Making memories: being a photography volunteer

Chris is a PCC progressive calisthenics instructor

As part of my fitness interests, I filled in on photography for part of a recent London PCC. That’s “Progressive Calisthenics Certification“, the only instructor course in the world focussing on the bodyweight discipline inspired by Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning. (A book that changed my white-collar life.) I’ve taken the course myself, and had a blast being behind the camera – and would like to think I added value for participants too.

If you’re interested in volunteering on photography at a fitness event – whether it’s the calm of yoga, the madness of CrossFit, or a bunch of Jason Bournes doing martial arts – some tips might help. Here are the basics.

Framing the subject

First, get equipped. Bring a pro camera if you can, or at least prosumer. All cameras are good these days – but the main thing you’re looking for is speed of the snap.

That means a camera that can take in light fast enough to freeze a scene with action in it, then resets quickly, so you can take the next one without a wait. Sequences of images – like a headstand that starts from the kick-up, continues with the hand balances, and ends with the fall into a crumpled heap – look great, but you can’t do them if your camera takes five seconds to cycle between snaps. Phone cameras (especially iPhone and Samsung) can work surprisingly well; they’re optimised for off-the-cuff snapshots.

Bring more than one camera, and spare batteries if you can. (I used three plus an iPhone, and emptied every battery.) Such a belt-and-braces approach lets you snap all day without worrying about juice, and amid all the blurred fails you will capture some unexpectedly great images.

Arrive early to test. All gyms have different levels of photofriendliness. Sheeny white walls look different to gritty corrugated iron; fluorescent lighting can wash out skin and make the uber-healthy look like The Walking Dead. And if the sun’s shining, a course that takes place partly or wholly outdoors carries a whole different set of challenges. Experiment early with camera settings and find a configuration that flatters your subjects.

Al Kavadlo demonstrating side lever

Al Kavadlo demonstrating side lever

Setting the scene

A few words on general approach. At a certification, you are not a war photographer, however many walking wounded surround you by day’s end. Like Hunter S Thompson, go gonzo, get involved. The best certifications are deeply social events; they’re emotional, tribal, joyous even. So be part of the team, and roar along with the crowd.

That means making eye contact, talking to people, leaping in to say yes when people want a snap. You are not “documenting” the event; you are “creating” what used to be called Kodak Moments, little memories. Smile a lot, learn as many names as you can, and make everyone aware you’re available for them. You can tell from their eyes when they’d like you to aim your camera. Do so; it’s what you’re there for.

On the flipside, some people are camera shy. So make the promise clear at the start of the day: if anyone is offended by a shot you’ve taken – delete it, the moment they ask. It’s no big deal. If someone thinks a shot is too embarrassing or unflattering to Share, the deciding vote is theirs, not yours. Always respect people’s privacy. Unless it’s the instructor, in which case take as many embarrassing shots as you can(!)

Never a truer word

Never a truer word

Don’t overcurate. Obviously, kill off blurs and misses. But don’t worry too much about leaving in some questionable quality. Maybe your shot of someone’s L-sit cut the participant’s head off, but maybe the framing also captured a smiling face elsewhere that’d make the ideal Profile Pic with a bit of cropping. Let your audience do the curating instead!

Last, make sure you know where to put them. (For some photos, that’ll be “where the sun don’t shine”, but not all.) The standard for certification courses tends to be a Facebook album. The Chief Instructor or a keen participant will either have set it up him/herself or know where it is.

Sort out permissions-to-post early in the day, and when the day’s done, post your pictures to the group as soon as possible. That means within hours, not days.

Tricks & tactics

Last, a few tips for making your album worth looking at.

The basic tactic is think people, not crowds. By day’s end you’ll have (too) many shots of the class as a whole, listening to an instructor’s brief: don’t worry about a shortage here. But the most memorable shots tend to be closeups, people pulling cool moves or interacting in pairs or trios. Shots featuring one person alone aren’t necessarily the best choice: half the visual fun of a front lever happens below the bar, on the faces of the people watching.

So get in there. Don’t hang on the sidelines. Walk right up to people, hang off the Swedish ladder, stand on the vaulting horse to get a more interesting shot. Try to make sure you get at least a few pics of each participant as principal subject, in a pose or move they’ll be proud of.

Obviously, don’t shove your lens in anyone’s face – particularly if they’re executing an HSPU – but make sure you don’t miss anyone out. Some people will be more awkward in the lens than others. Try to make sure everyone goes home knowing they’ll see themselves in the album a few times … and feeling good about it.

The caveat, of course, is maintain situational awareness. Up close and personal is where the best shots are, but you do not want to be in the way of someone coming out of a headstand hot. (Trust me on this.) Just be mindful of who’s in your vicinity – think of yourself as a guest in their space, not someone participants have to move aside for – and you’ll be fine.

There’s another reason to get up close and personal: it stops your autofocus wandering. If you’re on the sidelines zooming in on the woman doing a terrific floor lever, there’s no surer thing than someone else will be coming out of a handstand in front, and you’ll end up with a pin-perfect snap of a random leg instead, with Leverin’ Linda a blur in the background. So try not to use zoom, however user-friendly today’s cameras make it; use your body to do the zooming instead. (Hey, functional movement is the whole point of fitness, after all.)

Use interesting angles! Nothing’s worse than the same setpiece of the gym hall with the same crowd in it, repeated over and over. So look for unusual angles that capture the fun. Get below and behind the guy doing the pullup, so you can see the triceps straining. Tilt the camera so the back lever guy’s diagonal. Shoot the parallel bars from floor level. Use apparatus, climbing the scaffold so you can capture a scene from above.  Get down and party, frame a subject through a doorway, kneel and crouch and slide around. Who says you shouldn’t get a workout?

Snap first, think later. Participants are learning, not posing; if you wait one more second for that move to look better, the move will most likely be over. So never hesitate over the shutter button. And take more shots rather than fewer; using more space on your SD Card doesn’t cost you anything. As experienced photographic assist Michelle Steenhuis says, “There’s no going overboard when it comes to photos!”

Look for the “story shot”. That pic of someone topping out their first muscle-up is terrific. But adding to it is the pic a second later, when they’re high-fiving the planet with the Face That Says Whoohoo. iPhones even have a default of taking three shots, separated by a second, that string together into a fun animation. Take as many of these shots as you can.

Remember everyone loves bloopers! Most people don’t mind their fails being shared; everyone’s learning, after all. So treat the faceplant the same as the perfectly executed skin-the-cat. These photos can be a lot of fun. (Of course, if someone does ask for a Delete … do it, without protest.)

Finally, don’t fall in love with your own camera. Offer to use theirs! Everyone will have a phone they want to capture some of their moves on. Particularly at end-of-day, when everyone wants photos of themselves for their Instagrams. A surprising number of people are a bit shy about asking, so don’t wait – offer straightaway without being asked. It’s a great help in building those memories.

And remember to have fun, folks!

Doesn’t sound hard, does it? Volunteering on camera is easy and pays you back with a whole lotta love. (The smiles I saw on people’s faces when they learned their last day would have a photographer after all were worth the earth.)

If you believe in the subject being certified, practice it yourself, or even teach it, your act of volunteering might mean knowledge of that subject spreading to someone who’d never heard of it. Maybe that person will take up the activity. Maybe they’ll attend a course themselves. Maybe it’ll change their life. All because of a photo they saw of a friend having fun.

Which, when you think about it, is the whole point of volunteering. So volunteer. You’re about to make someone’s life a lot better.

Chris Worth is a London-based copywriter and trained progressive calisthenics and kettlebells instructor who recently published the workbook for effective freelancing 100 Days, 100 Grand, available at Amazon and in 30,000 bookstores worldwide. He knows business backwards, finance forwards, and technology inside out, with interests in adventure travel and extreme sports. If you need campaigns, copy, or content, contact him here. This article also appeared on Medium.

Champagne at the Shard

My alma mater WBS opened its London outpost at the Shard today, and I got in a quick chat with London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson opening WBS at the Shard

Don’t be fooled by his loveable buffoon image; Boris demonstrated he’s the smartest and best-educated politician in Britain today, ad-libbing a speech that combined Warwick’s connection to Shakespeare, its former lord’s role as kingmaker (referencing Henry IV Parts I-III), and the value of business education, to the City of London and its continued success attracting global investment. Long live Warwick!

Freelance consultant? Why you should take credit cards

Pay online by debit or credit card.Professional services like consulting and copywriting aren’t sectors you’d expect to accept credit cards; you can hardly imagine a sharp-suited ex-McKinsey guy or interim marketing director whipping out a card reader. Or can you?

I’ve recently started taking credit cards through my site Chris does Content, and it’s had a surprising effect. Not so much for longstanding clients on retainer (although they have the option) – but in the first month after setting up card payments I’ve had several clients buy single days of my creative consultancy by card.

Why? I’m guessing three things matter:

To escape the hassles of overseas PO’ing. With the vast majority of consulting-type tradespeople limiting their market to their own country or city, taking cards expands your market with little effort. (The clients who’ve taken it up so far are in France and Taiwan.) I’ve always had an international roster, but not everyone’s lucky enough to have a background and contacts in Europe and Asia; taking cards exposes you to that broader audience.

To enable faster response. If someone’s putting me on their credit card, I know they need stuff fast – and if schedule allows I can usually move them to the front of the queue. With basically zero argument to be had over payment cycles, a exchange of emails is all it takes to get things started; how’d you like 2,000 words of SEO’d up copy 24 hours after first contact? Can do.

To take advantage of extreme discounting. I’m currently offering a 25% discount for one-off projects paid for by card, and it seems to benefit both sides – the client gets a competitive price, I get paid in 3-5 days instead of the 60-90 day payment cycles many EU businesses work on.

If you’re on your journey towards being a six figure freelancer, it’s a useful addition to your payment options. Give it a go!

Dear bookshops: I’m sorry

I feel guilty whenever I visit a bookshop these days.

At first glance it’s not obvious why. I read three books a week, buy several more. And as an indie author I depend on people buying books for an increasing chunk of my income.

But in the last four years, precisely 0 of those purchases have been on paper.

On the lookout for solid marketing? Email Chris.I’m a Kindle fanatic and a minimalist; I’ve given away half a thousand print books over the last year or two and my shelfspace at home doesn’t even stretch to a metre. That combo is killer for any bookshop.

And I’m sorry.

From the bright detailing of the big chains to the musty corners of the independents that still dot Charing Cross Road, I enjoy them all. Browsing, visiting, wasting time. But unless there’s a coffee shop, I no longer have any reason to buy anything in them. I am driving them out of business.

But just as no teenager today can believe we used to carry around music machines that stored a single album, I simply can’t bring myself to buy the print edition of any book. Books take up too much space. How and why could I possibly justify purchasing a kilogram of dead tree, when a thin grey slate that weighs next to nothing can store two thousand of them?

Like I said, I’m sorry, bookshops.

But I’ll make you a promise or two. It’s not much, but it’ll help. Maybe.

  • I promise I won’t come in to paw the books before buying them on Kindle. That’s theft of resource, plain and simple. If I want to read the blurbs, I’ll do it at Amazon.
  • I promise I’ll buy a coffee. If there’s a tea stand out back, I’ll stick around and buy a beverage, maybe a croissant or something. Even if I’m not hungry. I owe you that much.
  • And I promise I’ll do anything short of outright charity to keep you around. When you run Writers’ Nights, I’ll support them. When I want to rent space, I’ll look at you first.

Let’s face it, your business model is bleeding out, and unless you’re a City Lights or a Shakespeare & Co you haven’t got long. But our streets are richer for having you in them. And I really, really want you to stay.

This head’s note to her pupils has gone viral. And it’s wrong.

That’s it, I’ve snapped. Could everyone raving about this head’s letter to her pupils PLEASE try and See The World As It Really Is?

Barrowford letter

Here’s why. The school has numerous advantages in educational terms. Its cachement is wealthier and more homogenous than average (easier to teach). And it has a large intake (resources per child go further). If any school should be at the top of its game, this one should.

Yet it’s rated merely “good” by Ofsted. (Which means “bad” in the nuanced argot of inspections.) Its exam results are BELOW AVERAGE.

Despite having every advantage in the book, this school is not succeeding.

Could that be the real reason its head sends letters like this… to deflect attention from what really matters?

Aside from being poorly written (packed with bad grammar and overlong paragraphs) the letter’s takeaway is that “education doesn’t matter much”. All you have to do is let it all hang out and be yourself. No suggestion you might be able to change yourself for the better. To take control of your own existence and be self-actualised. Where’s the ambition? The drive? The urge to succeed, the celebration of success? Nowhere.

“You’re perfect as you are” might be a nice thing to say to kids, but it’s poor prep for life.

See the World as it Really Is, people. This school sucks, and it’s because of the namby-pamby fuzzy-thinking liberal-leftie attitudes displayed by this so-called teacher.

 

Adding a second dimension: the Nolan Chart

500px-Nolan-chart.svgThe Nolan chart gives form to what happened in the EU elections… and why those you’d think of as right of centre, like me, aren’t happy with its swing rightwards.

Politics isn’t a single Left-Right axis; it’s a boston box, with both small-state and big-state variants of Left and Right. I’m a hardcore libertarian (NOT “liberal”), at the extreme top-right: favouring high personal freedom and high economic freedom. On the left side, the bottom left would be socialism and the top left traditional liberalism.

The UK’s big three parties each occupy one quadrant: Lib Dems top left, Cons in the top right, and Labour bottom left. As nominally centrist parties, each is in the approx centre of its quadrant, with Ed Miliband’s lot maybe slightly further southwest and David Cameron a bit further northeast.

UKIP (and the other far-right parties that won on Sunday) often call themselves libertarian, but are actually pretty low on personal freedoms. (As we’d find out if they exercised real power.) So all belong at the bottom right, many of them at the extreme southeast corner.

Seen in this context, Nigel Farage’s success is easy to understand: he simply saw the open marketspace and moved into it. Politics, like life, can often be understood by the dynamics of marketing.