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…

 

Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

There is, apparently, a nasty virus going around. It’s separating loved ones, frightening people of all ages, preventing and changing “normal” life, making people ill, ruining businesses, stalling education and careers, and even killing thousands.

Given that perspective, the cancellation of a few photography courses and workshops is pretty small beer really. Inevitably, under these extraordinary circumstances, I’ve postponed all of my training events until it’s safe and sensible to reschedule. Everyone affected has been contacted and have been wonderfully understanding (this is no surprise – my training clients are lovely folks). Whatever happens, and however long it takes, these bookings will be honoured.

I, like many other photographers, and many other freelance/self-employed people (including the models I work with), have a very uncertain future because of Covid-19. I noticed a fairly sudden drop-off in my usual PR and commercial work 4-6 weeks ago but hoped we’d escape the worst of it and could begin to recoup the lost earnings. It’s now apparent this is unlikely to happen any time soon and with studio and house rent to pay, I’m unsure how my business will weather this enforced period of inactivity. I went into self-isolation almost a week ago because I was showing symptoms of what I believe to be (but can’t be certain was) a cold and cough. I have no work whatseoever in the diary until September which is when the school photography contracts should begin – but of course, there’s a chance these may not materialise. Freelance photographers sadly cannot work from home.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. I am in generally good health, have food in my cupboards and freezer, have a little garden I can sit in for fresh air when needed – and most importantly, my family are safe, well and taking the necessary precautions to avoid infection. If my business doesn’t survive this, I’m sure I’ll adapt and eventually find alternative work.

My real sympathy is with those already infected or lost to this virus and their families.

And my eternal gratitude to the wonderful NHS and other keyworkers keeping this country battling through despite the best efforts of the moronic hordes of panic-buying, stockpiling, advice-ignoring, virus-spreading dimwits who see no reason to make any adjustment whatsoever to their own selfish routines in order to save the lives of innocent people. To those people, I wish a swift and painful death.

In an attempt to end on a lighter, photographic note (this is a photography page after all), I leave you with this image of lovely Laura (actually two shots, taken, edited, composited on an iphone) proving that there really is light at the end of the tunnel…

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.

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.

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.

Introducing: Shannon

One of the joys of this job is that occasionally I am able to “discover” potential new models. I met Shannon in December 2018 when we were working together at Birmingham’s NEC and it was apparent to me that Shannon had the looks, attitude and personality to be an excellent model if that that was something that interested her. We worked together again at the end of 2019 and, after other colleagues had also told her she should give modelling a try, Shannon and I discussed her coming in for a shoot at my (Strangetown) studio in the new year.

Although the eventual shoot lasted only around an hour, I was extremely pleased with the results – Shannon is a dream to work with. She has expressed an interest in doing more modelling and until she sets up profiles on the usual UK modelling sites, I would be happy for photographers to contact me and I’ll put you in touch.

Shannon is based in Wolverhampton but also has links to Kent.

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…

Dream Team Fitness @Henrietta Street Gym

I always enjoy working with Nic and Tracy of Dream Team Fitness. On this occasion, I was photographing a group of their fitness clients as they trained at the wonderfully photogenic Henrietta Street Gym in Birmingham.

Apart from a few posed portraits at the end (for which I used off-camera speedlights), most of the images were shot using the gym’s ambient light which was a mixture of cool fluorescent and window-light.

A few days later, Nic and Tracy were married. Congratulations, guys!

Cops And Cars

Since my last post I’ve moved house (I’m now living in beautiful Bridgnorth, Shropshire again) but still very much based at my Strangetown Studio in Birmingham. So it’s been a very busy couple of months in many ways but I’m delighted by the way 2019 has gone so far.

It does mean, however, that I’ve badly neglected this website so it’s about time I got on with sharing some recent work with you. Much of my work can’t be published (at least not yet) due it’s sensitive commercial nature but here is a development that many (including myself) wouldn’t have imagined just a few months ago…

I organised a workshop. My first for over a year, and this time it was really for my own amusement and creative stimulation. I began by inviting only former FOTO-CLUB members but then opened this up to a couple of other great supporters of my previous workshops.

The concept for this shoot was inspired by spotting that my friend Nick had bought a beautiful 1966 Dodge Charger. Nick had previously supplied an original 60s Vespa GS scooter for a shoot quite a few years ago and so I had the idea of creating a shoot based around his new car and that kind of car’s role in certain American 60s movies such as “Bullitt” (starring Steve McQueen). Nick kindly agreed to take part and mentioned that his friend Simon might also be interested in bringing along his 1967 Pontiac Catalina Coupe.

Next came the models and I was keen to echo the Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset roles to some extent. For the female role I approached the stunning Lottie Locke who I knew, as a skilled make-up artist, would be able to reproduce an authentic late 1960s look.  As she’d just started a new job, there was some doubt if she’d be available but I waited for her to try to get time off and was prepared to postpone the shoot if necessary because I was convinced she was the perfect model for the role. Once I knew Lottie was available and happened to have a fantastic wardrobe of suitable clothes, I approached boxer Ryan “Tank” Aston to play the role of the male cop. Ryan is a very good and cool-looking model with a genuine “tough guy” look. I bought a black polo-neck jumper from the Custard Factory vintage clothing market for him but discovered on the day that he had one of his own that was perfect.

The location was the backstreets of Digbeth in Birmingham and I chose an early start time on a Sunday morning to minimise traffic and intrusive pedestrians. Finally, Nick and Simon arrived looking like they’d just stepped out of one of the films that had inspired the shoot – and so were persuaded to play support roles in the shoot and were fantastic.

So this has been a very small selection of images from the shoot. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the morning and we all came away with shots we were happy with.

Many thanks to Lottie, Ryan, Nick and Simon (and to Keith for supplying the prop “weaponry”).

The team: Simon, Lottie, Ryan and Nick.