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.

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!

A Hand Up for Startups

Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say, and a lot of people are going to be doing a lot of inventing in the coming months and years.

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Brainstorming a new venture?

People who have been made redundant and those who have just had enough of the daily office grind will be setting up new ventures, which in the teeth of the fiercest of recessions is a brave thing indeed.

Which is why I’ve launched a new service to help anyone considering such a move. Called Startup Exclusive, this is a photography package designed to give new ventures the vital images they need for their websites, marketing materials and social media channels.

From headshots to product shots, or pictures illustrating the services they offer, new business startups will have the basic images they need to get going and at a price that shouldn’t sink them at launch.

At the very least I’ve always prided myself on publishing a fee structure which allows clients to get an idea of what to expect before they’ve even called me, and with Startup Exclusive added to my fees guide, they’ll be able to work the cost of bespoke photography into their business plan long before they’ve committed to booking me.

So if you, or anyone you know, is considering a new venture, point them to my website so they can at least get a sense of what’s available and what the likely fees will be. You never know, I could end up documenting the birth of something really big.

A Paradigm Shift in Portraits

At the risk of stating the obvious, the C word is creating difficulties for all kinds of businesses, but what’s been making the news agenda this week is the problems caused by the new home-working paradigm.

For all the benefits to office workers who no longer have a daily commute, the businesses relying on the office economy, from landlords to sandwich vendors, are in trouble.

Even with some hope of an end to the mass contagion of a couple of months ago, it’s not as if there are many signs that businesses and their staff are clamouring to return to the old ways of working.

So if you’ll indulge me to be somewhat selfish for a moment, this has a knock-on effect for my trade too.

When deciding to update a website with fresh office photography, most of my clients will choose a date when the majority of their staff are in. Not only does this mean I can get shots of a busy office, but I’ll also get fresh head shots of as many people as possible in a single visit.

That is no longer (necessarily) possible. If businesses are only inviting small teams in at any given time, there might never be an opportunity to photograph enough people to make a session viable, unless some new thinking is employed. That’s what I’d like to set out here.

Consider The New Normal.

Low-key portrait of a young female architectural assistant wearing glasses, looking directly into camera, not smile.

Simplicity is powerful.

Things have to change, at least for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. This means I have to work smarter and differently, and clients have to understand the new constraints in the round.

Traditionally, if a client required a series of headshots against white (grey, or black, but usually white), I would hoof several bags of kit plus an unwieldy backdrop into the office. This might involve multiple trips to/from the car, or a client would help carry my kit in.

This isn’t ideal when you have multiple doors, lifts and other obstacles to tackle and heightens the risk of cross-contamination.

So perhaps a change of approach is needed: I can work more nimbly if all I need is basic kit and no backdrop. Perhaps the age of the headshot against white is over. It will enforce a wider change in look and feel to the portraits too, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

If done with skill and care, a new style can look just as professional.

A New Honesty About Costs.

Ouch, but wait: A photographer can make multiple trips to an office in order to capture all the colleagues in smaller sessions, but inevitably this increases cost. Well perhaps this just requires an adjustment in perception. Photography has been cheap as chips for many years now, so perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate budgets and accept it may never be as cheap again.

Alternatively, to keep costs down, be more selective about who ends up on the About Us page. Ask the question, “Who needs to be visible?” Occasionally I’ve felt as if I’m photographing people just so they don’t feel left out or under-valued. Sometimes I’ve felt this was more a concern of the client than it was of the person standing in front of me who I’m working to relax out of an expression of “I hate having my picture taken, so why am I included in this?” Think about who really needs to appear in corporate communications.

Combining the new normal with an acceptance of higher cost (or being more selective), it’s worth considering that if people are going to work from home more, perhaps that’s where their portraits need to be taken.

Does your corporate imagery have to pretend people are working in an office building when they’re not? It’s also possible, through either photographic or post-production techniques, to diminish the domestic influence in the photograph and create a consistent look across all the portraits even where multiple locations are involved.

I can even bring a backdrop into the home if needed. It’s often easier than getting it into an office building.

Again this has cost implications, but are they insurmountable? By being selective and canny, I think costs can be kept reasonable.

The Bottom Line

The “bottom line” isn’t the bottom line. It’s worth remembering that powerful, engaging photography for your business isn’t about Value for Money, it’s about quality and aesthetics. As un-measurable as that might seem, that is what will help sell your services.

All of this starts with creative conversations, so talk to me. Let me know what you’re trying to achieve and I’ll help you achieve it in the best way possible.

Get me a coffee!

Last week I spoke about the tentative shoots of recovery as I was starting to receive enquiries and bookings again, but I did temper this with a word of caution that times would be tricky for a while yet.

What this means for many, including myself, is a constant process of working out what’s next and how we can keep going. For my part I’ve already made quite a few adjustments and will have to continue to find new ways of working and earning until the economy recovers, whenever that might be.

Lowering Costs

One fortuitous decision I took at the tail end of last year was to quit the office I’d been renting for the previous 8 years and convert an outhouse at home into a workspace, nicknamed The Bunker. Perhaps I had some incredible foresight into future events because it’s been one of the most beneficial decisions I’ve taken in a long time. Now I’m working rent-free, claiming additional work-from-home tax allowances and I have an editing space designed to my needs.

During lockdown it’s also meant I had an office which opens onto my garden, which has helped save my soul.

Diversifying

I’ve also finally ventured into video. Adding a new skill will make me more valuable to my existing and future clients. It’s also really interesting and creative in a way I hadn’t expected, and allows me to play with sound, which has always been a fascination of mine. I’ve already had enquiries about that, so I’m hopeful it will prove beneficial to my clients.

Rattling the Tin

On the flip side of my client work are my personal projects, which are so vital to my practice. These have obviously suffered through lockdown, but I’m starting them up again as best I can.

There is a challenge here though; personal projects have always been partially funded through client work, which is, as I say, tentative.

Tentative also describes the level of print sales through takeagander.co.uk. These were always a longer-term goal as it’s tough to build them up, so currently they’re not supporting the personal work either.

So I’ve set up a ko-fi account (ko-fi.com/takeagander) where people can support me with small donations if they’re not ready to buy a print. The takeagander website is peppered with “Buy me a coffee” buttons which take you to the donation page. Even the smallest amount will help, so do please spread the word by sharing the link far and wide. And of course you can make a donation here too if you’d like to support my work.

Currently I have a modest £100.00 goal to raise money for film which is already 30% funded. Since it’s only been up a short while, that’s astounding! This will be used for my current project, an un-sentimental journey across Salisbury Plain.

More to Come

Other plans are afoot, but too early to reveal yet. So to get early notice of developments, keep watching this space, or sign up to my newsletter at takeagander.co.uk. You can also see projects unfolding at takeagander on Instagram.

Also, feel free to drop me a line, comment here, or send a carrier pigeon. Moral support really is just as welcome as the financial assistance.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride for all of us, so I’ll keep saying this; if there is some way I can help you and your business, drop me a line and let’s see if we can’t make the road ahead a little smoother.

I’ll Make These b****y Pictures Move!

There is a vague recollection in the furthest reaches of my mind of my dad making a joke about “moving pictures” while shaking a photo up and down in his hand. It involved the “b” word and was very funny. You had to be there.

Which brings me in the clunkiest way possible to the announcement that I have added moving pictures to my suite of client services. They’ll even have sound! And they’ll be in glorious colour (actually, black and white is also an option, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Yes, lockdown has given me the opportunity to learn a huge amount about shooting video, recording sound and using editing software to bring it all together. I’m not going to pretend I’m the next Martin Scorsese, I still have much to learn, but I’ve used the time to get the basics nailed down.

My focus will be on corporate testimonials, talking heads and interview pieces, giving businesses the material they need to keep putting fresh material out on social media. I think video is well suited to this kind of use and will help my clients communicate more effectively than they might with just a text-based blog.

To give myself material with which to practice camera settings, focus, exposure, colour balance, sound recording, editing, and so on, I shot a short film at home using the best model I could find in my house (my wife). She did a fantastic job, and while the result is probably not what you would call corporate style, it demonstrates much of what I’ve learned in this exercise. You can see the film here.

The result is just over 4 minutes long and it’s entitled A SHEDx Talk with Dr Helen Roberts. I hope you get a few minutes to watch it, because the feedback I’ve had so far has been that it is calming, soothing and inspiring!

 

Covid-19, The Update Post

The purpose of this blog post is to keep clients informed of my status during the Covid-19 crisis, should they need to know.

I’ll be keeping in direct touch with current clients only as required since I know they’ll all be scrabbling to keep their operations afloat.

This post will be linked from my Home page to keep visitors to the site informed.

Any updates to my status or activities will be posted at the foot of this article, preceded with a date to ensure clarity. If you want to know the very latest news with regards my coronavirus plans, scroll to the very end of this post.

Current Status:

In broad terms, I can tell you that my current status is ok. I am solvent (improved by forthcoming government assistance for the self-employed) and I am fit and well as I practice social distancing and keep journeys to a minimum.

Bookings:

My diary has emptied of advance bookings for at least the next two months. Normally I would also be picking up last-minute work, but of course that is also currently impossible. I want to be as fair as possible with my clients so I propose the following:

  • Any bookings which coincide with a lockdown period can be postponed for a future date without any surcharges.
  • Any bookings which have to be cancelled entirely may incur a fee, however this will be discussed with the client to find the best solution for a positive outcome.
Current Plans:

I have a plan to keep busy, starting with a programme of website updates, tweaks and improvements.

I’ve already brought my accounts up-to-date (sorting my sock drawer is next!) and my fine art print site takeagander.co.uk is also replete with the latest images. Sadly my print supplier has had to close temporarily, so although I can still take print orders, I won’t be able to fulfil them until the printer can re-open. Updates on that are more likely to be found on the takeagander website.

To my clients:

I want to assure all my clients that I have every intention of still being here for them when this is all over. Luckily I had already completed a programme of reducing overheads in the final quarter of 2019, which basically means I have no office rent or associated costs around my neck right now.

All my subscriptions continue to be covered, including for Photoshelter, which means all my client galleries should continue to be secure and accessible at all times. If you experience any problems with your gallery, let me know and I’ll be happy to help.

Anyone requiring help:

I remain open to enquiries, even if they cannot be confirmed bookings at this time. If you have a question I can help with, or you want to start an early conversation about a potential future project, I’ll be delighted to hear from you. If you just need to hear a voice other than your own, call me.

That’s all for now folks. Keep safe, keep well. I can’t wait to work with you again soon.

Updates:

2nd April 2020 – My main task this week has been to make tweaks to the website, some minor and others more involved. Due to a server issue on Monday/Tuesday progress was slow, but I’m glad to say everything is back to normal and I’ve done most of what I intended to complete.

This has included:

  • Writing this blog post, then ensuring there is a link to it directly from the home page.
  • Updating the Personal Projects galleries, making them smaller, more manageable and improving ease of navigation to them.
  • Updating the Business Portraits, Corporate Communications and Editorial + PR galleries with fresh content.
  • Re-writing the text for all the galleries.
  • Back-end tidying of the site structure. Whether this has any discernible effect is up for debate.
  • Re-jigging the About Me page with refreshed text and links to Testimonials and takeagander.co.uk
  • A tweak to my fees to help build a stronger business for the future.

I still need to work through my T&Cs and find a place to display my lovely, shiny GDPR certificate, but this week really has seen impressive progress.

I almost forgot to mention, my image archiving catalogue is also now bang up to date with the last couple of months’ jobs. A rarity indeed.

3rd April 2020 – Yesterday morning felt like four hours of shovelling pixels as I made adjustments to my website. So I spent the afternoon shovelling compost as we work to improve our veg-growing capacity at home. I’m so grateful to have a garden, something so many people don’t have.

Most of today will be spent freshening up my LinkedIn profile page, then it’s back to the website to make some additional changes and improvements.

Back again! I’ve spent the entire morning freshening up my LinkedIn profile, though I’m sure there is more I could do. I’ve also improved access to my GDPR statement and certificate on my website.

I might head back out to the garden for the next couple of hours before my backside fuses to my chair.

6th April 2020 – It’s 05.11 on Monday morning and I seem to be awake. My sleep has been erratic for at least a decade, so this isn’t Coronavirus-stress-related.

At the risk of descending this blog into the realm of the personal, as I face the new week I wanted to share a word on my weekend. Having a garden big enough to do things in is a luxury these days, and I feel extremely privileged to have one large enough for four raised veg beds, a greenhouse, shed and tiny pond.

Although the pond is small, it attracts frogs and other wildlife, and is currently teaming with tadpoles. I’ll be spending time in the coming weeks defending the froglets from the many neighbourhood cats.

Tasks I achieved this weekend: A fresh coat of exterior paint on The Bunker, construction of a brassica cage, construction of two new garden table tops to replace rotten ones using scrap timber (they look better than they sound). Oh and a bit of sunburn! I’m normally very careful in the sun, but really didn’t appreciate that the breeze was deceiving me.

So today I’ll be back to working on my to-do list. I have a couple of rolls of colour film to send off for processing and thankfully the lab can still run safely. I also have a grocery run to do for an isolated resident, but I’m awaiting their list.

Good luck with your week, whatever it involves.

Final update on this post, since this is meant to be a point of useful information for clients, I’ll start a new post which will act as my on-going diary. Carry on reading there if you’re desperate to know how I’m doing.

Friday 22nd May 2020

My plans and risk assessments are well underway as clients start to make enquiries once again. I will have hand sanitiser and reusable mask with me on all jobs. Gloves are not necessary and I believe they present additional risk, so I will only wear gloves if they are required and are supplied by the client. I will wash my hands on arrival, departure and at any point during my time on site that is sensible to do so. Please bear with me because I suffer from hay fever and may need to wash my hands more frequently than normal.

I will work with my clients and subjects to maintain suitable distancing as much as possible.

I will ask that clients allow more liaison time prior to jobs in order that we can plan to minimise the risks to all involved, including of course myself.

If you have particular requirements or suggestions based on your own risk assessments, please feel free to share them with me.

Video

With clients looking for new ways to communicate to their audiences, I have used a large proportion of my lockdown time to get up to speed on good quality video capture, sound recording and editing. I have invested in the equipment required to ensure I am ready to talk to you about your next video project, so do drop me a line if you’re considering adding video to your corporate communications toolbox.

Beyond the Brief

Next time you’re planning to update the photography for your corporate communications, why not consider allowing some additional creative time within the session? Allowing some creative space beyond the brief could result in some interesting results.

An excellent example of this is from November last year when I was commissioned to create new team head shots for business data analysts Kaiasm – I’m massively paraphrasing what they do for the sake of brevity.

There was one shot which I pretty much took as a bit of a joke; I’d noticed how the data graph behind the founder Liam McGee’s head made him look like he had a halo. When I mentioned this to him, he obliged with a suitable pose and expression and I took the shot.

The photo was included in the final edit because I know clients often enjoy the odd outtake in their set, but I didn’t expect to see it used.

A couple of weeks later, the local paper ran the photo with an article about Kaiasm and their pending expansion plans.

So allowing some creative freedom and a dollop of humour can lead to unexpectedly useful results. That photo will have drawn far more attention to the article than any plain headshot or stock image of the office would have done, and will have conveyed Kaiasm as a business run by human beings, not robots.

Bear in mind the creative possibilities, even the occasional happy accident afforded by engaging a professional photographer, and you may find the results are a revelation.

Tethered Capture (seeing the bigger picture)

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the press lately about Royalty and tethering (I won’t expand on that here) and it reminded me that I’ve never really explained what tethering means from a photographer’s point of view and why it might be useful to a client.

Tethering is a method of taking photos while the camera is linked to a laptop via a cable, but what it involves and why you’d want to do it is worth a little further explanation.

Tethered capture, as it’s often called, allows the photographer to review photos on a laptop within about a second of them being taken. Of course pictures can be reviewed on the back of the camera, and that’s my regular way of working. However that tiny little screen, often obscured with nose grease (yum!) isn’t always the best way to check fine detail.

A far better solution is to take test shots, then review them on the laptop screen to see how the light is working and whether any tweaks to clothing or hair might be necessary. Really fine details (a cat hair on a lapel, or a stray hair across an eye) are often only visible when viewed on a larger screen.

The software which allows the pictures to display on the laptop (I use Adobe Lightroom) can also be set to show a rough idea of the final treatment (colour, contrast, sharpening etc) that I’ll be using, so a marketing executive can get an idea of how the finished images will look and we can adjust according to their requirements.

Likewise the sitters also benefit from being able to view the images on a decent-sized screen so they can be happy with their shots before going back to their work. They’ll have a much clearer idea of what we’re getting and this can also help them relax into the shoot. Once we’re happy with the test shots, I don’t tend to look at the screen again until after each person’s sitting.

The other reason I like to work this way if I can is that it means the images are backed up automatically as I shoot – one set on the camera card, a duplicate set on the laptop hard drive. So if there is a failure, I’ve a better chance of recovering images which might otherwise be lost.

Of course tethering only works for the headshot work I do because camera movement is limited by the cable length and the reliability of the connection. I couldn’t shoot a corporate event or a conference using tethering, it just wouldn’t be practical, but for the business headshot it’s a useful tool.

It’s also possible to get camera and computer to communicate via wifi, but this can be too fiddly and unreliable, so I tend to use the cable method.

So if I turn up at your corporate headshot session with a music stand, don’t panic: I’m not about to pull a cello from my rolling case and launch into a Rachmaninoff sonata, sometimes it’s just handy to work tethered and to see the bigger picture.

 

2020 and BEYOND!

Often at the close of a year I’ll put together an annual review, but 2019 was different in that it was the close of a decade.

So why didn’t I do a review of the decade? Simply put, I ran out of time. After three months of Bunker conversion, the end-rush to get it ready to coincide with the looming termination date of my tenancy at The Old Church School (eight years there!) PLUS client work PLUS admin PLUS Christmas, I had to make some harsh decisions about what I could and could not fit in.

In fact I was so busy, it barely sank in until quite late in December that we were in fact staring down the barrel of the 2020s. By the time I’d twigged, it was too late to put anything meaningful together. Sorry about that.

However, I’m now fully set up in the new space and although it’s early days, so far it’s working very well and I’m proud of what I accomplished in renovating what was a tatty-looking concrete structure, turning it into a genuinely usable, some may say attractive, workspace. I’m particularly chuffed that the only part of the project I didn’t tackle was the electrical installation. I may be insane, but I’m not mad! My general DIY skills have definitely improved with this project though, just don’t ask me to convert your shed/bunker/garage for you.

Returning to the subject of the turn of the decade, perhaps it’s a shame I didn’t get to look back and reflect, but I actually feel more in the mood for looking forward. After all, my photography of ten years ago is nothing like the work I’m doing now, and even further removed from where I want to take it in the coming years.

Through this year and the next few years, I’ll be working hard to build the fine art projects and prints side of my business (takeagander.co.uk) while continuing to invest in my corporate work, which still represents the bulk of my business.

The launch (see previous post) of the open air exhibition of panels from What Happened Here was a great end to the year and an indicator of the kind of outcome I’m looking for with my personal work – getting it out there and noticed and looking for new opportunities to shoot fresh work and see where it takes me.

With the corporate work I will of course keep developing my style, skills and services, but this relies in part on the personal projects which help me develop new practices outside of client time; I don’t believe in using my clients as guinea pigs for experiments.

What I’m aiming for is more of the same as in recent years, only bigger and better; my corporate work feeding my ability to shoot personal projects, with income from fine art prints and other uses of that work building up into it’s own sizeable income. I have plans, some vaguer than others, but plans nonetheless.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign off now and start putting those plans into practice. In the meantime, do watch this space for news on forthcoming deals on fine art prints – I hope to announce something big soon.