Buckle Up! It’s going to get rough (again)

The previous 15 years has been a tough time for many, myself included, so what will this coming recession mean and what can I do to help your business?

The short answer to either of those questions could be ‘not a lot’, but I think there are ways we can coordinate our approach and help each other. Here’s a broad outline of my plans as we head into choppy waters.

In the wake of the pandemic, I set up a Startups Exclusive package. Aimed at those starting up new businesses, perhaps as a result of being made redundant or deciding on a career change after being furloughed, this is my most competitive package and is a gesture to help individuals or teams of up to three to get their branding images in the bag. It is limited to genuine startups though, so please don’t try to book this if you’re an established business 🙂

Since the fallout of the pandemic is still with us, compounded by Putin’s nasty little war, it seems fair to keep this package going for the foreseeable future.

The other way I can help your business communicate with your audience is through video work.

Now I’m not going to pretend video is cheap. Cheap video is cheap, but that doesn’t work for most professional businesses. Even the YouTube and Instagram influencer crowd has had to up their game, but good quality video, the kind you’d want representing your brand, has become far more accessible than it used to be.

With sensible pre-production planning, a day’s video shoot can often be edited a number of ways to suit different platforms and target specific audiences. It requires close collaboration and good communication to get the most out of a video session, but the results achievable with relatively modest outlay can be far better polished than anything a solo photographer could offer just a few years ago.

To help clients save valuable marketing budget, I’m very open with clients about what I can do for them in terms of video. Before there’s any commitment between us, I’m happy to discuss an outline brief with you. If your project requires a crew or production company, I’ll tell you I’m not the solution you need. You’ll either have to increase your budget and find the right supplier, or trim your expectations to match your available budget.

If what you want is office B roll (a flavour of your team, culture and working environment, for example), that I can do. I can undertake interview projects, short promo videos – it basically comes down to what you require and what resources will be needed to achieve that.

Ultimately, where this helps businesses is they can now access a quality of video they simply couldn’t raise budget for previously, and video has definitely become more important in corporate communications than ever it was previously.

Underpinning the services I offer, I’ve always believed that communication, coordination and flexibility are the best routes to success. I’ve been freelance for almost 25 years now, and in that time I’ve seen clients flourish and I’ve seen clients fail.

Thankfully far more have flourished than have failed, but I can honestly say that the failures were always the ones least open to communication with me, least willing to take advice on how best to make a project work and a realistic view of the resources required. I was simply a tool for the task, rather than a collaborator in their project.

It will have been a wider, embedded corporate culture which lead to this failure for sure, but if you’re open to communicating, being realistic about what it costs to achieve your goals and can be flexible to adapt to changing needs, we can help each other.

The one thing to keep in mind is that I want you and your business to succeed, even through the toughest times. If we can achieve that, just think what we can achieve in calmer waters!

If any of this chimes with you, why not drop me a line? It’d be great to hear from you.

No One’s Bursting My Bubble

I’m not sure “busy” quite describes the intensity of my work recently. The fact is, since April I’ve been busier than at any other time in my 23-year freelance career.

This is a post-covid bubble for sure. Pent-up plans, postponed events and long-neglected websites have suddenly become the focus of many corporate marketing teams, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many to shoot the stills, and now video, they need to bring those plans to fruition.

Biggest Project to Date

One project in particular has dominated my diary. I suspect this won’t be the only blog post I reference to it either, and that has been the stills and video content for Shaw & Co’s new website.

Shaw & Co has been a long-standing client of mine. In fact I first photographed company founder Jim Shaw way back in 2010 when he was at a different, now defunct firm in Bath. But my work with the Bristol-based corporate finance firm came about by a chance google search for a photographer which has kept me going back ever since 2017.

And so for the past 5 years I’ve been taking Shaw & Co’s team shots, head shots and office stock images. But then during 2020 their Chief Marketing Officer Paul Mills brought me into the picture about their plans for a re-brand. This was going to be a bit more than the usual photo session.

This time there would be video alongside stills on the website, so I started to look into whether I could deliver that for them. My cameras were video-enabled, but I knew enough about video to understand you don’t simply switch from stills to video mode and wave the camera about a bit. At least not if you want anything vaguely usable.

Lockdown Learning

Lockdown proved a useful breathing space for me to research and learn the very basics, but there’s nothing quite like having an actual commission on the books to focus the mind. In fact it was essential for me to have a goal to work towards. Video is a huge discipline and you can stray off in all directions if there’s no end-goal. You can also spend your way to bankruptcy if you’re not careful. Knowing what the requirements were for what I needed to deliver allowed me to focus on the kit and the skills I needed to develop as priority.

Being Part of the Process

Perhaps what has been most unusual about this project is just how deeply embedded I’ve been with its development – seeing the brand graphics as they evolved, liaising with the design agency Design By Structure at various stages and even finding my own suggestions being incorporated where appropriate. With some projects I feel I could be a robot with a camera, told to “stand there, shoot that,” but not on this occasion; I was definitely part of the team here.

The website launched this week and given the time period over which it has been developed and implemented, it really is an astonishing achievement. I’ve known much smaller projects to take far longer, which is testament to Paul’s enthusiasm and drive and his ability to enthuse all those around him.

Having Faith Helps

It’s also fair to say that the confidence Paul (and Jim) placed in me has sometimes outstripped my own self-belief, but I’m incredibly proud of the speed of my development and more importantly of the work I’ve turned in.

You can now see the stills and video clips over at Shaw & Co’s new website and even if their work isn’t an area you’re familiar with, I’d love to know your thoughts here.

Is That It Then?

Now I know I said this was a post-lockdown bubble, and things have quietened off a little as we get into August, but I’m still busy with new work and projects which were delayed by covid.

I also know that whatever happens next, I’ve gained valuable skills I can offer new and existing clients. I also know Shaw & Co are keen to build upon what we’ve started, so bubble or not, I’m confident there’s more to come.

Film to Film

One week I’m banging on about the joys of shooting old-school (skool) film, this week I’m talking about this frightfully modern video fandango.

In November 2020 I blogged about my video progress and things have, well, progressed! I now have a couple of small projects under my belt, one delivered and one still ongoing, and more in the pipeline. It’s been a massive learning curve, but I’m enjoying the challenge and the new creative direction.

The Backstory

For many years I held off getting into video because I had no personal need for it and enquiries from clients asking if I did it numbered single digits per year.

Then towards the end of 2019 enquiries seemed to grow. Mostly from clients who were already working with me for their stills as they wanted to add video to their marketing toolkit.

Lockdown

And then 2020 happened, and we all know what that meant. So during the first lockdown I investigated, cogitated and decided to learn the basics and see where it took me.

Of course as a stills photographer I already had many of the basics, but video is obviously a lot more than just pictures which move, and I’m not just talking about the addition of sound here either.

A New Energy

I’m glad I got the ball rolling because as we’ve emerged from the latest lockdown, client work has really sprung back to life and it’s including a lot of video.

While I’m keeping it fairly simple at this stage (sit-down interviews, testimonials and informational clips), as my abilities and capabilities grow I’ll be able to cover a wider variety of briefs.

In the meantime I’m cramming to learn editing as I know that will make me a better camera operator, just as learning to picture edit made me a better photographer when I was starting out in stills.

As ever, keep watching this space for further updates on this new direction and if you’re a business looking to step up from iPad videos to something more polished, drop me a line and let’s talk.

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.

Get me a coffee!

Last week I spoke about the tentative shoots of recovery as I was starting to receive enquiries and bookings again, but I did temper this with a word of caution that times would be tricky for a while yet.

What this means for many, including myself, is a constant process of working out what’s next and how we can keep going. For my part I’ve already made quite a few adjustments and will have to continue to find new ways of working and earning until the economy recovers, whenever that might be.

Lowering Costs

One fortuitous decision I took at the tail end of last year was to quit the office I’d been renting for the previous 8 years and convert an outhouse at home into a workspace, nicknamed The Bunker. Perhaps I had some incredible foresight into future events because it’s been one of the most beneficial decisions I’ve taken in a long time. Now I’m working rent-free, claiming additional work-from-home tax allowances and I have an editing space designed to my needs.

During lockdown it’s also meant I had an office which opens onto my garden, which has helped save my soul.

Diversifying

I’ve also finally ventured into video. Adding a new skill will make me more valuable to my existing and future clients. It’s also really interesting and creative in a way I hadn’t expected, and allows me to play with sound, which has always been a fascination of mine. I’ve already had enquiries about that, so I’m hopeful it will prove beneficial to my clients.

Rattling the Tin

On the flip side of my client work are my personal projects, which are so vital to my practice. These have obviously suffered through lockdown, but I’m starting them up again as best I can.

There is a challenge here though; personal projects have always been partially funded through client work, which is, as I say, tentative.

Tentative also describes the level of print sales through takeagander.co.uk. These were always a longer-term goal as it’s tough to build them up, so currently they’re not supporting the personal work either.

So I’ve set up a ko-fi account (ko-fi.com/takeagander) where people can support me with small donations if they’re not ready to buy a print. The takeagander website is peppered with “Buy me a coffee” buttons which take you to the donation page. Even the smallest amount will help, so do please spread the word by sharing the link far and wide. And of course you can make a donation here too if you’d like to support my work.

Currently I have a modest £100.00 goal to raise money for film which is already 30% funded. Since it’s only been up a short while, that’s astounding! This will be used for my current project, an un-sentimental journey across Salisbury Plain.

More to Come

Other plans are afoot, but too early to reveal yet. So to get early notice of developments, keep watching this space, or sign up to my newsletter at takeagander.co.uk. You can also see projects unfolding at takeagander on Instagram.

Also, feel free to drop me a line, comment here, or send a carrier pigeon. Moral support really is just as welcome as the financial assistance.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride for all of us, so I’ll keep saying this; if there is some way I can help you and your business, drop me a line and let’s see if we can’t make the road ahead a little smoother.

I’ll Make These b****y Pictures Move!

There is a vague recollection in the furthest reaches of my mind of my dad making a joke about “moving pictures” while shaking a photo up and down in his hand. It involved the “b” word and was very funny. You had to be there.

Which brings me in the clunkiest way possible to the announcement that I have added moving pictures to my suite of client services. They’ll even have sound! And they’ll be in glorious colour (actually, black and white is also an option, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Yes, lockdown has given me the opportunity to learn a huge amount about shooting video, recording sound and using editing software to bring it all together. I’m not going to pretend I’m the next Martin Scorsese, I still have much to learn, but I’ve used the time to get the basics nailed down.

My focus will be on corporate testimonials, talking heads and interview pieces, giving businesses the material they need to keep putting fresh material out on social media. I think video is well suited to this kind of use and will help my clients communicate more effectively than they might with just a text-based blog.

To give myself material with which to practice camera settings, focus, exposure, colour balance, sound recording, editing, and so on, I shot a short film at home using the best model I could find in my house (my wife). She did a fantastic job, and while the result is probably not what you would call corporate style, it demonstrates much of what I’ve learned in this exercise. You can see the film here.

The result is just over 4 minutes long and it’s entitled A SHEDx Talk with Dr Helen Roberts. I hope you get a few minutes to watch it, because the feedback I’ve had so far has been that it is calming, soothing and inspiring!