Looking back over the year and thinking of the brands and products that I've loved - personally and professionally.
#1 BNI INTREPID
I'll start the month off by mentioning the best decision I've made for my business over the last year, and that is joining BNI Intrepid. It's a business networking group full of wonderful people, all looking out for each other
As a typical creative I've never been particularly good at adapting my brain to the ins and outs of business. My mind is happier when it's lost in actually creating things. Marketing is something I've never given much thought to, as almost all of my work has traditionally come from word-of-mouth and referrals.
But all that changed with the pandemic. When everybody stopped working that referral engine stopped too.
I realised there was a weakness in my business: I wasn't getting enough cold enquiries and leads. So I started toying with Facebook, Instagram and Google ads with absolutely no luck :-)
I realised I needed a marketing approach that was a natural extension to the organic marketing that was so integral to my business. And so I came across BNI Intrepid. I went to two meetings and I applied to join.
It's been a revelation to me. Rubbing shoulders with successful business owners and learning from them, but most importantly, how GIVING to others is the bedrock of establishing a strong and effective network.
The friendships, connections and education I've received over the past year have been inspiring.
I've just signed up for my second year's membership, and I can't wait to see where it leads me in 2022.
#2 Scentsational Cottage
I came across Scentsational Cottage through the owner – Alun Hancock – a BNI member in another chapter. I tend to always have a nice candle going in the studio before clients come around, so I was happy to come across a local business that created and supplied them.
They are amazing.
And a visit to the boutique in Barry is highly advised. The knowledge and the passion that both Alun and Ruth have for their creations and their business is infectious.
Clients always comment on the candles in the studio and I have about 5 different ones at the moment. I still can't decide which one's my favourite :-)
My Amazon Wishlist has 52 books in it. I buy them occasionally but I never read them. I simply don't have the time.
I'd first heard of Blinkist on Lex Fridman's (awesome) podcast. I wasn't sure if I liked the idea of only hearing the highlights of books. But I downloaded the app and signed up for the free trial.
I was instantly hooked. So much information and inspiration to take in. It's added so much value to both my professional and personal life.
If you want to learn more but don't have the time to read, give Blinkist a try.
I end up buying the books that have particularly piqued my interest anyway :-)
During the coronavirus pandemic I started sea swimming with the Penarth Dawnstalkers. I've always loved the sea, but I'm now slightly obsessed with it.
We meet just before dawn and we're normally greeted with an amazing sunrise. Or rain.
It's a seriously superb way to start the day: Challenging. Inspiring.
Credit to James Richardson for the photographs.
#5 Simon Baxter
This awesome photographer isn't on LinkedIn as far as I know, but he is on Instagram and he is on Youtube. His videos are a joy to watch, even if you're not a photographer.
He specialises in photographing woodlands and his work is stunning.
His message resonates strongly with me – he emphasises the importance of photographing what's local to you.
I've taken this onboard this year by photographing the shores that I know well by now – in particular Penarth and Rest Bay. I swim a lot at dawn with the Penarth Dawnstalkers, and I always arrive early when it's still dark to capture seascapes before, during and after first light. And Rest Bay is a place I love to photograph around sunset.
I'd always assumed that going back to the same place time and time again would be boring, but getting to know an area well will reveal something new every time you visit. And portraying the familiar in a new way is a wonderful challenge.
I'd highly recommend watching a few of Simon Baxter's videos; they're calming, fascinating and informative.
I'd been with my former website host for 12 years. It was time for a change.
Pixieset have made my life so much easier. So much so that they now host all three of my websites.
Family Portraits: www.gerainttodd-portraits.com
Fine Art: www.ink-water.com
As a photographer I want to spend the least amount of time possible editing and tweaking my website, because that means more time available for photography.
Pixieset is a template-based website that allows me to easily and quickly tweak my sites, add photos, write blog posts or create client galleries. I can also sell my images easily as well, which I do through www.ink-water.com.
Customer service is excellent – very fast to respond and always helpful.
For the first time it's actually enjoyable to spend time working on my websites :-)
An electronic dance music streaming service with a plethora of different genres. I've been a member since 2015 and it's constantly streaming in the studio.
Very well-curated track selections and my favourites are:
For editing: Space Dreams, Chillhop, Downtempo Lounge, Chillout Dreams.
For shooting: Deep Organic House, Deep House, Lofi Lounge & Chill.
My sons always choose Big Beat and Breaks on the school run. I don't know where they get that from 🤷♂️
#8 Sean Tucker
Another photographer (see #3). His Youtube videos are wonderful to watch. Deep-diving into the 'why' of photography – and creativity in general – Sean always makes me think deeply about what it means to see the world through the lens of my camera.
My very favourite video of his is his interview with the brilliant sea photographer Rachael Talibart, who's work I find incredibly inspiring.
#9 LEE Filters
Absolutely essential filters for my camera, especially when shooting seascapes or headshots on location.
I've had the Lee filter system for over a decade, mainly using the Neutral Density Grads to darken and balance out the sky with the land or sea. But this year I added their Stopper range to my collection.
These come in 6, 10 and 15 stops, reducing the light entering the camera by corresponding amounts. Critical for slowing everything down for my seascapes – most of my work involves long exposure: www.ink-water.com.
Lee filters are premium quality. I couldn't work without them.
The first day I swam in the sea in April this year I didn't give it enough thought.
It was 4.30am, it was drizzling, my clothes were wet and I stayed in the sea for too long. When I got out I didn't dry quickly enough and I couldn't warm up. Which meant I couldn't drive home for 20 minutes because I was shaking so much!
I loved the experience of cold water exposure though, but if I was going to do this on a regular basis I'd need to be better equipped.
I got home and ordered a Dryrobe. It's waterproof and allows me to get changed quickly underneath it.
It's also big enough for me to fit my 2 hot water bottles in it for those really cold mornings.
3 Welsh coffee suppliers that add a lot of value to my mornings!
#12 Capture One
Essential software that produces outstanding quality for my photographs.
I've used Capture One for 14 years and every year that passes results in having to spend less time in Photoshop. It's a fast editor and speeds up my workflow, creating great-looking files without too much tweaking. If I have to do more in-depth edits there are plenty of tools to do this, meaning Photoshop is only needed for those very specialised editing tools.
#13 Klean Kanteen
Environmentally responsible manufacturers of brilliant flasks that I use every day.
The tall one (TK Pro) holds my coffee when I'm shooting and the big one (Insulated TK Food Canister) holds my food if I'm out all day with nowhere to buy anything.
I've been using Klean Kanteen flasks for years, but I added the Food Canister when I directed my first drama series this year. As a Coeliac I didn't want to run the risk of getting ill on the shoot so I cooked my own meals and took them with me on set every day. It's superb for curries!
Klean Kanteens are easy to clean, ergonomic and bomb-proof. I wouldn't be without them.
#14 Tiffen Pro Mist Filters
These live on my camera when I'm shooting on location. They 'bloom' the highlights and soften the contrast ever so slightly.
Modern cameras and lenses are amazing these days, but sometimes they're too sharp and contrasty. The 1/4 strength just takes the edge off and I use it for my environmental portraits (Nick) on location.
The 1 strength is a bit too strong for people so I mainly use this for my seascapes. It adds a lovely haze/halo effect, particularly when shooting into the sun around dawn or sunset.
#15 Treganna Gin
I'm fussy about my coffee and I'm also fussy about my gin. Treganna Gin is fantastic - the original and the new Blood Orange and Rosemary. Made in Cardiff with free delivery, either would make a wonderful gift for any gin-lover.
They're great bottles to photograph as well 😁
#16 Godox LP-800X Inverter
Invaluable for shooting headshots and portraits on location. All of my flashes are studio strobes, meaning they're big and need to be powered by mains electricity.
I can use 3 strobes with the Godox LP-800X Inverter, it supports High Speed Sync and a single charge lasts for ages. It'll even power a laptop and usb devices. It does everything I need when I want to light people (or animals) on location.
This is the fastest way for me to go through and cull images from a shoot.
My photos are 45mb each out of camera so I need a programme that can go through them quickly! PhotoMechanic by Camerabits delivers. Easy to use and fast. Brilliant.
Quick, easy to use folders. You just open them - revealing the spines - and insert your pages. When you close them back up up again they lock the pages in place very securely.
I've been using the A5 versions of the Springbackbinders for years as an actor, but this year I added the A4s to hold my scripts and shotlists together on 'Itopia' - the drama series I directed.
A simple concept that's executed brilliantly.
I honestly love Zone3's products. I bought the Heat-tech gloves a few months after I started sea swimming. It looks like I've developed Reynaud Syndrome (where the cold reduces blood flow to the fingers and toes), and my hands and feet go white and stay numb for about an hour after drying off.
The gloves are absolutely superb at keeping my hands warm. I don't wear a wetsuit if I'm going for a quick dip, but once I started swimming for longer periods in the sea I had to get a wetsuit. My good experience with the gloves meant I bought a Zone3 Advance wetsuit.
It's amazing – both comfortable and warm.
I just need to get the matching Heat-tech socks, because the sea is getting reeeeally cold now.
#20 'Tools of Titans' by Tim Ferriss
An inspirational dive into the minds of some of the world's highest achievers. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss is a big book, and one to take time over. Full of actionable nuggets of wisdom.
#21 Manfrotto Xpro Ball Head
I've had my Manfrotto tripod for well over a decade and I use it pretty much every day now. But I didn't used to. I disliked the joystick head that I had on it – I found it awkward and unwieldy.
I bought the Manfrotto XPRO Ball Head and it changed everything. Much quicker to set up and far more precise.
Having the camera on a tripod before felt like it slowed me down; this head has changed that. It speeds my shoots up as I can concntrate my energy on directing clients more.
I think having a static reference point helps people when they're in front of the camera (particularly for headshots), instead of having to follow the camera around when it's in my hand.
#22 Fintans gluten free fish & chips
I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease 2 years ago. There's not much food that I miss in general.
Apart from chip shop chips.
Chips are naturally gluten free. It's just that the same oil that's used for frying fish is used for the chips in most chip shops. And the batter contains gluten.
So I can't describe my excitement when I heard that the Pentwyn branch of Fintan's Fish and Chip Company did gluten free fish and chips. With separate fryers for us Coeliacs.
If you haven't been to Fintans you need to go, whether you're Coeliac or not. Great food and always friendly service.
#23 Smoke Machine
I was looking for a way to add depth to my studio portraits and this smoke machine didn't disapoint.
I love using gels with it and back-lighting my subjects for drama and mood.
I just have to remember to cover the smoke alarms when I use it in the studio...😁
#24 Zatu Games
I've always loved board games. When the pandemic hit and we entered the first lockdown I bought a load of them to keep the family entertained.
We now have 50+ board games and they're a staple of the Todd household. I buy them from Zatu Games – great website and great service.
And Christmas holidays = loads of time for board games!