What Is Commercial Photography?

While I’ve been having great fun with personal projects, launching a new website and planning for an exhibition, I feel it’s time to bring this blog back to the subject of commercial photography. Which already raises a question: What is Commercial (note the cap C) photography?

Strictly speaking, I don’t often do Commercial photography. If asked to put myself in a pigeon hole, I describe myself as a corporate communications photographer. This is because although I take pictures for (lowercase ‘c’) commercial gain, Commercial photography in its strictest sense means pictures taken to be used in advertising. This distinction can be an important one in certain contexts.

For example, many people believe that a photo taken for a newspaper or magazine editorial article is automatically Commercial because the photographer got paid (hopefully) and the publisher is a commercial enterprise, but this muddies the waters when it comes to describing such issues as data protection and rights to how a photo can be used.

If I go out and take a photo in the street to illustrate an article, it is covered by editorial standards and can be used without obtaining the permission of every single pedestrian who happens to appear in the recorded scene.

Likewise if I take a picture for a personal project, this is covered by an artistic right for the work to be taken and exploited by me. There would be a vanishingly rare chance that the image could infringe anyone else’s rights provided I didn’t use it in a defamatory context. Or, and this brings us back to my central point, a Commercial context such as an advertisement.

Commercial photography with that now familiar capital ‘C’ refers to pictures taken for the purpose of promoting or advertising a product or service. This extends to advertorial, where a business or organisation pays for the placement of an article within a publication which is made to look like it was written by a journalist, but these by law have to be clearly marked as ‘Advertisement”.

Of course the waters get muddied further by images used in social media where the client may have paid for placement, such as on Instagram, where it’s sometimes less clear. All sponsored posts on Instagram are marked as such, but if a client commissions or buys a photo and puts it on their Instagram feed or on Twitter with a view to it bolstering their brand, well that’s now transformed the image from editorial to commercial and we have to be wary of this.

As a rule, any client who commissions me to take photos for their corporate communications (which includes social media feeds), needs to ensure they have all permissions in place at the time I take the shots. It is the client’s responsibility to organise this and it may include property rights too.

So yes, that capital ‘C’ can make all the difference and it’s important to know and respect

 

 

So… 2018

Having looked back at 2017 in my previous blog post, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball, check the tea leaves and the alignment of the planets and hazard a guess at what this, my 20th year as a freelance photographer, will bring.

It’s always hard to predict. Each year brings surprises, both good and bad – mainly good thankfully, and if the last couple of years are anything to go by, I will continue to find new clients while work from others will go quieter. It’s the natural cycle of business and no longer terrifies me the way it used to.

I look forward to working with new people just as much as I enjoy undertaking repeat work for established clients and I know there will be a similar mix this year as ever.

2017 was incredibly busy, and it’ll be interesting to see if 2018 can match it, but even if the shape of the year is different I’m sure it’ll be just as much fun.

What will make 2018 quite different from previous years will be the level of personal work I hope to undertake. The Saxonvale project continues to grow and there’s a possibility it will come to fruition this year, though I have a funny feeling it will continue into next year. It partly depends on how much longer my stock of expired film will last.

In addition to Saxonvale I have ideas for other, possibly smaller, self-contained mini projects which I would like to pursue. One thing is certain, my personal projects will be shot on film. Getting back into shooting film has transformed my approach to personal work and I find it a great way to separate the personal from the commercial. It also informs my commercial work and keeps me fresh, so there’s no going back to digital-only now.

Whatever 2018 brings for me, I hope it brings my loyal readers, clients and friends every success in whatever they set out to achieve and I look forward to hearing from some of you over the coming months.

2017 In Review

In keeping with a tradition which stretches back oh, at least some years now, it’s time for me to review my year in pictures. I hope you enjoy the brief selection of photos in the gallery below.

Actually, what an incredible year it’s been! I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a busy year since I went freelance 19 years ago, so I’m looking forward to 2018 more in anticipation than trepidation.

January was a total whirlwind as the Faces of Routes project went from conception to launch in less than five weeks. The reaction from Frome people and beyond was stunning (and I don’t often use that word) and the Routes service was saved for another few years. In an ideal world, this service would be centrally funded, but for now it relies on donations and grants.

The Routes project largely came about because I was itching to do a personal project with a bigger purpose, but it also gave me the boot up the backside I needed to spur me on to undertake more personal projects generally. So it was good timing when a neighbour offered me his old medium format camera and lenses at a very reasonable price.

I’d been meddling with film again in a lighthearted way, but finding myself well-equipped with a solid film camera, and having dusted off my old 35mm film equipment, something was starting to take shape.

After a couple of false starts, out of some random whim that I can’t now remember having, I acquired a freezer drawer full of expired film of varying types and formats and the Saxonvale project was born. It doesn’t yet have its own gallery in my portfolio, but you can spot some examples in my Personal Favourites section.

So far Saxonvale has largely been an Instagram project, but I’ll add more to my website in time.

Through all this, the paid work has just kept coming; January turned out to be much busier than I would normally have expected. In fact that pattern repeated through the year, including August when my diary would normally have tumbleweed blowing across it.

Now it’s mid December and things are definitely winding down a bit for Christmas, but it’s been another good month. So I’ll leave you with some highlights from the year and take this opportunity to thank you all, clients and casual visitors alike, for all your support through 2017.

I wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy New Year and all the very best for 2018. Oh and this will be my last post this year, see you all in January!

 

My 2014 In Pictures

This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.

The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.

I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine

 

 

 

Image-led web design (sorry, no puns this week!)

When it comes to finding the starting point for the look of a brand new website, it’s often the photography that will set the tone and direction for the visual design. That’s how it went with the new Cornerstones website, and I have to say I’m extremely pleased to see how the website turned out. All too often, images which have been taken to help tell the story end up squashed, cropped and overlaid with graphics to the point of oblivion. Not so with this project.

Cornerstones home page featuring a photo of one of the main classrooms

The home page features a slideshow to give visitors an idea what to expect

Cornerstones runs a school in Cheshire for young people with Autism and learning difficulties, spanning a wide range of learning and communication requirements. They also have four homes in which boarders live, having their own en-suite bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens as well as gardens, and my task was to reflect the facilities and the likely experience of anyone going there. So far so good, except that while I needed to communicate the friendly, nurturing ethos of the school and homes, I couldn’t let any of the pupils be identified in the shots.

Cornerstones web page showing a montage of photos

A variety of techniques allowed me to show activity without giving away IDs

What I wanted to produce was a series of images which allowed some evidence of pupil activity, but avoiding identification, while also showcasing the bright, friendly atmosphere of the locations. I’ve included some screen-grabs here, but take a look at the site to see how the images and the site graphics work well together.

Exterior of one of Cornerstones buildings

This building was derelict when Cornerstones took it over, but it’s a beautiful home for boarders now

I would like to add that working with the staff and pupils of the organisation was an absolute pleasure and I really enjoyed my couple of days there. I’d also like to include the fact that working with Ghost Limited, the digital design agency who project-managed and built the site (and with whom I happen to share office space) was a pleasure from start to finish.

Best Way to Use Pictures (or BWUP if you like acronyms)

Actually, “bwup” is that involuntary hiccup you make after eating a large Sunday roast washed down with a nice bottle of red. Neither burp, nor hiccup… It isn’t often that I manage to digress within the first sentence of an article (oh dear! My Google rating!), but I liked the sound the acronym made.

Now I’ll admit I’m not technical schmecnical when it comes to the web. I don’t know how to “code” stuff, but I know what it looks like when some whizzkid has done a bit of something clever to make images prance about on a page or fade from one image to the next in a slideshow. What this article looks at is the benefits and pitfalls of two common kinds of presentation and some tips to help you get more from your corporate images.

Of course the most obvious method of presentation is the static image. No whistles, bells or silliness, but even without adornments this basic staple of websites can be used to best effect and all too often isn’t.

For the single, static image you can use newspaper rules of placement. In other words, place the image where it will have most impact, and where it will lead the viewer onto the text. In other words, in general terms, if the image has a natural “emphasis” towards the right of its frame, think about placing it to the left of any relevant text. Or, if a picture simply has to be in a right-hand column of the web page, make sure you choose one where the emphasis is to the left. Using this simple rule you can gently guide the viewer’s eye around your page and use images to push people’s attention towards those page elements you want to emphasise.

People always (ALWAYS!!!) look at images first, text second. I’m not saying they seek out pictures before bothering with the rest of the site. What I mean is, if an image is visible on the web page, that’s where the eyes will fall first. That’s the entry point for the page. That’s also why the images are so important. The very first of the first impressions about your business are made (or broken) within the images.

modern dancers ballet on stage

Does the image lead your eyes left or right?

With that in mind, I’m not sure I’m such a huge fan of the slideshow. My own website features one as the main element of the Home page, but bear in mind I’m in the business of selling my photography services, so presenting a selection of images in a quick and simple way is pretty important for me.

If photography isn’t what you’re selling, I would generally suggest slideshows aren’t the best idea. Very often you’ll see slideshows on the Home pages of firms offering professional services. In principle this isn’t a bad idea, except that the images are often nothing more than bought-in stock images. They have little relevance to the business itself and tell the visitor little about the business they’re looking at. I’d say if you’re going to use a slideshow it needs to feature you and/or your business partners doing whatever it is you do. For the images to work they need to be consistent and have some kind of story or theme to keep things together and relevant.

Even when the slideshow is done well, think about how it affects the viewing experience for the page. Personally I get irritated when I’m trying to read the text, but the slideshow keeps rotating in the corner of my eye. Even if I know I’ve seen all 4 images in the set, I keep glancing back from what I’m reading. The best slideshows combine the images with explanatory text, so the viewer is reading about the business while seeing images to back up the message. And yet you have to consider how long a potential client is willing to sit there looking at a spool of images, waiting for the next one to show up and not knowing how long you’re keeping them tied down for. The temptation is to click away – potentially to a different website.

If they do that, you better pray the next site is using a cheap video to get their message across. Nothing kills a potential sale like cheap video (oh OK, maybe cheap stock images come close).

Goldilocks and the photo.

Can brilliant corporate photography save a failing business? No. BUT it will be part of what makes success easier to achieve. Conversely if a business is using snaps or stock imagery, this can be, as an American business guru might put it, a drag coefficient on your success rocket. *blech!*

I don’t pretend that the photos I take will turn you into an overnight sensation and put you in contention for The Sunday Times Rich List, but it’s fair to say that when marketing departments go to the trouble of getting a lively, engaging web design together with compelling text and a user-friendly interface, what often lets the whole project down is the lazy or cheap approach to the accompanying imagery.

call centre staff on telephone

Quality photos say “quality business”.

Head shots of key staff needn’t be cheesy, and they certainly mustn’t be low quality just because they’re going to be used small. You never know when you might need to reproduce one to a larger scale and in print, and that’s when poor lighting and composition as well as poor resolution really start to show up. The purple gargoyle look doesn’t suit anyone. Neither is it helpful if an over-compressed file leaves you looking like you have some kind of skin disease.

Photographs of products and processes, people, places (and all the stuff not starting with p) all require a level of quality. After all, shot once you can use these images over and over again and they’ll pay for themselves in time, whereas low-grade, badly taken images will simply remind potential clients how little you care for quality every time one of these photos shows up.

Equally, if you get great imagery but either don’t use it at all or don’t use it properly, you’ll be wasting your money and you’ll think it wasn’t good value. This comes back to using a quality photographer who can give good after care, and a marketing specialist who knows how to use pictures for maximum impact.

Where’s all this going? Well I believe it’s possible to overstate the importance of photography in business, but what’s happened since the mass-accessibility of digital is that things have swung too much in the other direction. General opinion is often that photography has no, or very little importance. Often I’ve seen web designers refer to the photos in their designs as “eye-candy”. If the photos are just eye-candy, why bother with any imagery at all? And why do I have so many clients if what I do has no impact on their business?

If your business uses photography it should be as a way of communicating something to existing and potential clients. Not just showing that which is in front of the camera, but the quality, composition and presentation of the photo will all be shorthand for the kind of business you are.

Now, that’s not going to save a business which is already circling the drain, but dismissing photography on your website and in your literature as “so much fluff” won’t help you to the top of your market either. As Goldilocks might have said, you need to get the balance just right.

Taking the long view.

 

austrian mountains

Gratuitous pretty photo as metaphor for taking the long view.

 

It’s all a bit doom and gloom in light of the latest government spending review (aka GSR, or gun shot residue since someone will have to pull the trigger), so I thought I’d offer an opinion from my own perspective as well as show you a pretty photo that might help calm the raggedy nerves.

I know I’m “only” a commercial photographer, but the benefit of what I do is that I get to see inside a variety of businesses, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and difficulties to face as we all find ourselves caught between the axe man and the tax man. Of course, what is common amongst the businesses I get to visit is that they all want to update their marketing with fresh designs and imagery because not to do so is to risk becoming invisible amongst the welter of competing businesses on the web.

Now I don’t want this to be yet another article extolling the virtues of online marketing. There are enough web, e-marketing and search engine optimisation gurus out there to fill the Titanic many times over, and many are about as useful as a busted lifeboat as the economy lists hard to starboard and the icy waters of recession fill the steerage class quarters and… enough of that analogy, you get the picture.

The problem for businesses that need a decent website or brochure and don’t yet have them is that as we face massive public sector cuts AND the hike in VAT, the company budget will never be there to turn a poor or non-existent website or brochure into a useful marketing tool. Those businesses that have delayed too long may have to fare this storm with nothing but whatever they have right now, which might be no more than a poorly designed flyer which does nothing but demonstrate the startling array of text fonts and colours available on the MD’s nephew’s computer.

Alternatively, companies can start to spend not less, but more wisely. Taking the time and effort to find the real experts in whatever needs doing. Of course I mean finding the right commercial photographer (not a mate’s wedding photographer), as well as the professional web designer, graphic designer, copy writer and marketing expert so that the resulting website, brochure or leaflet, all work much harder and have a much longer shelf life.

I know this all sounds dull and isn’t producing belly laughs, but however ghastly this recession is or continues to be, one thing is certain; it will end one day, and businesses that have invested carefully in whatever areas of marketing work for them will find themselves stronger on the other side, and without Leonardo Dicaprio’s frozen, lifeless fingers still gripping whatever piece of driftwood has kept them afloat while they await rescue or the receivers.

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.

Ah, the jet-set lifestyle…

Being the top-end commercial and corporate photographer that I am, you can imagine all the pampering I get.

My clients delight in sending me chauffeur-driven cars to take me to the heliport so I can be flown in style and at the greatest possible speed to my next assignment. The girls on-board the flight spoon feed me the finest caviar while massaging my temples so that I arrive relaxed and ready for anything.

If only…

Of course the reality is much more down-to-earth, but you know I wouldn’t enjoy knowing that my mode of transport was powered by liquidized baby Pandas while the inflight meal was the result of nine-year-old girls squeezing eggs out of fish for a penny a day (and that’s the middle-management wage for the fish-squeezing industry).

So I pootle along to my assignments in my trusty, and actually rather economical, diesel Ford Focus. Another Panda gets to live, a fish gets to lay its eggs where fish eggs should be laid, and the circle of life remains largely un-interrupted by my activities (until I hit a pheasant on a B road, which is always a bit distressing).

I’m the kind of person who is pathologically early to assignments. I’m either ten minutes early (rare) or, more commonly, an hour early. Well, it gives me time to find the last parking space in the universe and work out the mathematics of 20p for every 12 minutes at the parking meter, discover I need a small mortgage and a hundred weight in £1 coins to park the car long enough to cover the hour that I’m early, plus the 4 hours I need to do my job, at which point I discover the maximum stay is 3 hours with no return allowed before the next equinox at which point my head explodes and I start to daydream of helicopters, caviar and temple lobe massages.

chicken's arse

I’ve photographed some weird things, including a chicken’s bum for thechickenvet.co.uk

All this stress is more than made up for though by the joy of making pictures and pleasing my clients (aw). And even if most of my work seems routine when described in terms of portraits, people at work, processes and the like, believe me nothing is ever routine. It may not all be glamour and excitement, but receiving an enthusiastic response to my photos makes it all worth while. And sometimes I get to do some really fun stuff too. I get to see things not many people see. Some of which I would tell you about, but it’s top secret and it would take me too long to kill you all.

So next time you want to lavish me with helicopters or First Class travel, save your fish eggs, dancing girls and gift boxed Rolex. A parking space will do nicely.

I’ll be away next week, but will return refreshed and ready to blog again.

Take care, each and every one of you…