Tri-ing Weather

For the last two weeks everyone (almost) was going Olympic mad and while I was pretty cynical about the whole thing in the build-up, ten minutes into the opening ceremony I was completely won over.

Professionally-speaking, apart from covering the torch relay as it left University of Bath, I’ve had very little involvement in the Olympics. However, I did get to cover the “Triathlon Live” Give It A Tri event in Bristol’s Millennium Square last week, an event held at various locations around England and organised by Triathlon England to bring active sports to the public.

Teams and individuals visiting the event could try swimming, cycling and running, all on machines and in a high-tech swimming pool and against the clock. It was great fun, but the weather tended to keep the crowds away from the open-air seating where they could sit and watch live Olympic events on a giant screen.

It did make for some interesting shots, a couple of which I’ve featured here.

Swimmer in swimming pool with virtual current generated by water pumps.

When the sun came out, the water was lovely.

Man under large Union flag umbrella in deckchair at Millennium Square, Bristol.

It may have been thirsty work at Wimbledon, but in Bristol there was an abundance of water.

Is the gargoyle look in season?

It was around this time last year I blogged about conference photography, and since I’ve just come through another season of them again it seems timely to remind you all what a good photographic opportunity it can be.

When it comes to conferences, it’s easy for an organisation to talk itself out of hiring a professional photographer to cover the event (that’s assuming they’ve given photography any thought at all).

If you’re considering a conference you might dismiss the need for professional coverage for two main reasons:

  1. To hire a photographer for the duration of a conference is a relatively large up-front cost
  2. It’s easy to snap some pics of people talking and delegates listening, isn’t it? So collar the keen camera owner from within your own ranks and set them the task because it’s cost-free. Supposedly.

The answer to the first question is that while it is an up-front cost, that cost is often out-weighed by the value of the images delivered because you’ll have pictures to use for all kinds of post-event PR, and the eventual cost of individual images will be very low. I’m talking a few £s each, if covered properly. With quality coverage you’ll have a good selection of shots you can use repeatedly.

Conferences are also often the only time key individuals of an organisation are together, so it’s worth seeing what headshots and other useful non-conference images can be garnered to get even greater value from the photographer’s fee. Don’t go mad of course, the photographer has to spend time dealing with all the images afterwards, but properly built into the brief in advance you should be able to get more than just conference photos from the conference.

The answer to the second question is that it’s harder than you might think. You’ll see some people (professionals and amateurs alike) attempting to use whatever lighting is available, which will be whatever crazy-coloured lights the AV guys fancy throwing onto the stage. It might (might!) look OK on video, but generally looks pants in stills.

To avoid the ‘purple gargoyle’ look, and to avoid trying to shoot at 3,200 asa for bullet-like grain and still getting camera-shake, some photographers then resort to sticking a flash on top of their camera. Oh dear. Now we have white-out faces and shocking outline shadows around the speakers.

I work differently. Using my own portable flash system I ensure speakers are properly lit. Very often I can set it so that not only the speaker is lit nicely, but also their slide presentation is still visible too. It’s not always possible to do that as it depends on the venue and staging arrangements, but the focus is always on generating high quality images for the client.

If a staff member has shot the pictures, that’s someone taken away from their useful duties to perform a task they’re not up to doing competently and you’re left with unusable images, with no PR value at all.

This is why, when planning a conference and its coverage, you need to pick a professional photographer and one that knows what they’re doing.

In the past couple of months I’ve been busy with conferences for the likes of Regen South West and the Digital Curation Centre’s international conference. I’m posting some key images here so you can see how while a conference image may not make it to the walls of a gallery, neither does it have to be a comedy of photographic errors…

Conference speaker on video monitor.

Finding interesting views of speakers helps add variety to the picture set.

Conference speaker on video monitor.

Well-placed flash replaces the AV lighting which is often ugly

 

You can now see a fuller set of images from the Digital Curation Centre conference in Bristol here.

Freeze Frames Win Votes

If I spent too much time listening to business people and their opinions on the importance (or lack) of photography to their success, I’d probably jack it all in and go into a career with higher public opinion ratings. Perhaps become an estate agent or politician. Maybe a tabloid journalist.

Luckily, I don’t worry about the businesses that don’t understand how essential good imagery is because that way lies madness.

Instead I concentrate on helping those who understand the difference, and who can see what good imagery can do for their chances of success. One such example is entrepreneurial maker of ice cream, Charlie Francis of Lick Me I’m Delicious in Bristol.

Now Charlie didn’t choose me. He wasn’t the one setting up the shoot, which came about as part of Barclays’ Take One Small Step competition which was set up to offer a £50,000 prize to entrepreneurs in different regions of the UK, but I’m glad I got to do the shoot because it turns out Charlie actually understands that image is vital to business. For him, it was critical to his competition chances because to win he had to garner more votes than the other contestants within his region.

Before I visited to do the shoot, Charlie and I spoke on the phone about what would and would not work, and he immediately struck me as someone who understood the fun element of his product and was willing to be very much the “personality” of his business.

It was Charlie’s idea to have a sort of Willie Wonka persona for the shoot, and I think it worked brilliantly, especially given that his ice cream is made before your very eyes using your favourite ingredients and using liquid nitrogen!

Bristol ice cream maker Charlie Francis

Use your personality to win over clients.

The pictures done and delivered to the PR agency, the competition got under way and Charlie started working hard to get his votes in. The press release went all over the region, and an unusually high number of publications included the photo – precisely because it was fun, colourful, and shot to a newspaper style.

Then last week, Charlie discovered he had won the £50,000 prize for the South West region!

Now I’m not going to say this was ALL down to the pictures. I know Charlie worked hard to get the word out and drum up support for his entry, and who doesn’t like ice cream? But the pictures were clearly eye-catching and formed an important part of the vote-winning exercise.

Charlie Francis, Bristol ice cream maker

A choice of upright and landscape shots helps get extra press coverage.

Of course it’s all very self-congratulatory me saying this, so instead here’s what Charlie had to say, “Tim created a set of fantastic eye catching shots which captured the magic of nitro ice cream making.  I used them on my marketing materials to pull people in and they did a tremendous job, a great piece of photographic work.”

Congratulations Charlie, and good luck with the venture. Lend us a tenner 😉

Photo Case Study: Industrial Photography

If I think of industrial photography what often comes to mind is the pictures of spectacular engineering projects like the Channel Tunnel, the particle accelerator at Cern, Oil platforms and large-span bridges. Vast-scale projects photographed beautifully by people with immense experience and the knowledge to make huge, impersonal industrial scenes look impressive, beautiful and moving.

But industrial photography can also be on a much smaller scale. Because of the nature of the work I do, my industrial images tend to fall more into the editorial style of photography. I’m helping smaller-scale industrialists communicate the human scale of what they do. Single human beings working hard to produce smaller pieces which, when finished, will have their own kind of beauty.

When a welder makes a beautiful weld by hand, their work is visible in the finished article, as unique as an artist’s brush stroke, though much less noticeable to the casual viewer and often hidden completely from view as the component is incorporated into a much bigger civil or industrial project.

I enjoy finding the right angle, lighting and composition to make an interesting, engaging image from what to anyone else might seem like a pedestrian, chaotic or grimy industrial scene.

Man spot-welding a steel pipe.

Industrial details showcase your company’s skills

This shot of a welder at work at City Engineering in Bristol is a case in point. The bench was busy and workman-like, and wasn’t going to do the photo any favours, but by exposing only for the light reflected off the gloved hands and mask, and using depth of field to guide the viewer’s attention, I was able to make a simple but engaging shot showing the care and craftsmanship which, had I stepped back and shot wider, would have been lost in the scene.

While I’m not a fan of photographers saying “this shot is really great because it was so hard to get,” it’s worth pointing out that taking pictures of welding can be tricky. You have to wear a mask to protect your eyes from the intense light, but the mask is so dark you can’t see what you’re shooting  – even when the welder sparks up, your view is necessarily dim.

I used a few tricks to get the shot that was needed and none of them involved Photoshop but, obstacles aside, this is the kind of industrial photography I really enjoy. Simple, editorial, illustrative. A small tale in the much larger story of a great industrial project that I might be invited to shoot once it’s finished.

Case Study: Conference Photography

Conference venues have had a rough time in recent years. Events can be expensive to run, and sometimes they’re expensive to attend, so where businesses have dared spend the money at all, they’ve often seen photography as a luxury bolt-on.

In my role as conference photographer I noticed a decline in appetite for this particular service in 2008/2009, but looking back over 2010 I’d say demand has increased again.

Getting quality photography at a conference has often been pretty low on organisers’ lists of priorities – that is until the conference is over and someone wants to “PR” the event. At which point they discover that all they have are some iPhone snaps which aren’t much use for anything at all except maybe viewing on an iPhone.

scientist delivering conference presentation

Balancing lighting on the speaker and their presentation takes some effort.

I can tell a client hasn’t given too much thought to photography prior to the event when I get the call the week before it’s due to happen to ask if I’m available and what the cost would be. They booked the venue about a year in advance. They booked the speakers, sound, lighting, video, staging, caterers, cleaners door staff etc etc. And (relatively speaking) at 5 minutes to midnight, somebody thought: “Oh! I think we might want some pictures from this event!”

Now I applaud these people for thinking so far in advance because as I said, some don’t think of it until the event is over, by which time it’s a bit too late to go back in time to shoot what should have been shot in the first place.

So if your organisation is considering a conference, which after all can reap great benefits in public relations, client relations and exchange of ideas with partners and clients, I would urge you to consider the benefits of getting coverage, and of getting that coverage done professionally.

Conferences can be very useful in that unlike most other events or times of the working year, they tend to be the one time when a significant number of staff and executives are in one place at the same time. So think about getting fresh headshots done – a small setup in a side-room or quiet corner is ideal for this.

Regen SW conference debate in Bath

More obscure shots can be useful later on.

A conference with industry-wide or even public interest, has scope for extensive PR. Pictures of key speakers talking passionately at the lectern, or as a panel of experts can add spontaneity to what might otherwise be a dull PR shot. For other PR uses it’s handy to get a relaxed portrait of key speakers at the venue, perhaps with relevant props visible in the shot.

Employing a professional (like wot I is) means not only will you get the vital shots you need, but you’ll get quick turnaround and you’ll also get the shots you never even realised you needed. Those little details that others would walk past, but which come in handy for future uses such as brochures, annual reports etc.

Of course you might find you have a keen photographer amongst your staff, but do they know how to handle the difficult lighting at these events? Balancing light on the speaker with the slide behind them isn’t always easy. They’ll also tend to miss the details I mentioned, and they often can’t turn the work around quickly. Finally, using a member of staff is all very well, but shouldn’t they be paying attention to the conference rather than the settings on their camera?

I cover conferences of all sizes, taking pictures which clients can then use for internal and external communications, press releases, websites, brochures, future presentations; the list is limited only by one’s imagination. In terms of cost, the photography has to be one of the better value ingredients of a good conference. The food can only be eaten once, while the photography can be used again and again, long after the taste of plastic ham sandwiches and greasy tea has passed.

What price a portrait?

corporate portrait of businessman in Bristol

A corporate portrait can be more than a mugshot.

I should start by explaining that this article isn’t talking about family portraits or photos for the mantelpiece. What I’m talking about here is the business portrait. The corporate headshot for the profile page of a commercial website, newsletter or chairman’s statement in the annual report.

Why is this distinction important? Mainly for licensing reasons. If you go to a high street photographic studio and have photos taken you will probably pay about £30 for a sitting, and £100 for a print to hang on the wall. And personal use is all you’ll be allowed of that photo. Commercial use would require payment of an extra fee, and I suspect most studios wouldn’t be happy handing over an original digital file for that use as you could then get your own reprints done, which would of course breach the photographer’s copyright.

When you have a photographer visit your offices to take portraits for the company website/brochure etc, you’re not paying for prints for personal use (though you can probably buy those if you want), instead you’re paying a licence fee to use the images for corporate use. This is a different kind of agreement with the photographer and the pricing structure is different.

Of course if you book a photographer and then just have a single headhsot done, it can work out relatively expensive. Perhaps £250 to get a small selection of images for use across various media. But if you line up a few headshots to be taken at the same time, the cost will rise but the individual price for each headshot will drop quite dramatically.

It’s often quite difficult to explain this concept to clients who will say “well it’s only some portraits, they shouldn’t take long.” The thing is, in commercial and corporate photography, it isn’t just the time taken to get the shots that you’re being charged for, but also the commercial (as opposed to domestic) value of the photos. Remember, these photos are part of your marketing, and hopefully will help your business make more money. They may not be used as prominently as your product shots, or general photos of your business operation, but they’re all part of the mix and to have any value to your business, they have to be good. Which requires skill, time and equipment to achieve.

In short, you need to give the humble head and shoulders photo some respect and also understand that what you’re paying for is a combination of the photographer’s skill, experience and time on the commission, as well as a fee for the commercial exploitation of the results.

And what is that worth? As I said earlier, if you hire a photographer to take just one headshot you could easily pay £250 for that, maybe more. Get a batch of portraits done in half a day and the rate might rise to around £500, but if 10 portraits are done, that works out at £50 per head. That’s less than you’d pay for a 10-inch print to hang on your wall at home, and your clients can’t even see that photo. Unless they’ve broken into your house.

Shouting from the Gallery

I’ve recently introduced a new system for presenting and delivering images to clients. I haven’t shouted about it to everyone yet because I felt it needed to be tested with some trusted clients first, but it’s proving so popular that I’m offering it to anyone I think can benefit from it.

Here’s how it works, but a little history first:

female corporate portrait

The system is great for keeping any commercial images organised.

It used to be I’d shoot an assignment, then make a web gallery from the images before any post production was carried out on them. The client would choose images from the gallery, send me the image reference numbers, and I would carry out post production and send the photos via CD, email or FTP.

The client would either have an agreed number of images included in the price, or would pay an hourly post production fee according to how many images they needed.

This was all well and good, except that most clients would end up choosing 30 images from a 30-image deal (for example) when they only needed maybe 12 images to start with. The rest they were picking just to make up the package, when they didn’t necessarily know how they might use those photos.

Now with the client-specific, interactive gallery, I do the shoot, edit the pictures, do post production on all remaining shots and upload them to the client gallery, from where the client can download the files they need, when they need them. The files are all ready to be published when the client sees them, and they don’t need to download the entire package of photos in one go. The gallery remains for as long as the client requires it, and indeed the client can have me add to the gallery with subsequent shoots.

This development has also allowed me to put together a more formal pricing structure for all those assignments which don’t have special, extra requirements in either equipment, travel or licence to use the images. In other words, standard corporate shoots.

You can download the rates card here Tim Gander Fees to see how it works. I put together three packages to suit different business sizes, types and picture needs, from an all-in option for the busy client with a need for quick access to lots of images over a period of time, to the startup that might just want to have a bank of images sitting safely there for them to buy as and when they need them, thus managing their cashflow better.

Of course there will be times when clients need more extensive rights to the images than my standard terms allow for, and there will be clients with a much lesser requirement, or shoots will be more or less complicated or expensive to run, in which case rates will be negotiated according to the assignment and the client’s needs, but this system will suit the majority of standard, corporate assignments.

I welcome feedback on this, so have a look and tell me what you think.

Tim Gander is a commercial photographer shooting corporate photos for businesses in the Bath, Bristol, Swindon and Salisbury areas of the South West of England, and has a habit of talking about himself in the third person.

Contact Tim on  07703 124412 or tim@timgander.co.uk