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.


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.


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.


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.

A Wee Bit of PR Goes A Long Way

At the start of last week I was asked by University of Bath to come into the Department of Chemical Engineering for a photoshoot with a difference. They needed pictures to accompany a press release for their research into urine-powered fuel cells (see what I did in the headline? So droll…) So, forget rechargeable batteries, these new cells take a trickle charge!

It’s not easy working in gown and goggles (a prerequisite of being in the lab) and there was some time pressure and not a huge amount of space to work in, it being a working lab, but by the end of the session I’d captured a range of shots suitable for different outlets.

What I perhaps hadn’t appreciated was just how far and wide the images would go. I knew they were being distributed by the university press office and Press Association, and they appeared on the BBC and Sky News websites, many newspaper sites (as well as in print) and on industry and tech-oriented websites.

So next time urine the need for some PR, why not give me a call? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Below is a selection of hits from around the web. Click to enlarge.

A Day In The Life

Press photography coverage for a ministerial visit isn’t always going to produce a prize-winning image, but I like to make sure I manage to get at least a couple of off-beat images for the client even if the subject is on the dry side of arid.

Politicians are very aware of the camera now, which can lead to rather staid situations being presented. Even so, when I covered the visit of David Willetts MP to the Babraham Institute near Oxford, I achieved some decent frames. Certainly the client, BBSRC, were happy.

I thought for this week’s article I’d use this event to give you some idea of what’s involved in this kind of event and the kinds of shots to expect.

It’s often worth grabbing a general view or two for reference. If I’m at a conference, for example, I’ll try to get a shot of the empty stage so the client has a record of the layout and design. This is a simple view of the recently-finished building the minister was officially opening.

Exterior of Moneta building, Babraham Institute, Oxford, England


Plaque-unveiling barely counts as a photo opportunity. Even pulling other elements into the frame barely elevates the scenario, but you have to cover everything in case the curtain pole falls down or someone’s forgotten to put the plaque up!

David Willetts MP unveils plaque in Moneta building, Babraham Institute near Oxford.

Boys and their toys… People and large machines don’t always make a nice, tight press shot. The best images of Mr Willetts cutting the first sod on a new project cut out most of the digger itself. You don’t need the entire machine to see what he’s doing.

David Willetts MP in digger

The ubiquitous group shot. What can I say? Except that not all photographers are capable of arranging a decent group photo, and some will balk at taking command of people they may feel they should show more deference to. Personally, I find the only way yo get the job done properly and quickly is to be a little bossy, but always polite.

Group photo featuring David Willetts MP

An old trick, where there’s no mirror handy, is to use the reflection of the TV camera lens to make adjustments to dress before interview. As a still image it just provides more flavour  to the coverage.

David Willetts MP about to be interviewed for television

The client will never object to having their name in the photo. This kind of shot is probably of less interest to external press, but often works for the website and internal communications.

David Willetts MP at Babraham Institute near Oxford explains why he feels scientific research is so vital to the UK economy

Once the speeches are done, the minister is back in the car and off to the next meeting. No pictures, but I do stay close in case a final opportunity presents itself.

After the minister departed, it was time to get the pictures turned around quickly for the client so they could be sent out with the press release.

Another press job done, another satisfied customer.