The new event photography

Dancing at the Children's Ball 2016 #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

I’ve been covering events – from multi-day, multi-site, city-wide conferences to intimate gatherings – for close to fifteen years and much (everything) has changed since I began.

(Not in the mood for Long Form content? Skip to the checklist here)

Consider: my career predates the iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat to name some of the widest reaching platforms of the modern age that helped usher us all into the socially connected economy. When I was landing my first gigs as a wedding photographer and later a corporate event photographer, digital cameras were still in their early days and Photoshop was in its first iteration.

old rotary phone

How do I check Facebook on this thing?

Fast forward to today: camera technology is ubiquitous and embedded in the daily lives of virtually everyone in some way or form on the planet. We have become blasé about being able to see satellite imagery of anywhere in the world. Seeing – in real time – what someone else is experiencing on the other side of the planet via simple hand held devices hardly registers anymore despite it being really quite amazing.  Surveillance technology is pervasive – but not only are we being watched from the skies, on highways as we drive, throughout the corridors of our commutes and inside most venues we frequent, we too are bearing our own – technologically enhanced – witness, recording daily moments, protests in the streets, encounters with each other, and the beauty of the natural world ad infinitum.

Look up!

Look up!

What was once novel is now commonplace. We have time-lapse cameras, all manner of image-enhancing filters, virtual reality and flying cameras mounted on drones capable of tracking moving targets. We have lenses that can photograph the surfaces of distant moons and others the finely filamented wings of bees and butterflies. We can see in the dark. We can see through clothes. We can see, virtually anywhere or anything we wish to with no more effort than it takes to swipe your finger across a screen.

With this Cambrian explosion of technology you would expect professional photography to be a dying trade, going the way of blacksmithing and door-to-door Encyclopedia Britannica sales.

But the opposite has occurred, driven – paradoxically – by the same trends that have put a camera into the hands of most of humanity in the developed (and developing) world.

Content, content everywhere but nary a word to read….

One of the main drivers, I’ve seen from my front row seat on the industry, is the massive and constant need for ever replenishing content created by the sharing economy. As human behaviour itself is being altered by the omnipresent integration of the internet in daily life, we’re not just heading into the oft touted Internet of Things (IoT) but really the Internet of Everything. And every search, click, swipe, haptic touch, blink or thought wave generated by a firing neurone, is seeking out a piece of content that is enriched with photos and videos, often to the exclusion of much, if any written text.

We’re spending hours daily looking at pictures, and videos, and animated GIFs, etc, and companies are paying attention. The smart money knows that more, really is more, and feeding the plethora of content distribution platforms everyday people just call Facebook or Instagram, or Snapchat…is where the real money is made. Not, of course, by crassly monetizing the stuffing in the pipe (“I never click on a Facebook ad!”), but rather through the magnetic ability of quality content to draw customers to whatever it is you are trying to sell, when done right. That is, professionally done with enough skill, amplification and repetitive force to ensure it gets seen by as many of the right people as possible.

From mega brands spending billions a year on advertising to micro-brands of one, selling through content is one of the main ways of discovering, reaching, connecting with and engaging new customers. That content feed drip continuously through the funnels of social media platforms we’ve barnacled our minds to, relies on an equally steady stream of mainly imagery that needs to be produced on a continuous basis.

UGC ya later

We're connected

We’re connected

And while much of it is, and will be, user generated content (UGC), that alone just isn’t enough. Just because everyone in the world holds in their hands tools for taking high quality photos and videos, doesn’t mean they will use them. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it as consistently, and with the same (er) focus, as professional content creators (writers, photographers, videographers) contracted by businesses with a clear intent to generate specific types of images that create a sense of excitement and elicit interest from new (and existing but no longer loyal) customers they need to attract every day to stay profitable.

Events like conferences, or major sporting events, aren’t sold by sharing the selfies and beauty shots taken by past attendees. They’re sold by professionals capturing and curating content that is purposely published and distributed to targeted individuals and communities that matter to those people organizing the event.

Materializing experiences

As the next large cohort of consumers grows in influence, (yes, I’m talking about millennials again despite that being an omni-term covering a slew of micro-communities), we’re witnessing the ascendance of experiences over materialism.

While owning the latest fashionable pair of sneakers and wearing jeans ripped just so is still a way of marking oneself as “in”, there are now legions of younger people who prioritize having experiences over owning more stuff (and not just because many of them are priced out of the market). The new rule is that anything that can be shared, will be shared. Transportation is particularly susceptible to this as shown through the rapid growth and expansive reach of ride sharing companies like UBER and Lyft, but everything today that has a hope of getting taken up by a large group of people has sharing embedded in its design.

Product libraries are cropping up where people can share things like lawnmowers and stock pots, and successful brands are paying attention. How do you keep making a profit if you are selling fewer things? You sell something that can’t be held onto….except in memory. You sell experiences. And how do people share experiences? In their story streams, with photos, captions, videos, silly animated filters and really good thumb work on messaging apps.

And this is exactly what is happening. Brands like puravida bracelets aren’t just selling pretty little handmade bracelets that remind you of  your beach vacation. They are selling you the feeling of your life as a beach vacation. They are selling a lifestyle. They are selling you access to a story of entrepreneurship, of helping local communities, of sunsets on the beach, surfing and living in a timeless way that cares only about the moment. And they are doing it largely through social media and largely with well-curated photography and videography.

While having the experience is core to the success of experiential marketing – selling the experience, enticing people to partake and encouraging the spread of participation is still being done through marketing that shows off the experience in its best light. (I’ve written more on experience marketing here and here and here.

Plus ça change…

Without an audience, conference attendees or a hand-picked curated list of bloggers you hope to influence so they spread the word about your company, event photography can’t exist. Engaging these people, making the experience they’ve chosen to participate in fun and memorable, is the core function of the event organizer. Part of doing that right is working with the right photographer who recognizes that event photography has changed, even as it has grown in importance.

The new event photography is more than just great photography. It has to be fun too. Interactive. Exciting. A mix of images from candid closeups to well composed groups is just table stakes now. Covering events now includes offering a blend of image types – from drone photos and videography to virtual reality 360 photos and videos – to simply stay in the game.  Having this kind of kit and knowing how to use it helps keep the professional event photographer one step ahead of the curve. But most importantly, it makes participating in event photography more fun for the increasingly  hard to please people who go to events and make an event what it is. And don’t forget social mediagraphy: live tweeting, Instagramming, Snapchatting and sharing links on LinkedIn is also part of the event photographer’s bag today.

To help you get the job done, I’ve put together below a short checklist for event coordinators and managers, experiential marketers and conference organizers on some of the new tools and techniques to look for when booking your next event photographer:

Checklist for the new event photographer:

  • Min. two up-to-date cameras and min. 3 lenses (wide angle, short-mid range, telephoto)
  • Ability to shoot in 360 (virtual reality ready photo and video)
  • Ability to shoot from drone (photo and/or video clips)
  • Time-lapse cameras
  • Rapid turnaround on event images (highlights reel post-event, finished product within 24 hrs)
  • Digital delivery from secure, online gallery
  • Visible social media presences across multiple platforms (I.e. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest and yes, even Google+)
  • Demonstrable ability to engage and interact with wide range of people
  • Active blog / good writing ability
  • Brand awareness / understanding of the marketing goals behind the event
  • Can do, team-player attitude
  • Creative, visual storytelling skills

If the goal is reach and engagement, cutting through the noise of a world buzzing with distractions has made the work of marketers more challenging than ever even as the tantalizing opportunity for engagement and hyper-targeted messaging has never been better. In the panoply of digital tools marketers leverage today to create real and meaningful connections with their communities, strong, fresh and professional developed visual assets are crucial in forming real and lasting connections with the people that matter most to your business.

Please share what you find useful