In the latest addition of our Pro Interview series we caught up with creative photographer pro, Scott Ramsey. He specializes in creating photographs that tell a story and he regularly works with small and large businesses in Sussex, Surrey, London and across the UK. Here he shares some tips on small business photography and how to get the most out of a photo shoot.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you are currently doing – give us a brief bio.
I have been a professional photographer for over 26 years. My Dad was also a professional photographer, so you could say it’s in my blood. I started taking photos as a child and by the age of 13, I had my first photo published in a local newspaper. This started my career and since then I have been lucky enough to have the best job in the world. I spent the first part of my career working as an editorial photographer for both local and national newspapers. I have been a staff photographer and freelanced across the UK with my photographs appearing in all of the UK national newspapers. As the industry changed, I found myself spending less and less time taking photographs and more time trying to get shots of so-called celebrities. This really wasn’t for me, so I started up my own photography business 10 years ago. My editorial experience and love of photography allows me to cover many different assignments for my clients. These range from family portrait shoots or weddings, through to corporate or small business photography shoots. Everyday is different, which is what I love. I also spend time working on my own personal projects, as long as I’m taking photos, I’m happy.
Describe your basic approach to photography.
My approach is simple. I always try to tell a story with my photography. I guess I am rather ‘old school’, but I do still believe that photography can make a difference. When I was a boy and my dad was teaching me how to take photos, he told me that if you are sent to photograph a man cutting wood, then photograph him cutting wood. Simple. That’s always stuck with me. Everytime I create a photograph, I always learn something new, as every shoot is different. It’s crucial to develop, evolve, change and to never stop learning.
What types of photographs do small businesses need?
I think it would be shorter to list what they don’t need! It’s as varied as you can imagine depending on the type of business. However, for new clients I normally recommend starting with some formal and informal portraits of key members of staff. Some ‘doing photos’ of staff, this could be a member of staff serving a customer or producing the product the business makes. Some product shots, internal and exterior photos of the business premises and a staff group photo. These photos are a good starting point and will produce a good mix of photos for a website, blog, brochure or to accompany a press release or appear in an advert.
Where are small businesses using these photographs?
Traditionally they would be used on a website, in a brochure and for advertising. In recent years this has changed with the increase in popularity of social media. Now the photographs will be also be used on Pinterest, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Blogs. The list is increasing everyday.
What advantage is there in hiring a professional photographer over using stock photos?
The main advantage is that the photographs will be personal and relevant to your business. The photographs will show your business, staff, products and premises rather than photographs of models that look posed and have that ‘stock library’ look. It’s not that I have anything against stock photos or agencies, I have photos placed with Alamy and they can be a great resource when you are looking for photos. The first time a small business starts to think about images is usually about 5 minutes after they decide to build a website. Whether they are building it themselves or working with a web-design company, they need great photos for their website. More often than not, the designer will use a stock library to source some suitable images. The main problem I have with this is the images look like stock photos. They have that over-styled look, are often posed by models and unless you pay extra could appear on another business’ website. The big thing in marketing at the moment is ‘Personal’ and ‘Local’ marketing. Just look at the big global brands as they are spending a lot of money trying to make their adverts look this way. A local business has a big advantage already, as people love the thought of using a local business and they want to know the staff, see a photo and read about them. I would recommend finding a good photographer and working with him or her. Arrange a meeting and build a relationship with the photographer. Any good photographer will be able to come up with ideas to best demonstrate what you do and the message you want to get across. Over time the small business owner will build up their own personal photo library of images, ready to be used in that next advert or blog post.
You’re big on telling a story with your photos. How does the story unfold when you’re working with a business? Does the business come to you with a story, do you discover it, or is it a combination of both?
Very much so and it’s a combination of both. Some of my clients already have a good idea of what they want and others literally have no idea, other than they need a few images. Either way I’ll start by doing some research about the business and then normally have a meeting to discuss their requirements. During this meeting, I’ll be able to really understand the business and be able to share ideas. Some of my clients are great at what they do, but will openly admit that they do not have strong creative skills. In this case, I will often just talk to them about their business and what they do. Their passion for their products or service will start to come through as we talk. I’ll pick up on key points, their style and USP (Unique Selling Point) of their business and offer suggestions based on what we talk about. It’s definitely a joint effort, but don’t worry you don’t have to be creative to work with a pro photographer. I often recommend my clients to set up a Pinterest board and start to add any photos they like. This will help during the meeting, as I can see the style of photography they like and it helps them to start thinking creatively.
What advice do you have for a business to make the most of their shoot?
Regardless of the length of time you have booked a photographer, you will want to get the most from the shoot. Discuss ideas beforehand and if possible have a meeting with the photographer. Time is money, so even if you can’t meet at the same location, a chat via Facetime or Skype will really help. Set up a scrapbook or Pinterest board (its free and you can share it with your team and the photographer) with photographs you like. Before the day of the shoot, think about what you want to wear. Do you want all staff to look business professional (suit, shirt and tie), a uniform or look more casual. Talk to staff members and get them involved, they might have some great ideas and you want them onboard. The day before the shoot, remind all staff that they will be having their photographs taken the following day. Trust me, someone will forget! Get them to clear desks, tidy the shop or office. You don’t want the photographer to spend all their time tidying up and not having enough time to take all the photos you need. During the shoot I will often show the client the photographs as they are taken. The creative process is quite fluid and often things will change and new ideas thought of. Don’t be too obsessed about sticking to a list. Ask your photographer how long they will need to get the photographs you require. A good pro photographer will be able to advise you. Don’t fall into the common mistake of booking a photographer for one hour if you require a day of photography. It takes time to set up lights and to be creative. Rushing and trying to pack too much into limited time might get you lots of photos, but the quality will suffer. Quality over quantity is a far better approach.
Can you share a project that was especially fun to work on? (Doesn’t have to be business related)
I am currently working on a project to capture professions and trades that are dying out. I am collaborating with a traditional coppice worker whose work and way of life has interested and inspired me. It is important to me that my photographs educate, inform and record people and their lives. It all comes back to creating those ‘Story Telling Photographs’ and I hope this ongoing project will achieve this. As the project progresses the photographs will appear on my blog.
Another recent assignment was for a window cleaning company based in Kent. I had photographed the business owner’s wedding a few years earlier, and he contacted me again to see if I could help get some photographs for his new website. The business uses a pole system to clean the windows so we had to choose a suitable location that would look attractive in the photos and still show off the cleaning process. See the photos and read more about this small business photography shoot.
About Professional Photographer Scott Ramsey.
Scott Ramsey is a creative photographer living near Brighton in the UK. He specializes in creating photographs that tell a story and he regularly works with small and large businesses in Sussex, Surrey, London and across the UK. His creative photographs help his clients to engage with their customers and promote their services and products.