Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Always carry a camera?

They say that you should always carry a camera with you, just in case a great picture presents itself out of the blue. For this reason, the G9 is my constant companion.

A couple of weekends ago, Manda and I decided to take some time out and go for cycle ride. And, wanting to get away from things, it we chose to head just a little way up the road and hit one of the nearest woodland-surrounded off-road trails. Because the main objective was simply to get out and about, we travelled light - just a pump and tyre repair kit, some water and a mobile phone (my BlackBerry ) - 'just in case'. It was this last item (complete with built-in camera) which proved to be the defining factor in our afternoon's events.

After about 15 minutes of incident-free cycling, we rounded a bend in the trail - only to be greeted by a 'crackling' sound and plumes of smoke coming from a number of hedgerows. After questioning whether these might be controlled burnings, I decided to make a call to the local fire brigade just in case. Turns out these were purely of a boredom-driven, needless nature and there were also other fires on the go further along the way. Aren't people charming?!

What amazed me was that it too 3 fire engines, 1 fire Land Rover and 10 fire fighters to extinguish the flames! Still, I'm no expert in these matters, so I'm sure it was all quite justified. At least the fires got put out - which is the main thing after all!

I had initially been quite happy just to stand by and watch whilst waiting for the firemen, but the photojournalist in me took over, and I ended up capturing a good few frames on the Blackberry.

Nothing special, and with no post production, these pictures merely serve as a record of the events of that afternoon. Upon my return, I made a quick call to the local newspaper and emailed the photographs (all of which appear here) across for publication, simply as 'local interest' news images.

The moral of the story, so they say...? Always carry a camera - in whichever shape or form - because you never know what opportunities lie ahead, just waiting to be pictured.

Funny... but oh so true

I was reminded of this short video in the past week, having seen it some time ago. Yes, it does make you smile, but for anyone running a business
in these 'interesting' economic times, the sentiments will surely stike a chord!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

You know the 6 Ps make sense

According to one variation of the old 'Six P' adage, "Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance". One job, a few days ago, was a case in point - and stands as a lesson in both the positive and negative outcomes of heeding this advice... or not.

OK, so I had an assignment up in London, for which I was given about 4 days' notice. Nothing unusual there - people often leave it far later than that, and I am more than happy to fit them in if I have the availability. With a number of calls/emails/texts exchanged, everything was confirmed and I knew I had to be on site for a 9am start. Which meant skipping a networking meeting but still being up at a considerably-less-than-favourable hour.

Lesson 1: If an event/meeting/job has taken considerable effort to come to fruition, don't waste everybody's hard work by messing up on the travel arrangements. I always allow plenty of time for my journeys and on this occasion it was just as well; due to tube strikes (and therefore more people choosing to drive into work) on that day, what should have been a 1.5-hour drive actually took an additional 45 minutes. I arrived at 8:45, so no panic and no worries.

Once in the building, I had a short wait for my contact to arrive, before being led back outside to do some exterior shots. After that, it was back inside to set up and do a few general shots at the first location whilst we waited for our (non-professional) models to turn up. Give them their due, they all arrived dead on time, at 10am. However...

Lesson 2: Please, please,
please - if you are wanting your staff/colleagues/students/associates/friends/neighbours to stand in as subjects for your pictures... ASK THEM BEFORE THE SHOOT! Long story cut short, there were around 8 people expected to assume the role, and not one of them would agree to being photographed. In fact, so I gather (it was decided that the client would 'negotiate'), some of them were demanding payment for their 'modelling services' and were even less willing when the reply was a resounding 'no'!

Having wasted valuable time waiting for a decision, we eventually got around this considerable oversight by having a number of staff change out of their uniforms and into their everyday clothes. Not ideal, but this was the only option short of coming back to finish off the shoot another day.

Of course, the general public observing the resulting pictures will be none-the-wiser. But that's not the point. The fact remains that the whole shoot was jeopardised by the actions of one or two people, very nearly wasting both my time and theirs. Whilst I appreciate these things can and do happen, in these tough economic times, I would encourage everybody to ensure they have everything in place ahead of the agreed day/time; not just with regard to photography shoots, but in the general day-to-day running of their operations.

Failing to do so just might cost you considerably more than your time.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

What's your go-to?

This post is a non-technical 'one-year-on' review of sorts, and is essentially a follow-up to
this post.

Our colleagues over in America have a phrase they use to describe any technique or item of kit which is the mainstay of their work; something which is used time and time again - dependable, reliable, guaranteed to get the results they require. The phrase? 'Go-to'.

For all the high-tech 'bells-and-whistles' kit we use on a regular basis here at GBP, I would have to say that my go-to item has come to be the trusty Canon Powershot G9 point-and-shoot camera.

Having used it regularly for just over a year now, I can honestly say it truly is an indispensable tool on a great many assignments. Whether to capture behind-the-scenes snaps and reference shots at a recce, or to film events in real time, this little machine has come up trumps more times than I can remember. Quiet, subtle, unobtrusive - it is small enough to slip easily into a jacket pocket, yet powerful enough to deliver. Clearly a rugged shell of a body, it has done remarkably well in all conditions from rain-soaked moorland to sun-baked car forecourts; even when it suffered a 4-foot drop onto the pavement recently, all that was required was a simple lens realignment - surely testament to its build quality.

The 12.1 megapixels offered is more than enough for our requirements (you already know my thoughts about the issue of resolution). The resulting images have frequently matched the quality produced by the Nikon SLR cameras - to the point where the G9 always accompanies me as a back-up camera, just in case all the SLRs should pack up mid-shoot. With so much manual override available, including two user-defined Custom settings, this camera has proven itself to be just as versatile as the big boys.

When it comes to video, the 640x480 'standard' video quality setting is more than adequate for use here on the GBP Blog; and the time-lapse function (user-defined between capturing one frame every one or two seconds) produces highly effective results. Time-lapse is a great way to capture the events of a shoot from set-up to completion and thanks to silent operation, clients are more comfortable with the G9 in the corner of the room than a regular video camera; they even comment that they'd forgotten it was even there.

My only real gripe concerns ISO/noise levels - specifically, that when you set the G9 to ISO 400 or above, the 'grain' within images is often clearly visible, whereas it is not at the lower sensitivities. This, of course, is not such an issue most of the time, as I very rarely go above 200. And what's more, for web use (for example behind-the-scenes stuff), one can often get away with a slightly lower quality image if the output is, say 400x300 pixels.

Of course, as is so often the case with manufacturers these days, Canon has superceded this model with the Powershot G10 which, as you can imagine has 'a better this, a faster that' and so on. Before you ask - no, I'm not going to rush out and buy one; it's predecessor is still more than capable of doing everything I could ask from it, and I therefore have no need to change it.

Would I recommend this camera? Definitely. And with it now being 'the old model', you just might find yourself a bargain online.

Thoughts, comments, questions gladly welcomed as ever.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Radio appearance - Picture your business

On Monday, I posted this notice ahead of an appearance on Louise Barnes-Johnston's radio show. Well, we had a great chat for half an hour or so and, as promised, I'm now posting the link for those who didn't get the chance to listen in.

For quick reference, here is a run-down of the main topics we covered:

  • The early days of GBP, how it all began.
  • Starting out - the importance of seeking advice.
  • How to gain new clients with little or no marketing budget.
  • Networking - the valuable key to building connections.
  • The diversity of work undertaken for our wide range of clients.
  • Advice to business owners who are nervous about the current economic climate.
  • Top 3 tips for businesses considering using a professional photographer to spruce up their business image.

As ever, please feel free to drop me a few lines of feedback - questions, what you thought etc - either via email or in the comments section below this post. Enjoy!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Waiting for inspiration to strike

They say that inspiration is lurking around every corner. But is it? Are such moments of clarity really there for the taking, or do you have to make them appear through the process of your own thoughts and actions?

Whichever way you cut it, inspiration comes in many forms. Whether it hides in the pages of a book or magazine (my current read of the moment is Wired Magazine), or comes from the company you share... Perhaps the places you visit or the journeys you make around the internet super highway - everyone has their own way of coming up with fresh ideas.

For us photographers, we need to be on the constant lookout if we are to stay on our toes and produce interesting images. It is one thing to be set a brief to follow, but when you are commissioned to create a set of images, it is your ability to visualise concepts and bring them to fruition that will keep the client happy - not simply your ability to 'press the button'.

What about personal projects? In previous posts, I have written about the importance of photographers producing work for themselves, as well as producing commissioned work. I have been getting a few ideas of my own together recently - nothing concrete, just a few thoughts and images to test the waters - and the latest developments came about thanks to the postponement of an assignment over the recent Bank Holiday.

Seizing the opportunity to get out of the house, Manda and I headed off for the local ancient woodland - with no real thoughts towards image making in mind. It was a beautiful day and we were just glad to be out in the fresh air. But... Me being me, with my head always buzzing, I began to think about how I could use the location to my photographic advantage; every corner we turned presented the possibility of a would-be backdrop.

Thoughts immediately sprang to mind of Drew Gardner's fantastic work, which I have been following via his blog in recent months, and I soon found myself stopping to take 'location snaps' to place in my sketch book for future reference.

What I have in mind is by no means the same as Drew's concepts. I am drwaing on my own interests and influences, my own love of the outdoors and how I wish to place my subjects there.

I have not set myself a deadline for this personal work - it it not at that stage yet. For now, I'm happy simply to keep on walking, to keep on thinking, to be open to outside influences and the oportunities of what is yet to come.

Another radio appearance

A quick tip-off for something which is coming up later today...

Following my appearance on the Vobes Show at the end of April, I have been asked to contribute to another online radio show - this time hosted by Louise Barnes-Johnston at Frontline Results. A brief overview of the show can be found here.

As well as discussing 'where it all began' for GBP and the sort of work we undertake, Louise and I will also be addressing issues which concern small business owners in these tough economic times, including what potential oportunities are out there just waiting to be exploited.

I hope you can find the time to listen in - 5:30pm (BST) - and of course, I welcome any feedback in the comments section which follows this post. For those of you who can't be with us online at the time, I'll be posting up the audio shortly after the show.

UPDATE: The audio for this interview can now be accessed on this post.