2020 is so last year!

Happy New Year! I think…

Perhaps just as Windscale became such a toxic brand that it was renamed Sellafield, or that the News of the World became The Sunday Sun, so too 2020 has just been re-branded 2021. It’s not a new year at all, just a re-packaging of a disastrous previous year. Or is it?

I refuse to be as downbeat and dour as I’m often minded to be. Yes, this new lockdown has scuppered three paid gigs which were in the diary, but they’re postponed, not cancelled. One was a video gig, the other two are headshot sessions for an existing client.

It’s also frustrating that I’ve once again had to put the Salisbury Plain project on hold. But like the bookings, it’s just delayed, not abandoned.

There are some positives too. Ive just taken in a little product photography, which is an area I don’t normally tackle. And I’m about to ship my very first signed, large format fine art print to a client who has hinted they’d like to invest in several of my prints.

I’ve set up a photography package for startups as they’re going to be big for the next few years. You can check that out here.

So this year is going to start with many challenges and it’s not going to get any easier for a while, but I’m very glad that I started taking my fine art work seriously well before 2020 and that I used the March 2020 lockdown as the starting point for my video practice. All this combined with adding new ideas to my corporate photography package means when things do pick up, I’m already equipped with multiple strands to my business, each of which will grow with time.

So I wish you all the best in your ventures for the coming year, whatever they are. If I can be of any help at all, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to discuss your plans.

In the meantime, stay safe!

Are We On The Same Page?

I’m sure there is a thesis being written by somebody somewhere examining the changes in the use of (and attitudes to) photography since the launch of Web 2.0. Setting aside technological changes for a moment, the proliferation of photography and the way it is presented, received and perceived has changed beyond all recognition. But should that be so?

PICTURES ON A PAGE

What’s brought me to write this is reading Harold Evans’ bible of news photography “Pictures on a Page”, first published in 1978. For whatever reason, I had never read it before. I wish I had as it’s the undisputed last word on how editorial images are shot, presented, the ethics and so on.

Thankfully I learned most of its lessons through training, observing and doing, but this book cements what I know while adding some delicious new ideas I’d not considered so closely before. But though it’s a book from a very different era, does that make it irrelevant? I think not. In fact I believe its main tenets are more important than ever, and not only in the realm of editorial.

While Evans’ book talks about story, cropping, emphasis and so on, I would say that the vast majority of images taken today are not composed with such factors in mind. Even if we take pictures for a story, few photographers have any clue who will end up using their photos or the design into which they will be placed. Largely gone are the days when a photographer knew which publication they were shooting for, let alone which page or position.

Is it the web’s fault?

Back when I shot regularly for newspapers, I often knew how the pictures were to be used and could ensure I gave the images the emphasis needed to work on a left or right-hand page. I also knew when to give an image a direct, or neutral emphasis, but today’s photographer is effectively shooting blind when it comes to design; they have to make their images work in all contexts, which can be the enemy of good image design.

This isn’t true in absolutely every case, but it must account for the majority of work shot today and it’s leading to a morass of images lacking any emphasis at all. The effect is compounded by the need to shoot predominantly in landscape orientation to suit the restrictions of web page designs, leading to another level of homogenisation.

Even in the work I do now for my corporate clients, I occasionally wish there was a little more scope for using emphasis and picture design as a creative tool. Websites shackled to a template leave little room for intelligent design, especially given that responsiveness rules over all other considerations. Again, you can only shoot for that by keeping any daring design ideas to a minimum, which can render them lifeless.

Pictures are more than just content and colour.

Pictures on a Page includes wonderful insights into how we “read” images, but even that perception has changed with the proliferation of photographic images which pour over us like a monumental waterfall on a daily basis.

If the book is taken solely as a series of essays on how news pictures are taken, edited and presented in newspapers, and their effect on our perception of the world, perhaps it could be seen as old-fashioned now, but I think that would be missing the point.

The best pictures, regardless of where they are published, will still have an impact beyond just colour and content. They will take us on a visual journey within their own frame and guide us to a point either within, or more interestingly perhaps, outside the image area itself. We risk losing that in a flat web world, so perhaps books such as Pictures on a Page will become more important than ever. Perhaps that theoretical thesis will reach the same conclusion.

My Personal Plain

Casual visitors to my website might be a bit confused if they read my blog. I’m supposed to be all Mr Corporate Headshot, Mr Corporate Comms and so on, yet my blog is often about my personal work.

Certainly SEO “experts” would have a thing or two to say about the fact that I’m not plugging the corporate work week-in, week-out, but I’m not sure they understand photography (or people), which in my view is a bit of a shortcoming.

Those experts will presumably have some understanding of search engine algorithms, but I’m more interested in posting material which allows potential clients a more three-dimensional view of my practice.

Which is why this week I am posting pictures from Salisbury Plain*, my current personal project.

After months of barely leaving the house, I was so pleased to be able to get back on the project and I’m happy to share a few of the latest results with you. Some, if not all of these, will be made available as fine art prints via my takeagander website where you can see more images from this project which I made before lockdown.

But given that this blog often veers away from the pure business of corporate communications work, how does a project like this help potential clients choose me over the next photographer? Why do I post personal work here? Let’s turn that around and ask, “What kind of photographer would I be if I didn’t do personal projects?”

Go to a dozen photographer websites and the majority will tell you at some point just how passionate they are about photography. All too often this doesn’t show through their work. I believe they are passionate about being a photographer, but mostly because they like having, or being seen with, cameras. There’s a chasm of distinction between being genuinely passionate about photography, and liking taking pictures (or liking owning nice camera gear).

My personal work is mostly shot on film using a variety of relatively low-tech, often un-glamorous cameras, because photography is the important part to me, not owning the gear or being seen to have the latest equipment. Working this way is also part of my “keep fit” regime in that it keeps my photographic eye honed even during quieter periods (lockdown being an extreme example).

In a world where “everyone’s a photographer” my passion isn’t just about being a photographer, it extends to the purpose of photography, its purpose and value to society. Getting heavy now, huh? Sorry, that’s really a whole other blog post there.

Perhaps next time you’re looking to book a photographer other than myself for a job (yes, I do know this happens!), take a look to see what personal projects they’re working on. If there are none, ask yourself if they’re genuinely as passionate as they say they are.

*I haven’t yet settled on a permanent title. I’m passionate about finding a good one.

Is your photographer GDPReady?

With the Facebook data scandal still simmering in the headlines, most people will assume that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into effect on May 25th only applies to large organisations, but it also affects a great many photographers. In particular it impacts on those, like me, who regularly photograph people for business websites, press releases, social media and so on.

In a rather large nutshell, anyone who handles data has to get their house in order and register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) before the deadline or face sanctions. I’ve registered, paid the annual fee, and I’m going through the data I have to ensure it’s secure and compliant.

What this largely means for me is that I need to work through my client galleries removing old ones or ensuring they’re not accessible to anyone except the client. I also need to make updates to my website to ensure people have an understanding of what GDPR means in relation to my work and how I handle their data.

Some galleries are publicly shared because I’ve been asked to make them so, but even then I’ll be looking at closing access to the oldest ones. All this is going to take some time as I’ve been running the system for many years now, but as I add more client work to the delivery system I’ll be making sure it’s only visible to those who need to see it. The only exception to this will be where the person I’ve photographed has given permission for me to allow their images to be searchable.

There is a slight conflict around all this in that as a photographer I should have the right to use my work to promote myself, otherwise clients needing my services won’t be able to find me, but I have to balance this with keeping and handling personal data (a face coupled with a name and place of work for example) in a responsible manner.

There are ways of making all this work, but it’s going to take more than a few weeks to really hone it. Thankfully, for the most part, my entire back catalogue of digital work dating back 18 years isn’t stored online or I think I’d have a mental breakdown at the enormity of the task. While I use cloud storage to deliver images to clients and to allow them to have an online database of the images I’ve shot for them, all my original work is backed up to off-line hard drives which keeps them secure from a data breach point of view.

The other good news is that the personal work I undertake, such as the current Saxonvale project, falls under the artistic exemption of GDPR. Of course this doesn’t mean I can be slap-dash with peoples’ personal data, but because of its nature it’s less prone to result in either a complaint or an investigation by the ICO.

Even so, I have taken images for that project which will only ever see light of day in print form because they’re too sensitive to be shared online, and that raises an interesting question about the future of photography; will we find the internet a less useful space for getting important stories out if there’s a risk of a data breach in publishing online?

Only with a few judgements behind us on data breach cases will we build a true picture of what is or is not a breach of GDPR because it’s not entirely clear from the regulation text itself given the multitude of potential scenarios. In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to keep within the rules.

To be honest, it’s mostly just common sense and courtesy and of course you’ll want to make sure any photographer you work with is compliant. Well now you know of at least one photographer who is working towards that goal.

On My Hobby Horse

When a professional musician isn’t gigging or recording, they’ll be practicing; running up and down the scales, trying new techniques, working on pieces they may have to (or would like to) perform some time. When they do this, we don’t consider them to be indulging in a hobby, it’s just part of being a professional.

Professional photographers also need to practice between gigs. Of course we can’t sit in a room or studio and just run up and down the shutter speeds on the camera for an hour or two. We have to find pictures to take, pictures which stretch our abilities and keep our brains photographically sharp. That’s where the personal project comes in, at least for me.

I’m not very good at just going out with a camera and taking random photos. In particular I’m not very good at photographing pretty scenes just for the pleasure of it. I have to find a theme and work to that, but sometimes when I’m doing this I’m told “It’s nice you still have photography as a hobby.”

Ok, I’m not massively irked by this kind of reaction. It’s understandable when photography is such a hugely popular hobby. I’m even aware of people who think that being a professional photographer is simply a case of translating one’s hobby into paid work. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy meeting people and taking pictures for businesses, but I’m not sure I’d spend a day taking head shots against a white backdrop just for the giggles.

However, this mode of thinking ignores the possibility that a personal project has the potential to turn into something with a value beyond just being practice between gigs. Currently I have a number of projects on the go which pay nothing up-front, but about which I’m hugely excited and I hope will excite other people too, once they come to fruition.

The problem could be in the term “personal work” or “personal project” which implies I’m only taking the pictures for my personal photo album, but it’s the term most widely recognised by photographers and publishers to mean a project which is exploring an idea without having a defined end point or deadline, or a pre-determined place for publication.

For now at least we have to stick with the term, so perhaps I should just get off my hobby horse and await the day when the terms are more widely understood and photography between gigs is recognised as having a value.

It’s fair to say that over the last year or two, my actual hobbies (cycling, playing guitar) have been rather squeezed out of my life by my personal photo essay work. It’s up to me to re-adjust that balance, but photography is definitely not my hobby.

2016, a personal review

Normally I’d post a “year in pictures” round-up just about now, but I’ve decided to do something a little different this time just because.

Instead I’m going to focus on the more off-beat, off-diary photos I’ve taken. You’ll have seen most of them, but not all, in various blog posts through the year, but it’s fun to pull them together into a single gallery to enjoy again.

So sit back with your cuppa and your mince pie and enjoy…

 

 

Working Effextively

If you look at my corporate communications photography you won’t see much in the way of special effects or filters. I would describe my style as clean, bright, modern and (influenced by my news background) mostly un-touched by stylistic manipulations.

That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the work of photographers whose images might be more stylised in their finish, but it has to be done with purpose, consistency and definitely mustn’t be overdone. So it’ll be interesting to see if the release by Google of their Nik Collection imaging software as a free download (up to now it’s been a relatively expensive suite of editing tools) will have a noticeable effect on many professional photographers’ portfolios.

Will there be a rush to explore and play with the multitude of effects (believe me, there are many, possibly hundreds), each tweakable to one’s heart’s content?

I decided to download the software myself and have a play. After all, I am sometimes asked to do black and white conversions; this requires more than just removing colour from an image. I’ve always been happy with how I do this in Lightroom, but could the Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom enable me to do this better or quicker?

The other plugin I wanted to try was the Analog Efex Pro 4 part of the suit as I wanted to see if there were colour treatments which might suit some of my clients looking for a particular look for the web or brochure images.

The gallery on this page shows some of the results of my “playing about.” I’ve included one version which shows what can happen if you just apply one of the automated effects without due care and attention. I’ll leave you to guess which one it is.

Roll your mouse over the preview images to see what software was used and click on an image to see it larger.

I have to say that in my limited time using the software I’ve found the vast majority of it to be surplus to requirement, but then there are always great swathes of any imaging software which most photographers never use, it’s just a matter of finding the useful bits and sticking to using those.

Perhaps a bigger issue for me, and I’m willing to accept this might be a novice mistake, is that I can’t see how to apply edits across a range of images in one go, known as synchronising in Lightroom. I’m assuming there is a way of doing this (maybe saving edits as a preset?), but if not then it could mean using any of these editing tools is going to be long-winded for anything other than occasional, individual files.

On a lesser note, the difference between a Lightroom mono conversion and a Silver Efex one seems to be a matter of preference and probably some more tweaking in the software. If there isn’t an easy way to synchronise adjustments across images within the Nik software, it’ll be of little benefit.

I suspect I will turn to the Nick software on occasion, but maybe more for personal projects or experimentation on individual files. I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to start applying filters regularly to my images by default, probably only when a client requests it.

 

 

Keeping Organised

Any freelance will tell you that there is a great deal of admin involved in keeping things running smoothly. As a photographer one of the more critical elements of my admin, apart from making sure I keep my accounting up to date, is to ensure my photo archive is accessible.

By this I mean that if I need to look up an assignment I shot a decade ago, this shouldn’t be an exercise in rummaging through a suitcase full of random CDs, DVDs and hard drives hoping to find the one I need (and keeping fingers crossed that it hasn’t become damaged and un-readable).

Since I went digital in 2000 I’ve kept a catalogue of every assignment I’ve ever undertaken. It’s a simple piece of software which I use to record each job. It pulls keywords from the captions I’ve written to the image files, so when I go to search I just need a place or person’s name or something relevant to the assignment and the catalogue will return thumbnails of any pictures with matching keywords.

When I click on a thumbnail the software tells me which disk or drive that image (and therefore the rest of the job) is stored on. Since all my storage is kept in strict order it’s easy to find any job pretty fast.

The software, called Media Pro, has changed little over the years; I can’t remember who developed it because it has been owned by various companies including Microsoft. It’s now owned by a company called Phase One and I have to say it’s been brilliant.

The beauty of its simplicity is that even when Phase One took it over I didn’t have to start all over again, re-importing every job from the last 15 years. I just had to buy a new licence to use Media Pro, and the software automatically recognised my catalogue file.

Now you might be wondering why I’d bother to bore you with all this back-story, but the simple fact is that clients occasionally need me to relocate a job from a few years ago (and they’re often on a deadline when they ask me to do this) and my ability to reach back, find older work and resupply the images as needed is a valuable part of my service.

Of course this facility requires admin time, reliable storage and very occasionally a little extra cost in paying for a new licence, but I take these factors into consideration when setting my fees.

When you’re looking to hire a photographer it’s well worth checking what their storage and archive policies are; how long do they store images for? Do they have a system for retrieving long-forgotten jobs at short notice? Is their archive duplicated and held in different locations to protect against loss through flood, fire or theft?

No one can 100% guarantee to keep everything for ever, but I’ve kept my system safe and accessible for over 15 years now. I wonder how many other photographers can say that?

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016!

Traditionally I would do a “year in pictures” post about now with a photo from each month of the year, but this year I thought I’d just pick out a slightly random selection of this year’s pictures from various assignments, personal projects and even the odd holiday snap for you to enjoy.

This is the last post for this year, but I look forward to being able to bring you lots of exciting stuff next year.

I just wanted to say a massive thank you to all my lovely clients, and to wish all my readers a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year!

Without further ado, here’s a round-up of 2015. Click an image to enlarge and you can scroll through from there. Enjoy!

Cycle Challenge

Covering the launch of the new Matrix IC7 cycle training bikes at University of Bath’s Sports Training Village last week presented some interesting challenges, but also made for some interesting photo opportunities – sadly I can’t show show you some of the more creative images as the university hasn’t had use of those pictures yet, but just getting the basics covered presented interesting challenges.

When I arrived on location, the bikes were set up for a spinning class at which a group of cycling enthusiasts, athletes and sports trainers were taking part in a session. The purpose of this was to introduce them to the bikes and their various high-tech features, while also creating a suitable scenario for me to get some shots of the bikes in action.

My first problem was that of how to light the scene; this was a fairly large group of people in a very tight space, with a massive source of light coming from behind them.

With careful positioning of the camera and a bit of shifting of a few distracting objects I managed to get enough room to include the group without being able to see my flashes which were set up, just outside my field of view, at each end of the space in order to bathe the cyclists with enough light to counteract the daylight which would have silhouetted them. I didn’t have much leeway to move about, so the main shots pretty much had to be taken from one position.

Having achieved the basics though, I was able to take additional pictures showing details of the bikes and small sections of the group as well as a few more creative images experimenting with slower shutter speeds and camera/lens movement.

When the group took a break I was able to set up a very quick photo of sports Team Bath athlete Eva Piatrikova as an alternative to the wide group photos.

By the end of the session I had pictures suitable for promoting the spinning/training sessions available at the university and by the end of the afternoon I’d delivered an image suitable for immediate social media use, with the rest of the images edited and delivered the next morning.

Team Bath posted an article using two of the pictures, tweeted one and will use others in future materials to promote the cycle training sessions, so if you’re a keen cyclist wanting to improve your technique or want to learn the basics, now you know where to sign up.