Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Ready for Christmas?

I am not ready for Christmas. Actually, I am... but I'm not.

Let me explain. Each year, there are two events which I have plenty of warning about, but which invariably catch me by surprise. The first, in September, is my Birthday - you would have thought I'd get used to it by now, what with it having always fallen on the same date every year for as long as I can remember. This year, I remembered about 5 days before; last year I managed 2 weeks.

The second calendar-stopper is Christmas. Same deal here - all year to think about it, to prepare for it, to approach it nice and gently. But no. I've only just realised that it is now just a little over 1 week to go! Have I bought presents yet? Nope. Have I arranged where I will be at what time? Nope. Surely I have got all the decorations out and festivised (actual word?) my cosy little abode? Nope. I'm rubbish.

But guess what, I have a bunch of pre-prepared excuses! What a surprise, eh? Here goes:
  • I am still busy with work and I have to make sure all those loose ends are tied up before the Big Day. Then I can start to relax. And besides, I can fit my various Christmas duties in easily. I hope.
  • I always leave my shopping until the last week before Christmas. What can I say, I thrive on pressure!
  • I will do my decorations - this weekend. Promise. Most probably with Southern Comfort in hand and Christmas Vacation on screen. 'The tree was wonky when I got it' - that'll be my story and I'll be sticking to it!
I could go on... But that'll do for now, I think.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

My big Mac dilemma

It's been a strange week, and something just don't feel right. This could have something to do with the bout of food poinoning I received a few days ago, or the tail-end of a bug picked up somewhere along the way. Possibly, who knows.

What I can be sure of is that, for the first time, I have been having real (yes, genuine 'oooh...!') thoughts about the 'M' word. Quite, quite unusual. I'm not sure I can even bring myself to admit this, but here goes...

Deep breath...

I think I want a Mac.

There, I've said it. Are ya happy now?! For all those of you who have been saying "Just you wait... you'll soon come around...", well, don't go demanding your winnings from the sweepstake just yet; it's just at the 'on the cards' stage at the moment. But believe me when I tell you that this revelation has come as just as much of a shock to me as it has to you!

So what's going on? Why the change of heart? Well, you know, there comes a time when you just get fed up of shouting at your desktop for the umpteenth time because - in spite of doing 101 'optimisation' processes such as defrags, scan disks, antivirus and spyware checks - the only way the damn thing could process your work any slower would be if it was physically switched off at the mains!

Do you sense some bitterness on my part?! Hmm... Lord knows, I don't have so much hair on my head these days, thanks to a cruel trick of genetics - and quite honestly, I can't afford to pull any more out!

Here's what I do know (or, at least, here are 6 things that I'm led to believe by every Mac owner and his dog):

  1. Macs never (or very rarely) go wrong; they're stable and they just work
  2. Because Macs don't go wrong, they work out cheaper in the long run
  3. Macs are the photographer's friend
  4. Macs would make my life so much more pain free, thanks to their batch process facilities
  5. Macs are very simple to use, even more so than PCs
  6. Macs are so intuitive that I would not have to run a PC alongside in the beginning
Coincidentally, I've been talking more and more in depth about my dilema with a friend this week, too. (you know who you are!). She makes a good case for the pro-Mac camp and quite honestly I can't seem to find any sort of argument to put up in defense. My only 'safety net' with PCs is that because I've been using them for years, I'm pretty good at muddling through the typical hiccups that happen from time to time. But, frankly, that doesn't seem to count for much when you've tried everything and still the problem in question doesn't get resolved.

So here's where I'd like your input by following the Comments link below, please. If you're a recent convert from PC to Mac, let me know why you jumped and what your workflow/state-of-mind experience has been like since. If you switched some years ago, tell me why. And if you are one of the many Mac users who feels a bit giddy just at the sight or mention of a PC, please clean yourself up and then explain why I should stop arsing about, stop kidding myself and just get on with it.


Saturday, 13 December 2008

Web Wise

Does anyone still use traditional libraries these days? You know, places where you can go and actually hold actual books in an actual building designed for just such a purpose! Well, I do - albeit on increasingly rare occasions!

I was in my local library today, where I picked up an interesting looking book called "Web Presence - Creating an eBusiness out of chaos". I've not had a chance to sit down properly to explore it in any great depth yet, but it looks like it just might present a few nuggets of useful information.

The general consensus these days, it would appear, is that you'd have to be a fool not to use at least one of the myriad online tools as an integral part of your business promotion/marketing plan. Sure, some types of enterprise might argue that they really don't have a need for it, for whatever reason. And that's fine... although something of a shame and a missed opportunity, I think.

By now, I hope, it is clear where I stand on this. If you still don't know, maybe you should check out the main GBP website, our YouTube channel, or the front page of this Blog in order to see how we are spreading the word further.

The more I look into how I can develop my business activities, the type of work I undertake, and the way I supply my imagery, the further I am drawn down the internet superhighway. On the right here, you will see some of the blogs which I regularly follow; these are of interest to me - and possibly/hopefully they will be to you, too - and what is really exciting is that we just don't know where our associations with them might lead. I have already formed new synergies and re-established past connections this way alone, and from what I can tell, there is a virtually limitless range of possibilities to be explored in the future.

Now, it's long been known that our American counterparts appear to be much more open to the 'cross-site, open-networking' potential of the net. And a great deal of these guys have been sharing information left, right and centre for years. One of my favourite exponents of this, as you may know, is Chase Jarvis, who recently posted a video entitled "Making The Web Work For You". I would recommend you take a look because, in Chase's own words, "
If you're at all thinking of blogging, video, the web, or sharing information, then you will pick up a thing or two, guaranteed. Keep in mind, it's almost entirely unedited. But there are some nuggets in there. Nothing flashy , just a couple of us guys talking about blogging and how we use the web in our profession. There's a Q+A session at the end as well". Incidentally, it also features David Hobby (who you may know as Mr. Strobist) and David Nightingale.

Let me know what you think of that video. And if you have any suggestions/ideas/recommendations of your own, please feel free to put them in the comments section below so that everyone can benefit from them.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Business is a family affair

Another 'behind-the-scenes' video for you today, which was shot on the G9 at a recent assignment where I was asked to produce some simple portraits for a local directory company. As is often the case with small- to medium-sized 'local' businesses, my client on this occasion works out of a home office. Accordingly, this was a good, logical starting point for shooting the pictures.

I often like to work 'on-site' like this; with familiar surroundings, sitters are always relaxed and any props or information that might be required is always on-hand.

There really is not a lot to say about this shoot, actually, as it was very, very simple. One camera (Nikon D200), one lens (80-200mm f/2.8), one light (
800-watt tungsten lamp, bounced off the white ceiling) and, for simplicity, the living room wall assumed the role of neutral background.

Here's the footage, more info below:

You'll notice that there was quite a lot of activity throughout the duration of the shoot. Given the flexibility of my schedule that particular week, and that of the client, this one took place on a Saturday morning - just when there was houseful of kids, friends and relatives! But that's ok, because
(as is also often the case) the business plays a big part in family life - so it was nice to get everyone involved. The more the merrier!

There was very little post-production required on this set of pictures. The colour was balanced to reduce most of warm cast produced by the light (I left some warmth in, to boost skin tones), a standard amount of sharpening, and no cropping as we wanted to leave the images full-frame to allow plenty of flexibility for this when they were arranged, by the client, in the 'Editor's Letter' section in the publication.

Please watch this video!

I had never heard of Randy Pausch until I stumbled upon this video of his last lecture, presented earlier this year to Carnegie Mellon University in the US.

But I am so glad I found it.

Straight up, you should know that it has nothing to do with photography; but I really recommend you take a look when you have a bit of spare time.

And please, tell me what you think.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Spreading the word further

A quick update on our ever-widening net of community building today...

Giles Babbidge Photography has finally hit YouTube! Yes, it has been a while in the pipeline, but I have at last got around to setting us up in front of this extended audience. A few things will be tweaked here and there to begin with whilst we find our feet, but already the GBP videos produced so far have been uploaded.

So, if you are a keen YouTuber, please check out our channel here and feel free, as ever, to subscribe, bookmark, comment and pass on the links to anyone you think would be interested in seeing how we go about things.

The same, of course, goes for the GBP Blog too - I really would like to hear your responses to what I have to say.

And remember, it's now even easier to keep track of these ramblings, either using a free Google account or an RSS feed reader - check out the options on the right.

Thanks for being part of the team.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Inspire me!

Today has thus far been altogether uninspiring. Don't get me wrong - I've been productive enough, taking care of 'work in progress' jobs, organising the supply of prints, following up on interest shown in the Blog... blah, blah, blah... but, well, that's about it.
Sure, you expect to have days like this. And it's nice to have it a bit quieter from time to time, to catch up and to take care of the smaller things that need doing.

I should have known this would happen. The day got off to a bad start, with me spending all morning thinking it was Saturday. With this in mind, there were things I needed to do in town, so I adjusted my plans in order to adhere to Saturday's time constraints. Hmm... I also had it in my mind to head out to the woods to try out a few new lighting techniques I've picked up this week. But just look out of the window - it's cold, dark, wet, windy. Combine this with the state of my confused mind, and things do not bode too well!

Shame really, because during the course of a chat with my good friend Paul last night, I sketched out a number of ideas for shots, which I hope will form the beginnings of a new personal project. This is something that's been on my mind for a while - I've been so caught up in producing work for other people recently (not complaining, though!) that I haven't given a lot of thought to my own work. As photographers, we need to make time to create images off our own backs - otherwise our portfolios simply show the work and ideas of a myriad creative directors, marketeers, designers etc.

So here I am, then. It's Friday, not Saturday. And I'm looking for inspiration.

And do you know what, in the the course of writing this post, I think I've found some! Funny how things work out, isn't it?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

40th party people

In my last post, talking about happy accidents, I alluded to a recent assignment photographing a party. Here's a bit more detail about that...

This one was a private affair - as apposed to a corporate shindig - and was held to celebrate a 40th Birthday. The location was a large activity centre housed in an aircraft hangar, in which 60 guests congregated - complete with fancy dress - to let their hair down... Remember Dennis The Menace? Thunderbirds? Banana Man? Well... they were all there, strutting their stuff! Encouraging attendees to dress as characters from their favourite childhood comic books and television shows was a great idea and, photographically, it offered plenty of potential for some striking images.

As is often the case with these jobs, I was commissioned via one of my event management clients. I've worked with them a lot over the years, and we have such a good working relationship now that they know what they can expect - without the need to direct me in any way. I really like this flexibility because I think it produces better pictures - and that is, after all, what it's all about.

Humor me while I get a bit technical here, but I know some readers love to get a glimpse into the 'behind-the-scenes' stuff... My initial set-up, as is often the case, was to have one camera hooked up to the utra-wideangle Sigma lens, and a second to the trusty telephoto. This is the way I most often kick things off, sometimes substituting the latter for my 'standard' 18-70mm Nikkor zoom - an aging optic now, but still nice and sharp.

One of the great things about the wider lenses is that they allow me to get close in amongst my subjects, for frame-filling shots with a certain intimacy that you just don't get by stepping back from the action. This suits me fine, because I think it's really important to engage directly with people - to make them feel at ease... which results in the best possible pictures.

With all shoots - but especially at events such as weddings and parties - I'm always looking out for the smaller shots, too. The details, the incidentals - such images have the ability to 'fill in the gaps' and ultimately build up the narrative of the story.
On the night in question, I was able to produce plenty of candids, using the ambient light to compliment the costumes' striking colours.

Speaking of lighting... each of my cameras was set up with a Nikon SB-800 speedlight. However, I really don't like to use these on-camera if I can help it - the results are often flat, uninspiring and full of god-awful shadows (see left). Instead, I do one of two things - either hand-hold the flash at a distance anywhere within my arm's reach or, at more controlled assignments such as location portraits, place the flash on a stand. Off-camera lighting is just so much better; it is more flattering for portraits, it helps you avoid unsightly image content (again, see picture) and it shows the form of objects off at their best, at the same time adding atmosphere to a shot.

By way of comparison, have a look at this picture, again depicting one of the musicians. See how much better this looks? In this particular example, there was no front spot-lighting of the band, so I was able to replicate this effect simply by holding the flash high up an angle of about 45 degrees to my left shoulder. Notice how the background drops off into shadow, how the wonderful colour and detailing of his guitar stands out, and how I have made use of what little ambient lighting there was, to add a bit of colour and interest. Altogether a much more pleasing image, I think.

And finally, just to prove that the tables do sometimes turn...

If you are one of the girls in this picture, please speak up - I'm curious to see what your picture looked like! Get in touch and we'll do a swap :)

Monday, 24 November 2008

Happy accidents - are they such a bad thing?

This last weekend saw me undertake one of my favourite kinds of assignments - event photography.

The brief itself was very straight forward and called for general coverage capturing the location, the guests, the atmosphere. My initial set-up is nearly always the same for this type of work - 2 camera bodies, each with flash, and lenses covering ultra-wideangle to telephoto. I will be writing about this shoot at a later date, but for now I want to take a more artsy-philosophical route...

There comes a point within any shoot of a certain duration, involving battery-powered equipment, when your batteries are going to fail. Of course I always keep plenty of spares in my case, but the fact remains that it does happen. And not always at the most opportune time. Nine times out of ten, I will have noticed a drop in technical performance or, specifically with lighting equipment, longer recycling times between flashes, and so I can preempt the situation to avoid missing a picture. Sometimes, however, this shortfall in the technology creaps up on you out of the darkness of the music-driven night...

The pictures in this post come as the result of this apparent 'failure'. They are accidents, they were not supposed to exist, and they most certainly do not fit in with 99% of all the images created that night. In theory (ahh, theories...), they are not technically proficient - insofar as the flash failed to fire, meaning they are darker and show more movement than intended. Of course I could easily have produced these results deliberately, but such images were not on my 'to do' list. For a start, anyone who was present at the party most likely would not have recognised the place!

But you know what? I like them. I like them for their atmosphere, for their richness of colour, for their ambiguity even. I like them for what they are. Plain and simple. And what's more, I make no apologies for this - or for admitting to having taken them. This sort of thing happens all the time in our industry - it's just that the majority of photographers keep these 'happy accidents' to themselves. I seem to recall there was one particular news picture, a few years back, which won a major competition (could it have been the World Press Photo Awards?). It was 'taken' when the fleeing photographer tripped and accidentally fired his camera which was hanging at waist height.

But does that make it any less of a picture, any less worthy of the prize? After all, the guy was there, in the thick of the action, covering the events as they played out in front of him. The resulting image may not have been what he would think to produce (either technically or aesthetically), but it was competent nonetheless.

There is, of course, an age-old deabte - centred around the question "What makes a good photograph?" Is it technique? Timing? Or could the simple act of being in the right place at the right time have something to do with it? You see, that's the great thing about photography - and about the creative arts in general. There is plenty of room not just for experimentation, personal interpretation, and technical variation - but for happy accidents, too. I say we embrace the latter and just remind ourselves what the purpose of a photograph ultimately is.

Please let me know your thoughts - by following the 'comments' link below.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Business Brain: Part 2

Last month, I posted the introduction to an assignment I was asked to undertake recently. The premise was to illustrate 'the business brain', with an emphasis on telephonic communication. If you missed the intro (Part 1), you can check it out here. As for Part 2... keep reading to find out how our initial thoughts developed into the resulting image.

OK, so having finalised the envisaged look of the picture, the next thing to do was make sure all the props were in place. As I said in Part 1, the 'brain' itself came courtesy of Ebay, but the question was - would it look right? How to decide.... hmm....? Obviously, we met up in a neutral place - in the car park of a local hotel on this occasion - to find out. Picture the scene then, as two cars roll up (under the watchful gaze of the hotel's surveillance cameras, no doubt)... Man 1 gets out of his car, greets Man 2 and partner, before producing brain out of a nondescript carrier bag and plonking it (technical term) on the rear of Man 2's car. Oh, how we would love to see the fuzzy grey camera footage from those few minutes - fame at last, eh John?!

Back at base, the only 'physical' things left to sort were the background and the spiral cabling which would be fixed directly onto the brain. The picture on the left here shows some early contenders - but none of them were quite right, and it was agreed that only a true 'spiral' cable (such as that found on telephones) would do. Sounds kinda obvious, but you have to try these things. As it happens, we actually decided to use the lead from an electric guitar, as this was nice and chunky (another technical term!) - an important factor to make sure it stood out in the picture.

With props sorted, then, it was time to think about the background. In order to create an infinity curve (a background with no 'horizon'), we went with a simple piece of A1 (24"x30" approx.) blue card which would offer a nice range of tones - from 'highlight' to shadow - dictated by the lighting. I already had this card to hand, and it turned out to be the perfect shade for our purposes. (I always keep a stock of backgrounds for small table-top arrangements such as these).

Now we're getting to the 'fun' bit - how to go about attaching the cable to the brain. In this picture, you can see the brain, cable, background card, wire cutters and... hair clips! Ironically, I have no other use for such items as hair clips (as colleagues testify all too regularly!), but these little pieces of metal did a great job of holding the cable in position. The process involved cutting off the rounded tips and pushing the clips into the foam-filled brain.

Here's a little 3-minute time-lapse video (shot on the G9, naturally) showing the somewhat labourious task:

Well done if you watched that all the way through - it really was that exciting in real life, too! But it's the result that counts so... you know...

Having put everything together, here is what the finished object looked like. Again, the G9 was used to take this quick snap to send off for approval (the picture also acted as a reference during the main shoot itself). Of course, the hair clips are clearly visible here; we got around this, ultimately, by using contrasty lighting and good old Photoshop to remove them at the post-production stage.

You'll also notice that the plugs are not shown in the picture. Nothing as drastic as cutting them off - they were simply cropped out of frame.

As for the lighting, we kept this really simple too. Ridiculously so, in fact - just one Nikon SB-800 mounted directly above the set-up on a Super Clamp, firing through a 2ft Bowens soft box (for a more diffused effect) and angled forward slightly. This gave a pleasing shadow underneath the brain, as well as a nicely graded fall-off effect on the background. Oh, and the flash was triggered wirelessly using a couple of Pocket Wizards. And yes, in answer to all you Strobist techies out there, I could just as easily have used the SU-4 function for this purpose.

Here's another time-lapse (somewhat more visually interesting, I hope!), showing how it all looked. Again, note the really simple arrangement - why complicate things?!

And the final result? Well, you've just seen the image itself (supplied in both colour and black & white), at the end of the video. As for the brochure - with text and bordering put in place, and a couple of final tweaks at the design studio, the final cover looked like this. Again, very simple, allowing the image and text to convey the message.

There is often a great misconception that 'studio' shots require grand set-ups, excessive lighting and high production costs. While this may be the case with larger projects, it does not have to be the case a lot of the time. Sure, on this outing the shoot location may not be the most glamorous - but so what? It is, after all, the resulting images that count. You'd be amazed how many 'high profile' assignments for large companies and corporates are actually shot in less-than-thrilling surroundings - but again, who's to know? And working on-site with our clients, using improvised studios, is a great way to get to know the way their businesses work, too.

If you have any thoughts or questions relating to this post, the shoot, technicalities or the way we work in various 'studio' arrangements, please feel free to air them in the comments section by clicking on the link below. Remember, it's all about sharing information and spreading the word - so it'd be great to get some discussion going!

Oh, and for more behind-the-scenes GBP videos, check out us out on YouTube.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Thinking outside the box... literally

One of my favourite types of location to photograph in is a factory or warehouse. There's just something about the lighting that really lends itself to potentially atmospheric images; I love the softness of their overhead illumination, and by working simply with the available light we can get a real sense of the subject matter in its simplicity. One of my assignments this week was in just such a place.

On arriving at the warehouse, however, the conditions appeared less than favourable - a very dimly lit building with no windows, and what light there was fell to the ground in patches. First up, then, we had to stop and re-think how best to illustrate the primary elements we were trying to get across given these conditions - specifically, the overall space, capacity, professional methodology and organisation of the client. Thankfully, there was a saving grace in the form of the key subject matter itself - bright yellow storage boxes - so we ditched the idea of using our SB-800 flashes in favour of the ambient light. Exposures, therefore, were in the region of 1-4 seconds - and for this we brought out the tripod and grip equipment.

This picture, shot on the G9, gives a good indication of the working conditions. Dark corners at the ends of the shelving, ranging through to highlight areas nearer the roof. This particular 'scene' was actually one of the brighter areas. Incidentally, all ground-level static shots were taken with a tripod-mounted Nikon D200 at ISO 100. Lens choice varied between the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM ultrawide and the Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 AFS IF-ED DX Nikkor.

Ground-level stuff is all very well but, you know, sometimes you just need something extra... And that's where the crane came in, taking me up to a height of aroun 26 metres - near enough to the very top of the building. Still working with the available light, I switched from the tripod to a Super Clamp/Magic Arm combo, which was attached to the basket of the crane. Given that there was no cross-wind(!) and that I was able to stand perfectly still, this arrangement was perfectly adequate for getting sharpe, blur-free pictures. It even did a great job at supporting the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AFS telephoto, which was used for isolating staff from their surroundings.

With any shoot like this, what we are trying to produce is a varied set of images which informs would-be customers
not just about the product, but about the process, too. Multiple tools such as clamps, lenses and lighting enable us to do this. Accordingly, we shot a number of supporting photographs showing specific details of the filing system as well as portraits of other members of staff carrying out their specific roles within the operation.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The glamour of 20-hour work days

Sometimes, my week just runs away from from me, taking each 24 hours – and, by default, my plans – with it. I've alluded to this before, and it is something which, with hands held aloft in surrender, is simply the way my work pattern can go over the course of seven days. Anyway, I had just such a week recently...

The Monday in question was spent editing wedding pictures shot at the end of the previous week, along with taking care of emails and phone messages left over the weekend. Then in the evening, it was off to a long-standing local corporate client to photograph their board members' meeting.

The following morning, having had 3 hours' sleep, I attended one of my regular early-morning networking meetings, before heading to the office to crack on with editing those informal portraits from the night before. For all you budding photographers out there, here's a top tip: Never underestimate the powers of a good cup of hot tea to get you though a bout of sleep deprivation!

It was at this point that I received the phone call that would dictate the remainder of the week. Of course, I already had plans, but thankfully on this occasion there was nothing that couldn't be switched to another day or taken care of during the evenings. And the call?... A very last-minute request to carry out assignments in Glasgow on the Wednesday, Northern Ireland on the Thursday and Wales the following Monday! Duly, I obliged. Which in itself caused an initial 'challenge'.

The Glasgow shoot required me to be at the airport for a 7am check-in. Given my weary state, I just couldn't face a 2-3 hour drive in the early hours, so the sensible option was to take the train. Problem was, in order to be at the airport on time, the only possible train I could take set off at 11:30pm on the Tuesday night – meaning a 3-change, 7-hour journey and... yes, you've guessed it, no sleep.

So, with thoughts of... er... 'forget that' in my mind, I arranged to travel up to London that night and stay at a hotel, so as to make an early start on Wednesday morning. This would also mean another early start (4am)... but at least is was a shorter onward journey consisting of taxi ride and connecting train.

Without naming and shaming, I have to say that hotel was possibly the worst one it has ever been my misfortune to stay in. Which didn't help matters. Waking up several times during the night and sneaking out through an empty reception because – I conclude – the duty staff had forgotten to set his alarm, I really wasn't set up all that well for the day ahead. But the flight to Glasgow passed without drama, too.

The Glasgow shoot itself went well, photographing the interior of a retail store. Rather than simply recording the overall department views, we also picked out unusual angles and details, making use of a range of lenses including two of my favourites – the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM ultrawide and the slightly aged Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AFS telephoto. The brief was typically tight, but with a pleasing degree of flexibility to enable my creativity to show through (remember, we photographers are not paid simply to 'press the button' – it's also that lateral thinking around ideas and the ability to visualise the end results and, ultimately, the output).

Speaking of which - the subsequent images from that day will initially be used in-house and at a conference in the coming weeks. As another shoot for the same client was scheduled in for Friday, a selection of those images were emailed to the Creative Director's office the following morning, to make sure we were all on track for the second shoot on Friday...

... which was an altogether more reasonable affair. The train to Cardiff meant that I could get a decent amount of sleep the night before and the shoot was set for 11am-3pm, and I was back in the office by around 7pm, to back up all the images, follow up phone message and prepare for the following day.

The Northern Ireland shoot was postponed for a few weeks; time, to allow completion of the next shop's refit ahead of the photography.

Last but not least, that Saturday saw me photographing another wedding - thankfully very local and, all said and done, I was finished by around 2:30pm, which enabled me to edit the pictures before uploading them to the GBP website that evening. As such, the couple in question will find an email waiting for them just as soon as they can get to a computer – meaning that, potentially they can view their pictures whilst still on honeymoon. You know, sometimes I just love this modern technology!

So there you have it – a typical week in the glamorous world of professional photography. I wonder what the next 7 days holds in store for me...?!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Business Brain: Part 1

It's amazing what you can buy on Ebay, isn't it? From antiques to clothes, music to animal feed, there really is very little you can't find online. Me, I've just taken delivery of a new brain. Not before time, some might say! But wait, don't start jumping up and down excitedly just yet. Let me explain.

I received a request last week to produce an image for use on the cover of a promotional brochure; the underpinning message was along the lines of 'the business brain'. So, with thinking cap firmly in place, we set about putting some ideas down on paper and searching for reference material – again, the internet is a great tool for this!

The first obstacle to overcome was the 'brain' itself... Initial thoughts (see image at left) led us towards creating a basic framework on which the object would be constructed Рchicken wire and papier mach̩ is always good for this; however, given our time constraints, we turned to Plan B - good ol' Ebay!

You can see what we came up with in the picture above.

Ironically, we anticipte that the actual 'brain' will not feature a great deal in the final picture; it will be there simply to act as shaping tool, and will be predominantly hidden by a length of spiral cabling. The main emphasis of the image is on communication and specifically business communication.

This job will be completed in the next couple of days - a simple studio shot, lit simply, containing our basic model components and a plain background. Keeping true to our theory of 'why complicate matters?', the picture's success will lie in the fact that all elements work well together in a no-fuss, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) approach.

More to come - including a video of the whole process from start to finish!

EDIT: Part 2 can now be found here

Oh, and for more behind-the-scenes GBP videos, check out us out on YouTube.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Joe McNally - The Hotshoe Diaries

Another heads-up about an interesting-looking book for you today. This time it is an offering from the great US photographer Joe McNally, who I have written about before (most recently here).

Looking at Joe's Blog today, I came across his 26th August post which detailed his forthcoming book
Hot Shoe Diaries: Creative Applications of Small Flashes, due out in December. In his own words, HSD will be "an irreverent brain dump of my whole history using small flash, back from when I first got my hands on flash powder to the SB-900. There will be sections on buttons and dials, batteries, flash attachments, light shaping tools from gaffer tape to umbrellas, and sketches".

So if you are into your lighting, then you might want to keep an eye out for this one. And remember, this is Joe we're talking about -
if his previous book is anything to go by, this one is almost certainly going to be a great read. Needless to say I've faithfully put in my preorder already!

Again, there will be a fututre post contining my thoughts about this latest offering just as soon as I get my hands on it.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

'Annie Leibovitz At Work'. We'll see...

Annie Leibovitz is a world-renowned photographer. Sure, her work and her approach are not to everyone's tastes - but isn't that the case with every artist?

Me, I fall somewhere in the middle ground of opinion. I can appreciate her work and her
technical ability, but not necessarily the manner in which she goes about things. That said, I must admit that I have not taken the time to really explore her photography or outlook in any great depth, so it's a case of 'watch this space' and I look forward to being enlightened.

I do, however, love to read, see and hear about the way other photographers practice their art. Which is why I have put in my order for Leibovitz's forthcoming book - "At Work" - which I understand is a behind-the-scenes look at a number of her more well-known shoots.

It won't be hitting my door mat for a good month or two yet, but I'll be sure to put down a few thoughts and a recommendation for it (hopefully) just as soon as I get the chance.

Do you have any photography/art/culture recommendations? Not just books - but websites, exhibitions, blogs... anything which you've found to be a source of inspiration. Please let me know by following the 'Comments' link below.

Share and share alike - it's the way forward!

In my ramblings posted a few days ago, I briefly touched on the issue of working partnerships between photographers, with the promise that I would expand on my thoughts in due course...

Our industry is changing. For the better, I think. But it is changing nonetheless. Obviously we are now well and truly into the 'digital revolution', which is great (if something of a double-edged sword at times). Images can be shot cleanly and precisely, and delivered with a speed which simply wasn't possible in the past, and we can tailor a shoot minute-by-minute using instant on-camera or on-computer review. However, one of the flip-sides to these advancements is the fact that many people (formerly potential clients) are choosing to take care of photography themselves, in-house, because 'Dave in accounts is a keen photographer and is quite good with a camera”. Not such good news, then, for those of us who are trying to earn our livings from supplying good quality, professional imagery (or 'visual solutions' as I like to call it).

But more of a concern than this is the apparent paranoia and hysteria that has grown out of photographers' reactions to these changing times. Historically, we have always been a funny bunch; somewhat insular, we choose to keep ourselves to ourselves, and that includes our technical know-how and individual working practices. God forbid anyone should actually find out how we perform these visual feats!

Now, though, it's even worse – with the loss of potential clients (and therefore previously-guaranteed revenue) many photographers see their colleagues as a real threat. I experience this situation time after time. You try asking a guy at an event what his approach is and watch his initial (involuntary) expression; it screams 'reluctance' and 'I'm unwilling to share'! Why? After all, there are only so many ways to photograph a subject and, chances are, I've already thought of the same technique because experience tells me that's perhaps the best way to portray the subject.

I read something on a blog a few months ago addressing the fear that 'professional photography is dying'. Or dead, depending on how dramatic you want to be. Frankly, this is b******t (sorry - technical term!). It's complete nonsense. The world of photography – both professional and enthusiast – has never been in a more healthy or exciting state. Sure, we photographers face new challenges now, fresh obstacles that require a bit of lateral thinking in order to overcome them, but then... what?

I think the real issue here lies with the photographers themselves. Specifically, those who are reluctant to move with the times and realise that the world of professional photography is much more open now; it's a different animal, and one based on a willingness to share among your own kind. Simply put, the old way is the old way and things are evolving whether we like it or not. So guys, it's up to you to think openly and embrace the future.

Personally, I love this 'new wave' that the industry is following. Hey, I wouldn't be publishing a blog if I didn't! My company, and the way we operate, is all about educating our clients – not just about making great pictures for them. I will talk openly to anyone about the way we work, our equipment, the way we light our subjects... anything you like.

And you know what? People like openness. They don't like secrecy.

I had a meeting with another photographer some time last year, arranged through a marketing company contact we both share. The idea was that we would get together at his studio and, over a cuppa, have a chat about our working practices so as to see if there was any synergy there. If he needed a back-up I could step in on his behalf and vice versa - that sort of thing. Well, the first alarm bell rang when we sat down and the guy said - and I quote - "So, what are we talking about, then?"

Clearly he had no real interest in talking to 'the competition' because, as we all know, I was only there to see if I could muscle in on his patch. Oh please.

Just the thought of that day irritates me even now. What a wasted opportunity!

At the end of the day, it comes down to trust and professionalism; I have a number of photographers in my contact list who I know I can turn to if I can't make a job or if I need assistance. I know they won't try to pull a fast one - just as I wouldn't try to steal their clients behind their backs. Want an example? Check out this post which detailed a collaborative shoot undertaken with a fellow enlightened photographer.

As you can probably tell, I'm rather passionate about this whole 'open minded' approach to the way we work, and I'd be very keen to hear your thoughts on the matter, regardless of your profession. So please do take a moment to post me your thoughts by clicking on the 'Comments' link below; you can do this either anonymously or with identity, I don't mind. You never know, we might get a bit of a discussion going.

Oh, and if you've found this little rant of interest, please feel free to link to it - remember, it's all about spreading the word!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Last-minute call-out

In an ideal world, everything would run like clockwork. Trains would not be delayed, clients would be completely organised ahead of their shoot, and our workflow would be seamless – to the point where the weeks pan out exactly as we would like them to. But, of course, this is not an ideal world, and this is very rarely the case.

Take today for example. Having shot a wedding on Saturday and taken the unusual step of having a completely work-free Sunday, I was looking forward to starting this week off with a day in the office, editing through those most recent pictures. That was a great plan up until about 9am this morning, when I received a call from another photographer, asking if I could cover an assignment due to his sudden ill health.

Luckily, my editing duties were not so heavy that I was forced to decline – and besides, I have no issue with helping out my colleagues; in fact it is something of a compliment to be asked to step up and represent. So here I sit on my return train journey, having spent half the day at an architecture practice shooting candid portraits alongside a design team for the client's soon-to-be-launched new website. Because this shoot was relatively quick and straight forward, I will still be able to get some editing done before it gets too late. So, it's win-win all round.

Just to go off on something of a tangent for a moment... The issue of photographer-photographer working relationships is actually quite interesting, and is a topic I will write about shortly. I will not labour the point here, but suffice it to say for the time being that I see nothing wrong with collaborations – in fact, I believe it should be actively encouraged, for many reasons. [Edit: This follow-on post can now be found here]

Back to the shoot - For those who are interested in the techical details and workflow... Today's images were all lit using one 800-watt tungsten lamp bounced off ceilings/walls. Lens/camera combination was Nikon 80-200mm f.2.8 AFS attached to a Nikon D200, and all images were shot as JPEGs then downloaded directly to our designer's Mac. Simple, quick, effective – and as I head back to the office, the client will already be discussing and visualising their portraits in the new web layout.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Photo Junkie

OK, I admit it - I'm a junkie when it comes to photography. But I make no apologies for that.

I love the art, I love talking about it (no surprises there then!), and I love listening to what others have to say, too. Which is why I want to share the following video with you (I've watched it countless times already, so it's only fair you get a go!).

I have great respect for Joe McNally - an internationally acclaimed American photographer, whose command of technique is, very often, quite simply breathtaking. A man after my own heart, he's all about sharing when it comes to photography. His latest book - The Moment It Clicks - is a constant source of both pleasure and education, as is his blog.

In this video (brace yourself, it's over an hour long - but well worth it), Joe talks about the book and his experiences as a working photographer.


Monday, 28 July 2008

Inspirational Update

Today, a very quick follow-up to this post, in which I was talking about inspiration and motivation.

Strangely enough, it was on a train journey travelling up country to a shoot recently that I came across an article in the free onboard magazine. The feature which caught my eye was Aileen Scoular's interview with Peter Gabriel. In it, Gabriel considers the way in which train travel can generate inspiration - He says, "I have an unsubstantiated theory that artists and creative people take train journeys because that's where they get their best ideas."

He puts this down to 'peripheral vision stimulation'.

Personally, I like taking the train because
  • It means I don't have the concentration involved in driving (I therefore arrive at a shoot as fresh as possible),
  • Such journeys allow me to catch up on editorial and blog projects without distraction,
  • The train is always like a new and neutral location for me, which I find helps generate those creative thoughts.

But, of course, everyone is individual - we all have our own methods. It's just a case of finding what works best for you.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Pictures Are There To Be Looked At

I have just returned from a string of meetings this morning, in which I was talking to clients about how best to display the photographs we produce for them. I say 'talking to' - it was actually more a case of educating them. And here's why.

People love photographs. Fact. Whether it's snaps of friends at the local pub or a corporate team-building day, we love to share stories and memories of the events which occur in our lives. Trouble is, a lot of people don't know how best to enjoy these pictures, and simply throw them in a drawer or onto a bookshelf in the corner of a room, never to see the light of day for years to come. And the worst offenders? [Shudders to think] Direct transfer from camera to hard drive - and we all know what can happen there. Shame on you!

So what options do you have? Prints - sure. Canvas artwork - yup. T-shirts - if you really want. But then... that's it, isn't it? NO! There are so many different ways to present your pictures, many of which people don't know about. Apart from the above, you could consider traditional albums, super-modern picture books, despoke frames, acrylics, aluminium and block-mounted displays, promo transfer sets, multi-item themed gift packs... you get the idea.

But just a second. A word of caution, by way of an old adage - just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Not every display method is suitable for every kind of picture. Likewise, not every location is suitable for certain presentation options (e.g. canvas prints can look terrible in spaces which are too small for them). It's all about considering the options and deciding which will work best for you and your pictures.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, I should say that such considerations do not apply simply to 'private sector' clients (weddings, portraits, that sort of thing) - they are also relevant to business and corporate customers, too. Why? Because photography can and should be used to your advantage.

For example, say you have company premises with a 'typical' reception area. When new or returning clients come in, what are they greeted by (apart from your super-friendly receptionist, naturally)? Blank walls and a few scrappy print-outs plonked on a coffee table next to the water cooler? That's the sight that often greets me when arriving to do a shoot.

Wouldn't it be so much better to create a strong visual impact right from the outset, the moment visitors walk through the door? Maybe some stylish photo-art or team/product shots on the walls to build your profile. Or a smart-looking picture book album documenting your factory facilities or your pro-active operations in the field. Both of these would not only create a good first impression, but a positive lasting one, too.

So... please, please, please, don't just file your pictures away where nobody can see them. Be bold, be proud, and most of all enjoy them - because they are there to be looked at!

Monday, 21 July 2008

101 Photoshop Tips In 5 Minutes

As many of you will know, Photoshop is pretty well the standard piece of image processing software for us these days. Yes, there are other applications which we sometimes employ as bolt-on tools - but PS still remains the pro's favourite.

The trouble is, to the untrained eye (actually, to the experienced user at times, too!), it can be a hugely complex and bewildering programme. Just where do you start? Which tools should you use, and which should you ignore? There is a myriad books and instructional DVDs around, but they often fall short of the mark.

Now, I'm no expert - far from it. Thankfully, though, there are guys out there who are more than willing to share their years of experience and knowledge with anyone looking for some answers.

One such person is the acclaimed PS guru Deke McClelland - who has recently released another light-hearted video entitled "101 Photoshop Tips In 5 Minutes". And as you can imagine, it's packed full of useful information.

So, all you Photoshop users - what are you waiting for? Get yourself a pen and paper and prepare to learn and relearn those magic shortcuts that will speed up your workflow:

Still want more? We also like these two other reference points - Photoshop User TV and You Suck At Photoshop. Enjoy!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

A weekend of speed

Well, it's been a hectic few weeks, travelling hundreds of miles and shooting thousands of images (hence the recent lack of activity on the GBP Blog). Just as soon as I get a chance, I'll be writing about a number of my recent assignments - so watch this space. But for now...

Ah, technology; how we love it. Thanks to digital capture and instant internet connection on location, I am able to publish this post direct from the Press Office at the Goodwood Festival Of Speed. This is an event that I cover every year, and it just gets bigger, busier and better - attracting car enthusiasts from around the world, who decend on the Goodwood estate to witness some of the world's fastest and finest vehicles on two and four wheels.

My primary job this weekend has been to shoot images for immediate use on Goodwood's website - specifically the Events News 'Live' pages - so that people can keep up-to-date with all the action as it happens. Working in conjunction with a motorsport journalist, I have covered the whole event - from action on the track to concept car displays, kids' activities to celebrities. The resulting pictures will also remain on the site after the event has finally finished, as well as being placed online for access by certain areas of the media.

Long days, challenges and frustrations along the way, certainly - but ultimately great fun. And I love the fact that the imagery I shoot is in the camera one minute then live for the world to see the next.

Looking ahead... Bring on September for the Goodwood Revival!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

How to hijack a photograph

If you are the sort who likes a good prank, or who simply appreciates a good bit of technical thinking for the sake of art, you're going to like this. I got wind of this guy's activities thanks to Strobist (original post here), and I see Chase has also made mention of him too (ah the joys of blogging - watch those stats shoot through the roof, Sir!).

The artist goes by the name of Julius von Bismark; he is Berlin-based and his 'invention' is called "The Fulgerator". What does this contraption do? Well, in a nutshell, it is basically an adapted SLR camera and flash gun device which senses when another camera's flash goes off and then projects an image. Doesn't sound like much hype, huh?

Here's the best bit. It is an unwitting passer-by (often a tourist) who sets the sequence in motion simply by the act of taking their own picture; within a fraction of a second, The Fulgerator lets off a flash, projecting its image onto the scene that the 'subject' is focusing on.

Confusion and amazement then follow (though not necessarily in that order) when they review the image only to find something unexpected.

All is revealed in the video below. Enjoy!

If you like what you see, make sure you also check out Bismark's website for more info.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Top Ten Paul

A quick mention today for my good friend Paul over at Paul Mitchell Art for making it through to the Top Ten Businesses (Southern-region) in the Barclays Trading Places Awards.
Regular readers will recognise his name from this recent GBP Blog post in which he supplied the soundtrack for the video.

I've known Paul for a good few years now, often bouncing ideas off him and sharing my own successes and disappointments. With our creative paths running parallel at times, it's been great to have the support. By default, I've also followed him through his good times as well as the tougher ones.

So it was with pleasure that I took him up on the offer
to attend the Awards Luncheon yesterday. It was a real milestone for Paul, as well as for the other finalists, and recognition well deserved. By all accounts it was a great day out, made all the better by glorious sunshine.

If you can, I would encourage you to take a few minutes to follow the link above, through to Paul's website and check out his award-winning craft.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Goodbye Tradition?

I had a very interesting conversation with a design colleague recently, about the current state of the creative industries as a whole. Don't get me wrong, we weren't sat there cursing and lamenting about 'the good old days' or the fact that our industries have progressed to such a level that - thanks in no small part to the raft of technological developments – things are often inclined to be more complicated now than they need be.

No, we were talking about tradition – or, rather, the traditional ways in which we have gone about our business, both now and in the past. This all came about during a meeting in which I showed him my 'traditional' portfolio (translation – 'printed') and vice versa. It was in many ways a breath of fresh air to see 'actual' pages in an 'actual' portfolio, given that we all seem to default to our websites for showing off our work these days.

I have thought about this for some time now, and spoken to many colleagues across varying industries. And it would appear that there is a shared consensus out there...

Like many others, I have a genuine concern that within the next generation or two, the kids coming out of colleges and universities will have no regard for – or at the very least very little knowledge of – the background to this wonderful art we all photography.

You see, I believe it is so important to have a knowledge of what came before the latest 'technology revolution' because without this we are simply all about the ones and zeros. Learning to understand how light works, f-stops, shutter speeds, how to time your pictures, how to stand back and observe, to get the most out of your subjects - are such things even taught anymore?

I still get great pleasure from diving into a coffee-table book of works by such masters as Weegee, Cartier-Bresson, and McCullin. Whether it be the simple act of looking at other people's work 'for what it is' or as research for inspiration in our own projects – I really do think that taking the time to do this is greatly undervalued. And the concern is that graduates simply do not appreciate this. Or, perhaps, they think that looking at contemporary photographers is enough. This begs the simple but blunt question: just who inspired these contemporaries? Answer: the great photographers from years gone by. As with many walks of life, without inspiration we fulfill merely a small proportion of our potential.

Time and again, I have clients say to me “Well, of course, it's just so easy and convenient these days, what with digital cameras”. True, technology is an important factor in modern professional photography (actually, it can sometimes be a double-edged sword), but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. Far from it.

Cameras and their associated equipment can only take you so far; there is much truth in the old adage that 'it is not the camera but the photographer that makes a picture'. And so, if this is the case, I have to wonder: where does that leave those photographers who have little or no knowledge of photography's glorious past?