Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A lucky walk

I try every day to go for a walk. It gets me out of the office and helps me recover from the exhausting commute from my bedroom to my desk, a distance of fifteeen (yes 15) metres. I often take my camera and it never ceases to amaze me how I can get different photographs of the same things every time.

Today was special. The light was really good; winter-low sun in the south western sky illuminating towering cumulus cloud formations. As usual I walked through the cemetary following the same route as described previously.

Grand Union Canal looking towards Ladbroke Grove. Loving the cloud structure. Click to enlarge.

It always pays to look back behind you when the light is good. The mundane can become magical and I am so glad that I looked behind me because I got this shot below.

Cemetary Trees (Poplars?) I tweaked this in Lightroom, almost totally de-saturating then tinting it with split toning - blue for highlights, green for darks (just the merest hint, mind). Click to enlarge.

I'm working on a slow moving (no rush) personal project of making photographs of natural abstracts - or man made things abstracted by nature. I am into reflections big time. and got one really good shot today.

Mitre Bridge, Willesden. I flipped this image back round the 'right' way up.

I carried on down the canal and got this shot of the gasometer. Its nothing special angle-wise, but it just works. I blame the textures, the symmetry and the rust colour - the saturation of which I cranked up in Lightroom, converting an ordinary pic into something less so.

Gasometer, Ladbroke Grove. Click to enlarge

Finally, I reached Sainsbury's where luck, light and nature gifted me this:

Pigeons, Ladbroke Grove. I like the way the line of the clouds is countered by the 'verticals' of the building's cladding. De-saturated the image then overlayed a dark blue graded tint in Photoshop to give the sky a bit more oomph. Click to enlarge.

Oh, and I got this. I'm still wondering whether I did a clever thing or was just being pretentious.

Bandwidth humbled by a wooden pole.

Finally, it is snowing. In October.

Snowflakes. Yet more evidence of global warming. Oops! climate change. Don't get me started!

You get what you pay for

I have several pretty unhappy clients. Fortunately, its not my fault. Its theirs, and I'm the shoulder they come to cry on. "Go on, let it all out!"

Right, here's why I have a soggy shoulder: The temptation for small businesses to use the inexpensive services of web developers in India, Pakistan, the Phillipines etc is too great. For a fraction of the price that I quote, they can get their site built by Sanjiv in Delhi. If they are lucky, they will get a really good Sanjiv who will deliver (on time) a beautiful, cleanly coded website that works like a dream in all browsers. Well done, you've found a bargain and I am genuinely glad for you. But that is not a common experience.

I have clients whose projects have gone adrift for any number of reasons: Shodddy workmanship, language barriers, cultural differences, poor planning, brief-creep etc.

Honestly, what did these people expect? I've already moaned about the fact that any Tom, Dick or Harry can set themselves up as a photographer/designer/web developer. And that is what has happened - except that Tom Is Sanjiv, Dick is Abdul and Harry is Anil. The internet is almost log-jammed with badly designed websites thanks to the DIY crowd and the plethora of Far Eastern people trying to scratch a living by building websites for naive westerners.

I'm not having a go at the Far East for taking our work away. Not at all. I use Far Eastern suppliers from time to time but that is because I can tell the good from the bad. I can also communicate far more efficiently with my Pakistani developer because:
  1. I would have made sure in the first place that there are no language obstacles. I want to easily understand and have understood what is said on the phone and in emails.
  2. I will have had a look at previous work from a much more technically aware perspective (that's usually where the problems occur)
  3. I would have designed the website so that the developers are not going to be given unnecessary hassles
I am amazed by the number of people I meet who have complex transactional websites with complicated databases and product catalogues etc, that they have entrusted to someone they have never met and whose quality of work they cannot judge. People! Your website is the heart and soul of your business! If it breaks (and it probably will), you have no business!

This is my advice: Talk to a local professional designer (okay, me!) face to face. Together you can develop a brief, set expectations and determine a budget. Then let that designer build your website for you, using, if he so wishes, subcontractors and specialists he knows and trusts. People who have a track record with him. If those people are in the Far East, that is of no concern to you - all you need worry about is the result.

Finally, which is cheaper:
A) Scrapping a website that is not up to scratch and starting again with local designer (that would be me, once again ;-) or
B) Having a crappy website that doesn't work properly, that people don't like to visit or use?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Limehouse Cut Walk

Saturday and another walk/shoot, once again in Tower Hamlets and as promised to myself last week, visiting the gnarlier waterside locations.

I picked up my good friend Ian on the way and together we strolled through Wapping investigating the odd cobbled alley and shadowy places in our hunt for views and new, interesting things to stimulate our short attention spans. The plan was to make our way to Limehouse Basin and then to follow the Limehouse Cut for a bit, looking for gritty scenes of dereliction, urban decay, vandalism etc etc. You get the picture? Well, I did. Sort of.

This is a deceptive picture. Despite the 'prettiness' of the scene, the canal boat is chugging along through a fairly industrial part of London, with several abandoned old buildings, construction sites and graffiti daubed walls.

The Limehouse Cut is a shortish length of canal that links up with the Lea Navigation (a "navigation" is a canal that runs alongside an un-navigable river) which goes all the way to Hertford in, umm, Hertfordshire. Its almost dead straight apart from a few turns near to Limehouse Basin. In the days when the canals were heavily used for cargo transport, Limehouse Basin was the narrowboat "port" in London - so densely packed with narrowboats that it was possible to cross the basin simply by leaping from boat to boat. It forms the entrance to the Regents Canal, part of the Grand Union Canal network that covers England. I digress.

Drowned Trollies. Look carefully, there's a whole fleet of them there! It seems these days that canals are considered to be reliable repositories for trollies and other valuable things - I once saw a Sony Viao laptop on the Regents Canal bed.

Where were we? Oh yes, walking along the canal into the less salubrious parts of the East End. I love it. Ian wasn't as enthusiastic, but I think he was still pretty interested. We came across a vast, long 70s style tenement block - only six stories tall but long, depressing stories. Many of the windows were boarded up with steel - it looks as though the dreadful place is about to meet the wrecking ball. What were its architects thinking? Were they over optimistic that their building would bring out the best in people? Because it didn't. Call the Design Police!

Homes for the terminally monochrome.

But I do confess, despite the building being ugly, moribund, and reeking of hopelessness, I was glad it was there. It was Canon fodder (see what I did there?) and I shot off a couple of frames knowing that there was almost no point in converting the images to monochrome because they seemed to have had their colour confiscated by the architects. Perhaps they thought poor people on housing benefits don't deserve colours? (There's evidence of a rebound against that sort of thinking in abundance: shitty 'affordable' housing tarted up with splashes of bright colour - "give them pretty colours to stimulate their dull minds").

Instant Kill. This vehicle was spotted by Ian. Thank you Sir! Click to enlarge.

After wandering back down the canal for a bit we cut through the streets of Poplar (?), through a couple of housing estates and back down to the river.

Thank God someone has done the decent thing and saved these old warehouses from demolition. They are actually swanky apartments, I think, but from the outside, they are gorgeous! The creek on which they lie is lovely too, the perfect place for me to moor my Dutch Barge.

I found a gate with stairs down to the 'beach' alongside the river and wasted some time badly exposing some old timber structures. I was trying to use fill in flash to good effect, but frankly underachieved in meeting my objective and then... nothing. No power. Clearly my camera battery is begging to be thrown into the Thames - just 46 exposures! Thank God that didn't happen on Friday's Chinese food shoot.

Chain and shackle. One of the things I love about Adobe Lightroom is that you can de-saturate images and then use "split toning" to colourise the highlights and shadows. This particular image was very green in full colour - the algae is a "chemical green colour" that looked false.

We stopped in at the Prospect of Whitby for a quick pint and then moved on to... Bugger! I cannot remember its name, for another beer.

All afternoon I'd been getting warning signals that my headaches where about to make an appearance and true to their word, they did. And when they strike, I know to GO HOME NOW!!! I won't go into the fun I had on the tube with my head. Suffice it to say, it was not the best journey ever.

Despite the headaches, another excellent afternoon. I'm seeing an image of myself doing similar tomorrow, possibly around Greenwich...Wanna come with?

See a selection of the pics here.

I fancied a Chinese

Ha so! Yesterday I gorged on Chinese food. Probably some of the best I've ever tasted, despite the fact that it was cold and I'd done my best to bugger it up by adding various oils, ointments and salves.

Mmmmmm. I shot this hand held, the chopsticks in my left hand and the camera in my right. That it is sharp is a miracle. (I flipped the image to make the chopsticks right handed). Will probably tweak the background food a wee bit in photoshop to knock it back a little more.

You see, I was shooting it. And food photography is time consuming and fiddly. And making food look delicious often means strategically placing dollops of oil or other colourful stuff - in this case quite seriously hot (but very red) chili goo.

Mini spring rolls. Delish!

I was shooting at my client's place in Wimbledon. The area I had to work in was far from what I'd call ideal and I had to do some weird lighting set-ups to compensate for the conditions - daylight from the right, and diffused, filtered daylight coming through a fibreglass roof panel. I used my tungsten 250 watt lights, one through a white brolly and the other reflecting off a silver brolly. A nightmare white balance scenario. But it all somehow worked (thanks to Adobe Lightroom ;-).

Probably the finest spring roll I have ever had. I bit the end off to expose the ingredients. Danny the Chef uses his own combination of spices giving them a unique, delicious flavour.

I often fantasise about having a nice, big studio with a full kitchen set-up so I can properly do food photography - I like doing it, but never quite get the ideal conditions. I have shot in busy kitchens during lunchtime service - had the head chef and his line cooks all about ready to kill me - horrible lighting conditions too - far from ideal. I've shot dishes that were prepared for a tasting session - very irritating because as as soon as I'd arranged everything the bloody waiters descended on the dish. Three times.

So yes, a studio would be nice. But: I work with small businesses. They don't so much ask for me to take photographs as I suggest it. Their budgets are tiny so they'd never be able to afford a medium format studio shoot with stylists etc. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to give them original photography. I make my clients afford it by striking a deal with them that I can sell the images I shoot as stock photos, and charge the client a very affordable fee to cover some of the cost and for licencing to use the images. (Note to self: one day I will get round to making my proper, transactional stock library.)

I could of course, search one of the many microstock libraries and buy quite competently shot (sometimes) images but I never find precisely the image I need and apart from anything else, I like taking photographs. I also feel that the designs that have images I've specifically shot are more 'crafted' rather than 'assembled'. I feel better engaged with the work and more satisfied (should that be less unsatisfied?) with the end result.

As usual, I got a major buzz out of shooting yesterday. I love it. I love the way that even though I don't quite trust myself to deliver the results I want, I generally always do. But I am also beginning to feel massively hamstrung by my ancient gear. I get good results with it, yes, but could do so much more with the potential offered by the latest equipment. Its time for a major re-equipping exercise:

Canon 5dMk2
Canon L series F2.8 70-200mm IS
Canon L series 24 - 105mm IS
Canon L series 50mm F1.2 prime
Canon L series F1.2 85mm prime (scary bucks!!!!)
Canon 580 EX II flashgun
New portable lighting kit...undecided as to what brand lights combo at the moment.
Lots of other nifty things

I wish.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bad Designer Design

The world is full of bad design. I'm talking in particular about various "designer' products where form has been allowed to subvert function. These bad products have all, it seems, massed in our kitchen to torment me.

We have a toaster. A very 'nice' toaster. Its clever. It toasts a bit slowly, but in general terms the toast that it makes is quite acceptable. Quite, but not wholly acceptable. You see, we bought a sexy brushed stainless steel-finished Russel Hobbs toaster. It was about twenty-four quid, if I remember correctly, so not very expensive, but much more expensive than the Sainsbury's own brand toaster which was only about five pounds.

Our toaster toasting yesterday. Note the protruding bread

It looks good in our kitchen too. Very chic, we are! But, and here's why its only quite, but not wholly acceptable: it cannot toast a whole slice of bread! A standard slice of bread is deeper than the slots provided, meaning that the top of the slice is about 50 mm from the nearest glowing element. You get hot bread at the top and toast at the bottom.

Note the tartan effect on the toast and see too, that there is uneven coverage of toastiness. Unforgivable. Call the design Police!

We also have a kettle that suffers from similar design flaws (no, it doesn't only boil the bottom half of the water!). Our kettle (Kenwood) is incapable of delivering a neat pouring action. It splatters water all over the show no matter how carefully or slowly you pour. For Heaven's sake, a kettle has just two functions, to boil water and to pour the said boiled water.

How do these products make it into the shops? Does no one think to see if the toaster will accept a standard slice of bread? Did no one figure that most people get a wee bit tetchy when boiling water goes almost everywhere but into the cup at which it is aimed? Don't even get me started about clear plastic fridge shelves that don't even have the strength to hold a litre of Coke (I wouldn't dare burden those flimsy shelves with the weight of a four pack of Kronenbourg) or the bloody controls on our hob (Neff) that are positioned so that they melt. And there's our hopeless (but stylish) Brabantia bin, that whilst tall and elegantly slim is unable to accept anything other than elegantly slim rubbish. Which doesn't exist.

A stripped down toaster or kettle in its most basic form, without its designer "shell" would probably function beautifully. Then along come the designers and the sacrifice of function begins...

I'm a designer. Okay, in a different field of design, but this sort of thing embarrasses me. My profession starts to look dodgy and people have reasons to be skeptical about us. I hate the arrogance of many designers, either in product, interiors or graphics, who are more obsessed about making a personal statement about themselves than delivering a sound, well founded piece of work where they have allowed the necessary functionality to live comfortably alongside the form.

I'm reminded of Mr Bean, when he pulled a trout or mackerel or what ever it was from his pocket to test a frying pan in the kitchen department of a large department store. Perhaps we should carry a slice of bread with us into the toaster shop. A bucket of water into a kettle shop? No. We should rely on designers to design properly. Here endeth the wishful thinking.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle

I wish to make an observation or several about the music industry and the amateur bunch of hopeless halfwits that make up a large part of it.

Someone close to me is in an apparently successful band. Their Myspace plays top 2.5 million, their fanbase is huge and they are about to embark on an almost 8 week long tour in the UK and the US - headlining the UK leg and supporting in the US. To all intents and purposes, they are successful. Their album is selling well - nothing earth shattering, but, based on the scant information I have, I've roughly calculated that its turned over something in the region of US$100 -120,000 so far. There's also the apparently steady stream of merchandise sales, the value of which I have no idea - but again, judging from the fan comments on Myspace, plenty of kids have hoodies and T-shirts etc.

Please forgive me for being unspeakably naive, but I think that by now the band would have been paid something by their record label? Not a penny.

Are they being ripped off? Definitely. Is there fraud involved? Quite possibly. The real problem lies with the industry itself and every component contributes to the problems bands face in getting the money they so richly deserve for using their talents.

The bands: Musicians are generally far too laid back. They are more concerned with their craft and their relationships than they are with money. Sure, there's the "one-day-we'll-be-rich" dream, but they don't often connect the dream with the reality of actually earning the money. They are too buddy-buddy with everyone, and also quite simply too young and inexperienced to know what to do. They cannot spot a conflict of interest even when it is of gargantuan proportions. What they need is a manager.

The Manager: My opinion of band managers (and I'm referring here to the managers at the bottom end of the market) is this: They are often failed or 'retired' musicians who still love the music industry. They have a little experience and maybe a few useful contacts in the music press. But do they have any genuine management skills? No. Are they capable of fighting really hard for their band's interests? No. Sure, they can arrange the odd interview, the occasional magazine spread and perhaps some tickets to an awards event. But grow the band's income? No chance - at least, not the band/manager combination I'm thinking of. In fact, he's a major drain on their resources and in this case has an outrageous conflict of interests, happening to also own the band's record label.

The Record Label: The naivety of most bands leads them to believe that being signed is still a good thing. Not necessarily. Being signed to a good, honest, innovating label would be good for the band. But few are honest or innovative. In this day and age, record labels have to be able to fight really hard for sales. They need to be good - really good - at marketing. They need to create purchase demand for CDs and downloads. They need to fight the illegal downloads business. And they need to simultaneously explore ways of recovering lost music sales by replacing them with merchandise etc. Instead, what I've seen is just plain hopeless amateurism. The label I'm thinking of has a pretty good stable of bands. That is their main strength. They are closely linked to a reputable distribution company - another box ticked. They have links with a major US distributor. Wahey! But they have apparently, no accounts department. No one in the band has seen a statement of CD sales nor iTunes/download sales. Nor any other music sales data. Nada. Not a sausage. And then there's the merchandise. Same problem. Unbelievable!

Concert Promotors: Now here is where I get really beady. It is absolutely staggering how appalling these little cretins are (again, I generalise but exceptions are very few and far between). Millions of pounds are spent every day of the week by people attending gigs. I'm not referring to the big shows only. I'm talking about the little gigs in pubs and clubs and most of these gigs are orgainised by 16 - 20 year old kids. Want some pocket money? Put on a gig.

The bands, who need the exposure are prepared to play for very little - sometimes nothing. But when they are due to be paid, there is more often than not, a problem. The kid has excuses - door takings weren't that good...someone stole the money...yadda yadda. Bullshit!

The problem with these promotors is that they are clueless and lazy. They don't understand the first thing about promoting a gig. They believe that putting up a flier on Myspace is all that is needed. Really? Well, no wonder the door takings were hopeless.

They also lie. I have in the past called the bluff of a very stupid young promotor who invited me to search him for the cash that he said he didn't have to pay the band. His satchel was the first place I looked and there, predictably, was a wad of cash. I counted out the band's share (in front of one of the other bands who were also unpaid) and then left the poor kid to face the music with several other people.

What I have written about is nothing new. the music industry is a food chain and until bands make it really big - and I'm talking Muse or Coldplay - they are at the end of the line. The last to be rewarded for the work that a whole long, greedy line of thieves, swindlers and chancers depends on. It has always been thus and will continue to be until the musicians grow some balls and take proper responsibility for themselves.

The band I'm thinking of is too scared to confront the coke-snorting, fat tick of a tosser who manages them. They don't want him to boot them off the label. They seem to value his "skills" more than their own. Boys, the only skills he has is milking your talent for cash. Demand a full set of figures. If you've been ripped off, make it a police matter: it is STEALING!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Another Saturday and another walk with my camera: I set off much later than I intended to thanks to a hangover that interfered with the fairly simple design job that I had to do for a client. I then decided I’d mark up a website design that I’d done and now thoroughly late, realized that my phone’s battery was just about flat and had to be charged.

Eventually I managed to set off down the Bakerloo Line to Embankment, intending then to take the circle line to Tower Hill to meet Ian and go to the fine craft butcher he’s discovered in the area. Well, after waiting for a Circle line tube and not even attempting to board the packed train, I decided to walk along Embankment to meet Ian and his girlfriend who were walking back from Docklands. Needless to say, I started dawdling stopping to take pictures.

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

It was one of those walks when I just didn’t quite manage to get anything good. The weather was okay – and there was a time when some dramatic clouds were looming over west London, but I wasn’t in the right place. I took a couple of pictures anyway but they don’t have much merit.

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

I need to go somewhere more gnarly. I think the River Lea might be calling – and I definitely want to shoot the old Lesney Products (Matchbox cars) factory by the canal. But I think mainly that I want a break from shooting famous landmarks. Yesterday I found an interesting shot at Tower Bridge, shooting through a tunnel onto the river.

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

No doubt I was the thousandth person that day to do the shot, but the light was good for me and I thought I’d try and “make a photograph” rather than snapping a picture. Stupid move. The minute I put my tripod down and started setting up everyone else seemed to think it would be a great place to take a picture. It pissed me off. I was jostled, and had my personal space invaded. Most of all though, I’d been idiotic enough to think I was “being original”. Clearly I wasn’t. Or maybe it was my tripod, camera bag flashgun and big fat 15-35 mm lens that marked me out as a pro and therefore worthy of emulation? I don’t know but I spent this morning on DP Review checking out Canon’s Powershot G10, a delicious little unobtrusive pocket sized camera.

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

One of the highlights of the walk was seeing Will, a Thames Sailing barge motoring out through the lock at St Katherine’s dock. It was one of those wrong-lens-on-the-camera moments, but I cracked off a couple of shots – unfortunately there was a bloody great hotel casting its shadow over the grand old barge.

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

When I eventually got to Ian’s place (he’d already gone to the butcher) I did some swift and decisive damage to some beers, some wine and some cider. And one of the finest legs of lamb I have ever eaten. Mary, it sucks to be you, but your little lamb was delicious!

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey Creative

Ian is an excellent cook. By that I mean properly outstanding. And he also has a fine music collection. We listened to James, Had a fairly long Pink Floyd episode (Dark side of the Moon and Animals) and then too full and too pissed I wandered off to get the tube home. And that’s when things begun to unravel.

My son. He is chaos personified and has on numerous occasions come to my home to pick up his phone charger. And has always forgotten to take it with him. But he’d phoned when I was in town urgently needing it so he could arrange meeting his bandmates for their US Embassy interview (They are off on a US tour). Anyway, I got home, drunk as a lord and then decided It would be both kind and clever to take the phone charger to my first born at The Regent where he works behind the bar. Why?

To cut a long story short, a couple of pints, a tequila (which I cannot stand) and a shot of Sambuca (euuuuurgh!) later I was tattered. But I do recall this even more trashed woman who sat next to me and ordered a pint. I was amused to note that when she took a sip, her decidedly beaky nose dipped into her beer. She then spoke to me thus: “Bwab-bbblurrrrb bzzzp bammmmp”. I was transfixed! Not so much by her fluent use of drunkspeak, but by the fact that the tip of her nose was decorated with beer foam. Special.

Fortunately I was prevented from having any more to drink by the closure of the bar and I somehow made it home…

Shameful behaviour!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Railings, Pilings and Boy.

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey

I love Adobe Lightroom. It makes playing with images a breeze and if you mess up, the original is still there. I shot this last Sunday on my Wapping/Docklands walk. I was quite annoyed when the kid walked into shot - I don't like photographing random people, especially kids given the RIDICULOUS paranoia people have about anyone with a camera. Anyway, there were more people approaching, so I thought sod it, and banged off a couple of pics anyway. Composition-wise, I would like to have had the kid a little closer - the "rule of thirds"and all that, but I was hardly in a position to start directing my unwitting model. So I ask this: Is the picture improved by the kid being there, or is he a distraction? I cannot decide.

For those interested, I desaturated then used split toning - warm yellow for the highlights and blue for the shadows - just a tad, you understand...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Barking on behalf of your dog

I think it was David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather, one of the world's greatest advertising multinational agencies who said, "Don't buy a dog and then do the barking for it".

People telling me how to do my job (on their behalf) is a problem that I encounter almost every single day. It is not that annoying - I'm used to it and, not meaning to be a braggard, I can generally prove to them in a few minutes that when it comes to having ideas, I'm better than them. That said, I have several clients whose creativity and ingenuity is outstanding and I very much enjoy working with them to enhance their concepts.

I also have clients who, no matter how many times I suggest better ideas, don't want me to change a thing. They want it done exactly as they have told me - usually in minute detail. Fine! I'll do it and I'll bank their money. But come on! Why have they come to me really? Why do they waste my talent? Why do they ignore my experience? And quite often, how the hell do they expect their idea to generate any new business?

And what is really annoying is this: They will direct me and instruct me and ignore my advice, but will be very quick to change to a "better" designer when it dawns on them that the idea they forced on me is, as I predicted, ineffective.

Perhaps I should learn to stand my ground. I have, and do so when its worth it. I've also learned not to waste my breath arguing the toss with people who have made up their minds. Like I've already said, I'll happily take their cash, but I also have my pride. When I feel a client is simply using me like a cheap hooker, I'll sling my hook.

But all is not lost. I do have a cure for this problem that works some of the time...but I have to want the client's business enough to use it. Quite simply it is to create and execute, unbidden, my own idea. When put up against theirs, they can see the difference - and the sense.

This quite often works, but there is still a stumbling block: I don't do it to prove myself right. I do it for the sake of the client's business, and for this they can expect a fee. They can see before them their own execution and mine...They have already paid for theirs... they can choose to pay for mine as well, but I 100% own it and its copyright until the money's in my bank. They could (and this is the risk I take) just as easily choose to stick with their own idea and I have to forgo the fee and regret the wasted time.

I want my clients to put their faith in me. I'm very experienced and I have genuine talent that I itch to use. I want my clients to benefit from it. I want their businesses to grow so that they spend even more with me. I also have a testimonials page on my website where I like to display comments from satisfied clients - according to my website's visitor tracking, its one of the most popular pages.

And so endeth the lesson. I have up till now manfully resisted the use of dog metaphors but the urge is just too strong: My clients' tails are usually wagging. Their own ideas are not always a dog's dinner, even if they are barking up the wrong tree. Or just plain barking... But please! If you are a client of mine or any other self respecting creative consultant, please let us off the leash. I had better stop now.

Until next time, I'll take a bow-wow-wow.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Beside myself

I engage myself in a converstaion about my cat...

Keeping the Faith

I seldom have clients complain to me about work that I have done for them. Either they are genuinely pleased (and I think most are) or they are apprehensive about angering 220 lbs of fully grown adult male Zimbabwean (I hope not)! But every now and then I get clients who very nicely, ask me to tinker with the work I have done for them; they are not getting the results they expected and understandably want to put this right.

Now forgive me for sounding arrogant - I do not mean to - but it usually turns out that the work I have done does work if it is allowed to. A common misapprehension clients have is that an ad or a website is all they need to get instant business rolling in. Wrong! Your website is just one of numerous links in a chain between your customer's wallet and your bank account.

When I create a brochure or a website for you, I see them as tools that enhance the prospects of engaging with a new customer. They cannot work in isolation and they cannot be expected to deliver a sudden and immediate rise in business. Sorry.

To see an increase in business, dramatic or gradual, two things are required: Firstly, you have to drive people to your website or business by letting them know that its there by any and all means possible. Secondly, you have to be patient. In most cases, marketing activity delivers a gradual ramping-up of new business. It is also logical that the more marketing activity you do, the more people will engage with you.

Marketing is like hammering in a nail: If you want a sudden and dramatic impact, you need to be able to afford a nail gun. Small businesses seldom have nail gun-size budgets and so have to make do with a hammer that gradually drives their "nail" into the market.

Successful marketing is not difficult and it need not be expensive. In fact, it can largely be free! I generate a lot of business by placing just four ads a day on a free classifieds website, Gumtree.com. It takes me just 10 minutes every day to update the ads (I could choose to pay for them to be automatically updated, or even featured on the site, but I'm happy to spend the ten minutes rather than the money). I also advertise on as many free directories as possible - and the results are both on my web stats and trickling into my bank account.

Its taken me a long time to generate the levels of business that I have. To be honest, I have not done nearly enough (which is why I don't own a Porsche). I should be networking. I don't. I should be attending trade shows. Have I? No! I should be writing articles for my trade press. Not a word. And I should have set this blog up ages ago. Lazy bastard. But as I imagine my bank manager says, something is better than nothing.

The other thing to do is to become a forensic marketing detective. Try to discover where, how and why your customers are being lost. There is a lot to consider on this subject, so I will write more about it another time.

So summing up: Tinker with your marketing by all means, but give it a chance to work. If no one's visiting your website, its not because your website is at fault. Its because they do not know that its there. You need to do something about that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting Paid

As a small business specialist and more particularly as someone who has had his fingers severely burnt in the past, I thought I would air my thoughts on the getting paid side of my business.

I have a simple policy: No credit. Generally, this works fine - many of my clients pay their up-front deposits without arguing and then pay the balance on completion. I like that. And I like them for paying so promptly. Its clean and simple and it allows me to cost less - because believe me, if you wanted to pay on 30 days you'd be paying significantly more for the privilege. Its a trade-off for both me and my client.

So why am I such a hard-nosed bastard? First off, I may seem hard-nosed but I'm not. People who are purchasing my services are not buying them as "stock" to sell on for an eventual profit. They are not waiting for someone to pay them for the service they just bought. Sure, my services are there to help generate business, but lets be honest, they are just part of a whole range of things one must do to attract customers.

Secondly, I have very few clients with a track record long enough - or more importantly, big enough - to qualify for a 30 day account. When a business can demonstrate a continuing habit of spending about 5k a month with me, (and they do not make up a major percentage of my overall income) then I will be astute enough to offer to ease their path with a 30 day account. I will also do other things to earn their love and loyalty: A (genuinely free) lunch or two, perhaps drinks after work on a regular basis... But I will also watch them like a hawk. I do not tolerate 30 days slipping into 60 days...

Thirdly, and I've already touched on this, my clients get to benefit from my many years of experience and my hard-won skills, not to mention talent, for a very reasonable rate. Working as I do with start-ups and small businesses, I have to compete on price with others. If my quote is not attractive in the first place, it is unlikely that prospective clients will hang around to discover my talents.

My cash system seems to be working quite well. I do have the odd hiccup with the occasional client who pays the balance late, but at least I'm still in possession of their work. Also, the balance due is seldom a back-breaking amount. I make sure that it isn't by offering clients a staggered payment arrangement over the course of a big-spend project. But most importantly, I believe that my clients are glad to pay for the work because I deliver beyond their expectations.

I have been using Google Checkout for client payments, but recently I have been getting them to pay directly into my account by bank transfer. Why? Because these days the transfer amount is generally reflected instantly rather than in the past when the banks required four working days for 'clearance'. Google Checkout, I suspect, sits on the cash and earns interest for a few days before crediting it to my account. Not good enough!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Grand Union Canal...

I shot this pic on Saturday evening. I walk on most days through the Kensal Green cemetery, onto Scrubbs Lane, down to Mitre bridge and along the Grand Union Canal towards Ladbroke Grove. Its not much of a walk and its not even that interesting although with the cemetery on the far bank with its trees and undergrowth there is a lot of wildlife - I've seen foxes there and also a decent variety of birdlife.

On the right of the towpath asI head towards Ladbroke Grove is the beginning of Willesden Junction on the main line into Paddington - and the strangely named North Pole railway yards where the Eurostar trains are maintained. Its a busy place - constant trains to-ing and fro-ing and quite a contrast with the still waters of the canal. I like.

There's quite a community of narrowboats and houseboats. The boats in the picture above are permanently moored just by Mitre bridge and then towards Ladbroke Grove there are a number of narrowboats which seem to be semi permanently moored - just long enough to avoid the wrath of the Waterways dude.

I always thought of the people who live on narrowboats as funky alternative types - and there are those aplenty - but there is also a large part of the community whose main purpose in life seems to be avoiding work of any sort, avoiding paying for anything and avoiding at all costs anything to do with soap. That said, I wanna get a narrowboat (not nearly as much as I want to get a Dutch Barge) because it would be a great way to unwind, putt-putting along the canal through the countryside...

At the Ladbroke Grove end of the towpath there is Sainsbury's and another permanent mooring site on the far side...and there lies, for sale, a 22 metre LuxeMotor Dutch Barge (my favourite type) just waiting for me to win some cash on the Lotto. She is beautiful, with lovely classic lines, but definitely in need of a bit of TLC. The owner wants £250,000. The boat ain't worth that, but the location is. Apparently.

On the Sainsbury's side of the canal are some benches thoughtfully put there for the enjoyment of the local losers, boozers and other assorted ne'er-do-wells. Occasionally they attempt to engage me in converstaion which triggers off movies in my head that involves me forcing them to tidy up their discarded cider cans and other rubbish.

I'd better stop writing now because I feel myself slipping into rant mode...

Monday, October 13, 2008

A short walk...

To see a bigger selection of images click here.

Yesterday, being both sunny and Sunday, I elected to take my camera and myself for a walk around Wapping, an area of cobbled streets and old converted warehouses, riverside apartments and Thameside lovliness that I rather like.

I got there (well, to Tower Hill tube station) around two-ish and doing my best not to look like a tourist fought my way through the crowds past The Tower of London to St Katherine's Dock. I love that place; the absurdity of boats in the middle of a city still excites me - although not enough on this occasion to switch my camera on. Naturally, I went to have a look at the two magnificent Dutch barges moored there. I am obsessed by Dutch barges. I heart them big time and will one day have one to cruise the canal systems of Europe.

Carrying on, I wandered down Wapping High Street and started shooting the things that interest me; little passages leading to the river, the river itself, yellowing leaves against the crystalline blue sky juxtaposed with old Wapping warehouses...

Not the greatest pic, I grant you, but I love the colour of those leaves.

And now a short rant: There is a law, I believe, that any new development along the Thames MUST allow public access along the river. Why then, do various developments have the walkways but block access to the public. Its not bloody good enough and it must stop. Give us OUR river!!! No doubt they do this because there may have been in the past, incidents of petty vandalism. Well, I am going petty vandalise your bloody locked gates with an angle grinder!

Back to my walk: I carried on walking where posssible, alonside the river and shooting pics greedily. There was a bunch of sea kayakers paddling out with the tide, enjoying the waves and the wakes of the Thames Clippers.

Its hard to imagine a better way to spend an afternoon than paddling down the Thames on an outgoing tide. I miss my sea kayaks.

There were open RIBs full of tourists smashing across waves - plenty of into-the-sun shots and there was a flourescent green football that seemed to keep me company bobbing alongside. I took a quick shufti around Limehouse basin - pleasant but always in my mind, a bit of a wannabe compared to St Kath's. Knocked off a couple of shots of reflections (I'm building a reflections library) and then carried on down the river to docklands.

There is something special about Docklands on a Sunday. During the weekdays its exciting and busy, but so many people see it like that. On Sunday's it seems almost like its been let down by its people...its quiet and uncertail of itself - almost overdressed. But its great for photography.

I unfortunately was using my ancient Canon 50-200 F3.5-5.6 (with a 1.6 x magnification) lens which wasn't wide enough for a lot of shots, but I made do - and I'm almost glad I didn't have a wide lens because I got some good shots of reflected buildings on other buildings cropped tight. I underexposed quite a few of the pics deliberately, and I have to say, I'm tickled pinkish with the results...

Under exposed, yes, but I love it.. will have a further play with this in Lightroom

This old crane was a perfect subject for black and white - although I did actually use split toning to warm up the highlights just a tad. Click on it to see (if your monitor is good enough - its very subtle).

I carried on walking past a youth activity centre and, more importantly, past five Dutch (spits) barges rafted up on the other side of the harbour and eventually ended up next to the river again, opposite the millenium dome. It was 4.15 and I decided to walk round the Isle of Dogs along the river rather than cut back across Docklands. Again I had to contend with the blocked off walkways which if nothing else, considerably lengthened my journey. Lesson learned: Don't walk along the river. Buy a Dutch barge.

A lovely LuxeMotor Dutch barge. I find its almost impossible to get a decent side-on shot of these 30m plus boats - this was shot from across the river and its lines are somewhat interfered with by the ugly houseboat behind.

The afternoon light was slowly developing into something special and I was constantly checking behind me as well as in front and to the side to see how various landmarks were reacting to the light, and banging off a shot here and there. The tide had gone out a fair bit exposing the foreshore. I was tempted to walk along it, but am as yet not sure whether its nice hard pack the whole way or whether it suddely get soggy/muddy. But the light on the sand and pebbles was magic and I got a couple of decent shots in.

I should have been on the ground for this old rope... it was just dying to be properly photographed...

Brutal Monolith. Reduced the saturation and cranked the warm tones big time...

As I neared Wapping once again, the sun was setting and the moon was rising right behind Docklands... the light was PERFECT. It weas then that I discovered my CF card was full. No problem. I knew I had several shots that were throw-away quality so I threw them away... and then, with a lovely classic Camper & Nicholson yacht motoring upstream in the foreground, the moon rising behind the golden light-bathed docklands I raised my camera, composed my shot, pressed the shutter button and... nothing. Flat battery.

I thought these pilings would be great in mono, but the warm tones from the afternoon sun won in the end

There's nothing you can say to yourself when that happens. So I phoned my good friend Ian and went for a few pints which was, as always, truly excellent even though he had to endure me recounting my woes about batteries, shite lenses and the need for a new camera, a second new camera and, ahem, a third new camera (just a point and shoot pocket camera). And new lenses. And a Dutch Barge.

Eventually I tubed it home and this was when I discovered, very frustratingly, a useful little trick: If your camera battery is flat, remove it. Then put it back into the camera and power up. Hey Presto! It works! I was furious, especially as I now had enough power to review all my shots, including zooming in to check sharpness etc. I tested the auto focus (my 50-200 lens is getting my blame for guzzling power) and it worked fine. Such a waste.

A fine day all the same!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Car Club

Copyright 2008 Paul Davey

Languid Liquid

Copyright Paul Davey 2008

...and then my lens broke...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Economic Meltdown...Yay?

I refuse to let this "credit-crunch-economic-downturn-recession-depression-crack-of-doom-disaster" get to me. No way Jos´e!

First off, my phone hasn't been ringing any less. There are still lots of people wanting to set up new businesses. In fact, I think that given a bit of time, there will be an increase in business as more and more people set up small businesses offering more agile and cost effective services to businesses struggling to survive.

I'm definitely aiming a little higher too - I want to get more "proper" design work, creating stuff for clients who are beginning to baulk at the cost of their design or ad agencies' services. I'm a one-man-band. I don't have to pay account managers, secretaries, receptionists and others. And if I did recruit (and I just might be doing that soon) I'd be looking for freelances who I'd pay by the job, without having to increase my charges to the client.

Now more than ever, clients are going to demand value for money. And that's where us small guys come in. Many of us are hugely experienced, quick and burdened with mortgages we have to pay - at all costs. We're genuinely hungry. Unlike salary men and women, we have to work hard. We cannot loaf or pull sickies. We know the real cost of a holiday (earn nothing and pay for flights and accommodation). In short, we represent real value for money. Sure, there's a dearth of account handlers etc, but how many clients need an account manager when they can go direct to the source?

In times of economic hardship, those businesses that increase their marketing activities are more likely to survive - and can even overtake their competitors. Carefully chosen freelances or boutique agencies allow businesses to continue marketing whilst saving on costs. We are also very likely to increase the freshness and vibrancy of the work as the lines of communication shorten between the creative at his Mac and the client-side Marketing Director.

Yes, the economy is in trouble. Yes, we will all feel the effects. But life goes on. People still have to buy and sell at any level. Business will follow the path of least resistance. Small businesses are that path. Embrace us!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lets talk about the money

Most people know that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

It never ceases to amaze me therefore, how little people are prepared to spend on their marketing. Sure, times are tight and start-ups need to watch their pennies, but I see more small businesses wasting their money on bad design, bad websites and marketing collateral than I see wise investment.

The problem is multi-faceted and not just the fault of the small businesses. These days, anyone who owns a computer and a bit of (often illegally copied) software can call themselves a designer (I own a pen but that doesn't necessarily make me a great writer). And some, the gifted salesmen among them, do very well out of selling their clients bad or at best, mediocre work.

The client walks away happy; he got a bargain and he likes the colours. His market may think otherwise. They, unlike the designer or his unwitting client, can tell the cheap and nasty - especially when they are shopping around. Brand A is compared to Brand B and first impressions start counting.

A good designer will first of all be visually literate. He'll create work that has balance, elegance and is appropriate to the product and its market. The design will sit well against competing brands yet will be unique. Quirks will be "right" and any experiments or abandonment of convention will be carefully considered and supported by well reasoned arguments.

Lets face it, clients come to designers because they need someone to do something they cannot do themselves. Its a tragedy that quite often the designers are no better than the clients. I see it all the time in branding, brochures and websites. I see where clients have happily shelled out money for work that would get the "designer" fired from even the most junior position in a proper agency.

And the irony is, using a decent designer probably won't cost much more anyway. As designers, bogus or otherwise, we all know what sort of rates clients are prepared to pay. We all get to quote against each other and even know that sometimes, we've lost work to someone who is genuinely going to give better bang for the clients buck. But not often. The reality is that every day, the DTP revolution empowers more and more people, save a for a tiny few, to flood the world with bargain basement mediocrity.

Am I angry about this? Well, yes and no. Yes, I lose business to the wannabes who have also driven down the price and perceived value of good design. And no, there are still some clients who appreciate the value of quality design - and those who have suddenly found the wannabes to be, err... wanting: those who have contacted me or one of my "proper" competitors to rescue their brands, their websites and marketing campaigns from obscurity.