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!

Staying Sharp

If you think staying sharp is kind of essential photographer, you’re right. And not just in the sense of getting pictures in focus, though that’s important too.

Staying sharp is what all professionals must do, regardless of their field. However with a year-long (on and off) lockdown drawing to a close, I’d come to realise I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be.

First glimmers of work

Back in March I was aware that client enquiries were just starting to pick up again. Hooray! Except that against all my best efforts, I’d really not been shooting as much as I needed in order to keep my skills honed. So I got in touch with my son-in-law (honorary title, but it’s how I consider him) to ask if I could come over and make some pictures of him at work. He’s a car mechanic – a very good car mechanic – and I needed a subject that would give me a challenge – poor/changeable lighting, moving subject, having to be aware of my surroundings.

Film, of course!

Jake very kindly agreed, so I ended up shooting a couple of sessions on different days at his lockup just outside Frome. Oh and just to give myself an additional challenge, I shot a mixture of 35mm and medium format film. Ok, so I did that for the fun factor too, but also I knew it would really suit the aesthetics of Jake’s work place, with all the grime and textures inevitable in a working mechanic’s workshop.

The images here are a small selection of those I ended up posting to Instagram (@takeagander) so you can check out more of them there.

By the way, picking up on the motoring metaphor, work in the last few weeks has gone from 0 – 60 in record time. I’m glad I took the opportunity to re-sharpen my skills, but I miss the relative tranquility of pleasing myself with nothing more than a couple of cameras and a bag load of film.

 

Do You Love Photography?

Loving Photography

The recent acquisition of Unsplash by Getty has prompted me to think about what the love of photography actually means.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the sale here, you know how to use Google. But I do want to examine what people mean when they say they love photography. Many of these people are contributors to sites such as Unsplash, yet I have to question the nature of their love of photography.

Of course I can’t tell people what to do with their photos, but equally we should be aware that something is happening (has already happened) to photography which leaves us all much more vulnerable than we might think. It has harmed society incrementally such that we’ve barely registered the change. More on that later.

When I talk about my love of photography, I use the phrase in a global sense; I love coming up with ideas, shooting them and presenting them. Some make money, some don’t, but they’re never available for exploitation without suitable remuneration.

And loving photography doesn’t just mean loving the act of taking pictures. In that global sense, loving photography also means nurturing the industry of which you claim to be a part. In short, it means acting like a professional. At the very least, it means not causing harm.

For others it seems to mean a love of having people and brands exploit their work. Some see this as beating professionals at their own game, which is just downright weird. That is not a healthy love.

Filthy Lucre

I can’t criticise the work people upload, much of which is of a very high standard (albeit it’s often very sterile), but they should be paid fairly for its use.

Some will argue that you can’t truly love photography if you want to make money from it. Hogwash. Utter c**p. In fact I would say the opposite; anyone hooked on views and downloads is more in love with their own ego than anything.

And what if, instead, brands had to pay for what they took from Unsplash? Would they download and use it then? What does it say to a photographer if no one is willing to pay actual money to use their work?

So why does this even matter? It’s just some pictures, right? Wrong.

A Diminished Industry Hurts Us All

The devaluation of the photographic industry over the past 20 years has left us with fewer sources of high quality photo-journalism. Our once thriving press has become less diverse, even where it tries to be polarised in opinion. Think the PR machine at No 10 dishing out the same sanitised pictures to all outlets. Those outlets, having no budget (or claiming not to at least) will use free over paid every time. So the visual voice becomes homogenised across titles and channels. Diversity suffers as a result.

This degradation has affected the national voice in other ways beyond photography. While there’s a clamour for greater diversity in our media, we see fewer articles written by people from less privileged backgrounds because only those with independent means can afford to work on the poor (or non-existent) rates on offer.

I certainly can’t afford to work for the fees our national newspapers pay – I’m a grown up, not a school child. But I’m a white guy so boohoo me. What about women? Or people from poorer backgrounds? Or those whose ethnicity makes it more likely they won’t have independent means? The talent is undoubtedly there, but the access isn’t because it’s flooded by people who can afford to “donate” their work. This is what’s happened in photography too.

You might not see the connections between newsroom budgets and free stock image sites, but all areas of the photographic economy affect all other areas. That’s why all photographers need to look after their own areas of interest in an holistic way and take responsibility for their actions.

Pups For Sale

And so back to the happy punters who give their work for free to Unsplash. They’ve been sold a pup; a dream that their altruism is the engine of a creative industry of which they are a part. That perhaps one day they’ll be spotted amongst the millions of lemmings and picked out for plum commissions.

Except it’s not, they’re not, and they wont. It’s just shutting down creativity for the truly creative. It’s shutting out those voices which haven’t the spare income to be heard. It favours the motivations of individual egos over the cause of the wider industry, and it’ll now be feeding that cuddly little independent, Getty Images.

Anyone who says they love photography should ask themselves what they’ve done for it lately. If they’ve become hooked on giving their work away, they need to question their devotion to it.

Perhaps if they’re amongst those who’ve fed Unsplash with free material, Getty’s acquisition of all their images might help peel the scales from their eyes. It might be time to redefine their relationship with photography and understand what a true love of photography looks like.

Continuing Landscapes

Photographically speaking, this latest lockdown has been pretty tough. Commissions and personal projects alike have taken a hit, but there are glimmers of hope on both fronts. This post is about the personal work.

An Alternative Plan.

As a result of the travel ban I’ve been unable to continue with the Salisbury Plain project, but that hasn’t stopped me making new work.

It’s definitely slowed me down because I’m having to learn a new landscape; the one nearer to home.

I could have chosen to ignore landscapes for now, but it’s an area I need to keep working on and improving so I don’t get rusty. When I do return to Salisbury Plain, I need to make sure I’m on my game.

Closer To Home.

I’m describing Closer To Home as an interim project. I nearly called it Treading Water, because that’s what it feels like. I’m treading water while I wait for lockdown to lift, and I’m often literally treading water as I hike through rain-soaked fields. But Closer to Home describes my (temporary) withdrawal from the Salisbury Plain project to concentrate on more local landscapes.

What I really wanted to find out was whether I could transfer the Salisbury Plain approach to another landscape. To an extent I can, but there’s a definite shift in tone when there’s no military layer to the project. Because the local landscape is quieter, I need to reflect this.

My Response.

What both types of landscape have in common is something I’ve always felt about the English countryside, that it isn’t as benign as we’d like to think it is.

Our countryside is industrialised, it is someone else’s business. It’s also constantly under threat from poor management, fly-tippers and development, which makes its existence more precarious and precious.

Whether I can express these themes through my images is down to me to keep working at them, which is why I haven’t let lockdown stop me.

So far I haven’t offered these images as fine art prints, but drop me a line if you’re interested. You can see many more on my Instagram account.

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.

Post-Pandemic Chic

Looking towards a post-pandemic world, it could be argued that people have become accustomed to a “Zoom aesthetic”. We’re used to seeing colleagues and clients on fuzzy webcams, over poor connections and with a variety of peculiar (occasionally embarrassing) backdrops. I’ve even been on a Zoom workshop in which one participant’s webcam was upside down, so does image really matter anymore?

Will the new aesthetic stick like a virus?

Does this mean we no longer need polished portraits for our business profiles? After all, models and celebrities have been doing selfie shoots for magazine features and advertisements through lockdown and it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm.

Well ok, so they’re usually living in beautiful homes in sunny climes. They have the means to simply purchase whatever kit they need to capture the best image, and many of them are well aware of how to work with lighting and angles to best effect. They’re also working towards a different result than that required in a corporate website.

 

Quality still matters.

I would argue that quality matters even more now than it did a year ago. Zoom, Teams and Webex (who?) have been a hoot, but that’s not the look you need when a client visits your website or social media channels.

When clients find your website, they still view every element of it as an extension of your values. Good quality reflects well, and all the small cues, such as how well the site is designed, how well the copy is written and (of course) the quality of your photography will all influence the visitor’s impression of your business.

Of course it’s different when you’re speaking to someone on Zoom or Teams. The context is different and the two of you are likely on a level playing field of awkwardness. Even then, if you’re pitching to a potential client via video call, you’ll make sure you’ve sorted out your bookshelf first. No one needs to see your collection of Victorian “art” catalogues. Or you’ll use one of those weird green screen-style photo backdrops that makes half your face vanish every time you shift in your seat.

Making that call.

If that’s the aesthetic you’re going for within your website, I wish you well, but I reckon most people will want to forget the Pandemic Look as soon as they can. They certainly won’t want to be reminded of it in your About Us section.

Drop me a line about your next photography project, be it business profile pictures, office shots, social media stock images or video and let’s get Covid out of the picture.

Blog Off?

Do people still blog? I’ve been writing this one since October 2009, but does it still serve a purpose?

Over the years I’ve tried my best to inform and entertain my readers (still plural, I think), admittedly with mixed success, but of course it’s also been a way to keep Google happy.

On that score I have to admit it’s been useful for my Search Engine Optimisation. I’m just less convinced it still has the impact it once did. People are using different routes to finding photographers, but it has become a much more fragmented landscape, so which options might work?

LinkedIn

Facebook for businesses (aka LinkedIn) has been a good way for me to keep in touch with existing clients. I can keep up with what they’re doing and I can update them on my latest news. I sometimes use it to message clients directly, though I still prefer email for keeping all correspondence in one place.

That said, LinkedIn is practically useless for finding new clients. People looking for a specific photographer for their needs will find LinkedIn a poor source of reliable information. More often than not a prospective client will canvass their network for recommendations, at which point there ensues a scrambled deluge of suggestions, most of which ignore geography or skill set – a photographer’s a photographer, right? End result, a mis-match and a lost opportunity.

Facebook

Facebook is useful for keeping in touch with a wider friendship network and group interests and I use it to promote my personal project work, but corporate work doesn’t really work on Facebook. I’m careful where I use client work, and Facebook just isn’t the right place to post my commissioned images.

Twitter

Just… no. Like Facebook, Twitter isn’t the best option for business use. It needs personality, which tends to exclude much in the way of a corporate focus. Again, it’s more useful to my personal project work and I like to promote other photographers there, at least those practicing fine art or documentary work.

Other Options

Should I start a podcast? *collective cry of NOOOOO! echoes back at me* Or a YouTube channel? *ditto, see previous*

Except YouTube is perhaps the more interesting option; less for my corporate work, but perhaps more useful to my personal project photography. I have no desire to be a “YouTuber”, but I can see how video might help create wider interest in that work. Which still leaves me wondering what’s best for the corporate work.

In (sort of) conclusion

It seems that while change has been a constant in the exciting world of SEO, that change is accelerating. Couple this with the fact that new platforms are constantly springing up, the risk is that social media is becoming too fragmented.

My gut reaction to all this is that continuing the blog posts is wise. Keeping my website fresh and compliant continues to be the best use of limited time. I also need to investigate new ideas; maybe even some old ones. Books and zines interest me, so they’ll be something I’m focusing on for the personal projects, but what of the corporate side? Perhaps print has a role worth exploring too. Many years ago I made Blurb books of my portfolio and they went down quite well.

So after 557 words, I ‘think’ I’ve concluded that I’ll carry on with the blog. Ideally I’ll use it to showcase my corporate work, but lockdown and on-going restrictions will make that a challenge. Things will pick up though, and when they do I want to be visible to new clients as well as existing ones.

One last thing…

On a bit of a side-note relating more to my personal projects, if you sign up to my takeagander newsletter here before the end of January 2021, you’ll be in with a chance to win a beautiful A4 print from any of my collections!

So cheer yourself up for free, sign up and have a browse to see if there’s a print you’d like on your wall.

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!

The Local Proposition

Are you buying anything from Amazon this Christmas? The campaign to shop local seems to have gained ground, even if the orange behemoth with the A to Z smile is still gaining sales.

The pandemic will have put many in a quandary; desperate to get their Christmas shopping done, but still unable to leave home, it can seem as if there is only one choice, when even online there are many great independent traders now.

However, the shop local/support independents movement is definitely finding new followers. Buying on the high street is beneficial to local economies and communities, while buying online from local, independent businesses is certainly helpful too.

Buy Local for Your Business

So this week I’d like to extend this notion: If buying local for personal reasons is beneficial to the local economy and jobs, please also consider buying ethically-sourced professional services for your business too.

Not just photography, but other creative industries have struggled against the big players for many years now, yet none of the disruptive sites offering creative services has benefitted the wider economy. They might seem to be the cool, new and exciting way to do business, but they dis-benefit independent creatives disproportionately.

Of course as a business owner you probably want to find the best value for money for all the goods and services you need, but have you ever thought about how this might impact the economy in which you’re trying to function?

It might help you in the short term if you can populate your website with images and graphics bought in at below cost of production, but when this process replicates across an entire business economy, who is left with any money to buy your services?

Value vs Cost

Likewise, if you’re unwilling to pay fair rates for the goods and services supplied by others, why should anyone pay your rates for the goods and services you supply? And let’s set aside the impact of using suppliers who pay little (if any) tax back into the society in which you operate.

So undertake a pledge, make it company policy if you like, that from January 2021 you will start the process of making your business more sustainable by helping to sustain others. It might make you very slightly less profitable in the short term, but it will make your business more sustainable in the longer term.

You’ll almost certainly have a more robust business come the next economic upset.

Until 2021…

I’m taking a break from writing blog posts here until January 2021, so I’ll just take this opportunity to thank you for all your kind support through this monumentally challenging year.

If in the meantime you would like to keep up with all my goings on, you can follow me on Instagram (@takeagander) or sign up to my newsletter for very occasional updates on my personal projects and new fine art print offerings.

Thank you, have a happy Christmas and a new, improved 2021.

Tim

Video Progress

Actually I made this film several weeks ago now, but I’ve had so much else on that I haven’t had a chance to talk about it until now.

Frome-based IT solutions company Netitude, in particular MD Adam Harling, were very generous in giving me time to come in and make a short film about their experience through (the first) lockdown.

The result (which you can see here) is a huge step up from where I was when I first tried the video function of my DSLR. I’m far more confident now that I can make and edit short interview films and I’ve done more video since which I hope to share in due course.

What I’m aiming to offer clients is affordable access to simple video production, but at a quality they cannot achieve by sticking an iPhone on a stand. I also believe my photographer’s experience and skills bring an added level of style and quality to the work.

For the time being I’m pegging my video rates to my stills rates, with post-production being the only additional cost. This makes professional video far more accessible to a much wider range of clients.

If you have a video project in mind, drop me a line and we can discuss it in more depth.