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Last month I worked with a great company called Wild Packs, who are committed to getting kids from outside of the USA into US summer camps, to experience the profound benefits of the system. They’re pretty unique in that respect and by their very nature are full of fun and personality.

So it was exciting to be asked to come along to Crieff Hydro during a company retreat to do their portraits. It’s an important and oft underrated part of the business equation. In an increasingly impersonal online world, it’s vitally important to put forward your very human face.

That first impression really counts. You might be getting your business online, but whether it’s via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own website; people are still buying into you. So this stuff really matters, and as a photographer it’s an honour and a responsibility to be asked to help get it right.

The challenge with this kind of shoot is 3 fold: space available to shoot; time available to shoot and nervousness, pure and simple. Some people, understandably, get nervous in front of the camera, almost to “dentist” levels of fear.

In order to be ready for these challenges I make a point of having as much knowledge as I can. Knowing the people at the venue who can help, and knowing your options can make the difference between disaster and success on a shoot. Pre-shoot preparation, should be pretty invisible to the client, but if it’s not done, the job gets so much harder.

I’ve also worked hard at being flexible. I don’t need a studio, and you’d be surprised at the results I can get in some pretty small spaces. At the Hydro, I only had access to a small client liaison room, in order to do the shoot, yet the results, in my humble opinion are “studio” quality. In my opinion, studios are not necessary for most modern portraiture. As a client, you need not take excessive time out of your day to get business portraiture done. The photographer should come to you, I know I certainly can.

Also the photographer should be aware of how valuable your time is, and how much of it you’re willing or able to give. In this instance, I had a morning, to set up and do portraits for the whole company. As it turned out, due to preparing well and having a good system worked out, it took an hour. I was aware that the good folk at Wild Packs were keen to be back in the conference room, and wanted to miss as little as possible from the presentations they were actually there for.

As for nervousness. That’s simple. Be professional, respectful, and just plain nice. Sometimes, as with this shoot, photographers don’t have much time to get each sitter to relax. As a photographer, appearing nervous and stressed, or worse, standoffish, will make the job even harder. One of the common elements I always get in my feedback, is that I’m painless to work with and manage to put people at ease relatively quickly. This is a vastly underrated photography skill.

As an aside, for any other photographers reading this, I believe it’s essential that you put yourself in front of the lens on a regular basis. Only then can you understand your clients’ anxieties about standing in front of your camera. The “selfie” is a vital tool.

Organisation, flexibility and being human. These are the solutions to the key challenges in business and corporate portraiture.. It’s an extremely simple set of solutions, but it’s crazy how few bring them all together.

Hopefully, it shows. It was a great pleasure to work with the team at Wild Packs and especially Jamie, who was always huge fun and very approachable.

 

Creating a great first impression for your business is just one of my skills. If you want to find out more about what I do or contact me about my services you can find my contact details here.

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Shotokan Karate has a special place in my heart. As a child I was lucky enough to live in Japan for a year. I studied Shotokan for that year under a (then 5th dan) black belt called Sensei Takahashi. Moving back to Scotland afterwards, and specifically back to my beloved Highlands, while welcome, meant that I could never carry it on. The 80 mile plus round trip for every session was simply not viable.

Over the last 30 years, I have never forgotten Sensei Takahashi, and I have never forgotten the lessons of respect, discipline and the value of practice, that he taught me so well, despite the language barrier. Perhaps it was because he was such a good teacher, or perhaps it’s because these principles are universal, or more likely, it’s a generous helping of both. It has certainly stood me in good stead in all other aspects of my life.

So when I finally found a genuine Shotokan Dojo in my home town, I jumped at it. Not for me – I’m old and busted ( Men in Black fans will get this one ) – but for my daughter ( the new hotness ). I felt it would give her a wonderful start in life, and I firmly believe that almost two years in, it’s had a demonstrably beneficial effect on her. She loves it, and she has already learnt these fundamental and valuable lessons.

Sensei Bert of the Dalgety Bay JKA dojo ( http://www.jkakaratedalgetybay.co.uk/ ), absolutely embodies all of these principles and instils them in his students with sublety, grace and no little amount of modesty. So when he built one of the very few purpose built dojos in the UK, and I got the chance to document the opening event; a day of learning for his students under the tutelage of the awe inspiring Sensei Ohta ( 7th Dan ), followed by official opening speech by Gordon Brown, former PM of the United Kingdom… it was a no brainer.

I wanted to provide Bert with a great story. One that he could come back to time and again, to enjoy, remember and use as a tool to promote the dojo. Single images are great, but photostories are infinitely better at getting the message across about what you are about, what’s involved in what you do, and they rule the roost when it comes to solidifying, or capturing memories.

I firmly believe in the power of photography as a storytelling device. Telling stories with photographs is a skill which is slowly being lost, in my opinion. The focus ( pardon the photographic pun ) on the single image over a body of work is leading to a situation similar to the music industry. Where the album is in trouble and individual songs are king. Sites like Flickr, Blipfoto et al, are great forces for good in photography, but they devalue the story too. It’s my firm belief, that we need to do what we can to keep the photostory alive.

The Dojo project is the first of these attempts on my behalf. I hope there will be many more. There are a good number of other photographers out there doing something similar too. Hopefully we can all make a difference.

I’m still working on the final project, but already I know that this project has delighted Bert and achieved it’s initial objective. Once I’ve developed it a little further, I’ll post it fully up here. But for now, here are a selection of images which tell the story of the day.

I have to say, it was an honour and pleasure to meet Gordon Brown. He was a true gentleman and I found him to be very approachable.

For those of you who are interested in photography as a storytelling device. I can heartily recommend Phonar (http://www.phonar.covmedia.co.uk/ ), run by Jonathan Worth and Matt Johnston at Coventry Uni. It’s free, open and absolutely at the cutting edge of learning in a connected world.

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I’ve been working hard to line up new portrait shoots recently.

This was the first of these new shoots, with the brilliant Leanne. It’s been a while since I did this type of shoot and I’m leaving the rest of the images from it until next week so I can come at it fresh, but this shot gave me a buzz, so I just had to work on it yesterday.

It’s an example of the unexpected shot that always seems to result from a fluid portrait shoot like this. I went in with an idea in mind, and came away with something even better, in my opinion. It just goes to show, that while it pays to have a good idea of what you want out of a shoot, it’s also highly important to be flexible and willing to stray from the path on occasion.

You never know what you may find!

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Cedar cones?

This is the next image in my  Common or Garden series.

At first glance, the point of the work is to show the beauty in the “common or garden” plants and weeds that we ignore/destroy week after week through the year, but there is another driving force behind this.

The idea is to simplify the content of an image and play with composition and focus. It’s about de-cluttering my “eye” and thinking about the structure of an image in it’s most basic form. So I provide a white space ( most often a square) and inside that I place a simple object. Giving it the attention it deserves and seeing how it interacts with the space, the frame and light itself. I poke it in from the edges and see what it does. I rotate it, bend it, turn it upside down until I find a pleasing interaction with the space. I shoot,  then I play more with it.  I start with the established “rules” of composition, and then see if things work outside of those bounds.

I try and do this with a bare minimum of equipment ( you’d be surprised just how “Heath Robinson” some of these setups have been ( gaffer tape and blu tac are my best friends here ).

It’s all window-lit with the occasional reflector to lighten up the shadows. I’m not sure if it’s my hibernative*, contemplative mood in the winter. or if it’s the colours of the objects that I’m finding right now, but I seem to be veering away from the punchy colours I’d been using in the spring and summer towards far more desaturated, calm colours now. I can’t seem to make the spring ones work with this new colour approach, so I’m not sure yet, how to marry these disparate styles or if I even I even need to. .

*almost certainly not a real word.

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Every so often I do a self portrait ( I’d rather experiment on myself than on a paying customer )  to try and play with lighting and learn some new things. Today I decided to try and learn an old thing. I wanted to see how closely I could mimic the lighting of one of my favourite ever portraits.

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm496995072/tt0050976

It’s the iconic, and simple portrait of Max Von Sydow used to publicise Ingmar Bergman’s, 1957 film  The Seventh Seal.

I enjoy the process of taking lighting apart in other people’s work, and seeing where it takes me. Even with just one light, the process can be quite lengthy, I ran out of time to get this perfect but I think I came fairly close.

There are some caveats though:

a/ I don’t look like Max Von Sydow, no matter how hard I try! This kind of lighting really accentuates angular, symmetrical faces. My face is not one of those. That being said this kind of lighting can imbue undramatic faces such as mine with a modicum of dramatic impact. His extremely fair hair really helps with the texture and shape of the image as well.

My beard does not help.

b/  I think that my lighting, now that I can directly compare the two should have been even more directly above my head. There is something odd about the positioning of the lighting in the original which makes it seem as though much more of his face should be lit on the “dark side”. I suspect it was a bit more central,  higher up, angled down and I suspect the key element that’s missing from my lighting is a gobo to dramatically cut off the light on the other side of the face.

I concentrated on getting the shadows right by positioning the lighting to the side. I think I’d have been better served by using the lighting to create the highlight and a gobo ( essentially a black card ) to create the shadows.

It’s noted now as a potential trick up my sleeve should I find a Scandinavian with an angular, perfectly symmetrical face. 🙂

Lighting diagram below.

lighting-diagram-1359128696

My about.me page: http://about.me/christi_macpherson

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My family has persevered this month, and not just with the obligatory November Norovirii and other school-based plagues, they’ve also persevered with me. My 7 year old daughter didn’t cry when I shaved my mostly permanent beard off; my partner, Rachel, didn’t flinch when she saw my naked face for the first time in two years, although whenever I have shaved on a whim previously, she has reacted like I was an impostor, unable to look me in the eye.

The reason they persevered so well is because the reason I did it is a good one. Many of us will have some connection to someone who has had to deal with prostate and testicular cancer. I certainly have. So for the second time I decided to upset the family and grow a mo’ for Movember ( http://uk.movember.com/about/ ). They’ve been brilliant about it, to the point where our daughter gets upset when she sees a man without a Mo’ in the month of November.

For my part, I’ve been doing a self-portrait each week ( or close enough ) and posting on the ‘tinternet for all to point and laugh at. You can see them here, along with the rest of my website:http://www.pixelchristi.co.uk/p968781057 – there’s one more to come, on November 30, when I get to regrow my face fungus and vow never to do it again. Well, that’s what my family think.

It’s been an interesting exercise, from a professional point of view too. Self-portraits are an invaluable tool: for trying out new techniques, and also for showing yourself the concerns that a sitter may have in front of your lens. It’s an exercise that I’ll be continuing and one I heartily recommend to other photographers. Heck if I can make my face look acceptable, then pretty much anyone else is on to a winner.

If you want to donate to my Movember page then you can do so here, even the smallest amount would be gratefully received:http://mobro.co/pixelchristi – it truly is for a great, and under-sung, cause.

You can see my other work here: Portraits 

One of my favourite words and actually a type of weather event that I really enjoy. The sounds do something special when there’s a haar, crisp but muted at the same time. And with the heat the way it is, it’s a welcome coolant. Extremely pleasant to walk in.

So I went on a haar-walk this morning to see what I could see. It’s well worth doing as it very often creates that wonderful pure white background that you often wish you could use to separate that interesting object away from it’s usually busy backdrop.

This is one of those objects. A disused winch ( I think ) on the Fife Coastal Path, near Inverkeithing. Been waiting for the haar for a while…