Bunker Mentality

It’s been a couple of weeks since my previous post so I thought I should update you on happenings at Gander HQ.

Because life isn’t hectic enough already I’ve decided to start a building refurbishment project with a view to moving my office from the studio I’ve been sharing for (I think) eight years now to what is essentially a 1950s concrete bunker at my home.

This structure is what would have been the laundry room, coal bunker and outside toilet when the house was built. The loo is still there and functional, the coal bunker is where we store timber for DIY projects, and the laundry room is what will become the new hub of my vast empire.

I’ve taken the decision to do it up and move my office in for a number of reasons: I fancy a change, I need space where I can carry out projects, film digitisation etc without disturbing other people, the bunker itself will slowly rot if I do nothing with it and I reckon after a year or two I’ll be quids-in and not paying rent anymore.

Of course I’ll miss the lovely office colleagues and the banter, but there will also be something liberating about not feeling obliged to use an office just because I’m paying rent on it. My plan will be to get out more and spend more time taking pictures for personal projects and also investing the rent money saved in those projects too.

This is all happening while shooting paid gigs and also trying (currently failing) to get going on personal work, but there is something immensely satisfying in doing the conversion work myself. It’s a bit of a race against time this week as I have just two days before it’s due to rain again and I’ve a job on one of those days!

Anyway, this is why I’ve not been blogging so much, but don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten you and I’m hopeful the sacrifice will be worth it in the end.

Victoria, London

Street photography isn’t something I get to indulge in often, but on Saturday I was in Southwark, London, with barely an hour to spare before going to see a concert in the cathedral. To make use of my limited time I had a wander round Borough Market with my Fuji X20, bags of really interesting late afternoon sunlight filtering through the structures of the market and little scenes of traders winding down from a busy day.

With all the shoppers gone, or congregated at nearby bars, I was able to move about and frame scenes without too much clutter, and as I rounded one corner I was struck by this vision of a waitress with red hair, concentrating on her mobile phone and smoking a cigarette while the evening sunlight lit her up brilliantly against the shaded backdrop of a closed stall.

Now I’m not a natural street photographer and on the whole I don’t like to snap pictures of people without their knowledge, especially if I intend publishing the photos in some form, so I approached and asked permission to shoot.

Victoria (for ’twas her name) agreed, but at first she wasn’t sure if I wanted her to pose, so I explained that if she went back to what she’d been doing, that would be just the ticket. Within seconds it was as if I wasn’t there. I took 10 frames, three of which worked well and two I’m posting here.

Once I’d done taking pictures I went back over for a chat, to take her name and some details and to give Victoria my email address so she can have a copy if she wants. Then her cigarette was done, her break over and she dashed back off to the wine bar to continue her shift. Click photos to enlarge

I’m not saying these are prize-winning photos, but the big step for me is that unless I’m under pressure of a brief, I find it incredibly difficult to approach strangers and ask them to pose for me. I generally need to know the pictures have more of a purpose than just my own joy of taking a photo, which is silly. As a photographer of almost 30 years’ experience I really should know by now that I have absolutely every right to record what is around me.

And as long as I do this with dignity and technical ability, I really should get over myself and just get on with it.


Hot Off The Back Of My Camera

Between paid assignments I’m working to expand my portfolio with personal shoots, so having spent the entire morning editing and delivering a job for a client from a shoot in Surrey yesterday (more about that in a future post), I grabbed my gear and got down to H&B Tyres in Frome for a mini portrait session.

I’d popped into H&B previously to check that it would be ok/possible to do some photos as and when I was able, and was given the OK by the owner, Mike as well as a green light from a couple of the tyre fitters there.

I wanted to use the opportunity to take portraits of these guys because A) The staff area is a fascinating jumble of car parts and machinery and B) I wanted to take “formal” portraits in a setting I don’t typically find myself in. Most of what I shoot happens in nice, clean offices with predictable lighting against a plain or office backdrop. I wanted a bit more of a challenge to see what would come of it.

From the shoot, which finished just over an hour ago, I’ve pulled one image for this blog post. I think one or two more may well find their way into my portfolio galleries.

In the meantime, meet Donald who, as it happens, is a fan of Don McCullin’s work. I think Don the tyre fitter’s pose might well have been influenced by Don the photographer’s work.

a few of my least favourite things

On Friday of last week, swamped with getting my annual accounts up together and desperate for a moment’s distraction, I decided to post a frivolous update on a professional photographers’ Facebook forum where I listed the words or terms which get used around photography now and which I detest with a psychotic vengeance.

I wasn’t expecting much reaction to the post, but 160+ comments later, the discussion has quietened down now.

These words, which I’ll list for you in just a moment, seem to have sprung up out of the birth of online discussion forums. Camera review sites such as DPreview.com and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr seem to attract a particularly oddball bunch of people whose love of photography seems to be more about the technical talk, jargon and “in” words than about a love of photography itself. Even discussion of a photograph gets reduced to a set of technical measures of one sort or another.

I can tell you that even though I’ve been a photographer for about 25 years, I’d not heard these terms until about 5 years ago, some of them more recently than that. They are, in no particular order:

1) bokeh
2) glass
3) Hassy/Canikon
4) work
5) shooter
6) capture

The reason I’d not heard any of them is that professional photographers don’t generally think about photography in these terms, many of which are just a way for people to feel they can talk intelligently on a subject of which they really know quite little.

However, for your enlightenment and (dubious) entertainment, I’ll explain each term and what I don’t like about it.

Photo focusing on a cluster of paint brushes in a pot with a boy out of focus in the background

Nice bokeh AAAAAARGH!

1) Bokeh – A term which arrived in the States from Japan, bokeh is used to describe the “quality” of the out-of-focus area of a photo. Yes, the out-of-focus area can look better on better lenses, but I’ll never find myself discussing the out-of-focus merits of one lens over another. So I don’t need a word for it. A lens is either good or it isn’t.

2) Glass – Used when someone means a lens. They’ll say “I have some nice glass on my camera” or somesuch utter drivel. The psychology behind this is that the person using the word wants you to think they’re not too concerned about what lens they use, it’s just glass, while the truth is they trawled endless forums reading up on bokeh before they handed over their £1,100 for it.

3) Hassy/Canikon – Hasselblad is a make of camera and people who abbreviate this to “Hassy” have probably never used one professionally. They think they sound clever saying it though, while the use of Canikon is a way of suggesting Canon and Nikon cameras are all the same, generic and not up to the scratch of the user’s preferred make such as Sony. Anyone this bothered about what they’re using doesn’t take photos for a living, but loves to talk about camera makes on photo forums.

4) Work – When talking about the sunset photos and dodgy nudes of their third cousin, amateurs will talk about their photos as “work” as in, “I do mostly landscape work” as if these are photos commissioned by an editor. By all means take photos of whatever you want, you might even be an excellent photographer, but photos you stick on flickr for the positive comments aren’t work because work is paid for. Anything else is practice and ego-massage.

5) Shooter – See also Work, above. “I’m a landscape shooter” is a way of saying I like taking photos of landscapes, but the use of the word “shoot” has connotations of commissioned work as in “photo-shoot”. I’m not even that keen on the word “shoot” with regards my own work and prefer to use the word job or assignment. I do jobs and assignments, Annie Leibovitz does photo shoots and insolvency.

6) Capture – A capture is a photo, but using the word “capture” suggests the taker of the photo had to employ excessive skill to take a photo at precisely the right moment, where light, composition, timing and subject all came together to be captured just so. The photo was “captured” as if but a fleeting butterfly frozen in an image as it tumbled through the winds of time. Give me a break.

What spurred me to bring these words and terms together for discussion was to try to work out in my mind why I don’t like them, and I think the answer is that in all cases they try to suggest a much higher plane of photographic awareness than the user could ever claim to have.

Taken together, and with other terms too numerous and even more dull than the ones I’ve listed, they form a jargon designed to show some level of intelligence at the same time as making a statement of exclusivity, saying “you might not understand these words I use because I’m a better photographer than you.” They also mask the user’s frustration at never having been able to give up their day job to become a photographer, but photography isn’t about bokeh, glass or captures.

Photography is about beautiful communication, not obfuscation and technical jargon.

When you’ve nothing else to do

Occasionally I’m asked to work for a fee the client sets, a fee far below what it costs me to do the work and certainly far less than the benefit the client would get from the images I would make for them.

The client will try to justify this by arguing that the work is flexible and I can do it “when you’ve nothing else on” as if when I’m not shooting pictures I must be sitting around, twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring or desperately wishing I was working for less than it costs me to do the job.

Tim Gander sits before a strobe softbox looking into the lit panel

Spare time to take selfies? No, testing a new lightbox before a big assignment.

In practice, the work isn’t always that flexible either. It might be weather dependent, or rely on the availability of other people, or it might even be on a set date. This kind of “opportunity” also ignores the after-shoot processing and administration which is attendant to doing any assignment at all, regardless of the fee involved.

In any event, if a client requires photography, booking a date when I haven’t anything else on is kind of how my business works. There isn’t a single assignment I do that gets booked into a slot when I’m already working, being that I am not omnipresent or master of quantum physics and thereby able to occupy two dimensions at once.

If I happen to have assignments which will clash I let the client know and offer to take on the administration of the job but pass the work to one of a network of trusted colleagues. That way the client gets to deal with me, the job gets covered by a trusted photographer and everyone is happy.

Conversely to being double-booked, what happens on days when I’m not shooting? Surely that’s a day off isn’t it? No. Anyone who runs a proper, grown-up business will know the astounding amount of administration which is attendant with keeping things running smoothly, or in my case just keeping them running.

I’ve spent much of August doing my end-of-year accounts. When I’m not keeping on top of the books, I’m backing up work, archiving it to my searchable database, updating my website, improving my SEO, making contact with clients to keep in touch, setting up meetings, shooting test images to try out new techniques, writing blog articles… I’m just scratching the surface here, and all this happens around assignments which are booked by clients willing to pay my fees.

Every day of every week I’m putting in the hours. Sometimes I’ll scale back the time I work in order to remain sane; I might even take a day off, but this year I haven’t managed a proper holiday. I haven’t been away anywhere, because so far it’s been my busiest year since I left the Portsmouth News to go freelance 15 years ago. And after the struggles I experienced at the start of the credit crunch (one day I’m going to invent a biscuit with that name) I’m determined to make the most of the resurrection I’ve experienced over the last two years.

That has been and will continue to be a lot of hard work; work I’ll be doing when I’ve nothing else to do.