When A Flattened Curve Becomes A Downward Spiral

Like many other self-employed peeps, the enforced lockdown has had a humungous and devastating effect on my photography business. For one reason or another, I was one of the many who “fell between the cracks” of the various governmental aid packages for the self-employed and small businesses and so with nothing coming in and still home/studio rent to pay, it’s been a pretty stressful time.

I tell you this not because I am about to announce a link to my JustBegging page or would like you to send me toilet roll and tins of baked beans at your earliest opportunity, but because there have been some actual positives to the time spent here alone. Here are a few…

  • Professional Development: I have spent time reading a wide range of material and watching hours of tutorials (some good, many very bad) to consolidate – or learn for the first time – methods and techniques to improve the  standard and range of my photographic understanding.
  • Equipment: I have begun using my Holga (120) and Olympus Trip (35mm) to record some of my activities during lockdown on film, cameras that I haven’t taken out of my bag for a year or two. I’ve also had time to investigate potential new equipment purchases for when the work situation improves.
  •  Time Apart: Not HAVING to use my camera on a regular basis has meant that I’m now itching to get back to using it as soon as possible. The same could be said about my studio – I’m regularly buzzing with ideas about new shoots I’d like to realise.
  • Worth: Seeing more and more work by my contemporaries, going through old images, remembering difficult shoots/clients has (without wishing to beat around a bush while blowing my own trumpet) made me realise that I am good at what I do and that my experience and skills should come at an appropriate price. I have sometimes accepted difficult jobs and put up with rude, unrealistic, unappreciative, and goalpost-shifting clients, sometimes for lower rates than I should accept and then had to expend a lot of time and effort to chase even those payments. A year or so ago I started saying “no” to clients who had taken advantage of my good nature (yes, it is generally good) consistently, whether through brief-stretching, late/non-payment, unreliability, dropping me for a cheaper photographer only to return when they didn’t get what they needed etc, and it’s been very cathartic. Lockdown has made me even more determined to continue this ethos – if it feels like it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth, it usually is.
  • Appreciation: This a lonely old trade sometimes, even moreso since I stopped teaching, but over the years I have made some true friends through photography. Whether other pro photographers, models, clients, former students, club members or studio residents, I am very fortunate to know some wonderful people. It’s worth mentioning here that several of my current studio residents offered to continue paying rent (or at least some of it) to help me continue to pay my landlord during lockdown. I declined but the offer meant a lot to me.
  • Futureproofing: The only thing that is certain as we start to emerge from these dark days of lockdown is that nothing is certain. I personally doubt the industry will ever be quite the same – it has changed so much in recent years and I suspect the post-virus recession will prompt some recently redundant enthusiasts to join the ranks of us shutter-monkeys-for-hire (I know people who are doing this) as we scramble for fewer scraps of work for lower reward. But this is a constantly evolving business and twas ever thus. As some areas of photography become obsolete, others spring up. Photographers have always been adaptable or they weren’t photographers for very long. Some aspects of my business will continue to provide revenue, I’m sure, while others will need to be replaced. As someone who accepted his first professional commission 35 years ago, I am not particularly concerned with having to adapt. However, I increasingy recognise the necessity to consider an additional form of income as many of my colleagues have done.

As lockdown restrictions are gradually relaxed, Strangetown Studio is now able to be used again and I’m happy to say my first couple of shoot enquiries have trickled in. Here’s to a rapid and continued return to normality, whatever that is.

Anyway, enough of that serious stuff, here’s a nice photo of the ever-wonderful Cally…

 

Ivory Flame: Gypsy Caravan (Part 2)

I’m actually embarrassed at how long it’s taken me to finish and publish these images of Ivory Flame‘s gypsy caravan-themed shoot (we’re talking YEARS). In my defence, I’d already worked my way through editing the 700 or so images from this very inspiring and productive shoot when my laptop conked out and all of my Lightroom work-in-progress was lost.

And then, predictably, I got absorbed in other, current work and never got around to starting again with this shoot. It’s taken a global pandemic, social isolation and the disappearance of all work engagements to give me the opportunity to dip back into these images and start again on the editing. Silver linings, eh?

In a way, I’m rather glad to be attacking these images now because I’ve been developing a collection of painterly Lightroom presets that I think work beautifully with Ivory Flame’s wonderfully ephemeral and Pre-Raphaelite style.

As if Ivory Flame, an amazing authentic gypsy caravan, and a ruined cottage wasn’t enough to inspire heaps of photographs, Gillian’s horses came over to get in on the action…

And here’s a final selection from the hundreds of shots (that I’d be more than happy to share if there were time).

I’ll no doubt be raiding my dusty hard drives for more previously unpublished stuff during the zombie apocalypse. But for now, huge thanks again to the stunning Holly (Ivory Flame), Gillian (for the caravan and wonderful hospitality) and my little group of togs who made the whole thing feasible.

This Other England: Model Ellie At Strangetown Studio

Modelling for this week’s “Getting Started In The Studio: Flash“workshop was the lovely Kidderminster-based model Ellie England. It so happens that Ellie’s dad is one of my oldest and best friends so I’ve know Ellie since she was a baby – way before she was one of the country’s brightest new athletics hopefuls, much less an up-and-coming model. Sadly, a period of ill health meant that Ellie is no longer competing in athletics but thankfully, she is back to modelling.

Before Monday’s workshop began, we were able to get a few minutes to grab some studio shots, some of which Ellie needed for an agency application. Ellie is such a wonderfully bubbly personality with a very professional outlook. She is on Instagram and some of the modelling sites (click here for her Purpleport profile).

These were very hurried shots but I hope to bring Ellie back into the studio soon.

Holly In The Summertime

I can’t believe I’ve just got around to editing the images from this shoot with the wonderful Holly Alexander at Strangetown Studio from August 2019!  But editing images from late summer, with some lovely afternoon sunshine, is exactly what’s needed on a day when my home town is facing yet more floods.

This was a really enjoyable grouo shoot in which we were able to utilise not only the studio (and its lighting) but also the corridors and lifts within the studio building and the streets nearby.

And here’s our merry little group on the day (excluding me, as I’m taking the photograph)…

 

Fun And Games At The Gym (Part 2)

A few more (of the very many) shots taken at the recent Henrietta Street Gym Games. You might want to put the kettle on and have a nice sit down after you’ve looked at these. As someone once said, “I love hard work – I could sit and watch it for hours”.

Expressions are what made these images for me. The 24 participants absolutely went for it and it definitely shows in their faces but they also definitely thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

If you’re wondering about the technical stuff, I can tell you that it wasn’t easy. The light levels aren’t high and vary greatly in different parts of the gym so my ISO on the Nikon DSLR never dipped below 2000. Also, the lighting is mainly fluorescent so when shooting at shutter speeds of around 1/500, the pulsing nature of the lighting meant that images taken a split-second apart had quite different exposures.

Henrietta Street Gym in Birmingham has been called “Britain’s coolest gym” and for good reason. If you’d like to know more about HSG, click here.

James: Headshots

I enjoy shooting “headshots”, especially when the subject is a performer or someone who understands the importance of image presentation. And it’s also more fun if it’s someone I’ve known for many years and have worked with before.

James is an actor and musician that I first photographed around 14 years ago when I was putting together my final project for my Photography degree. We originally met via a mutual interest in a band. James is definitely less affected by those years than I am.

I know I’ve said it before but the best thing about my studio (Strangetown Studio) is that apart from my cosy and well-equipped studio space, there’s the rest of this huge 1930s industrial building to use as backdrops for my portraiture and quite a few of the corridors and stairwells have rather nice natural light.

Fun And Games At The Gym (Part 1)

Some days, I’ve very happy to be on this side of the camera, and rarely moreso than the day (a couple of weeks ago) that I was asked to photograph the very first “Henrietta Street Gym Games” where 6 teams of 4 gym members competed in a series of gruelling challenges.

The challenges required a mixture of individual and team effort, testing the strength, speed and stamina of the participants. All 24 participants gave the Games their all and it was a joy to photograph (mine was definitely the easy bit). Consequently, I took a LOT of shots, so this is a very small sample of the first part of the day – I’ll post more soon.

Henrietta Street Gym in Birmingham has been called “Britain’s coolest gym” and for good reason. If you’d like to know more about HSG, click here.

Britpop United: Second Shoot

Here’s my second shoot with the excellent “Britpop United” in and around my very own Strangetown Studio. Their first shoot included a fifth member who later left the band and so new images were needed to reflect the new line-up. I have to say there seemed to be a better “vibe” about  the band this time around, with lots of banter and wind-ups.

I do enjoy band/musician shoots although it’s hard to avoid the cliches so it helps when the band already have a few ideas of their own and are aware of how their images are going to be used.  It also helps when the band come fully prepared with instruments and have discussed outfits in advance. Being a lovely bunch of guys is a bonus too.

I’m fortunate to have seen Britpop United (with this line-up) performing at a local scooter rally not long after they became a four-piece and thoroughly enjoyed their set.

You might be interested to have a look at Britpop United’s website, where you’ll find more photos plus videos and gig information.

Back To School?

If you’ve known me for a while, or have been reading this here page for a year or two, you’ll probably know that until the beginning of 2018, a sizeable chunk of my business over the years was in teaching photography at a variety of locations including MAC (Midlands Arts Centre), Stratford College, my own studio (obviously) – and Birmingham Botanical Gardens (for around 14 years).

I stopped the teaching side of things, and even the successful photography club I ran, to concentrate on the practical side of photography at a time when it seemed everyone (including people who had little more experience than one of my own courses) were teaching courses of their own.

When I finished teaching at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, my courses were taken over by my friend and former student, David Tunney who has clearly been doing a great job for them. Sadly, David became ill in 2019 and I was asked to return to the BBG to cover his Autumn Term classes until he was well enough to return. I agreed to do this and quickly remembered how much I enjoyed delivering these courses. As David wasn’t quite well enough to return for the Spring Term, I agreed to stay on to cover those classes too.

And so I am now not only looking forward to what should be my “definitely final” term at the BBG, but I’ve also decided to continue to run a few one-off workshops at my studio (Strangetown Studio). Until now these have been available mainly to my former FOTO-CLUB members via our closed Facebook group but I will be posting some additional events on the Strangetown website and Facebook page by this weekend.

If you’d like to be added to my brand new mailing list, please get in touch! (Events so far have often sold out within a couple of days).

A recent group shoot at Strangetown Studio with the wonderful Rose Beaman.

New Blood: Old Concept

(l-r) Gia, Farrah & Porsha

I recently revived a workshop theme that I haven’t done for well over two years. In fact the problems with finding reliable models for the “New Blood” showcase events (essentially three very different models whose only similarity is that they haven’t worked on my events before) was one of the reasons I stopped doing workshops at all.

Porsha at Strangetown Studio

It’s “reassuring” to discover that nothing has changed and new models are still, on the whole, a fairly unreliable bunch. Of the three models originally booked for this event, only Porsha actually honoured her booking. The other two had to be replaced when they dropped out at quite short notice (one within the 36 hours before the shoot). Suddenly, I remembered why I stopped doing these particular workshops.

Luckily, two wonderful and very professionally-minded models, Gia and Farrah stepped in to save the day. In the end, this was a very successful workshop.  Here are just a few of the images I managed to capture in between running from group to group…