EP141 New Year, New Adventures | Our Thoughts On The Year Ahead
So we’re kicking off 2024 with a slightly random podcast from the cab of my Land Rover (thank you Craig from New Zealand for telling me he quite likes the rawness – pretty much gave me permission to once again strap on my Madonna-esque headset mic and ad-lib my way through the first episode of the year!)
This episode is a blend of a summary of 2023 and some ideas for 2024. If anyone is curious, the lighting I mention is the Aputure LS60x and LS60d (tunable, focussable LED spotlights), the Aputure Accent B7c and the Phottix TR200R RGB Tube Lights. All brilliant.
The Superclass and Masterclass we will be running at the Societies Convention 2024 can be found at https://thesocieties.net/convention/speakers/paul-wilkinson/ and we would love to see you there – either at the workshops or just for a well-deserved pint!
Finally, all of our workshops at our studio can be found at https://www.paulwilkinsonphotography.co.uk/photography-workshops-and-training/
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To use his words, they feel a little bit more raw, and I don’t know what that means. Whether it means unscripted, or whether the sounds of a rattling Land Rover as I travel from point A to point B is somehow an interesting soundbed. I’ve no idea, he doesn’t elaborate. However, thanks Craig partly because it’s always nice to know that what you’re doing doesn’t just disappear into the ether, and I think as photographers we would All appreciate that sensation but also that even when I’m recording things literally in the last few minutes I have between jobs, because that’s all the [00:01:00] time I’m managing to find, then even those episodes have their value.
So one way or another. A very happy new year. Please forgive the sound quality. I’m Paul, and this is the Mastering Portrait Photography Podcast.
Do you know one of the things you’re meant to do as a sound engineer if you’re recording for either, I guess, a podcast or radio or for video, is to record a sound bed, to record the ambient noise. So, forgive me while I record little bits like this. Yes, just, I suppose in theory it should be silence, but in a Land Rover nothing is silent.
But I’m going to need lots of little bits of the audio if I have to do any corrections. I’m off to another shoot. I’m working with the Hearing Dogs [00:02:00] today, just a few miles down the road, in the UK, a typically average journey, I suppose, half an hour or so. Uh, half an hour out, half an hour back.
If you live in the US, that’s literally like tripping over your own doorstep because it’s a journey under two hours. But here in the UK, we’re used to slightly shorter journeys. The year has already got off to a ridiculous start. Uh, I actually thought, and every year I think this, that December will quieten down, I’ll have a great break over Christmas, January will be quiet until it ramps up.
And actually all that happens is I tear through the whole of the holiday period at a hundred miles an hour, hoping I can get a breather. December was really busy, which was good. 2023 however wasn’t the year that I’d like to relive. It hasn’t been a bad year, but we’ve had to fight every inch of the way.
Nothing has ever landed in our lap. Both Sarah and I and Michelle. are grafters, [00:03:00] all of us work, and work hard for our living. But, last year really was a little bit of a brutal year. Um, just felt like the atmosphere out there in the marketplace wasn’t everything it could have been.
Um, we’ve got very, or have had, very high inflation in the UK, certainly for this country. Now, if you’re listening to us in Venezuela or somewhere, possibly not quite the same thing. But with inflation rates kicking up, uh, touching out somewhere near 10 percent and then obviously hikes in interest rates by the Bank of England to bring that back down, essentially what you’ve got is the perfect storm for people like us who work in the service sector, because our costs of production have gone up in line with inflation. At the same time, the costs of living for our clients have gone up by the same amount, and so the battle for us to be one of their priority spends is that little bit more tricky. However, we’ve [00:04:00] done it, we had a really good year in the end, but like I said, we have fought tooth and nail, uh, to do it, and I think that’s the making of a business. I’ve said over the years, and I think it’s probably out there on a podcast, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t, that being a successful business when things are going well is actually really easy. There’s not an awful lot to it.
You do your job, you create what you create, you sell it, you move on to the next one. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s much more nuanced than that, I live this world. But broadly speaking, when things are going right, this job isn’t that hard. It’s when things are tough, that they show your real character.
So, I’ve spoken about customer service, it’s when it goes wrong, really, that you show the true Skillset, the true worth in everything that you do. When things are a little bit tougher, that’s when you have to dig deep. It’s when you have to show what you are made of.
And we’ve done that over the past 12 months, and we ended December with some beautiful shoots, some lovely clients, [00:05:00] one or two unexpected sales that came in from jobs that I guess there was at least one that I had mothballed, to the point of it being in the archive when the orders eventually came in.
Didn’t expect to hear from them, hadn’t heard from them in 18 months. So for a business like ours, where we are very much about a personal service, it’s in person sales, it’s an in-person experience, it’s about memories, it’s about laughter, it’s about feeling valued. Wherever possible, we do not do remote sales.
I don’t do remote sales for precisely the reason that it’s taken 18 months for one of our clients to come back and order their pictures. And that’s in spite of us doing all the usual stuff, we’ve emailed them, we’ve called them. Not to be, not to hassle them. Just to see if there’s anything we can do to help.
But the problem with non in person sales, online sales is of course. You have very few levers you can pull, and there’s not a lot you can do. You can [00:06:00] say you’re going to take the album down, which we did. In fact, the album was dormant for probably two thirds of that time. We’d just changed the password so that no one could log in. But of course, when they emailed and said, Oh, I’ve just noticed I can’t log in, we opened it back up. So it’s not a real lever, it’s just A way of us knowing that they’re looking at the album again. And the order came through, and it was a beautiful order.
So it’s great. It’s a proper Christmas bonus. Unexpected. Out of the blue. Beautiful album. Beautiful Graphistudio album. Beautiful frames. Big frames. And the whole thing, in the end, closed out at a really nice value sale.
So there’s a lesson in there somewhere, which is, you know, don’t ever write anything off. And we don’t write anything off. I didn’t know what the title of this podcast would be. Maybe that’s what it should be. It’s, you know, don’t write any job off. But actually, this is one of those unscripted podcasts where I haven’t really got a clue exactly what it was I was going to talk about. So I have this kind of list of things in my head, but who knows whether I’ll get to the bottom of [00:07:00] it.
Uh, on this year, on the title or on the topic of it being a New Year, of course everybody sits down and makes their list of New Year’s resolutions, which actually I don’t. I’ve never been a believer, and I think, I thought that’s what the title of this podcast was going to be. I’ve never been a believer in New Year’s resolutions.
I don’t know why, I just think if you want to do something, do it. Make, make every day the opportunity for a resolution. That’s not to say that I’m really good at doing that. That’s not to say that every time I’ve thought, you know what, I’m going to make that happen this year. I’m going to lose three stone and get fit, for instance.
You know, doesn’t happen. I’m going to stop drinking, doesn’t happen. I’m going to become a vegetarian like my daughter, doesn’t happen. There are plenty of things that I’d like to do that just Do you know what? They haven’t happened. But Equally, I don’t wait till New Year to change the big stuff.
But, and there is a but, is that New Year does mark a [00:08:00] natural transition, certainly when it comes to reporting your successes as a photography business. We actually don’t report our profits December to December. our accounting period is September to September. But we do Internally, track it in standard calendar years.
Why? Well, actually because for social photographers there is a natural hiatus around about the end of December. People will have rollover jobs, we will very often have jobs in the diary. In the gap between Christmas and New Year simply because they book in for those. So it’s not a perfectly clean break where , it stops, it starts.
But there’s definitely a feeling in the marketplace that, oh, let’s wait till next year. If somebody rings us and says, I want to do a shoot for my family, and if it’s any time around November, the chances are they’re gonna say, oh, do you know what, let’s push that into next year. Let’s see what next year brings.
There’s a lot of that. And so it’s [00:09:00] good for us to have a data point that I can compare year on year, decade, on decade these days, . And of course, covid sort of flung that up in the air, uh, three or two and a bit years of not really being able to rely on anything.
Our data is absolutely shot: the trajectories, the averages, our historical patterns have somewhat collapsed. We are getting back, I’ll be honest about that, things are beginning to look a little bit more familiar, the end of last year, or the bulk of last year, it was definitely starting to feel that way. However, things that we are looking forward to doing, so some of this stuff kicked off last year, and some of it is things we’re gonna do this year.
So last year was a big sort of step up in us building our workshops and our workshop community. Lots to do on that front, we’re not by any means in the position we are with our photography. Photography was a solid vision [00:10:00] for us. We can take a picture, we’ve worked out that the quality was good, we have fab suppliers, we have solid workflows, efficient practices, we knew our way around the marketing.
Over a few years we built the business reasonably sure footedly. Obviously, we’ve tripped over some things like all businesses do. Not gonna say for a minute we got it all perfect. But it was something we could get our arms around and could understand. And the minute I knew we had a good product then I knew we could build a business around it.
And I knew we had a good product because I’ve been taking pictures since I was a kid. I’ve been creating images and portraits since I was 10 years old, so I knew I could take a picture in the end, ignoring the whole kind of self confidence or insecurity bits and the imposter syndromes and all of the rest of the stuff we talk about all the time.
I knew I could take a picture.
Training courses and workshops are slightly different. I still know I can take a picture, but whether or not we could run good workshops, whether or not we could supply great materials, [00:11:00] these were questions that we still had in our heads.
So, for instance, one of the things I was curious about was whether it would be a good idea to set the context of each workshop with a little presentation. I’m, I’m not a fan. When I go on a training course, I really, really, really want to see or want to understand how the person giving a workshop does what they do.
Whatever it’s in, whether it’s marketing, sales, Photoshopping 3D, visuals. Customer relationships, I don’t know, many, many different aspects to this business. But if I want to go and learn from someone, I want them to hit the road sorry, hit, yeah, no, hit the road quick and get into the nitty gritty. I’m not a big fan of spending hours in a preamble.
However, one of the things I did pick up on is that you do need to be organized in your approach. And whether I like it or not, and whether I’m comfortable with it or not, I’m not that guy. I’m not the guy that thinks in a linear fashion. I can [00:12:00] when I have to. You know, I spent 10 years working as a manager in IT.
Trust me, I can when I have to. But that’s not my natural skill set. I’m not linear. And I can, if I could see Sarah’s face when she listens to this podcast, she’d be like, yeah, no shit, Sherlock. You are not linear. Because Sarah’s very organized, very drilled, very Put together, and I’m so not those things.
I wish I was, sometimes, but out of the same chaos comes the imagery and the ideas that we have. So, I can’t turn it off. I don’t want to turn it off. If anything, being slightly chaotic is my superpower, because it brings ideas, and it brings energy, and it brings drive. But, equally, it brings inconsistency.
It brings me being really easily distracted. Distracted by breathing, you know? It’s just ridiculous. So, some of the things we did last year were to [00:13:00] try and see if there are ways in which I can help myself and help the delegates on our workshops not suffer at the hands of my own chaos. And one of them is we do a quick presentation, half an hour, forty minutes.
If I get that right, of course that becomes a piece of collateral that we can send out to you if you come on one of our workshops. It becomes a series of ideas and diagrams that maybe I can use for training videos. It becomes some words that maybe I can re craft into maybe a podcast or for when I’m writing with NPhoto magazine or whether I’m writing for Professional Photographer.
So these are just parts of the puzzle. And we got that together last year and the feedback we’re getting from our workshops is just phenomenal. It’s absolutely brilliant that people have come on it. They seem to enjoy it. They come back. So to all of those people who are multiple offenders, thank you. It’s so lovely to see you all. It feels [00:14:00] like we’re beginning to build a little community. So now I know I’ve got the product right or we’re in the, we’re going in the right direction with the product. Now we can really start to focus on it. Forgive the pun. We can really start to drive that home just like we did with the core photography business.
And that’s the target of this year. Mostly is to drive the training. Drive The platforms, the videos, all of the stuff that goes around that. The podcast is a big part of that. But finding the time when I’m on my own To sit and record is or has proven tricky over the past month or two. So, Christmas and New Year were lovely.
I digress here a little bit, but there’s a slight point to it. Christmas and New Year were lovely. So, we stopped, we shut the studio down. Day before or two days before Christmas Eve I went shopping with my boy to do some mop up. Spent a really, just had a really lovely day the day before Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve onwards up until, really up [00:15:00] until New Year’s Day was spent with family and friends. And I really do mean pretty much every waking minute was with people I love. And now I’m an extrovert. In theory, as an extrovert, every one of those moments with family and friends is a moment to recharge.
It’s a moment for me to really feel energised. Yeah, that’s, that’s an extravert I love being around people. But I tell you what, when I got to New Year’s Day, all I really wanted to do was just find myself in a dark room. And switch the social side of my brain off and do something much less much less social I suppose is the only word I can think of.
I’ve had a couple of days of that and I’m beginning to get myself back together. And then, uh, last or two nights ago straight back out photographing the Christmas party for the Le Manoir chefs. And the staff, [00:16:00] which is riotous. Now those guys, Le Manoir is two Michelin starred hotel and restaurant, or restaurant with rooms, I think is how they like to call it.
It’s an amazing place, beautiful food, voted one of the top hotels in the world. It’s in the top 50 every year, I think it was in the top 10 this year. Absolutely phenomenal place, and they work hours that make mine look kind of shabby, I think. They work long hours, it’s hard graft, they love it, they’re brilliant.
But when you’re thrown into their Christmas party, they don’t half let off a little bit of steam, and it is great. So it was really nice to have a couple of quieter days, and then the Christmas party at La Manoire with my friends who are chefs, front of house gardeners, housekeeping you name it, the management team, marketing, sales, the HR team who asked me to do it.
They’re just brilliant, and I’ve come away from it buzzing and energized all over again. So I cannot wait for the year. [00:17:00] And on that, we are building the workshops up.
On that note, we have a couple actually, I’m going to be at the convention, the Societies of Photographers convention in January, I’m hoping there’s some structure to this podcast by the way I’m gonna have to finish in about 5 to 10 minutes because I’ll arrive at my client and I’ll pick it up again, but I’ll let you bet I’ll repeat a bit because I won’t remember where I got to, and I don’t want to have to spend hours in edit, I don’t have time to spend hours in the edit, so this is gonna be one of those podcasts That is pretty raw, it’s gonna come out of the recording unit as it is, and it’s gonna go straight out.
As you’re hearing it, I don’t think there’ll have been very much editing except to stick in some music underneath it, and just to check the sound quality’s alright. So, forgive me for that. But it’s gonna be well I’m at the convention, 17th, I’m at the whole of the convention, but I’m doing two workshops, I’m doing a super class on the 17th.
And a Masterclass on the 18th. The Superclass you have to book in advance. I think there’s one place left. That’s all. If anybody fancies [00:18:00] it, head over to the Society’s Convention and look for the Superclasses. We’re gonna spend the whole of that three, three and a half hours. Creating headshots and personal branding images.
I’ve never met the couple who are my models. I’m looking forward to meeting them. They sound really cool. But we’re going to explore lighting, how you interact. We’re going to talk about whatever people want to talk about. Whether it’s the marketing side of it, whether it’s the business side of it.
Whether it’s how you tell a story through the photos. It’s whether, how you weave the story of the shoot. Because I think that’s an underrepresented part of social photography is how you thread your way in a meaningful fashion through the shoots. That’s the superclass. That’s on the 17th.
On the 18th, I’m doing a masterclass, you don’t need to book for that, but I’d love to see you. It’s free if you have a ticket to the event. Come along and we’re going to be talking about specifically ten lighting patterns. I’m going to put together ten easy lighting patterns that you can replicate. One of the things I’m acutely aware of is, [00:19:00] I find much of taking a portrait second nature to me.
I do it Automatically, I can see light, I can feel it, I can almost smell it out. anD I, I don’t know why or how that should be, but it is. So when I’m positioning lights, I know exactly what I’m doing, because I’m simply looking at what’s in front of me. But, I’ve had to critique a few images some people have been on a workshop, some people have simply have asked me for some mentoring, and reading light, it turns out, is not the most natural thing in the world, and I, I assumed it was.
So I’ve clearly misunderstood some aspects of what, how we can teach this, so part of the Masterclass really, or part of the idea behind the Masterclass really, is to see if we can nail down ten lighting patterns with two lights, so we use one light, we’ll use two lights, we’ll create some drama, we’ll create some theatre, we’ll create some very basic stuff, [00:20:00] But the idea is we’re going to hand over some real examples done live in front of the audience as to how you can do this with basic equipment.
We’re going to do it in a normal room. It’s just one of the meeting rooms in a hotel. We’re going to do it with normal kit. I will have two lights I will, I think, have a pop up backdrop, which I’ll bring in, just so I’ve got a plain backdrop, because I can’t guarantee it. And we’re going to go through some of the ideas.
And that’s kind of where we’re taking all of our workshops now, is to give our delegates things they can take away with them. Proper, right, okay, if you do this, that will work. One of the things I’ve always fought against, the reason we haven’t really gone down that road up until now, is I’ve Rebelled a lot against people telling me how I should do it.
And I never ever, still don’t, want to be the guy that says this is how you should do it. And I try really hard to remember at the beginning of every workshop, every presentation I [00:21:00] ever do. I did one the other day, we did a webinar, and I started by telling everybody on it. It’s very personal to me. My eyes, my clients, my lights, my camera, my style. All of it is about me and what I like. It might not work for everybody. So I can give you insights into the thought process and this is what I thought we would do.
We’ll give insights, we’ll give ideas, we’ll give inspiration, we’ll energize. And all of that works. But the problem is if you don’t understand the fundamentals or can’t read it like some photographers can, then it becomes slightly trickier. So the masterclass, the second of the two classes, the masterclass at the convention on the 18th of January, it’s gonna be much to do with that.
So if you’re round the convention, you’re a loose end. I think it’s 11 till one 30 on the 18th. So it’s a mid-morning slot. You’ll finish your breakfast, you’ll have had a couple of cups of coffee. You’ll be thinking, what the hell am I gonna do today? Why not stick your head in and come and have a play?[00:22:00] So that’s what we’re going to do. And at that stage, I’m going to break off here now, because as I turn this left hand bend on a very wet road. Here we go. I’m just going to arrive at my client, which is great. I’m photographing for the Hearing Dogs this afternoon. I’m photographing a re a recipient, so a partnership, a hearing dog and a a deaf person whose story is both heartbreaking and inspirational in equal measure.
So I’m looking forward to that. It’s going to be a lovely shoot. I will pick up again when I’ve broken off and let you know how that went. and finish off this podcast. Once again. Craig, thank you very much for telling me that I can, if I wish to record podcasts in the car,
So just to pick up where I left off, just come to the end of a lovely shoot. Sorry, also weaving, or trying to weave through traffic in a very small Buckinghamshire town. Wilmslow, it turns out, is full of tiny little [00:23:00] streets. Many of which I’m navigating a large Land Rover through.
It’s not easy and speaking at the same time. Apparently, it turns out, I can just about walk and chew gum at the same time, but cannot talk and drive a Land Rover at the same time. too: must be two different bits of my brain. Okay. And a nice person’s let me out, and another person has refused to let me out.
And there’s a motorbike, and I’ve just landed into school traffic. In Bucks, which means that no one’s paying attention at all to anyone except their own journey home and trying to get back for our, I’m assuming, a cup of tea and to get the kids a sandwich. Where are we? So yes, I just finished a really beautiful shoot with a really lovely person who she lost her hearing.
Well, she had an illness, went into a coma, came out of the coma, and discovered that she had lost her hearing, one heck of a shock. And so she now has a Hearing Dog, but she’s profoundly [00:24:00] deaf, has absolutely no hearing at all.
And the hearing dog provides all of the support that she needs. So if the doorbell goes, the phone goes. Smoke alarms, obviously. Every minutiae of life that we take for granted, the hearing dog supports them. A hearing dog. A beautiful spaniel. I’m not going to give any names away, because that’s not my place to.
But an absolutely wonderful shoot. And I read in the notes that she wasn’t particularly keen on being photographed. Not someone who’s used to being photographed, not someone who enjoys being photographed. And you read these notes and I would say 80 percent of my clients sit in that bracket. Um, there are days, there are days when I wake up and wished everybody I photographed really, really, really wanted to be photographed.
Models and the like. Because man, wouldn’t that be just glorious? Really easy too. It’d be wonderful that every person in [00:25:00] front of the camera wanted to show off, and they just loved it, and they were confident, and knew how beautiful they were. But that’s just not my world. So the lady, really super smart lawyer didn’t really want to be, well my note said that she didn’t really feel comfortable being photographed, but it turns out, uh, She could not have been lovelier.
Did I just say that right? Lovelier, lovelier. She could not have I’m concentrating on driving. Lovelier. And the shoot has just been absolutely beautiful. The dog was stunning. The light has been really nice. We’re under a rain warning at the moment. We’re about to get some really heavy rain, but it held off long enough that we’ve done the whole shoot in the dry. Well, in the dry, but not on the dry. Everywhere. I don’t know what it’s like where you are around the world, but in Britain, just at the moment, we’ve had back to back rainstorms of one sort or another. Some of them big enough to be given names.
And we’ve got another tranche of it coming in in about an hour. Oh, half an hour, about half an hour. [00:26:00] I don’t know why that matters. I’m one of those people that have to suddenly get to detail. I don’t know why. I apologize. Anyway, it’s been a brilliant afternoon, and it’s these kinds of shoots that remind me why I do what I do.
Because just having people like the lady I’ve just photographed in front of the camera who full of energy, and smart, and laughter. She can hear nothing. Everything is being done through lip reading, which is, for me, is not I mean, I’m used to working around the deaf community, but I’m one of those people that spends a lot of time looking to the sides to see where the next shot’s coming from.
So, mid sentence, I’ll suddenly find myself looking away. And, until working with the Hearing Dogs For Deaf People, I didn’t even know I did it. And, of course, it becomes a profound challenge that I need to concentrate and I’ve spent the afternoon concentrating on making sure no matter who I’m talking to or what I’m thinking for the next shot I must always [00:27:00] have eye contact with the person, the hearing dog recipient because They’re relying on seeing my lip movements to be able to understand what’s going on.
And it, you become acutely aware of it. but equally, she said, it’s really bad when people try to talk slowly because that changes her understanding of the words. Because she’s lip, because she’s lip reading, if you speak slowly, actually that makes it harder to understand the wording. So all in all something I need to continue to work on and get better at.
At least I’m aware of it, and I try, I try pretty hard, but the photos we’ve got are absolutely beautiful. So where were we, where were we? Oh, I think we’d come to a bit, some of that training, I’ve no idea, I told you I’d lose track. podcast part two, I’m Paul, and this is still the Mastering Portrait Photography Podcast.
As I wind my way through the lanes. Other things that are happening in the studio. Obviously we’re working on the setup of our training and our workshops. I’m about to re [00:28:00] platform all of our websites onto a new platform. Not quite sure which one it’s going to be just yet.
But one of the challenges I guess all of us have is our web presence is really important, and so I built all my own websites built it all on WordPress. So all hosted it’s all currently hosted on Siteground but over the years, a combination of price walking, which simply means every year it’s got more and more expensive. You can get a good deal to start with, but gradually, I mean, we pay now.
For two, the two main of our websites, I think the basic hosting is about 1200 quid a year for the two. And on top of that are all the little plug ins that we’ve had to buy and put in to run things like the shop, to run things like the automated side of it, the emails, to do certain things like display the images the way I want them.
All of these bits of software are licensed. [00:29:00] Which is fine, but if you added all of that in to get in as well, rather, I think you get up into the region of sort of 1, 500 quid a year, 1, 600 pounds a year, somewhere around there for the two websites. Now that’s fine, we’re a big business. We work really hard at what we do, and we can justify paying properly, and paying, well pay our licenses anyway, but we can justify all of the expense of the website simply because it’s a part of our turnover.
However, what irks me is firstly how difficult it is to keep on top of all of the updates of all of the component bits of software and also just how expensive it is when it doesn’t need to be. It’s not about the fact that I have to invest in it, it’s about the fact that I don’t think I need to do, I need to invest the time and the finances to the level we are.
So I’m hunting around at the moment. I think I know what we’re gonna do, and I think I know how I’m gonna do it. It’ll take time, which is [00:30:00] something I don’t have a lot of, but it’s still got to be done. But if I can get all of the websites into one place, simplify them down, they don’t need to be as comp, I’m really proud of our websites, but they do not need to be as complicated as they have evolved to be. And it’s not that I set out to make them complicated, or I set out to do stuff that’s particularly difficult. It’s just that, year on year on year, as you add functionality, as you try to do new things, as you get on top of SEO, and structuring, and then keeping a track of 301s and 404s, and then you’ve got to have, like, an SEO tool to help you make sure your SEO’s alright.
And then you’ve got albums and portfolio bits of kit. You’ve got sliders. Oh man, there’s so many bits of software. All of which is necessary to do what I have in my head. So what I’ve got to do first is figure out what’s the bare minimum I can get away with. And then secondly, re platform all of that. So the websites will still be [00:31:00] beautiful.
But if I can get it all under one roof, it’ll be much easier to manage. And I don’t have the time, to manage everything anymore, I simply don’t. So that’s, that’s on the list for this year. And the other thing we’re gonna do this year, or I’ve already started doing, is gradually pushing more into continuous lighting and away from strobes.
Now, this is one which I don’t yet know quite where the journey’s gonna take me, but the foray that we’ve had into it so far has been incredibly rewarding. LED technology now with high CRI LEDs is at the standard where the quality is nearly as good as strobes. It’s not, I still love the light you get off a Zenon strobe.
There’s something really beautiful about the quality of light, and of course, massively punchy. You get a huge amount of light, [00:32:00] a huge amount of kick. out of pretty much any strobe compared to an LED. If you had LEDs as bright as the strobe, as bright as the instantaneous flash of a strobe, people wouldn’t be able to see.
It’s, you know, so bright, there’s so much energy in that tiny fraction of a second, that, I don’t know, thousandths of a second of light burst. But working with LED makes it easier to do video and you really can see What you’re gonna get. And my logic is a very simple one. If it’s good enough for the film industry, and the TV industry, Netflix and the like, then it’s good enough for photography.
Yes, alright, there are some things I’m gonna have to learn how to do differently. But I love doing that anyway. I’m a quick learner on most things. And so, I’m really excited about it. We’ve started I bought I’ve got a couple of Aputure Lightstorm Focusable, so these have got focusing lenses on the front focusable spots, and [00:33:00] they’ve got the old Bowens S type mounts on them, so we can mount pretty much anything.
I use Profoto strobes in the studio but I’ve got these Aperture Lightstorm tunable lights, which are absolutely phenomenal. Really bright when you want them to be. If you turn them right down, they’ll last for hours on a single charge. Also I’ve got a couple of, they were just cheap. I was working in the flash centre doing judging for the BIPP.
And it was the flash centre in Birmingham were hosting us. And they had these light strips, just light rods. LED, Phottix. I think they were 40 quid each. I mean, they’re really pennies. You know, a tank of fuel in this Land Rover is about 80 quid, so for the price of a tank of fuel, I can get two highly tunable, full spectrum lights that will do any color on the color wheel.
As well as doing normal presets. They also do some clever things with, you can make, turn them into police lights and all the rest of it. They’re quite cool. [00:34:00] So I got those working in the studio, but one of the challenges when you’re working with Available light is the camera is going to capture everything it sees.
With strobes, I don’t worry about the lighting in the studio because the strobe overpowers it. Doesn’t really matter. But with LED, you have to get the lighting, the whole lighting, exactly as you want it. And it caught us out a little bit when we were recording a video recently, and the video is simply too dark because I’ve lit my subject perfectly.
But I haven’t lit the rest of the studio because it never really occurred to me, and I need to do it, and it’s fine. Everything’s okay, and certainly the subject looks incredible, but when you look at the footage of me talking to camera, for instance, I’m in the gloom somewhere. And although we tried to sort it out a little bit, we haven’t quite got there.
So I’ve now retrofitted all of the lighting in the studio, so all of our normal overheads, office lighting if you like, in the studio, with, again, made by Aputure. They are, I can’t, I think they’re called [00:35:00] B7Cs or BL7Cs, which are, they look like a fat light bulb with an Edison screw thread, so they’ll fit pretty much any light fitting from 100 volts up to about 250 volts.
You screw them into a light fitting, and in normal mode, they just behave like normal light bulbs, except that you can hook them up to the same app I use for the Aputure Lightstorms, and you can control them completely from the phone. So I can control how strong they are. I can also control, again, like the Phottix, light sticks, I can control exactly what color they are.
So these things, they’re only about 50 quid each, but they are fully tunable. Any color I like and some special effects, if ever I did video that needed to feature, I don’t know, police, car or fireworks or firelight, , it does all of those, that’s of almost no interest to me. It’s quite a cool thing to do, but.
Not really for what I do. But I can control their light to be any colour [00:36:00] temperature and any power. On top of that, if you unscrew the light, it becomes a battery powered light. It simply can sit in someone’s hand, or you can put it into any light fitting, even if it’s not plugged in, and it will work exactly the same.
It doesn’t really make any difference. It’ll last for about seven hours off the battery. These are really cool. So, we’ve started to experiment. A little way to go. I need some slightly, some LED panels. I’ve got a couple of bits. I do have some LED panels, but they’re slightly older and the high CRI on the newer LEDs, you can really see the difference when you’re illuminating skin.
But it’s a whole new adventure and it does change the way you shoot. So at the moment when I’m shooting, particularly when I’m doing headshots, I’ll use, I’ll do some with strobes because you get that glorious, clean light. With really deep depths of field. And obviously, ProPhoto units that modifies everything is absolutely stunning.
So that’s not something I’m gonna [00:37:00] completely get rid of anytime soon because I’m addicted to the quality of the light. But in the second half of the shoot, or maybe for certain shots, I’ll bring out some LED lighting, maybe with a soft box or maybe LED, the strips and. You then get this beautiful thing where you can have much shallower depths of field.
So, and total control, you can see exactly how the light’s going to play. You can change the colours of the lights as if I was gelling the strobes, but it’s so much easier. Literally, I can just dial it in to the app and change the colour of the lights. It’s opening up new avenues to explore where we can play with colour because it’s quicker.
We can play with really shallow depths of field. I’m unlikely to ever be able to light, a family easily, because the power you’d need to get the depth of field you need, at least with the ISOs that we’re still using at the moment, is possibly a bit too bright. But, [00:38:00] ISOs are becoming normal.
The party I shot for the hotel I shot nearly all of it. Our ISO 10,000, ISO 10 K. That’s just ridiculous in terms of sensitivity. But I wanted to capture the colors of the party. I wanted to capture the candlelight. I wanted to capture the sort of fairy lights and effects lights that the events company had put on.
I wanted all of that, and I didn’t wanna bounce, flash in and kill it. I did, obviously, when they’re doing their awards. I used a flash gun. I used a, a speedlight on the camera because. Me being creative with the lighting is really not part of that puzzle. They need to be well lit, they need to be clear, they want to be able to celebrate the awards they’ve won.
But, when it comes to the event side of it, the party side of it, I shot nearly all of it at ISO 10, 000 and then simply ran it through, for this particular run, I ran it through Adobe Lightroom, the AI noise reducer. I didn’t turn the noise [00:39:00] reduction up very much, 20%? Tiny. But it has a really profound quality to it now.
So you can run at ISO 10, 000 and still get pretty clean images. You lose a little bit of detail, it can get a little bit mushy. But it’s a 50 megapixel camera, the Z9. And these pictures are not going to be used anywhere bigger, I’m going to guess, than 7×5. That’s it. They’re not hero pictures, they’re not going out as posters.
So, I’ve got a huge amount of latitude. And to be fair, I probably didn’t even need to put the noise reducer on it, but I did just because, it’s like somebody’s going to zoom in and go, that’s a bit grainy. Why do you need high ISOs, or clean high ISOs with LED? Well, think about it. Let’s say I want to get to f8, right?
Let’s say I want to photograph a group of four or five people, and I’m going to need f8. To get the front to back bite in the image. So that the person at the front of the shot is nice and sharp, the person at the back of the shot is nice and sharp. Now, with a strobe, [00:40:00] that’s really easy. With a strobe, I can turn the power wherever I like it, it won’t make an awful lot of difference to the people in the shot, it’s just a bright flash, and it’s done.
And I can set the camera at ISO 100, F8, F11, F16, whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’ll override all the light in the room, and I’ve got plenty of depth of field. Really easy. Now. If I turned my LEDs, and I’d need a few more than I own, up to get ISO 100, 100th of a second, f11, that is bright sunlight. That’s effectively daylight, but on a sunny day.
So, that’s not really practical in a studio if I don’t want people to be squinting. I could turn the power of the lights down, and use less power on the lights, but then of course I’m going to need to use slower shutter speeds, wider apertures, or higher ISOs. And now, with the ability to clean up even high ISO, [00:41:00] I’m starting to teeter on the edge of being able to do practically what you can do with strobes, with LEDs instead.
Not there yet, but we’re heading In the right direction. So that’s on my list. That’s part of this year. I’m gonna re-platform, the websites we’re gonna switch over to LED. And we’re gonna just see whether, for instance, we can create better videos, more videos, so it in, in the end. This year, it is all about making the changes we need to the business that we are looking forwards to.
More about training, more about workshops, more about creating videos, about creating educational materials. Who knows, who knows, one day I might even get around to writing a second book to go with the very successful Mastering Portrait Photography. Mastering Portrait Photography Part 2, the sequel.
This time it’s personal. Mastering Portrait Photography Armageddon. I don’t know, maybe I’ll do it like Fast and Furious. We’ll just do two, then three, then four, then [00:42:00] five, and then twenty eight. Who knows. But at the moment I haven’t got that in me. The problem is always, of course, like all of us, our real clients, the clients that pay our everyday bills, the portrait clients, the wedding clients, the commercial clients I’m gonna have to service those guys first.
And that’s always the kicker, is how do I manage to keep the revenue coming in just as we need it, while still effectively building an entire add on or new business. It’s a new business. So that’s the puzzle. I will get to the bottom of it. I will figure it out. I’m enjoying the process very much.
And so that, for us, is the year ahead. As I drive through, the rain has just arrived. It’s dark and gloomy. My windscreen wipers are now squeaking in the background. I’m sure you can hear that on the recording. I’m driving through a very beautiful bit of the country. I’m running along one of the ridges in the Ridgeway.
That’s the Chiltern Hills. Just driving along and in spite of it being gloomy and dramatic, there’s [00:43:00] fields full of sheep, there’s just past an old farm, it’s actually one of my clients here, and it’s beautiful I’m guessing that is a medieval farmhouse, that is well old, that’s got to be, and you’re looking at the roof line, it’s all sagged and these tiny little bricks and the road dips and drives around into the distance, it’s Quite beautiful in spite of the rain.
So there you have it. Please do head over to Mastering Portrait Photography. Also have a look if you’re interested in the workshops that we’re running this year. They’re all out all up. The first six, at least, are up. The first few sold out literally within a day or so. Which is really flattering, but then gives me the problem of having to immediately schedule in new ones.
There are a few spaces on some of the others though, so if you fancy coming and having an absolute blast about portrait photography in particular, whether it’s you want to talk about the business side, the photoshopping side, or camera craft [00:44:00] or studio lighting, then please do head over to Paul Wilkinson Photography and look for the section on workshops.
You can just google Paul Wilkinson Photography workshops. And you’ll find them pretty quick. Whatever else happens, I hope your holiday season was peaceful. I hope you had a lovely, restful one. If not, I hope you’re having an absolute party. And so, here’s to 2024. Let’s hope that it’s Well, let’s hope that it’s a nicer year than it seems to have been in the first few days.
There’s nothing in the news that fills me with very much joy. So I’m just ignoring the news. I’m not paying any attention to it. I’m not getting involved. It just upsets me. I’m going to continue to do what I do and enjoy spending time with my clients, enjoy spending time with other photographers.
Basically, I’m just going to make the most of my time on the planet. Here’s to 2024 and whatever else, remember, be kind to yourself. Take care. [00:45:00]