Cold, wet and Poldark

Filming for the TV series Poldark is due to start in Frome this week and since yesterday was an admin day (boo hiss paperwork) I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a couple of shots in the street where crews are currently at work making sure all signs of modern life are removed or obscured.

The weather was pretty dire with high winds and plenty of rain and I didn’t have a great deal of time to work up a broad selection of photos, but it got me thinking about all the times I’ve ventured out with my camera when the weather is bad – mostly in the past in order to get extreme weather photos for national newspapers.

I still enjoy the challenge of getting pictures in adverse conditions, even if I’m not venturing into the world’s extreme regions. Seeing how people interact and cope with the weather is often interesting in itself. Sometimes the weather is just a distraction, as in the Poldark pictures. Other times it becomes the focus of the story (the 2001 Trooping the Colour is a fine example). More often now the weather is the story, as when there is flooding or gale damage.

Here’s a quick gallery round-up of extreme (or sometimes just mildly difficult) weather photos I’ve done over the years, from Trooping the Colour to yesterday’s preparations for Poldark.

Please click to enlarge and scroll through the photos.

My 2014 In Pictures

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.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

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

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

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

 

 

 

Entering The Press Photography Dark Ages

Bizarrely, having written in my last blog post about the Pine Range fire which I covered for The Bath Chronicle in 1991, I was heading back to my flat from a family gathering on Sunday evening to discover the sheltered housing complex on the opposite side of my building from where Pine Range once stood was surrounded by fire crews, engines and hoses. A fire had broken out in one of the flats and 11 residents had to be evacuated, with one resident being taken to hospital suffering smoke inhalation.

Aside from the obvious concern that everyone had been evacuated safely I couldn’t help feeling I should take a few photos, in spite of the fact I had a fair number of other commitments that evening, limited time and no obvious client for any photos I would take.

But the news photographer blood which still courses through me was buzzing and telling me to get on with it and at least take a few frames to offer up to the local paper. More in hope than expectation; time was a paper would have torn my arm off at the elbow for a set of pictures from an event they couldn’t get to and would happily have paid for them. Times have changed so very much though.

Fire crews attend a fire at Gorehedge residential home for the elderly in Keyford, Frome.

A general view gives some idea of the scale of the operation

I don’t often find myself covering this kind of story any more. Most of what I do for publications is press release work, which of course doesn’t include things like un-planned fires. I had to pause and ask myself if it was still valid for me to take pictures at an incident if I don’t have an immediate client for the shots. I don’t even carry a National Union of Journalists card any more, having let my membership lapse some years ago.

I honestly don’t think any of that matters though. Whether or not a newspaper wants to use my photos is entirely their call. As a trained, experienced news photographer I still feel I have a duty to record events if I am able. I can’t know at the time of taking a photo whether I will have captured something banal, tragic or incredibly newsworthy. All I can do is call on all my training and experience and get on with taking pictures.

Now that local newspapers no longer cover local stories and events with anything approaching enthusiasm perhaps it’s more important than ever that photographers with the right training and skills create quality visual records of what they witness.

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Looking at the paltry photographic coverage the Bath Chronicle gave the Tour of Britain last week, and The Frome Standard’s belated attempt at photographing a major news event on their own doorstep (their photos were taken over three hours after the event), it’s possible that historians of the future will look back on the stories of our time and wonder why the photos from the early 2000s are worse than the ones taken a century before on far more primitive equipment.

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates

 

 

Blast from the Past – Frome Pine Range Fire

Sometimes I like to pull something from my archive and share it with you, so here’s a photo from February 1991 showing the Pine Range furniture factory in Frome being attended by fire crews as it’s gutted by fire. I apologise for the quality of the reproduction here, it’s an old newspaper cutting and I no longer have access to the original negative – a common occurrence of my very early work which is held by The Bath Chronicle (more likely the negatives no longer exist).

Fire crews attend the fire at Pine Range, Frome, February 1991

Fire crews attend the fire at Pine Range, Frome, February 1991

I vaguely recall the circumstances surrounding this call-out. I was a freelance at “The Chron” at the time and I was probably working late, printing the day’s shoots ready for the next day’s paper, when a reporter came into the photography department to see if a photographer might be around to attend a breaking story. Luckily for them, I was.

The story had come through of a big fire in Frome, so we headed out in my car (to be pedantic, probably my then-girlfriend’s car) to see what was up. I know it was late at night, might even have been around midnight, when we got there to find a few fire crews in attendance at the building which was billowing smoke.

It was such a bitterly cold night that the run-off water from the fire hoses was freezing to the road, and I recall struggling to walk up the incline to the scene because of all the ice under foot.

There wasn’t a huge amount to photograph, I just had to make sure I got the building and fire engines to fill the frame. After taking a few different angles, I was pretty much finished. There wasn’t much light about, and I recall using my large hammerhead Metz flashgun to illuminate the entire scene.

It was hardly a moment for great art, but I would have headed back to the Chronicle offices straight after to process my film and make some prints so the picture desk could choose one for the paper the next morning. I probably rolled into bed in the early hours and would have been back on duty about half eight the next day.

One small coincidence of this job is that from where I currently live my living room window overlooks the site of the Pine Range building, which was subsequently demolished and is now a block of flats. Hardly Circle of Life stuff, but curious all the same.

It’s good to talk

After last week’s article (rant) about the Johnston Press photographic staff redundancies, I feel the need to chill and talk about something a little warmer and fluffier. I could have another rant, this time about the new powers UK police might soon have to seize press photographers’ images, but since there won’t be any press photographers left soon I suspect the law will be redundant by the time it hits the statute books.

I could have a rant about the latest European Union copyright review, which could very well be another attempt by big business to grab photographers’ rights, since these reviews never seem to centre on ways of strengthening copyright law. And on this matter, I urge all creatives to make submissions to the review, the deadline of which has been extended in to March 5th.

Yes, I could rant about all of that, but while rants get hits to my blog, it also gets boring. In any case it’s likely I’ll have to have another go at these subjects later, so rant lovers needn’t despair entirely.

Instead I’m going to tell you about a rather fun Friday evening last week when I addressed members of the Frome Wessex Camera Club and spent a couple of hours talking about the work I do now, and the experiences I had working for the News of the World from around 1998 to 2001 when I left abruptly due to unpaid expenses.

A milkman delivers a crate of milk to 10 Downing Street, London

Sitting overnight in Downing Street in case Cheri Blair went into labour, I captured a shot of the milkman delivering and broke the story that this delivery is a national secret

I’d not previously addressed a room full of people on this subject before, and it was kind of cathartic for me. I’d prepared a presentation with lots of photos from the period, each with its own back-story, and while I was nervous in the build up to the evening, once the house lights went down and I got started it was like I was flying. I’d made presenter notes, but barely referred to them for the entire talk. Everything just seemed to flow naturally.

Queen Elizabeth II rides out in a horse-drawn carriage at the start of the Trooping the Colour ceremony and parade in London in 2001, protected by a transparent umbrella to protect her from the rain

Some stories I covered were more conventional, such as Trooping the Colour, 2001

The audience of club members (plus my son who I’d dragged along under mild protest) did a very strange thing too; they laughed at my tales of celebrity chases, brushes with bodyguards and sitting in the backs of vans waiting so long for a particular scallywag to appear I’d have to pee in a bottle or risk blowing my cover.

A group of black ladies laugh heartily at the end of a march in honour of murdered teenager Damilola taylor

Marking the anniversary of the death of Damilola Taylor not with sadness, but unity and joy

And when the house lights went up at the end of the presentation, the image which will stay with me forever is the look on my son’s face because this was the first time he’d heard many of these stories. I’d assumed he would have been bored to tears, but his expression was a mixture of happiness and pride. Of everyone in the audience, he was my most important critic and it seems I passed the test.

Supporters of the National Front are escorted through the streets of Bermondsey by police officers.

A National Front march in Bermondsey, London. A lot less laughing and joy than the Damilola Taylor march which happened on the same day.

Yes, you herd…

Sometimes my job can be quite mucky, and one recent commission was especially so.

I was booked to shoot portraits of a couple of Somerset farmers who were nominated for a national dairy award. The forecast for the next day was dull but dry. The thing is, when I woke up it was dull alright, but it was lashing with rain. The weather and the roads were so filthy that on my way to the first farm my windscreen wipers were shifting muddy spray as well as the rain, but I was on a deadline so couldn’t reschedule.

The brief was to get a selection of shots of each farmer, perhaps at the gate, but certainly with some evidence of their herd behind them. In both cases, because of the time of year and especially because of the weather, this meant the herds would be in sheds. Probably not the best of photographic situations because of the low light inside, made worse by the low light generally.

However, despite the weather, my subjects getting rained on and the animals all being fairly dark colours in dim lighting, I was pleased with the results. It wasn’t easy, but it was helped by the good nature of the farmers and I’d like to thank Alan Creed of Withial Farm near Shepton Mallet and Philip Cotterrell of Warren Farm near Wells for their help and patience when they probably had better things to do. It’s fair to say though, I had some laundry to do when I got home.

Dairy farmer Alan Creed poses in his cow shed with cows visible behind

Alan Creed was very patient with me as I had to wait for a cow to pop her head into just the right spot for the shot to work

Somerset dairy farmer Philip Cotterrell smiles as he is sniffed by one of his cows

Philip Cotterrell is clearly liked by his animals

Dairy farmer Philip Cotterrell smiles at the farm gate as he's surrounded by cows

Despite being soaked with rain, Philip is still smiling in what turned out to be my favourite shot of the day

Horse Meat Found in Cheap Photography

I was listening to Billy Bragg being interviewed on the radio the other day and while he was never one of my favourite artists, he has always made a fair amount of sense. On this occasion he was even good enough to admit his voice was never his strong point. Perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an apology for his vocal on Between the Wars.

During this interview Billy was talking about the state of the record industry and the difficulty young working-class singers and songwriters face when trying to get a big break because of the way the industry has changed. The interviewer suggested that surely the market would seek out the best talent, regardless of background, to which Bill replied, “You know what happens if we leave it to the market, you get horse meat in your burgers.”

The wider point Mr Bragg was making was that the record industry no longer has a filter in the form of the likes of John Peel who would have plucked an artist from obscurity on the basis of a few good songs regardless of background. Billy believes it’s often the privileged kids from public schools who get the break and as he put it are “clogging up the charts.”

This “class” issue is an interesting one affecting photojournalism, and has lead to a situation where photographers have to self-fund coverage of events, then hope to sell the images to publishers who can force prices down because as they see it the pictures have already been shot and the photographer will be grateful to claw back some of their costs, never mind make a living. Success is now more to do with whether you can fund your shoots rather than pure talent.

I rarely shoot editorial in the purest sense now. Newspapers rarely call me up to shoot assignments for them (my previous post explains where they get pictures from since the collapse of their budgets), though I still shoot PR pictures in a style to suit newspapers. I won’t fund assignments in the hope of selling something later. I do shoot personal projects and if I sell something from those that’s fine, but it’ll be at my own prices and on my own terms.

Horses racing the final furlong at Bath Racecourse

Is your corporate image a winner, or a Findus dinner?

In the corporate photography sector there is also downward pressure on prices, but I decided a couple of years ago, even in the grip of a deep recession, to set my rates and stick to them. I have to say I’m glad I did because when I see some of the work being churned out by photographers charging significantly less than me, I’m happy to boast that their clients are not getting what I offer. I don’t think I’m some David Bailey of the corporate photography world, but I know what I do well, I stick to doing it and I charge what I believe is a fair rate for the quality and service I offer.

I genuinely believe if a corporate client is only interested in getting the cheapest photography they can find, they won’t get anything worth having. Newspapers have already proved this theory. Their imagery is more horse meat than beef right now. Businesses wanting to avoid the Findus fate will invest properly in their images because people aren’t stupid. They can spot bull in photos and they don’t need a DNA test for that.

2012 in Pictures (well, mine anyway…)

This being the last blog post for 2012 it seemed like a good excuse to do a round-up of some of the photos I’ve taken for clients this year – one from each month except July for which I’m posting two images just because I have the power and I felt like it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my clients without whom I wouldn’t be in business and I would very much like to thank all my blog readers for putting up with my drivel over the last 12 months and for being patient when I didn’t get time to post anything some weeks. I’m sure you were grateful for the breaks anyway.

I do hope you enjoy this selection of photos, have a very happy Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you again in January 2013.

Acting college student Tom England of Frome

January: Tom England of Frome poses for his acting college portrait

Snowplough operative with truck and shovel

February: Overnight snow meant a last-minute task taking pictures in Cirencester for Mitie’s snow-clearance service

Dr Vince Cable speaks at the BBSRC Innovator of the Year awards, London

March: Dr Vince Cable addresses an audience of scientists at a bio-science innovation awards event, London

Empty warehouse interior

April: Warehouse interior near Exeter, soon to be the distribution hub for a toy importer

Olympic torch relay handover at University of Bath

May: Olympic torch relay handover at University of Bath

School science experiment with big yellow flash of flame with pupils looking on

June: Whitstone School website and prospectus

Rugby Sevens team captains in Bath

July: Programme cover shot for the J P Morgan Rugby 7s final in Bath

Christmas tree in office setting

July: As you would expect in July I’m photographing Christmas trees in an office setting

Millennium Square, Bristol, Triathlon England sporting event

August: An Olympic event organised by Sport England in Bristol’s Millennium Square saw all weather from bright sunshine to torrential rain.

Abstract image of wire page binding on a roll

September: Abstract image for Corsham-based digital print company Orbit

Pumpkin soup in a bowl, with sparkler lit in an apple

October: Exciting new venture Local Morsels online food magazine launches with an Autumn edition featuring pumpkin soup and sparklers in apples

Farmer in his Somerset milking parlour with two milkers

November: Marksbury farmer Stephen Bendall uses a robotic milking system in his dairy. I just like this portrait which I took at the end of the session

Cheese-maker cuts a round of cheese at Frome Super Market

December: Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy cuts unpasturised cheddar at Frome Christmas Super Market

Biology.. we need more of it

Here’s a sneaky look at the challenges sometimes facing a photographer in what might otherwise be a fairly standard assignment.

Last week was Biology Week, but you knew that already. You’ll also know the purpose of Biology Week was to raise awareness of the role of biology in the 21st Century with debates and events catering to all ages.

TV presenter Chris Packham speaks at Biology Week event, London

Chris Packham talks about his passion for biological research

I was commissioned by the Society of Biology and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to cover an event at the House of Commons designed to celebrate the week and spread the word of the importance of biological study to understanding our environment and the opportunities for innovation from new discoveries. My pictures would be used for press release material and the Society of Biology website news page (see link above).

The event was held in the Churchill Room where the great and the good of the biological sciences community mingled with MPs, peers and Chris Packham (BBCs Springwatch and Autumnwatch presenter).

My task was to cover the speakers giving their addresses, people networking and enjoying the evening and anything else that presented itself. It wasn’t an easy task as the room was packed to bursting, which made moving around quite tricky and often made it difficult to get clear shots of specific people.

Guests gather for Biology Week event at Churchill Rooms, House of Commons

The Churchill Room was packed for the event

The lighting was pretty poor too. Very warm colour tone, which when added to people’s hot faces made orange something of a theme for the evening. My best bet was to use a mixture of flash and slow shutter speed to try to have people properly lit without it looking like I’d blatted them with flash, then cool down the warm cast in post-processing to get skin tones looking more human.

Despite the tricky shooting conditions and the extra post-processing involved, as it was my first shoot inside the Parliament building I was thrilled to be there. I highly recommend a tour if you’re ever in London because it really is a fascinating building.

Big Ben tower mis-shapen by iPhone panorama mode

I couldn’t resist having some fun with the iPhone panorama mode while I was there

I like a challenge (couldn’t be bothered with a ‘try’ pun)

Last Tuesday I was asked to cover a photo-call on behalf of Premiership Rugby in the build-up to the Rugby 7s final taking place on the Friday.

This was going to be a quick-turnaround job, but the shots also needed to look polished, so I arrived in plenty of time to set up portable strobes on the rugby pitch at the Bath Rec (recreation ground, home to Bath Rugby Club) and have the trophy arranged so that when the team captains came down for the photo, I’d be good and ready.

The shoot list required pictures for the website, a shot for each of the captains’ home newspapers (consisting of a group shot each, with each captain taking it in turns to be nearest the cup and then individual captains with the cup), and a programme cover. I probably had less than half an hour to shoot the whole thing, including time for the photographer from The Bath Chronicle to get his shots too.

Having got all the shots I needed, I got the images onto my laptop, captioned, edited and sent off to the agency that was going to deal with the distribution of the images to all concerned. From starting the shoot to delivering the images was about 2 hours.

Premiership Rugby 7s Final web page

The website was updated with the new group photo of the team captains with the cup.

Despite the rain, the shots turned out fine and the Premiership Rugby website was updated with the new group photo and the regional papers all had the shots they needed. And on Friday when I arrived to cover the corporate hospitality aspect of the event, there was the programme with my cover shot on it. It’s challenges like that which get the adrenaline going and keep me keen. More please 🙂

Rugby 7s Final programme cover

I photographed the players, but you might detect some Photoshop work in the background…