Working Effextively

If you look at my corporate communications photography you won’t see much in the way of special effects or filters. I would describe my style as clean, bright, modern and (influenced by my news background) mostly un-touched by stylistic manipulations.

That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the work of photographers whose images might be more stylised in their finish, but it has to be done with purpose, consistency and definitely mustn’t be overdone. So it’ll be interesting to see if the release by Google of their Nik Collection imaging software as a free download (up to now it’s been a relatively expensive suite of editing tools) will have a noticeable effect on many professional photographers’ portfolios.

Will there be a rush to explore and play with the multitude of effects (believe me, there are many, possibly hundreds), each tweakable to one’s heart’s content?

I decided to download the software myself and have a play. After all, I am sometimes asked to do black and white conversions; this requires more than just removing colour from an image. I’ve always been happy with how I do this in Lightroom, but could the Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom enable me to do this better or quicker?

The other plugin I wanted to try was the Analog Efex Pro 4 part of the suit as I wanted to see if there were colour treatments which might suit some of my clients looking for a particular look for the web or brochure images.

The gallery on this page shows some of the results of my “playing about.” I’ve included one version which shows what can happen if you just apply one of the automated effects without due care and attention. I’ll leave you to guess which one it is.

Roll your mouse over the preview images to see what software was used and click on an image to see it larger.

I have to say that in my limited time using the software I’ve found the vast majority of it to be surplus to requirement, but then there are always great swathes of any imaging software which most photographers never use, it’s just a matter of finding the useful bits and sticking to using those.

Perhaps a bigger issue for me, and I’m willing to accept this might be a novice mistake, is that I can’t see how to apply edits across a range of images in one go, known as synchronising in Lightroom. I’m assuming there is a way of doing this (maybe saving edits as a preset?), but if not then it could mean using any of these editing tools is going to be long-winded for anything other than occasional, individual files.

On a lesser note, the difference between a Lightroom mono conversion and a Silver Efex one seems to be a matter of preference and probably some more tweaking in the software. If there isn’t an easy way to synchronise adjustments across images within the Nik software, it’ll be of little benefit.

I suspect I will turn to the Nick software on occasion, but maybe more for personal projects or experimentation on individual files. I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to start applying filters regularly to my images by default, probably only when a client requests it.



Portraits with Personality

One thing I’ve managed not to bang on about for a while is the importance of good quality portrait photos in business, by which I mean genuine photos, well-executed of the people within an organisation, at the very least the key people who need to be the face of the business.

I’m happy to say that fewer businesses and organisations are now using stock imagery as a way to project themselves. Of course it’s still a popular source of images for websites and brochures, but people understand more than ever the importance of including their own personalities in their marketing, but having taken the decision to commission some “real” photography, what other decisions follow from that?

The key decision is what style to go for. A portrait can be formal, informal, serious, light, it can be taken indoors, outdoors, subject looking to camera, subject looking off-camera. There are infinite angles and permutations and most clients want a selection of styles and moods so they have a library of images to call upon for different requirements.

The limiting factor to all this might be how many people need to be photographed within the time available, and how much time each sitter has before they must get back to their desk or their next meeting.

I often find myself allocated a room in which to set up my lights and perhaps a backdrop, but even this basic setup can allow for quite a variety. Outdoors shoots often take longer because the environment is less easily controlled and the location is usually some distance from the office.

It’s important to have a think about the mood and the style of the shots required and the context into which they’ll be published. I’m happy to discuss all this with clients looking for guidance, and of course I’ll talk to their designers too.

Perhaps the most important thing about having portraits done is to remember that these aren’t for the mantlepiece or the family album, they’re for communicating personality and values to clients, which is something stock images cannot do.

I’ve plucked a few random portraits from my archive to give some ideas of what’s possible. There are many more possibilities than I can ever show you.

Portrait of a University of Bath student

Using available light and a white wall

Business portrait taken in Bath

Outdoors, looking off-camera, using the available architecture

business photo taken in Bristol

Standard business portrait in colour taken using lights and a backdrop

Black and white business portrait of Jamie Borwick

Black and white, looking off-camera. This was staged to look un-staged

Changing face of the faceless

Here’s an interesting article in the British Journal of Photography which asks if the recession has affected the style of imagery being requested from stock agencies. It looks specifically at buyers’ preferences when choosing business imagery, and the article catches my eye because business imagery makes up much of what I shoot, though I work directly for end-user clients rather than libraries.

It seems the day of the haughty portrait of the perfect-toothed business man, looking down his nose at you in a “I’m better than you” sort of a pose is going out of favour, to be replaced by “more apologetic body language” as a counter to the general public’s mistrust of large corporations (ok, banks and petrochemical companies to be specific).

Getty Images’ head of European content, Tom Hind, is quoted extensively in the article, but a few of his points stand out for me.

“Believability within business imagery is more and more key,” he says. Yes, well I could have told him that. It’s why my clients come to me instead of buying generic business photos of unbelievably generic business men and women from stock sites. The problem for stock sites is that it doesn’t matter how you shoot pictures destined to sell to a wide market, they will always have that slightly sterile “stockphoto” look.

Hind himself slips seamlessly from discussing generic stock to talk about specific images shot to order for an end-user client (Coca Cola) who commissioned images of the shop-floor staff at their Wakefield plant for a promotional campaign.

Reading the article you might think that the Coca Cola exercise was some ground-breaking formula, but again this is what I do for my clients on a regular basis; natural shots of their own staff and MDs in their real office, looking real.

Senior manager for Creative Intelligence (no sniggering at the oxymoron) at Corbis, Amber Calo agrees with Hind when he says that image buyers “want to see what looks like real people, in real situations.” My simple answer to businesses wanting this look for themselves is simple: commission pictures of real people in real situations within your own (real) business, and not only will you get that polished-but-natural look, but you’ll look more convincing to your clients too.

corporate business portrait of a man in a suit

Relaxed, friendly, genuine.

The article does have some useful style pointers, which merely reinforce what I already do for my clients, such as keeping the style loose, not too starchy or posed, and using depth of field to make the subject stand out from what can be cluttered surroundings (Hind talks of shallow depth of field as a shorthand for quality and I’ll not disagree with that).

The concept of believability seems strong in the article, and again I’d say that independent photographers like myself have been far ahead of the stock agencies in this regard for a long time. Mainly because we are shooting real people for real businesses, not models pretending to be chief executives.

I honestly believe that businesses and the better designers are already eschewing stock imagery in favour of presenting their true selves to their clients. I benefit from clients telling their designers they want to open up visually and avoid the “me too” look of stock.

In a world where commercial enterprise is having a bit of a PR crisis, where better to start repairing that damaged image than with the images you use to communicate with your clients?