A few tips for Michael Middleton

Maybe this is my silly season, but I can’t help thinking there must be something more important for me to write about than the first official photographs of Prince George. If there is, it’ll have to wait because for some reason I can’t let these images pass without comment.

Of course I’m not alone. There has been quite a bit of justifiable criticism of the photos which were taken by Kate’s father.

I’m not a fan of the stagey Royal shots which are often presented to us, all glitz and kitsch,  and I can understand why the Royals are trying to be more “of the people”, but I can’t help feeling Michael Middleton isn’t familiar enough with his camera or photography in general to pull this off convincingly. It takes a reasonable amount of skill to make an un-staged photo still look like a good photo.

In a spirit of generosity, I’ll give Mr Middleton a few pointers for the next time he has to take a family group, or George’s sibling is born and official photos are required again (apart from finding a decent photographer, for which I’d charge only a reasonable fee and expenses).

kate and william official baby photo

  1. The sun being behind the group, the lawn and other landscape features in the background have become washed out. Not always a problem, but it doesn’t work in this context. Bleached-out skies aren’t attractive.
  2. Tied in with 1, the camera sensor can’t cope with the deep shadow in Kate and William’s faces. They too look washy and lack detail, this time by being too dark. The problem is probably made worse by using a cheap lens. It would take a fair bit of Photoshop fiddling to rescue the details. A better option would have been a reflector or flash. Nothing fancy, just a small flash would have helped balance up the contrast between faces and background and brought out more detail.
  3. An ugly splash of light on William’s head. Moving the couple into a shadier area, or turning them would have helped 1 and 2 and avoided ugly highlights like this one.
  4. I only know that’s a dog because I’ve read the caption. It looks like an abandoned rug and adds nothing to the photo.
  5. The baby, perhaps the most critical element of the photo, takes up less of the photo than 6, a dog. The main purpose of the photo is the baby, but he’s lost here in a sea of distractions.
  6. A black dog, unlit, with its tongue lolling out. Just another distraction.
  7. I could have put this number in so many places on the photo – there is so much wasted space. Take out the dogs, turn the camera vertical and focus in on parents and baby. A bit of garden in the background to give some context and location and the job’s a good un.

Well even if Michael Middleton ignores my advice, you’re welcome to use it next time you need to take an “official” photo of your family.

Out for the Count

I don’t know when Frome Amateur Boxing Club was built, but judging from its rickety exterior I’d say it was made from the spare timbers Noah didn’t need. The shed that until recently housed the pugilists’ punchbags, weights and general paraphernalia stands precariously behind The Old Church School, the building where my office is based, and when any of the Studio 5 team steps out onto the fire escape for a breath of fresh air, it fills most of the view. Soon, though, it will be knocked down to make way for an extra 20 office units at TOCS. I had hoped to take some shots of the last training sessions before the club vacated to new premises on a trading estate in Frome, but I missed the opportunity and one day found a note in the window explaining that the club had moved. A shame, but I did get to look inside the other week and took a few photos to record the passing of this upside-down ark of a building. And so this week’s article is a mini gallery of some of the images I took. I hope you enjoy them.

Old boxing poster in the former Frome ABC

Ali vs Inoki poster

David Evans of Ghost Limited tries a pair of boxing gloves in the former Frome Amateur Boxing club building

David Evans of Ghost Limited, Studio 5, tries a pair of gloves out

Blackboard with boxers' diet written up

Diet tips for boxers

Boxing club keys with novelty gloves keyring

Would the last person to leave the club building please lock up

Tri-ing Weather

For the last two weeks everyone (almost) was going Olympic mad and while I was pretty cynical about the whole thing in the build-up, ten minutes into the opening ceremony I was completely won over.

Professionally-speaking, apart from covering the torch relay as it left University of Bath, I’ve had very little involvement in the Olympics. However, I did get to cover the “Triathlon Live” Give It A Tri event in Bristol’s Millennium Square last week, an event held at various locations around England and organised by Triathlon England to bring active sports to the public.

Teams and individuals visiting the event could try swimming, cycling and running, all on machines and in a high-tech swimming pool and against the clock. It was great fun, but the weather tended to keep the crowds away from the open-air seating where they could sit and watch live Olympic events on a giant screen.

It did make for some interesting shots, a couple of which I’ve featured here.

Swimmer in swimming pool with virtual current generated by water pumps.

When the sun came out, the water was lovely.

Man under large Union flag umbrella in deckchair at Millennium Square, Bristol.

It may have been thirsty work at Wimbledon, but in Bristol there was an abundance of water.

Cool new tool

Reverse image searching has been around a little while. This is where you find an image and want to know who took it or you’re a photographer who wants to know who is using your work, you point a service like Tineye or Google Image Search (GIS) at the photo and they search the internet for all instances of that image appearing and return a list of results.

Google Image Search will also return similar images for you to look at, which can be useful for designers looking for inspiration.

Well now a new little tool has just made GIS that little bit slicker and easier to use. It’s a browser ‘bookmarklet’ you add to your bookmarks bar so it’s there when you need it.

You’ll find the bookmarklet here. Follow the simple instructions and you’re away.

When you’re on a web page with an image or images you want to search on, just click the bookmarklet and you’ll see question mark boxes appear over any images detected on the page. Click the image you want, and the GIS search results are brought back to you very quickly.

No more guesswork about how often a particular stock image is being used, and photographers can track valuable images more easily and follow-up infringements with much less detective work required than was the case in the past.

The following images describe more graphically how it works. Of course it’s not perfect. Photoshelter users will know what I mean, and to get rid of the image search boxes you have to reload the page each time, and you can only search images which are already on a web page, but have a play and you’ll get the measure of its worth for you.

Click the images below to see them in detail.

Demonstrating Google Image Search

With pictures on the page, click the bookmarklet

Demonstrating Google Image Search

Every visible jpeg will then look like this

Demonstrating Google Image Search

Clicking an image will return the GIS results page

Ziss Zeiss ist no gut!

They do say you should never meet your idols as you risk bitter disappointment, and so it was for me this morning.

Before I proceed I should state that I don’t do equipment reviews, and in the purest sense of reviews, this isn’t one. What it is is a rushed, cursory look at a lens I’ve fancied for a while.

There are no colour or distortion charts for you to geek over, no tests at all f-stops and all focusing distances, just a couple of random snaps as I only had about 10 minutes with the lens in rather dull light this morning.

So maybe this is unfair, but some issues cropped up that I wouldn’t normally expect, and now I’m gutted that my “idol” lens, the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f2, isn’t the T-star I’d expected.

I’ve posted up some fairly high-res images for you to look at to illustrate my points, but suffice to say I think in this case the price reflects the name, not the quality.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely lens to handle once you get used to the quite heavily-damped focus ring (no autofocus of course), and it looks the dog’s vegetables with it’s sexy black alloy barrel and all, but at around £880-£920 I’d expect far better optical performance.

I was using this one on a 5D MKII, and maybe the lens performs much better on a cropped sensor camera, but then at f2 you could get a cheaper 35mm lens from Canon and just do away with the pose value and probably get better image quality, which is what really matters.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood the Zeiss concept, and as I’ve already hinted this is a deeply flawed “review”, but having tried this lens even briefly, I think I’ll just be saving a bit longer to get the Canon 35mm f1.4 lens instead. Not that I’ve tried it yet. At just over £1,000, I bet it’s dreadful.

Zeiss 35mm lens test image

A photo of nothing in particular, but I was looking at close focus and wide-ish aperture (f4.5). Read on…

Let’s play look-a-likey!

For some time now photographers have been waiting in hope for the application that would help them track use of their images. Something that, without prohibitive amounts of effort and financial investment would allow them to find illicit uses so they could chase infringers for payment and to have the work removed from websites where it’s not licensed to be used.

Of course photographers are keen to ensure they get paid for infringements, and this is the side of the copyright argument that is so often flagged up by those who would like to be allowed to infringe more freely (sometimes known as freetards). Having photographers portrayed as money-grabbing monopolists is a handy way of demonizing those who merely want to protect the work they create.

What gets mentioned less is the harm it does to a photographer when work they have shot and charged to a commissioning client gets hijacked by someone who is just not in the mood for paying for the stuff they use. If an image is licensed to a paying client, and they see someone else using it for free, it can harm the photographer/client relationship and also cause problems with exclusivity, model releases and further legal issues where a stolen image is being used in a libelous context.

All these are issues faced by the photographer today, and it can take a lot of valuable time just to ensure images are not being appropriated by inappropriate people and used in inappropriate ways (that’s easy for me to say).

So while the tineye service has been around a while, and it can be very good at “reverse image searches” it’s also clear it can’t possibly keep up with indexing every image that gets uploaded to a website every minute of the day. Better perhaps if a service like Google, which seems to have web crawling and indexing off to a fine art, could come up with something more powerful.

Cue Google image search, where you chuck an image from your hard drive into the search box on Google which then returns matches of that image, plus any similar images it finds.

However, if photographers thought Google had the answer, they may be disappointed to discover that Google’s image search function was starting out with a different question.

I’ve been playing with Google’s image search function, and to me it’s more suited to finding images which represent the feel or look of an image you already have, but which might not quite match what you’re after, rather than a tool for photographers to use to find infringing copies of their images.

Having run a few of my images through the system, I found some bizarre and vaguely humourous results, which I’ve set out below. Try it with some of your own images, and see what happens. I’m sure there’s a great game waiting to be invented.

Tim Gander, Photographer, Frome

Starting with Yours Truly: None of these women looks like me, but one appears to be holding a camera.



Tony Benn

Seriously?!: Tony Benn is, among other things, matched with Einstein, a tapir and an X-ray of a pelvis. Squint and some of them do look similar.

Case Study: Studio & PR shots

Here’s a slightly unusual scenario; A client requires one set of pictures for their website, and a couple more for press release. They only have one slot in which to get everything done, so who they gonna call?

Hilton Vending is a local business owned by Martin and Sarah Killian, set up in 1992 installing drinks and snacks machines. They recently ventured onto the internet and got their first website built, but they needed a few images to personalise it. After all, their clients know them and they’ve got a friendly approach so hiding behind stock images of anonymous people was leaving their website looking a little sterile.

At the same time, they needed images to go with a press release regarding the change that is coming to, er, change. To be precise, 5p and 10p coins will be changed to coins with a different alloy content and makeup (you can find out more here) and this will result in a cost implication for any business operating coin-based services – drink and snack machines, auto tolls like the new Severn Bridge crossing, parking machines. All these systems will need to be re-calibrated. Martin wanted to publicise this change with a press release, so needed a photo to go out with the story.

Martin and Sarah Killian of Hilton Vending, Wiltshire

This cutout was destined for the home page.

Luckily for Martin and Sarah, I was able not only to create a set of studio pictures for the website, but also illustrate the PR story with a suitable shot.

We spent a couple of hours trying different set-ups for the web photos, and in the end we got them some options which were suitable for use on various pages of the site. Originally Martin and Sarah thought they only needed a home page photo, but having got them to try various ideas we ended up with pictures they could use to spruce up the whole site.

Sarah and Martin Killian of Hilton Vending with snacks

This "bonus" shot made a fun picture for the Snacks page.

Having got the studio shots done, I took Martin outside and worked on the idea of money being poured away as a result of the forthcoming coin change. I came up with the idea of Martin pouring coins out of a coffee cup to illustrate the waste, and the kind of industry that would be affected all in one shot. Oh, and I may have snuck the company name in the background too.

Martin Killian pours money away

An eye-catching press shot, and of course there's an upright shot too.

By combining the two shoots, Hilton Vending saved time and money, and got a few extra shots they hadn’t realised they needed. We were all ready for a coffee by the end.

Case Study: The Photo Call

Rebecca Adlington

This photo call test shot of Rebecca Adlington was more interesting than the shot the PR lined up for us.

Since the majority of my work now involves working directly with companies on their corporate photography, I don’t get to do so many photo calls as I once did. Besides which, photo calls aren’t so popular as they once were.

Back when I was on staff at The Portsmouth News, and subsequently when I freelanced for national newspapers and agencies, photo calls were generally used by police forces for missing persons appeals or during a crime investigation. It was one way to control how much information got out to the press. Other photo calls would be for a new theatre production, a gallery opening, book signing or product launch. Anything really where a few different publications and maybe TV and radio would be invited along to help publicise something.

Though they are less common for PR uses, the police still use photo calls. For PR they can be a bit tricky to manage effectively, and if managed too effectively everyone ends up with the same stagey photo. Often a PR will do better to get some decent shots taken by a single photographer and send those out with the press release than have a room full of clever-clogs press photographers managing to make something amusing out of the wording or shapes on the wall behind the main speaker’s head. I’d still argue that press coverage is press coverage, and if the pictures are too sterile they’ll get no news space at all. You takes your pick…

Perhaps the other reason photo calls are out of favour is that newspapers have let so many staff photographers go, and cut freelance budgets so far, that they simply don’t have the resources to send someone along to an event which might take them out of circulation for over an hour while they’re wooed by PRs, held up by shifting timetables and badly planned itineraries and then have to be dragged away from the canapes and free drinks to go to the next cheque presentation.

It’s easier for a paper to wait for a finished press release, complete with photo, to waft into the newsroom so they

Martine McCutcheon book signing Harrods

Martine McCutcheon wrote a book about the first ten minutes of her life.

can add a reporter’s byline and publish the story and photo verbatim. Job done.

The photo call used to be a good chance for me to catch up with fellow “smudgers” from other agencies and newspapers, but on the rare occasion I am sent to one now I tend to find myself in the company of people who have a camera, but no real clue.

It may be that as new media channels open up, and quality returns to journalism (I happen to believe and hope that tablet computers may be the dawn of a return to quality content) the photo call will make something of a comeback, though I suspect it may be dead for good/better.

Photo case study: Group work.

corporate group photo in Bath

The team look relaxed, even though we’re shooting outdoors.

Perhaps the least well-understood area of corporate photography is the group shot. So often the result looks like the subjects have been forced against a wall and are about to be shot for desertion, or they’re lined up like in a wedding photo, minus the bride and groom and not even a slice of cake as an incentive to be there.

There is often no thought to style, composition, lighting or location, or real idea of why the photo is needed in the first place. Just a vague notion that a group shot would be a “good idea”.

Of course the alternative is to buy some random group pic off an internet photo library, but the saccharin smiles, the unrealistically beautiful people – your clients know it’s not you or your business, they’re no fools.

To be fair, the corporate group photo can be quite a challenge because there are lots of busy people to bring together at one time and on one day, and in all likelihood there will be little time to take the photos, added to which; who here likes having their photo taken? No, I didn’t think so.

Then there’s the lighting, location, wardrobe decisions. If not planned properly, it can all get a bit fraught.

mobile studio photo lighting

Using mobile studio lights gave the photo a more polished look.

So I was pleased to get a call from a long-standing contact, Corrina Cockayne at Target Chartered Accountants in Bath, who was organising a group photo for the corporate finance team. I say pleased, because I knew Corrina would be organised and efficient and would have thought about why this team shot would be useful. In this example, it had been a while since any PR had been done and the team had evolved quite a bit.

The plan was to use an outside location in Bath, and Corrina was already thinking along the right lines – considering what people would wear, what the background should be and getting in touch with the council to check for permissions etc.

My job was to liaise with Corrina, talk over the options for locations and lighting, scope out the location before the shoot and be there in plenty of time to set up and take the photos before the group arrived. I wanted to keep their waiting time to a minimum.

Because of the constraints of the location, I couldn’t spread people about too much or I’d risk all kinds of distractions in the background, but I knew the lighting was going to make this group shot stand out from the usual Crimewatch lineup.

In the event, even though it was “just” a group shot, everyone put in a  good effort and wore their best smiles, and the end result reflects the approachable professionalism of the team. A good example of how a group shot can work and be a useful asset in the client’s photo library.

A Brief Interlude

Cue tacky music while there’s an interlude in my blogging. I’m away next week on holiday, so I thought I’d give you next week’s blog early, and just use it to give you some links to other useful/entertaining blogs that I’ve also enjoyed immensely.

First up is Jaded Snapper, a local newspaper photographer who has run the gauntlet of top local stories, from the church fete to the giant charity cheque.

Or, if you’re planning a wedding, why not give Derek Pye a call? You’ll see why you wouldn’t want to when you visit his site. Not updated as much as it should be, but then Derek is probably busy shooting weddings.

If photography-related cutting satire is more your thing, try The Russian Photos Blog. Beware if you’re the kind of business that likes to run dodgy rights-grabbing competitions or you’re a micro-payment stock photo agency though. You might be the subject of a future article.

Finally, for a soberererer (easy for you to say, you’re not drung…) view of the professional photographic industry, news views and general bits and bats, I highly recommend the Neil Turner and Black Star Rising blog sites.

And now, I’m off for a week of R&R in Austria. Please behave while I’m away, and try not to miss me too much.

Auf wiedersehen!