How to communicate brand consistency in event marketing

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How to get your goose to keep laying golden eggs

Companies spend a lot of time and money building and developing a recognizable brand. The purpose of a brand is to simplify and render the complex intelligible. With enough repetition, consistency and reliability, a brand can become established in its target customer’s mind as the “go-to” solution to whatever problem the brand solves. Your customers don’t get tangled up in choosing between competitive offerings – they just reach for you and move on. In brand marketing that’s the equivalent of having the goose that lays the golden egg. Again, and again, and again.  You just cash the cheques.

How come some brands get to be in that elite club of “go-to” solutions that render their customers blind adherents to the faith, while others struggle through churn and burn, constantly waging the same battle for heart-, mind- and wallet-share that never seems strong enough to convert tire-kickers into proselytes? So, how do you get that kind of brand loyalty (fanaticism)?

It begins, of course, with having a great product/service that is genuinely of high quality, but that in itself isn’t good enough. It also has to be a smooth and consistent experience for your customers. Although I’ve never owned the Canon’s 85mm L-series lens, I already own a few others with that signature red line and therefore know what to expect. I know that I’ll have one of the best in class lenses when I finally get one, because the brand has consistently delivered a quality product for each and every other of its lenses branded as “L-series”.  I trust that simple red ring and expect the workmanship, clarity, sharpness and handling of the lens to be excellent. I don’t really have to think about it. For a brand, that’s just pure gold. When your customers no longer have to process your product/service through any part of their decision-making brain, you’ve already won.

Do me like you do

One factor in engendering that kind of loyalty is consistency. Brands that can deliver a strong, consistent experience time and time again reap huge benefits, not just from existing, returning customers, but also the amplifying effects of those customers who evangelize for them, sharing stories about their experience that new customers then taste and feel in the same way, and the virtuous sharing circle just keeps getting wider and wider. (Like I’m doing right here for Canon).

But what if you’re not the manufacturer of high-end professional camera equipment, but rather a conference organizer, or a PR firm hosting a series of experiential marketing events around the launch of a new product, or an industry association or club that puts on a few membership driven events a year. How do you develop and replicate success when what you are selling is an experience rather than a physical product? How do you maintain consistency in all channels of communication that you are leveraging on behalf of your brand to connect with its tribe?

Firstly, you do it by creating an experience people want to be a part of. You are seeking to engage them for a time, asking them to forego everything else they could be doing to spend some time with you. Of course that means offering them entertainment, intellectual and visual stimulation, good food, strong drinks, and most importantly situate them in a roomful of people they will feel are sufficiently like them, to be both attractive but still offer an opportunity for making new friends. In effect, you need to target their tribe.

Neotribalism

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Tribal marketing is about cultivating and offering a consistent story that communicates through words, photos and video what your particular events are all about so that everyone in the tribe – or who wants to be in the tribe – will instantly feel something when they come across news of your event in one of their social feeds, or by browsing online for events like yours.

To everyone not already your client their first interaction with your company will likely be through a third party (i.e. not someone you control) who will share with them a review, their comments and very likely pictures from the event to give their friends/colleagues/prospects a sense of what your event is all about.

In other words, the edge of your market is the people you don’t know that know the people you already sell to. And what they are going to do is share content and their reactions based on how your event made them feel.

Your job is to provide them with enough content to share in chunkable formats that are easy to carve out, and then deliver the same results for the new tribe members as you gave to the ones now spreading the word.

While that seems obvious, it is surprising how rarely companies take consistency in mind when contracting suppliers who will form an integral part of delivering that experience for your audience. These suppliers – the audio visual team, florists, caterers, photographers / videographers, etc are all delivering on your brand’s promise. If membership, attendance, and reputation has an impact on how your events are perceived by your target audience then the role of your suppliers (almost always outsourced) is critical in ensuring the experiences you are marketing are consistent and have the power to reach beyond current attendees through the amplifying effects of social media and word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.

Hiring the same set of suppliers for your events – once you’ve found the ones that “get” your marketing and deliver exactly what you need to make your events successful, makes sense, even if you take your show on the road. It may look like you are being smart with your money when you hire a different suppliers for events in different cities, but the hidden costs are time/effort spent finding the right people, getting them all to work well as a team. There is also a risk to the all-important consistency that once attained pays dividends (I will always buy an “l-series” lens) but once lost is difficult to regain.  Maybe you can accept a degree of variation in the quality and consistency of the images you get from your event. Maybe your customers aren’t that discerning, or they don’t have a choice so they’ll always go with you no matter what kind of variable experience you offer them. If you’re in a business today that has no viable competition, where your customers don’t have any real power and you can blithely serve them up an inconsistent experience without worrying about them coming back, then congratulations. I guess you work for a telecoms company in Canada.

But if not, then consider that the apparent additional cost of using the same team of suppliers in terms of higher travel costs will be more than offset by the value add of customer retention, loyalty and brand consistency you – and your audience – can rely on.

The most beautiful woman in the world

People Magazine just released their pick for the most beautiful woman in 2016: Jennifer Aniston.

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I have nothing at all against Jennifer Aniston. I think she is a great actress with lots of comedic talent and yes, she is quite pretty. But I do have something against beauty contests in general, and something about this headline really bothers me.

First of all, it celebrates celebrity which I think is a vacuous and thoughtless focus on a small percentage of humans who through luck, genetic windfalls and of course skill and hard work too, find themselves splashed across the covers of things like People magazine and movie screens. Yes, they are often nice to look at and they entertain us and move us emotionally, but they receive a disproportionate amount of attention to the value they add to society, and distract attention from other important issues that are harder to think about (like climate change, or corruption, or systemic racism, etc…) that actually have much greater impacts on real people’s lives.

Celebrity culture, the nadir of which would be someone like Kim Kardashian showing off her shapely buttocks and expensive bathroom, demeans everyone who engages in it. It locks us into an inherently superficial relationship with ourselves and each other, that actually dehumanizes both the star-struck fan and the celebrity whose personality and true self lies buried beneath the persona.

It also makes regular people, regular looking people with regular lives, feel badly about themselves. It idealizes specific looks, body types, hairstyles, skin tones, accessories and lifestyles that aren’t a part of most of our lives.

As a photographer of course, I stand accused. My work is to photograph people and I know that the more recognizable my subject, the more attention my work gets and the more “important” by association, I become.

But the worst thing about the epithet of “The most beautiful X…” is it implies a judgement and sets up the entity making the announcement as some kind of authority on beauty when such a thing is purely fiction. A fantasy. False.

There is no one most beautiful anything. We are all capable of being beautiful and carry within ourselves the real source of beauty, in how we behave towards one another and what we can contribute to the communities we share.

I know it’s just a marketing ploy (I used the same tactic for my headline), but it isn’t harmless. I’ve seen so many people through my lens who fret about how they look, and how they are perceived – particularly younger women – and their misperception about the way they look affects their self-esteem and sense of self-worth and that’s what really bothers me.

If we spent more effort seeking out and seeing the real beauty in the people around us, and less time and energy on the images of famous people, perhaps we’d make the world a kinder place for all of us.

 

 

 

 

4 tips for managing herd scatter at events

IMG_9697If you organize conferences you are familiar with what I am calling herd scatter: your presenter stands before a too large room with lots of white empty spaces between seats of attendees. Since your goal in hiring a photographer to cover the talk is to make the room look full, the attendees engaged and the presenter interesting, having a lot of empty seats in the images is counter-productive.

Here are four tips that can mitigate against that:

  1. Book a smaller room: if you only have 80 registered attendees and the room the conference centre or hotel has given you sits 400, you’ve got a problem. Often these rooms can be divided in half, or if that’s not possible, ask about any alternative spaces where your guests can still fit but the dead space is cut away.
  2. Block access to the back of the room: if you can’t switch spaces then cut off access to the back of the room where some conference attendees like to sit because it provides easy access to escape. It also virtually guarantees that your room will have big white holes in it where people avoid sitting too close together or up front. If you want a full looking room, you need to limit the seating options to where you want people to sit.
  3. Ask people to sit in the front: just like in school when the teacher tells everyone to sit closer, a very simple thing to do is to ask your attendees to move closer to the front as they are entering the room. Most people are easily persuaded to move as they know that the reason they are there in the first place is to pay attention and participate.
  4. Use engaging presenters: if audience engagement is what you are after, than pay some attention to the ability of the presenter you put in the front of the room to actually engage their audience. Reading long texts, reeling off bullet points and old clip art style graphics do not usually elicit strong reactions from audiences, regardless of subject matter.

Keeping people interested is a challenge when most conference goers hold in their hands a device with infinite capacity to distract. It is impossible to keep everyone’s interest corralled when people get pulled into work emergency emails, but these simple tips can help conference planners manage the way their events look when the pictures get delivered.

Advice for older women getting their photo taken

Let’s talk about age and women. It’s almost always impolite to ask how old someone is, but never more so when the person before you is clearly not your junior. But being a photographer confers a certain access and intimacy between strangers that would not otherwise exist. The curtain gets pulled back, so to speak, and since this blog is all about what goes on on my side of the lens, I’d like to share a few tips for older women being photographed at events.

I think these guidelines would apply to any scenario, but I am specifically talking about women at events having a posed or impromptu photo taken of them in a group shot. Why older women and not older men? Well, as much as I can riff on the much higher levels of vanity / insecurities I’ve observed in men having their picture taken, that is not my focus today.

First of all, even saying “older women” can feel discomfiting if you happen to fall into that category. It is far from a neutral phrase, unfortunately, and I write it with some trepidation. Because it is laden with bias and a set of preconceived connotations, mainly held by the women themselves who objectively would fall into this category. For clarity, I am referring to women in the 50+ range, but depending on your own particular insecurity you may feel it applies to you as well even if you are below that rather arbitrary cutoff. That itself speaks to the point I am trying to make, which is: you look better than you think you do and smiling and confidence go a long way.

Let’s break it down.

The group shot at an event

This could be either one of those posed shots in front of a media wall or backdrop, or it could just be you and a couple of your friends having a drink or grooving on the dance floor. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Your hair looks wonderful:  Just keep your hair out of your eyes. If you have a style that tends to curl in front of your face, a very quick stroke down and slight pull back on either side can help eliminate fly aways or crazy unreal sprigs of hair that shouldn’t be standing up.
  • About smiling: you must smile and even better, smile with your eyes as well. No matter how you are feeling, if you consent to taking the photo or have been dragged in against your will by one of your drunken more narcisstic friends, you have to make the most of the uncomfortable experience. Do not grimace, look deflated, neutral, unhappy or pissed off. The entire experience will only last 45 seconds at most, but a surly expression will never go away once that photo is taken. Smile. Feel happy inside. Fake smiles look fake.
  • Teeth or no teeth?: You can hide your teeth if you want, but when you smile, think about something you actually smile about. How much teeth you show does not really matter. More demure looks work better with closed mouth smiles, but big teeth smiles are inviting, vivacious and look great too. Go with whatever feels natural.
  • Go Chatter-free: People tend to chatter when they are posing in a group. Drinks, old friends, smoothing over awkwardness, nervousness…there are a lot of causes for chit chat but you will have a much better looking photo of yourself if for the brief time you are being photographed, you stop talking. This ensures that your mouth is in a position you control when the photo is taken, and not some weird contorted hole that vocalizations tend to produce. You never notice it in real life, but an image of someone taken mid-word often reveals far more about your dental habits than you would feel comfortable sharing.
  • Take centre stage: Where should you stand? If your arms and shoulders are exposed, then you want to be in the centre of the grouping. Standing on the edges will distort the shape of your body and make your arm look big which is probably the number one thing women hate seeing in pictures of themselves. Of course, somebody has to be on the edges and if it’s you, do not, in any scenario stand sideways, or try to squeeze into the frame by bending in or towards the centre of your group. Taller women should avoid the edges if possible, as should larger women, but if you are there, twist your torso outward toward the edge of the group, never inward toward the centre (see next point for more on this stance).

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  • Face the camera, with a slight twist in your torso: you want your face to be straight on looking into the lens, with your shoulders tilted at a slight angle. I’ve noticed a huge trend as a result of selfies, where women in particular do a kind of strange head tilting thing which is I think some kind of attempt to hide their chin. Don’t do that. It may be part of the selfie lexicon but it doesn’t work when you have a real photographer in front of you with a real camera.
  • Better out than in: What to do with your chin? Don’t do that thing with your face where you kind of back up, and tuck your chin down or in towards your neck. Sometimes this is just an unconscious reaction to having a camera in your face. Or you may think that it somehow conceals flabby neck skin, or makes your chin look more chinny. . It does none of these things. What it does is distorts your face, and crumples up your chin line and almost always creates a double chin effect and makes you look awkward and uncomfortable. What you SHOULD do, if you are conscious of your chin at all is very slightly tilt your chin upward and forward. The key is doing it as subtly as possible. You don’t want to look like Robert DeNiro in the Godfather, but a very subtle yet deliberate protrusion of the chin up and towards the lens will have a flattering effect on your face. This is particularly important and relevant to women with slightly rounder, ampler faces.
  • Posture matters: I know we’re not in the 18th century any more and no one goes to finishing school, but posture matters in life and in photos. Whether or not you normally carry yourself well, when the time comes for the photo, you have to buck up. Stand tall, put your shoulders back and think poise. It shouldn’t look uncomfortable or too forced, but don’t slouch, fold yourself into some strange position, lean, or bend, or try to hide. Take a moment to compose yourself if you need to – the photographer will wait. There is no need to feel or be off balance. No matter what shape you are in or think you are in, having good posture will ALWAYS improve how you look in a photo.
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Nailed it

  • Arms and hands: What about your arms and hands? No one ever seems to know what to do with their hands. I recommend taking a position that is comfortable but not lazy. Don’t try to hide your hands. You can cross them in front, resting them just across the belly, or you can go for a slightly sassier / more playful pose and rest one arm akimbo on the hip with the other just straight down in front of you. This works particularly well for women wanting to accentuate or boost the curvaceousness of their appearance.
  • Do the leg work: Keep in mind, in many event shots you rarely get the full body. It’s usually just not practical in a crowded setting, but there are times and places specifically where you could have the chance to be photographed in full length and particularly so if you are wearing a long and luxurious evening gown complemented by those very sexy shoes you’ve been dying to show off. A good pose is one where you have one forward facing leg tucked in front of the back one. This works well if your dress has a slit in it and you want that leg to emerge through it. You can also keep them both together, but whatever position you take (and it can vary depending on the number of others in the shot with you), don’t point your toes at the camera. Remember, angles are your friends, so though you want your face to be straight on, the rest of you should be working on an angle (remember the torso twist mentioned above).
  • Don’t fuss too much: your photographer – if she or he is a good one – is not your enemy. When I take a picture at an event – every single time – I check for whether all eyes are open and if the people in the photo look good. Our interests are aligned. A photographer who does not try to make his or her subjects look as good as possible is not doing a good job, and won’t get hired back. So relax, trust the professional and you will look good.

Want more? What to wear, how to wear it etc? I’ll be publishing a few more posts like these over the next few weeks and will be collecting all the tips I have for a free e-book I plan to publish this summer. Sign up on this blog and I’ll email you the free pdf when it’s ready.

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Total event coverage: virtual reality videos & photos

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Just when you thought (hoped) the end of the Selfie age was here…

The newest way to impress your friends, guests and bosses is to offer complete coverage of your next event. And by complete, I mean, showcasing the people and the event in 360º virtual reality videos and photos.

As many of my clients will attest, I am a bit of a gadget freak and I’m constantly looking for ways to add value for my clientele and bring in new tech tools that make them look good. In addition to my standard professional gear (two cameras, multiple lenses) needed to really cover any event, I’ve also starting using drones, time lapse cameras and now, my latest acquisition, a Ricoh Theta S – a 360º camera with built in wifi that shoots and records images and videos for virtual reality applications.

It is really quite fun to play around with new tech and one of the perks of being a photographer is that I get to indulge my neophilia as part of running my business.

And it makes for a brand new view on the traditional family portrait.

As usual when I get a new toy, the first I thing I do is not read the manual. I just take it out of the box and start messing around with it. As an experiential learner I find it’s much easier just to use it and see what it can do than try to read up on everything in advance. I guess I’m also just too lazy and find pressing buttons easier and more fun than reading tech manuals.

So far I’m really excited about the potential with the Ricoh Theta S. While the image quality is still below what I would consider professional grade, the sheer novelty factor and ability for people to view images in full virtual reality more than outweighs the need for ultra sharp imagery. The first time someone sees one of these images there really is significant wow factor. I imagine it’s maybe similar to the first time someone ever saw a photograph in the early 1800s.

Basically, the device (which can be attached to a tripod or even, I’ve discovered, a selfie stick) shoots from both a front and rear facing camera at the same time producing a complete image that allows you to either “move” through it wearing a virtual reality headset (or popping your phone into a Google Cardboard type viewer). Or you can view the image on a regular screen and spin it around with your finger, seeing the image from all different angles.

Using the built in wi-fi, once the image/video is shot you send it to your phone (you have to download the free Theta app) and from there you can view the image, or share it. There is no viewer on the device itself.

The one drawback for now (which I’m sure will change as vr viewers become more commonplace) is the shareabilty of the images is rather limited. I can share photos to my Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr but not directly through email for some reason. And what gets shared is a link to the image sitting on Theta360.com.

Sharing videos seems to work a bit differently. You can email these directly (though I’m still trying to figure out why they can be emailed but don’t appear in my Theta account).  You can also upload videos directly to Youtube.

It’s definitely easy to use, fun to play with and will surely be a conversation starter for your guests and attendees.

Photography never stops evolving and with each new piece of tech that emerges, a new way of telling a story comes along with it. Event coverage is about to get a lot more exciting.

 

 

 

How to survive as a freelance photographer

How do you survive as a freelance photographer?

I encounter a lot of people who are curious about what it’s like making a living as a freelance photographer. Because I often go into offices during the work day to shoot an executive or pickups of office life for company websites, I am in contact with lots of people doing a lot of different jobs.

And I see the look of incredulity on people’s faces when I tell them what I do for a living. They can’t quite seem to fathom that in this digital age where everyone is armed with a camera in their pocket, and people are uploading hundreds of millions of photographs daily to Instagram and Snapchat, that anyone could possibly earn enough to survive by just being a photographer.

And while I am not “just a photographer” (I do a lot of freelance writing as well), photography is my main occupation and what I fill out on customs cards when I travel.

Do it for love, not money

I am the first to admit that photography as a career choice is not one made with an eye to getting rich. Indeed there are very wealthy photographers out there, those who shoot celebrity portraits on exotic beaches, for example, but I am not one of them, and the vast majority of working photographers are not either. Gigs come and go, clients come and go, and you are never guaranteed anything. It is not a surefooted, clearly marked career path and there is no security. So if you are looking for anything of the sort, it may not be the best choice for you.

It is, however, one of the best jobs in the world if you enjoy meeting a lot of people in a wide range of contexts, and engaging with each one of them on a human level. One of my first ambitions in life was to become a journalist, and though I never realized it, photography affords much of the same exposure to different situations, different groups of people and an array of ideas (if you keep your ears open as you do your work) that is very exciting. It is totally unscripted – one day you may be doing a CEO portrait in an office tower, the next you’re covering a tree-planting team building event in a city park, but the opportunities are truly endless for encountering new, interesting people and getting a snapshot of who they are by being a fly on the wall in their every day lives.

So if you love meeting lots of different people and having many interactions throughout the day (if you are covering a large event like a conference or tradeshow), than it is a very fulfilling job.

Get your hustle on

How do you get business? In that sense it’s no different than any other freelancer gigness out there. Whether you are a writer, a designer, graphic artist, videographer or the guy who sets up window displays for shops on High Street, getting gigs is about showing up, doing your best work every time, listening and understanding what your client really needs, delivering everything you promise (and more), and then doing it all over again for the next client. And the next. And on and on until one day you get a call from someone who says they heard about you from someone else.

While you can never stop hunting for new clients – and that can mean making cold calls, running e-mail marketing campaigns, maintaining a blog with regular, useful content, and good old-fashioned networking both on and off-line – holding on to the clients you have is also part of the job. If you develop a good relationship with your client – mainly by doing good work consistently for them – you earn the benefit of their repeat business. Having a few regular clients can help smooth out some of the variability in your income and provide a degree of security, though nothing ever lasts forever.

Developing your hustle muscle is also critical. I never go to any gig without a pocket full of business cards, and my spiel ready to deliver at the right moment if I meet a prospective future client. While the main focus is always on the paid gig at hand, part of photographing people necessarily entails talking and connecting with them. Not doing so makes you that awkward shooter lurking on the sidelines and yields a crop of photos showing people with slightly annoyed looks on their faces at your interruptions. You have to interact, and mingle, professionally. Sometimes, in so doing, you’ll meet someone who might need what you’ve got to offer and you follow up. I’ve landed a lot of new business this way.

Don’t let your love go cold

Finally, staying at it and always looking for ways to up your game or improve your skills, tools and technique is all part of the job. You are only ever as good as your last job, and no body cares how expensive your gear is. They just want great photos and it’s your job to get them done.  I read up on photo news, stoke my perpetual gear lust with Pinboards full of the latest gadgets, and experiment constantly with new approaches to my work.

It’s very important not to let your passion ebb away by letting your work go stale. After the 100th portrait of the old guy in a suit against a grey seamless backdrop in a cramped little fluorescent lit office downtown, you may be tempted to just mail it in. But that would be the beginning of the end of your career, I believe, because to that man, this portrait means something. It’s a sign his company is investing in him, a chance for him to show who he is to his clients or to accompany a news article about his recent accomplishments. Having your portrait taken is something to be proud of, and it’s important to always keep your emotional IQ running high to ensure you never lose sight of what a photo is really about.

Taking good pictures, and being the kind of photographer people like and want to hire is ultimately not about the tech you are using, or any tricks you’ve learned along the way. Yes, you need to understand your gear, have mastery over the tools you have, and not flub the shots technically. But the most important aspect of the work is making sure your heart is in it, and keeping it there.

Stick with it

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Mr. Stickwithitness

Being a freelance photographer is really an amazing life. I’ve been able to travel, meet interesting, friendly and wonderful people and see places and things I never would have were it not for the work. That’s imparted a very deep sense of gratitude in me and a respect for my work. I truly believe that it’s a privilege to be hired by every client, and every client deserves my best work. If I let that slip, even a little, it’s the beginning of the end for me.

The work is important. The gigs will vary. You’ll have to nail your pricing and be flexible and able to talk frankly about cost vs. value, and you’ll need stamina. All entrepreneurs will tell you that it takes twice as long as you think it will to be successful, and will cost twice as much as you expect it will to get there.

How you define “success” of course, is up to you. I consider the option to wake up every day, direct my efforts towards my goals and do important work for great clients a success. And as my economics professor once told me, I’ve got “stickwithitness” which is probably the single most important thing you need if you want to make it as freelance anything.

How to take better beach portraits

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Context counts

Taking pictures on the beach is a great way to extend the pleasure of a vacation. Long after the waves have receded into the ocean and your week in the sun is a distant memory, photos and videos from your lazy days on the beach can cast a warm afterglow on the experience.

But it’s also a pain having anything electronic on the beach because of all the things that make a beach, well, a beach: salty air, salt water, intense heat, sand, sand, and more sand.

fuerte1I can’t do much about the sand except to recommend keeping your gear (which includes your phone) in a ziplock bag before stuffing it into the sandy catch-all beach bag, but here are a few recommendations for making the experience less technically frustrating and for maximizing the images you take home along with the seashells you gather up from the shore:

1) Shoot early or late: depending on where you are in the world, there are optimal times to go to the beach, and unsurprisingly, these also present the best lighting opportunities for photos. Everyone has probably heard the term “the golden hour” that photographers love to gush on about. It’s actually a bit of a misnomer as it pertains to two distinct periods during the day – shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset, and may not even last a full hour, but the idea is simply that these times are when the sun’s light is warmer, characterized by a golden, reddish tone which bathes people in a very flattering light. If you’re looking to get a great family portrait on the beach, grab a few glasses for the bubbly, gather up the kids and get to the beach about an hour before the sunset. Then position yourselves facing the sun, so the light is on your faces, and fire away (you’ll need a tripod-see #2)

Getting ready to surf at the "golden hour"

Getting ready to surf at the “golden hour”

2) Bring a tripod: there are myriad tripods on the market and I’m not going to recommend any specific brand, though I think the GorillaPod style (the original is by JOBY but there are now lots of copycat brands) is best suited for a beach as you can use the flexible grips to wrap around a piece of driftwood, or balance on your bag or even a bottle of water. The only disadvantage is height as the pod legs aren’t extendible nor very long. For that you can go for any number of travel tripods that are lightweight (no heavy SLRs here) but ideal for packing, carrying and using a lightweight camera or your phone beachside.

3) Watch out for overexposure: beaches are some of the brightest light saturated environments your camera will ever deal with. There is light bearing down on you from above, bouncing off the sands below and refracting off the water before you. Be careful when you set up your shot to expose for the faces in your image, and not have them turn into blackened silhouettes by letting the camera choose randomly.

beachportrait1.jpg4. Use a flash: given the excess of light on a beach you may wonder why I’d recommend using flash. If you want really great shots of people standing in front of a gorgeous sunset, a flash is the only way you can get it right. If you don’t either you’ll expose for the sunset behind them and their faces will be too dark, or you’ll expose for the faces and the sunset will disappear.  Use a flash to highlight everyone in the shot and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

With these few tips you’re guaranteed to take better pictures on the beach, and come away with more than just tan lines.

Happy travels!

Leveraging the “experience economy” for your next event

We just met

We just met

You have to love marketers. Every few months a new catch phrase captures their attention and suddenly everyone is seeing the term pop up in their email subject lines like it’s a brand new idea, discrete and different from what’s come before and promising new riches to companies that figure out how best to leverage the trend for their wares. The “experience economy” is one of those terms being mooted as what the next big target – Millennials – is living in and how they are choosing to spend their money.

Waxing poetic in bed...

Waxing poetic in bed…

Because they’ve been saddled with student debt, and are priced out of the housing market in most places where they also stand a reasonable chance of getting a job (though probably not with much security) what this coveted and growing cohort of individuals likes to do is “have experiences”, hence the term. I would add that they also really like to share the experiences – of travel, shopping, going out, eating out or cooking at home with friends -across social media on the myriad platforms they engage with hourly.

If experience is the new black, photographic evidence of your experience is the new way to display your wealth. Despite another (complementary?) trend towards minimalism, judging from what is shared on Instagram there still appears to be a strong appetite for furnishing social proof of a non-materialistic, world travelling, lifestyle replete with lots of friends, good food and pithy moments of communing with nature. In the connected, sharing economy, one of the most liquid commodities is photography.

Let’s take a Selfie together

Selfie in Tuscany anyone?

Selfie in Tuscany anyone?

Experiences today are easier to share than ever before. It doesn’t take much effort to snap a Selfie in front of a made-for-postcards backdrop (much easier than actually sending a postcard!) and post it online. I can’t really share my home with all 778 of my Facebook friends, regardless of how many dinner parties I want to host, but I can easily and quickly share photos of the meals I’m cooking and get almost the same level of neuronal strokes that make me feel good about myself as I would if I had actually invited them all over for dinner.

In fact, the sharing of the experiences seems as important – or more – than the having of it in the first place. Does a tree falling in a forest make any sound if no one is around to hear it? The enigma can now be answered in as much time as it takes you to open up Snapchat with your thumb: NO. For the digital nomads living and working in the experience economy, if you did something and didn’t share it, it didn’t happen.

We love ourselves

We love ourselves

The more images people have of themselves, preferably in exotic locales with lots of different (ideally good-looking and/or famous) people, the greater their apparent wealth. For businesses trying to decode this trend before it transmutes into something else, the trick is weaving your brand or product into these snapshots of shared experiences without it looking like crass product placement. Doing so successfully involves creating a lifestyle around your brand that your prospects – or the people who influence your prospects – accept as authentic and real enough to want to incorporate into their own stories. It also means giving them something fun to photograph.

I’ll add that to My Story

In the experience economy, where social media are the new nation states and the social proof created through photos and videos, the new global currency, creating opportunities for good photos can grab a lot of attention cheaply.

people-in-front-of-giant-wall-graffitti

It’s all about the backdrop

If you’re a brand hosting an event, this can be achieved by paying a lot more attention to lighting and the visual elements of your set up than you might have done previously. It also doesn’t hurt to offer good quality booze, hire local chefs and serve original and satisfying food as well but making sure you help people take, get and share great pictures of themselves is critical.

I’ve covered hundreds of events and I’ve observed that no matter what the theme, all people at events have one thing in common: they want to get past that awkward, initial standing around phase fast. Having something fun to do (and good to drink) – whether that’s an onsite photo booth or some kind of custom prop that ties into your brand – helps loosen up the crowd and gives them a chance to start generating and sharing photos of their experience.

Or we could play spin the bottle?

Or we could play spin the bottle?

Are there fun props you can custom build that tie into your brand and are fun to pose with? Think giant shoes people can climb into, or maybe a couch shaped like a bra if you’re trying raise awareness for breast cancer. What about filling an old cast iron bathtub with your product…Setting up old school amusement park games with a twist? Anything normal turned supersized works, as would anything suspended or hanging from the ceiling. Can you implement a viewing platform somewhere higher up to afford interesting views or angles? Selling a tech-related product? What about setting up old style phone booths – the kind that used to be on every street corner but are now disappearing. Irony is still in (sort of). I can think of countless more ideas for brands with photographable products or services that can benefit from the experience economy – anything from booze to insurance. (I love coming up with ideas like this – just get in touch)

The best stories are still unfolding

The best stories are still unfolding

In the end, having experiences is just shorthand for story, and everyone today is engaged in telling and retelling their story across varied social media channels in the universal language of images. Words are being replaced by icons, emotional responses measured by the size of your emoji and lives measured by the breadth and reach of social followers. 

Giving your audience/market something new, fun, and interesting to do, document and share is a powerful way to connect with and stay connected to the people who matter to your business most. 

If your company is in the business of putting on events of any kind (a product launch, sponsored reception, brand elevating evening, etc) you are now in the business of creating experiences. Get it right and one of those experiences everyone is sharing just might be a photo of them using something you’re selling.

What is social mediagraphy?

julianhaber-snapchatPhotography + social media = social mediagraphy

I love making up neologism and one I’ve recently started using to describe my event photography service offering to clients is social mediagraphy. I used to be able to work exclusively as a photographer, documenting an event or covering a conference then delivering the set of edited images to my client for distribution through their communications channels like newsletters, websites and the like. This is no longer sufficient for today’s market which demands a steady and constant flow of snackable content, in real-time, to keep audiences engaged and re-engaged throughout the course of an event.

No large event today is deemed to have happened if it doesn’t have its own # and generate volumes of Tweetable, and re-tweetable content. And as a photographer, I’ve learned to adapt and actually enjoy the connectivity and heightened appreciation for my work that this behaviour brings.

Where I used to be an invisible service provider, working away in a kind of obscurity producing images that would be used long after my work was done, I am now often thrust in the middle of the action, generating and sending out my own socially-media-friendly Tweets, Instagram posts and LinkedIn content as it relates to what I’ve been covering as a photographer during an event. And clients appreciate it, because it helps them with their goals of generating interest and sparking conversations surrounding the content they’ve pulled together to mount their conference, or to satisfy the needs of their membership, boards or communications teams who work hard to show ROI on the big events they develop.

Social mediagraphy, as I would define it from the point of view of a photographer, is the combination of both traditional event coverage with frequent bursts of social media activity. In my case I will use my phone during events, and then later on post edited and refined images from the day’s coverage. Post-event, I’ll usually follow up with a roundup or a few blog posts relating back to the event, or a particular piece of content that resonated with me that I think bears reporting on for my audience.

If a quote happens at a conference and nobody Tweets it, does it matter at all?

Once the content is created and pushed out there, it can, and often is, picked up by event attendees who sometimes add their own commentary to the posts, or simply retweet or repost the content so that it reaches ever-widening circles of influence.

workingAll of this helps increase the impact from an event and enables event organizers to leverage their attendees to extend their reach into their networks, as the people at one event are usually connected to a bigger number of people outside of the event for whom the event also has appeal. Aside from seeding sales and requests for invitations for future events, this also helps validate the relevancy of the event to its target audiences and provides context for people on the outside who may be curious and become interested in learning more simply by coming across one or more of these social tidbits as they float through their ever-refreshed news feed. It’s also fun and a great way to make new friends.

Change is good

Change is at the heart of all technology. Photography is no longer sufficient on its own to meet the demands of clients who find themselves having to publish content in myriad forms to satisfy the needs of their audiences. Gone are the days when you could shoot an event, deliver your work weeks later and charge a premium for the service. Whether your event is a wedding, a corporate gala, AGM, trade show or a conference, photos are now but one layer of social proof needed to help augment and enhance the experience. Of course this requires new skill sets and familiarity with constantly changing tools (I’m still fairly lame at Snapchat but working on it) but that’s part of the fun of photography and working with technology in general. Rapid change is the constant of our times today and the only way to not drown in it is to embrace it.

What makes a photograph work?

 (Julian Haber)

Hint: it’s not the make of your camera

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Though Maya Angelou wasn’t explicitly talking about what makes a good photograph work, she might as well have been.  Context is everything, and in the context of businesses using photography to help create, promote and develop their brands, understanding the secret sauce of what makes a photograph effective can be very useful, and profitable.

Studying the data trail on images across visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest will certainly lead to some actionable insights, but for a quick and simple rule of thumb, thinking about how the image used is intended to make the viewer feel is a big part about getting it right.

Go pro, amateur or UGC? It depends… 

 (Julian Haber)

Recently at an iMedia conference I was covering, I listened in on a panel discussion led by Matthew Langie, CMO at Curalate, a company that helps consumers discover brands, and helps brands leverage their visual content by, among other things, enriching their photography with relevant metadata that connects back to their commerce sites. It also conducts research into things like what makes an image popular on Pinterest, and one of their findings was that sometimes professional images – those shot by a photographer with professional lighting, expensive kit and under artistic direction, did worse (fewer repins and shares) than images shot by amateurs.

I am not surprised by this finding but I think the real reason why some images resonate better than others is not whether they were shot by a professional or not, but whether there is a match up between the feeling of the image and how the viewer feels in response to it.

In my experience working as a photographer, I’ve observed that there are certain types of contexts where people have an inherent distrust of an image that appears too polished, or looks like it went through too many filters (portraits; over-reliance on HDR in real estate shots; fake family vacation photos from all-inclusive resorts, etc). There is something about the rawness of an image captured in the moment, with minimal adjustments applied afterwards that seems to carry greater weight and authenticity. No matter if the moment is manufactured, which many are, the image – the social proof that gets shared – needs to look and feel real to have an impact. Digitally aware people today, (which includes most Millenials, but also older generations who’ve embraced digital tools and toys as they’ve grown), are very sensitive to any attempt to manipulate them, and an overly edited, “perfect” looking image is often interpreted as some kind of attempt at manipulation.

Does your image have resonance?

 (Julian Haber)

A good photograph is one that elicits a strong emotional reaction that is consonant with the imagery shown. It can be taken in a quick moment of inspiration on a phone, or after careful preparation and setup by a pro. The method is immaterial. The photograph is just the medium connecting two synchronized emotional worlds – the viewer’s, and the one shown as felt and experienced by the photographer. When the two match up, there is a connection formed and the image “works”, regardless of who took it, what it was shot with or even what it is about. A poorly taken, blurry image can have more impact than a perfectly shot, tack sharp one of the same subject matter.

I think a lot of product photography fails, for example, because it focuses too much on showing off the product and not enough on creating an emotional resonance with its intended audience. On the other hand, when the product is shown in a context that matters to the intended audience, there is an emotional connection made and the image is successful. Sometimes, the best product photography hardly shows the product at all and still manages to drive people to take action, which in marketing parlance typically means convert and buy.

This is what I would define as emotional resonance: the degree to which an image is synchronized with the emotional reaction it elicits. The greater the synchronicity, the stronger the resonance. The stronger the resonance, the greater the impact and the more likely it is that a viewer will be inspired by the image to take action.

The more overt the attempt to manipulate that response, the more likely it is that the image will fail in the sense that its resonant capacity has been diminished in direct correlation to the amount of effort that appears to have been put into making it provocative in the first place. If it seems too calculating, in other words, it loses emotional impact and will probably not work.

So what makes a photograph work?

 (Julian Haber)

I think the key is actually empathy. As the photographer, professional or not, you need empathy with your subject(s) and/or the audience for whom the image is going to be shown. If you are using the photograph for business purposes – whether as advertising, embedded native content or some other brand promoting use, you need to be even more careful about making sure the image is empathetic with your audience. As more and more images are thrust into the faces of people daily, the level of attention paid to any particular one is scant and growing scanter. What will make someone stop, look and care is not the production value or the level of saturation, or any other trick of the trade. It will be whether or not the image speaks to them personally, feels real and makes them feel something in return. No single image will reach everyone, but concentrating on how your viewer will feel and empathizing with him or her will go a long way toward making them connect with your image, and ultimately your business, brand or art.

Baby it’s cold outside – but  these warm-hearted Montrealers are heating things up

My view this afternoon from Cafe Shaika

My view this afternoon from Cafe Shaika

It’s cold in Montreal today. -10 Celsius and dropping. While it’s bright and sunny outside, it’s more fun to experience cold winter days like this through a window from a cosy café, which is my plan for this afternoon as I put together my roundup of events I covered so far this year. Luckily there are lots of people still braving the cold and getting out there for worthy events in these winter months, keeping me busy. Here are a few highlights worth sharing from goings on around town in Montreal this past January and February.

Here’s the link to the roundup in pictures. Please read on for details on the various events.

ProductTank MTL

ProductTank MTL

Montreal’s got a talented pool of tech entrepreneurs, developers and product managers who’ve now got another monthly  meetup/chance to drink and network with the monthly events hosted by ProductTank MTL. This month’s meet up which I covered at l’Appartement (one of Montreal’s hip resto/bars in Old Montreal), focused on the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Gartner Inc.: “ The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.” 128 people had gathered to hear presentations by Jean-François Martin, Director of Products at mnubo; Yahya El Iraki, CEO at mySeat and Mathieu Lachaine, Founder and CEO at Ubios. All three speakers are involved with connected products and had interesting, behind-the-scenes insights and advice for people interested in the exploding Internet of Things (IoT) space. Gartner forecasts that “6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. Yes, that means that your fridge will be able to order beer for you when you are running out and your toaster will be able to keep track of how much multi-grain toast you’re making.

Interested in learning more and attending the next Meetup? Check out ProductTank MTL here: http://www.meetup.com/ProductTank-Montreal/

Pedal for Kids / Pédalez pour les enfants

pedal-for-kids

Anyone who knows me, knows I love children and that I support child-friendly causes. I’ve been lucky to work with the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation (MCHF) for the past two years which puts me right in the heart of a lot of events aimed at raising funds for much needed equipment and programs the Montreal Children’s Hospital uses to save and improve the lives of sick kids. I rarely cover one of these kinds of events without something making me tear up and hide behind my camera, and the kickoff cocktail for the 25th anniversary of Pedal for Kids was no exception.

The Pedal For Kids / Pédalez pour les enfants event is one of the most fun and exciting fundraisers organized by the MCHF. I had covered it earlier this summer but had not had the opportunity to hear Michael Conway, one of the events co-founders, speak until this month. Sylvie Lalumière and Michael Conway launched Pedal for Kids in 1992 in memory of their daughter, Meagan. By the time he was done I was ready to put on my spandex suit and bike until next summer. If you’re curious or would like to get involved with Pedal for Kids check them out here. You can join an existing team, create a new one or go solo. Sign up here: http://pedalez.com/about-the-event/

30th annual Vision Celebration Fundraiser Gala for the Black Theatre Workshop #OscarsSoWhite

Black Theatre Workshop

Earlier this year I covered the Black Theatre Workshop’s 30th Annual Vision Fundraiser Gala and also marks the launch of Black History Month in Canada. This is my third year covering this party and I am always blown away by the talent in the room, both onstage and off.  The evening was superbly hosted by Nantali Indongo (of Nomadic Massive fame) with performances by Montreal’s Jireh Gospel Choir,  Kim Richardson and Daniel Loyer, and the coolest (and only) reggae version of Adele’s Hello that I’ve ever heard as part of DJ Don Smooth’s soundtrack for the night.

The guest of honour was Jackie Richardson, aka, Canada’s First Lady of gospel, jazz and blues who received the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Also on the roster were: Otis Grant, world championship boxer who received the Dr. Clarence Bayne Community Service Award; Briauna James who received the Victor Phillips Award, and Vladimir Alexis who received the Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award. Artistic Director, Quincy Armorer couldn’t be physically present as he was performing in Twelfth Night in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, but he made an appearance via Facetime.

Here’s a sample of the Jireh Gospel Choir in action (rather poorly filmed on my iPhone)

University Club Arts Event

Logo-UCM-blanc

Though sadly I missed the Beaver Hall Group show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I was lucky to catch a sneak peek at the curation of the event at a arts event held at the University Club of Montreal. I love the old world charm of the club, and events like these are a reminder of Montreal’s historic and ongoing role as a city of the arts.

Confessions of a closet Pinner

https://www.pinterest.com/kaleidoscopium/

 

I can’t help myself. When I come across an article I like, particularly if it’s showcasing some new piece of camera tech, I don’t snip and clip it to Evernote, I don’t copy and save it a Google Doc, I don’t email the link to myself. No, I Pin it. And I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that as a grown man, one of my latest online habits is making interactive pin-up boards. It’s my dirty little online secret, but I think it’s time to come clean.

Pinterest deserves more respect than most people I know give it credit for. My habit started out innocently enough. Like anyone interested in digital marketing and extending the reach of their little brand in a giant universe of noise, I first delved into Pinterest just because it was there, it was free to use and experiment with, and I figured that having one more linkable platform back to my blog/photo portfolio couldn’t hurt.

https://www.pinterest.com/kaleidoscopium/So I started up a few photography related boards, some pretty obviously self-serving, like my Photography-Events board (which I realize is supremely lame with only one pin), but quickly spent more time on others that I thought other people interested in photography and camera gizmos might be interested in (Photography Tech, Tools and Trends). As interests have a way of spreading online, I soon found the need for a board on Drones. Then Robots. Then what I christened, Future Humans as a place to put stuff that wasn’t just purely about robots. And what about staying healthy (The Healthy Living Project)? Or my interest in world-changing organizations that focus on making the world a better place for girls #GIRLPOWER? Or Startups and Tech?

One Pinboard led to another a before I knew it, I’d added the Pin button to my browser to make it easier to feed my addiction, and not long afterward, downloaded the app so I could Pin to my hearts abandon when sitting in airports (happens to be one of my favourite times to Pin) or am otherwise idle.

The habit has now fully taken hold of me. It satisfies my internet-enabled neurosis of losing a piece of information that I might one day find useful, and it’s kind of fun. Even if it’s not that cool. I’ve tried, in vain, to interest my few fishing friends to join my Fishing board to no avail.

But if you are curious, I recommend giving it a spin. Need some help on getting started? Check out my board on Productivity and GTD. And don’t forget to breathe and stay happy (How to Be Happy).

Want to join the fun or are equally addicted? Come find me under my Pinterest user name: kaleidoscopium

 

 

How do I download my photos?

This post is just a simple resource for clients who want to download the images of their event. I am a fan of Photoshelter, the site that hosts my portfolio and have been using them for several years, but their instructions are not always as clear as they could be for delivering images to clients. Hopefully this brief guide will help.

Step 1: Open the email you’ve received. Take note of the password (which is case sensitive) as you may need it to view your photos and will certainly need it to download them. The email you receive will look something like this:

Email with link to photo gallery

Email with link to photo gallery

Note that the images shown are only thumbnails and by default are shown in a square format but your final images will show in their original dimensions.

Step 2: Click on the link in the email.

Step 3: Review the images by scrolling through the page(s). There may be several pages of images so be sure you look through them all. From this screen you can download all or a select batch of your images using the download button shown here:

Downloading your images

Downloading your images

Step 3: Once you click the Download button a window will pop up providing you with the option to select all or some of the images. In almost all cases I would recommend you download the full set of images to ensure you have your own copy of the original files. Click Continue.

Select your images

Select your images

I recommend you download all the images

I recommend you download all the images

Step 4: Choose the resolution you want for the files. Image resolution on my site is determined by fixed ratios indicated in the drop down window. Again, I recommend full resolution / original file, as this gives you the option to use the images for prints. If you know for certain the images will only ever be used in web format you can download the smaller JPEG sizes (600 px). The number shown indicates the long size of the image downloaded.

Choose resolution

Choose resolution

Step 5: The next screen will show you a link. Click on the link and your download will commence immediately.

click on link

Step 6: Wait for the images to download. They will download as a zip file, which is a format used to save size on the download.

Step 7: Locate your downloaded zip file. It will appear in the downloads folder on your computer.

Look for your downloaded zip file

Look for your downloaded zip file

Step 8: Once you have files downloaded, and have located the zip file, double click on it and then move the new folder generated to wherever you want to save the folder. I would recommend you save it in at least two separate hard drives as well as one online cloud based service like a Dropbox or Google Drive.

 

Locate and double click on your zipped folder

Locate and double click on your zipped folder

The zipped folder will now look and act like a regular folder:

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 12.35.44 PM

Step 9: You’re done. Your photos have now been downloaded.

More bang for your buck, eh?

More bang for your buck, eh?
More bang for your buck, eh?

More bang for your buck, eh?

Dear America,

If ever there was a time to gather up your team, hold a meeting and host an event in Montreal, 2016 is it.

I think the screenshot from today’s FX rate pretty much sums it up.

In Canada (Donald Trump’s views notwithstanding) we are not so different from America. Except everything is much cheaper. Venues, staffing, catering, and going out to really world-class restaurants is all almost 50% off for US currency holders right now.  Flights into Montreal are inexpensive and only a short-haul from New York or Chicago.

Winter, too, while perhaps colder than some of you are used to, has its own kind of beauty and is fun to experience.

Fun with snow

Fun with snow

Montreal has it all. Great restaurants, hugely talented professionals to work with, gorgeous venues, old world charm, beautiful people, and a lively night life scene. You can be virtually guaranteed a good experience travelling here, and your guests or event attendees will be grateful for the opportunity you’ve provided for them to visit one of the oldest cities in North America. If you need help finding a venue, or just want to sound out a friendly local, feel free to contact me anytime.

Sincerely,

Canada

 

 

The Paparazzi Wedding Proposal

Going for it!
The start of something...

The start of something…

Over the holidays I was hired to be a stalker. I said yes.

Before you jump to conclusions, allow me to explain the context. I was approached by email from a man living outside of Montreal, who was planning to take his girlfriend to Montreal for a romantic weekend, and propose to her. He wanted me to photograph the proposal without being noticed by his girlfriend. I thought it was a fun idea and accepted the challenge. It was a lot of fun and I think will make for a good story the couple (she said yes) can tell at their wedding and hopefully one day to their children.

I often get asked if I cover weddings and work with couples doing things like engagement shoots. Because I am known primarily as an event and conference photographer, and mainly market those services, I understand why people don’t assume I cover weddings as well. There used to be a stigma attached to covering weddings – as if being a wedding photographer was some how a step down in being a professional photographer. I’ve never felt that way and have covered roughly forty weddings in my career, but keeping a wedding photography business and a more corporate and event photography business separate made sense. Of course, by splitting up the two businesses the effort to promote each is duplicated and in the past few years I’ve skewed much more heavily to working with corporate clients and conference organizers at the expense of my wedding photography business. All that to say, I was thrilled to have the chance to work on this stealth assignment because it’s exactly the kind of work I like to do. It’s creative It’s challenging. It’s fun and romantic. And good old-fashioned romance is fun to see and be a part of.

My client had several ideas to begin with and over a few Skype calls and emails we laid out a plan together. Using Google Maps to scout out locations, we chose a route that would lead the couple out of the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal where they were staying, through Old Montreal along St.Paul street down to the Old Port.

Walking route to view to clock tower from Hotel Nelligan

Walking route to clock tower from Hotel Nelligan

I would be set up in the hotel, start shooting from a distance there and then follow them on their walk down to a designated place at the water’s edge with a view to the clock tower where I was to approach them mid-selfie and offer to take their photo for them, at which point my client would smile and the cat would be out of the bag. With just a few on-the-fly adjustments, it worked out perfectly.

At the Hotel Nelligan, where it began, I realized that there was not one, but three potential lobby areas (one being the restaurant). A special shout out to the Hotel Nelligan staff at Verses who were supremely helpful and on board with the plan once I explained it to them. I asked them to direct the couple to a table by the window while I set up on a table for one, two tables over. Alas, I realized that perhaps the couple wouldn’t come in here at all but might just sit in the lobby which proved to be true after a few frantic texts with my client. Luckily I was able to get out and set up in the lobby in time before their arrival.

Right on schedule, they came down and he made an excuse to return to the room where he had other plans afoot. I grabbed a few shots of his girlfriend, but feeling I was way too exposed, exited the hotel and went across the street into a store from which I could watch the front door without being seen.

Let's take a walk

Let’s take a walk

They emerged a few moments later and we began the dance. Every now and then they’d pause for a couple selfie and I’d snap off a few shots pretending to be a tourist taking pictures of buildings. Luckily Old Montreal is full of camera touting tourists, especially around Christmas time, so I didn’t look that out of place. I tried to keep a safe distance, sometimes dogging them from across the street, other times falling in behind them or running ahead to get in front of them on their side of the street, shooting from whatever angle I could find that didn’t make me stand out too obviously.

The plan unfolded perfectly in the crowded streets but as the path they chose led them closer to the water there were fewer and fewer people on the same route till eventually it was really just me and them.  I hung back and pretended to read the signs and stare out at the action in the port while letting them get ahead to the targeted intervention point.

The caper proved successful and post-selfie assistance shot, I revealed myself as planned and we continued walking together, stopping at picturesque spots along the way, as we came across them.  The final leg brought us back to the hotel where we took a few more shots in the lobby, then headed up to their room where my client had strewn the floor and bed with rose petals where we snapped a final shot and I left them.

As I drove home I was inspired by the idea and felt this is something more couples might want to consider. Montreal deserves its reputation as a romantic city, and there are plenty of interesting streets to wander and suitably romantic backdrops to make for some fun photos that will nicely augment your wedding book.

Click here to see a few more photos from the shoot.

Two lessons I’ve learned observing humans

Grow your love
Girl flying over flowers with fairies or butterflies

Girl flying over flowers with fairies or butterflies

Working as a photographer sometimes feels like having a secret superpower. You get to blend into rooms and become invisible. You stand apart from the crowd, rather than being a part of it. And your work is to look at humans as they interact and go about their lives. You are a professional observer.

big-red-heart-blue

Big Red Heart

In my life, somehow becoming a photographer was the natural thing to do, bringing together my myriad interests in anthropology, art, story telling, culture and languages, and above all else, the human condition. After fifteen years on the job, I am still amazed that I can manage to survive on my trade, and that people will pay me to do what I do. Because really what I am very good at is looking at people and seeing them almost with an X-ray vision. After working at hundreds of events and taken hundreds of thousands of images of people being people, I have an intuitive sense of a person’s nature and can see through them in a way that is wholly a gift of practicing photography for so long. And what I have observed most often, is that almost all people all want to feel a connection to others, and everyone looks better when they smile – and the two are deeply related.

It may be simplistic, but I think that the recognition we feel when another person smiles at us, and shows an interest in who we are, however brief the interaction, is what we all live for. As a photographer, I have observed people from all walks of life, from the super rich to the homeless, hyper-connected successful professionals to intellectually challenged autistic individuals who may never have a “real” job. I’ve witnessed marriages in every major faith of the world, as well as the many variations of love and spirituality that people have today that do not fit categorically into any one religion. CEOs, white collar workers, blue collar workers, parents, children, singletons, newlyweds, doctors, lawyers, students, soldiers, homeless men, investment bankers, and artists. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much money you have or don’t have, where you live, what you wear, what kind of shape you are in, what your hair looks like, or whether you have hair or not. It doesn’t matter if you are overweight or anorexic, tall, short, or in-between. What you really want – what you need – is to connect with another, feel accepted, feel appreciated, and to give the same to others around you.

rain-lightning-rainbowSo for what it is worth, I would say this to anyone who’s still with me this far down the page: in 2016, smile more often, not just because someone is taking your picture. Pay attention to the person you are with. Listen to their answers when you ask a question about them. And know that everyone struggles with something sometime, that no matter the appearances, deep down inside, we’re really not so different from one another. Most of us don’t need more stuff in our lives. What we need is more patience, love, acceptance and peace. And mostly, we need each other.

*Art courtesy of Tessa

Boost ROI on email marketing campaigns with custom photography

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Many creative people have ideas but much fewer have the organizational ability to turn their ideas into reality. Successful entrepreneurs do, and working with one is always a rewarding experience.

I’ve recently begun working with Simon Tooley, the founder of a luxury skincare boutique in Montreal, Etiket, with very niche, high-end fragrances, beauty and specialty hair care products. A former VP for Anne Klein and Michael Kors Canada, Simon has a wealth of knowledge about building successful fashion brands, and he also intuitively gets marketing.

Simon Tooley

Simon Tooley

With product names like Penhaligon’s No. 33 (luxury grooming and skin care product for men) and Mona di Orio perfumes, the experience of being inside the Etiket boutique is one of being comfortably ensconced in a discreetly packaged, elegantly placed, vial of opulence. It is as close to shopping on a London High Street as you can get in Montreal. You are courteously attended to upon arrival, and will leave feeling well-pampered.

But how do you reach the customers who crave your high-end goods but aren’t able to make it in to your street-front store?  You bring the boutique online, of course, which is the other side of Etiket’s thriving business. And as any tech entrepreneur knows, the online experience is brought to life by intuitive design, a focus on user experience and strong visuals.

One of the tactics Etiket uses to connect with and reward its customers is a subscriber based email marketing program, featuring a themed monthly emailer focusing on a few targeted products from the shop.  December is all about the Art of Giving, as you might suspect and customized, product photography is an integral part of both the emailer and website.Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 9.03.58 AM

Generic product photography might not get you wild with excitement, but if you are managing any kind of inventory and competing in a very challenged retail environment, customizing your product photography can give you an edge over your less aesthetically minded competitors.  Consider creating use-case presentations of a few of your top sellers, placing the products not simply against a seamless white background, but in contexts that reflect how and where they will be used by your target customer. Like all marketing, it costs more than doing nothing, but the uplift in sales is measurable and should quickly prove the value of developing your own customized imagery to promote your site, store and brand rather than relying on the product photography given to you by your supplier that will look the same on your site as it does on every other retailer’s carrying the same product line.

In a world where everyone is fighting for a minute share of increasingly fragmented attention spans, any touchpoint you can create between your brand and your customers creates a connection that can help you prove your value and ultimately drive sales.  Though now nearly twenty years old as a concept, a targeted email-subscriber list built by creating thoughtful and useful emails that are relevant and visually appealing is still a highly effective way of reaching your customers. Creative, customized photography can significantly raise the engagement rates you are aiming for with each send.

If you decide that 2016 is the year you improve or launch your email marketing plan, be sure to focus on content that tells your unique story to create that meaningful connection with your customers.  Using a thoughtful combination of design, text and curated, hand-crafted imagery will help you get higher open rates, and ultimately, a lift in sales from your efforts.

Using HDR & long exposures for blur effects in your travel shots

Walking by the East Side Gallery in Berlin
Ghostpeople of Berlin's East Side Gallery

Ghostpeople of Berlin’s East Side Gallery

I read an article this morning by Adam Karnacz in Vantage (on Medium), called Removing People with Long Exposure, in which he described the technique he uses to disappear people from photos at sites where it is impossible to otherwise get a clear shot. Places like St. Peters in Rome, Stonehenge or any major tourist attraction. It’s a simple trick which I also discovered myself recently while visiting Berlin. I was at the East Side Gallery, a 1.7 km long section of the Berlin Wall left standing and completely painted over by artists after the wall came down on November 9, 1989. I had wanted to visit it the first time I was in Berlin two years ago, but ran out of time. Even this visit was rushed, arriving by cab at the end of the day just as the sun was setting. In addition to the dim lighting, there was a metal fence up in front of a large portion of the east-facing wall, erected by the city of Berlin just that day for temporary cleaning of the site. But even at this later time of day there were crowds of people milling by, congregating around the most recognizable sections of the gallery.

I did not have a tripod, as I rarely travel with one since the time I almost missed a flight leaving the Canary Islands because my tripod needed to be checked by security. It is cumbersome to travel with one anyway, but I’ve found a makeshift one can be found by using what you find in your surroundings. A pole to lean the body of the camera on one side works well, or the top of a car or nearby mailbox. A garbage can will work in a pinch, depending on how recently it was emptied out.

I set my camera to shoot high dynamic range (HDR) (which means the camera takes three shots in succession at three different exposures, one under, one correct, and one over-exposure, then merges the three images into one). Shooting HDR requires very static subjects, otherwise the merged images don’t match up and you get strange, electric looking outlines. However, an unexpected advantage I discovered was that if you shoot HDR where something is moving in front of your static subject, i.e., people walking, you get a beautiful shot of your subject and the people either blur right out of the picture or add a surreal, ghostlike effect, showing the traces of humans but nothing recognizable. (See some of my photos of Berlin’s East Side Gallery here)

I thought the effect worked particularly well in some of the shots of got of the East Side Gallery.

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As darkness fell, I switched over to using longer exposures, but this time pointed my lens to take in a bit of the road to capture oncoming traffic to create some random light paintings with headlights next to the wall imagery. I liked the effect in these shots as well.

Electric avenueAnd then there was this final image, which had nothing to do with the wall but was in one of the cars parked right in front of it that I was using as my makeshift tripod. Somehow seems to perfectly capture the quirky, captivating, energy that Berlin emanates and is maybe one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken.

Berlin's Hula Girl

It’s mid-November, time to clean up your photo library

Here we go

Here we go

Like most people I know, I learn things the hard way. Although I should have known better, a few years ago I lost a hard drive that just died on me for no reason, taking with it to its cold cybery grave, a passel of unbacked up images that no one will ever see again. It was a heavy blow at the time, as it contained some of my best work as a wedding photographer, and a huge collection of creative work I’d done over the years prior. But it had one positive result: it taught me the vital importance of backing up my work.

Since then, I’ve adopted the habit of backing up everything I do in triplicate (two separate hard drives, and one on the cloud). I don’t do it with every single image I produce, but once I’ve curated the set, I do it for the ones I want to keep. With the exception of my personal family photos and videos which I indiscriminately keep all of, around this time of year I do a big purge. As a busy conference and event photographer, I accumulate a lot of digital detritus just doing my job. While my clients want to see the full set of images I shot for them, once the event has come and gone, there is no reason for me to keep the majority of the images I’ve shot. There are only so many photos of an engaged audience looking up at a speaker that I need in my portfolio to prove I can capture the energy and excitement in a room. After the 30th conference of the year, I have to admit that the rooms all start to look the same, and the faces tend to blur into one another. Hence the need for the purge.

It’s hard going at first, but once I get into the flow of it, it starts to feel really good, as most decluttering sessions do. I’m currently still using Aperture (though plan to switch over to Lightroom in 2016 now that Apple has abandoned its pro software in favour of its new Photos), but what I find particularly useful for purge sessions – or curation sessions if you want to use a prettier word – is an old version of Adobe’s Bridge that I have. I like the way you can copy, move or trash a lot of files at once, and visually assess their quality from a grid perspective with ease. But regardless of the tool you use, the key to an effective photo library cleansing session is to not get too attached to any one image and really be brutal in selecting only the very best. There is just no need to save everything. The world is awash in images, (an estimated 80 million photos are posted on Instagram alone – daily!)

If you are facing a mountain of unsorted image across multiple devices, the digital equivalent of an office with folders strewn across the floor you have to thread your way through to reach the door, I understand your reticence in dealing with this task. It is easier to just buy more space, add a new hard drive, dump everything in there and move on. But it’s not what I would recommend. For one thing, doing so just kicks the problem down the road. No matter how much digital storage space you acquire, you will still be at risk of one or more of the drives failing (and if they contain disorganized files, you won’t even know what you’ve lost). But even more importantly, if you don’t take the time to review what you already have – whether you are a professional photographer, amateur or just camera happy mom and dad clicking away at every second of your child’s life, you won’t ever really get any enjoyment from the images. And what’s the point of a picture locked away on a hard drive that no one ever looks at?

As with any big task, my suggestion is to break it down into bite-sized chunks. If you work on multiple devices, start with the one you use most often. Put all the images in one place. Then break that down further, either folder by folder, or by date, or some other logical system that you can start and stop at, picking up the next time where you left off. Getting started is the hardest part. Once you move past your current state of inertia, you’ll get more efficient at doing it, and the mountain will chip away, one gigabyte at a time until you’ve got a neat little set of images, properly ordered, that you can then save on at least two hard drives, and pump up a copy to whatever cloud storage service you use (I like Dropbox, but there are several to choose from like Google Drive, or even your own hosted server).

2016 is around the corner, and it will be full of new events, new people and places to photograph and another 500+ gigabytes of image files (if you’re a professional photographer). Don’t wait until you lose a year or more’s worth of images before getting organized and backing up your work.

Is there really a difference between event photographers?

Mike Harris
Mike Harris

Mike Harris

I was shooting an event in Toronto last week of an award dinner / fundraiser at a ritzy hotel with several very high-profile attendees. It was a fairly typical event, the kind I’ve covered hundreds of times before, with a pre-dinner cocktail hour in the lobby area of the reception hall where guest agglomerated over drinks and canapés, chit chatting and catching up with each other as they waited for the main doors to open up. The lighting was subdued, the bars mirrored. The men wore suits and ties, the women elegant evening gowns. 450 guests were there, each having paid a handsome price for the ticket with over 20 fully sponsored tables of ten. It was an important event for the organizer, with an important group of patrons and having covered events for this client in the past in Montreal, I was happy to have been invited to cover this one in Toronto as well. Clearly they liked my work I thought, and realized that having an experienced hand at working these kind of high-society events yields the right kind of images for their purposes.

FI-JACK_COCKWELL 17That’s why I was quite taken aback when I was chatting with one of the client team members (albeit not the one who hired me) when she asked, quite genuinely, “Is there really that much of a difference between event photographers?”. We were standing in the main hall looking out through the doors at the thickening crowd of mostly dark suited men gnoshing on smoked salmon and quaffing glasses of white wine when she asked. “Well, yes, I think so.” I responded, trying not to sound defensive or overly surprised at the query.

And the truth is, I shouldn’t be because though I don’t often hear it, I do experience the effects of that sort of thinking often. When you work, as I do, in a highly competitive field where the barrier to entry is low, and the perceived value of your service, under appreciated, this attitude translates into many behaviours clients and prospective clients exhibit such as:

  • Brief (one or two liner) email queries asking for a price based on loosely defined schedules for upcoming events, usually in the very near or immediate future
  • Requests for detailed quotes based on unspecific requirements
  • Refusals to acknowledge or present a realistic budget
  • Assumptions that your price is always negotiable
  • Discussions focused on price rather than value
  • Focus on detailed shot requirements rather than discussion on what the purpose and end use of the images will be
  • Assumptions that all photographers also provide video coverage at the same time for the same price

Part of this is due to the ubiquity of photography today and the near infinite demand for constant content feeds through a warren of social media networks. This ubiquity is both a blessing and a curse, as it proves that there is a near constant need for photography, but there is also a decreasing respect afforded to professional practitioners and a widespread belief, exemplified by the leading question of this post, that the service is a commodity, photographers by and large undifferentiated from one another and consequently, price takers in the economic relationship between client and provider.

But then, what is the mark of a good professional photographer worth the fee being asked and one who will work for any budget (or none) and claim to offer the same service?

The answer I think comes down to a blend of factors that some clients get instantly, and others will never really get.

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A good photographer covering an event will do so in a manner that does not cause guests to feel uncomfortable or hold awkward smiles or poses for long. The images will be well-lit, attention given to background, colours and flattering angles for all manner of the shapes and sizes that humans come in. He or she will take the time to understand the event, the importance of key attendees, and if working with a brand, the brand values and personality, to ensure not only their images, but also their behaviour is consonant with the client’s. The photos delivered will also be well-organized, easily accessible, rapidly turned around, and the transactional details of the contract conducted professionally and with respect to the client’s needs and internal processes. And the photographer will still be there after the event is over and the bill paid, to respond to any additional needs that may come up and of course, to serve again on future events having now established him or herself as a known quantity which eliminates at least one element of potential concern in the many moving parts that comprise event coordination, planning and execution.

FI-JACK_COCKWELL 394Hiring experienced professionals may appear to cost more than hiring newbies, but is the same value being provided by both? If you think that indeed, there really is no difference, than the cheapest option makes the most sense. More experienced providers who are able to offer premium level service cost more. Many clients may be satisfied with less, and that’s perfectly okay.

Some, however, realize that talent is worth paying for.