A recent trend in company town halls and employee meetings is presenting in the round, where the stage is set in the middle of the conference room flanked by audience members (usually split into four sections).
In the spirit of lessening the distance between the executive team and rank-and-file employees, the format allows for a more congenial presentation style. As the main stage is centred there is a much broader face of the audience to address and the most distant row is only a few layers back. In presentations, as in any relationship, proximity is power and the closer one stands physically to the audience, the greater the impact.
When photographing this style of meeting, there are some advantages. In most cases, the presenter/s will effectively provide four opportunities for full frontal shots as they rotate around the stage, addressing each section of the audience. This gives the shooter an increased number of openings for shooting not just head on portrait style images, but also some interesting side angles and wider angle views that take in a front-facing section of the audience as well.
There is, of course, the other side of the formula that means that 3/4s of the time your speaker has his or her back turned to you, but if you are nimble and ready to move, you can simply circulate around the stage from the outer periphery and stay facing your subject as she or she moves through the presentation.
Another upside is the greater number of audience engagement shots that clients typically request. As the main purpose of these events is to elicit engagement from employees and to strengthen company culture, images showing the audience rapt with attention, smiling, laughing or otherwise reacting to what is taking place on stage are important to capture. With a presentation-in-the-round style format, there is not one, but four faces to the audience to shoot into, all reasonably well lit from the stage lighting. As well, there will likely be four aisles to move through between each section, affording additional chances for down the aisle type shots and more close ups with a deep background of faces to fill up the image.
If you’re shooting a lot of conferences or corporate meetings, it’s likely you’ll encounter this type of presentation format soon, if you haven’t already. If you’ve shot more standard presentations than you can keep track of (ahem), this format can be a nice change and can be a new stimulus to your creativity. You’ll want to have a few lenses on hand (telephoto, wide, 50mm) to take full advantage of the shooting opportunities but you’ll find that this style of presentation is easier and generally more fun to shoot than a traditional conference style format.
One of the challenges of shooting headshots and portraits is communicating how you want to be seen in your portrait. This is especially difficult because, as in many made-to-order bespoke creative services, clients don’t always know what the want, but they know what they like when the see it. And the reverse is also true, where a client thinks he or she know what he or she wants, but then doesn’t like the way it turns out and wants something different.
Headshots and in-office corporate portraits are particularly subject to this conundrum because, understandably, people are very particular about the way they look – and perhaps more importantly – how they perceive themselves in images.
Not everyone enjoys having their picture taken and when asked why the answer is usually, “I hate the way I look in pictures.” A professional portrait photographer needs a thick skin because hearing this often enough can make you feel like what you do for a living is causing pain and discomfort.
Some of these challenges can be mitigated by taking extra time during the shoot to discuss the kind of look your subject is going for, presenting ideas when asked, and sharing the out of camera images on the spot to let your subject see how the shoot is progressing.
Many people hold their heads at certain angles or pose in habitual ways that doesn’t help them look their best in images. They may be adopting the “selfie” pose when it is not necessary as the photographer is shooting with a vastly superior lens at a different focal length and angle.
Alternatively, they may have some sensitivities about their body image, or really just not like the way they look which is invariably related to deeper issues. Sadly, though I as a photographer can genuinely see a beautiful side to just about every face I train my lens on, few people really believe that about themselves. (I think this is partly an effect of investing too much faith in the glossy, oh-so-perfect lives socialmedialites project in their relentless quest for Influencer status, but I digress…)
In any case, to make the most of your investment in hiring a professional photographer, open up the communication channels.
Don’t be afraid to tell your photographer what you love and what you hate about the images he or she shows you of yourself.
Ask for more or less photoshop. Images can be brightened up, toned down, shadows accentuated or removed….much is possible both during the shoot and afterwards in the editing suite so feel at ease when asking and talking about it.
Part of the cost of a portrait session includes time for dialogue and for making adjustments and tweaks if you wish to have them made.
Even more helpful, take some time before your shoot to come up with a few sample portraits of people you like and share them with your photographer.
A caveat is necessary here, however: while your comments and feedback and express wishes for an outcome are welcome, there is a dash of realism needed to make the recipe complete. If you haven’t slept, your face and hair’s a mess and you’re wearing something you slapped together last minute because you forgot it was picture day in the office, you’re not going look like you just stepped onto the red carpet.
Similarly, while many subjects feel that it is the photographer’s job to get them looking their best – it is necessarily a collaborative effort. No matter how experienced or skilled your shooter is, if you are not willing to participate in the creation of what is ultimately your portrait, you are missing out on an opportunity to influence the outcome of something you have a direct stake in.
Finally, try to enjoy the process! Taking photos does not have to feel like having a tooth pulled without anesthetics. You can laugh, be playful, indulge in a little fantasy and ideation and come up with some creative ideas for what you want to achieve.
Most photographers enjoy having time to spend with their subject and get to know them a little. It helps open up the pathways to communication and ultimately helps bring about a better portrait. So open a little, let your guard down, share and trust that your photographer has your best interests in mind always – and get the headshot you want and deserve!
When I started out as a freelance photographer, that’s all I was thinking of doing, and clients didn’t expect me to offer more. I was a sole practitioner, offering a specific, in-demand service and that worked well for me and my clients.
But much as I love the art and craft of photographing people at events, or observing and documenting groups learning and networking at conferences or creating thoughtful portraits of professionals, clients today need – and expect – more.
Much – maybe everything – has changed about how companies communicate over the past fifteen years. The technology is different, the channels for publishing and sharing content are different, the ways in which content is created and shared is different, the speed and frequency at which content is expected to be produced and distributed has accelerated, and clients today need their creative suppliers to be able to respond to all of these changes, quickly.
The average product marketer, comms director, event manager or conference planner today has to feed content to a dozen different channels from social media to micro-sites, advertising, social media and emailer campaigns all while maintaining and developing a brand their target audiences can recognize and love.
The band’s back together again
Perhaps the biggest change has been the explosive growth in the collaborative economy, in which independent gig workers and freelancers come together for projects and share and grow each other’s business through a web of interrelated referrals and service offerings – and there is more work than ever thanks to the never-ending maw of the internet that creates a constant demand for images, video, graphic design, graphic notation for illustrating ideas produced in a workshop or at a conference, written content and more.
This demand for more services has been a stimulus for growth for my way of doing business, and over the years, I grew and expanded on my main offering to satisfy the needs of my clients as a way of rewarding and maintaining their loyalty.
And it’s provided me with a chance to learn new skills, and stay relevant in a competitive space where there is always a new up and comer, right behind me willing to do what I do for close to nothing.
Photography, videography, podcast production, & more
Today I am happy to be able to offer videography through curated collaborations with skilled directors and videographers I regularly work with; photobooths for events and parties through my side hustle at LePartybooth.com; design and podcast production in collaboration with Media Mercantile; as well as copywriting and content creation. (I even wrote a book about freelancing based on everything I’ve learned living it over the past fifteen years, Gigonomics: A Field Guide for Freelancers in the Gig Economy ).
By offering a wider range of services, my clients are able to find what they need for the event and conference needs, and I am able to grow and develop new client relationships.
While some event managers and communications coordinators may prefer to work with different teams of vendors, I’ve found that most find it more efficient and satisfying to have one main supplier who can handle the full range of their content creation and coverage needs. This keeps things simpler from a project management perspective, and it is more efficient, as my team and I are able to leverage our learning and understanding of a client’s brand, company, culture and industry across related projects.
Adapting to rapid technological and cultural change is a necessary skillset for freelance content creators in today’s gig economy. Luckily, it’s also a fun way to keep learning and stay on top of your field. Developing and building a professional team of talented freelancers who fill out your offering to provide clients with the full suite of services they need to help them complete their mandate is increasingly becoming the new normal for the kind of work I am doing these day. The projects are bigger and more complex with more moving parts to coordinate, but the end results are often even more satisfying than just sending out a link to an online gallery. Creative services like the ones I manage and offer are an integral part of what many clients need to deliver on to satisfy their own internal and external clients. Having the support of a curated collection of people who’ve worked together, who can be trusted to deliver quality service on time and within budget is a precious commodity and one I’m proud to be able to provide my clients.
Got a project you’re working on now you need some creative support on? Let’s connect.
(If you want to skip the read and jump to the photos click here)
Another high speed train brought us directly into the heart of Hiroshima where we splurged on two nights at the Sheraton. We were welcomed by a friend, Carl, who has lived in Hiroshima for over twenty years, and who took us around the town and into nearby Miyajima.
A visit to Hiroshima, with its heartbreaking history, is a moving experience. We walked through the Peace Park Memorial and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to look at some of the saddest objects in the world: a tricycle buried by a father whose four year old son died in the blast; ragged school uniforms stained with blood; a collection of tiny paper cranes made by a young woman who died of leukaemia resulting from radiation.Having recently lost my father, this was one of the saddest days of my journey, but also necessary to understand a part of the backdrop to the modern face of Japan.
That night we walked along the water’s edge, catching the tail end of a memorial to the victims of the 3/11 quake, and seeing the Atomic Dome lit up at night, poignantly beautiful.
The next day the sky was cheerfully sunny and blue, though the wind still carried the lingering chill of winter. We took the ferry out to Miyajima, walked around the island, and tasted the local bean paste Japanese Maple leaf cookie.
That afternoon we had fun eating at a keiten sushi restaurant were the bill is tabulated based on the height of the stack of dishes you leave behind and number of empty beer steins.
On our last leg of the trip we built in a day to experience a Japanese onsen (spa) at Hakone, and spent a captivating few hours walking through the Hakone Open Air Art Museum
Finally, and all too quickly, we found ourselves once again in Tokyo. With just a day and half left on our epic journey we crammed in another bit of sight-seeing, visiting the ancient Buddhist temple,Sensō-ji temple located in Asakusa, before indulging in a brief spate of souvenir shopping.
Visiting Japan requires a bit more planning and organization than other travels, but the efforts are well worth it. The people, food, views and experiences are unparalleled and I hope to return before too long.
(If you want to skip the read and jump to the photos click here)
KYOTO / NARA / OSAKA
We left for Kyoto on the mid-morning shinkansen and arrived in time to walk to our Airbnb, drop our bags and visit NIJO-CASTLE, a world heritage site and home of the last shogun.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
The next day we were treated to an extraordinary day of hospitality and generosity, led by our host Kenjiro (a professional graphic designer and world-class host), who met us early in the morning at our Airbnb and took us on a whirlwind tour of some of the major sites in and around Kyoto.
We visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha (the head shrine of the god Inari – appearing throughout the grounds as a fox – one of the forms Inari is believed to take) to walk among the orange Torii leading to the outer shrine that reminded me of The Gates installation by the Bulgarian artist Christo Yavacheff and French artist Jeanne-Claude (known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude).
After our walk around the temple grounds, Kenjiro treated us to a sumptuous multi-course meal at the Yudofu Sagano that literally blew our minds and filled our bellies with its delicious signature dish, an Arashiyama Buddhist specialty: yudo (chunks of tofu simmered in broth).
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Next we took a stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove trying hard to capture shots that conveyed the cathedral-like effect of the bamboo trees towering overhead. The images, despite the use of a wide-angle and studious attempts to shoot in the brief pauses between crowds of walkers, don’t really do the space justice.
Leaving the grove we grabbed a cab and took in views of the famous KINKAKUJI, which photographed well even against the greying, slightly rainy skies.
Walking beneath a slightly broken umbrella, after another cab ride into town, we walked one of the main shopping streets in Kyoto, capturing a few fleeting images of kimono clad women walking in pairs and groups along the avenues, as we made our way to our sushi dinner destination which ended with even fuller bellies and ample consumption of sake.
International Manga Museum
The next morning we visited the International Manga Museum which will be of great interest to genuine manga fans, and perhaps a little less to those lacking that particular knowledge. There are some fun activities for kids (getting a manga caricature done) and it’s worth a wander through for no more than an hour. (Alas, another site that restricts photography so the only shots available were from the temporary exhibition space that was on the pictographic language of manga)
As always, our footsteps were guided by our stomachs and we found our way to the warren of streets that is the Nishiki Market where we enjoyed snacking on the local speciality: takoyaki (ball-shaped bite-sized snacks made of a wheat flour-based batter and rapidly cooked in a special molded pan, filled with minced octopus and areas much fun to watch being made as they are to eat).
We had booked (pun intended) a traditional book-making, hands-on lesson for the afternoon, which was was another great hit with all of us (adults and kids alike). Our hosts (www.maniman-kyoto.com) were superbly hospitable, knowledgeable and patient and guided us through every step as we made our own journals covered in silk from vintage kimonos.
On our last day in Kyoto we made to the famous restaurant floor of Kyoto Station (9 restaurants to choose from) and had our first experience of okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake you cook yourself on an open hot griddle right at your table.
We visited Nara in the morning, feeding (and being chased by) the local deer, touring the famous Todoji-ji and successfully squirming through “Buddha’s nostril” (a carved hole in the base of a column, said to be the same size as the nostril of the large seated Buddha statue in the Todoji-ji, which, if you are able to fit, you gain enlightenment after passing through).
We completed our brief visit with a walk through the beautiful Yoshiki-en (a Japanese garden that we were able to visit almost entirely to ourselves as it was towards the end of the day and most other sites had closed access).
Osaka, famous for its food and its brightly lit Dotonbori neighbourhood, was another visual and gastronomic treat. Here we were again treated by our generous hosts, Masaru and Nobuko, who planned out a day for us visiting the Osaka Tower (Tsutenkaku), a walk through Dotonbori, sushi lunch and a stroll through Osaka Castle’s blooming plum orchard before a visit to the castle itself.
That night we went local and ate a tempura restaurant using our phones to communicate with our host who made us a series of tempura dishes, translating each one for us with his phone.
Japan is a gift to photographers and should be at the top of the list for any traveller who enjoys travel photography and experiencing a unique culture.It is a land that is safe to travel through with expensive gear, offers an abundance of areas to visit and a wide range of photographic genres to immerse yourself in – including landscape photography, street photography, portraiture, nature photography, food and travel photography.
(If you want to skip the read and jump to the photos click here)
I’m in the process of exhaustively culling my vast horde of images taken over the many years that I’ve been living and breathing photography as my profession and passion.
I’d much prefer many other ways to spend my time, including root canal surgery.
Not all photographers are created equal. Some, like me, are born to shoot. I love the thrill of the chase, being out in the wild (even if that “wild” is the inside of a conference ballroom), hunting for smiles, netting moments, bagging trophy images of beautifully human connections.
But I hate – with great and abiding passion – the concomitant task that follows every photo gig: sitting down at the computer afterwards and having to process the images.
My hatred of the task is so intense, I think it helps me be a better photographer. I am so careful about what I shoot precisely because I don’t want to have to make that same decision ten times over if I just machine-gun spray a room holding the trigger down hoping one or two images will come of it.
I’m known as the “one and done” guy and almost 99% of the time it’s all I need. In many situations, the first take is the best if you’ve properly prepped the subjects and warmed them up a bit with a disarming comment or a well-aimed smile. And the great upside to me personally is having fewer photos to sort through post-gig.
I’m not good at curating, I’ll be the first to admit. My website is in desperate need of an overhaul and refresh, and is currently showing images that are almost as old as the original iPhone! (Not good!)
But the task always yawns just a little further ahead of where my energy ends and then there’s all that work work to do, like actually getting new gigs and keeping current clients happy.
For years now I’ve let my website and online presence in general lag behind the daily work I keep up on to keep the gigs rolling in and for whatever mystical algorithmic reasons, I’ve been lucky to have work come to me that keeps justifying my procrastination on the great brutal job that I know awaits me.
But no more. I’ve let it slide for too long and I am now ankle deep in it. I have a ways to go to get through it, but one simple technique I’ve developed to help guide me through the woods is this. (And while this will speak directly to any creative freelancer who has to good fortune to have a big enough body of work behind them that needs sorting through, I think it’s a good technique for categorizing any kind of stuff you’ve generated.)
Here are the rules of my Five Folder GTD System for Photographers:
Active: I have created an active folder on drive into which goes new work in its own subfolder. Once the job is done and the work delivered, I select the one or two truly outstanding images (if there are any) to migrate over to my Portfolio folder
Portfolio: The initial cull is still too big but once I have the first cut down in here I will run through again with a ruthless eye and get this down to only the best of the best images worth showing and sharing online.
Archive: I tag a wider selection of images that are good and may be handy for blog posts and drag them into the Archive folder.
Delete: Anything else, gets deleted, except for images of my travels and family which I’m not even thinking about tackling now (but will one day!), which gets dragged into the Personal folder.
Personal: Here’s where all the school photos go, baby videos and family, and travel shots that I will also eventually need to sort through but don’t have the time for now.
That’s it. That’s the plan anyway. If you’ve got a better system I’d love to hear it. Get in touch!
My self-imposed conditions were simple: take only one a day and use it no matter what. I mostly stuck to this, though due to both technical and user failures on some occasions the resulting image was just so bad, I gave myself some slack and took more than one.
Here’s what I learned:
A daily act of creation is its own reward: Doing something creative deliberately every day requires discipline, but also creates its own universe in a way and adds a little drop of meaning into every day.
Casual, intimate moments with friends and family mattered most: I sought and found something (almost) every day that stood out as the most important part of that day. While the vast majority of the moments I chose to snap the shot are just mundane, everyday bits of my normal life, I realized that these moments were, in fact, the ones I cared the most about. While I was busier than ever in my professional life photographing CEOs and executive portraits, big splashy events, several conferences (and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau on three separate occasions), on most of these days my photo-of-the-day was a picture of my daughter hugging her new puppy, or hanging out with friends and family having a drink and a laugh.
Image quality doesn’t always matter: while I often found myself frustrated by the extreme limitations of the instant print medium, I loved the authenticity of the print in my hand and the nostalgic reminder of what photography started as: a way to steal a moment of time and put it in your pocket as a memory you could keep and return to whenever you wanted to.
Polaroid has huge name brand recognition!: No matter how many times I told people I was shooting with a Fuji Instax Mini 90 (and no this was not a sponsored project at all though the product links are Amazon Affiliate links which will pay me a small commission if you buy through them), almost 99% of the time people would reply with a comment about what a cool idea it was to take a Polaroid a day.
Puppies are addictive: I finally understand why the internet is drowning in pet photos and videos. (I took A LOT of photos of my new puppy and my daughter!)
I am very lucky and have a good life: I spent time with many friends, family and was able to travel a fair bit this year to Paris, Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Quebec’s Saguenay region, Toronto, Brooklyn (a reunion with a good friend and too many martinis-see Aug 24), Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia, Tremblant, Florida and many fun nights with friends here in my favourite city in the world, Montreal. While I don’t keep a gratitude journal, this project was like a photo diary of my life and in retrospect it shows how much I have to be grateful for.
Why did I do it?
When I started I didn’t really have any real reason other than wanting to have some kind of creative project to work on that was one step removed from my regular life.
Having completed it, I am happy to have it done, but also happy I did it. I think there is value in the daily practice of anything – whether a piece of creative writing, a drawing, a photo like I did, a doodle, an idea, a blog post or whatever you decide matters to you.If you are stuck creatively or wanting to start a new career as an artist, or writer it can give you the discipline you need to break out of entropy and ultimately it will carry you on its own momentum.
Here’s a fun and inspiring video about the impact a daily project had on an artist who decided to do a drawing a day:
My advice to anyone who’s currently embarking on a 30-day challenge, or an every day project is to stick with it. Cut yourself some slack if you miss a day, but make it up (I admit to plugging in two or three photos in this series that were fill-ins for days I forgot to take a shot). Both the doing-it and the finishing-it parts are important. Share what you learn, and if you’re feeling brave enough, share daily as you do it. I chose not to post daily as frankly, I felt that so many of the photos I took were so bad that it would be boring as a daily stream, but in their entirety they have a kind of raw, genuine quality that I enjoy and hope you do as well.
To see the whole year series click on the image below:
Working with a makeup artist (or as it is called in the industry by its wonderfully onomatopoeic acronym MUA) makes shooting corporate portraits a breeze. Clients get extra attention and care and the resulting work invariably makes them look better in their photos and requires less editing in post. It’s a pity more portrait clients don’t request one.
While I do my best to introduce the idea, this past year I shot roughly four hundred corporate portraits in and around Montreal, but only used a makeup artist on a handful of them.
Here are some of the main benefits I see as the photographer on site leading the portrait session (and guys, don’t think makeup is only for women – men can and do benefit as well).
Advantages of using a MUA for your next corporate portrait session
Anti-glare: everybody shines. While a shining intellect, and an inner shine are positive attributes, a shiny nose or forehead is less desirable. Photographic lights tend to bring out shine that isn’t visible in normal light. A small bit of attention to those areas prone to reflect light will make the tones of your skin look more even and result in you showing up in photos as you look in real life.
R&R: having someone attend to you before a shoot helps quell nerves and can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. It’s a small bit of pampering in your day and you can just sit back and appreciate it. The relaxation carries over into the shoot and helps you achieve a more natural look quicker.
Education: professional makeup artists (I work with a few, but recently have been working with Caroline Mégélas Pro Makeup) really care about what they are doing and the products they use on your skin. They have a professional yet intimate connection to you because they are literally working on your skin and so they are extra-careful to only use high-quality, hypo-allergenic products that you may not know about and can learn about and experience first-hand.
Of course there is an added cost for the service, but it is quite reasonable and if your session involves more than one person, the fee can be allocated across a few people to increase its value at a lower per/head cost.
If you are planning to update your company website, shoot the new team photos, or get a batch of new headshots done for your executives in 2019, consider including a makeup artist with the session. Most professional photographers will know a few they’ve worked with before and the small increase in cost will be a huge investment in making the experience a pleasure for the people you are planning the shoot for.
I was recently booked by a large corporation to shoot over 200 employee portraits in just two days. With such a high volume of clients there is no time for fussing around with fancy light setups, make up artists or even much time for banter with the subjects.
Key to success is having an onsite ally within the client who can organize the schedule and keep employees to it. These kinds of mega-portrait sessions are a way for large corporations to give a real benefit to their employees in a highly cost-effective way. (Read on or skip to the end for how to price a large portrait session).
Year-end is a good time to start thinking about planning one of these sessions for your employees. A new year is just around the corner, and with it comes the new energy of a fresh start that many people like to use to level-up their online game, update the profiles across their various social media personae, and refresh their headshot.
When booking your photographer, a few questions that can be addressed ahead of time are:
Classic styles and simple solid colours tend to work best in my opinion. While you can wear whatever you want, especially if you are ultimately receiving a cropped 8×10 headshot, you still want to make the focus be on you and not your clothes. For men, a solid-coloured, collared shirt (with or without tie depending on your company culture/intended use) with a jacket closed at the top button does the trick. Women have more options but necklaces, large earrings or other adornments can seem out of place for professional use. If wearing a necklace, make sure it hangs straight down the centre so it doesn’t look off kilter. While it’s not necessary to stick to the collared shirt and suit jacket (though it’s fine if you do), too much of a plunging neckline can look a tad out of place on LinkedIn or your in-house network. Think of where the final image is likely to get the most use and dress for that audience.
How long does each portrait take?
On these big days, you’ll have no more than five minutes in front of the photographer. That will be enough time to shoot two shots of each side. Only rarely will you need more than four images for the photographer to select from. The lighting will be the same on all faces, and though the background can change (if you are shooting in front of a window, for example, you’ll have changing lighting in the background throughout the day), so the poses should all also be consistent.
Where will the shoot take place?
Typically these large sessions are done onsite at the client’s offices or workspace, wherever that may be. The conference room or board room is best, or if the site is equipped with warehouse space, set up in there. Pay attention to wire placement of your lights (the last thing you want is someone tripping and injuring themselves) and if shooting before a window as is often done these days, place your lights wide enough apart so that they don’t reflect in the glass sparing you hours of tedious photoshopping later.
How to pose?
You will get asked this by everyone who walks in the room, two hundred times in my case recently. While I enjoy taking my time in one-on-one portrait sessions and really working different looks and angles, this luxury is not available to you, humble corporate portrait photographer. You need to get your people in, shot and out on a very tight schedule. While you can vary the height you shoot from a little (I use a step ladder), you want everyone to give you two angles, and do your best to make those who need a little thinning look thin, and those who need a little happiness boost, look happier. The real art of the portrait photographer is in these brief interstitial moments when you must connect with your subject and quickly put them at ease and make them trust you. If it helps, let them look at the shots you’ve taken of them and for the ones who seem particularly fussy, let them choose the shot you’ll edit afterwards.
How will the photos be tracked and delivered?
If you’re lucky enough to have a well-organized client, you’ll start the day with a printout of all the scheduled people each with their assigned time slot (more or less). Jot down one file number from the range you shoot for each person so that afterwards you can either rename the files, or at least have a common language with your client so that the inevitable requests to tweak this, or edit that can be done smoothly and efficiently. For delivery, while I use Photoshelter, you can use WeSendit, Dropbox or whatever large file transfer service you prefer. (Be careful with Dropbox as many clients either can’t access the site from behind their firewalls, or don’t have professional accounts and you will quickly burst through the default 2 gb limit on free accounts).
How much will it cost?
Pricing for portraits requires a political approach. The answer really is, it depends…The reason, of course, is that you, as photographer must balance out the effort with the huge volume of work you are receiving while your client is looking to leverage the volume to get a discount. Personally, I always charge a set up fee for going into an office to cover the cost of equipment usage and transport, and start from there. As I work with minimums (and you should too if you want to stay in business), the cost per head on a portrait session decreases as the number of portraits taken increases. While each portrait in post will require the same amount of work, once you are up and running in a shooting session, your time onsite will go quickly. How much of a volume discount you offer is for you to determine vis-a-vis your client’s budget but keep in mind how the portraits are being used and for whom on the client side when you are pricing it out. A CEO portrait with his or her executive team that will be shared around the world, used in media, annual reports and company wide web diffusion is worth a lot more than the cropped headshot of the first year intern who is only using the headshot for a company intranet (effectively a digital id photo).
Your client has booked you for a full day conference, say beginning at 7am to capture registration all the way through to 11 pm to close out the evening gala. Everything is happening in a few similarly drab conference rooms. Sometimes, just one, where you’ll be spending your entire day and most of the night, training your lens in on the same faces over and over and over again. As creative as you get with angles, bounce flash, focal lengths, at some point (usually around 2pm) you will reach the limits of your creative energy. When you catch yourself repositioning branded napkins, or shooting the conference centre decor, you know you’ve gone too far.
Because of how most events and conferences are organized, there are key moments, scheduled presentations and other agenda items happening throughout the day and night that need to be covered. But there is also a lot of in-between time where you’re effectively standing around in the room, looking for interesting shots to take because you’ve got all you need from the speaker and there’s still 45 minutes left in the keynote…
As every professional events or conference photographer knows, these hours can be long on gigs when you’ve shot everything there is to be shot and you’re still booked for several more hours onsite.
Ideally you would settle on a fixed rate for the work, then simply use the in-between time to start processing your images onsite, getting a head start on tomorrow’s burden of image edits that await you, but unfortunately, fixed rates don’t usually cover the time spent on the site. For some strange reason, clients seem to believe that a “day rate” should be cheaper than the sum of the total hours on the job, and that a working day for a freelance photographer is 12 hours long.
Alas, since the hourly rate is still the most accurate way to match effort to compensation, it is what usually gets used for setting a price. And that leaves you, the photographer, bound by that schedule with all those hours to fill.
This invariably creates the temptation to produce waste. You are there anyway, so you might as well keep shooting. But neither you, nor ultimately your client, needs or even wants ten photos of the same faces in the same room taken under the same lighting conditions during the same presentation.
And don’t get me started on the “shots from the dancefloor” which, like cut flowers on the counter, rapidly deteriorate as the party continues. The fun may be ramping up, but the photos start capturing more and more of what most guests would prefer to not put on record (shiny sweaty red faces, wardrobe malfunctions, male pursy lip dance faces, etc).
My solution is a developing aesthetic towards photographic minimalism. My goal is to shoot only what I will use. No more, no less. Capture exactly what the client needs, but resist the temptation to spray the room with shots simply because I can and I have time to fill.
A very good practice is to align with the client on how the images will be used. If, as is usually the case, the objective is to generate a bank of images to market the event online, use in ads, websites, newsletters and a curated photo gallery for attendees, then the needs are clear.
What this means in practice is, shoot better and shoot less. Take your time to actually envision the shot you want to create, then wait for the right moment to take it.
Making speakers and presenters look awesome:
Piling on shot after shot of the same speaker taken from microscopically altered focal lengths or slightly different crops is not necessary. Five great, varied shots of anyone at a podium is more valuable than 25 ok shots of the same subject.
Capturing conference audience engagement:
Organizers always want audience reactions shots. And by audience reaction, they don’t mean heads down looking at their phones. Because the audience is sitting there in front of you, you may be tempted to shoot either indiscriminately by simply pointing the camera in its direction and hitting the button, or you may over shoot them, by continuously scanning the crowd and shooting every half-cocked head, smiling face or look of rapt attention. What do you really need? Perhaps thirty or forty really excellent images of audience engagement taken over the course of the full day. Fifty is probably too many, and twenty too few.
Documenting attendee interactions at trade shows:
Walk the floor once just to take in the views and get a sense of the vendors, spaces and exhibits, then walk it again and start shooting. Get the interactions between vendors/participants every client wants, maybe a booth shot of the exhibitors and move on. Unless you’re working a massive, multi-chambered German style trade show, even this more intensive coverage can be accomplished within two hours max.
Showcasing the ambience and VIPs at gala parties:
Take in a few wide, ambience shots; a handful of decorative elements, and then simply – and only – shoot when you can get the right lighting effect on your subject. I’ve covered countless huge gala events where organizers are very wowed by their events company and want you to capture the same look and feel in your images, without really understanding that how something looks to the naked eye does not always translate well through a lens. Some lighting (red!) is very difficult to make anyone not look sort of horror showy in, and other kinds of strong pot light effects create harsh contrasts that are nearly impossible to shoot well without making some compromise either on exposure or focus. Far better to take fewer, well composed and captured images of people when those moments do arise when the conditions present themselves, then to fill your cards with images you ultimately won’t be able to use.
When you’ve finally packed it in for the night, what you have sitting on your SD cards is all there is to re-vision, re-package and re-market the event. An immediate filter is applied called time, that means that from the hundreds of images you might have taken, only the really great ones will ever get shown or used. The vast majority of images delivered to clients wind up buried alive on hard drives never to resurface.
As the person charged with documenting the evening, your ultimately job is to deliver a set of images that tell the story of the night, the day, the speech, the award ceremony etc, without any of the unnecessary filler that actually took up most of the time during the gig.
Rare indeed is the client who wants more to do more work – save them, and yourself, the trouble by training yourself to shoot less, paying more attention to capturing the meaningfully and visually gorgeous images that people will want to share, ignoring everything else.
At a recent conference I was covering, during a break between sessions one of the organizers stood up and introduced The Human Search Engine to the audience: an opportunity for anyone in attendance to take the mic and give a one minute pitch on what they are working on and who they are looking to connect with at the conference.It struck me as a convenient way to add value to attendees and create another opportunity for network connections to happen which is always one of the main goals of conference organizers.
The process is simple, an could easily be introduced in any sized conference on any topic. After a brief introduction explaining the concept, guests are offered a chance to take to the podium and tell the audience what they are looking for.
Within moments a lineup is likely to form and then attendees can follow up with each other on networking breaks to develop the connection.
Most people who go to conferences are there primarily for the contacts and connections they make, and secondarily to absorb the content, stay current in their industry and learn a thing or two.
The Human Search Engine increases connections between attendees and provides a good break in programming, changing up the format and bringing out a higher level of engagement. Give it a thought if you’re planning out your next conference.
Conference planners (and the event companies that often interface for them and manage the local suppliers) often book photo/video teams well in advance of their conference, and usually long before the agenda for the event is finalized.
The upside of this practice for a client is that elimination of last minute panic scrambling to hire a reliable team during a busy conference season (ie autumn) when there are many other events running concurrently. For the photographer/videographer it’s a “bird in the hand”, a blocked booked date in the calendar which means paid time – always something comforting in the gig economy.
There is a downside, however, which I’ve encountered on numerous occasions, which affects both the contracting entity (whether that’s the direct client or an agency acting on their behalf) and the supplier, and it affects both the quality of the bid received/submitted, and the price.
“…as the day is long”
I’ll start with an example. When an organizer is trying to lock down costs for an event taking place many months in the future (or sometimes just a few weeks ahead), the aim is to get all supplier costs in on fixed price bids.In order to do so the RFP, or call for estimates usually asks for a day rate on the job.
A day rate is a fixed price, and means the client doesn’t have to worry too much about providing details on the exact schedule for the day. The problem arises when the concept of a “day” gets stretched to include every waking hour from the 7am early-bird registration/buffet breakfast to the 11pm last call after the bar closes at the end of the opening night reception.
When a supplier offers their day rate, they are usually calculating a day to mean 8hrs, give or take 45 mins to an hour. It anticipates a bit of lag time between programs, a meal when photos of open mouthed chewers are eschewed, and maybe the opening round of a cocktail event. Something like 8am to 5pm, or 9 am to 6pm. What people working regular jobs would consider a normal working day.
Alas, for freelance photographers/videographers, the idea of a normal working day doesn’t seem to factor into many client’s thinking.And should you be so unwise as to have submitted a bid based on an average length day rate, you may find yourself working the equivalent of two days in one, or effectively getting paid 50% of your normal rate, because the goal posts shifted after you submitted and won the bid.
Being the lowest cost bidder will often win you work, but it doesn’t help your career and ultimately encourages the unfair practice of being asked to bid on work for which the scope remains undefined.
From a client perspective, it may seem like a win to lock in a supplier on a price based on terms that subsequently get redefined to the client’s advantage, but the result is likely a souring of the relationship and “you get what you pay for” attitude on site from a supplier who realizes they’ve been conned.
Build flexibility into the bid
Most clients are not out to screw their suppliers, but this can be an unintended consequence of asking for fixed price contracts without provided full clarity on the scope of work being requested. One practice that I use that helps is to add a clear note in estimates that the day rate is based on an 8-hour day, and hours in excess of that are billed at a standard hourly rate. This keeps the bid submission price reasonable and averts sticker shock, and if, once the agenda gets finalized it is clear that the day is being stretched to include evening events that expand the hours in the day from 8 to 12, you have a fair basis for negotiating a price that better matches the work actually performed vs. what was anticipated when details were scant.
Event photography has always been a bit like the fast food business with a need to deliver fresh photos quickly, but today it is more like Netflix where clients expect to have a steady stream of images on demand, delivered almost as fast as you can take them.
One reason for this, of course, is to meet the expectations of event attendees who will be snapping and posting photos of the event on their personal social media feeds. Event managers want to tap into that same excitement but keep eyes trained on their social channels and leverage the content and media generated to support the event. This is usually managed by assigning and communicating to all an event specific #hashtag which helps pull in photos and videos posted by everyone who uses it, not just the paid professionals hired to cover the event.
Another reason clients like to have a hot dish of freshly baked images delivered on site is to take advantage of venues that offer big screen experiences, like we recently experienced at Taverne 1909 here in Montreal, for the after party of the Shriner’s Hospital Wonder Race event.
Not only does the instant show provide an added element of fun for attendees (who are all waiting to catch a glimpse of themselves in the shots selected) but it is also fun for the event photographer who usually sends off his or her images to a client’s email without ever really seeing how people use or react to the images that have been generated, curated and crafted into a storyline.
As a professional event shooter today, if you’re not using tools that allow you to turn around a set of images onsite, quickly, you are becoming obsolete. And for clients, if you’re not taking advantage of the extra oomph you can pack into your events by sharing images (and brief video reels or event highlights for a grand finale) you are missing out on an additional touch point with your guests and a chance to add yet one more layer of connectivity between you and them — which today is what’s needed to capture loyalty and keep your event top of mind for attendees, who have a plethora of events, conferences and meetings to choose from.
The gig economy is a hot topic these days and much of what is being said and written about it is negative and casts gig workers as people who’d rather be doing something else and making more money. That couldn’t be further from the truth – or at least my truth – and I’ve written about how freelancing can actually be a joyful, fulfilling, purposeful career choice. If you’re at all interested please check out my book. You can download a free sample section on my book site, www.gigonomicsbook.com and/or read a preview on the Kindle version. Reviews welcome!
As a conference and event photographer I am frequently asked to provide estimates for covering day-long meetings or multi-day conferences. It is not uncommon to be asked to provide a detail costing out for services even before the official agenda for the conference is finalized. The challenge here as the photographer – and I would argue for the client as well – is understanding how much coverage is enough and pricing accordingly.
There are some rare clients for whom budget is no object and they would rather have the peace of mind of knowing the photographer they hire will be there to cover whatever is happening, wherever, whenever and they don’t want to waste time parsing out an agenda to reduce the hours (and the bill). They would rather pay full pop and get more than they need and sort it out afterwards. These are great clients to have.
But the vast majority of clients are not so loose with their purse strings and usually are operating on behalf of their client, who has hired them to organize the event. These kinds of clients may still ask for the complete coverage but they are much more sensitive to cost and may wind up tossing the baby with the bathwater if they receive a bid that seems high, without evaluating if what they had asked for a quote on was completely necessary.
For example, I am often asked to arrive onsite up to an hour to an hour and a half before anything actually begins. This is almost always to mitigate a client’s anxiety or worry about not having a photographer be there when they really need them and may speak more to the reliability of some freelancers than to the anxieties of the client, but the net result is either a lot of unpaid time for a photographer, or an increase in cost to a client paying for something they don’t really need. Every professional photographer or videographer I’ve worked with or hired has been able to size up a space, the pacing of an event and digest the order of action for even multi-day, multi-location events in a very short time. It does not usually require more than 15-20 minutes as it is usually very obvious to a professional what is important, and what isn’t.
Another way clients ask for more than they need is if the event they are hosting involves a lot of repeat action in the same setup, with the same lighting, and most if not all the same people, perhaps moving from room to room for workshops or discussions in slightly different formations. Depending on the final use for these images, it may not be necessary to pay for a full day of coverage if you can capture the main look and feel of the event in fewer hours.
On the flipside, it is unreasonable to ask for a photographer or videographer to show up for a gig that won’t last more than an hour, or an hour and half and expect to pay the same hourly rate offered on longer jobs. I know of few (to no) people working regular jobs who would even consider going in to work if their boss said they only need to be there from 2:30-4 so will only get an hour and half’s worth of pay that day. Gig workers (and photographers and videographers have been working in the gig economy since long before it was even called that) also need to make a living wage and can’t afford to take small jobs without applying a minimum rate to cover their time. In this case the client should be prepared to pay a fee that is higher than a job priced on an hourly basis would be if longer hours were offered for the service provider.
In the end, it makes sense both from a photographer’s point of view and a client’s perspective to consider what the desired end result is from the photos (or videos) produced and structure the work accordingly. Complete coverage, half days, partial or minimum fees are all based on finding that balance between meeting a client’s needs and making the work worth the time and effort a professional will provide. A little time upfront spent thinking through the event and even discussing it with the prospective supplier can save both time and money – and ensure that the client receives a fair and accurate quote they can build out their plan on.
I should have known something was off when my puppy ran off into the dark the night before. A foreshadowing I ignored to my despair the next morning. I was lucky with the puppy. He must have sensed the desperation in my voice when I pleaded with him to come, after chasing him out the door with nothing but my underwear on waving my phone around in the air frantically trying to lure him back to me. He disappeared into the woods, popped back out again down the road, then to my horror slipped through the gate leading out to the darkened country road down which, if he had continued, he would surely have gotten lost, eaten by a bear or hit by a car. He turned and trotted over to me, and I managed to grab him by the collar and lead him back to safety.
Unfortunately, my Mavic Pro drone with whom I’ve shared so many adventures, was not so caring. It just decided, all of a sudden, it was over and left.
It happened so suddenly, I’m still in shock. One minute it was rising up over the Porsche I was photographing, trying to capture that beautiful machine in an as beautiful landscape, the next it slowly began drifting off centre.
There were warning signs, (aren’t there always?) but I ignored them, as I had so many times before with no consequence. Alas, not this time. Those strong winds really were strong winds. I just I didn’t feel them from where I stood, alone, in that empty parking lot.
When I realized I was losing it, I began trying to nudge it back home. I didn’t panic immediately, but as I watched the distance grow between us, my attempts to bring it back grew more frantic. I began jamming that little joystick as hard as I could to the return position, but it only seemed to drive it further and further away.
That’s when the low battery warning went off. 30%….29%…..Then I really did panic. I tried the Return to Home button which has saved me more than once, but my max height was foolishly left too low and I was high up on a mountain. There were too many obstacles in the way. Try as I might, it just wasn’t turning around.
And the distance grew. Fast. From 20 metres to 200 before I knew it. 300. 500. 800. Once it breached 1000 I was in the grip of fear.
The owner of the Porsche realized I was in distress and suggested we pull up the map and drive to where the drone was heading. Although I knew in my heart it was already too late (battery at 10% and falling) I was desperate and willing to cling to any shred of hope.
We hopped in and the Porsche sprung into action. But the drone was still flying straight out and away….it was over the lake now. Battery dangerously low. 7%…5%…alarm bells ringing, the Porsche racing, the wind buffeting my ears as I hung out the window desperately trying to get a signal.
Then it happened. Aircraft disconnected. The screen went black. It was over. And there I was, in the middle of my life, suddenly droneless.
I put on a brave face for my companion. I pretended to laugh it off. “It was bound to happen,” I said. Things had been a little rocky between us and we’d just narrowly avoided this very thing happening a week earlier in the Saguenay.
But I knew it wasn’t true. Inside I was still standing there at the top of the mountain, screaming into the invisible winds that had just torn my lovely little drone out of my hands and flung it into the cold, dark lake.
We’d been together for just under two years. Not long, but long enough for the love to grow, while still feeling new and exciting. I took it with me whenever and wherever I travelled – racing over beaches in the Dominican Republic, swirling around the terra cotta roofs and quaint plazas in Lisbon, or simply sailing through the sky around Gatineau at fall shooting the vast and beautiful landscape as it blazes with autumn leaves.
I used to feel a trembly thrill just taking it out of its snug little carrying case and gingerly unfolding its wings. I’d removed the plastic cover that protected its delicate little gimble, set it down carefully on the ground and turn it on. As it whirred into life, I’d feel a surge in my heart.
We didn’t always get along. Just last weekend we had a falling out of sorts as it passed through the magnetic field over an aluminum smelter and skidded out of control until finally we patched things up and it came back for a safe landing. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe I should have been more sensitive. Paid more attention to those screen warnings to calibrate and update the database. Was I too selfish?
All I wanted was for us to be together, flying through the sky, taking in wide, stunning views of the land below. I never meant for it to get hurt. I thought I was doing the right thing, showing it the world, providing it with ample battery power. I even bought it a high speed 32gb micro card so that we could record more of our times together without having to face that dreaded “SD Card Full” warning (like that time in Lunenberg when it was all the way out over the bay ready for a well planned flight home. Sigh.)
It’s still hard to believe. Just a few short weeks ago we were so happy together, chasing after kayakers at Trout Point Lodge. On one sunset flight, mosquitoes swarming around my head, it came down and hovered there just out of reach, blowing all the annoying little bugs away to keep me safe. What we had was real.
But now, nothing. Just a remote controller with nothing to connect with. I still have the batteries. I’ve left them fully charged, in the vain, impossible hope that somehow, someway, it will come back to me.
I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s over just yet.
Fundraising teams face a continuous battle against apathy. Each year they are faced with the challenge of raising millions of dollars using the same tried and true methods, often from the same individuals and organizations. Fashion shows, art auctions, casino nights, gala soirées, silent auctions and the perennial golf tournament are the mainstay of fundraising organizations everywhere. They are in competition with one another from other teams using the same tactics, and playing from the same playbook (sometimes even the same person who’s moved from one team to another), and having photographed all of these kinds of events, I can see how much of a challenge it is to keep it fun and to differentiate yourself from the others.
I was recently covering a hospital foundation golf tournament fundraiser and tasked with, amongst other things, capturing the fearsome foursome shots. Foursome shots are to golf tournaments what table shots are to big gala evenings. A necessary, but rather dull, posed photograph documenting attendance. They are often top of a client’s shot list, as they serve the useful function of identifying who actually showed up for the event and they can be given as gifts to attendees by way of onsite prints, or post-event photo with a thank you note from the organizers.
However, like their table shot cousins, having a group of four stand, clubs crossed, facing the camera for a standard shot gets a little boring for both guests (and photographers!). As most of the attendees are on every fundraiser’s list, they may attend two or three of these tournaments a year and I suspect they have a collection of these nearly identical shots. From a branding point of view, it doesn’t strike me as a good way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
This year, in collaboration with my client, we decided to shake things up a little and play around with the idea of the foursome shot. Instead of just posing each one in the same way, we asked them to do something creative (and offered a prize for the formation judged the most creative). Not only did the teams embrace the idea, we ended up with some fun photos that are unlike any other from any other golf tournament they’ve ever attended.
Why not try out some of these poses (or better yet, come up with new ones) at your next golf tournament?
(If the embed video doesn’t work which often happens go here: https://youtu.be/Iwuy4hHO3YQ)
Hey presenters – stop using video to open for you!
A lot of presenters now use videos as a kind of mental cocaine to stimulate their audience and fire up their emotions. The room darkens, a presenter pops out on stage and mumbles a kind of apologetic introduction then scurries to the side to let the video do the heavy lifting. The intention – I presume – is to focus the audience on to the topic at hand, using the emotive force of moving images and stock music tracks to engage them. As the photographer observing that same crowd, I think exactly the opposite actually happens.