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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No One’s Bursting My Bubble

I’m not sure “busy” quite describes the intensity of my work recently. The fact is, since April I’ve been busier than at any other time in my 23-year freelance career.

This is a post-covid bubble for sure. Pent-up plans, postponed events and long-neglected websites have suddenly become the focus of many corporate marketing teams, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many to shoot the stills, and now video, they need to bring those plans to fruition.

Biggest Project to Date

One project in particular has dominated my diary. I suspect this won’t be the only blog post I reference to it either, and that has been the stills and video content for Shaw & Co’s new website.

Shaw & Co has been a long-standing client of mine. In fact I first photographed company founder Jim Shaw way back in 2010 when he was at a different, now defunct firm in Bath. But my work with the Bristol-based corporate finance firm came about by a chance google search for a photographer which has kept me going back ever since 2017.

And so for the past 5 years I’ve been taking Shaw & Co’s team shots, head shots and office stock images. But then during 2020 their Chief Marketing Officer Paul Mills brought me into the picture about their plans for a re-brand. This was going to be a bit more than the usual photo session.

This time there would be video alongside stills on the website, so I started to look into whether I could deliver that for them. My cameras were video-enabled, but I knew enough about video to understand you don’t simply switch from stills to video mode and wave the camera about a bit. At least not if you want anything vaguely usable.

Lockdown Learning

Lockdown proved a useful breathing space for me to research and learn the very basics, but there’s nothing quite like having an actual commission on the books to focus the mind. In fact it was essential for me to have a goal to work towards. Video is a huge discipline and you can stray off in all directions if there’s no end-goal. You can also spend your way to bankruptcy if you’re not careful. Knowing what the requirements were for what I needed to deliver allowed me to focus on the kit and the skills I needed to develop as priority.

Being Part of the Process

Perhaps what has been most unusual about this project is just how deeply embedded I’ve been with its development – seeing the brand graphics as they evolved, liaising with the design agency Design By Structure at various stages and even finding my own suggestions being incorporated where appropriate. With some projects I feel I could be a robot with a camera, told to “stand there, shoot that,” but not on this occasion; I was definitely part of the team here.

The website launched this week and given the time period over which it has been developed and implemented, it really is an astonishing achievement. I’ve known much smaller projects to take far longer, which is testament to Paul’s enthusiasm and drive and his ability to enthuse all those around him.

Having Faith Helps

It’s also fair to say that the confidence Paul (and Jim) placed in me has sometimes outstripped my own self-belief, but I’m incredibly proud of the speed of my development and more importantly of the work I’ve turned in.

You can now see the stills and video clips over at Shaw & Co’s new website and even if their work isn’t an area you’re familiar with, I’d love to know your thoughts here.

Is That It Then?

Now I know I said this was a post-lockdown bubble, and things have quietened off a little as we get into August, but I’m still busy with new work and projects which were delayed by covid.

I also know that whatever happens next, I’ve gained valuable skills I can offer new and existing clients. I also know Shaw & Co are keen to build upon what we’ve started, so bubble or not, I’m confident there’s more to come.

Film to Film

One week I’m banging on about the joys of shooting old-school (skool) film, this week I’m talking about this frightfully modern video fandango.

In November 2020 I blogged about my video progress and things have, well, progressed! I now have a couple of small projects under my belt, one delivered and one still ongoing, and more in the pipeline. It’s been a massive learning curve, but I’m enjoying the challenge and the new creative direction.

The Backstory

For many years I held off getting into video because I had no personal need for it and enquiries from clients asking if I did it numbered single digits per year.

Then towards the end of 2019 enquiries seemed to grow. Mostly from clients who were already working with me for their stills as they wanted to add video to their marketing toolkit.

Lockdown

And then 2020 happened, and we all know what that meant. So during the first lockdown I investigated, cogitated and decided to learn the basics and see where it took me.

Of course as a stills photographer I already had many of the basics, but video is obviously a lot more than just pictures which move, and I’m not just talking about the addition of sound here either.

A New Energy

I’m glad I got the ball rolling because as we’ve emerged from the latest lockdown, client work has really sprung back to life and it’s including a lot of video.

While I’m keeping it fairly simple at this stage (sit-down interviews, testimonials and informational clips), as my abilities and capabilities grow I’ll be able to cover a wider variety of briefs.

In the meantime I’m cramming to learn editing as I know that will make me a better camera operator, just as learning to picture edit made me a better photographer when I was starting out in stills.

As ever, keep watching this space for further updates on this new direction and if you’re a business looking to step up from iPad videos to something more polished, drop me a line and let’s talk.

Smart Power to the People

When communicating an abstract or technical idea, creative photography is vital for engaging your readers.

In this case study I’ll share some insights of a shoot I undertook for University of Bath late last year.

Background.

We needed to illustrate the university’s research into managed power distribution and supply, in particular the regulation of the “last mile” from the national grid into your home. You might not think the subject electrifying, but actually it’s interesting research and vital to anyone who uses electricity!

The research by Furong Li, Professor in Electrical Power Systems, is looking at how mass data can be used to adjust supply to the home according to real-time demand. Currently the supply is regulated using relatively old data and inflexible systems.

You can see the article here, but in this post I’ll go into the background to the photography.

Concept.

When I was approached by the university’s web content editor, she already had the idea to use a model of a pylon, while I suggested we match that up with a location where a real pylon could reinforce the initial idea.

Furong came up with the location and so we met on a slightly dreary November morning to make the pictures.

Actually the dreariness helped because I wanted to use portable lighting to make the shots more three-dimensional, and the clouds added drama.

Execution.

Having got some basic headshots in the bag “just in case”, we then played with various ideas and positions to ensure there was a good variety of images to choose from; not only for the initial article, but also for other uses down the line.

Photographers often forget to shoot “around” the subject or the idea, leaving the client little to choose from should an initial layout change, or when the shots are needed in different media. I’ve just shown you a couple of the other shots here, with the final choice being visible in the article itself.

This was no huge production; the ideas were simple and effective and the final results are eye-catching. Perfect for an article you want people to notice in a sea of online content.

First Shoots of Recovery?

“Ok, here’s the future – everything is going to be fantastic. Business will pick up again” is what I wrote only last week.

Now I don’t wish to jinx what is clearly a very tentative, timid signal, but I am starting to get more bookings again, which is just fantastic!

Of course it’s early days and there will be tough times ahead. I think things will continue to be difficult and unpredictable for at least the next 12 months. I also think that the businesses which want to survive and thrive will keep on top of their marketing and this will involve fresh photography.

That businesses are starting to re-focus on the future is particularly encouraging, so let’s keep this week’s post brief and positive.

If you’re thinking in terms of getting your website bang-up-to-date or looking for an opportunity to get some PR going, drop me a line.

We can do this together.

PR Photography in Lockdown

In my recent article Measured Success I described how a couple of simple items, a tape measure and chalk, allowed me to work a public relations photoshoot and still keep everyone safe.

This week I thought I’d share a bit more about that job with you.

The client was Seko Logistics, who had undertaken to deliver free personal protective equipment (PPE), supplied by Alexandra Workwear, to all 69 care homes in The Order of St John Care Trust group, starting with their home in Thornbury, Bristol.

Now this was never going to make the tight group shot I would normally aim to produce, but given the circumstances I felt the distancing between the people in the photo would not only keep everyone safe, but would also help make the picture visually interesting.

The light was difficult (when isn’t it?), so I had to put up a couple of high powered studio flash units. Without them the people’s faces would have been silhouetted and I also wanted to pick out some detail of the building too. The only giveaway is the shadow of the care nurse which runs contra to the shadows cast by the sun behind the people and building.

That’s ok though. I’d rather ensure the people were sufficiently lit than have to spend ages trying to wrestle with the exposure levels in post production, which would never have looked as good or had the crisp, colourful impact this image has.

The result is a photo which the client has been able to use not only in their own social media feeds, but which has gone around their various industry publications too. I’m always pleased to see my pictures working hard for a client and I know the client is also pleased with how everything went and the result at the end.

So while organisations will be struggling to balance many conflicting requirements right now, it’s wise to keep an eye out for any stories which your business could put out as a press release. With professional care and execution, it’s still possible to get good PR coverage and raise your business profile with something positive.

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

 

 

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!

 

Keeping Photography Real

Recurrent controversies over the doctoring of photojournalistic images might seem of distant interest to businesses and organisations which only use commercial images, but there is an important crossover area wherein danger lies for every business.

Most businesses using photographs in their corporate communications are in the main either buying stock photos or commissioning them from a photographer like myself. As these pictures are being used to illustrate or promote a commercial venture in some sales capacity (website, brochure, catalogue etc), they don’t have to conform to the standards of photojournalism. Assuming they observe normal laws, their purpose is to illustrate a concept, or the values of the organisation, not some higher truth.

But occasionally businesses will engage a photographer to take press and PR pictures. These of course are destined for use in newspapers, magazines, trade journals perhaps and almost certainly online in social media and so on. The medium really doesn’t matter; such pictures are taken as a matter of record and should be treated as seriously as if they were showing history unfolding.

It doesn’t matter if the photos show a cheque being presented, a ribbon being cut or a visit by an MP or Royalty, the intention of these photos is to illustrate something which has happened in the life of the organisation and should be treated as historical records.

Where a photo is set up, such as for a presentation of an award, a prize, the launch of a new venture or whatever, it’s generally obvious from the way the participants are posed and often looking to camera that the scenario has been choreographed by the photographer, and this is fine because the viewer will understand they’re seeing a staged photo. However, this staging isn’t a licence for elements or people in the picture to be doctored in, out, moved or changed in any way. What happens in front of the camera should be shown in the final result.

Photo purports to show Kim Jong Un standing by a ship's rail at sea pointing to a missile launching from the water. A fake photo.

Some manipulation just draws ridicule, as this North Korean press shot did.

It’s not uncommon for a client to suggest that I can Photoshop something in or out when I’ve taken a photo for press release and often they look at me quizzically when I explain that I cannot do this for ethical reasons. No photographer can because it breaches the editorial code of ethics, and if caught could seriously harm the reputation of the photographer and their hopes of finding future work.

It also does the client no favours when the “internet” gets hold of a story of doctoring or manipulation. The business name may be spread far and wide, but it will be couched in negative terms and with a (possibly) permanent and negative connotation.

And so as tempting as it may be to say “it’s just a group photo,” or “only for the web,” don’t be tempted into breaking ethics for the sake of a “better” image. It could ruin your image.

The Film Thing

It’s official, I have got the film bug quite seriously. I’ve always loved film and I find I’m more drawn to shooting personal projects on film than on digital. In fact with digital I found it hard to get started on personal projects because the process always ended up feeling very much like all my other work. For personal work I needed some kind of demarcation from my corporate communications photography, and I’ve realised film gives me that distinction.

It also makes a difference to those I’m photographing. People seem to engage more with the idea that I’m producing an image of them using a tradition they thought had died. On a subconscious level I wonder if they feel more comfortable knowing they’re not being instantly “digitised”, albeit at some point I have to scan the images in order to be able to print or display them.

Shooting film the way I do with the subjects I tend to be drawn to is often a slower process than digital and I’ve realised people now expect photography to happen much more quickly than perhaps it used to. With film I will take a more considered approach. I’ve never been one to shoot thousands of pictures in the hope of getting one good one, but with film I find I’m taking this further and taking more time to consider the picture I’m taking. Accordingly I find I have to manage my subjects’ expectations and explain things won’t happen as quickly as they may be used to. That seems to relax them too.

A pile of assorted out of date photographic film

Out of date film is on my list of projects

The benefit I’m getting from shooting film is that I’m going back to basics again, re-remembering my core strengths, abilities and values as a photographer and this is feeding back into my corporate communications work. I’m also having more fun sharing the results on Instagram where you can see my feed has become more focussed on my film work.

I have new projects in planning, including a whole series to be shot on out-of-date film which presents a whole new set of challenges.

If you’d like to follow my foray back into film, check out my Instagram account, I’ll be delighted to see you there and even more so if you decide to click the Follow button.