How photographers benefit from the gig economy

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Say “CHEESE!”

The gig economy, alternatively known as the connected economy, the sharing economy, or the on-demand economy, is a growing and still not very well documented trend that is changing the way many different kinds of people work.  Characterized by short-term contracts, a high degree of autonomy and payment by task or assignment, working a gig is how many people today earn part or all of their income.

A recent report by the McKinsey & Company estimates up to 162 million working-age people in the EU and the USA are working in the gig economy, with as many as 33% (or 54 million) Americans working as a freelancer. In Canada, 2.7 million working age people are either self-employed, or running micro-enterprises (fewer than four employees). 

For professional photographers, who have been in the gig economy long before it ever had a name, this trend is hugely beneficial and they are poised to be big winners in a future where there will still be a lot of work, but a lot fewer permanent jobs.

In the gig economy there are three main categories of work, all of which benefit professional photographers (and videographers too).

  1. Freelancers – people who sell their labour or offer services either directly to clients, or via a digital platform like Upwork, or Uber, or Taskrabbit.
  2. People who sell goods (artists, artisans, up cyclers, makers, etc) directly through their own blogs or websites, or via a digital platform like Etsy or eBay.
  3. People who lease our assets (a couch, a spare room, a condo, a stock pot) mainly through digital platforms like AirBnB.

For all three main groups photographers are either major players (freelance photographers) or creating the gorgeous images necessary to enable people to sell their goods and services or lease out their condos to travellers.

Photography, as a craft, is also open to anyone with enough drive and passion to develop their talent and build up a portfolio of good work. It is a perfect second career for a retiree (people age 55-64) who doesn’t necessarily need to earn his or her primary income from the trade (which actually represents one of the largest slices of the gig economy workforce), and it is often a profitable sideline for people working other main jobs, or, in true gig economy fashion, living a portfolio lifestyle. (Also known as “slashers” as in, I am a photographer/writer/podcaster).

As with the rise of any hobbyist-turned-worker trade, their can be a negative knock off effect on professionals whose work is undercut by others willing to do the same work for less pay (think Uber drivers vs professional taxi drivers) but this kind of change is unavoidable and must be faced head on by the working professional.

While anyone in theory can take a photograph and call themselves a photographer – only the truly committed will invest the time – and money – needed to learned the craft inside and out, stay up to date with the latest software, equipment, trends and techniques all while doing the hard work of building up a client list and keeping them all happy.

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How distorted perceptions of yourself can ruin your enjoyment of life and what you can do about it

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It’s all inside your head

In photography, there are two kinds of distortion that impact an image: optical and perception.

Optical distortion, also known as lens distortion, is caused by the design of the lens itself and its effect is to make straight lines in reality appear bent or curvy. You may notice it happening yourself when you take a photo with a wide angle lens of a group and notice that the figures on the edges of the group (and inside the photo) appear to bend inwards or look wider and larger than they actually are – which is one of the reasons I always advise people who really want to look their best to take the centre position in a group photo if they can).

Perspective distortion, technically, is a function of where the subject of a photo being taken is in relation to the positioning of the lens. People or objects positioned closer to the lens will appear larger, wider and if you are very close, the physical features of their face will look stretched and larger than life. The same thing happens with your own eyes (things closer look larger, things further away look smaller – hence the “super power ability for the infamous Head Crusher in the classic television comedy series Kids in the Hall from the early nineties).

Both are explained in longer format here.

There is, however, another kind of perspective distortion, as it relates to how people, usually women, perceive themselves in photos. As a photographer of people, men and women, I have seen the effects of a distorted perception of reality time and time again. There are many contributing factors, both intrinsic to individuals (low self-esteem, poor body image) and extrinsic from a media saturated world drenched with images of “perfect’ looking people that glorifies body types on women like Kim Kardashian as some how representative of all women.

As a photographer, particularly an event and portrait photographer, my job is to take photos of people looking their best. But at the same time, I believe I am also responsible for showing people as they are and because I look for moments when they are smiling and interacting with people that genuinely interest them, I always find angles and views of people that I believe they look great in. It’s actually one of the things I am most known for as an event photographer, and yet, there are still times when I, and I am sure all working photographers today, encounter clients who just can’t get over how they look in photos.

These kinds of people have unrealistic expectations but more significantly, they have a distorted view of themselves. They focus on details that no one else would ever notice and these loom large in their eyes, while ignoring other positive features or facets of how they are actually perceived. Rather than see themselves as most people do, they hold themselves up to a truly black mirror that distorts their self-image, and no doubt brings psychological pain and discomfort. This can of course then lead them to behave in ways that creates friction or conflict with others when the source has to do with their own distorted view of themselves.

As a people photographer, I sometimes find myself playing the role of therapist, taking my clients through a narrated tour of their photos and trying to help them see themselves as I see them, and surely most other people do as well.

I am not always successful, but I think that it does help to be told that the single out of place strand of hair you are fixating on is invisible to people you are interacting with who are almost always concentrating on what you are saying or what you are about, rather than the way your face looks.

Just like in high school, that pimple on the edge of your cheek is much larger to you than it is to everyone else around you. It may still feel uncomfortable and unpleasant even if you really are obsessed with how you look or really dislike something about yourself (and I know because I had terrible acne as a teenager) but the truth is there is no better version of yourself than the one that recognizes its flaws, works on what can be controlled, and accepts what cannot.

Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. If you suffer from a  perception distortion habit when you see yourself in photos, try to recognize that while your perception may be distorted, you aren’t.  You can change how you see yourself.

Understand that no one pays as much attention to your perceived flaws as you do, and many people (not all, but they have other problems to deal with) are actually trying to see who you are when they meet and interact with you – not what you look like.

When we truly connect with someone it isn’t because of how we look – it’s because of how we make the other person feel. People like–or dislike–other people mainly because of the way they feel when they interact with them. If you are focussed on yourself and adopting stances and postures, both physically and psychologically designed to defend or protect yourself where you feel vulnerable, exposed or uncomfortable you are most likely going to invoke those same feelings in others. If you want to be seen for who you are, accepted, respected, loved even – your first responsibility is to change the way you perceive yourself so that you feel that way about yourself first. Change yourself and you change your world.

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Marketing through Meetups – reach the niche

Marketing through Meetups – leveraging niche communities to broaden your reach

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Meetups were one of the pioneering groups when people still referred to the internet as the world wide web and there was no such thing as Facebook or iPhones. As an organizing principle they are beautifully simple and targeted: form a group around a common interest or passion, and literally meet up regularly in a local neighbourhood venue to share ideas, talk, network and form relationships.

ProductTank MTL runs a series of themed monthly Meetups in Montreal, featuring three speakers from local businesses sharing their ideas, strategies and insights working as product managers or founders in technology companies.

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The most recent event (it’s 14th edition!), held at Groove Nation in the Plateau, centred on EdTech and featured Roberto Cipriani, CTO of GradeSlam, Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co, and Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.

CK4A0056.jpgThe evenings are a nice mix of learning and networking with peers, and there are often job openings advertised, from the presenting companies and an open mic for anyone else in the audience looking for new talent. If I were looking for a new gig in tech, I’d be attending these and other Meetups like these regularly.

There are hundreds of Meetups in Montreal alone, whether you’re interested in Ecommerce, Learning, Food & Drink, or simply trying to meet other people if you are new to the city. There’s even one for Digital Nomads.

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Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.com

Meetups are a fantastic way to bring people together but their use could also be an easily accessible business development tool for instigators and marketers looking to grow their influence. Just a few groups that come to mind for which the benefits of a Meetup seem obvious are:

  • Brands / Companies looking to make connections within niche communities
  • Venue owners (bars, restaurants, spaces) that are underutilizes at night or looking to get known in their communities)
  • Professional associations looking for new members or to share knowledge and create networking and development opportunities for their members.

As an event photographer, I’m surprised by how few Meetup organizers are leveraging photography to bring more people to their events and broaden their reach and impact.

Through sponsorships from companies seeking connections with the people your Meetup group represents you can easily cover the cost of a few hours of photographic or video coverage for your event.

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Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co

Nothing sells an event better than professional looking photos of real people in real venues having a good time and interacting with each other. Conference planners and professional meeting organizers know this and always budget for coverage as it provides fresh new images to furnish blog posts, advertisements, website copy, and media and freelance journalist who come to the event, thus extending the group’s reach even further.

ProductTank MTL is a well organized chapter of an international group, with a very targeted niche for an in-demand professional skill set. It is an obvious opportunity for a sponsor looking to connect with that same pool of talent. For a few thousand dollars a year a sponsor could sponsor the photography portion of a Meetup for a year, providing a minimum of 12 regular posts on the group’s own Facebook and Meetup page, as well as access to images for the company’s own use.  It seems like a no-brainer from a marketing spend point of view.

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Roberto Cipriani, CTO at GradeSlam.org

If you are either a Meetup organizer, or in a company looking to make connections to talent and the communities your company operates in, spend an hour looking through all the available Meetup groups organized in your city – or start your own.

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Where to put your photobooth at your event

Over the weekend I covered a large event at a beautiful historic location in Montreal (the Théatre St. James) which used to be an opulent and ornate old bank.

Théatre St. James in Montreal

Théatre St. James in Montreal

It is a spectacular place for an event – commodious main event space and a secondary space in the basement with access to the old bank vault, which can be converted into a lounge as was done at this event.

Inside the vault

Inside the vault

The engagement included both continuous event coverage and a photobooth from my company, lePartybooth.com. Photobooths never seem to get old and they add an easy and fun activity for guests of all ages at an event. They also provide branding opportunities for sponsors and the event organizers through the use of branded imagery, green screened images and take away, instant prints.

However, to get the full value of your photobooth, consider where in the event you ask for it to be set up. While set-ups vary between open air mobile studios and premium standalone kiosks, most photobooths require about 15 x 15 feet, and ideally even a bit more space for the props table and prints.

Not every event space has optimal locations for photobooths, but your provider should be able to counsel you on where would be ideal. From the client point of view you want the booth somewhere in plain site to the main event and easily accessible by your guests. If they have to go up or down a flight of stairs, or leave the party to go to a secondary room, your participation will drop off a cliff and you will not be getting the best value for your money.

Encourage your guests to share their photos on social media with your event #hashtag

If you are planning to include a photobooth at your next event, keep these simple tips in mind:

  • Include the photobooth somewhere in the main event space
  • Remind your guests a few times throughout the evening that the photobooth is available for their use and they don’t have to pay to use it (*unless you are using the booth as a fundraising tool)
  • Ask your provider if they can furnish you with a few images from the booth to show on the main screen during the event
  • Encourage your guests to share their photobooth images online via the sharing functions built-in to the booth using your event hashtag

And a bonus idea:

If you really want to leverage the photobooth, consider running an in-event contest, offering a prize (voted on by applause or some other crowd-engagement measurement) for the wackiest or most outrageous photobooth pose of the evening.

Photobooths are always popular and including one in your event budget creates another sponsorship vehicle or place to extend the reach of your marketing. Having decided to spend the money, make sure you get the best use from it by making it a prominent and well-situated element in the layout of your floor plan for the event.

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How to be a better presenter (and look better doing it)

0E7A2014.jpgI recently covered a seminar for medical professionals in an charming Old Montreal hotel. The conference brought together experienced practitioners and researchers with their younger associates for an exchange of ideas and learning but one particularly interesting segment to me was about how to present which inspired me to put together my own thoughts and observations on the subject, culled from my many years experience observing presenters in all kinds of different fora, from meet ups at bars, to large international congresses, shared below:

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  • You are the presenter, not your slides: if your slides are full of lots of text and your presentation comprises you staring down at your laptop reading out the points with very occasional asides or additional points, than your presentation will put people to sleep. Your objective in giving a presentation is to actually engage your audience, hold their attention, and have them learn something. To do that you need to be the one delivering the message, not your screen which is there to back you up and provide impact but not be a replacement for you.
  • When presenting, never stand in front of the projector: while this seems obvious, it still happens with some frequency, particularly in these smaller, single-room set-ups.  Although I sometimes enjoy the almost performance-art type images that can occur serendipitously, the intended audience may be more interested in actually being able to see the content of your screen. (I think it would be interesting if a presenter could wear some kind of device that would trigger a silent alarm if the presenter unwittingly stands in front of the projector, but I digress.)
  • Use simple, readable fonts: arial and calibri, though a little boring, are easy to see and read, which is important if you are actually using your slides to present information as would be the case for most researchers, scientists or medical professionals who get asked to present at a conference.
  • Don’t over-animate: excessive use (almost any use IMHO) of animations are distracting, and almost always look like you just discovered them and thought they were really cool. Restrain yourself and limit the use of them, if you must use them at all.
  • Mind your body language: In theatre it’s called “blocking” and it means you’re showing your back to the audience. You don’t ever want to do that, so pay attention to where the audience is and position yourself on the stage (or in the room) where you are not blocking anyone’s view of your screen nor showing anyone your back. And when you speak and need to refer to the screen, use the arm closest to the screen, regardless of whether you are right or left-handed. Stand straight, pay attention to your posture. If you happen to be presenting in a group and you are waiting for your turn, don’t forget that you are in front of the audience and on-stage. Try not to look excessively bored, or tuned out.
  • Be careful with using videos: videos can be great entertainment but I’ve seen them used too often as a supplement to giving a thoughtful discourse. They are also impossible to connect with so they end up bringing your audience’s attention away from you and into the screen where they get lost for the duration of your video. Ask yourself how the video is making your point better than you could without it. And if it’s really an integral part of your message, limit the use and maintain your presence and commentary so that you still “own” the room when the video ends.
  • Be yourself: it’s wonderful when a presenter has natural charisma, makes people smile and laugh through their sheer presence and can keep the audience chuckling with well-placed witticisms and seemingly off-the-cuff jokes. But that’s not everybody. That’s not even most people. Rather than try to be overly entertaining or extroverted if it is not in your nature, just be yourself.
  • Know your stuff: double down on learning your material and be so comfortable with it that you’re able to talk naturally to your audience without relying heavily on notes. Practice in front of a mirror, record yourself and improve on what you notice doesn’t work when you see yourself.
  • Speak calmly, clearly and be conscious of “filler” sounds: um, if you are, um, trying to make, uh, the, uh point, about the uh, graph over on the uh, left, uh, side of the screen, um there…You get the picture. Record yourself, practice and listen to your speech patterns. If you are prone to sounding like that, then rehearse more until you’re not.
  • Be on time: I’ve never seen a conference planner who wanted their speakers to go overtime. If you’ve been given a 20-minute slot, make sure you end on 20 minutes and no more. And if you get a 2-minute warning, but have 10 minutes left of material, don’t rush. Pick the key point and finish there. No one wants to see you fly through 20 slides in two minutes and no one will retain anything from it.
  • Use eye contact: look up from your notes/the screen often and for more than a flickering second. Look at the whole room, not just the few front rows that you can actually see well.
  • If there is a podium, don’t grip it and hold on for dear life: podiums are terrible for photographers. They crop your body in half and if you are not tall, they leave just a bit of space to capture a good shot of you. They also distance you from your audience. If you are at a podium feel free to stand beside it, or to step away from it now and then to break up the monotony of the lectern and to give your audience – and grateful photographer – a few opportunities to see more of you than what shows up behind the microphone.
  • Use hand gestures, but don’t gesticulate wildly: hand gestures add dynamism and can create some great mid-action shots. Just don’t over do it, especially if you are using gestures that don’t come naturally to you.
  • Laser pointers: Ugh…(1995 called and wants its laser pointer back…) If you must use them, be sparing. You don’t want your audience to feel like you’re playing that game with your cat where you make it jump around all over the place chasing after that dot of light because it’s just so funny.

  • Be flexible: technical issues arise far more often than you’d think warranted given how little audo-visual presentation technology has changed in the past 10 years. We’ve got devices in our pockets that can let us video chat with someone around the world, but getting a microphone to work in a small room can still be a challenge. Prepare a Plan B, just in case the slides don’t show, or the sound fails. Being familiar with your material means being able to talk it through even if you have to abandon your slides altogether.
  • Smile: smile often, and naturally. Particularly if there is a photographer in the room. When you pause, smile. It only takes a second for a pro to get that great shot of you. And your audience will instantly feel more connected to you.
  • Stick around after the gig: if you’ve been invited to a conference to speak, if possible, don’t just jet in, do your thing, and whisk your rolly bag offstage to your waiting UBER to the airport. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but if you’ve got a bit of time, it’s courteous to your hosts and beneficial to your audience members to make yourself accessible after your presentation to meet with people one-on-one and be available to answer their questions.
  • Taking questions: keep the conversation moving, repeat the question of the questioner (if there is no audience microphone) so that everyone understands and hears it. If you don’t know the answer, say so. There’s nothing wrong with saying you will find out and have them connect with you after ward so you can let them know. Don’t skate around the topic and try to fake an answer. And if you’ve got a bully in the room who’s trying to throw you off or asking deliberately obtuse or aggressive questions, take back control and simply say (with a smile) that rather than waste the audience’s time with too much inside baseball you’d be happy to meet and discuss this after your talk.

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It looks like a lot to think about, but the best advice is to remember that you are there to deliver a message. Keep the message simple, stay on point, and remember that communication is not just about the language you use, but how you use it, your tone of voice, and how you make your audience feel. Engage with them, connect with them and be approachable and friendly. Know your material and practice.

And don’t forget to smile a lot and often. Your audience, and photographer, will thank you for it.

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Last-minute portraits?

Here’s a fact that surprises people all the time when I tell it to them: more the 50% of the corporate headshots I take are last-minute rush jobs.

How is it possible, they ask, that someone could ever urgently need a photograph, let alone a headshot? Believe me, I used to wonder the same thing, until I started paying attention to the triggers. People use the same professional headshot for several years. Just do a quick scan through your contacts on LinkedIn and see how many have updated their photos in the past year. People kind of forget about their profile pics after a while, until a need arises for a new one.

Here are some of the reasons why all of a sudden, a headshot is needed, like NOW! All of the examples below are taken from real contracts I’ve had.

  • “Looking for new challenges”: People don’t change their headshots unless there is a change in their employment status. When that happens, there may be a lead up to the decision if the change is self-driven, but there are many reasons why a person’s employment status can change beyond their control. This unexpected change often triggers a need for a new look.
  • “You’re published!”: People get articles published on schedules they don’t control, and get asked to submit a bio picture along with their submission.
  • “You won!” : People win industry awards and accolades, or are selected for internal company awards they weren’t expecting and they need a picture to accompany the announcement.
  • “You’re being promoted!”: Good things happen to hard working people. They get promotions and despite company’s best efforts, HR doesn’t always keep internal comms informed of the latest personnel changes, nor provide a lot lead time before the announcement has to go out, particularly in public companies where the change in senior level appointments is material information that must be made public.
  • “You’re invited to speak at our upcoming…”: People get asked at the last minute to speak at an event, a gala dinner, or a conference they hadn’t planned on going to. Suddenly they are facing a roomful of their peers and colleagues with a 10-year old bio picture that looks like it was cut out of their high school year book. Awkward.

As with all rush-jobs, there are usually fees associated that raise the price of the product or service being purchased. As well, the last-minute pressure also usually indicates a lack of preparation and limits the number of other people in the office or on site who may also be in need of a new headshot but just aren’t given enough notice to get there for the appointed day because they are out of the office, in a client meeting or just having a bad hair day. All of these factors increase the cost to the buyer.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…

Forward-thinking planners, event and conference organizers can score big savings by taking advantage of organizing an onsite headshot session when they are assembling people who may only get together once or twice a year. Annual meetings, board meetings, seminars, training sessions, workshops and conferences are just a few places where people are brought together. This allows the organizer to save on per/head costs as the set up fee for an onsite portrait session can be spread out over a number of individuals rather than just the one.

To those paying for the service, there may be the perception that bringing in a photographer to conduct a portrait session is just an unnecessary extra expense tacked on the event, but if viewed from a slightly longer-term perspective, the savings can be significant to the organization.

  • Per head costs / portraits can be reduced by 50% or more
  • Leverage the investment already made in bringing important people together (food, hotel, travel)
  • Raise staff morale – everyone loves having a little extra attention paid to them, and a professional headshot is a nice perk that saves your staff money. Happy workers are more productive ones.

Leaving anything to the last-minute creates more stress, cost and hassle. It’s great for my business, but do yours a favour and plan ahead. You will need a new headshot someday. Don’t wait till that day happens to be tomorrow.

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The difference between taking pictures at an event and covering an event

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Too many chefs?

Is it necessary to hire a photographer to cover your event? When virtually all staff and every attendee is equipped with image capturing devices, social media accounts and motivation to share the experience, in real time, what value lies in hiring a pro who will charge you for coverage that you will already be getting for free from multiple sources?

No, of course it isn’t necessary. If you want to rely on crowd-sourced images and dimly lit, shakily held videos, random tweets and multiple viewpoints for the narrative surrounding your event, then it’s probably not even advisable.

But I’ve encountered few professional organizations – companies, brands, conference organizers and event managers – who are so laissez-faire with their brand image and marketing of their events.  Most professional teams choose to work with professional suppliers simply because it is more efficient, more effective and more controllable than any other option.

Everyone enjoys taking pictures at professional events. They do it to show that they are there, to participate in the dialogue and share learning and information gleaned from sessions they attend that appeal to them and their distinct personal and professional networks. They do it for fun. But one thing they don’t do it for is the company putting on the event. While some of the content they generate may well wind up being retweeted or shared across the organizing company’s social channels, it can only ever be the result of good luck and good timing. Unsurprisingly, most of the professional organizers I’ve worked with are reluctant to stake their reputations on good luck and timing.

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Professional event coverage is a skilled trade. It requires attention not just to the visual elements transpiring in real time – what slide is shown on stage, the type and quality of the lighting, the instantaneous emotional responses of audience members, etc – but also the content and theme of the event, and the brand of the organizer itself. And the coverage includes everyone and everything. It doesn’t just focus on the big highlight moments or the fun times people have around the bar or at networking cocktails (though that is included). It is comprehensive, including every speaker, every session, and most if not all attendees in some context or another.

Additionally, the coverage is being captured and recorded with professional grade equipment designed to be adaptable to changing light conditions, and multiple scenarios that even the best of phone cameras can’t handle. It’s not too challenging to take a beautiful photograph outdoors in bright natural light in a beautifully laid out setting. It’s not quite as carefree when the subject is a wan looking speaker with thinning hair in a beige-walled, dimly lit conference room who rarely looks at the audience. But he’s part of the event and needs to be included, and not just included, but has to look good too.

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As a line item in an overall event budget, photography is going to come in under video and frankly, have much wider applications than videography. While everyone loves video and video marketing continues to rise in influence and reach, the uses of video are still rather limited. You may put a highlights reel from an event on your site advertising similar upcoming events, but once it’s been viewed once (and it’s highly unlikely anyone will watch it through to the end no matter how short it is given that humans now seem to exhibit attention spans shorter than a goldfish), it probably won’t be rewatched, while photos have multiple applications. They can be used throughout a website, in headers, as templates for advertising, as content in blog posts and as a virtually inexhaustible supply of pictures for social media feeds. They can also be printed, used as profile pictures, put into sales decks, emailed out as gallery links to sponsors and generally be shared more easily and widely because they are lighter and require even less of an attention span than a 30 second video.

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Having an event covered by a professional matters to other professionals. It translates into higher quality, more reliable, deliberate and usable content that can be leveraged by good marketers to build and maintain momentum for companies whose business models rely on hosting regular, well-attended events. If that’s not you nor aligned with your goals, than no, you don’t need a professional to cover your event. Just task a junior staffer to do it on their phone and hope for the best. You’ll for sure get some fun pictures, and maybe even a tweet or two.

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How to feel good about how you look in photos

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Seeing the world through Snap-coloured glasses

Being a photographer requires a thick skin and an appreciative eye to help deal with the number of times people tell you, “I hate having my photo taken.”

It comes from women and men, young and old, in professional settings and at parties. It doesn’t matter what the person actually looks like, it’s how they think about what they look like that matters.

It’s not all just insecurity, though that plays a role. Far too many people have a distorted view of themselves. They look in the mirror and see what’s wrong with their face, their nose, their eyes, their teeth, their hair etc. I look and I see someone who is almost always much more photogenic and pleasant to look at than they believe themselves to be. The slight “imperfections” they balk at are the features that distinguish their faces from others and what gives them each something uniquely their own that makes them uniquely themselves. Alas, we are our own harshest judges.

The reality of a photograph is, well, it’s not really a reflection of reality. It’s a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world and therefore it is inherently misleading.

The same face can look remarkably different depending on a wide range of factors. In a portrait or group photo for example the most common elements that affect the way someone looks are:

  • the kind of lens being used (85mm to 100mm portrait, or 70-200mm telephoto are best)
  • the distance a subject is standing from the photographer
  • where in the frame the subject is standing (on the edge or in the centre)
  • the angle of the photo (from below, from above)
  • the lighting/shadows at play influenced by time of day, indoors or outdoors, with flash or no flash, etc.
  • the way a person stands (posture), and holds his or head (angle/tilt of head)
  • whether or not the chin is tucked in or thrust out (which impacts how well-defined, or not, the jawline is)
  • what someone is wearing (scarf, plunging neckline, collar short, etc)

So, now that you know that there are a lot of variable at play, which ones can you influence the next time you have to have your photo taken despite hating having to do so?

Three tips for liking the way you look in photos:

There are, of course,  a few little tricks that people who really hate having their photos taken can keep in mind the next time it happens at an event they are attending.

  1. Smile widely and naturally: this one doesn’t come easily to everyone, which actually always kind of surprises me, so I recommend practice. Smile in front yourself in mirrors. Smile at your colleagues. Smile at strangers. You don’t have to be weird or leery about it. Just smile when you see something out there in the world that is smile-worthy. It may come slowly at first, but once you start doing it, it’s a hard habit to break.
  2. Think jawline: people almost alway prefer the image of themselves that shows a distinct jawline vs. one lost in a double chin, or a twisted, wrinkled mass of neck. To get yours to look the way you want, practice thrusting your chin out for photos ever so slightly. It doesn’t take much to pull the chin away and bring out the line. Conversely, try not to turn your face too much away from the camera and don’t tuck in your chin (which many people do habitually when having their photo taken)
  3. Take centre stage: if you are in a group shot, put yourself in the middle or as close to the middle as you can be. It’s the sweet spot for all lenses, and your image will therefore not suffer any distortion that can sometimes impact the people on the edges who may be a little closer to the photographer, or be stretched a bit by lens distortion.

Number #1 Rule for Looking Good In Photos

The best way to look good in photos is to dispense with believing in the “one ideal body type” fallacy, love yourself and smile like you mean it. And mean it. Really, happy, smiling people who are comfortable with themselves and the way they look are ALWAYS more attractive. We all come in different shapes, colours and sizes. We’re supposed to look different from each other. That’s normal. A bland, homogenous and artificial sense of beauty is damaging to self-esteem and is fake. Be you and you will look your best.

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How to properly plan a product shoot

A few pro tips before you let the genie out of the bottle on your DIY product shoot

Shooting product is a vastly different kind of gig than photographing people at large conferences and events.  Regardless of the sophistication level of your client, organizing and conducting a product shoot requires more technical ability, more equipment, and a lot more time than most clients anticipate.

It also requires a lot of planning, particularly if you are working with a smaller business or entrepreneur who may never have organized a professional product shoot before or ever hired a professional photographer to work with.

In the best case scenario, your product shoot plan includes:

  • Sample imagery of what you want your products to look like: These can be previous photos of your actual products if you are updating your website and sales material, or if you’ve never had a shoot done, photos of similar or equivalent products that you’ve found online or from another vendor.
  • All your products prepared in advance of the scheduled shoot: if assembly is required, this should be done as much as possible before the shoot to minimize (expensive) time wasted that your photographer spends waiting for the product. The same goes for any kind of staged set up or particular arrangements you’ve decided you need.
  • Hire or have available a professional stylist / stager if you can afford it: While this may seem like a nice to have if you are on a tighter budget, someone who knows the product/brand and can understand and help set up a shot that displays the key features thereof is invaluable on set and can save a lot of time (and money) before and after the shoot helping ensure the right kinds of shots get taken.
  • Avoid working with untrained models and non-actors if you can: while I am a big believer in natural photography and capturing real moments and interactions and engagements in event photography, a product shoot entails a much more scripted and controlled scenario. No matter how good looking your husband is, or how cute your pet dog looks, involving family and friends as models is rarely a good idea. There is a reason acting and modelling is a profession – because it takes training, skill and commitment to craft and to deliver on-demand, the look, feel and emotion you are looking for in a shoot. No matter how entertaining your friends and family are, this is not something that can be done easily, particularly when there is a cost to time spent on each shot.
  • Double your time and budget estimate: if you have never done a product shoot before, as a rule of thumb expect the shoot to take twice as long as you think it will and cost twice as much. And that assumes you’ve got a tightly scripted plan for the shots, a shooting schedule and your product is ultra-clean and ready to shoot. Add time and cost at every juncture if you’re missing any of these.
  • Have a detailed shot list: while this seems self-evident, I’ve dealt with numerous clients who have no clear idea of exactly what they want to shoot, at which angle, in what kind of lighting, against a white or coloured, or textured background etc. There are a lot of details to conceptualize before you ever set foot in a studio. Speak with your photographer or studio ahead of time to ask for help planning the look of the shoot if you are uncertain or need ideas (and be prepared to pay a consulting fee for the added service). Your shot list must include at a bare minimum, the number of shots you want, a description of how it should look, and any specific requirements in terms of size, crops, dimension etc.
  • Don’t assume that anything that goes wrong can be fixed “with a little Photoshop”: Photo retouching and editing is a skilled profession in its own right that takes time, technology, a patient eye and a steady hand. And it’s usually billed by the hour, or per image, or blended into a higher shooting rate.  Just because you can remove specks of dust from a  product in Photoshop, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start with clean product in the first place. Similarly, if your intention is to have your products shot so that they can be matted (cut out) and used as independent images for Photoshop montages, then plan your shoot accordingly.
  • Don’t treat your photographer like a tool: a little bit of courtesy and respect goes a long way, particularly when dealing with professional photographers. If you really only think you need “a few shots, it can’t be that hard, all you have to do is shoot it” than you might want to just try doing it yourself. Invest in a tripod and a decent camera and give it a whirl. If you don’t quite get the results you’re after, you’ll at least have learned a little about the skill and equipment needed to make a seemingly simple shot look the way it looks.

When a product shoot goes well, it can add tremendous value to your digital assets. You can populate an online store with beautiful images that will seduce and enchant your viewers and induce a much higher volume of transactions than you would otherwise. The bar is set high these days and customers expect to see top-quality imagery if they are even going to consider making a purchase.

Failure to do it right, however, winds up costing you much more money in the long run. You may require a re-shoot, much more editing time than would otherwise have been necessary, or simply short-circuit your marketing plan by not using great photos.

Not all bottles are created equally

Take the time to really think through your shoot, and have a discussion well in advance with your photographer to work out all the details so there are no onsite surprises. And if you don’t know what you are doing, find someone who does that you can work with or learn from. It’s much better to be up front about your inexperience and lack of knowledge on a given subject than it is to try to bluster your way through a shoot only to have your lack of preparedness and ignorance revealed when you’ve already started paying for the work.

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Improve your visual diet

eyes

At the beginning of every year a lot of people are working on resolution-driven changes to their lives and lifestyles. Do more exercise, eat more veggies, that kind of thing. Worthy goals, but something that often gets neglected is what we expose ourselves to visually.

As humans, up to 80% of our sensory data streams through our eyes into the visual cortex. And yet we often take our eyes for granted and pay little attention to what we look at, or for, in the world around us.

I believe that simply by looking at and for beauty in what we find around us – in other people, works of art, well-crafted pieces of furniture, landscaped gardens, raw natural settings – we improve our consciousness and ourselves.

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Take clutter, for example. A messy, cluttered environment (which currently describes the state of my home office) induces stress. The mere sight of books and hard-drives askew on my desk triggers tiny flickers of anxiety that get smoothed away when I tidy up and bring order to my work space.

Where I live in Montreal, this time of year can be visually draining. The sky is often grey, the ground white with snow and the streets a brown mushy mess of slush and grit. It’s no surprise that this is when those big colourful billboards for trips to Cuba pop up over the highways, showing endless expanses of blue sea and smiling happy people.

Advertising always works that way, creating an enticing contrasting world to the one you are in, but it’s a pity if the only way we expand our visual diet is through ads.

I am a big fan of visiting museums when I travel, and within my own city. I enjoy taking an hour or two to simply stand in front of works of art and let my eyes drink in the imagery, the colours, shapes, textures of something made by a human hand. I’m lucky to live in a city with lots of access to art, not just within museums but throughout the city.

A walk through Mount Royal park is also something that feeds me when my mind needs to look at something other than screens.  Looking at trees, watching sparrows and chickadees flit to and from branches, always lifts my spirits.

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My daughter’s face is another place I look to when I want to soak in the beauty this world has to offer. One of my favourite things to do is steal glances of her in the rearview mirror when I am driving her home from school. She is often looking out the window, quietly observing the passing views and she has such a thoughtful expression I am always intrigued and wonder what she is thinking about. It makes me smile just watching her watching the world like that.

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We all have images that fill us with a sense of something greater than ourselves. Something that can ennoble us and lift us up when we are feeling overwhelmed, or sad, or just tired with life.

There is much tumult in the world today, as ever, and much of the images we see on our screens stain the eyes with pain. Like the scene of that child face down on the shoreline, or the devastated scenes from terror attacks, like that toppled Christmas tree in Berlin, or the ripped apart streets of Aleppo.

PICASSO-FAUN

Faun – Pablo Picasso (1937)

I don’t believe we should turn away from the people in need when terrible things do happen, but we do need to balance these images of death and destruction with more beauty and more calmly restorative images that help bring peace of mind.

So if you’ve still got room on your resolution list for one more, make it to seek out and pay attention to what is good and beautiful around you. Fill your eyes and your mind with images that bring you a sense of peace.  We could all use more of it.

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A wintry honeymoon photo tour of Montreal

Wedding photography doesn’t have to conform to the formulaic portrayals of happy couples emulating poses and scenarios from bridal magazine shoots.

One of the most refreshing aspects of modern marriages is the freedom from conventional thinking about what a marriage means or how a wedding ceremony is supposed to be organized. In the free countries of the world (at least) we live in a time where non-denominational weddings of all kinds are becoming increasingly common.  To we practitioners of wedding photography, this is a welcome relief.

Baby it’s cold outside

Gone are “required” scripted poses and trite tropes of wedding imagery, replaced by more realistic images of couples interested in creating images that tell the story of who they each are as individuals and how they’ve come to find and love one another.

Honeymoon in Montreal

There is nothing wrong with having a traditional wedding, spending tens of thousands of dollars on that one big day (or week) and filling a room with a few hundred of your closest friends and family members. For some, that is how they’ve envisioned their wedding day, and that is what they want their wedding photos to depict.

Paradise found

But for a growing cohort of other couples, not just newly minted millennials staging experiential weddings that showcase their originality (and sometimes limited spending power), but also others who’ve waited or found love later in life, a wedding and how it is documented is no longer bound to follow a monolithic narrative like watching some set piece of Victorian theatre where everyone already knows the plot.

A wedding today can be anything a couple chooses it to be. A solemn ceremony under a towering willow tree by a riverside, or an intimate, candle lit dinner with a table set for ten. It can be a beach vacation, a dance party, or a gathering of friends in an art museum.

Face to face

And having your wedding photos done is no longer bound to the ceremony where and when the ceremony actually transpires. Couples can choose to spend their time and money on themselves, enjoying a personalized engagement shoot, or a custom tour of their honeymoon city with their local photographer/guide, as this recent couple did here in Montreal, choosing a winter wonderland as backdrop to their blooming romance.

Make hay while the sun shines

The wedding shoot doesn’t have to be restricted to the day of your wedding. You can hire a shooter to cover you on vacation, for just a few hours, or take you around a new city, combining the fun of a guided tour with photographs of you that serve as mementoes of your honeymoon.

By allowing yourself the freedom to be creative with your wedding photography choices, not only will you wind up with truly original wedding photos – but you also get an experience that bonds the images taken with memories of a time in your life that is truly special.

A pot of gold at the end of every rainbow

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Rethinking the holiday e-card

life-celebration

This image, the one I am most proud of and the one that has touched me most deeply this year, was taken during a celebration for a life lived. The image shows the family of the deceased, while a slide show in the background plays of his life. There is the mother, the sister, the wife, the daughters in a moment of grief and powerful human connection. This one image tells the story of human life and how our lives are defined by who and how we are connected to one another.

I think that is what we are all trying to do, every day in our lives. Find and create and feel connections between ourselves and the people around us. I think that all the horrors of what happens when those connections are severed or unformed is how we end up with much of the tragedy we’ve seen in the world. As trite as it may sound, there is only one thing that really matters and it’s love, the ultimate connection.

I think that’s what people are trying to say when they send a holiday card. They are reaching out and saying, I think of you, I want to stay connected with you, I want you to know it.

But it often fails to touch us that way. In this final lead up week until the holidays your inbox has probably been exploding with holiday messages from everyone you know, work with, or for.

Thought and care evidently go into crafting these messages of well-wishing and gratitude and hopes for peace and happiness. Nonetheless, they all end up sort of sounding the same, and you may be developing a kind of holiday e-card blindness.  You may even (gasp) not open the email or worse, send it straight to the trash.

It’s understandable, given that the messages, though well-intentioned, come to us through a tool (email) we use primarily for parsing information and, well, there’s usually not a lot of information to parse from a holiday card. Seen one, seen ‘em all just about sums it up.

From the sender’s perspective, the “holiday e-card send” creates a little extra bit of year-end anxiety. Especially if you are a freelancer or running your own small business. It’s one of those things you know you probably should be doing, but it’s hard to do it with any originality or creativity and, of course, there are still all those presents to buy.

So either you do it in a generic, check-the-box kind of way, or skip it, or buy yourself more time by saying you’ll send a Happy New Year’s message instead (my approach).

But, this year, being 2016, and maybe the weirdest year I’ve ever been consciously aware of with the world turning inward, and a lot of unsettling changes taking hold, I felt the need to do something a little bit differently. I’m genuinely concerned that we’re living through an era of change, not for the better.

And so I began to ask myself questions, to realign myself with my purpose and to give myself and my business a strong sense of direction as this pivotal year comes to a close and a new one is about to begin.

Asking questions, as it turns out, is much easier than answering them, and much more useful. So as my holiday message to you dear readers, friends, clients and random people who come across this on their internet searches for great gift ideas for the holidays, here are the questions I am using to realign and renew myself personally and professionally.

Questions to think on over the holidays

What did I learn this year?

What am I grateful for?

What would I like to change?

What would I like to stay the same?

What relationships did I strengthen?

Which ones did I let go or lose touch with?

What did I create that I am proud of?

How many people did I help?

Did I love well enough?

Did I ignore opportunities for kindness?

What ideas did I have? How many did I act on?

What became of them?

What projects did I begin?

Which ones did I complete?

What am I excited about?

What change do I want to see in the world?

How will I make it happen?

The final two are, I think, the most important, inspired by this famous quote from Ghandi (found here), which I’ll end my 2016 holiday message on:

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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The #MannequinChallenge Phenomenon

 

If you’ve managed to not see a #mannequinchallenge yet, you are either one of those people who actively shun social media and modern technology in general, or you’ve just been rescued from a few months at sea in which case, welcome back.

Just to bring you up to speed, a #mannequinchallenge is a video wherein everyone involved remains perfectly still, preferably in an active or dynamic pose, while the videographer wanders through, all done to Rae Sremmond’s now ubiquitous song “Black Beatles” (and if that pairing wasn’t a deliberate act of marketing genius Rae is a very lucky man).

It is the modern day version of the tableau vivant (which means literally, living pictures and was a genre that peaked in popularity between 1830 and 1920. It brought together stage art and theatrical presentations with more static visual art forms like painting and later photography. Though they were popular in the Victorian age appearing as part of Nativity plays, they later took on more risqué nude and semi-nude poses plastiques, enthusiastically explored in the early 19th century in the Ziegfield Follies revues.

Now we have the #mannequinchallenge which combines the living tableau with cell phones and suddenly we’re seeing them popping up everywhere, from marketing conferences like the one I captured at iMedia’s Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona (above) recently, to more exotic locations like the FARC’s #mannequinchallenge reported here.

Like the photobooth craze that swept through events and quickly became a staple at any large gathering of people from parties and weddings, to trade show booths and conference receptions, the mannequin challenge is at the convergence of trends that brings a whole new way of merging photography, videography, selfies and a passion for social sharing into events.

It’s as much fun at home as it is out, though you may want to keep your pets out of the frame.

There are lots of ways brands and corporations can work this trend into their events and promos to help further their marketing goals, or just give their employees something to have fun with and share.

It doesn’t require much in the way of tech. You can get it done on a phone (and as a professional photographer I hate saying that). The biggest challenge you’ll face is keeping everyone still. A practice run wouldn’t hurt and reminding people to not move their eyes or drop their arms is a good idea. It also helps to close off the room and not let anyone in once it’s begun if you are doing this in a large conference ballroom or office space.

Of course, it may not always be a good idea to put one on (gunfight anyone?), but I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of these over the holidays as that other staple of the season – frequent parties and heavy drinking – brings renewed strength to the trend.

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The art of the engagement shoot

0e7a4183Yesterday I went out for an engagement shoot with a couple who’d bought the package I’d donated for a charity I support (Room to Read). Our loose plan was to work the late afternoon sun to capture images of the two of them in natural settings around Montreal where we could still find some abundant fall foliage.   

0e7a3984Our first stop was a little park next to the St. Lawrence river where surfers love to go as there is a standing wave just off the shore they can play in. This was our warmup area. It’s hard to start shooting genuine, intimate photos of a couple – even one you know well – right off the bat. Everyone – including the photographer – needs some time to warm up, figure out the best angles and understand the dynamics of the subjects. For every really great shot it takes a lot of almost-there, not-quite-nailing-it shots to reach.

As you progress through the shoot, the winners tend to flow out in little streams, interspersed with lead-up shots that build up into the winning sequences.

On engagement shoots I really like to move around, and go different places with the couple. It helps keep the vibe fun and friendly, and provides a lot of opportunity both for some planned set-up shots where the background is selected by design, as well as impromptu quick sessions when the light is just perfect and we discover a spot together that can work.

0e7a4181While some shooters may like to plan these shoots down to every last detail, I’ve never liked working that way and have always found that leaving some things up to chance makes for better photos. Part of what makes photographing an engagement shoot different from other kinds of portrait photography is the chemistry between the two people in front of the lens. These few hours we spend together are emblematic of their future together as a couple. At least that is what I am trying to capture with the images I take, as if putting together in real time a kind of collage of memories that will continue to ripen into the future.

My goals for the shoot are to capture real moments of happiness, intimacy, and genuine feeling for each other – without making that obvious or creating artificial moments that tend to make the grooms feel really uncomfortable and awkward especially.

Like all photography involving regular people – there is a necessary element of creativity, collaboration and serendipity involved in getting the best shots.

0e7a4232Good lighting helps and having an idea of where you’ll go for the shoot of course saves time and is an efficient use of the time you spend together, but nothing you do in advance can really create the images that in the end will define the shoot. Together you create the conditions for the photos to happen, and then, with luck and some well-time laughter, you find the gems.

0e7a4187eTheir story is just beginning. The photos from their engagement shoot should reflect that, and feel like a warm introduction to a story still unfolding.

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The last minute…

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Photo: Marcus Grossalber

Were it not for the last minute, I’d be a lot poorer. As the owner/operator of a busy photo and video business I receive a lot of last minute requests from clients who just realized that they need someone to cover their event—tomorrow.

Some decisions do take longer than others and sometimes an event doesn’t get confirmed with a lot of advance notice, but I am always a little bit surprised at how often I get asked to cover something with very short notice.

If you are in the business of planning, or helping to coordinate, an event, here’s how to get the most value out of your last minute requests and make sure you still get the best service you can get.

1) Have a budget or know the market value you are asking for very well – with the clock running down you don’t have time for any protracted negotiations. Either state your budget up front with your request, or have it ready to vet against the price quoted to make sure you are within an acceptable range so you can book immediately.

2) Don’t waste time with a shot list – it is almost always unnecessary if you are dealing with a professional as the shots you’ll spend time spelling out are the ones your shooter is going to go after anyway. All events, regardless of the specifics, have a certain similarity and flow to them and the key moments, important people, and physical characteristics of the room and set up are going to be captured.

3) Respond quickly! While you may end up reaching out to a number of potential suppliers, please take a moment to notify the ones you don’t choose that the gig is off. A lot of professionals who live on gigs will hold a date for you if you’ve asked them to. Just because there is short notice time, doesn’t mean someone else might not come up with an even shorter notice – if you’re not going to use the supplier you’ve contacted on this occasion, let them know so they can jump on the next opportunity.

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Harvesting content marketing opportunities from the annual office party

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Marie-Josée Gariépy  receiving a donation from the Déjean’aide event Thomas Sinclair helped organize in Montreal (November 4, 2016)

It’s sooner than you think….no, I’m not talking about Armageddon/the US Presidential Election. I’m talking about the big end of the year holiday party, which happens as early as mid-November for some companies and into the early new year for others.

The venue rental is done, photobooth and event photographer booked, the menu planned, the two-drink-tickets-bar sorted out and the party is set.

Having covered countless of these kinds of events, I have some advice for the party planners to help them get the most from their event. While the idea behind the holiday office party is to give your employees a break and reward them for the hard work they do on behalf of your company throughout the year, it is also an opportunity for creating some useful photographic and video content for your social media throughout the year.

Here are a few ideas to leverage the event that may help generate reusable content for your content marketing needs:

  • One client of mine stages an annual video-contest in which different departments compete for the year’s funniest video. Curate and then share video snippets to your company Linkedin page to convey a sense of your company culture to prospective employees.
  • Write a blog post about your company winners and promote across your social media shining a light on their accomplishments and giving your employees some deserved praise they can retweet and repost to their personal networks.
  • Thank your event suppliers (the event company, caterer, dj, photographer, etc.)  on your social media platforms using their handles and company names; they will eagerly re-share the acknowledgement garnering more traffic for your site.
  • Use the event to announce the grand total of any fundraising you’ve done throughout the year and invite the charity to send a representative to accept a big cheque or make a small speech — and share the news.
  • While you don’t want to crowd the agenda with too many (or too long) speeches, a few thoughtful words from the president or CEO is usually appreciated: preload a few of the best quotes into your company’s Twitter feed and schedule them for timed release throughout the event.

While the annual office party is traditionally a time for employees to mingle with management and socialize with each other, in our digital age where no good Instagrammable moment goes unpublished, it is also another opportunity to create content. Your in-house marketing and comms team will thank you for it, and you get to start out the new year with some useful content ready to go.

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Final sale-or how to fail at customer service

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Where I shop

As a professional photographer based in Montreal, there are surprisingly few retail options for buying camera equipment and studio accessories. Over the many years that I’ve lived and worked in Montreal, I have shopped at all of them and I’d like to share my thoughts on the experience, with the hope of seeing some improvement overall.

Now of course there are online options but the biggest and best of these are US-based which means as Canadians we get hit by both a our weaker currency and duties. The gold standard for online (and actually retail too if you ever get the chance to visit the super store in New York City) has to be B&H Photo Video a long time favourite of mine. I have ordered countless items over the years through their online store and on the one occasion where I experienced an issue I was ultimately offered a full refund, though not without a bit of wrangling initially. However, notwithstanding that one blemish, the customer service offered by both the online and telephone support staff is unparalleled.

Another online (US-based) site is Adorama.com. And there are Canadian sites like Vistek.ca, but I haven’t used either.

I have, however, spent time in the three main camera stores in Montreal where most professionals shop (all of which also offer online stores though I have not used any). These are:

Camtec Photo (26 Rue Notre-Dame Est, Montréal, QC H2Y 1B9)

Photoservice (222 Rue Notre-Dame O, Montréal, QC H2Y 1T3)

Lozeau (6229 Rue St-Hubert, Montréal, QC H2S 2L9)

Since there is such a low-level of competition, pricing is roughly equivalent in all three stores. Availability of product varies, as the stores are not all of equivalent size, but I’ve never personally had any issues with finding what I was looking for.  The only real point of differentiation that matters to me is customer service, and here there is a clear loser, with two others close but ultimately one winner.

I’ll start with the winner: Camtec. I’ve shopped at Camtec several times over the years and have always found the service top-notch. I am usually greeted when I walk in, and though the store is very small, it allows for more conversation and whoever is behind the counter is always knowledgeable about the products and friendly, and fluent in both English and French. While it’s location in Old Montreal means parking can sometimes be a hassle, I’ve usually found street parking nearby with little effort.

Just down the road on Notre Dame there is Photoservice, and it is my second choice. I have had mixed experiences there though largely positive. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable there as well, but my one main point of contention is the checkout process which is just not streamlined enough. If you are behind a few people in line you could easily wait 10 or 15 minutes because of the antiquated manner with which reciepts are generated. I don’t know exactly why but there are always multiple copies printed and the products often need to be looked up by product code number manually. And while the service person is usually pleasant and polite, standing around waiting for the process to hurry up (while worrying about the metre running down where the car is parked) is annoying and really needs improvement.

And then there is Lozeau. By far the largest (in terms of square footage and product offering), Lozeau should by all counts be the best. But it is a very distant third for me and a store I personally won’t ever shop in again because their customer service is not just bad, it is offensive.

Here’s why: as a professionals who has to spend a lot of money on expensive equipment to do my job, I expect that when I return to a store where I’ve shopped many times over the years, I should be treated with a certain amount of respect. Because I try out and purchase new items frequently, I sometimes encounter products that don’t live up to expectations (see my earlier post on the dud performance of a recent instant print camera I tried out). This of course means that the product in question needs to be returned.

Final sale

final-sale

And here is where Lozeau fails miserably. Because rather than treat a product return as another touch point with a valuable customer and a chance to turn something negative into a positive, store policy seems to be to treat the returning customer as a kind of scammer who is returning the item to somehow rip off the store.

On my most recent-and final-visit to the store (which is an hours drive for anyone living in the West of Montreal), I had to speak with four different individuals, explaining my story to each one over again, to return a non-performing product and this was AFTER I’d taken the time to pre-clear the return with a manager over the phone because I was anticipating exactly this kind of insecure, lowest-common denominator service. Not only did I have to fight for a refund for a product that failed utterly to perform as advertised, but I was forced to do so without any evidence that anyone at the store really cared at all.

More than one staff member tried to make the particularly galling point that “Final Sale” was printed on my receipt next to items distinctly non-perishable, such as camera bodies. While I understand that you may not want to accept returns of film that can be damaged by exposure to heat, it’s not clear to me (and was never explained when I asked) why a camera purchased less than a week earlier could be considered a “perishable item”. But having printed “Final sale” on my bill, the store acted as if those magic words recused them of any further responsibility.

It is just not acceptable to sell crappy products, then tell your customers that they’re stuck with them and treat them like juvenile delinquents when they ask for you to honour your side of the bargain as a retailer serving professionals.

In a world of abundant choice enabled by online retailers, customer service is perhaps the single most important aspect every business should aim to compete on. Sadly, my experience at Lozeau was neither the first nor all that rare, given the amount of feedback I’ve had from other photographers who’ve had their own versions of the customer showdown at the store.

So if you’re shopping for camera gear in Montreal, I recommend Camtec as your first stop and Photoservice as a good second choice and somewhere with a wider variety of products than you’ll find at Camtec. And if you still choose Lozeau, well, brush up on your latin: Caveat emptor!

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Ideas for optimizing your event sponsorship investment

event-sponsorship-ideas

How an event photographer can help optimize your event sponsorship investment.

I cover a lot of large conferences and trade shows that are largely funded by sponsors. Sponsors pay to have their company logo, brand message and business development professionals gain access to the targeted audience attending the event. Sponsorships take the form of brief presentations, banners, swag bag stuffing, mentions on the big screen in the pre-roll before the conference day kicks off, as well as areas like lounges, or massage stops, or juice bars. Sponsors pay for the wi-fi access, and brand the room keys at the hotel where the event is taking place. They cover virtually every meal, reception and sometimes outings for guests. It is not unusual for a sponsor to spend upwards of $50k on sponsorships for an event that may last at the most a few days.

A few busy days where attendees are bombarded with information, exposed to branding and logos from hundreds of companies, gather fistfuls of business cards and all while being slightly jet-lagged, hungover and still trying to keep up on their work email.

As an event sponsor, are you getting the most for your money?

As an event photographer I am used to covering sponsored events and of course take the time to gather a set of images that are for the sponsor. These include the room set up with and without people (if they have sponsored a reception, or a dinner), all branded elements (takeaways, gifts for attendees, bags, sponsored areas like lounges, or interactive stations), as well as the speakers and company representatives if the sponsorship includes a segment of air time at the event.

But I think a creative sponsor could get more leverage by actually sponsoring the event photographer directly. Event organizers could work with the photographer to identify areas where direct sponsorships make sense and either split the fee, or leverage the sponsor to cover the photographer’s fees, saving costs for the organizer.

There are obvious sponsorship opportunities like photo booths, but I would recommend thinking “out of the photobooth” box to the more wide-reaching impact an event photographer can have.

Consider: the event photographer is going to be seen by virtually every guest, and interact with almost every one of them at one point or another during a multi-day event. What other sponsorship opportunity can guarantee face time in front of every single guest?

But who pays attention to the photographer, you might say. He or she is just there to document the event and be as unobtrusive as possible.

If you believe that your event photographer should remain in the background, like a liveried wait staff in a posh restaurant, then yes, perhaps you are better off taking a more conventional approach to event sponsorship.

But if you understand that part of what a good event photographer does is engage and interact with people – as a function of doing the job of getting fun and interesting photos of your event – than you may also recognize that adding a layer of sponsorship to that activity can possibly further your sponsorship goals for the event. And it could be far less expensive than a big branding opportunity but reach as much, if not more, of the same target audience.

A few ideas come to mind that wouldn’t cost more than a thousand dollars (which is small change for event sponsorship budgets):

  • Why not consider asking your event photographer to wear a sponsored blazer or jacket?
  • Or design a sticker or logo to attach to the photographer’s flash body which is always visible?
  • Offer branded instant prints to your guests.
  • Plunk a portable instant printer down in the centre of the conference room tables, “Sponsored by YOUR BRAND” and let guests have fun snapping and printing their own photos with their phones

Branding at events is always a bit of a guessing game and it’s hard to know if the money is having the desired impact or if conference warriors suffer the same kind of banner blindness to event sponsors that most of us do when seeing an ad on our phones. Thinking creatively about new ways to leverage your event sponsorship budget is at least worth considering, given the amount of money at stake and the opportunity for increasing your impact.

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Which instant print camera to buy?

I recently ran a team for a big event at Montreal’s New City Gas, hosted by the UAE. The event was extremely well-attended with over 1000 guests shuttled in and passing through the space over the course of a few hours.  One of the photographic services we provided, in addition to droneography, a greenscreen photobooth, a team of event photographers and videographers, was a dedicated instant prints photographer. I armed him with both a Polaroid Z2300W which prints on stickers and what the manufacturer calls ZINK Paper (zero ink) as the client had specifically asked we used Polaroids. As a back-up, I also bought the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo (Classic).  It was an unintentional a/b test and rarely have the results been more divergent.

POLAROID.jpgTo put it mildly, the Polaroid was a complete dud. It’s proprietary battery couldn’t hold a charge long enough to complete one full set of prints (30). It is flimsy and cheaply made and looks like a toy camera. Sadly, even a toy camera would have brought more enjoyment than this and it is a far, far cry from what a Polaroid once was. Loading the paper is easy, but getting the starter sheet (a blue paper that must first eject before the camera can produce prints) required multiple attempts before it would work, wasting time and further depleting the already miserably weak battery. When finally you do manage to load ten sheets into the paper chamber be careful not to brush against the little latch in the back or the door will pop open and out will tumble your sheets. But even if it works, the prints (full frame and not the matted white traditional Polaroid look you would expect) are low quality, grainy and with colours so muted and garbled they come out looking like they were already old and abused, and not in a cool retro way, just in a “ew, yucky” way.

The camera is actually a hybrid digital camera, meaning it has the ability to shoot and save digital jpeg files to an SD card, like a regular digital point and shoot would, and print images you select to print. While on the surface that seems like a nice option to have, the competing demands on the miserly battery exceed any utility gained by the feature.

If one could apply a negative star rating to a product, this one merits a below zero score. Do not waste your money or time fiddling with this poorly conceived, poorly constructed and sorry excuse for a camera from what was once one of photography’s iconic brands.

fuji-instax90_neo

And the winner is…Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo by a country mile

Happily, my “back-up” performed beautifully as I’ve grown to appreciate with the few, but growing stable of Fujifilm cameras I am acquiring. The prints are higher quality than the Polaroids (and actually look like Polaroids!), and the battery after one charge and 90 prints is still powering this handy little fun camera. Remarkably, it also sells for about $50CAD less than the Polaroid Z2300W and though its prints are pricier ($19.99 for 20 vs $19.99 for 30 ZINK Paper prints), they feel and look better and I suspect will last much longer too though we’ll have to wait and see for that.

If you’re looking at adding instant prints into your events, or even just to bring along with you on your next family vacation, if you can stomach the ongoing print costs pick up one of these Fujifilms. You won’t be disappointed.

(N.B. In case any of you were wondering if this is a paid post, it isn’t. Everything I write here is written by me, from my own unbiased and unsponsored point of view. I am not shilling for Fuji or going out of my way to trash Polaroid. I am sharing my opinion as a professional photographer about two products I’ve used and seen the results from.)

 

 

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It’s not about the room

liz-shane

It’s not about the room

Let’s talk about the wedding industry. It’s rife with rip off pricing and bad ideas designed to extract as much money as possible from naive, often first-time buyers for things like venue rentals, florists, photo and video suppliers, caterers, graphic designers, and professional organizers/wedding planners to list just the obvious ones.  Making a detailed plan for the day – your day – can become an obsession for some and paying attention to every detail from the room design to the angle the napkins are placed at can take what can be an emotionally charged day and turn it into a kind of perfect storm of stress. And that’s before getting that really awkward speech from the brother of a friend (don’t be this guy), or your weird out of towner uncle who’s tanked before the ceremony begins.

It’s enough to make a sane person wonder why they bother with it in the first place. Why not just run off and elope somewhere? Or just cohabitate without ever bothering with some kind of ceremony to mark the occasion of your love for each other?

Because despite the statistics on divorce rates your single friends are always handy with, and the surprising cost of flower arrangements, couples still want to call their loves ones to them and make a public announcement that they have found someone – and been found by someone – that they love and they want you to know it.

When that happens, and it does with remarkable regularity every spring, summer, fall and winter – the wedding industry descends, heart-handled knives drawn. Suddenly what is really simply about two people publicly sharing the end of the first chapter of a love story, becomes a production. You’re meeting with suppliers, comparing your choices to the countless others presented to you in look books and across zillions of Pinterest boards, and it’s all beginning to add up. By the time the date comes around, you’re easily spending $10k for an average wedding and far, far more for anything with the whiff of luxury to it. Excess, by definition, knows no bounds, but even the modest wedding can quickly blow its budget just for what seems necessary like a nice venue, good food, ample alcohol and decorations.

It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. And while there is a cost of having any kind of party, a wedding party winds up costing more because it’s not just any old party. As a photographer who’s photographed dozens of weddings, I’ve run through the gamut of weddings, from tiny little closed ceremonies in restaurants to full blown, multi-venue affairs with hundreds of guests.  What I’ve noticed, from a photographic point of view, is that what really matters – where I’ve done my best work and felt the strongest connection to the couple I’m working for – is not the room, and not the décor, and not the bar, and not the food, and not the kind of ceremony they choose, and not anything really that causes so much stress when you begin planning for your wedding. What really makes a difference is if the couple seem to really love each other, and are marrying each other because there is no one else they’d rather be with than that one right before them. That’s what lights up a face and floods a room with something that everyone there can sense and feel.

You can choose to have any kind of wedding you want that you can afford. Fly all your guests to a private island in Santorini (including your photographer;) or set up a few chairs around an old willow tree by a river. Do it your way, and spend as much or as little as you want to spend, but however you do it, remember that what matters is not how the day will unfold, but why you are doing it in the first place.

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