This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.
The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.
I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies
February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article
March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it
April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult
May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot
June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath
July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members
August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets
September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair
October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury
November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website
December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine
Yes, that’s a misquote of the often used “the economy, stupid,” but I thought I’d throw a few thoughts out there about the economy because I covered an “economic dinner” last week (it was a dinner for economists, not a low-budget supper) at which one of the guest speakers was Andy Haldane of the Bank of England.
There was much talk of the economy, interest rates, access to finance and so on, and while I don’t hear everything at these kinds of events on account of I’m busy concentrating on camera and flash settings, angles, focus, and composition, I do get the gist of what’s being said.
But why should anyone care what I, a mere photographer, think is happening with the economy? Why indeed, though it’s fair to say most economists seem to be equally ill-equipped to understand all the statistics about employment, productivity and forecasts on where the economy is headed, so I may as well give it a shot.
Andy Haldane of the Bank of England gives an economic forecast at an event in Bath
I was at another function earlier in the year and was approached by a representative of the Bank of England who I thought was going to ask me something to do with photography. Instead he asked me how my business was doing because, he said, “I suspect someone in your line of work feels the ups and downs of the economy rather more immediately than many others.”
I think he’s probably right. Commercial photographers often feel the start of a bust almost before it’s happened because while companies might feel they’re working in isolation and cutting their marketing budgets ahead of an expected downturn, when enough of them do this the photographer feels the downturn before it officially hits. I experienced this in 2008 not long after Northern Rock hit the rocks.
So where are we now and where are we going? Well for a start I’m happy to report that things have picked up over the last two or three years. My turnover is back to where it was pre-crash, and actually marginally up, but it all still feels rather delicate.
Company budgets are still very much under constant revision and my turnover is up because I’ve had more bookings, not because I’ve put my fees up. In fact my fees haven’t changed significantly in about four years.
What can be hard to separate out is whether businesses are booking more photography because they’re feeling more confident or because they’re trying to make up for lost ground having slashed marketing budgets in 2008. I can only speak anecdotally, but I’d say it’s a mixture with a tilt in favour of the latter.
Businesses which have held back spending on photography for more than a couple of years often find that when they come back to review their marketing plans, they’re lacking in pertinent pictures and often have to restart their picture library from scratch. This can be an expensive process, and might force some to further delay commissioning new work. It can become a bit of a vicious cycle.
Then when the decision is made to give the go-ahead on new imagery, because so much is required to recover lost ground it’s understandable that there is some pressure to keep costs down. The end result is, I get more work but I can’t charge any more than I was a few years ago. Many businesses find themselves in a bit of a limbo situation like this.
It really doesn’t require an economist to tell you that the “recovery” is going to be slow and vulnerable. The debt bubble is still in the economy. It was with the banks, now it’s been spread amongst us all, but it is still there and getting worse. This is keeping everyone, businesses and individuals alike, nervous. Of course my best advice would be to not slash your marketing budget (I would say that, wouldn’t I) because it’ll harm your chances of finding new business and retaining existing clients and it’ll cost more to re-start it later.
Now my thoughts on the economy might not be detailed and in-depth, but like any astrologer, if I remain vague I can’t be accused of being wrong can I? Famous last words.
A couple of weeks ago I promised you an article about how photographers set their rates and where I fit into the market. Then I spotted some shiny things and got distracted and ended up writing about other stuff. Suitably self-chastised, I’m back on track and ready to tackle the subject properly.
I’ll qualify this article by admitting that I can’t explain all photographers’ rates for all genres. This article concentrates on photography for commercial usage by businesses, charities and other organisations. When it comes to rates set by social photographers (think families, pets, dinner dances and weddings) this is structured in a different way because the images aren’t generally licensed for commercial exploitation.
There was a time when commercial photographers worked up an estimate by showing the shoot costs plus their licensing fee based on usage and a fair few still do this, but in my experience I found it difficult to keep explaining all the cost elements repeatedly because the vast majority of clients booking me are not specialist in the field of commissioning photography. More often than not I’m contacted by an office secretary or perhaps an in-house or externally-hired press officer or public relations person.
This isn’t a criticism, it’s just one aspect of how the industry has changed and a few years ago I realised that things had shifted in such a way that I needed to simplify my fee structure in order to speed up the understanding of what I was charging and what was included or excluded.
Now if I was a Lego photographer, I wouldn’t have to worry about running costs* *random stock photo
What I ended up with was three main packages, one of which hardly anyone ever goes for (ironically my cheapest package, albeit with the greatest number of restrictions). And of the two other packages, the highest fee package is by far the most popular because it’s the most flexible.
If I break down my fees into their constituent elemets, essentially what I’m charging for is a combination of time on site, editing and processing time and the client’s licence to use the images for their corporate communications.
However, if you asked me to make that break-down specific, I couldn’t. I might be able to suggest rough percentages, but they really would be vague and not very informative.
There are of course other factors to account for. Within any freelance photographers fee there has to be an element of skill level and experience charged for. This is probably where I start to look pricey compared to someone who has just picked up a camera, read the instruction book and decided it’s their life ambition to take pictures for money. I reckon 25 years’ experience shows in how I approach clients, how I conduct myself on assignment right through to how the end results look and I consider all of these factors important and worth a premium.
Slightly more tangible are the running costs of being a photographer. Cameras, lenses and supporting equipment (batteries, chargers, bags) as well as a car and its associated costs, public liability insurance, computers, software, image hosting, image storage… All these things and more have to be considered before even a profit and salary (on which tax will be paid) need to be accounted for within a fee.
So where do my fees fit into the overall picture? How did I set them? The simple answer is that before I introduced my current structure I was spending quite a lot of time drawing up estimates for clients who were all of a certain level (SMEs to larger businesses with multiple office locations, but not the Goliath organisations with global span).
More often than not I found my estimates coming to very similar amounts by the time I’d factored in all the costs plus the licence fee. Eventually it just made sense to set up the three packages I have now and they’ve not only attracted more clients with their simplicity and up-front openness, but I spend much less time writing up estimates, which has to be a good thing.
Much of this has the air of a guessing game, but having worked out what it costs to run my business, what I need as a salary, and how many days a year I can expect to get paid commissions, it then comes down to whether I can attain the kind of quality that enough clients are willing to pay my fees to make the whole thing viable. This, in effect, is a business plan and is very much why I charge what I charge. Simple really, but also quite complicated which is probably why cheaper photographers charge what they do, but find they can’t sustain their businesses. That’s a whole other post, which I’m sure I’ve written already.
Provided the brief is fulfilled, off-brief shots like this are very useful
The photographer’s brief is one of the most important precursors to a successful photo session, so it’s worth giving it proper consideration, but if your day job doesn’t revolve around briefing photographers it can be a daunting task to tackle.
Don’t worry though, even when I was dealing with briefs as a staff photographer at The Portsmouth News, it was incredible how many reporters would turn in incomplete briefs. So if you struggle to know what to include, you’re in good company. This article will help you hit the main points required, but if you follow the Who, What, When, Where and Why principle of photojournalism, you’ve pretty much nailed it.
Where and When:
Date, time and location. Without any one of these three you’re on rocky ground before you’ve started. Set them out clearly and fully; just saying “I’ll see you on the 12th” isn’t the same as “Date: 12th September 2014”.
The location address needs to be complete too. I often use sat nav or Google Maps to find a location and an accurate post code helps especially where there are similar road names within the same town or city. Occasionally a post code can bring up a doubtful-looking address, at which point I’ll double-check the location with my client. If the post code and street don’t match up, directions are essential.
As part of the address etc, make sure there is a contact name and number. This should have become apparent during early contact, but make sure it’s all on the brief too.
Who and What:
Is it a series of portraits or is it processes, locations or maybe products which are to be photographed?
It’s incredibly useful to have the names of people to be photographed. These can be ticked off as they’re done. The same with locations and products. These details also make captioning the images later much easier. If it’s products or processes, make sure to use full descriptions rather than acronyms so captions can be completed fully.
In editorial photography the Who What When Where and Why make up the cornerstones of an accurate caption, describing as they do the contents of the photos, but in corporate communications photography the Why is more about why the image is being taken and what it is to be used for. If I know a photo is to be a cover image for a brochure, I’ll approach it differently to if it’s going to end up as a narrow banner at the top of a web page.
The Creative Brief:
This is the more enjoyable part of raising a brief and will be an amalgam of what you already know you need combined with discussion with me at the planning stage. Thinking about what you need for the project in hand as well as thinking about what future uses might be made of the photos will help in working out how many images and what scenarios are required and finally how much time will be required overall.
In terms of time required, you might already have an idea of what time and budget you can allocate to the photo session and these will have a bearing on whether the brief needs to be adjusted. It’s worth ensuring there is some slack in the schedule to allow for the unforeseen or un-planned off-brief photos, which can be incredibly useful later.
Some practicalities on the day:
Parking and access to the building or site. The majority of my work requires more kit than I can easily carry, which tends to rule out public transport. Make sure there is space to park, preferably near the building entrance or wherever equipment needs to be set up. If off-site parking is the only option I need to know in advance so I can plan my arrival time accordingly.
If a room is set aside for staff portraits, make sure it is the right size (I can advise on this during the planning stage) and isn’t filled with chairs and immovable tables or other furniture. If the photos are to be taken around the offices or production floor, make sure as much as possible that locations are clean and tidy and that anyone to be featured is complying with health and safety regulations – I can’t always know what these are, and it’s such a shame to ditch a great photo because someone is wearing the wrong high-visibility vest for the task they’re doing.
Decisions on location can sometimes be decided upon my arrival, but time has to be allowed for clearing and tidying within the allocated shoot slot.
Cameras are machines, photographers are people. Don’t forget comfort breaks and if it’s a full-day shoot, lunch is a must to keep the little creative cells going.
Attempting to cover all eventualities in this article is likely to miss some possible scenarios, but provided you approach the brief as outlined above, you’ll be a long way down the path of getting it right. Certainly I’m always happy to help and guide clients before the shoot because the better it goes, the happier everyone is.
If you have any questions about anything here, why not post a comment or drop me a line?
This week I thought I’d talk about what I’ve got coming up because it’s rather big. Next week, the first week in July, I’m taking on quite a challenge. For the first time ever I’ll be photographing the Summer Graduation ceremonies for University of Bath.
This event would normally be covered by the university’s in-house photographer Nic, but he recently broke his collar bone in a cycling accident so I’ve been asked to step in to cover the work he’d normally be doing this time of year. It’s been a busy few weeks taking pictures for the university, but next week will be Intense with a capital I.
Up to four graduation ceremonies a day for three days, including formal portraits of honorary graduates, the procession from Guildhall to Bath Abbey, the presentations inside the abbey and the students and their families celebrating outside after their ceremony. Then I go and do it all again, plus editing and delivering rush shots at the end of each day and editing all the images at the end of the week. I’ll be ready for a lie-down by the end, that’s for sure.
And even before the event I’ve had planning and briefing meetings and today I took a recce to the abbey to see the layout for the ceremonies and also to check out a high vantage point for an alternative shot of the students piling out of the abbey after the procession, which is how this week’s blog photo came about.
After seeing inside the abbey, I was shown up a very dark, winding, narrow spiral staircase (approximate age, 500 years) and onto a balcony above the main entrance to see if the vantage point would work. The lighting and weather on the day will determine if this is going to work out, but in the meantime, here’s a shot I took this morning looking up Abbey Churchyard with the entrance to The Pump Rooms to the left.
A super view across Abbey Churchyard, which will be packed with students and their families next week
This week’s post will be a little self-indulgent as I’m going to share some photos taken during my weekend trip to Hamburg, Germany. To make up for this self-indulgence I’m going to keep the words brief and let you skip through the photos and get a taste of my experience there. Besides which, I’m still a little jaded from the journey.
My only observation is this; even when I’m having a break, I still can’t help looking out for photos that don’t exactly fit the “holiday snap” genre. I always feel some responsibility to take photos which aren’t just for myself. Enjoy the weird mix!
This is one of those “apropos of nothing in particular” sort of posts where I just update you on what’s been going on lately. It will also explain why I didn’t post last week, and why this week’s post is late. I apologise for both failings.
To say things have been busy would be an understatement. I’ve been incredibly hectic with work for University of Bath since their lovely and wonderful staff photographer Nic broke his collarbone in a cycling accident (or did I sabotage his brakes as one client suggested?) Of course I wish Nic a rapid recovery, especially as having broken my own clavicle a few years ago, I know just how ruddy painful it is.
I found out about Nic’s mishap while I was working for two clients in London a couple of weeks ago, and since then it’s been full-on with assignments in London (again), Gloucester, Bath and even Chard in Somerset; not somewhere I get called to regularly, but work is work and the session was a fun little PR piece.
Weird architecture in London caught my eye
In amongst all the professional fun and games I’ve been finding a little time to take photos for fun. While in London I got to stroll about with my Fuji X20 one evening and came up with this shot.
Perhaps even more exciting was when I discovered a classic 1980’s camera, a Konica Pop, in a Frome charity shop and snapped it up for the princely sum of £15. I popped a roll of black and white film through to see what it could do and I have to say I’m impressed! Not that I’ll be using it for client work. It’s a bit hit-and-miss, but I’m sure I’ll be using it for more fun stuff soon.
You’ll have to be patient for that though because the coming weeks don’t look like they’re going to let up much. I’m going to have to beg your forbearance if my blog posts are occasionally late too, but at least you’ll know it’s because I’m busy rather than that I might be ignoring you. I could never do that.
A detail of University of Bath campus taken on the Konica Pop
I’m a little nervous about this week’s post in that instead of featuring a photo of some poor, unsuspecting client, it features me. This potentially opens up my comment box to many hilarious responses, but that’s ok, it’s probably justified.
The man behind maketh the photo (click to enlarge)
The reason for inflicting this narcissistic portrait on you isn’t just that selfies have been a feature of the news in recent months (most notably David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service), but having taken the shot, it sparked a thought about photographers and selfies as something of a tradition.
First a little background to how this photo came about… I was in a little town near Paris, France at the weekend for a wedding (don’t worry, I was a guest, not the photographer – I haven’t gone completely mad!) and had some time to kill between arriving and the start of the service, so I took my camera and went for a wander around the streets.
Now I can’t speak for other photographers, but give me a super-reflective surface like a shop window and some interesting light and I can’t resist playing around to see what I can do with it, and this particular shop window seemed to call to me to make a selfie.
I’d just lined up for the best shot I thought I could get when I spotted a man in the reflection, walking along having a fairly lively conversation with himself. I waited until he moved through to the right spot and caught him in mid-animation. Without him I think the shot would have been about 50% less interesting, and possibly not even worth keeping. You can tell me if you think it’s worth keeping anyway, it’s probably not for me to say.
I’m not saying this photo is anything special, but where the selfie of iPhone fame tends to be of drunk teenagers gurning at themselves, there are plenty of examples of photographers who have used themselves as models when experimenting with light, composition and reflections. Take a look at the Vivian Maier official website and you’ll see she really played with the genre.
I suppose what I’m trying to say in probably too many words is that there is no shame in taking selfies. They can be flippant and fun, they can be more considered and exploratory. I could be honest and admit that mine is even more self-absorbed than a quick iPhone snap (which I’ve also done on occasion), but when there is no one else around to model, well you just have to go with what you’ve got.
I find them a useful way of trying out something new, I just wish I had a better model to work with.
It’s possible you’ve noticed this blog has been a little more sporadic than usual these last few weeks, but this “sparodicness” has been caused by the combination of a major website redesign coupled with work assignments (Manchester was just one destination last week). The more observant among you will also have noticed changes in the way this very blog looks and in time I hope to be able to add more features to make it even more interesting (“how can this be?” I hear the crowd roar…)
Hopefully things will settle back into a pattern now, namely that I’ll publish on a weekly basis except where (as it’s always been) work commitments make this impossible, so thanks for your patience during the construction process and sorry for any inconvenience caused, as builders like to say.
Construction has taken a while, but I hope it’s been worth the effort
Morrissey posed the question “What Difference Does It Make?” and that question is pertinent to my website redesign and you deserve an answer, damn it! In a nutshell, what I’ve needed to do for years is incorporate my blog into my website to make it much easier for visitors to navigate between the two. You’ll notice that unlike my previous blog site, you’re not whisked off to a site separate from my main photography pages. It sounds simple to do this, but it’s taken some doing because at the same time it seemed sensible to redesign the entire website to make it all easier to navigate, informative and with a fresher look.
It’s worth remembering that my site is designed predominantly for people looking to book a commercial, corporate, editorial or PR photographer and the kinds of people who need me often don’t have time for fancy features to load. They need to be able to get in, look at what they need to see and then get in touch, all as smoothly as possible and with minimum fuss. I hope I’ve achieved this.
And in this age of iPhones and tablet computers I thought I’d better make the site responsive too, that is to say it doesn’t fall apart when viewed on a screen smaller than a laptop. All this takes effort and thought and one thing I’ve learned is that NEWS FLASH the web is not a perfect place. You get one aspect of your website right and another aspect keels over. As with anything, unless you have infinite funds you’ll have to compromise here and there. I hope I’ve kept compromise to a minimum and I have to say I’m pleased on the whole with how everything has turned out.
I had promised myself I wouldn’t re-visit the subject of Johnson Press or anything else quite as depressing for a while. The reaction to that article was incredible, receiving over 360 hits in two days which, for a modest blog such as mine is quite a big deal.
Indeed I had every intention of keeping things upbeat for a while, but then I got one more reaction to the article which I just couldn’t ignore; an email from someone whose situation perfectly illustrates the insanity which has overtaken newspaper publishing in this country. The victim of another publisher taking a short-term view and discarding both staff and reader loyalty in the hope of bigger margins.
There’s really nothing I can add to what this photojournalist says, so I’ll let their email speak for itself. Reproduced with permission…
Great to read your blog about Johnston Press.
Days after their announcement the publisher that I work for as a retained photo journalist also announced that it was going down the free content route and will no longer require my services!
The new model is to copy and paste press releases, and the associated pictures, thus removing my position.
I gather that everything is now geared towards ad revenue and pleasing PR people and press officers in the hope that they will advertise with said publishing group. As a result, all critical reporting has been banned in case it upsets said PR departments and everything will now be portrayed as sunny, regardless of the reality.
On the odd occasion a picture is needed from an event the ad man or webmaster will go along with their tablet, iphone etc and take a picture that is “good enough”. The parting shot was “with digital photography nowadays, we don’t need a retained photo journalist”
An editorial policy where PR people dictate content, as that’s what will happen, is an odd policy to adopt for a news publication. But hey, got to keep those PR people happy!
I was retained for 10 years and they just cut me adrift as if I never mattered. Over that decade the publisher would constantly apologise for not being able to pay me more (1k a month), but when they abolished my position this figure suddenly became a “considerable amount” . Loyalty, what ever happened to it?