Time is money … in for a penny, in for a pound(land) ….


Friday 25th January 2013


On a very cold and wintery Friday afternoon in January I was commissioned to be in Walsall to photograph Jim McCarthy – the Chairman of Poundland. Mr. McCarthy joined Poundland as Chief Executive in May 2006, and prior to joining Poundland, he was the Managing Director of J Sainsbury’s convenience stores and was a member of the operating, retail and investment boards.

Today Mr. McCarthy was posing for a portrait to accompany a piece he was doing for The Sunday Times Money section entitled, ‘Fame & Fortune’ – an article that tells all about the highs and lows of an individuals best and worst investments on route to making their fortune.

Mr. McCarthy is a busy man as a Director of Poundland and so his PR team had chosen that I met him at the Village Hotel, just off junction 10 of the M6 near Wallsal. Photographing subjects in hotels can be hit or miss in terms of the environment within which you have to undertake the shoot. There can be many areas that offer a suitable location for a subject to be posed, or there can be very few.

Many other variables need to be considered too – lighting, seating, availability of space, access to photograph within the public areas, the time of day and the allocated time with the subject all require some thought and consideration. Getting to such locations in good time ahead of the shoot is key to ensure that you give yourself enough time to address all these factors … and anything else that just happens to threaten a portrait shoot with a metaphorical ‘spanner’ in the works.

I’ve often been assured (from the client commissioning a shoot) that, “… it will take no more than an hour”. I can assure you this is never the case.

Allowing for travel, the time to recce a location once there, the time taken to set up flash lights or perhaps set up even more time consuming monobloc lights, the time taken to reassure and build a rapport with the subject, undertaking the actual shoot, packing every thing away again, the return travel … the time taken to edit, caption, rename, copy and adjust each image from your chosen final edit and the time taken to send the pictures (either via FTP, email attachment WeTransfer, or perhaps burnt to CD / DVD rom) does not take “no more than an hour”.

This shoot with Mr. McCarthy is a prime example of this.

Once at the Village Hotel – it had taken me 1hr 40mins to travel the 40 miles across the West Midlands on a snowy traffic congested afternoon – it soon became clear that the public areas of the hotel, (the bar, lobby, foyer and lounge areas) were all too busy, the light was poor and areas to work were limited. I requested to a helpful conciege if he could allow me access to a more private large room? Unfortunately all the meeting rooms were occupied, so as a last resort I was offered the use of one of the ‘executive guest rooms’, which I was told was “… large … and comes with a settee”. Perfect, or so I thought. A further 20 minutes had been taken up with the reccee.

To say the room was large is perhaps a tad of an over exaggeration. Once in the room and with the clock ticking until Mr. McCarthy’s arrival, I had limited space to set up. Yet not to worry, this was a simple portrait and some nice lighting and a tight frame could offer the answer in creating a totally usable portrait.

I set up three Canon camera flash Speedlites. One that fired through a diffusing umbrella as the main light, a 2nd which was fired through a snoot positioned to give some element of back light and a 3rd, which I balanced on a radiator beneath the window (there was no space for a stand), which added some fill light to reduce shadows.


A rather bland settee in the corner of a 'large executive room'

A rather bland settee in the corner of a ‘large executive room’


All the lights were balanced to just over power the ambient light. The brolly light was set to be 2/3’s of a stop more than the ambient level, the snoot by nearly a full stop of light more and the fill just about 1/3 more than the ambient light level. It took me about 20 minutes to grab my gear from the car and be ready and set up in the ‘large’ room.


My 'executive' workspace

My ‘executive’ workspace


I took a few shots of the settee without Mr. McCarthy on it and adjusted each light to suit.

Then a knock on the door announced Mr. McCarthy’s arrival. With a cup of take out coffee in hand, he’d also considered bringing one for me too! For nearly 25 minutes we discussed his sons professional rugby career, the state of the high street economy and his success as the MD of Poundland.

I then posed Mr. McCarthy. Bracketing to allow for some changes in light levels and powering up (and down) the respective lights to add differing light levels. Mr. McCarthy was great to photograph, witty, chatty … with a great smile and presence. The shoot was over in 15 minutes. We exchanged thanks and a firm handshake and Mr. McCarthy departed.


Sat and posed, the final picture

Sat and posed, the final picture


It took me a further 15 minutes to pack down and lug kit down the four floors via a lift and back to the car. I returned to the hotel lobby, grabbed a coffee and due to the tight deadline I used my laptop to undertake the editing and post production work to my selected images. A further 45 minutes of post-production completed and the images were sent to the picture desk via secure FTP link connected to via the hotel’s wi-fi network. The job was filed ahead of schedule, easily meeting the press deadline. A quick call to the desk confirmed all was well, so I packed up and left.

I just missed the late afternoon rush hour, but in ever worsening weather my journey of 40 miles home took a further 1hr 45mins.

It was an enjoyable job to have done – portraiture is one of my favourite disciplines and the challenges that each location throw up make every job different.

Not quite completed “within an hour”, but all in all a very enjoyable 5hrs and 45mins to undertake the shoot.

My thanks go to Mr. McCarthy for being so very helpful (and for the coffee) and to Andrew at The Sunday Times for the Money section shoot. Here is the paper’s online coverage:


Jim McCarthy


Having spoken at length with Mr. McCarthy, I was left with one overwhelming thought … Mr. McCarthy made his fortune by looking after the pounds … but we both agreed that our favorite things in life don’t cost any money … we both agreed that the most precious resource we all have is time.