying to say so many things about how I hope everyone is ok and about what my coping strategy is.

The problem is, since we’re all in the same boat, anything I write looks like opportunist marketing, so I’ll just say this:

  • Stay safe, obviously.
  • If I can help with anything, let me know. Even if it’s just to pick my brains.
  • I am determined to be here for my clients all through this and well beyond.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck at home and need a diversion, check out takagander and consider buying a print (if there is anything you like). This will help keep me sane while everything else is in shutdown.

And if you do buy a print, use TAKEA20 at checkout to get £20.00 off any canvas print, or £20 off any fine art print (or multiple prints) when you spend £150.00 or more. Hurry though, the offer expires on March 20th. There, I just marketed again! Ugh.

A final few words for now:

It’s going to be tough to plan new photography for your business when we don’t have a timescale for this situation, but do speak to me now because we can all hit the ground running whenever the brakes come off. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Take care,

Tim

Beyond the Brief

Next time you’re planning to update the photography for your corporate communications, why not consider allowing some additional creative time within the session? Allowing some creative space beyond the brief could result in some interesting results.

An excellent example of this is from November last year when I was commissioned to create new team head shots for business data analysts Kaiasm – I’m massively paraphrasing what they do for the sake of brevity.

There was one shot which I pretty much took as a bit of a joke; I’d noticed how the data graph behind the founder Liam McGee’s head made him look like he had a halo. When I mentioned this to him, he obliged with a suitable pose and expression and I took the shot.

The photo was included in the final edit because I know clients often enjoy the odd outtake in their set, but I didn’t expect to see it used.

A couple of weeks later, the local paper ran the photo with an article about Kaiasm and their pending expansion plans.

So allowing some creative freedom and a dollop of humour can lead to unexpectedly useful results. That photo will have drawn far more attention to the article than any plain headshot or stock image of the office would have done, and will have conveyed Kaiasm as a business run by human beings, not robots.

Bear in mind the creative possibilities, even the occasional happy accident afforded by engaging a professional photographer, and you may find the results are a revelation.

Say CHEESE!

Finding a photographer is as easy as finding cheddar cheese in Cheddar, and in case you were unaware; Cheddar is an actual place and it’s where cheddar cheese originally came from before everyone from the Irish to the Azerbaijanis decided to make “cheddar cheese” themselves and flood the market with their filth. Even so, there is an awful lot of cheddar in Cheddar and it’s easy to find, trust me.

Sorry, I digress. It’s just that living in Somerset, about 30 minutes from Cheddar, I’m a little fussy about where my cheddar comes from. Although, at the risk of prolonging this needless digression further, there’s an excellent Somerset brie which I highly recommend. Apologies to Brieland.

Right, back to my point… which was? Oh yes, photographers are easy to find (yes, I said that already, get on with it Tim!) But actually, like cheddar, not all photographers are the same. Just like Canadian cheddar, there’s a lot of rubbish out there (sorry Canadaland, but your cheddar is pants*). And even amongst the really excellent cheddars, not every cheddar will suit your pallet, just as not every excellent photographer will suit your requirements.

Some cheddars are creamy, smooth and mild. Others are crumbly, borderline gritty with a bite that gives you that weird stinging sensation at the back of your jaw. I actually love a strong cheddar, but it’s not to everyone’s taste and it doesn’t suit all occasions.

So what I’m saying is, yes it’s easy to find a photographer, but make sure they shoot what you need in the style you need it. There is rarely any merit in hiring a wedding photographer to shoot your corporate website (I accept a few exceptions to this rule, but only very few). Likewise, I really don’t ‘do’ food. For that you need a food photographer, who will have all the tools, both mentally and in terms of equipment, to make your dishes look mouthwatering. Hire me to photograph your food and I’ll probably just eat it. It’s also well known I don’t do weddings. Why would I when there are some superb wedding specialists out there?

When hunting out the best photographer for your job, you’ll probably start with a search using the terms for the kind of photographer you’re after, eg: business, portrait, photographer, Bristol, or whatever. This will return MANY sites to consider and you’ll probably want to start by quickly dismissing the part-time photographers, the wedding photographers and the “I have a camera and will literally point it at anything you want me to” photographers.

This is no easy task, but usually a few moments spent looking through their online portfolios will tell you whether or not they do what you need AND are competent at it. Also if a portfolio is a scattergun of different genres, subjects and styles, you might want to move on as this can suggest either that the photographer is not consistent in their field, or that they’ve been stealing other peoples’ photos to build their own portfolio. Perhaps shocking in the age of the internet, but yes this does happen.

It’s taken me years to find the right cheddar for my tastes. I like Wyke Farm Extra Mature for everyday eating and for recipes, while I’ve yet to find a cheddar which quite matches the joy of Westcombe Dairy’s prize-winning offering. So having found my favourites, I stick with them. The same can go for your photographer if it’s a case of shooting the same subject or genre of photography and the photographer shoots to the style and quality which matches your standards.

Just as you can constantly chop, change and shop around for your cheddar cheese, you can constantly chop and change your choice of photographer. However, if your corporate communications end up looking like a ragtag of styles and qualities, well that’s just hard cheese.

*I’m using the UK definition of ‘pants’ as in ‘underwear’. Yes, Canada, I’m sorry, but your cheddar tastes like grey y-fronts. I love Canadians though, and they make the best maple syrup.

Space – Time Continuum

A recent experience reminded me once again of the importance of two particular aspects of a corporate portrait photography session, namely space and time. In fact as these two elements are inextricably linked, we can refer to them as a continuum.

Setting aside the fourth dimension for a moment, on this particular occasion I was shown into a vast board room, which would have been perfect except it was mostly filled with immobile boardroom furniture; massive table and countless chairs. At the same time I was told I could only have the room for half an hour, which is approximately how long it would have taken me to set up the lighting kit even if there had been space to do so.

This would have left no time for any photography to happen, let lone the two hours I was booked for. A continuum conundrum, no less.

Thankfully we were able to find an alternative room which, though smaller, had much more clear floor space. It was also available for two hours, which was just about enough – not perfect, as I was booked for three (and could happily have filled them with the shots listed as required), but better than zero minutes by quite a considerable percentage.

Of course when you’re setting up a photo session, coordinating the schedules of everyone involved is often a headache, but it’s worth thinking of the room and the time required as if they were two more people in the schedule. If a room or the time in that room are unavailable, it’s a no-goer.

The time required will depend on how many people are to be photographed and the brief to which I’ll be working (more varieties of poses etc will obviously require more time) and at least 30 minute’s set-up and break-down time should be factored either side of the session.

How much space is needed will depend on whether it’s close head shots or full-length portraits required (full-length requires a great deal more space), but as a rule of thumb for headshots, you need to allow approximately 2.5 – 3m width x 3m length (length being the distance between where I’ll stand and the next wall or immobile obstacle).

This is approximate, but it is a realistic guide. You can easily add another couple of metres to the length for full-length portraits.

The photo on this article shows an example of where I’ve had more space than I knew what to do with (it was in fact one half of a hotel ballroom!), but seeing the set-up gives you some notion of how that space is used.

So remember, when you’re booking all the executives and colleagues for that all-important photo session, don’t forget to plan the room and ring-fence the time. Without those two elements, the space – time continuum breaks down and everything else becomes academic.

Work Experience Advice

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer any student of photography when seeking work experience is let the application itself be part of the experience. I should preface by saying that I rarely offer work experience placements for a multitude of reasons I won’t go into here, but follow a few simple rules and your application will stand a better chance of finding success.

 

  • Get the photographer’s name right and use it. Just saying “Hi” suggests you’re sending a round-robin email.
  • Don’t send a round-robin email and NEVER use the CC or even BCC functions to send out mass communications.
  • If you cut and paste an email text, make sure you tailor it to each individual recipient.
  • Do your research. Look at the photographer’s website to establish whether they’re working in the specific field you’re interested in.
  • Talk about the kind of photography career you’re interested in, but more in terms of the business than the style. Saying you like to photograph people isn’t the same as saying you want to shoot pictures for businesses (what I call corporate communications photography).
  • When looking at a photographer’s site, look at the kind of work they’re doing and establish from that whether they’re studio-based, work only on location or a mixture of the two. Students often ask to join me in my studio, but it’s possible to work out from my website that I don’t have one.
  • Make sure your contact details are correct, including mobile number and email address.
  • Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar and get someone else to check it for you – this should be someone who is really good at checking these things, so ask a teacher, lecturer or other competent person.
  • Be sure to include your ability to travel – do you have your own transport?

I could go on, but hitting these main points should get your toe in the door at least.

Although I can’t often offer work experience, a competent application will at least get a response from me. Usually I’ll make an offer to have a phone conversation about what the applicant wants to do in the industry, the opportunities and where else to get advice, but I’m astonished how often my email reply goes unanswered. Which of course makes it harder for the next student to get a response from me.

Work experience can be invaluable, it’s how I started out as a press photographer, but the industry structures for training, nurturing and furthering a career have either changed or disappeared since I set out on my journey. Students today will need to find their own tracks into their chosen career, but get these basics right and you never know, you could find yourself ahead of the game and on your way to doing probably the best job in the world.

Gimme Some Room!

Much of my business photography consists of taking portraits of, rather predictably, business people. So far so good.

This pretty much always happens at their place of work because that means less disruption to their busy schedule and I can create a set of portraits covering all the colleagues that happen to be in the building that day. Still so far so good.

Where “so far so good” becomes “ummm” is when I’m shown into a meeting room/stationery cupboard which is so crammed with immobile tables and heavy chairs/stationery that I have no space to actually take pictures.

I do make a point of requesting a space roughly 10 foot square, but sometimes the message gets lost or it’s assumed the boardroom table can be moved when I get there. More commonly now, tables are cabled to the floor with telephone and computer wires, which will only stretch so far before they go PING! and the IT department has to be called in.

So to say I was utterly delighted with the space I was given this week is an understatement – half a ballroom in a hotel. All to myself, with nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing taking up floor space. In fact I had to pull a small table into the room so I could check off peoples’ names as I went without having to squat on the floor.

A photographer's backdrop and studio flash equipment are set up in a large empty room in the Hilton, Walcot Street, Bath, UK

A great space for portraits

I thoroughly enjoyed setting up my backdrop and lights slap bang in the middle of the space. It gave the whole thing a slightly surreal air and the people who came in to have their photos taken were astonished that the room they’d been assigned for their meeting was so much smaller than the one reserved for me.

Of course the ballroom wouldn’t have worked for them because they needed AV and a projector for their presentations which the ballroom didn’t have, but it did make me feel very special and it also meant I had bags of room to control how the lights lit the backdrop and the sitters. It meant I could work towards a very particular look without too much difficulty.

Ok, not the most exciting tale in the world, and it’s not as if I’ll be dining out on that one ever, but it’s a fine illustration of how giving the photographer ample space to work will not only make their life easier, it’ll also mean they can work to achieve more accurate results in-camera and ensure that so far so good endures right through to “that’s a wrap”.