Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wednesday June 15

It's been a long while since my last web log which shows how busy I've been, though not every job is paying out.  As a Trustee of Heage Windmill, I was asked to photograph Prince Edward's visit to the mill; this only two weeks after Dame Ellen MacArthur opened the mill's tenth anniversary season.  
His Royal Highness was charming and engaging and minded not a jot that I was flashing my camera at him constantly as he was guided round the mill, chatting most enthusiastically with the volunteer millers.  I loved his suit - very suave and expensive.  All in all, it was quite moving to have a leading member of the Royal Family coming to our little Derbyshire windmill.
I didn't mind at all that I gave up a morning's work - after all, the mill is entirely run by volunteers so one can hardly quibble over fees - but in other areas the lack of respect for professional photographers trying to make a living is quite disappointing.  A woman from Alfreton Business club emailed me, telling me that their new website would benefit from some professional photos of the town, namely the ones I had taken for a feature on Alfreton in Derbyshire Life.  However, there was no budget for this; they wanted the photos for free.  I declined to let her have any and felt like saying in my reply: "how would you feel if I approached your business and asked to use your services but told you I couldn't afford to pay you?"  Worse still, I have just looked at the Business Club website and they have gone and used one of my photos anyway.  A bit naughty, that, though I am not going to spit feathers about it.  In fact, I have emailed the Business Club and told them that in return for using my photos, they could advertise my services on their website.  For free, of course... the Business club declined my offer, saying that they are going to take their own photos.  Bad move: the two photos they have already taken themselves are very poor quality.  This is all such a shame because I get the distinct impression the woman at the Business Club has taken the hump over my initial refusal to let them use my photos for nothing.  Not good business all round...
Funnily enough, the aforementioned photo is of Alfreton's war memorial, the most poignant war memorial I have seen.  Coincidentally, a similar photo (of the same memorial on the same day but from a different angle) was framed and presented to the local Mercia regiment in a special ceremony earlier this year.  That was fine because Alfreton Town Council paid me for the photos (and that's where the Alfreton Business Club got the warm memorial pic from).  Ok, the Council was really only supposed to use them on their website and in leaflets but I could hardly complain because the Town Council employed me to shoot the pictures of that very ceremony! 
This reminds me of a phone call I had from the owner of a mill worker's cottage in Belper which I had photographed for my first Belper Calendar.  She loved the picture and wanted a print of it but didn't expect to pay because, after all, I had taken a photo of her property! As I pointed out straightaway, I was perfectly entitled to take the photo as I was in a public place at point of shoot.  What I felt like saying further was "well, if you had taken a picture as good as mine, you wouldn't have needed to ask me for a print of my photo."  However, I didn't say that and, idiot that I was at the time, I did actually deliver her a print for free.  That was when I was a softie... these are harder times now.   
Alfreton Business Club may be loathe to pay for decent photos but heaven bless Shardlow Business Centre.  The owner Mark contacted me saying how much he loved the photos I took of Shardlow for Derbyshire Life.  He was keen to use them to promote his business centre which is an old, restored canalside mill.  Better still, he also wanted me to take photos of the centre itself to attract new business tenants, so we've done a nice deal for both new and existent photos.  As such, I am more than happy to help promote his business centre here, not least because of its location, with easy access to the motorway network and East Midlands Airport.  And what could be better for a worker at lunchtime than to take a stroll along a canal towpath?
Fortuitously, one of the best photos I took of Shardlow for Derbyshire Life shows that very business centre in all its glory on a blue sky, fluffy cloud day.  That's one of the beauties of shooting for Derbyshire Life.  When featuring a town or village, I feel I have to show the place under a blue sky so it looks its very best.  As I result, I always experience Derbyshire in the best possible light - literally! 
Actually, there ARE times when you have to take photos for nothing... in the hope of returns later.  In fact, this is the whole basis of shooting for image libraries.  I would love it if I could make a living from selling the sort of images I took recently with my actress friend Tamzin.  

I introduced Tamzin in a previous blog as 'the face to launch a thousand book covers'.  I'm even more convinced of that having spent a day at Meynell Langley Hall shooting pics for submission to the Trevillion photo art image library.  Trevillion has a fantastic reputation for selling book covers to publishers all over the world.  I have already sold 7 or 8 images as covers, so here's hoping for more.  Thankfully, Tamzin agreed to do the shoot for free as she will earn a proportion of any fee for images that end up as book covers.  There's no guarantee my images will even be accepted, so Tamzin has placed a lot of trust in me.  i just hope I don't let her down.
It appears I've pleased a great bunch of chaps who call themselves YesterYear.  This is a barbershop-style choral group here in the East Midlands with great harmony vocals.  They perform purely for the love of it.  I was asked to shoot some publicity pics for them and, sensing these guys had such a strong fun element in their performing, I tried to convey that in the pictures.  I was especially pleased with the 'formal' group shot because I suggested that it look not just informal but almost like a subversive take on the formal group shot.  Thus, I got the guys to affect boredom, silliness, inattention... as if they were opposed to the whole idea of having a formal group shot.  I feel it worked a treat.  You can see for yourself here...    

Thursday, 21 April 2011

April 21st 2011

I normally do my blog on a Friday but today is Maundy Thursday and it set me thinking about Maundy Thursday last year which was April 1st.  It's not surprising I recall it with some clarity as it was the biggest day of my photography career: shooting the Queen distributing the Royal Maundy at Derby Cathedral. The shoot was difficult in that It was a bright, sunny, blue sky day which was fine for the Royal party and the crowds but tricky, exposure-wise, for the photographer, shooting in harsh midday light.  Inside the Cathedral, no flash was allowed, and we could only photograph Her Majesty handing out the Maundy purses on the central aisle.  I noticed that today's Maundy ceremony was live on television.  For some reason (possibly space restraints), there were no TV cameras inside Derby Cathedral; only stills cameras belonging to five photographers, so our pictures were very important, especially for the Maundy recipients.  The souvenir booklet, with photos by myself and my colleague Ian Daisley (who shot from the gallery and inside the Cathedral Quarter Hotel) is still available.  Only a fiver, too.
My favourite image is the one I got of the Queen being driven away after her walkabout, especially as no other photographer got it.  I had to quickly focus, frame and pan at the same time and fired off several shots in the hope I would get at least one decent image.  The best one I got (opposite) was better than I dared hope - a reasonably sharp portrait of her Majesty, smiling and clearly enjoying herself, with the crowds waving at her along with the resonant imagery of two Union Jacks.     

That shoot was a classic case of one job opportunity leading to another: I was recommended to the Cathedral by Ian Ferguson of Derby Cathedral Quarter to whom I had become official photographer and, what's more, it led to me photographing Princess Anne's visit to Derby College and Prince Charles' visit to Royal Crown Derby.  Funnily enough, I have got Prince Edward to shoot when he visits Heage Windmill on May 6th so I could have done with a call from William and Kate about a certain shoot, just so I could complete the set. Who is this guy Hugo Bernand anyway?  Actually, he's an experienced celebrity snapper and he was chosen as the Royal Wedding photographer for his 'discretion, spontaneity and charm'.  Interestingly, two of those attributes are more about his personality than his picture-taking skills.  I hold a lot of stock by this.  I always say that 50% of wedding photography is about the photos and the other 50% is about the people.  Someone once said that to be a wedding photographer, you have to be a 'referee' ringmaster, behavioural psychologist and grand diplomat'.  Very true.
That said, the imagery produced is hugely important.  That was made very clear this last week through a news item about a couple whose wedding was ruined by a snapper who patently should not have been trading as a wedding photographer.  Frankly, though, I had scant sympathy for the couple because they paid him only £300 and clearly hadn't checked him out beforehand.  It's frustrating to hear of these stories and I do wonder if couples place enough value on the person who is going to capture all the essential moments of their special day.  
A photographer friend of mine advised me that if you get to the tricky subject of payment and the couple are hoping you will bring your price down, ask the bride how much she will be paying for her dress.  Usually it's a lot of money so you then have the opportunity to point out that you are the guy who is going to give her the lasting memory of how fabulous she is going to look in that dress , so shouldn't she consider spending as much on the photographer as she does the dress?
I only like to take on about half a dozen weddings in a year as I like to do lots of other types of work but also because they are very pressurised and extremely hard work.  I lavish an enormous amount of time on processing the photos (sometimes as many as 1,000) and creating the special albums, invariably made up of many montages.  If I get quibbles about pricing, I have to point out that a wedding photographer's job isn't just about the wedding day itself.  I invariably use up an entire working week on post-production, sometimes more.  Would you give your professional services to someone for a whole week for 300 quid?
I am increasingly concerned about this issue because I have struggled with wedding bookings this year.  I know I'm a quality wedding photographer - I have a fine set of testimonials on my website to prove it - and I'm not expensive.  I realise that I should be marketing myself more vigorously, though the last wedding fayre I tried to get into had already got its full complement of photographers.  That didn't surprise me: a wedding photographer at a convention told me that there are 200,000 weddings a year in the UK - which amazed me - but 20,000 photographers vying for their business.  That's 10 weddings per photographer.  How many wedding couples, though, ask Uncle Harry because he's a keen photographer with an all-singing, all-dancing digital SLR?  

I've pasted here just two of the 28 double pages I put together for a wedding couple last year.  
The first double page is made up of shots taken first thing in the morning - 9am - when the bride was having her hair done - while the last but one double page shows the last photos I took when the band played at the evening party - about 10pm.  That's 13 hours of photography.  That's why we need to be paid a proper rate.
I have just received an email from a bride who enquired about my services and has now told me that 'your prices were out of my budget'.  As I stated earlier, I am not expensive - £950 is my price and that comes with an assistant - so it's disappointing to be turned down on one's price when it's so reasonable.  I'll leave you here with another statistic: it's reckoned the average cost of a wedding in 2011 is £18,500.  What's £950 when I'm the one guy who will provide you with probably the most cherished memory of your special day? 

Friday, 15 April 2011

April 15th 2011

I have just done another 'suit shoot' for my pal Rupert Bowling and, in the process, learned a lot about online retailing.  Harrods' historic boast that it sells 'everything from a pin to an elephant' can be more than matched by the world wide web these days.  E-commerce is now big business.  Last year, online retailing shot up 25 per cent with more than 50 per cent of us shopping on the internet. But... shopping for clothes online?  Actually, I did that recently myself:  I couldn't find a local store selling Nehru suits, so I bought one online.

Rupert says that selling something as personal as clothes on the internet is not at all difficult.  Actually, online clothes sales are on the up.  It’s certainly worked for Rupert, who runs the website from his home in Shirley Common, selling a wide range of men’s suits, jackets, coats and trousers along with a growing collection of suits and jackets for women.  Over ten years ago, Rupert became the first retailer in the UK to sell men's suits online but it’s since launching in 2008 that sales have soared.  I've been helping him boost business further by highlighting his clothes through photos and, in the process, we had wonderful help from Ashbourne-based businesses.
‘Key to selling online is constantly improving your website,’ Rupert rightly points out.  After playing squash and talking business in the bar afterwards, I pointed out to Rupert that as his photo gallery largely showed only mannequins, he could improve his website by having real people show off his range.
I suggested we shoot in Ashbourne, our local market town.  it proved to be a perfect choice, in more ways than one.  I knew Ashbourne would give us the stylish backdrops we wanted for the images but what made the shoot go so smoothly was the generosity of its retail community.  Writing about and photographing Ashbourne for Derbyshire Life proved very useful for renewing some good contacts. Firstly, Mick Hulme, the fish, poultry and game merchant, offered his living quarters for our two models Mark and Tamzin to change.  His shop was closed, too, so we were spared any fishy smells! Better still, we got a wide and excellent range of photos through Alan Matkin of Avanti allowing us to use his jewellery store, Rob Watkin and Glen Armstrong opening their St John Street Gallery even though it was their Monday closing day, and Vivyann Manion giving us free use of her antique shop and courtyard.  What was so heartening was that none of these people had anything to gain, other than a link on both Rupert and myself's website. They were just happy to help out two guys trying to make a living.  Their beneficence speaks volumes about the spirit of commerce in Ashbourne.
We experienced yet more kindness when Helen Meynell allowed us to use Meynell Langley Hall for our second photo shoot.  I had donated my photos from two weddings I shot at the Hall for Meynell Langley’s new website, so Helen reciprocated by allowing us in for the day. Meynell Langley is a beautiful country estate and it was wonderful to showcase one of Rupert's classy dinner suits in the Hall’s elegant library, complete with antique books and roaring fire.  As you can see below, it was a perfect location.  You can see my wedding pics at Meynell Langley on  
We've got further local shoots planned and Rupert feels even more confident about sales.  You might argue that clothes are better sold in a shop - after all, selling clothes online lacks that 'touch and try' element which High Street stores provide.  However, as Rupert told me, 'clicking through a web page is much easier than rifling through endless racks – and you haven’t had to get the car out.  I can also offer as much choice as you can get visiting half a dozen shops.  As for wanting to feel the material, we send swatches through the post, and hardly any customers return their order.’  And you can't argue with Rupert's sales.
Rupert knows what he is talking about because he has intensively studied the intricacies of e-commerce for over 12 years.  ‘I spent the first two years of my business working 60 hours a week with no holidays just studying how the internet can work for online sellers,’ says Rupert, ‘so I’ve kept ahead of the market.  This is even more important in an age where you can’t just rely on Google or other search engines but have to consider mobile apps, Facebook, Amazon, eBay and other routes to retailing.
Now he has this new imagery, Rupert's customers will realise just how smart his clothing is and that his fabrics are some of the very best – at competitive prices, too.  An increase in sales will also show the great value of using Ashbourne and Meynell Langley Hall as photo locations which, as a Derbyshire lad, will please me a lot.

While Mark was putting on that dinner suit above, I got a few shots of Tamzin in her lovely evening gown.  I took the opportunity to get a few shots for the Trevillion Fine Art image library which I subscribe to.  Meynell Langley was the perfect place for creating the kind of imagery that you find on book covers, publishers being Trevillion's chief clientele.  Tamzin took off her shoes, sat by one of the Hall's large windows and gave me just the right look I asked for - slightly sad and pensive.  She was perfect.  I changed the colouring in Photoshop and added a texture overlay to give the image the look of a painting.  I think it's just about the finest portrait I have ever produced.  I so love this kind of photography.  Tamzin and I are now going to spend a whole day at Meynell Langley creating more of this kind of imagery - I can't wait.  She is great to work with, and she has a face to launch a thousand book covers! Watch this space for more...


Friday, 18 March 2011

18 March 2011

Filled with fresh vigour after posting my first blog, the following day drained all that away when my bag - complete with wallet and cards and mobile - was stolen.  I left the pub to walk to my Derby County match and left the bag lying under the table - a simple, stupid mistake.  Mind you, after feeling angry, distraught and, worse still, foolish, I soon found myself adopting a pragmatic state of mind to the whole wretched ordeal - that's after I had got through the massive inconvenience of blocking my cards and phone.  For one thing, I'm fully insured, had only a £20 note in my wallet, and had at least kept my keys in my pocket.  It could have been so much worse. As for missing a Derby County win - a rarity at the moment - I found it was the main match on the Football League Show that evening.  I also found myself reflecting contentedly on the fact that I am not living a life as desperate and amoral as the piece of ordure that took my bag.
I felt even better when, having worked out that I had lost about £100 as a result of this theft, had an email from a client rewarding me with an extra £100 for a job well done.  I am now completely over the experience, and will never, ever let my bag leave my shoulder again!
I've even surprised myself at getting through such a week without a drink: I'm supporting my wife Francine after she decided to give up alcohol for Lent.  Did you know, though, that ironically Sundays don't count?  This has made it easier, though left me a bit bemused: are we to glean from this that Jesus roamed around for for six days and then, on Sunday, came out of the wilderness to go to the pub?
It was hard, though, sitting in a  Pizza Express with a lemonade while my daughter and partner sipped on a large one.  That evening got better, though, after watching Derby Shakespeare's production of Hamlet, a particularly vigorous affair, made all the more visceral by being seated on the front row, exhilaratingly close to Hamlet's spit and Leartes' blood.

My daughter Helena used to perform with Derby Shakespeare but, even though she now lives in London, she has a bigger stage in Derby than ever before. I used Helena and boyfriend Gareth as my models for a photo commission from Derby Cathedral Quarter and just recently, they were standing 100 feet tall, quite literally: they are the faces on a massive banner adorning Chapel St Car Park.   

I also used Helena and Gareth for a series of photos that I could submit to the Trevillion Image Library which specialises in book covers.  I've only got 20 images in the library but have been fortunate to sell several of them.  I've just received the news that I've sold a photo of Helena for the second time.  Here is the image as it appears on the first book.  It's a novel by Jodi Picoult who is quite a big name in America.  Schuldig, by the way, means 'guilty'.

I've also sold an image of Helena with Gareth for a book by Anita Shreve, another big name Stateside.  Funnily enough, both images were taken within a few yards of each other - in a country lane in Brailsford, Derbyshire.  The doomy skies obviously helped.  What has been an eye-opener for me is that when a novel is published in other countries, you can get a completely different cover.  The Picoult novel is in German, the Shreve in Polish.  You get different titles, too: I can't find a Picoult novel called Guilty.  Skradziony Czas means 'stolen time', though the title of the American novel is Resistance.

I have worked with two other models in the last three months: Mark and Tamzin.  I discovered both while shooting production photos for the theatre troupe the Marlowe Players.  I was commissioned to shoot pictures to promote the Derby Cathedral Quarter Christmas lights.  Both Mark and Tamzin were very professional and as the images went down so well, I had no hesitation in asking them to model suits and jackets for my squash club colleague Rupert Bowling who runs an online company called We recently completed a shoot in Ashbourne which went really well.  I'll say more about this shoot in future blogs.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Blog Virgin Deflowered

Friday March 11
Here's my first blog and I have to say I winced as I typed that word 'blog'.  Surely the instigator of this worldwide realm could have created a more harmonious sounding word? It sounds so ugly. I have to admit I have started this whole blogging thing because I need to work on the SEO (search engine optimisation) for my website and a blog is what they call "text rich", very good for SEO.  This might make my motives sound a touch cold and clinical but behind it is a genuine feeling that I'm a good photographer who should have his website visited more often!
Also, I am a professional feature writer as well as photographer and, as I genuinely like to write, why not write about my photography?  Furthermore, in the last year I have photographed the Queen, Princess Anne and Charles & Camilla (it sounds like I'm collecting the set and, if William & Kate read this, I would be a cheaper wedding snapper than Mario Testino) so I have got some interesting aspects of my work to write about.
Today seemed a good day to launch into the blogosphere (no, that doesn't work as a word either, does it?) as I photographed the former England rugby star Jason Robinson.  He was a guest of investment bankers Brown Shipley in Manchester, a job I got through Bulletin, a financial services PR company.  Bulletin's rep couldn't be present so he asked me to do a short interview with Jason for their press release.  He was a very personable guy as he chatted about getting back into rugby (he came out of retirement two years ago to play for Fylde) and England's good form in the Six Nations.  When my questions were answered, he smiled when I told him the whole interview had been painful for me...  I'm Welsh.
Getting work at Brown Shipley is a classic example of the way one thing can lead to another in the uncertain world of freelancing.  I was photographing (for Derbyshire Life) 'Winster's Secret Gardens' - an Open Gardens scheme which the Peak village has embraced so richly - and met an old Radio Derby colleague Martin Stott.  I photographed him and his two daughters and was so pleased with the image, I emailed it to him.  Next thing I know, his company - Bulletin - hires me to do a shoot at an evening to celebrate the recent opening of Brown Shipley's offices in Manchester - with special guest Pattie Boyd, former wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, exhibiting her private photos.  Being a Beatleophile, it was all I could do to stop myself from plying her with questions about the Fab Four.  She was delightful.  It felt even more like an honour when I started thinking about the six main people you think of in the lives of The Beatles: Pete Best, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney and... Pattie.  
 Before I go on too long ("Good old Ashley, always a paragraph where a sentence will do," remarked an old boss of mine), I'll mention the other reason I wanted to start my blog today.  It seemed the fateful day, not just because of Jason Robinson following hot on the heels of Pattie Boyd and Charles & Camilla, but because of something I read in my national newspaper this morning.  I mentioned an old Radio Derby colleague, Martin.  Also, that "old boss of mine" is Bryan Harris, the best station manager I worked under at Radio Derby.  I felt a cold blast in my solar plexus when I read a quote on the front page from Mike Bettison, my last station manager at Radio Derby who is now manager at Radio Nottingham.  He was confirming that the whole of BBC Local Radio was under threat as a result of BBC cutbacks.  700 could lose their jobs.  I suddenly thought of nationally known broadcasters who started on local radio - Kate Adie, Simon Mayo and, both ex-Radio Derby, Mike Ingham and Duncan Kennedy.  How would they have got where they are without that grounding in local radio?  I worked at Radio Derby for 22 years until the year 2000 when I became a victim of the latest round of BBC budget cuts.  The manager - Bettison - axed my post of Arts & Entertainments Producer, effectively forcing me to leave and kicking in the teeth all those years of experience, expertise and enthusiasm.  I will never forgive or forget what he put me through, though in a perverse way he did me a favour because I might not have contemplated breaking out and working for myself.  Last summer I celebrated ten years of self-employment, eight years as a photographer and I have loved virtually every minute of it.  I said I would never go back to BBC Radio Derby but it seems like it won't be there anyway in a few year's time. It's terribly sad - and rather appalling, too.  
So, this has been quite a day: the start of my blog, the end (possibly) of my old way of life...