Documenting Challenging Times

On The Vaccination Trail

Regular readers will be aware of my recent work covering the vaccination programme in Wiltshire. I’d like to dedicate this post to all the hard-working front line staff who are the reason the vaccination rollout has been such a huge success.

I blogged previously about the initial coverage of the walk-in vaccination service at Bath Racecourse, but since then I’ve visited a mobile service on a bus, a school vaccination day and most recently, a session on a narrow boat.

The client, NHS BANES, Swindon & Wiltshire CCG (BSWCCG), use the images for social media promotion of the vaccination programme as well as for external stakeholder communications and reports. However, the images are more than just PR. They’re an historical record of the regional effort to control Covid-19 and its effects.

A Client With Vision

Perhaps 20 years ago such a huge national effort would have been covered more widely and in greater depth by the regional and local press, but they are largely absent from from the scene. With few (I suspect now the number is 0) industry-trained photographers covering local news events anymore, there’s a vacuum of photographic coverage of important regional stories.

This is a shame, but I’m thrilled to be able to help document what is undoubtedly a critical moment.

While BSWCCG is not a media company, their communications team have recognised the need for photography not only as a promotional tool, but also as a means to document the clinical effort within the pandemic. And though I’m no Dorothea Lange, this exercise echos that need to record a critical issue to raise awareness.

My Approach

Not all of my images are strictly fly-on-the-wall photo-documentary, though I do strive to capture what I witness with as much honesty and integrity as if I was still a staff news photographer.

For example, at Clarendon Academy, the two pupils I had permission to photograph had recently come out of self-isolation after contracting Covid-19. This meant they were unable to have their boosters on the day, so I posed those shots with empty syringes (and they were captioned as posed). However the images of the nurse at the dilution station were all taken as she did her work. Nothing staged, pure documentary.

Meanwhile for the narrow boat visit, as for the Bath Racecourse and Lackham College sessions, the vaccinations were real and I had to get my shots live. I couldn’t ask a nurse to hold a position or pose while I got set up – I couldn’t interrupt the process of administering an injection.

This makes for some challenging moments. In particular, in the cramped confines of a narrow boat I had to be very aware of my surroundings. Hats off to the staff who had to work in there all day; I kept my time on board to a minimum.

Regardless of any challenges, I have to go in with a calm, professional attitude. Being jittery about camera settings, working in the rain, with difficult light, or stressing about working in a mask will transmit to those I need to work with, and they’ll react negatively and rightly so. They have a job to do and protocols to follow, they don’t need a clown in the room.

Thank You

So I want to say a big thank you to NHS BANES, Swindon & Wiltshire CCG for commissioning me. I value my involvement in this effort and if there is more to come, I’ll relish the opportunity to play my small part. Also to the administrative staff who’ve been so helpful and in particular to all the registered nurses who, while being utterly professional in their work, have accommodated me in mine.

Thank you.

And Finally

This is probably my final post for the year. I’ll be back in January, kicking off with a look back at 2021 and a look forward at 2022. So have a great and safe Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you again soon. Thanks for staying loyal through 2021.

Tim

Lens Love

It may surprise you to know this, but I have little time to get sentimental about camera equipment. I do enjoy working with my old film cameras, but my digital gear is just tools for the job.

The exception to this is one lens which I’ve been using a lot lately. It’s one of those little gems that just seems to quietly help you get the job done.

The Joy of 40mm

I’ve long favoured fixed 40mm lenses. I discovered the joys of a 40mm lens when I bought Canon’s dinky 40mm f/2.8 STM lens, which I use on my Canon film bodies. This prompted me to buy a Voigtländer 40mm f/2 lens for my 1973 Nikon F2. However for my new digital gear I only had zooms.

That is until I picked up the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary lens. Yes, 45mm is close enough to 40mm for me.

Reading forums, this lens divides opinions. Some write it off for being too “slow” (as in, the maximum aperture isn’t nearer f/1.4). It’s claimed not to be sharp, but my God is this lens ever sharp! It is light, quick to use, engaging and I just love the results it can deliver.

I’ve used it on quite a few jobs recently, and almost exclusively on the recent Covid vaccination jobs I’ve shot for NHS BANES, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG. Its unobtrusive size, speed of use and quality were perfect for the fly-on-the-wall images I needed.

Practice Practice Practice

Between commissions I’ve been trying this lens out extensively. As I’m sure I’ve said many times before, using a commission to get familiar with kit is not a great idea. It’s best done in down time, not at a client’s expense.

So this morning I spent more time with the Sigma lens working on some tests shots with a new flash unit, another piece of kit recently acquired as I transform my equipment line-up to better serve my clients’ needs.

One of my favourite test subjects at home is our dining table, which we bought via Facebook from an artist. We were going to strip and re-varnish it, but decided we love the paint splashes and gouges so much we’ve left it as-is. It makes a great backdrop to still life images, which are perfect for controlled equipment tests.

This image might become part of my Home Front series, which I started during the first lockdown of 2020. At the very least it was a good exercise in testing this new lens/flash combination, but the more I worked on the picture, the more I liked what it said as a photo, above and beyond mere test subject.

Take a Butchers At This

After all these years, I still get a buzz from sniffing out a good little story.

This one came out of a chance conversation with my local butcher, Nigel.

A few days before Valentine’s Day I’d popped along to pick up some eggs, ham… the usual, when Nigel asked if I’d be willing and able to help with something. Being the top bloke Nigel is, of course I said yes.

A year previously, Nigel’s premises had been destroyed by fire when an arsonist set light to a car parked outside the shop front. He wanted to know if there was some way of getting the remains of the shop clock framed for posterity.

 

The Dalí-esque clock.

He showed me the half-melted clock (which had stopped when the fireball ripped through the shop) and said although he felt it was a silly thing to keep, it was a reminder of the tough year he’d had – this of course in addition to the pandemic.

The best I could do was to recommend contacting local framers to see if someone could make a box frame for it. But before I left, I had an idea.

I asked if I could pop back later and take a photo of him with the clock to mark the anniversary of the fire. And though I could sense his surprise at the idea, he agreed.

And so on the Friday before Valentine’s Day I returned when the shop was quieter and Nigel posed outside for me.

Happy Valentine’s!

That Sunday, which was Valentines Day and the actual anniversary of the fire, I posted the photo with some copy to the Frome Facebook page.

I know there’s a lot of affection in the town for Nigel and his business, but I didn’t expect the reaction my post got. Hundreds of Likes and not a single negative comment.

As a result, Nigel was contacted by customers who hadn’t realised he’d re-opened and someone got in touch to ask if he could make a box frame for the clock, so there were some real-world results to this exercise.

The PR takeaway.

What this also demonstrates is that there are very accessible PR opportunities out there, and with an intelligently crafted photo and copy, the reach can be surprising, the results heartwarming.

It’s well known that well-taken photos and well-written words will reach far more people than an advert (or badly executed photo and copy), and will be far cheaper than equivalent advertising to reach the same audience.

The trick is, knowing when you have a good little story.

I make PR pictures for clients who want to get their message noticed. Drop me a line to discuss your next PR or branding project.

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.

The Most Personal Yet

My regular readers will already be aware of the importance I place on personal photographic projects, without which I don’t think I’d be the photographer I am.

For the most part I tend to use film for this work because I prefer the change in workflow. However lockdown has presented its own challenges. With limited funds, do I keep shooting film, or save it for when I can next visit Salisbury Plain?

And without the ability to roam about taking the pictures I would normally look for in a personal project, I’ve retreated to the most personal subject of all, my own home life.

Yes I have shot some film, but found myself reaching for the digital camera and developing a new theme: The Home Front.

The Home Front is my deeply personal reaction against the war rhetoric which has been liberally applied to the Covid-19 crisis, in particular by our politicians. I’m a firm believer in the importance of language and how it is used, and since we are not at war, I find it inappropriate to use conflict terminology now.

Apart from anything else I believe it sets a combative tone in the national psyche, and this can have unintended consequences in society. Too much of the “don’t you know there’s a war on” attitude can lead to unnecessary conflict between individuals, or groups.

What The Home Front sets out to illustrate is that while we are facing undeniably difficult times, there is also a great deal to be thankful for. There is also beauty in the small, normally un-observed corners of domestic life.

I know I’m particularly lucky to have a home with a garden, and to be living with someone who is may absolute first choice of lockdown partner. Not everyone enjoys these simple luxuries, but I wanted to illustrate that whatever one’s situation, we are not being shot at or bombed.

The Home Front has been featuring on my Instagram feed this week, and if you’d like to see the set to the end you’ll either have to follow me there, or keep an eye on my Facebook page. In the meantime, here are a couple of the images posted so far.

Measured Success

A PR job this week proved that in spite of everything, photography is being commissioned and it can be done safely.

What is different in this lockdown world is the logistics. I had to think more carefully about how I could execute the photos safely (thinking of my subjects as much as of myself).

So I took some simple precautions. No, I didn’t have a mask or gloves. I didn’t wear a hazmat suit. Neither did I take the pictures from the safety of my car.

I simply took a tape measure and some playground chalk. This meant I could mark out positions two metres apart for people to stand on before bringing them into the scene.

Everyone was at least two metres from anyone else (including myself) at all times. The simplest of tools kept everyone safe.

Of course some types of corporate photography cannot happen right now. For example, office headshots aren’t feasible when businesses have furloughed their staff. Cancelled events and business meetings mean none of that work is available to me right now.

However, it’s probably not a bad time for businesses to consider some positive PR. There are good news stories out there, and we could all do with some of that right now! And using a professional photographer to create the images you need will mean you get high quality photos safely.

If you have a good news story – perhaps it’s related to the crisis, perhaps it isn’t, drop me a line and we can look at options.

Maybe I can “chalk up” a success for you too.

Coping with Corona

My previous post was becoming a bit long-winded as it grew from being a central point of information for clients into more of a diary of my daily doings during lockdown.

So to keep that post a little tidier, this one will brings you more up-to-date with what’s been happening. I suspect subsequent posts will be of a similar vein until paid commissions pick up gain.

The problem with lockdown is I’ve slightly lost track of time. Is it Christmas yet? I’ve sort of forgotten what I’ve done since my last diary update in the earlier post, but I’ll recap briefly here.

On a personal level, I’ve completed a fruit cage in the rear garden, created new planting beds in the front garden, stripped, cleaned and re-installed the rubber door seal on the washing machine. During that episode I discovered a pinhole leak in a copper pipe behind the sink unit, which I was lucky enough to be able to repair (Easter Bank Holiday Monday during lockdown is not a good time to be booking a plumber).

I also accidentally punched a bumble bee in the face, but made up for it by releasing a honey bee from our dining room. Karma restored.

After a friend very kindly posted me some sourdough starter, I’ve returned to making sourdough bread after a two-year hiatus. I’ve baked my first loaf and looking forward to making sourdough pizza this Friday.

“going with the flow”

Work-wise, jobs continue to keel over, but that’s to be expected. I’m keeping my hand in by shooting a mix of digital and film photos because I have to keep practising, my mental health demands it as much as my client work does.

With a view to the future, I’ve started looking at new ways of expanding the fine art print sales side of the business, but that is still a long, slow process rather than a quick fix solution.

I will just add, if you do appreciate my work and you’re interested in having a genuinely beautiful print for your home or office wall, please check out takeagander.co.uk. Pre-orders are being taken and prints will be made once the printer can return to work. It would help me a ton to sell a few prints at this time.

Even though the pictures I’m making now aren’t necessarily going to be offered as prints, making them allows me to explore my own experience of lockdown. Documenting my relatively privileged existence isn’t what really turns me on, but it’s vital I keep making images; not just for my own business, but for my sanity too.

 

Back to Business

Is it me, or is 2019 already feeling a bit used? a bit secondhand? At least from tomorrow we can officially (because I say so) cease commencing every email with “Happy New Year!” and just get straight to business, polite niceties notwithstanding.

But what should that business be? In my case I’m already seeing the return of clients from last (and previous) years, booking me for repeat events or new corporate photography sessions. I’ve already landed work with new clients and am fielding enquiries from as-yet-unconfirmed new clients, so I can’t complain too much if 2019 already feels a little 2018. That, after all, was a pretty good year for me, so I’m looking forward to more of the same plus some.

If there is a small cloud hovering over the sunny uplands of 2019, it has to be the uncertainty of Brexit. But while businesses work hard to prepare for the unpreparable the one thing they have to avoid is a head-in-the-sand response to marketing.

Oh yes, that ol’ chestnut. Whenever things get tricky, be it recession, austerity, Brexit, bad weather, the season finale of Strictly, you name it, too many businesses batten down the hatches and decide to tighten spending. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but when marketing (which of course includes photography) is often the first victim of pulling the belt in a notch or three, that’s when the harm is done.

Businesses which market through the hard times always come out stronger. Of course the marketing has to be the right type, and photography may not even be what’s needed, but if you need it, you need it. There’s no getting around the fact that sometimes, and quite often, good commerce relies on good communication and good communication relies on really good photography.

An additional risk of suddenly pulling the photography budget (so you’re still marketing, but perhaps you switch to cheaper sources of imagery) is the KERKLUNK sound you hear as your marketing materials go from professional, personal and engaging to ubiquitous, remote and faceless.

I think it’s fair to say that most established businesses with a history, but which don’t want to become history, understand the vital importance of fresh, bespoke, exclusive imagery in their marketing and to suddenly pull the plug when the future looks dicey is the knee-jerk reaction of a business about to find out what free-fall looks and feels like.

So hard Brexit, soft Brexit, don’t make Brexit your exit. If you want to keep doing business, you need to keep marketing because if things do get tough, you need to be seen as the business that’s above it all; still focussed, still professional, still friendly and approachable and above all, still in it for the long-run.

Happy February everyone!

Work Experience Advice

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer any student of photography when seeking work experience is let the application itself be part of the experience. I should preface by saying that I rarely offer work experience placements for a multitude of reasons I won’t go into here, but follow a few simple rules and your application will stand a better chance of finding success.

 

  • Get the photographer’s name right and use it. Just saying “Hi” suggests you’re sending a round-robin email.
  • Don’t send a round-robin email and NEVER use the CC or even BCC functions to send out mass communications.
  • If you cut and paste an email text, make sure you tailor it to each individual recipient.
  • Do your research. Look at the photographer’s website to establish whether they’re working in the specific field you’re interested in.
  • Talk about the kind of photography career you’re interested in, but more in terms of the business than the style. Saying you like to photograph people isn’t the same as saying you want to shoot pictures for businesses (what I call corporate communications photography).
  • When looking at a photographer’s site, look at the kind of work they’re doing and establish from that whether they’re studio-based, work only on location or a mixture of the two. Students often ask to join me in my studio, but it’s possible to work out from my website that I don’t have one.
  • Make sure your contact details are correct, including mobile number and email address.
  • Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar and get someone else to check it for you – this should be someone who is really good at checking these things, so ask a teacher, lecturer or other competent person.
  • Be sure to include your ability to travel – do you have your own transport?

I could go on, but hitting these main points should get your toe in the door at least.

Although I can’t often offer work experience, a competent application will at least get a response from me. Usually I’ll make an offer to have a phone conversation about what the applicant wants to do in the industry, the opportunities and where else to get advice, but I’m astonished how often my email reply goes unanswered. Which of course makes it harder for the next student to get a response from me.

Work experience can be invaluable, it’s how I started out as a press photographer, but the industry structures for training, nurturing and furthering a career have either changed or disappeared since I set out on my journey. Students today will need to find their own tracks into their chosen career, but get these basics right and you never know, you could find yourself ahead of the game and on your way to doing probably the best job in the world.

An Alamyighty Mess

Sicilian sunset

It’s sunset time for Alamy

I believe I joined online photo library Alamy in 2004. Back then they were offering half decent rates and a healthy sales percentage to photographers.

Over the years the rates have fallen and the percentage paid to contributors has tipped inexorably in favour of Alamy.

However, it’s time to withdraw from what has become a rather photographer-un-friendly agency. The latest revision to their terms and conditions means even less power to the photographer wishing to keep control of their copyright, and even less likelihood of being paid for re-uses of images when a client decides to extend their original usage. It’s an issue too involved for this blog, and anyway you can read all about it over on EPUK.

Alamy’s reputation amongst photographers has been further strained when this week they sent out an email (which I also received) to thousands of contributors telling them the interest in their work had spiked. That is to say, more people were clicking on more of any given photographer’s images to view them. Not buy them, mind you, just looking. That’s lovely then, my bank manager will be pleased.

The problem with this email is it quickly became apparent that they had sent this to a very large number of contributors, telling them they were in the top 10% of contributors being sought out by potential clients.

Mathematically, not everyone can be in the top 10% (to be precise only 1 in 10 can), but while Alamy claim to have informed 4,000 of their almost 40,000* contributors of their good fortune, it seems odd that so many, like myself, only have a few hundred images on the site and personally I’ve not seen any spike in my statistics. I’ve certainly not seen any extra sales either and I hear I’m not unique in this.

It’s impossible to verify that Alamy really has only informed the top 10% contributors, we’ll have to take their word for it, but some have questioned the timing of this email while there are so many complaints about the new T&Cs and quite a few photographers already pulling their collections from the site in protest.

I’m sure Alamy would say that the email and the change in T&Cs are pure coincidence, but if that’s the case, who sanctioned the release of the email now? Did they not know about the T&Cs furore? Are departments within Alamy so unaware of each others’ work and the PR crash this would cause?

tweet and reply between Tim Gander and Alamy

Alamy denies all their contributors got the same email

Another problem with the figures is no one outside of Alamy can question them. Even contributors posting on the members’ forum about the new T&Cs and/or the “10%” email are finding their threads removed by forum moderators, presumably to stop a full-blown revolution and a loss of more contributors.

Now it’s worth mentioning I have 652 images on sale through Alamy. That’s a teeny tiny number compared to more than 55 million they host (again, how did I make the top 10%?!) My point being, if I leave Alamy they will notice my departure in much the same way a cow poo notices the exit of a single fly. Equally, my sales are so infrequent and the rates paid so utterly miserable, that like the aforementioned fly, I will barely notice that I’m no longer standing in poo. But being part of the fly swarm means all the work I do is devalued, and I think it’s time I valued my work more.

When I leave Alamy, which I’m 90% certain I will do (note to Alamy: that’s 90% of 100%, in case percentages are tricky for you) it’s possible I will not offer those 652 images anywhere else. If I do it’ll be through my own website and at prices I set. I might never sell a single frame, but at least I won’t have to get angry at the risible fees and overgenerous licences Alamy sell my work for.

So good bye Alamy. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but clearly you don’t need photographers who care about the value of their work.

PS. If Alamy are having a hard time, you should see the mess Getty Images is in. They’re so much in debt, they can’t even pay their interest charges.

*Alamy’s figures. In fact if they’ve got just under 40,000 contributors (see twitter grab), 4,000 must account for more than 10% of them.

Update: As of this evening I have given Alamy my formal notice to quit as a contributor.