Welcome to the bigcheese blog!
If I'm honest, the whole idea of writing & posting stuff on a regular basis terrifies me - I'm much more accomplished as an image maker than a writer so this may take some time to get moving, be patient and check back often as there'll be loads of "sneak peeks" behind the scenes! :-)
All the pics below are on "slideshow", so sit back and have a little look at some of what makes us tick....
There's nothing that I can say that hasn't already been said.
After a full year of disruption, I'm not going to lie to you, it's been brutal. Assignments scaled back, postponed, cancelled and worse still, not even conceived.
Whilst for some, the Covid pandemic has been inconvenient, some have profited enormously & very many others have seen their lives & livelihoods disrupted & thrown into disarray.
This really is a time to "build back better". Let's hope the promises to do so are upheld.
Life at bigcheese world-wide corporate HQ has been mixed.
Of course, we are hugely grateful to the clients who have been able to keep on commissioning throughout.
With the help of The British Institute of Professional Photography & The Association of Photographers we've been able to implement a comprehensive set of safe working protocols. We've been lucky to have the opportunity to work safely in the studio (mostly in isolation!) and on location following all social distancing / mask / hand sanitising etc etc...
The little slideshow above is a small selection from our assignments over the past year.
It's fair to say that some of the "big ideas" were waylaid or derailed during the year but nevertheless, it was a nice mix of fun & interesting assignments for a nice mix of fun & interesting clients!
Click here for a 2min "behind the scenes" video of one such assignment showing the work of my neighbour, extraordinary artist Peter Macaulay..
One of the funnest assignments was the family portrait in the slideshow (it's shown cropped from the square original). Each person (and pet!) was photographed separately & where necessary, remotely with a bit of art direction!
Anyhoo, here's to the remainder of 2021 & getting back on track, ASAP!
I was searching through the archives, retrieving a set of shots for a client, and I stumbled across a folder of "tear sheets" from previous assignments.
I'm sharing a bunch of them via antisocial media during August 2020 but I really enjoyed seeing this little set and thought I'd "bung it in the blog"
Our Christmas cards are always homemade efforts, the very first featured a little white mouse and a Christmas pudding so, for our 25th year in business we decided to reprieve the mouse.
This time we ended up with two mice and although we've never known just how many of the recipients look closely at our cards, both white mice were sticking their noses and in one case, a tail, out from the decorative wreath.
I'm happy to report that both mice were saved from becoming food for pet snakes and went home with our assistant who looked after them for nearly 6 months before rehoming them with a local family (of humans).
I wonder what Christmouse 2020 will bring...
1. Make sure your setup is stable - It's usually ok if you’re using a desktop computer but often overlooked when using laptop, tablet or smartphone. It only takes a little effort but honestly, no-one enjoys viewing a scene that’s wobbling around like a seasick giraffe (not even a seasick giraffe).
2. Set the camera at eye level or slightly above - Laptop, tablet & smartphone users, I’m looking at you! Of course, every rule has it’s exception but (I’m guessing) most people don’t want a detailed view up y’nostrils although, I could be wrong… Most viewers will appreciate a more natural viewing position rather than the feeling they're looking up from your desktop, plus you’ll look waaay better too! It’s easy to set the “camera” on a shoebox or stack of books or even a small (cheap) tripod if using a tablet or smartphone.
3. You’ve been framed! - Try & position yourself / camera so that you’re a comfortable “fit” in the frame. Leave a little bit of space between the top of your head & top of the image area, stay close so that the bottom edge of the image cuts off around the base of your sternum. Excellent! Not too near & not too far!
4. Let there be light - Avoid having the main light source behind you as you’ll end up looking like a “CrimeWatch” silhouette…. Turn your setup around so you’re facing toward a decent light source, preferably gentle window light rather than direct sunlight. Experiment with having the light source at an oblique angle, maybe 20 - 30° but avoid harsh / dark shadows or highlights that are too bright.
If you have to use artificial light, it’s sometimes possible to “bounce” the light off a nearby wall or reflector, this gives a “softer” more even coverage but beware, if you reflect the light off a coloured surface, that’ll show in your face!
5. What’s creeping up behind you? - Pay attention to what’s behind you (unlike the MP last week who published the contents of his kitchen noticeboard). Watch out for distracting reflections or that framed, naked selfie you have on the mantelpiece.
6. Look into my lens, the lens, the lens, not around the lens... - A common problem with mobile devices in “landscape” mode (horizontal) is that the camera lens is usually offset to the side. Mostly people look directly at the screen which can give an odd, "side on" perspective to the viewer. The easiest fix is to use the device in “portrait” mode (vertical) as the camera is central and you can maintain direct eye contact to the viewers, much nicer!
7. Eh? what? pardon? - Often, you’ll achieve better sound quality by using the type of “in-ear” ‘phones & mics that are commonly supplied with most smartphones. They’re lightweight & unobtrusive but can help both sides of the convo by removing the distractions of extraneous sounds. (if you’re using a wired version, please do remember to unplug BEFORE you stand up to go & get that cup of tea)
8. STFU! - What! No, calm down, I don’t mean that in a bad way! If you’re in a group call, it’s often helpful to mute your microphone when the main speaker is, well y’know, speaking...
9. Concentrate! - Oddly enough, people often have a genuine disconnect when on video calls & sort of…. just “forget” that they can be seen by the other participants - weird huh? Just be careful what you do on camera ;-)
10. Check it all out beforehand! - probably the most obvious but, good preparation is the key to success!
By taking the first letter of each of the above you get this handy mnemonic to help you remember:
There you go, couldn’t be simpler!
Good luck and have fun!
PS: Bonus tip:
If you’re using Zoom, you can use the “Touch Up My Appearance” filter you can apply to your video to smooth out your skin tone and make you look even more gorgeous… :-)
I'll tell you why.
There's no such thing as "one size fits all" & it's the same for photography assignments.
Factories, pubs, food, people, big items, small items, blah, blah, blah..... each requiring a different approach & style of photography.
That's what makes the job interesting, fun & challenging - you never really know which bit of equipment you need to (literally) pull out of the bag.
Sometimes it's the little details: a syringe to blob an extra bit of sauce on a food shot, a clothes brush to flick off fluff or just daft practical items such as a pair of stepladders or a 50m power cable on a large industrial shoot.
Point is, 99 times out of 100, an experienced professional photographer (such as me, for example...) will have foreseen such eventualities, planned & prepared.
If you haven't planned? Well, that's why they invented Photoshop, innit like? ;-)
What can we photograph for you in 2020?
So what's been happening?
During 2018 we've photographed:
pubs, hospitals, beer & gin festivals, corporate portraits, handmade artisan glassware, painters, sculptors, men up poles, men in holes, electronics and even a few brides (with corresponding grooms!)
All in all, too much to cram in here but I hope this selection gives you a flavour of our work during 2018.
What can we photograph for you in 2019?
Here are some of the comments we've received via e-mail in the past six months:
"As you know, we are all loving where we’re at. I couldn’t have imagined a better result. I showed it to a colleague next to me who said. “Wow, we don’t create stuff like this, it looks like an Apple ad”
"They look epic! Thanks ever so much for your time and patience on the day."
"This is absolutely perfect… thank you!!"
"The cover shot looks great - thanks for adding the motion blur on the drill ;) ...come to think of it, it's amazing what you achieved with a couple of wooden palettes, a dirty drill and an air freshener!!""
"Just sent that link over to Andre in Toronto and he’s really impressed with the images."
"They're looking really good! I've just typed my email in to download them all. Thank you!"
"Thank you very much. I will have my prints with me soon and I can't wait to see the photos on paper!"
"Brilliant, thanks very much Steve - looks brilliant!"
"absolutely f****** amazing!"
It was great to see their energy and enthusiasm for photography.
They listened politely to my ramblings on cameras, photographic theory & lighting and then we set to work with each student on some small “still life” sets for which they had conceived, designed and brought all the required props & background materials.
The day finished with a series of portraits for which one of the students sat as the “model” and another was responsible for hair and make-up.
Each of the girls will write up their experiences and thoughts of the concept, design and photography process as part of their assessments.
It’s encouraging to see so much talent coming along and feeding into the creative industries.
Be kind, be tolerant of strangers, love those around you and don't get hung up on just buying stuff.
Best wishes to you all.
The Grenadier Electric Firelighters are something of a Great British tradition, perhaps not quite up there with Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pud but the Grenadier has been designed, manufactured & assembled exclusively in the UK for almost 50 years!
Way back in 1956, The Clean Air Act was passed by UK Parliament as a direct response to London’s Great Smog of 1952. This introduced ‘smoke control areas’ into many of Britain’s towns & cities, where only smokeless fuels could be burnt.
Smokeless fuels were notoriously difficult to light & this challenge led directly to the development of the electric firelighter. Originally manufactured & distributed by the legendary Creda Company, the firelighter has been in continuous production in the UK ever since.
In 1989, ownership of the product passed to the current manufacturers – Grenadier Firelighters Ltd.
Julian Sillito, Director of Grenadier Firelighters explained “We know our firelighters are used in homes of all sizes as well as hotels and commercial premises across the UK & we regularly receive telephone calls from long-standing customers. The Grenadier Firelighter is a British design classic & we are still able to supply spare parts for all of our previous Grenadier models.”
Grenadier also manufacture and supply a variety of other products including the Ceramic Pizza Oven & Open Fire Pit which you see featured in the video.
Even a short video such as this involves a fair amount of work: scripting, storyboarding, scouting & organising suitable locations, "stills" photography, food preparation (including, in this instance, subsequently eating the food & drinking wine in the garden watching the sun setting over the Dee Estuary!), directing the voiceover artist, choosing music & of course, editing.
Hop over to www.grenadier.co.uk for more info on their range of excellent products.
Most importantly, keep warm, winter is on the way!
This recent set of images for a large, North West based, printing company illustrate some of the demanding & technical issues of product photography.
Much of today's "high end", creative print work combines many design elements: spot varnish, embossing, specialist paper stocks, stitching, binding, folding (although not necessarily all in the same piece of work!)
Pick up a piece of quality print work (or any object for that matter) and your already overworked brain (or is that just me?) goes into overdrive assessing the feel, texture, colour, weight and shape. You turn the product around and immediately you are conscious of the subtle changes in light across the surface, the translucence of the pages, the roughness of the material and you understand the structure of the folds and how the whole design works.
Unfortunately, all of that comes crashing to the ground as soon as you try to take a photo of it!
A single image reduces all of that sensory input to a sort of "through the keyhole" view and much is lost.
The photographer's job is to "tease" out all of the nuance from the subject with: careful lighting to enhance or reduce texture, thoughtful layout and positioning, attention to colour, precise focus, wide dynamic range and of course, the final high resolution image. Once the technical requirements are fulfilled, it then falls to the photographer to enhance the overall visual appeal using light / shade, camera angles etc but without detracting from the actual point of the image i.e. the subject.
Phew! That's a lot to think about, it's time consuming and fiddly but that's what we "professional" photographers aim to do using our skills, experience and knowledge: display, inform and enhance.
Of course, you could just chuck the product onto your desk and snap it with your iPhone!
Have a great day!
Most notably, I was proud and privileged to be invited onto the judging panel for the "North West Professional Photography Awards 2016”.
The other two judges specialise in: social, wedding, portrait and fashion photography. That left just me as the alleged "expert" in advertising and commercial photography.
Clearly, I always feel a complete fraud being described as an expert in anything. However, over the years I've been fortunate enough to be on various regional awards judging panels and even, the National awards on a handful of occasions. Somehow the organisers are under the misapprehension that I might have learnt something from the past 30 years working as a photographer so, I’ll let it slip…
The big questions are: where does one start when assessing an image and what are the most important characteristics one should look for?
You could say that photography is a language, always shifting and playing with different meanings. Nuance & subtlety carefully shift emphasis but so can brute force and vibrancy. Ultimately, it's all about the context of what are we trying to convey and who we are hoping to communicate with.
Photography and the perception of what makes a "good" photograph also changes in a similar way to which language evolves (I recall my father-in-law grimacing when someone used the word "massive" to describe something that has no "mass" e.g. a massive sale or massive congratulations and yet the new context of the word has entered our collective psyche with barely a second thought)
Photographic styles follow cyclical fashion trends, like politicians, and today's penchant for blurry edge, shallow focus, crappy colour, hide any lack of photographic skill or judgement (anyone ever heard of Instagram?) will soon be replaced by the full focus, colour correction of yesteryear. Well, it's also possible that the rules of grammar will be back on the school curriculum...
Back in the real world, over the past few weeks we’ve been working with jewellery designers, injection moulding engineers and food manufacturers to name a few. Each group has a different take on “what makes a good picture”.
Most clients appreciate a well composed, well lit and “in focus” image as a baseline. However, the approach and the emphasis is often subtly different. Technical images, for example, are often intended to show precision and detail although food, at the opposite end of the scale, is often softer, more delicate, more friendly and inviting.
So, the answer to the question “what makes a good picture?” is…..
Well, it's not that we need to lose weight(!), but we have been pretty busy photographing a new range of very low calorie shakes, soups & snack bars.
Of course, a very low calorie diet is not everyone's cup of tea (literally!) but for some it's an invaluable aid for maintaining a proper balance of nutrients, calories & flavours.
Although a shake or a soup may not look like the most exciting meal, we think that we can make 150 calories per serving look pretty yummy with a combination of careful preparation, choice of appropriate props, attention to detail & of course, some nice lighting.
Professional food photography & cookery are the same in many ways, we think it's all about blending various elements together to achieve a finished product greater than the sum of the parts!
Christmas Day, 2015, near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. Not bad for a quick pic from an iPhone4!
As the old adage goes: Q. What's the best camera? A. The one you've got with you!
Anyhow, cliched though crashing waves may be, I shall claim it's a symbol heralding the start of a new year & the promise of unimaginable new opportunities! Happy New Year everyone!
We always try to shoot at least three or four "possibles" & then spend hours, days or even weeks*, often in the company of a bottle of red wine, agonising over the final choice....
This year: we went nuts (a selection of mixed nuts to be precise), baked a Christmas Cake (or at least, gathered all of the required ingredients together) and toyed with a kilo of sprouts.
However, our favourite was the extremely minimal "fork in sprout". We felt that similar thoughts might pop into most peoples mind at Christmas.
Although we've always loved producing our own, bespoke Christmas cards (after 28 years it's can be a bit tricky finding a fresh "twist"), I've often been surprised by the number of companies that don't use the opportunity to get a bit more personal with their Christmas greetings. If you like the idea, give us a shout & we'll put together something unique & personal to you or your company. It doesn't have to be as quirky or as challenging as some of our silly cards but we think it's a great way to engage with your friends & clients!
Meanwhile, loads of seasonal love 'n' big festive hugs to y'all x
PS: * not really "weeks" as you can probably tell!
We're so pleased & proud to have been involved with this right from the earliest possible stage of concept packaging designs through to food photography & design/artwork of the finished vehicle decals
Three new trailers featuring 6 designs will join the existing two already out & about touring the length & breadth of the country.
Big, big thanks to Mo & Peter at Now Group Signs, Oswestry for their help, patience and tireless devotion to finishing the application in record time!
An immense & exciting development in Cheshire, the Runcorn Energy from Waste Power Project “does what it says on the tin”.
Receiving a constant stream of combustible waste via road & rail, the Runcorn EfW not only reduces the amount of waste going to landfill but it converts it to electricity. Such a simple idea but incredibly difficult & complex to put into practise. Of course, the real challenge is how do we, y’know, the human race, minimise the amount of waste that we create in the first place. A sensible & sustainable approach is the only way forward.
Meanwhile, when you're a bit short of good looking power station engineers to photograph, then I just have to step into the breach. Obvs.
Mighty ships plying their trade across vast swathes of bleak & often treacherous ocean. Below decks, giant diesel engines crank & turn for months on end. Nothing lasts forever of course & sooner or later, these wonderful machines are carefully pulled from their natural spaces & end up in places like this, awaiting renovation & repair or the simple indignity of being stripped down for spare parts.
Photography in these environments is always challenging, usually due to: poor or mixed lighting, the inability to move the items you're photographing, the scale of the subject & on this particular assignment - the cold! Taking a quick walk around on arrival & snapping a few pics with my iPhone (shown above!) helps me to identify interesting viewpoints. It also gives me a starting point to discuss with the art director & client what we shall need in order to achieve their final goal: items that need to be moved or tidied up, where we would like to position any people in the shots, what actions they will be carrying out etc etc.
Our client very specifically required that the company logo (on the engineers overalls) was clearly visible & an integral part of the composition to strongly brand all of the images throughout. Although apparently a simple requirement, it did involve careful consideration of how the engineers were interacting with the engines they were working on, precise positioning of subject, camera & lighting.
Additional lighting is essential to achieve the finished result although it's often a bit tricky running cables through a workshop such as this, not to mention balancing the illumination levels & colour temperature of all the conflicting ambient light sources.
Ultimately, we required nine individual images of engineers working so spent most of our day on this site and consumed a considerably of coffee, time & caffeine being vital ingredients to the success of most assignments.