Category Archives: Business

Food Photography Adventures – Part 1

All businesses can benefit from professional pictures to advertise their services and products, but I think it is especially important if you are in the food business. Because if your products don’t look appetising to the potential customer, he/she won’t want to taste your food, yet alone buy from you. In other words, with food, how your products look is going to have a very direct effect on the customer’s opinion of the quality of your dishes.

Home made tagliatelle with tomatoes prepared by Italian chef Chiara Scipione

Very simple dish, and yet this home made tagliatelle with tomatoes dish tastes even better than it looks!

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you already know that I always like to learn new things and perfect my craft. In this regard, a wonderful opportunity presented itself during the month of May, as world class photographer George Crudo taught a food photography course for the Bryan Peterson School of Photography.

Freshly made tagliatelle, raw, and a single tomato.

The freshly made tagliatelle of the above dish, before they were cooked. I couldn’t resist, for colour contrast’s sake, and added a small tomato to the photograph

I’ve been intrigued by food photography for some time now, and since I very much enjoyed the many classes I took at the Bryan Peterson School of Photography, I decided to enrol in that course. I was also fortunate to be able to team up for this project with chef Chiara Scipione of ‘Italian Food with Style’. Each week, Chiara would prepare a few dishes for me to photograph.

Raw ingredients, olive oil, basil, eggs and tomatoes.

Raw ingredients

For the first week of the course, we had to take images using natural light only, and learn to harness the power of window light to show the food’s texture. On the menu this week were home made tagliatelle with tomatoes and pesto pasta. Once you’ve tasted home made pasta, it is really difficult to go back to the kind you buy at the supermarket!

Close-up of while bowl of freshly made pesto sauce

Freshly made pesto sauce. I just love the colour!

All the food photographs in this blog post were taken using a light coming through a window camera left and a reflector camera right to lighten the shadows. I also only needed to use a single lens, my trusty Nikon 105mm micro. And I had almost forgotten how much fun you can have using only minimal equipment!

Plate of freshly made pesto pasta on white tablecloth

Freshly made pesto pasta. Absolutely wonderful lunch!

Pesto pasta on a slate with a glass of white wine and tomatoes

Another presentation of the pesto pasta dish of Chiara Scipione

Branding And The Business Portrait

According to Wikipedia, a brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.”

It follows from this definition that freelancers are their own brand. The way they act in social situations, respond to email, their physical appearance and their LinkedIn profile picture clearly are features that identify them from their competitors.

This is why I’m always astounded that people who would never dream of going to a business meeting improperly dressed have terrible LinkedIn or website profile pictures. On the one hand they do understand that they are their own brand, yet they don’t seem to grasp that the pictures of themselves they show to the online world are just as important, in terms of the impression they make on people, as their physical appearance at a business networking event.

As an example of branding, a few weeks back, I had the chance of taking some business photographs for my accountant, Mark McLeod of Scotia Accounting. Mark is personable, professional, and he is not your stereotypical accountant. He is also interested in attracting start-ups and high-tech businesses as clients. I was looking to create some photographs that would reflect that.

The business portrait is not something you want to get to too creative about. There is some kind of expected standard so I gave Mark a traditional picture against a white background.

Business portrait of Mark McLeod of Scotia Accounting against a white background

A traditional business portrait against a white background for Mark McLeod of Scotia Accounting. With men, I like to use more directional lighting than I do for business portraits of women

Now since the clients he wants to attract are the young and up-coming entrepreneurs, I thought we could go for some edgier photographs that could appeal to that audience and clearly differentiate Mark from his competition. This is what we came up with:

Portrait of Mark McLeod of Scotia Accounting against a black background and holding a 'Scots Law' red book.

Just changing the background to black gives a more dramatic atmosphere to the picture. The drama was accentuated with contrasty lighting.

Portrait of Mark McLeod of Scotia Accounting against a black background and holding a red 'Scots Law' book. Two of the lights are coloured red.

Red is Mark’s favourite colour, so I created a slightly different look by putting red coloured gels on the two side lights.



The Advantages Of Video Over Still Photographs

Still shot from music video "The River" from Edinburgh based band Miasma

Still shot from the music video “The River” from Edinburgh based band Miasma.

During the weekend of May 9-11 2014, the British public spent a total of £13,856,641 at the box office, according to the British Film Institute. How much money do you think the same public spent on watching still photographs that same weekend?

The YouTube video “PSY-Gangnam style” has 1,997,326,586 views as of this writing. That’s nearly two billion views! I don’t know how many times the most popular photographs have been looked at, but I’m pretty confident it’s well under two billion times.

It is undeniable that the moving image has a much broader appeal than the still photograph.

In his bestselling book, “Tell to Win”, Peter Guber shows how the hidden power of story can be used to connect with and persuade people. Before the written word, knowledge was transmitted from one generation to the next orally, using the medium of storytelling. We just love stories.

It is definitely possible to tell stories using still photographs, and the best photojournalists do it very well. But it is clear that as a medium, film or video has a definite advantage over still photographs when it comes to telling stories.

The stories that touch us the most are those that remind us of our own past experiences. I think it is because they feel more real. People can get really emotional while watching a movie. How many people cry at a photo exhibit? I believe the emotional appeal of the moving image over the still photograph is that movies feel more real to us. After all, real people move and talk.

From a business standpoint, another major difference between video and still photographs is that the younger generations consume much more of it. If they are your target market, video is of primary importance. I have some personal experience with this. When I was building my photography and video portfolio, I worked quite a bit with local musicians. While they understood that good photography helped their brand, it was more something they felt they had to do. On the video side however, it was something they wanted to do. The picture above is a still from the video “The River” by Edinburgh based band Miasma. The band spent a lot of time thinking about the concept/script for the video, gathering props and making costumes. That level of engagement with a project is something I have never experienced for a photo shoot with people from their generation.

When A Professional Photographer Is Cheaper Than An Amateur

I never cease to be amazed at the number of people selling products online who don’t think it is necessary to pay for someone to take professional photographs of their goods. They’ll do it themselves or find the proverbial “friend with a good camera”.

Jewellery product shot, pendant of turquoise colour designed by Candle Jewellery

The pendants from Candle Jewellery are very colourful. It was essential to capture the right colours, which I did using the professional X-Rite ColorChecker.

Let’s first start with the obvious. Would you buy something that doesn’t look great? A bad photo can make your product look like damaged goods. Imagine how much more you could sell if the pictures you have online make your products look better than those from the competition. In this case, the photographs easily pay for themselves.

Jewellery product shot of pendant designed by Candle Jewellery. Pink and sparkling.

This pendant from Candle Jewellery sparkles. The photographic challenge was to showcase the sparkle without getting nasty reflections. This was done using proper lighting.

You may not have paid for your photographs, but that is expensive if they don’t sell your products. The pictures also tell a lot about your brand and the kind of business you are running, successful or not. The first impression you make is going to be very difficult to change.

Jewellery product shot. Deep blue coloured pendant designed by Candle Jewellery.

The beautiful, deep colours of this pendant needed to be showcased. Reflectors were needed to avoid obliterating the darkest tones in the digital capture process.

There is a less obvious drawback to using the “friend with a good camera” who is going to take your pictures for free. Since he/she is not getting paid, there really isn’t an incentive for him/her to deliver the pictures in a short time frame. The time you have to wait for your photographs translates into lost sales.

Jewellery pendant product photograph. The red pendant was designed by Candle Jewellery.

The photographic challenge of photographing this beautiful red pendant was to show some of its translucent properties. This was achieved using reflecting pieces of foam core.

Now imagine the following, plausible, scenario. You get your “friend with a good camera” to take pictures for free. It takes a couple of months, and the pictures aren’t up to scratch. So you eventually have to pay someone who can do a proper job. If you count the time lost, the cheap alternative actually turns out to be more expensive. This is when a professional photographer is cheaper than an amateur.


Digital is making it easier, but don’t lose your head over it!

These days you hear a lot of complaints about how the digital era has ruined professional photography, because it is now much easier to take pictures that are ‘good enough’.

When I got started in my previous career as a theoretical physicist, I realised it was essential to be good with computers, because most of the problems of current interest in physics weren’t solvable with pen and paper. Back in those days, there were no user friendly operating systems like Mac OS X. The tools available to check and correct one’s computer programs were very primitive by today’s standards, and so were the programming languages available for scientific computing. Never mind the fact that 256 MB of RAM was the most I had access to on the then state of the art Cray Y-MP supercomputer. The kind of computer that cost millions of dollars. Needless to say that a lot has changed in the field of computational science in the past two decades or so. The ease with which it is now possible to write and test complex computer programs coupled with the speed of today’s machines make it possible for novice programmers to carry out calculations experienced scientists couldn’t even dream of twenty-five years ago. Yet you don’t hear senior computational physicists complain that the new technology has totally ruined the field because it is now much easier to program computers. This is because the technology makes it easier for everyone, not just for the beginner. Provided you can be bothered to keep up with the times and learn the new tools.

The basic principles of good scientific programming and project management haven’t changed, and the experienced computational physicist has a great advantage over the novice who still has to learn those principles. Moreover, the advances in computer technology are opening new avenues for research. This is wonderful since you obviously don’t want to solve the same problems over and over again. I can think of no valid reason for anyone to complain about the changes brought about by the new technology.

Headless saxophone player Photoshop montage

Here’s an example of image that the digital technology makes possible, that hasn’t been done many times before, and isn’t within the reach of the novice digital photographer.

The similarities with the digital revolution in photography are striking to me. Sure, nowadays a novice can take the kind of picture that took quite a bit of technical skill twenty years ago. But then, why would you want to take the same kind of pictures you took eons ago? Isn’t it time to move on?

The basic principles of composition and lighting haven’t changed, and therefore the experienced photographer who masters those principles has the advantage over the novice who still has to learn them. And the digital revolution has opened up new avenues for image making. One of these is the use of compositing or image trickery with Photoshop. Another is low light or night photography. It is now possible to capture high quality photos and video with the same camera. Challenging time lapse sequences, like capturing the change from daytime to night, are now much easier to do. Just to give a few examples.

Contrast in Marketing and Photography

We are not very good at judging things in absolute terms. Is £100 for that brand X widget a good deal? Who knows? But when that deal is compared, or contrasted, to the offers from the competition, like brand Y widget costs twice as much with half the features, then we get to think that £100 for that brand X widget is a pretty good deal after all.

Savvy marketers know that you can use the power of contrast to be more persuasive. The classic example is that of the discounted price. The new price is contrasted to the old one to give the potential customer a good reason to buy.

And if your real estate agent takes you around to show you a few houses, it is a safe bet that the first one is going to be expensive and in need of a bit of ‘freshening up’. By contrast, the subsequent houses you visit will all look like great bargains.

The blue background creates a strong colour contrast with the red strawberry, making it 'pop'

The blue background creates a strong colour contrast with the red strawberry, making it ‘pop’ from the photograph

In other words, marketers use contrast to make their offer stand out. And photographers also use contrast to make their subject ‘pop’ from the photograph. In an image, one can use tone contrast, a bright subject against a dark background for example, or sharpness contrast, where a sharp subject stands out from an out of focus background. The photograph above uses colour contrast to make the red strawberry ‘pop’ from the blue background. The use of contrast can be just as effective in photography as it is in marketing.



BNI video: In The City chapter launch invitation

Did you know that 4 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube? For example, ‘Blendtec’, a blender manufacturer, became an internet sensation and boosted their brand awareness thanks to their “Will it blend?” series of YouTube videos that have over 219 million views. But video is also helpful for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Since Google now owns YouTube, their close relationship means that videos can really help one’s Google search rank.

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, consumer internet video traffic is projected to account for 69 percent of all consumer internet traffic in 2017, up from 57 percent in 2012.

Video is now such an important medium of communication that best selling author Robert Greene commissioned a video trailer to promote the release of his book ‘Mastery’.

I recently became a member of the largest business referral organization, BNI. In the light of the above arguments, it was logical to follow the current trends, and I created a short invitation video for the launch of our new Edinburgh chapter, “In The City”. The video allows the invitee to meet some of the chapter members and get a sense of what our meetings are like. This is much harder to achieve with a written invitation.

Business portrait: the why

There are a number of reasons you should have a picture of yourself on your website or LinkedIn profile.

People want to do business with someone they know, like and trust. And they won’t feel they know (or like or trust) you if they can’t see what you look like. Derek Halpern of the blog “Social Triggers” puts it succinctly: “Would you buy something from someone wearing a mask?”.

Jakob Nielsen argues that a picture of yourself “enhances your credibility by the fact that you are not trying to hide”.

There are some smaller benefits to having a photo of yourself on your website or LinkedIn profile. It could help people at a business networking event recognize you and connect. And people who have met you before would know they got to the right website. We are better at recognizing faces than at remembering names. At least I know I am.

I believe that the main reason people don’t have a photo of themselves on their website is that they simply do not have a picture of themselves that they like. Given the benefits of having your photo online, it’s definitely worth hiring someone who can take a good portrait of yourself.

Portrait of businesswoman using beauty lighting

Portrait of businesswoman using beauty lighting.

A few days ago I was commissioned to take some business portraits for an Edinburgh firm of Independent Financial Advisers. In a previous post “Portrait photography: before and after pictures”, I demonstrated the difference the beauty lighting set up can make in a portrait. It is designed to make ladies shine. It doesn’t matter whether the person in front of the camera is an agency represented model or a businesswoman. Beauty lighting is therefore my set up of choice for business portraits of women.