IT’S BACK!

After all the grief and uncertainty of the past 15 months, it was a genuine pleasure to be back photographing the SOE Skills Challenge at S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol last week.

There were all manner of Covid securities in place, including testing of all participants and support colleagues (myself included), mask-wearing, cleaning and social distancing.

My Role

Regular readers will have seen me write about this before, but of course last year’s event was cancelled. This year was my 6th Skills Challenge and while it’s become familiar photographic territory for me, each year I try to bring something new to the coverage.

One of my tasks during testing week is to supply “rush” images for the PR team to use for social media posts and updates during the event. I’ll usually choose a selection of the morning’s images and supply these ready-formatted for easy upload to Twitter, Facebook and so on.

Bringing Something New

This year, in addition to those rushes, I decided to deploy my 360 camera so people could get a better sense of the environment and context of the event even while it was happening.

As a result of the interactive 360 panoramas, SOE’s Facebook posts achieved far greater engagement than had been seen previously. For Twitter, the regular still images were perfect (Twitter can’t display 360s properly unless there’s something I’ve missed!)

I don’t have access to SOE’s social media statistics, but my contact was astonished to see how much more widely the posts were liked, shared and commented on compared with previous years. Much of this will have been down to the more immersive 360 images like this one:

As I say, I also supplied regular stills to support the social media posts and of course I’ve since edited and supplied the high-resolution files for SOE’s web and print publications. The images will also be used at the awards ceremony in September, which I’m looking forward to covering too.

Shining A Light on Vital Workers

What I love about this event is how it brings a focus to skilled technicians whose work is vital, yet rarely seen or acknowledged. Next time you’re on a bus or coach, or see one going about its duties on Britain’s roads, you know it’s there and working because of the skills and dedication of engineers, many of whom work unsociable hours to keep our public transport running smoothly.

Next Year?

So now I have a little under 12 months to think about what I will bring next year to keep my coverage fresh and evolving. It might be a change of approach or technique, but I already have a couple of ideas. I guess you’ll just have to watch this space to find out!

Routes in the News

Yes, Routes has been dominating my blog lately, but this has to be one of the most important projects I’ve worked on in a very long time, so I hope you’ll indulge me a little longer.

This is just a round-up of where we are with the exhibition, donations and stuff.

I’m pleased to say I’ve had some really positive feedback about the exhibition from people I’ve met in the street, through Facebook and twitter, but what’s even better is that Sarah, the Routes centre manager, tells me people have been donating on the strength of seeing the pictures in Cafe La Strada.

We were a little worried that the cost of getting the pictures printed and framed wouldn’t be met, but with a local grant and donations from individuals we’ve covered that now. Phew!

Now it would be valid to ask why Routes spent money on an exhibition when the centre so desperately needs cash to keep going, but the fact is the portraits and case studies and the exhibition itself have generated a great deal more local awareness than could otherwise have been achieved, especially in the few weeks they have before the funding expires.

Take a look at the local press coverage just this week. Imagine what it would cost to buy a full-page advert in a local paper, yet this week we made the front page and a full-page spread inside. This is in addition to the coverage we had in the last couple of weeks on the launch of the exhibition in both local papers as well as an online article in one of the most popular photography sites on the internet.

With that in mind, I have to give full credit to Sarah for having the foresight to suggest the exhibition.

The latest news I have is that grant funding for at least a proportion of the running costs is on the cards. Fingers very much crossed that this comes through and for the balance to be covered by other funding bodies, but in the meantime if you would like to donate, you can do so by Texting MEND41 an amount from £1 to £10 to 70070, or by a cheque made payable to YMCA Mendip to ‘Routes’ Drop-In Centre, 1A Palmer Street, Frome, BA11 1DS. Donate online by clicking on the BT Mydonate button at http://tinyurl.com/j9jukt9 and select Routes as your chosen project.

Case Study: Local NHS photography project

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

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

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

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

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