Summer Light In Summary

With the weather we’ve been having this August you may not be feeling especially Summery, and it’s true to say I’ve had a challenging few weeks dodging downpours, thunder storms and gales, but it’s often assumed that Summer sunshine is perfect for photography.

Well it can be of course, but as a rule, when I’m taking pictures of people for their business website or press release, if we’re having to work outdoors and the sun is screaming down, it’s not always a great help. The subjects will either be squinting into the light, their eyes streaming, or if I put the sun behind them I’ll end up with silhouetted people unless I balance the daylight with flash – not always a simple task.

Of course there are things I can do to minimise the problem, but sometimes the chosen location and time of day for the photo session mean it becomes a purely technical exercise in overcoming the sun.

In the two photos featured here you’ll see how placing the subjects in the shade has meant they’re not not made to squint into the sun or get hot and bothered, while I’m able to fill in their features with controlled use of flash.

The client, the award-winning The Bristol Pest Controller, needed some images for their website, including a hero image, and they knew the location they wanted. My job was to make it all work for them and their website.

The session happened back in March of this year, but I don’t know if you remember, it was quite sunny back in the Spring! Sunshine in Spring is just as tricksy to work with as sun at any time of year, but finding the right location helps a lot to mitigate the issues.

And of course if it’s sunshine like we’ve had this August, ie not a lot, that can actually be quite helpful as it’s easier to balance overcast daylight and flash. The only problem this Summer seems to be how to avoid getting drenched or struck by lightning during your photo session.

 

Anyone for Tea?

In February this year I received an enquiry from a completely new venture. So new, in fact, that it hadn’t actually launched yet, which is always interesting because it often means I have even more opportunity than usual to add some of my creative input into the project.

The client, Tea for Three marketing and communications, consists of three directors, Helen Rimmer, Debbie Clifford and Michelle Gordon-Coles, and together they make a very dynamic team with backgrounds in journalism, public relations, charities, corporate communications and education.

It also has to be said, I’ve rarely worked with a team so completely on the same wavelength as each other. It’s obvious their personalities just mesh perfectly and I think this will feed their undoubted future success.

I gleaned all this from the pre-shoot planning meeting I had with Helen and the few hours I spent taking photos with the trio.

We started in a beautiful stone-walled meeting room at Glove Factory Studios where, having arranged Debbie, Helen and Michelle around a table in such a way as to keep the composition tight, I just left them to chat, smile, laugh and drink tea while I captured a series of moments from different angles until there was a good selection of images to draw on.

They had also arranged a trip up the road to Merkin’s Farm cafe for more tea (clearly their fuel of choice) so I could take more individual shots as well as a couple of more posed groups with a less “officey” look, aka outside with some nice countryside in the background.

During both sessions I was keen to not only fulfil the brief, but also to look out for angles and details that would give them those extra shots which are so necessary on a website; you know, those photos nobody knows they need until it comes to actually building it and realising they don’t have quite enough!

The end result is a set of photos which really show the coherence of this vibrant team as well as their very relaxed, friendly (while still utterly professional) approach to marketing. And judging from the testimonial Helen sent through (shamelessly requested by myself), I think Tea for Three were either very happy with the results or had got slightly tipsy on Darjeeling.

We had a very specific brief for Tim to follow, we didn’t want to come across as too corporate or stuffy and wanted our photos for our website to show us as friendly and down to earth. We were a little bit nervous but Tim soon put us at ease. He was great fun to work with and very patient when we laughed too much!

“Tim has a great eye for detail and came up with lots of ideas we hadn’t thought of. We were really pleased with the end results and would definitely recommend Tim.”

Helen Rimmer, Tea for Three Ltd.

A Cask Task

 

Unless you’re thinking of setting up a new pub or selling beer at festivals, you might not think this post is particularly interesting or pertinent to your business or photography, but this is a good case study for demonstrating how the photography can help shape the style of your website.

When I was approached to undertake the product photography for bar and cellar suppliers A-Cask, their website, brochure and even branding design was all up in the air and in need of a refresh. So they came to Leon Thompson of Creative Direction in Frome (who happens to work from the same building as me), who in turn came to me to talk about pictures for the site.

At this stage I knew Matt Wellsted was going to be working on the logo design and graphics for the site, which filled me with confidence this was going to be a good project to be on, but there wasn’t really anything in the way of visuals to guide my approach.

The obvious solution, since we had to get the photography under way, was to shoot as much as I could against white so that we’d have options down the line to do cutouts and change background styles and colours if needed. But everyone involved was so pleased with the results I turned in, it was decided the pictures should be used with their original backgrounds intact wherever possible and that this would influence the choice of background colour for the website and brochure pages. The final result is a clean grey against which all the photos, graphics and logos work really well.

So although I don’t always recommend starting with the photography when venturing to a new website or brochure design, if your site is going to be strong on images it can be a good idea to work this way and let the image style influence the overall style of the site.

Here’s a a flavour of the site and brochure below. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Case Study: Local NHS photography project

Sometimes I get a brief which sets a tone and style, but still leaves me plenty of room for creativity. This is always very rewarding work, but carries with it that extra frisson of responsibility – what if my pictures aren’t what the client envisaged? What if I stray off-piste? And in today’s example, working with NHS Bath And North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS BANES CCG for short) I knew I had to get each shoot right first time as public money has to be spent very wisely.

NHS BANES CCG needed fresh images for their annual review and new website. In the past they’d used stock imagery quite heavily, but there was a recognition that people engage better with pictures which are clearly not posed by stock models. Also, as useful as stock images can be for some applications, they can’t reflect all the subtle uniqueness of a local health service, and so I was approached with a view to getting the ball rolling on a new image library which their designers and PR managers could draw on as required.

I was sent to cover various events and illustrate different services within the CCG, but apart from an expressed wish to see light, engaging images with backgrounds knocked out of focus to emphasise the people, I was pretty much left to cover these sessions using a combination of set-up poses and fly-on-the-wall techniques.

Probably my favourite of all the photo sessions was the morning I spent with the Singing for the Brain group, who meet weekly and give those with dementia and their carers a chance to socialise and stimulate their memories through singing and fun activities. Capturing the pleasure on the faces of people as they met for tea and cake, and then when they got into the singing session, was really up-lifting.

The team I worked with were very pleased with what I turned in and I’ll be gradually adding to their library in the year ahead, so I’m looking forward to finding out even more about what the CCG does, meeting the people who run the services, the people who benefit from them and creating pictures which encapsulate the whole story.

Pink Elephants at Open Farm Sunday

The cliché of all clichés states that you should never work with children and animals, but I disagree. They can make excellent subjects and on Sunday 7th June I got to work with both as it was Open Farm Sunday, a national event and an opportunity for families to see the inner workings of farms all over the country.

I was booked to attend Meadowlea Farm in Somerset to capture a flavour of the day for sponsors ABP. The images were destined for press release and ABPs website and internal communications, so I needed to get a good variety of shots showing interactions between families, children, the farmers and animals.

I think my favourite shots of the day show a delightful young lad, Tom, doing some colouring in with one of ABP’s representatives, Robyn. The table was set up in one of the farm sheds, I just had it pulled forward enough to get the best of the daylight on them, then let them get going with pencils and crayons. After a few action shots I wanted them looking into my lens, so I told Tom if he looked carefully and smiled nicely, he might see the pink elephant that lives in my camera. It did the trick and Tom gave me a whole bunch of brilliant smiles, it was one of those moments you can’t help smiling at yourself. And of course Tom could see the pink elephant, children always can.

Case Study: Dental Laboratory

Judging by the number of photo shoots I’ve undertaken for dental practices over the last few years it’s become obvious that like most businesses, dentists have also come to realise that fresh, illustrative images really help to bring a website together.

When JSL dental laboratory first made contact with me to arrange photography for their new website, I could be forgiven for thinking they were another dentist, but JSL are a dental laboratory, not a dental practice. That is to say, they make the crowns, bridges, ceramic teeth, implants and so on which dentists use to make our smiles beautiful again.

JSL’s laboratory in The Circus in Bath is a tight space to work because it’s a fully-equipped lab, which meant my my main challenge was getting good angles on people and equipment as well as finding the space to place an off-camera flash when needed, but having gone over the required shots with marketing coordinator Joanna Lye we worked out the order the photos could happen in (bearing in mind it’s also an extremely busy dental lab with dental technicians Julian and Britta completing the team).

With this, as with all such commissions, my job wasn’t just to photograph a variety of people and things, but also to consider different dimensions to give the web designer the widest choice for their page grids. With a combination of portraits, team shots, technicians-at-work and details, there was a good selection of images by the end of the half-day session and you can see the finished JSL site here and a selection of screen grabs below.

Case Study: In-House Magazine Photography

Double page spread of photos by Tim Gander in House of Fraser Host magazine

The final spread layout in Host magazine

I’ve been dying to show you this for some time, but I had to wait for the feature to appear in the House of Fraser in-house magazine before I could share it with you here.

The story behind this job is that I was contacted by Word of Mouth Communication who write, design and publish the House of Fraser in-house magazine Host. They asked if I’d be interested in going to the Jollys store in Bath to take portraits of some of the staff for the City Spotlight section of the magazine which features the places they most like to kick back and relax.

Naturally I was delighted to undertake the commission because I love shooting portraits and I enjoy anything with an editorial element, so I got in touch with my contact at the store in advance of the date of the shoot just to make sure everyone was briefed and we all knew what we were doing.

The only downside on the day was the heavy rain, but I shot a few exterior images before going into the store to meet my subjects.

Jody Brown, Sales Manager, Jollys of Bath, enjoys a coffee at Adventure Cafe

Jody Brown, Sales Manager, Beauty enjoys a coffee at Adventure Cafe

After a couple of small group photos outside and a portrait of the store manager, I set off with my subjects Jodie, Alex and Josh to visit their various hangouts, asking permission to take photos at each one. All the bars and cafes in Bath were very helpful and finding the best places at each venue to do a variety of portraits suitable for the magazine was pretty easy, there always being an interesting corner or feature to use.

Stylistically the photos needed to be bright, colourful, up-beat and polished to look good in a high-quality colour magazine. Of course I didn’t have all day to do this, since I was taking time out of people’s busy days, but using portable studio lighting and a consistent approach meant I could keep things moving along while producing a set of pictures which sit well together.

Jodie, Alex and Josh enjoyed themselves and this also shows in the results. You could say it all looks rather Jolly!

Ultimately though, when I take photos for a client it’s them I have to please even more than myself, so I’ll leave the last word to Paul O’Regan of Word of Mouth: “It was good to work with you on this one. We were delighted with the way you handled the project and with the photographs you provided.”

Josh Gottschling, who works in womenswear, likes to go for drinks with friends in Revolutions bar and restaurant on George Street, Bath.

Josh Gottschoing, Sales Adviser, Womenswear cools down with a soft drink cocktail at Revolution

A Lawson Unto Himself

Two things I enjoyed on this assignment; a challenge and a good debate.

This commission took me to University of Bath where the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (I-SEE) hosted a talk on climate change by Nigel Lawson. Lord Lawson being a bit of a climate change sceptic (just a tad), I was looking forward to not only taking the pictures needed by I-SEE, but also hearing his point of view on the subject.

Lord Nigel Lawson delivers his views on climate change at University of Bath

Shooting through the audience brings a sense of the speaker/listener interaction

The problem with photographing a talk of this kind is that mentally I can only dip in and out because I’m concentrating fairly hard on getting the exposure, focus and composition right, and this particular venue (a dimly-lit, tightly packed lecture theatre) was quite a challenging space to work in.

But while I couldn’t quite concentrate on everything Lord Lawson said, I did catch the gist of his argument and I definitely detected the mood of some of the audience members who clearly didn’t agree with his views.

Of course I wasn’t there as a member of the audience, but whenever I cover something like this I do need to be aware of what’s being said and what the mood and reactions from the audience are. Likewise I had to ensure my technical set-up would allow me to get photos of Lord Lawson speaking as well as reactions and questions from the audience. Not an easy task when you really only have room for one flash on a stand, but with a bit of jiggery-pokery I think I pulled it off with reasonable success.

A man in the audience asks Lord Lawson a question

A packed auditorium means a busy picture, just trickier lighting

While the resulting images might not win any prizes or plaudits, I always work hard to make sure that even under difficult lighting and in tight spaces my images don’t suffer the ghastly effects of direct flash or extreme digital noise caused by high ISO settings, either of which would detract from the subject matter and would have made the photos less usable.

As for climate change, that’s really a debate for another place.

 

Case Study: The Awards Event Photography

Innovator of the Year glass panel in the main hall, Horticultural Halls, London as delegates gather

This shot was created by firing a remote flash behind the glass panel to highlight the event title and add light to the delegates as they started to gather

Last Thursday I was in London covering the Fostering Innovation awards event for Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC), an annual event which recognises those whose research is truly innovative and which will have real impact on society. It’s probably explained better here.

My challenge in covering this event is that every year it’s held in a different venue. This year it was the Royal Horticultural Halls, a very splendid setting, but the lighting was definitely on the lower side of low. This is often the case with large venues, and while some photographers make a big deal of working solely with natural light, they would have come spectacularly un-stuck in this situation.

Whenever I cover an event which involves a stage, a podium and a mixture of general shots and individuals either with their exhibits or receiving awards, if natural light isn’t abundant and of a good enough quality, I get to working out how to use flash without destroying all of the ambience or style of the event.

For this venue I decided to set one flash to cover the stage with a view to making it look as if there were a powerful stage light on the speaker (the light set by the AV guys was too weak and too strongly coloured for still images, even if it looked great from an audience point of view) , and the rest I shot with a hand-held flash held a little way away from the camera and using my favourite technique for softening the light to keep it as flattering as possible – direct, camera-top flash is unremittingly harsh and tends not to cover the subject as reliably as I like.

Keynote speaker addresses the Fostering Innovation Awards 2014 audience at Royal Horticultural Halls, London

Setting up a remote flash to cover the stage meant I could illuminate the speaker while audience heads finish the frame nicely

Portrait of Innovator of the Year 2014 Luke Alphey of The Pirbright Institute with his award trophy

Innovator of the Year Luke Alphey of The Pirbright Institute whose work investigates the genetic control of pests, including the dengue fever-carrying mosquito

The other difficulty of the low light was that sometimes this made it tricky to focus on subjects, but using fast, professional lenses certainly helps with this. It often strikes me that as camera technology has developed, I often find myself taking pictures in scenarios I might once have written off as impossible a decade or more ago.

But that’s what keeps this job interesting; giving the client creative coverage of their event in spite of all the challenges. I enjoy problem solving with each new event, venue and lighting challenge this presents. In fact I’m hoping next year’s awards ceremony is held in the darkest cavern imaginable just so I can really test my mettle*

*Please ignore that last statement, BBSRC, I didn’t mean it!

Case study: Just say cheese!


cheesemaker taking sample from cheese block

Dairy products director Simon Clapp takes a cheese sample.

 

Mostly I use this blog to “air my views” on whatever has occurred to me that week, but this week I’d like to offer you a case study from an assignment I shot earlier this year.

Corporate and commercial photography doesn’t always have to consist of serious suits looking stern, important or entrepreneurial across a boardroom table.

As this set of pictures shows, sometimes I can be called upon to take pictures of a different kind of entrepreneur. It might not be obvious that that is what they are, but although the Clapp family business has been farming this site on the Somerset Levels for generations, they continue to pioneer new working methods and products while keeping their cheeses very traditional and authentic.

 

cheesemaker eats cheddar in view of glastonbury tor

Farm and dairy herd director Rob Clapp enjoys a ploughman's with a view of Glastonbury Tor.

 

For this shoot I was asked to produce a small set of images suitable for inclusion in food and lifestyle magazines and general press releases. The brief was to create a “hero shot” of each of three key players in the operation; the brothers who own the business and the head cheesemaker. Of course I would have happily photographed everyone involved, because in this kind of business every member of the team is vital, but we only had limited time and only so many images would get used.

The purpose of the pictures wasn’t to record the daily working lives of the cheesemakers in a strictly photojournalistic way, but to represent them in more of a magazine style, where I had freedom to choose settings and use additional lighting to give the pictures a more polished look.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to work with these people. I had a warm reception from the start, a chance to watch cheese being made, and got to taste some of the most fantastic Cheddar cheese ever to pass my lips – I’m a sucker for a proper mature Cheddar, not the stuff imported from Canada which just has the word “Cheddar” written on the pack, but the kind that comes from local producers who know how it’s done. The taste is incredible as it evolves in your mouth.

 

cheese maker holding cheddar cheese

Cheesemaker Billy Melluish does well to pose holding a 20kg cheese.

 

Anyway, back to the photography. I won’t bore you with details, but in essence it involved choosing suitable locations, getting the portable lights set up and adjusted and getting the shots done as efficiently as possible so as not to disrupt the working day too much. Plus I had to work fast as the weather was threatening to turn moist so I needed to get all the outside shots done before I could turn to taking pictures in the warehouse where the cheese is matured, tested and stored until it’s ready for despatch to the shops.

If you like good cheese, I strongly recommend seeking out some Brue Valley Cheddar at Marks and Spencer, or you’ll find it as Pilgrim’s Choice Farmhouse Reserve in Tesco’s.

If you enjoy seeing case studies, let me know and I’ll do more.