Category Archives: advice

Photographing Your People at Work – 5 Reasons to Do It & 6 Ways to Make it Easier

Customers and clients love getting a glimpse behind the scenes, and pictures of your people at work is an easy way of providing it. Of course, allowing a photographer into the office could be disruptive if it’s not planned for. The factory floor or research lab presents health and safety and security challenges. Hardly worth it? Well yes it can be….

5 Reasons to Photograph People at Work

  1. Put a human face to a business
  2. Get customer/client engagement
  3. Tell the story
  4. Build the team spirit
  5. Makes the business look accessible and accountable 

6 Ways to Make Easier to Photograph People at Work

Having the photographer around the work place can be fun, but it can also be a stress point, so make preparations and keep the staff onside.

  1. Put together a comprehensive shot list to make sure you get everything
  2. Inform staff involved in the shots
  3. Allow them time to stage specific actions you want to see in the pictures, don’t rely on hit and miss machine-gun camera work
  4. Make allowances in work targets so staff aren’t stressed or resentful
  5. Strike a balance between 3-line whips to make staff co-operate, and a genuine aversion to being photographed 
  6. Pamper the staff by getting a hairdresser in for the day

Take Better Photos

Take Better Photos in Teddington - workshopper practicing what she'd learnedTeddington-based Handmade Workshops have asked me to run photography workshops for them. ‘Take Better Photos’ is a three hour workshop beginning with two hours in a room above a pub eating cake, drinking coffee, discussing leading lines and negative space. Then there’s an hour in Bushy Park putting some of the learning into practise.

It’s so rewarding to spend time with people who are keen to learn photography, and a lot of fun! This page shows the ground we cover in the workshop, so if you already know it, you don’t need to do the workshop! Otherwise click here to find out when the next one is.


The best camera is the one you have with you.Take Better Photos in Teddington - old bellows camera

Always carry a camera, most of us have one in our mobile phone – and they’re quite good. Never hesitate to take a picture because you don’t think the camera’s good enough. You could spend a fortune on a new camera, or find your nearest secondhand camera shop where they can give you informed advice. 

If your camera is in a case, take it out and turn it on

Having to take the camera out of its case is very a small barrier to taking a picture, but if you’re as lazy as me it’ll stop you bothering. 

Keep your mobile handy

If it’s the only camera you have with you, keep it in your hand. Put a shortcut to the camera app on the home screen.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - crowd taking photos with mobile phones

If you think you see a picture, stop and take it.

I’ll use any excuse not to take a picture – if I’m on the way somewhere, then I’ll tell myself I can’t afford the time, or, it’s a terrible shot that’s not worth the time. But take the shot! At the very least it’ll be good practise and help you learn the camera. And sometimes you might surprise yourself by taking an award-winning photograph!

Know your camera – what modes are available?

Find out what all the buttons are for and what all the positions on the dials mean. You might need to look at the instruction book, or at an online tutorial about your camera. Make sure that at least you know how to change the ‘modes’.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - tourists asking a policeman to take their pictureGood times to learn about you camera

On a rainy Sunday afternoon
In front of TV when you partner’s watching that you don’t like
On a long haul flight

Bad times to learn about you camera

At your daughter’s wedding

Keep the lens clean

Clean the lens of your phone every time you use it. Use a proper lens cloth or you might end up making it dirtier or scratching the lens. Mobile phone camera lenses are inevitably coated in handbag or pocket fluff and smeary finger prints.

Take Better Photos in Teddington - taking pictures at Tate ModernNever use digital zoom, move closer to the subject

Mobile phones will probably have digital zoom, but they don’t zoom they just crop the picture down. Cropping reduces the definition which makes the photo appear grainy, blurry, or pixelated.

Consider camera support

There are times when you want to use slower shutter speeds. It might allow you to use a smaller aperture to get more depth of field, or allow motion-blur within the picture. To keep the camera steady during a long exposure use a tripod or monopod. Or balance it on the head of a small child.


Take Better Photos – Light – It Makes the Picture!

Pay attention to lighting

The nature of the light illuminating your subject is one of the key factors in making a picture. If there’s time, look at the scene and try to understand where the lights coming from. If it’s artificial light, work out where the light sources are, and what sort of light is it? How hard, (sharp) are the shadows? Try moving the subject around the space, all the time watching how the light changes on the subject. Or move the camera around the subject, always watching how the light changes. When working outdoors consider the time of day, the direction of the sun and the weather!

Lovely, soft and flattering. Light from a window, without direct sunlight

Use window light

Natural light, but not direct sunlight coming through a window can be a wonderful light source creating beautiful soft lighting. It’s especially good for portraits and can also work well for food and products.

Avoid using flash indoors

Usually flash photographs look horrible. But flash doesn’t always result in harsh shadows and that obvious flash look. When shooting with flash in manual mode, you can match the flash to the ambient light in the scene to make subjects pop. Outdoors, in bright light, using a flash can fill in the dark shadows making a better picture.

Set the camera’s exposure manually

Both shutter speed and aperture are creative choices having great effect on how a picture turns out. If you can, set them yourself. Some mobile apps allow manual control. Letting the camera choose the ISO setting can let you, the photographer make the choice of shutter speed and aperture to create the effect you want. Be careful to make sure that the camera hasn’t ‘run out’ of adjustment leaving the picture under or over exposed.

The boy is the subject, bit I’ve allowed the camera to set the exposure, and it chosen the sky

Use spot metering

Spot metering is taking readings from a specific place in the frame. If you can, set the camera so you choose the point in the frame where your camera takes readings. Otherwise you can end up with silhouettes or burned-out faces.

Consider setting a specific white balance

The camera’s confused by the bright daylight coming through the window making the subjects orangey and under exposed. I should have told it to adjust for artificial light and expose for the graduands

Different light sources can have different colours. Sunshine, overcast, shadow, LED or fluorescent bulbs are all different. Getting good colour is about adjusting the camera so that white things are white in the picture. The camera will do a good job of it for you, but good colour is about more than just achieving good white balance.

Digital cameras will actually let you set a colour profile, which adjusts the tones in an image to your personal taste. Most cameras will have a number of pre-sets too, such as standard and vivid, as well as several customisation options.


Take Better Photos – Motion Blur and Focus

A little blur can make a picture

Camera shake causes blurry pictures and is usually a bad thing. When the subject itself is moving an amount of blur can make a picture more dynamic, more alive. Such as the tennis players serving arm and racket, the water in a fountain, leaves in the wind or stars in the firmament. Or you might follow the subject with the camera and blur the background – a galloping horse, hunting cheetah or racing car.

Use flash to freeze

When you want to freeze motion, try using the flash. It will have to be brighter than the ambient light to effectively freeze the motion.

Stop-action pictures can reveal things we don’t normally see, because they’re moving too fast.


Take Better Photos – Composition – Or How to Make a Picture

Use grid-lines to balance your shot

One of the easiest ways to improve your mobile photos is to turn on the camera’s grid-lines in the viewfinder. That superimposes a series of lines on the screen of your camera that are based on the “rule of thirds”. Then you can ask, ‘What are the points of interest in this shot? Where should I place them?’

Try using the rule of thirds

This is an artistic composition principle used the great masters of painting. It says an image should be broken down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you have nine parts in total.

According to this theory, if you place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines, your photo will be more balanced, level, and allow viewers to interact with it more naturally. Try it, and see what you think. 

Moving the subject off to one side in the frame leaves a lot of the fame ’empty’. This might seem like a waste, but no, it’s ‘negative space’.

Use negative space

“Negative space” refers to the areas around and between the subjects of an image. It can have a big effect on how the picture looks, and it’s useful if you want to put text on the image. It’s often a large expanse of open sky, water, an empty field, or a large wall. Including a lot of empty space in a photo can make the subject stand out more.

Is it the rule of thirds or the negative that makes the picture look better? They can be two sides of the same coin. 

Use leading lines

In some photos, there’s a line that draws the viewer’s eye toward a certain part of the frame. Those are called leading lines. They can be straight or circular/curved such as staircases, building facades, train tracks, roads, or even a path through the woods. Leading lines are great for creating a sense of depth in an image, and can make your photo look purposefully designed

Use focus to emphasise the subject of the picture.

A narrow the depth of field will through the other things out of focus, making your subject stand out.

Play with reflections.

Reflections usually make pictures better, they can offer a sort of semi-symmetry and hint at a repeating pattern. Both symmetry and patterns can enhance pictures. Windows and water can become mirrors, but so can almost any smooth surface if you get the camera up close.

Look for symmetry.

Pictures that contain symmetry can be very pleasing to the eye — it’s also one of the simplest and most compelling ways to compose a photo. Remember there are different forms of symmetry, such as horizontal, vertical and rotational.

St.Martins in the Puddle
St.Martins in the the Fields. London becomes an abstract

Create abstracts.

Abstract compositions can be found all around us. Shapes, patterns, textures and forms bounded by the frame of a photograph might be intriguing, compulsive or even revelatory.

Keep an eye out for repetitive patterns.

Repetitive patterns appear whenever strong, graphic elements are repeated over and over again, like lines, geometric shapes, forms, and colours. Patterns can make a strong visual impact. Once you start looking for patterns, you see them everywhere!

A nail sunk in an old, park bench.

Capture small details.

We don’t usually get to see the form of a small thing, or  the patterns or textures on a surface. But you can photograph them, revealing something hidden by scale. Many camera’s have a ‘macro’ or close-up mode, it’s well worth giving it a try. If you camera doesn’t have a macro setting consider buying a supplementary lens.

Be unconventional.

Don’t risk missing a picture by trying to find an unconventional angle, but once you’ve snapped one or two, get down low, get high up, put something in the frame, or in front of the lens. ry to find something that isn’t obvious.

Consider the whole frame

Just before you press the shutter release button to take the picture, look all around the frame for anything that shouldn’t be there or could be in a better place. Perhaps taking a step one way or another or pausing for a moment might correct the fault.

So you take better photos, what are you go to do with them now? Seven steps to getting more from your photos

Your most convenient subjects are your family, but they don’t always see it that way. How to get your family to love photography

The autumn colour colours make it a great time for photography. Love the autumn – do photography

There’s no need to stop taking pictures in the winter. What to do with a camera in winter

How to take a good portrait photograph

Get better family photos when you’re on holiday

Portraits can be great with a serious expression on the subject’s face. For a happy-snappy, a smile is best!

You don’t need a perfect family for a perfect family portrait.

 


Pics and their Pitfalls – Pictures on Websites Need to be Taken Seriously

Not a stock-shot of a woman on phone wearing headset with microphone I’d just taken some pictures of a client for her new website. She’s starting a health and lifestyle business. She told me she needed other website images too, but had seen some shots on Google Images she quite liked. I was curious about how she’d clear the copyright and surprised at her answer, “I don’t have to if they’re on Google Images. Do I?” I explained that the images belonged to someone who would probably expect some kind of payment, but I’m not sure she was convinced. With so much free stuff online, you can come to expect everything to be free. I use Google mail, calendar, contacts and of course, search. It’s staggering just how much Google gives for free, and perhaps understandable to think that Google images are free too. Well Google image search is free, but the images it finds aren’t. Actually Google isn’t really free, they collect a vast amount of data about my likes, dislikes, interests, whereabouts and goodness knows what else. I’ve always considered it to be a fair exchange, but I’m beginning to feel uneasy about it.

So how do you know whether or not you can safely use an image that pops up in a search result? Well that’s easy, if you don’t have the specific permission of the copyright holder to use it, you can’t use it. So, you might be thinking ‘isn’t the internet an unpoliced jungle? If I do use it, who’ll know?’ Well, even if the photographer is on the other side of the world, it’s easy for them to search online for unlicensed use of their photographs. Using Google Image search of course. Just as a word or a sentence is a string of letters, a digital image is just a long string of 0s and 1s – the digits! This sequence is as near to being unique as the image you see. So it’s easy for a computer to compare your image’s string of 0s and 1s to the strings of every other image on the internet. Google Images has a facility to look for a specific picture by examining its digital footprint, Tineye Reverse Image Search is another free image search ap. So if the copyright owner chooses to look, eventually they will find. Under English law the copyright of an image resides with the photographer unless they sign it over to someone else. This means that if you use an image on a commercial website you owe someone some cash. A thank you would be nice too.

The good news is that are of lots of free website images available, some web hosts offer a library of free ‘stock’ website images. Web designers often hold large collections too. Whether they’ll have one that suits your exact needs is another very good question. For a relatively small fee you can buy royalty-free images from so-called microstock sites. That means you can pay pennies for a website image and owe nothing else. It’s the ‘pile high, sell cheap’ side of the stock photography industry. The fact that the pile is so high means that it is more difficult to find the right image for your purposes. If you’ve got bored with looking for that needle in a haystack, (there’s a stock photograph idea) you might decide to increase your budget and go to one of the big picture agencies like Corbis, iStock or Getty. They have picture researchers to do the donkey-work for you. (oo, another stock photography idea) There are many specialist image libraries too.

Here are two radical solutions –

1) take it yourself

2) commission a photographer

You don’t need an expensive camera for option 1) but you do need a little patience. That’s a whole other blog post. For option 2) you just need to do research. Look at some online portfolios and then be precise about your requirements and the limits of your budget. It’s up to the photographer to decide if the job’s worth taking on.

Obviously I think it’s essential to get good photography for a business website, it’s the best way to connect and engage, to tell your story. By good, I mean the right images that say the right thing about the business, the service and the ethos. Everything you put in front of a potential client should support the values and the message you are trying to convey. If it doesn’t support it, it’s doing damage. In a picture-rich environment like ours we learn to ‘read’ imagery very quickly – an obvious, ‘make-do’ stock shot says ‘can’t be bothered’ or ‘don’t care what you think’.

Remember, every picture tells a story, but make sure it’s the right story!

Rianbow over a Scottish loch

This image can be licences from alamy.com

7 Steps to Getting More from Your Photographs

man and woman with drink problems photography southwest LondonI propose a new figure of speech – ‘It’s like finding a jpeg on a hard-drive’ instead of the outmoded ‘needle in a haystack’.  The idea comes from the difficulty I’ve encountered when looking for a particular image on a computer.  I know it’s in there somewhere but……

Just imagine if you could open a hard-drive like a desk draw. It would be like entering a cavern jam-packed with vaguely labeled piles of boxes filled with imprecisely labeled folders stuffed with ambiguously labeled documents. Maybe you’re in luck – you find the box of photographs – every photograph you’ve taken. The good, the bad the indifferent, the white frames, the black frames, the blurry frames, the pictures of your feet and pictures of the sky. Somewhere in there is that lovely shot of your sister you took the day before the aliens abducted her to the mothership.

In reality the situation is probably worse with pictures in several places. Some left to moulder for years on the camera’s memory card, some on your phone, others on the tablet and a few attached to emails from friends.

Falkirk containers

Digital Jugglers

I’ve just described the chaos that is my ‘library’ of roughly 60,000 images. Most are in folders named according to the job.  Since I deserted the proper path of film and sold my soul to the digital devil that’s been good enough. But there are dozens of folders now, it’s getting to be un-manageable and can be impossible to find a specific image if I don’t remember where I put it.

Delete the Duds

A  former work colleague told me that he saved every image he took because the failed pictures say as much, in their own way as the successful shots. He might have a point as an artist; I’m more of a photo-tart. I’d rather let go of the letdowns to save the card and drive space, not to mention the time transferring data between the two.  I suggest that when you take a break from the grinding hard work that is photography, you flick through your shots and dump the failures. That might just mean technical failures such as out-of-focus, burred or incorrectly exposed. You could also exercise some editorial judgment and get rid of the shots that don’t live up to you expectations as well, but I prefer to leave that till I’ve seen them on a computer screen and then do a big cull.

something unknown in the ancient woodland

Tag, Tag, and Tag again

It doesn’t actually matter where the files are physically stored on the hard-drive if they are well tagged, you’ll always be able to find them quickly using the tagged terms and the file data such as the date and even time. The best time to tag them is when they are transferred from memory card to computer. Generic terms can be added automatically to each picture, like ‘California holiday’ ‘Christmas’ ‘Christening’. There are many image management tools that enable you to do it, I use Adobe Lightroom, which is fantastic or there’s iPhoto or Picasa. These will become the software you use most often not just for managing a collection but for post-production too. Again I have give Adobe Lightroom a plug, it’s effective, easy and economic.

black and white abstract photograph of plastic bottles

Good Habits Save Time, Money and avoid visits to the doctor

Most of my pictures are utter rubbish, but I want to keep them. Just in case. Now if I can get into a better digital habits by fine-tuning my image management workflow, then the occasional good photograph I take is less likely to get lost under all that digital dross!

late for class

  1. Decide on a folder and subfolder structure.
  2. When the clocks change remember to reset the clock on the camera. It’s another useful search parameter.
  3. Use image management software to tag images as you transfer them from memory card to computer.
  4. Back up your library on two other drives, one of which is in another building.
  5. Enjoy flicking through your folders from time to time, and while you’re there add more tags and delete more crap.
  6. Share your pictures more – make greetings cards, have a print on the wall, compile an album etc. Otherwise what’s the point?
  7. Be less lazy.

Trevor Aston works in Richmond, Southwest London and Surrey as a portrait, event and editorial photographer.

What Colour Should I Wear for a Photo Shoot?

It’s not just the colour – there are as many ‘right’ ways to dress for a profile portrait photograph as there are people to be photographed. When I take a booking for a profile portrait shoot, I’m sometimes asked, ‘what shall I wear?’ I tend to hedge around the question with my answer, because I don’t really know. I’m not a ‘snappy dresser’.

Own Your Style

So I sat down with Jacqui O’Connell of Soul Dresser. Jacqui helps people find their personal style, and she was going to help me formulate a more thoughtful answer. “Firstly, people should own their style. They should dress so they feel comfortable for the shoot, or they won’t come over as best they can.” That immediately sounds like the nub of the matter – you’ve got to be comfortable before you can be relaxed, and you’ve got to be relaxed before your can feel confident. Jacqui continues; “People often fall out of love with getting dressed, but choosing what to wear should be fun and exciting, you should be able to look forward to people’s reactions.” You should look forward to people seeing your new profile photograph too. What ever your reason for wanting a new picture, you should also know what reaction you want to provoke from anyone seeing the picture.

Are You Gold or Silver?

So I asked Jacqui for the single most important thing to think about when dressing for a photographic shoot. “Start off by getting your colour right, we all have a seasonal colour that’s right for us. Firstly, are you warm or cool? Does silver or gold work best for you? Gold is warm, silver is cool. Autumn and spring are the warm seasons – deeper colours will work best. Winter and summer are cool – bold colours can work well.” Jacqui could see I was already lost, she suggested finding an online resource to help decide. “Most people know, but don’t put a label on it. It’s often the colours that you’re most drawn to. The thing is, wearing the wrong colours, especially near the face will be a distraction because they don’t really work.” Jacqui thought I was probably autumn because I wear deeper, warmer tones.

Colour and Comfort

‘What should I wear for the photo shoot? Now when people ask this I can offer a really practical piece of advice – know your season. Choosing the right colour can actually make you feel more comfortable in front of the camera. The context of where the picture will used is vitally important too, as is the occupation of the sitter and what their client would expect to see, but we need to use all the tools we have to connect – getting your colour right can be one of them. As Jacqui says; “There’s a style for everyone, find it, own it and you’ll really shine.”

Jacqui O’Connell, Soul Dresser http://souldresser.co.uk/ 

 

Get Your Family Loving Photography

Holding up a camera between you and your family to take a picture is to place a barrier between you and them. You’re pushing them away a little. But photography can be a shared, unifying activity – if you work at it.

‘Doing photography’ is a good thing. It forces you to look, and teaches you to see. Going about the daily round with eyes open allows the opportunity to appreciate the marvel and beauty of the ordinary. The shape of a leaf on the tree by the bus stop, the flowers opening on the hawthorn in the hedgerow, the clouds billowing over the city-centre skyscrapers, the texture of an old brick wall, the life and times engrained in the face of the elderly person resting on a bench, the body language of the courting couple, the radiant wonder in the curious eyes of the baby. Seeing and appreciating some of these small things can be a step towards finding some peace of mind and contentment.

For a family member to love photography they really need to be doing it themselves, as well as tolerating you taking their picture. I was delighted when my son chose to do Photography GCSE and bought him a little Nikon. He never used it. I assume he took pictures with his phone, I don’t know because in two years I didn’t see a single one of his photographs. My daughter developed her own interest in photography after she’d left home, so nothing to do with me, but we’re going to the Andreas Gursky photography exhibition in London’s Heywood Gallery together.

We can help our family find a love of photography, firstly by not turning them against it, and secondly by encouraging them and sharing our own knowledge and interest.


Don’t…

…be boring

Some people grow up associating photography with boredom. That’s because they’ve spent so much time waiting for dad to take a picture of the ‘view’. I saw a child being told off by his mum on the train the other day, he wanted to look out of the window at the other trains at Clapham Junction, she wanted him to smile for the camera. He’s learning to dislike the taking of photographs. On the other hand, sharing your own delight at a nice picture of your child will encourage a positive association. If you can get the picture quickly and without fuss, so much the better. There was a lovely picture to be taken of the boy looking out of the window at the trains, but it was missed. Do photography around what the child wants to do, do not drag them to a National Trust garden and then get cross when all they want to do is go on the swings.

With a young family in tow, there’s little point in having a sophisticated camera. Better to have something very portable that can be kept out and ever-ready to snap a picture. The camera on a phone fits that bill quite well, but it will let you far more often than a simple, dedicated camera on a strap around your neck.


Don’t…

 …get in their Face

Respect your family’s personal space and privacy. Don’t photograph a teenager just after they’ve got up. Even if it is in the middle of the afternoon and really funny. Remember that your kid’s social media is probably very important to them, and more complicated than we can ever image. Trust is easily lost, so don’t share pictures of your children without their knowledge. (As I’m doing for this post) Active consent to sharing is even better. In the tangled web that is modern social networking you can never be sure in whose feed the pictures might pop up. Damaging the trust between parent and child is bad at any age, but especially through the tricky teenage. But if they trust you not to embarrass them, you’ll get more acquiescence and even cooperation. Then you’ll get to take more pictures of them. Perhaps, even just after they’ve got up.


Do…

…keep your powder dry

So you want a day doing photography, and your family is the subject. So you want to keep them sweet. So this is not the day to tackle them on tidiness, homework or cleanliness. This is the day to take them somewhere they want to go to. If that’s not going to facilitate your photography, then try a compromise. They will let you take some pictures of them at a location of your choosing, and you will wait in the car while they go round the shops.


Do…

 …listen

When you’re taking pictures of your family, get them to suggest locations and poses. ‘Try to make it fun’ – is a deadening phrase, I don’t think you can make things ‘fun’. But you can have fun doing things. Smaller kids might enjoy running around looking for something for you to photograph and looking at the screen on the camera as you take the picture, or through the viewfinder. You could even let them hold the camera and take the picture. This is when they might start to develop their own interest in photography.


Do…

…get it gift wrapped

When they’re ready, or perhaps just before, give them a camera of their own for a birthday or Christmas present. Do a little research into what’s available, even secondhand if your have a trusted camera shop locally. Think what they’ll like and what they’ll use – it should look good and be no bigger than their phone. It’s for them not for you. Keep repeating that.

The 10 Best Cameras for Kids are listing in this Digital Camera World article.


Kids are Great Photographers

They’ll surprise you. They have a fresh perspective, their view of the world is unencumbered by experiences. But whatever they take, love it. And remember they’re not interested in how you’d have taken it. Ask them to share their pictures with you so you can share them on your social media. Get some of the pictures printed, stick them on the fridge or frame one for the wall.

A Gift for Life

Photography is a great form of self expression that’s available to everyone. It forces us to look at what’s around us and teaches us to see it. Only then can we really appreciate it.

Using a Mobile Phone to Capture a Testimonial Video

testimonial video TeddingtonYou’ve got happy customers, right? They’d recommend you to friends, right? You’re leveraging this free advertising to build your business? No? Well, surely you’re at least thinking about testimonial video?

It’s worth putting in the effort to get them the testimonials, and to get then right – testimonials can really help your social media profile, and you can put them on your website.  But you’ve got to get the nitty-gritty right, or you might be wasting your time. 

testimonial video TeddingtonCollecting testimonial video is easier said than done, and employing a pro film maker will get much better results than you can do yourself. But, it’ll be much harder to pull off once you and your client have gone your separate ways. They’ll soon begin to forget just how pleased they were with your work, so why not grab a few words on video while they’re hot with enthusiasm? You have a pretty decent video camera with you all the time on your phone, so just do a few things to get yourself prepared, make up your mind to NOT be embarrassed, capture some words of adulation, then pump it up to social media.

9 Things That Will Help Make Your Testimonial Better

Here are four things to think about before you try it, and then another five things to keep in mind when you’re shooting your testimonial video.

Assuming you’re not a Hollywood film director, it’s ok if the vid is a bit rough and ready. But, it can’t be completely rubbish – that’ll reflect badly on you and your business, so put a bit of time aside and do these things…

  1. Make a resolution – to go through the video settings on your phone, make sure you understand how it works
  2. Don’t forget your memory – clear out of your phone’s memory so there’s space to record your video
  3. Rock Steady – how will you keep the phone stable while you shoot?
  4. Can you hear me mother? – how are you going to capture the sound?

Once someone agrees to record a testimonial move quickly before they change their mind. You’ve got to take control, move them to where you want them and even shift the furniture around to make a better shot.  

  1. Landscape, landscape, landscape – let me say it again, landscape! Use the phone on it’s side
  2. Let there be light – find the best light for shooting
  3. You’ve been framed – compose your shot, if it looks nice people will watch for longer
  4. Keep it Focused – check the camera’s focused in the right place
  5. Listen – encourage them by nodding and smiling. Ask open questions to illicit the comments you want, and make a mental note when they say something usable.

This post is part of a short talk on capturing testimonial video using a mobile that I gave to a business networking group, and this is the video we shot at the time using my mobile phone as a demonstration.

Resolution and Settings
Look at the user manual or some YouTube videos and go through the menus on the phone. Make sure you know how to work the video, and set it too record at 720p. It’s good enough for online and takes up less memory space than 1920p or even 4k!

Memory
How much does your phone have? You really don’t want to run out just as you subject’s getting into full flow, so copy everything you want onto your computer or up into the cloud and then delete it from your phone. If your camera can take extra memory, buy some! 1GB will hold 15-20 minutes of video.

Support
Unless you’re shooting a sequel to the Blair Witch Project, you need to keep the camera still. Wobbly video is horrible to watch. A tripod is ideal and there are some nifty mounts you can buy to hold the phone. However, a standard lamp and some elastic bands can work just as well. It’s best to have the phone at the same level as the speaker’s eyes, or slightly higher. You might be able to balance it on some books on a desk, but it can look a bit amateurish, and if it falls down.

Sound
Most of the information  in a testimonial video is in the sound, not the pictures. It’s really important that this is not left to chance, and probably means buying and external microphone. The built-in mics are really just souped-up telephone mics so there’s a limit to how good it can ever be. To get the best sound, the microphone must at its optimal distance, which depends on the type you’re using. The aim is to deliver as much of the desired sound as the microphone needs to operate effectively, and as little background noise as possible. The nearer to the subject the phone is the better the sound will be, but getting too close starts to distort the image seen by the camera. Practice makes perfect, so annoy your family by videoing them lots, then look and listen on a computer so you can judge the quality and learn from it.

Types of Microphone

Mobile phone built-in microphone
Working distance – No more than 1.5 metres
Pros – No cost! Convenient, Will work
Cons – Picks all sounds equally, including handling noise, not high quality
Expect to pay – nothing

Levalier or clip-on
Working distance – Clip to clothing, but mind where the wire goes
Pros – Good quality sound, excludes other noises
Cons – Only suitable for a single person speaking. In shot.
Expect to pay – £14 upwards

Directional or gun
Working distance – 2-4 metres
Pros – Good quality sound, versatile. Can be out of shot.
Cons – Still picks up other sounds.
Expect to pay – £50 upwards

testimonial video TeddingtonPicture Format
Always shoot in Landscape format, not portrait. That means using the camera on its side, otherwise there’ll be wide black lines either side of the video when it’s viewed on a computer, tablet or TV. Some aps like Facebook Live can accommodate portrait format, but only when live.

Composition/zoom
Don’t be tempted to use the zoom, instead move the phone closer to the subject or further away. Most phones only have a digital zoom, which can lower the picture quality.
Rely on your own eye to frame the subject and compose the picture, does it look right? Then it is right. The ‘rule of thirds’ can be useful, rather than having the subject slap bang in the centre, frame the shot with the subject one-third in from either side and balance with something like a pot plant or shadow on a wall.

It’s behind you!
What is? The thing that’s going to distract the viewer from your subject. Look around the image on screen, once someone has agreed to be videoed they’ll put up with being told what to do, so move them to a better position or move the ornaments.

Focus
Take care that the camera hasn’t latched the focus onto a background object. Mobile phone cameras are really made for selfies, so they’re good at spotting a face and focusing on it. But, it’s still worth double-checking by touching the screen on the subjects face, the camera will also adjust exposure and colour to that spot. Beware that phone cameras find it harder to focus in low light.

Lighting
The way the subject in the video is lit is single, biggest influence on the aesthetic quality of image. My favourite light is from a north-facing window, it’s soft and flattering. It doesn’t have to be north facing, but there can’t be any direct sunlight. Put your subject sideways to the window, then look to see how the shadows fall. Does it remind you of a Rembrandt painting?
Here are some suggestions for the light source in video, in my order of preference.

  1. Window, but no sun
  2. Outdoors on an overcast day
  3. Outdoors on a sunny day, but in the shade (if there’s a sunlit area behind the subject they could be silhouetted or at least under-exposed)
  4. Indoors with diffuse ambient light (no strong shadows)
  5. Indoors, under a spotlight or top-light, with a reflector to fill the shadows
  6. As a last resort, outdoors in sunshine, using a reflector to fill the shadows (don’t let the subject wear sunglasses but make sure they don’t squint)

The camera sensor in a mobile phone is tiny, so to work properly they need plenty of light. If it’s too dark the camera will compensate by increasing the ISO or sensitivity. This may make the video noisy or gritty and effect the colours. Or the camera might slow the shutter speed, which could result in blurry image. Most mobiles have fully automatic cameras with little option to take manual control. Try not to have more than one source of light, they may have different colours and the camera will be confused! Don’t expect the cameras to be as good or as versatile as a proper camera, their strength is their portability and convenience – it always with you, so use it!


Another meeting, and another talk about testimonial video. This one was in a noisy hotel bar next to a wedding reception, so really not the right place to record video! Sometimes you can’t change things – there wasn’t time to drag the audience of thirty to another location, so should I have given up? I made the point that if it’s your only opportunity to record a testimonial then why not give it go? I positioned the phone quite close to Margaret so it could hear her, so it’s not a great shot. Judge of yourself whether it was good enough. Thanks to Margaret for being a good sport!

Read Twitter’s advice on what people want to see in videos.

Three Questions to Get a Better LinkedIn Profile Picture

All things being equal, if you’re looking at LinkedIn for a contractor, freelance, employee or partner and you have the choice between someone with a profile showing a picture and someone without a picture, you’ll probably choose the person with a picture. If the choice is between the person with a good picture and the person with a bad picture, all other things being equal, you’ll choose the person with a good picture.

So what’s the difference between a good picture and a bad picture? The answer to that question depends on the individual making the judgment. You can never know what personal influences and prejudices will affect their judgment, but you can assess the professional and social expectations and seek to meet them. A professional profile picture is not a portrait and it’s not an opportunity for self-expression. A professional profile photograph is there to market you as a person, a professional, a provider of specific services. A professional profile photograph is a marketing asset.

Create a Brief for Your Profile Portrait to Meet

You should be very clear in your mind about what your picture is for. Whether the photographer is a professional or a colleague, you both need to remember that you’re not creating something just to fill a hole in a webpage.

Here are three questions to consider. The nearer you can get to answering them, the closer you are to knowing what you want.

i) Who do you want to address through the picture? (Target audience)

ii) What do you want them to take from seeing the picture? (A single-minded message)

iii) What picture will provoke ii), from i)?

Of course you can save time by commissioning a professional photographer, it’s our job to create images that fulfill a specific purpose.

Who’s Your Audience?

With whom do you wish to connect on LinkedIn? Your audience might be potential clients and customers, the senior team in a particular organisation, or recruiters and head-hunters. If you can envisage your target as one person, real or imagined so much the better, it’s easier to think through what picture might work and what might turn them off.

What’s the Take Away?

This is what you want to leave with the person seeing your profile picture. It could be a message like ‘I can solve your problem’ or ‘I am an expert in this field’. Or it could be a feeling like ‘you’d like to meet me’ or ‘I’ll fit in your organisation’. Ultimately, you probably want people to get in touch. The purpose of this post is to help you get a profile picture that reinforces whatever objective you have for your LinkedIn presence.

What Picture Will Help Achieve Your Goal?

This is the nub of it, and the hardest to answer. The visual language available in a profile portrait is quite restricted; smile, stance, dress, location. But, within each of those there many possibilities, and of course the right combination depends on you and your objective. Always concentrate on the output, not the input – so not which tie looks best, but how will my target audience be influenced. Conceiving the right profile picture to take involves imagination – put yourself in the shoes of your target, imagine seeing this (yet to be taken) photograph and think about how you would feel and what you would take out of seeing it. If this all sounds a bit much, spend some time looking at stranger’s profile photographs and ask yourself;

  • What do I think?
  • How do I feel?
  • How has my impression of this person been changed by looking at the picture?

Then think about your answers to the questions – is that how you want people to feel when they look at your profile picture? If not, keep looking until you find one that does! Once you’ve found a picture that you think works in your own terms, you can use it as a template for your own profile photo.

I came to portrait photography from being a creative in the BBC. I interpreted briefs from marketing and developed ideas to deliver a defined message to stimulate a response or action in a defined audience. A good profile portrait picture on your LinkedIn page will help you do the same, it will be a marketing asset. Every picture will tell a story, make sure it tells the right story.

Book a place on our very competitive Fourth Monday combined video and photo profile shoots, or contact me directly to talk about profile photograph.

Love the Autumn – Do Photography!

Summer has holidays, winter has Christmas.

Autumn, sandwiched in between has nothing but colour.

But, oh what colour!

Autumn’s the best. Yes, photography in spring is beautiful when everything bursting into life. Winter is wonderful in it’s sharpness and starkness. And of course long, sultry, summer days are magnificent. But Autumn? Autumn is golden, it’s crunchy under foot and smells of sweet wood smoke and musty damp leaves, it’s the sensual season. We should love the autumn.

Autumn should be walked in, listened to, breathed and touched. Autumn is definitely a time for photography. In fact, producing half a dozen good pictures of rich, autumn colours should be compulsory for anyone with a camera.

The colours are fantastic – the oranges, red, yellows and browns. But often it’s the light makes them really spectacular – because the sun is lower in the sky it’s more likely to stream though trees, punching the colour with it. Unless, in the dark of the night the chilling mist has risen to shroud the landscape in mystery.

Bloated spiders spin colossal webs that the morning dew hangs from in tiny lenses focusing sunbeams into strings of fairy lights. While birds come back to the gardens searching for treats to fatten them up for winter, squirrels scamper through branches and flower beds burying family-packs of conkers and acorns.

The camera might have been invented for autumn – a tool for saving splendours to enjoy later in the grey of winter.

The Lords of London’s Royal parks, the growling grouches, noses in the air, nostrils twitching, sniffing for rivals, strutting stags watching over their herd.

Brother, Sister, Partner – Going into Business with a Sibling

Let’s face it, going to work can be a pain. Open plan offices are too noisy and impersonal, small offices are too claustrophobic, no one ever clears up in the kitchen. The vending machine steels money. Bosses are unreasonable and bullying. The pay is inadequate, the days too long, weekends too short and holidays hardly ever come. Well, now I’m self-employed – I decide when to make a cup of coffee, and if the kitchen’s a mess – it’s because I haven’t tidied up after breakfast. I can drink the coffee in peace and quiet, if I choose, have a little nap afterwards (Please don’t draw this last comment to the attention of my partner, she still has to go out to work) 

brother, sister & partner

HMRC class me as a ‘sole-trader’, but of course photographing and filming are very social, interactive and deeply personal – you have to look in people’s eyes. My trade is capturing a person’s soul! But once back in the office, and making business decisions, I can feel very alone, it’s all down to me! So that’s when I go to business networking. It was at one of these meetings that I met Stephen Taylor. His business is called Taylored Room Solutions, designing and fitting bedrooms, kitchens and offices. It’s a partnership between Stephen and his sister, Julia. So they’re never alone making decisions. Which made me curious; how can a business relationship with a sibling, transcend childhood resentments, from parental favouritism to broken toys?

partner editorial photographer Kingston

Councillor Brenda Fraser is the Mayor of Merton performed the official opening

I sat down with Stephen and Julia in their New Malden office and showroom, upstairs at Big Yellow Storage, only recently officially opened by the Mayor. The good news is that they’re really busy. As I promised not to take up too much of their time they insisted it was not a problem, I could have as long as I liked. Here’s a clue to making any partnership work – be a nice person and find a partner who’s just as nice. First credit then must go to Mum and Dad Taylor. “Oh our parents think we’re mad.” Julia tells me, I imagine most parents would worry if two of their kids gave up good jobs to go into business. “But at the beginning, we needed some money and they stepped up with that.” Then she turns to Stephen – “Oh, I forgot to tell you, mum definitely want us to do her kitchen and no mates rates.” “Oh good, double the price then.”

There seems to be a relaxed ease between them that only siblings could have – a brother or sister can know someone’s sensitivities better than anyone. Know how to avoid them, or apply coercive pressure! I ask Stephen how they’d come to give up their jobs and set up in business together. “She bullied me!” Which Julia denies, explaining that she’d been unhappy in her last job and thinking of setting up on her own. At the same time she was wondering if Stephen would be interested. It took Julia’s husband Mark to start the conversation between the two of them. “We talked and talked.” Stephen says. “And then we talked some more. I don’t think either of our partners saw us for months.” I ask if they’d known whether they’d be able to work together. ”We were averagely close.” A guarded answer from Stephen. “We always got on well, I always had a soft spot for Stephen.” Julia drops to a whisper, perhaps so that neither of the other two siblings will hear. Julia’s the oldest, Stephen the youngest of the four and they both say they wouldn’t do this with either of the other two. As Stephen got into his teenage, Julia had already left home for college, so they missed some of the ‘difficult’ years. Instead, Stephen had someone he could talk to, out of the home, but in the family. “Julia was living in a bedsit, I’d go and stay with her. We’d go to the cinema or ice skating, that’s where our friendship developed.”

partner s in the office editorial photographer Kingston

Their office is not big, Stephen sits with his back to the window, Julia’s has the window to her side and her back to Stephen. “There was a natural fit.” She says. “I did furniture design and worked for Sharps Bedrooms, Dream Doors, Kitchen Magic.” “She did a degree in flat-pack.” Her brother interjects. She visits the clients, does the design work and the costing, while Stephen runs the office, the financial management and marketing. “When we started, we had a list showing the split of responsibilities.” He explains. “The thing is, we have 100% trust, neither of us is going to run off with the bank balance.” Julia reinforces the trust and adds, “We try to have a weekly meeting when we both say what we’re doing, but it’s often cancelled because we’re busy.” “The trouble is, our meetings are never 10 minutes.” Stephen says with a smile. “Because we talk and talk, and then we talk some more and then we digress on to something else. But, as a small business, we ought to be able to react really quickly, but we don’t because we talk it through forever. We need to able to say, ‘ I made this decision because…’ And then, if it’s wrong learn from it.”

One of the disadvantages of being of business with someone you like must be a temptation to just spend time enjoying each others company. But what happens when they fall out? Did the Taylored Room Solutions business plan have a section headed ‘Dispute Resolution’? “No!” They cry in unison, “When it kicks off, keep away!” Stephen warns. “The first few times we fell out out… oh dear. It was difficult. It was always something minor, I understood something one way, and Julia another.” “We go really quiet, so we know something’s up.” “Then there’s a text or an email from whichever one feels they’re slightly less to blame.”
partner Stephen editorial photographer KingstonSo would they recommend a sibling partnership? Stephen answers first. “Make sure your personalities are compatible, and complementary. This wouldn’t work if we were both creative.” How important has the support of partners at home been? “Daimon (Stephen’s partner) is very supportive, he’s not involved in the business but if he sees a decision is emotional rather than rational, he’ll say so.” Julia makes a similar point, “Mark (her husband) is the same, he doesn’t want to be involved, but it’s great to have him there to bat things off.” “They love us, but they have an outside perspective and can tell us if they think we’re doing something stupid.” Starting a business always involves a sacrifice. 
“Working twice the hours than I was before for far less money, and you can think, what’s the point?” Stephen asks. “But there’s value in this.” Julia says.

partner Julia editorial photographer Kingston

As we finish our talk, Julia goes back to advice they would give. “It does change your relationship. We were brother and sister, but also friends. Going into business has changed that.” From what I’ve seen I’d say it’s added to their relationship, brother, sister, friends… and now partners.

Visit Taylored Room Solutions website.


“Every picture tells a story, make sure it’s the right one!”
Trevor Aston Photography and Video is based in Teddington, Richmond upon Thames in southwest London close to Kingston, Twickenham and Surrey.