Amongst my spare-time (if only!) interests is photography. I became interested in photography as a quick way to write poetry. I wrote reams of poems during my teens, my writing style a combination of description and humour. I prefer to understand what I’m reading without needing to spend ages thinking long and hard about it. In my late teens. I performed readings on stage: there’s nothing like standing in front of a live audience hearing them laugh and groan.
Before the advent of digital photography, my knowledge of photography was limited to the basics: put a roll of film in the camera, look through the viewfinder, press a button, take pictures, wind on, then wind back and remove film, travel to a chemist and days later return and pay for prints and negatives. Look at the photos, keep a few, chuck the rest. Cost divided by the number of photos I’d keep resulted in an expensive exercise. My knowledge of the technicalities has always been lacking. For me, composition comes naturally, but the technicalities, f-stop, shutter speeds, exposure, all that sort of thing, is hard work; that the terminology never sunk in was a failing that I put down to my knowledge of picture-taking, the chemist never at fault.
In the hope of making my fortune, at Lauderdale House, NW London, I held a week-long exhibition of my photos and poetry under the title ‘Poetry in Vision’. I bought 100 picture frames and framed each photo with a poem which I priced at £10 each. I sold enough to cover the cost of the exhibition but not the frames. I covered the walls of my home with the framed pictures and poems and whenever I had visitors I’d encourage them to buy one or two. A friend put it nicely “sitting in my living room was like being inside a gigantic ego-trip.”
My first digital camera, a compact, had 1 million pixels. I used it for property work, photos of shops. It was great to take as many photos as I liked without having to pay for any I didn’t want. Realising there must be more to it than pressing the delete button, the more I read about digital photography the more confused I became as to the best way for me to approach the subject. Most people, so i was told, are no good at composition, but that not being a problem for me did not overcome the difficulty I had with the technicalities. It got so bad that, on one occasion, while doing a rent review for a member of the Royal Photographic Society for his shop and studio, I was hesitant to take photos of his premises while in his presence. The public area of his studio was adorned with photos of people and pets (his ‘bread-and-butter’ as he put it), but in the back room out of public sight was where his passion lay: brilliant, fabulous, photographs of buildings and street-scapes. The subjects that enthralled me. Sensing my discomfort, the client enquired and when I told him, he told me to forget about trying to understand all the technicalities: what would be better would be to find a subject that I enjoyed taking photos of and learn about the technicalities for improving what I was good at.
Over the years, his advice has held me in good stead and I have applied the principle to other interests, including property advice. However, concentrating on and sticking to what you know through thick and thin is only sound advice when what you know continues to be in demand. Otherwise, not having what it takes to be adaptable can lead to resistance: no sense of thinking there has to be a way when there isn’t.
One thing I discovered about digital cameras – since my knowledge of the technicalities is limited, I forgive myself if I’ve got this wrong – is that to overcome limited knowledge most people had about developing and processing film the photography industry came up with the jpeg, short for Joint Photographic Experts Group, a technique for lossy compression of colour images. In layperson’s terms. a digital camera doesn’t just capture light, inside the body of the camera is post-processing technology for displaying the end-result.
With jpeg, what you saw when taking the photo isn’t necessarily what you get. What you get is what the camera lens sees combined with what the jpeg allows. A lens isn’t able to see everything you see of the scene (presupposing a sighted person), because all cameras have their limitations, also the dynamic range of a camera is less than that of the human eye. A jpeg doesn’t show all the detail, because some detail is lost during the process of compression. Whether any of that matters depends upon what you want to achieve. You may be content for your photos to be souvenirs of an experience. If like me you want your photographs to stand out from the crowd then not only does it pay to use a camera and lens capable of raising the standard of your photos to a higher level, but also an image system whose post-processing can be done by you, not the camera, separately and non-destructively with software; getting the most out of software is another potentially steep-learning curve!
The recommended way to minimise post-processing is to have an understanding of the technicalities for adjusting controls and settings on the camera before pressing the shutter to take the picture. If you only take pictures in automatic mode, the quality of the photos would depend upon the quality of the camera manufacturer and/or the particular camera model. If you play with the settings without understanding what you are doing, then you risk the photos not coming out properly. Most consumer-market cameras, including smart-phones, can take photos of anything, but some cameras more adept. When choosing and buying a camera the first question to ask is what type of photos is the camera and lens designed for.
Over the years, my interest in photography has ranged from thinking myself a warm weather sunny day amateur to semiprofessional, and back again. For a while, I regarded photos for property advice as paid employment, my photos have been complimented by a judge in court, and I’ve contributing to friends’ photographs in exchange for invitations to their weddings. The nearest I have come so far to being paid to take photographs was when invited by professional publishers (not self-publishing!) to author ‘Ledbury through Time’ – one of a national series of local history books, buyable via Amazonfor which I now receive royalties, a sum that sometimes amounts to the cost of filling up the car’s petrol-tank, once a year. The theme of the book, which includes snippets of local history, is to portray an old scene with the same scene more recently. For the selection of approximately 180 photos, 90 old, 90 new, I rephotographed more than 1000 old photos. The size of the images my camera takes is approximately 35MB each; the difference in sharpness and detail is striking. When after a few months of preparation, the book’s content layout and photos were stored on a USB inside my shirt pocket, I marvelled at how far technology has advanced.
A camera is a tool, a means to an end, so too is investing in commercial property. If you are content with average performance then it makes no sense to interfere with the dynamics of the market. Take a back seat and let the market get on with it in its own time; responding to tenant requests, but not making the first move yourself. If average performance is not what you are after or having over-paid through getting the timing wrong you are concerned that if left to its own devices your investment would not perform to your expectations or if the heavy-duty technicalities are beyond you, then you would need a quality of advice that is better than average.
My knowledge of photography has not improved very much beyond, as the client advised, the sort of photos I enjoy taking. With the exception of clouds in the sky, I rarely take photos of people, plants and flowers, or any moving subjects. Consequently, I don’t profess to anything like the depth of understanding that photography magazines give the impression at least to me others have. I have stuck to my knowhow for composition. I know that whatever I am pointing at with my camera will result in my desired outcome. The art is a form of self-expression. I want others to say it’s a lovely photograph.
The same principle applies to rent review and business tenancy law. The secret of successful investment is to wait for the proposition to come to you, but most investors are in too much of a hurry. By forcing the timing, rushing can spoil the subtly. To compensate for a mistake not realised, how the situation is approached from the outset can make a difference to the outcome. Giving a green light to the tenant presupposes the same agenda, but the landlord’s interest in the property could differ. The only way to be certain of a common goal is to ensure both parties agree at the onset and unconditional help along the way. Generally, though, the parties do not agree at the onset, not in all honesty. The wording of a lease that does not correctly enable the parties intentions to be realised will be open to differences in interpretation. No point for example in agreeing to have an upward-only rent review clause if the rent payable hardly ever goes up, perhaps never. Frequently, agreement is only as result of compromise or confrontation, often involving the dispute procedure.
Business tenancy management can involve negotiation, rent review in particular. Tackling communication is not only about opening stance and desired outcome, but also how and what to think along the way. The strategy must incorporate the illogical. Without balance and harmony, progression becomes stilted and flat: an investment struggling to survive, not going anywhere.
Commercial property management has its terms and conditions of the lease, its legislation and its case law, but the relationship between landlord and tenant is not a relationship between inanimate objects, but between people. Successful relationship with people is an art form, where self-expression is an essential ingredient, yet there are those that do not want to listen to anything they do not want to hear.
Valuation is also an art which those into technicalities and logic attempt at every opportunity to turn into a science. Valuation is not formulaic. Not about basing value on what others have agreed for other premises as if it is only others that should be allowed to go first, but about taking the lead and knowing when to stop. Surveyors, generally, tend to value back to front: they cast around for evidence and apply their findings to the property in question. What they should be doing, as supported by case-law, is to have a feel for the property. Feeling requires a connection, an understanding the technicalities, combined with what makes the market for the type of property, the type of landlord and tenant, tick.
Photography is mobile and property is fixed, but photography and property have something in common: development. Photography is developing a negative into a positive. Property is developing both a negative and a positive into progress. To combine positive and negative involves negotiation. In transition, negotiation can includes playing power-games, a means of communication that some advisers thrive on. But the emotional force is not always superficial, only directed at the opponent; it can also be ideologically-motivated.
In my opinion, there are two types of property lawyer and surveyor. One type understands property, the other is a socialist. The difference is that the socialist will tell you it’s not fair.