Mix a little Wabi-sabi with your photography in 2018

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Memorial to Leonard Cohen on the doorstep of his home in Montreal days after the news of his passing

In the next few weeks many of us will have a little downtime and maybe even a chance to rest and relax (hopefully) with the people we love.  Many too will be receiving, or treating themselves to, new cameras, drones, or phones and will have a chance to start capturing images with them.

The new year, just around the corner now, often brings with it a renewed sense of purpose – or at least the desire for one. One common method for instilling a new habit or establishing a new kind of creative discipline in one’s life is to commit to a 30-day challenge of some kind. I’ve done a few of them to varying degrees of success. I did 30 days of only black and white photos on my somewhat neglected Instagram account @ursomebody back at the beginning of the year; and in past years I’ve gone completely dry for Janudreary, swearing off all alcohol (and accompanying social engagements) for that first coldest and most heartless of winter months in Montreal. Happily, I’m over that now and will be relishing my freshly brewed stock of home brew (affectionately called Habrew around here).

If your ambition is to shoot more this year, whether as a professional photographer or just someone who loves taking pictures and wants to fill out an Instagram account, my suggestion would be to consider the value of imperfection.

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We live in a highly technologically enhanced world that gets increasingly more so by the day.  We often forget that we are creatures, living on a living planet, where imperfection and unevenness is the norm and not the exception.

The Japanese have a wonderful term for it: wabi-sabi. To quote liberally from Wikipedia it is defined as follows:

“In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.[2] The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.[3] It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), suffering ( ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature ( kū).

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.” Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

My clients and friends often comment on the specific quality of the images I capture at events I cover. They say that I have a knack for capturing those key moments, that instant when a look takes over an expression and says more than words ever could. One of the ways I do that is to look for, as the late great Leonard Cohen famously remarked, “the crack in everything.”

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It is often the slightly off detail, the nose just a touch too large, the place settings just ever so askew, that convey a richer, fuller and more interesting sense of a person or a place, than the perfectly manicured and put-together image whose artifice is palpable.

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As this tumultuous year winds down (it seems it’s always been a tumultuous year) I’d like to leave you with the thought that there is much beauty and interest to be found in the imperfect, incomplete parts of the world we inhabit. As photographers, professional or passionate amateurs, I encourage you to look for it. You will see it all around you and it may lift your spirit and teach you something about art, and life, as you travel down whatever road you are on right now.

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“There’s a crack in everything…” – Leonard Cohen

What do you use the photos for?

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(Julian Haber Photography) An attendee taking a break in some temporary furniture at LACoMotion in the Los Angeles Arts District earlier this month

What do you use the photos for?

A question I get asked a lot by people I meet at conferences and events I am covering is “What are the photos for?”  Sometimes it’s phrased as “ where do the photos end up?” or “Who are you working for” but the intent is always to understand why I am attending every session, popping up at the front of the room during the keynote and constantly scanning crowds for emotions and reactions, like a security guard on high alert.

Millions of photos get taken every day only to flicker briefly across a small screen then roll down out of sight forever. What makes the images produced by an event photographer any different?

It’s a fair question and deserves a brief response. In person I invariably say I am hired by the organizer to cover the event and leave it at that, but if you are the organizer, it is worthwhile considering exactly what you intend to do with the images.

 (Julian Haber Photography)
(Julian Haber Photography) An early morning walk for health-minded attendees at a recent family medicine conference in Montreal

We need it now

These days there is a demand for very quick turnaround on photos to populate Twitter feeds, Facebook page posts and generate Instagrammable moments. This rapid turnaround on photos requires a quick selection and in-phone edit to get highlights out to a designated contact onsite who then flips the images into targeted posts. Conferences, in particular, benefit from this kind of speedy service. Generating a steady stream of content linked to the presentations and discussions taking place at the conference provides the organizer with a rich social media stream throughout the conference, and leaves behind a trail of moments that can be used, post-conference, to get a broad summary view of the entire event for those unable to attend.  This extends the reach of the event, helps promote the next one, and drives traffic to the organizer’s site while it’s happening.

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(Julian Haber Photography) An audience paying attention to the speaker with no one looking at their phone!

Always online marketing

Another related use of event and conference photography is simply to  have a bank of owned, edited, usable images crafted exclusively with your n annual gathering of family physicians or an international host of 5G engineers, your organization will be communicating with attendees – and prospective attendees – throughout the year. Email blasts, blog posts, press releases, Tweets, LinkedIn stories, etc will always need a few good photos to illustrate the content. Regardless of how meaningful or well written your piece is, without images your engagement levels will sink. Being able to draw from a well of images you’ve specifically had shot for you, at your own events, with your own needs in mind means when you are under the gun to get a press release out you have ample images to choose from to help augment your pitch.

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(Julian Haber Photography) Celebrating achievement at the Peterson Automotive Museum in LA

Selling the story

Similarly, as over-used as it has become, people respond to stories first. No one really appreciated being sold to, or marketed at – but that same prospect eagerly absorbs a story if it comes with a relevant emotional hook and appeals to something greater than a desperate plea to “Click Here” for the next dopamine hit. Photos that show a real moment shared between attendees at an event tell the story of what to expect clearly and intuitively. Going to conferences or coming out to an industry event has huge potential benefits for a person’s career, professional network and reputation. But the price tag to attend can sometimes be daunting, or more significantly, making the time in a busy schedule can be challenging. A prospective attendee has to feel that it’s going to be worth it and getting him or her to read through any length of text or preview an agenda isn’t going to cut it. They want to speed through a reel of photos from your last event, watch 20-30 seconds of a highlight reel and decide if the location and theme of your upcoming conference is worth their time.

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(Julian Haber Photography) We did it! Organizers happily enjoying well-run evening event

And that’s all just the external facing uses of event photos. Internally images are shared during employee only / team building events. They can be used for documentary purposes just to remember how the room was laid out, or the exact number and placement of screens set up. They are helpful for on boarding new staff who may suddenly find themselves responsible for wrangling crowds of several hundred or even thousands of people. And of course, they can be used in targeted sends to past speakers, sponsors and other key financial contributors to an event to extend and share the same benefits to them.

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(Julian Haber Photography)

Photography has become more important than ever in a media-saturated age, and having images that really stand out and make your event look its best are key to the success of future events. In the end, the images become a part of your brand’s story and one of several tools event organizers need to continually develop their market and maintain relevance in an increasingly crowded space.

How to thrive as a freelance photographer

I’ve been working as a freelance photographer for over fifteen years, starting from humble beginnings to having a pretty thriving practice today with a team of photographers and videographers to help me better serve the growing and changing needs of my expanding clientele.

Despite major technological changes in photography putting a camera in everyone’s hands, event photography has only grown. While there are thousands of photographers around today, there is also a huge and consistently growing need for images that tell stories, communicate brand personality and help event managers reach their audiences.

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In the past month alone I and my team have covered fashion shows, balls, multi-day conferences, trade shows, recruitment fairs, graduation ceremonies, business luncheons, unveiling ceremonies, gala events and parties, executive retreats and several fundraiser evenings.  It’s been an exhausting yet still exhilarating fall season and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.

Here are some highlight images from this hectic fall season:

Taking a moment to pause and reflect, I think one of the keys to having a successful thriving freelance photography business is keeping the needs of your clients foremost in your mind at all times.

A “client” may be one person, or a team of people, all of whom you as the event or conference photographer are there to serve. The agenda may change, schedules get moved around. You may need to deliver a quick set of select images in real-time, or show up at an ungodly 6:45 am call time for a cold walk outdoors in sub-zero November weather because your client needs you there. It’s all part of the job.

If I had to summarize the most important traits a successful freelance photographer (or any freelancer really) needs it would be the following (and only one really has to do with technical ability):

  • Adaptability: being prepared and ready to adapt to sometimes (often) very last minute needs and change requests from clients.
  • Client-first attitude: while it’s important to bring your experience to bear on events you are asked to cover (you should be the one choosing where group shots get taken, and paying attention to details that show up in an image that clients are too busy to think of), you are ultimately there to serve the client. If they need you to take a photo of every award recipient that gets up on stage, you do it.
  • Technical prowess: you need to know your gear and how to use it. Galas, conferences, meetings, trade shows – all take place in spaces where lighting is rarely natural. Understanding the best way to show off the room, the people and the space with the available light goes a long way towards delivering images your client will be thrilled to receive and happy to share.
  • Being easy to work with:  this seems like an obvious one, but remarkably, not every photographer seems to recognize where they stand in the pecking order. It’s great to be confident and proud of your work, but there is no place for divas or big egos when you are on a job. You do your work with a smile, or not at all in my opinion. No client needs to deal with you and ultimately everyone is replaceable so while getting the photos right is important, being someone people enjoy working with is even more important.

Getting the gig is of course the most important part of freelancing as a photographer, but once you have it, keeping it going relies more on your personality and how you interact with your client than anything else. Your work has to stand out, but in the end, clients may find you because of your portfolio, but they choose you because of your personality and how you work.

 

The art of event portraiture

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Event photographers are a different breed of photographer than most. Where the product photographer revels in the stillness and controlled quiet of the studio, the event photographer thrives on the noise, the throngs of people, the loud music and dazzling lights. Where the conference photographer studiously captures speakers at their podiums and attendees participating animatedly in workshop and breakout rooms, the event photographer roves, looking for that single instant when a look is shared, a comment made that elicits laughter, a dancer is lost in a moment.

From a client perspective the ideal event photographer captures the full sweep of the event – beauty shots of the spaces, sponsorship elements, ambience, crowd, and importantly intimate candid portraits of individuals.

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It is this detail – the event portrait – that truly captures client attention and makes one set of event photos stand out from another.  And more and more often, clients are making explicit requests for these kinds of shots because they have an authenticity about them that makes the event look worth attending.

While the event standards are still requirements (speakers or hosts on stage, awards handed out, posed shots holding big cheques, etc.), what clients really love seeing is non-posed images of their guests interacting with each other, having a laugh and sharing an experience.

Without event portraiture, event coverage is merely a documentation of what happened and could easily be done using a phone and an admin level junior staffer tasked with capturing a few highlights.  Such an approach would provide a set of images that document the timeline of an event – but it would lack any sense of the people in attendance and the stories they bring with them.

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Faces, expressions, the way the light falls in a certain way upon a group of people, the cut of a dress, the head tossed back in laughter – these are the details and moments that define the event as it is experienced by those who attend.

Although the stage action matters, and the sponsorship signs are important to email back to the sponsors, most event goers pay scant attention to these elements. Rather they are looking at each other – at what people are wearing, who is with who, who is in the room they want to meet (or avoid) and how well the layout and design of the space (and schedule) allows for mingling and networking.

Event portraits drive engagement and really make the images captured useful to clients.  Many times I’ve seen candid images of people I’ve noticed at events used as headshots or profile pictures – rather than a traditional headshot. The reason I think is obvious: people like the way they look when they are not paying attention to a camera and having fun with other people. Their natural expressions come out and their eyes, and smiles show real emotion and genuine interest that is hard to turn on on-demand when it’s picture day in the office.

When the event is all packed up and the glitter dust swept from the floor, what people are most likely to remember – and react to by sharing or buying a ticket for next year’s event – are photos of themselves, looking good and having a good time. How many table shots do you see people sharing on Facebook? Not too many I’d bet. But a well-shot images of someone captured in a moment when they were genuinely engaged in conversation with someone they found interesting is often a picture people like seeing of themselves.

And isn’t that the goal of having event photos in the first place? To engage your audience, and through them, reach into ever wider and expanding networks of like-minded people to grow the impact of your events? Event portraits are one way to help you achieve that.

Using Pinterest to share ideas with your photographer / client

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Secret boards are only viewed by people you invite to see the board. You can invite them to view or participate in image curation by giving them edit rights. Photographers can start boards and invite clients to contribute, or vice-versa. Clients can also share in-house with staff and management who will be involved in the upcoming shoot.

When you are meeting with a photographer to discuss an upcoming photoshoot at your office or one of your facilities, using Pinterest boards can quickly bring you and your photographer’s vision for the shoot into alignment.

When I meet with a client to discuss an in-office corporate portrait session, or plan out a day-in-the life type shoot where the aim is to build up a bank of customized (client owned) stock photos, I often find creating and sharing a “Secret Board” on Pinterest is a useful tool.

 

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Creating a Secret Board is easy, Just like creating any other Pinterest board. Just toggle the Secret switch and then invite collaborators/viewers.

From a photographer’s point of view the method helps stimulate ideas and allows you to show both your experience and skills in collaborating with your client. From a client perspective, the method can help generate concepts and be an easy way to share the vision for the shoot with everyone else in the company who needs to get on board.

Why not just use your own portfolio? Of course you can add some of your own images to the mix, but by the time you are having a client meeting, odds are your client has already viewed your portfolio or you’ve been recommended to them and they assume you have the skills to do the work you are being asked to do. Using images from your body of work that are relevant to the kind of photoshoot you are planning won’t hurt – but by sharing a “Secret Board” with your client and inviting them to collaborate on it you help ensure stronger engagement from your client and give him or her the opportunity to collaborate creatively in the planning sessions – which is actually a fun part of the project. You can also include a broad range of images – some of which may just be there as a means of showing what is possible, or to get people’s creative juices flowing.

The success of an in-office photo shoot relies in good communication.

As a photographer, your job is to walk your client through a typical shoot: How long will you need for set up? Where are the best places in the office to do the shoot? What should people wear? When will they receive their photos and what’s included in delivery? And of course, how much will it cost?

Your client, meanwhile, has the double task of meeting and coordinating with you but also communicating to the employees being photographed everything you’ve explained about the shoot and more. They will need to coordinate schedules (no small feat), and send reminder-“Tomorrow is photo day!”-type emails to employees much like the notes parents get on the eve of school photo day. (This is surprisingly important: you’d be surprised at how many professionals I’ve had to photograph in morning shifts who show up unshaven, unrested and with a look of dazed confusion claiming they forgot it was photo day).

 

 

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One very useful way for the client responsible for coordinating the shoot to communicate with the staff being photographed is to share with them a set of images setting the vision for what they are trying to achieve. If you create a board in Pinterest, then (ideally) gather up the employees for a brief meeting with the board projected on the wall you can quickly bring everyone onto the same page (literally).  Again, this becomes another opportunity for engagement and collaboration and can be done with or without the photographer being present. It can also help mitigate nervousness about the upcoming shoot and provide context for why it is important.

In portraits especially when dealing with non-professional models (ie most of us), people actually appreciate being told what to do, how to stand, where to look and what to wear. All people think in terms of narratives. If you can show your employees where the photos being taken will fit into a story – “we’re using this photo for the header image on our careers page to show people what it’s like working here”, it helps them understand their role and also alleviates their self-consciousness.

In corporate photography you have to think about what the photo will be used for, and how well it communicates the firms’ brand and culture. A conservative lawyer’s office is not likely to have their team stand out in the street in front of a graffiti covered brick wall for their team photo (which an ad agency may well consider as a great backdrop). You can be creative with the looks you try to achieve but in the end, what matters most is whether or not the photos help – or distract – from their core purpose.

Using Pinterest boards to discover, curate and share visual ideas with everyone involved in an upcoming photoshoot helps make photo day a success. The people in the photographs are likely to enjoy the process more, and the marketing or communications team is more likely to end up with images they expect and will be able to use for their intended purpose.

Give it a try. Create a free account on Pinterest and start pinning. When you’re done you can just delete the board or keep it if you think it will be helpful again. (Just be forewarned – Pinterest can be slightly addictive and you may wind up like me creating boards to match all your interests like reading, cooking, travelling, freelancing, etc, etc…)

 

 

Invest in building a company image bank

0E7A4801.jpgWhether you are redoing your website to give it a new look and feel, or launching a new one, you will need photos.  You’ll probably need lots of other things too, like video, and good strong copy, forms and quick action buttons to let your customers reach you directly or submit their briefs to you, but it is extremely unlikely you’ll even have customers if your website is not engaging and attractive enough to draw them to you in the first place.

Building up a library of your own stock images is a useful project that should be done at least once a year, if not seasonally depending on the kind of business you are in.

094A4652.jpgBooking a photographer for a day makes a lot of economic sense too. You usually benefit from a better rate than straight hourly, and you may be surprised at how much photography output one well-planned day can result in.

I receive mandates to produce in-house stock photography frequently. Sometimes from brands wishing to generate a huge volume of imagery that they can then drip out over a number of marketing campaigns, and more often directly from businesses themselves, who book me to shoot mock meetings, beauty shots of their factories or venues, product and people at work (day in the life) type photos. Once onsite I may also get asked to grab a few headshots or team photos as well. In a single day of shooting you can conceivably get your entire staff photographed, in their respective teams as well as individually, and generate a few hundred around the office or shop floor shots that can be used for any number of things beyond your own website.

094A4830.jpgSocial media channels, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook being the main ones, all have ferocious appetites for constantly refreshed content. A good photo with a caption can tell a piece of your story, one image at a time, and keep the content pipeline full.

Your company may also be featured in a trade magazine, or be asked to present at an industry event. You’ll need updated fresh images for that too.

Or you may be going through an internal transformation, with a lot of new hires who need to be added to the team section on your site.

While photo stock libraries can help in a pinch, what you wind up with is a website or other marketing product that looks a lot like everyone else’s who went to look for the same kinds of stock photos you were searching for:

  • Young people meeting and discussing something…
  • A group of professionals in a board room…
  • Corporate woman/man looking confident and happy in office setting…
  • Techie guy working on computer screen…

Whatever your particular need, I can assure you there are hundreds, if not thousands of other companies looking for more or less the same kinds of images. The result, of course, is that you end up with the same (or very similar images) and wind up with a very generic looking website that tells nothing about the uniqueness of your company.

094A4888.jpgHiring your own photographer and working with him or her to develop a creative shot list of your own people, products, office space/manufacturing environment is not only far more useful and adaptable to your needs — it is probably cheaper too.

Stock images come with costs for licensing and the better ones can be fairly restrictive.

Of course you can choose to go for free versions from sites like Unsplash or Creative Commons platforms where photographers give away some of their images in the hopes of growing their fame or getting recognized (good luck with that). But even these sites suffer from the same generic images that are not really specific to your company, your brand, your people, your story. In the end, you may have a gorgeous full screen image that says nothing at all about what your company does, makes, sells or offers and in a second your visitor is already bouncing off to look at more pretty pictures without having clicked through to you.

The fall is a very good time to start planning for your next calendar year. Look ahead and start thinking about booking a photographer for January or February (often slow business months which translates into fewer on-site work disruptions). Alternatively, mid-June or July can be good months to capture images inside and outside your office and your staff tends to look a little healthier around that time of year too.

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Building up an image library is an investment in a digital asset that all companies need – regardless of industry. I can think of very few firms who do not have need of some kind of professional photography for their websites, marketing materials, social channels and trade publications.  Make it part of the annual marketing calendar of activities and you’ll never have to scramble again for a usable headshot of your new VP who’s just been asked to speak at a conference.

How cost effective is it using an in-house “photographer”?

Anyone can take a very good photo today, whether it’s to update a headshot for a new LinkedIn profile, or capture some snaps for a company event. If you are running any kind of event for your company one of the ways planners look to contain costs or reduce the budget is to use a (usually junior) staffer to document the event rather than hire out to a professional. Depending on the size of the event and the ultimate purpose for the photos, this can certainly save costs and is worth doing, especially if your internal resource is interested in photography and really wants the added responsibility.

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But…there a few things to consider before asking your graphic artist or comms coordinator to cover an event you are hosting or a conference you’re running.

  1.  What is the opportunity cost? While at first glance it looks like a cost savings to use a resource you’ve already got on salary to do an additional job, at what cost in the use of their time and skill set does it come with? Does your content marketer (whose job it is primarily to write) or your graphic artist (whose job is to work on design, layout and production of materials for web or print) have extra time available to process the images for you? If not, what project are they taking themselves away from to manage, edit, post and deliver your images?
  2. How good are they? Notwithstanding high quality cameras on everyone’s phones, taking good, usable photos at an event requires more than just technology. Does your employee have the character, personality, vim and vigour necessary to get out there and mix it up with the attendees? Will he or she be willing to get up close for speakers and panellists, or group senior managers and executives for portraits? Interaction with guests and attendees is a critical part of getting lively, useful photos from events that will have consistent marketing value afterwards. Is your junior staffer up to the task?
  3. Do they want to do it? If they are asked to “grab some shots” while attending the event, is the request something that is viewed as an opportunity to do something fun (and show off their skills), or is it seen as yet another additional task added to their already large and growing to do list? If the latter they may not be inclined to do more than the minimum which could mean the difference between receiving 10 to 15 images (max) from an event vs 150-200 or more (depending on the length of the event) from which the person receiving the photos has to choose.

DIY photographers are a part of the industry and no professional ever got to where they are today without having started somewhere. If you have budding photographers on your team (and want to encourage their hobby which may result in them eventually leaving your employ) then there is no problem letting them loose at your next company event.

But if you are serving a specific market, and the images from your company events are part of what your clients uses to evaluate your business, think twice. All content produced today scores higher in engagement and ultimately is more effective when paired with strong visuals. Whether you sell access to events or simply want to present your company and its culture to prospective recruits, having a solid bank of quality photos to choose from for your next recruitment or ad campaign, trade show attendance, blog/Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn post, newsletter, etc will have an impact. Nothing kills a piece of good content like a dud photo or an ineffective image.

Don’t let short-sighted thinking limit your ability to deliver on what your company needs to achieve to ostensibly save a few bucks. In the end, it may wind up costing you a lot more than you anticipated.

 

 

Catch a falling leaf…

FALL2010 492I love this time of year.  Montreal is blessed with four very distinct seasons, if not of equal length (think 3 months of summer, 6 months of winter, 2 months and three weeks of fall, 1 week of spring). The weather turns cool very quickly, and overnight fall has arrived bringing with it, strangely as it heralds the advent of winter, a bustling, busy sense of growth and renewal as people go back to work after the summer holidays, and students of all ages head back to school.

Even if your work life is not that different from summer to fall, there is still a strong feeling of change in the air that has an effect on your psychology.

CK4A9716In photography, the autumn is a busy time. It is when many professional services firms do their recruitment campaigns, grooming their selected graduates for roles as accountants or lawyers, and the start of many companies year end events. As well, given the high number of universities in Montreal and related services and companies, there are many networking events, product launches and mixers aimed at helping people make new connections and build their networks.

DSCF9638.jpgAs the leaves soon begin to change, the fall foliage provides abundant and gorgeous backdrops for outdoor portrait sessions, whether you are getting engaged, starting a new job and looking for a modern non-conventional headshot, or gathering with your extended family for Thanksgiving.

Can small brands leverage influencers?

What’s really happening at influencer marketing events

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Okay let’s Boomerang this one

I was recently hired to cover a blogger / influencer meet up in the fashion and beauty market. More and more often I find myself working these kinds of try-vertising, experiential marketing influencer party gigs where a brand (or their ad or public relations firm) sets up some kind of lively cocktail or after work drinks / dinner event for a curated list of local bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers who have a large enough following in both the target city and target audience for the product to hopefully generate some online love.

Influencer marketing 101

Consumer products by and large dominate these kinds of influencer marketing events. I’ve covered lots of events for credit card companies targeting lifestyle & foodie bloggers; various alcoholic beverages; health and wellness; and fashion and beauty. With the immediacy and simplicity of images, Instagram and bloggers still tend to dominate the invitation list.

These categories all tend to have influencers who skew younger (under 30), the vast majority of whom are good looking women showcasing products either by wearing them, applying them or illustrating their use in simple how-to tutorial videos.

Often, but not always, the events are scheduled on or around bigger event weekends in Montreal, like Osheaga (in this case) or Grand Prix. The idea being that the posts, Instagram photos/stories and Snapchats bubble up into streams coalescing with the main event theme, garnering greater lift and impact on a wider audience for an instant in time, in these ephemeral social media. The invitees tend to have followings between 5000-10,000+ and are what would be qualified as micro influencers, or niche players, in line with the nature of these targeted, localized events.

In addition to events, brands increasingly crowdsource images through aggregator sites like Flashstock or Social Native, offering usually no more than $50/post for imagery that either shows the brand in some creative context, or captures a feeling, vibe or look a brand is going for with posts marked up with the designated tags and keywords provided by the brand.

As marketers, the challenge is to leverage these influencers and induce them to effectively tout their brands and products, either in exchange for paid sponsorship deals (rare unless you have a large and engaged following of 100k or more), or simply for a chance to meet other bloggers and influencers, quaff some free booze and sushi and get their ego stroke for being considered important and influential enough to be chosen and invited to one of these events.

A look behind the curtain…

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Smile for the cameras

As a documenter of these events, I’m paid to provide the behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening. Increasingly (and somewhat depressingly) my shot list includes taking pictures of people taking pictures of food, products, each other or themselves. My photos are also pumped into the hashtag cloud as I send out batches to my clients mid-way through events, and often to attendees who turn them around in no time and put them out on their streams.

A typical scene in one if these events would be a brief and lively staged moment – posing in front of a banner, for example, or using / applying the product in some way, which will be fully documented by everyone else in the room with their phones and me with my somewhat larger and bulkier pro-gear. These “insta-moments” are then immediately followed by everyone tucking their heads down, staring into their phones, tapping madly away.  The entire event is punctuated by these “real life” interactions, followed by immediate dissection, dissemination and distribution through the myriad personal channels of the influencers in the room. It gets even more exciting as they post and repost each other’s work, with the brand itself kicking in and reposting each other’s work. For anyone watching what’s happening online it looks like a wild and crazy party with good looking (mostly women) having the time of their lives. From inside those rooms, however, it’s usually just a lot of stage-managed scenes, photo set ups and heads down staring at phones.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 12.27.43 PMDespite the obvious artificiality of most of the content published as a result of these events, no body seems to mind at all. It seems that most influencers are ready and willing to use a brand’s designated hashtags and effectively create mini-ads for brands and marketers in exchange for what I can only assume is the hope that the brand will in turn push out their posts and create a kind of mutually reinforcing network. The followers of these influencers presumably don’t know or don’t care that the posts are being generated to effectively feed pseudo ads into their feeds bypassing their ad-blockers, and the content tsunami continues.

Does it pay off for Influencers?

Having a rather dismal following on my own Instagram account (@ursomebody) I asked a few invitees to a recent event for a colourful hair chalk aptly named ColorPop, about their experiences on Instagram.

Instagrammer and Spanish and art teacher, Carolina Castillo (@carolina.arts), creates collagist images on Instagram setting herself (often her feet!) up against colourful backdrops – usually painted walls and murals. The effect is often cleverly artistic and sumptuously colourful.

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“I started with a blog in Spanish called: Arteando con Carolina, www.arteandoconcarolina.com , then a latin website, Hispano Montreal, contacted me to repost my articles. Since then I have been writing and taking photos around the city. Instagram and Facebook came later and I love posting  though these media channels.”

Colourful images are part of my identity. You will always find an explosion of colours in my feed. My obsession is walls. I hunt all the walls and murals possible. I also notice that people respond more actively when I am in my photos than when I post an image without me.”

Another Instagrammer, Jacqui Pogue, a makeup artist (@jacquibeauty) leverages Instagram stories (which is a blatant grab at Snapchat’s user base) to reach her audience, sharing snippets of her day at work and play, thematically linked to makeup and beauty. She also populates her account with images of herself at events, interspersed with beauty shots of her in vacation like settings.

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Both Carolina and Jacqui said that Instagram helps them find clients, or rather, that clients find them through Instagram and then connect directly with them or access their blogs via the links in their profiles.

While it may not be possible (for most) to earn a full time living being – or trying to become – an influencer, it is certainly a good way to explore and develop one’s passion in a public-facing way that can tie you into communities of like-minded people, and bring you into contact with companies and brands producing products that you and your growing cohort of followers might like. And if you get big and influential enough, you at least get invited to a lot of parties, get wined and dine, and usually go home with a bag full of swag.

Think small, think local but dream big

It is especially hard for smaller brands and upstart creators to get their products and stories told to a wide enough audience to make an impact.  Leveraging local influencers that you find online by some simple Googling, and conducting Instagram searches around relevant keywords and hashtags to your business can be a way for smaller brands or start ups (or big companies launching new smaller brands) to find and reach an audience somewhat organically. A few hours in a rented room on Breather, a handful of influencers, some sushi and a few bottles of bubbly (+ a professional photographer of course=) are all it takes to get something started.

Capturing employee engagement in photos

0E7A1414Most companies these days are looking for ways to keep their employees happy and engaged. Summertime is a good time for hosting company bbqs, or in the case of a recent event I covered, an internal company olympics (like this one recently hosted by Brother Canada and put on with the help of a local Montreal company Événements Caméléon).

Getting employees outdoors, providing them with ways to interact and have some fun with each other in the spirit of friendly competition is a great way to bring employees together.

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Conveniently, it also makes for a wide range of fun, lighthearted photos that can be pulled into future company blog posts about company culture, team work, collaboration – and reworked to use as stock images to support future posts on a company’s various social media channels.

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Photos that show real employees having a good time with each other at a company event help communicate to potential future employees about what to expect about a company’s culture and the people who work there.

0E7A1311In just a few hours of a busy company event you can wind up with a few hundred usable images to support various communications efforts throughout the year. If you’re looking for ideas on what to do for your next company party, give the in-house olympics a shot.

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Taking pictures of strangers – to ask or not to ask?

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It’s a dog’s life

Candids, or photos taken of people who are unaware they are being photographed, often result in the most interesting and emotive images a photographer can produce. These images are valued primarily for the emotions they convey and the stories they tell. However, by definition such images are an invasion of privacy and require an intimacy with the subjects that is essentially taken without consent.  But if you first ask someone if it is okay to take a photo, the essence of the moment you are observing is fundamentally altered and many photographers would argue, gone forever. What to do?

Though there are two scenarios where candid photography is essential – event photography and street photography – the challenge of whether to ask or not is one mainly faced by street photographers.

Taking candids in event photography vs street photography

In event photography, the photographer is a professional hired by their clients who often explicitly request a selection of good candids of attendees interacting with one another. Attendees are aware that they are going to be photographed – often through the placement of a sign at the entrance to the event or through explicit consent forms signed ahead of time – so the event photographer generally faces no dilemma and in fact, is encouraged to take as many strong candids as possible as these are the kinds of photos both clients, and subjects alike prefer when reviewing the final set of deliverables post-event.

Street view of main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace

In street photography, a passtime widely enjoyed by both professionals and amateurs alike, the question of whether to ask or not to ask is more acutely relevant. With some very clear exceptions, my feeling is that the best images come from patient observation and that asking for them in advance can, and often does, ruin them. I believe if you always operate with a respect for other people and you abide by the photographer’s version of the Hippocratic oath physicians take, “to do no harm”, you are in the clear:

  • Don’t take photographs that could in any way embarrass, endanger or otherwise inflict any kind of harm on your subjects.
  • Don’t take any photographs of people in cultures where taking photographs is feared or frowned upon, for whatever reason without getting clear consent first.
  • Photographs of other people’s children is also off the list unless the parents or guardians expressly allow it – and then I make a point of sharing those images with them
  • No paparazzi photos of any kind

There is something inherently opportunistic with taking photos surreptitiously. The very word “snap-shot” implies a quick, reflexive response to something noticed that will quickly disappear. That precise combination of  composition, lighting, and subject matter that makes for a perfect photograph is often ephemeral.

This is both the thrill and the challenge of taking candid images, of course. Getting it all right in just an instant is where the skill lies. A photographer whose aims are to capture meaningful candid images must practice almost daily to develop the reflexes and familiarity with his or her equipment in order to be there when things are happening, and be able to get the shot when they do.

For the same reason, it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to ask for consent to take a photograph in the same moment that the image presents itself to your eye.

Tips for taking better street photos

Dumplings for lunch

You get the best results in street photography when you are discreet both in your manner and the gear you are using. Whether you are at home or travelling your street photography can benefit from taking an anthropological approach.  Having knowledge of an area (often gained by having walked around it extensively), understanding they kinds of people who frequent it, what they are doing there and how the lighting and ambience of the place will change over the course of a day and into night, all contribute towards your ability to capture stunning street portraits and capture powerful images that tell stories and convey a sense of place.

Embed yourself in an a “target rich” environment until you effectively meld into the background, then wait before taking any photographs. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed the practice of street photography will develop a sense of where good photos are likely to come from. Even though the moments that occur are randomly generated by the multifactorial interactions of strangers, time, the position of the sun in the sky and countless other factors, a photographer with a good eye will sense a place rich in potential and spend more time there.

There is no question, from an aesthetic point of view, that candid images are generally more appealing and more potent than posed images of the same subjects, or images in which the subjects know they are being observed.

For a good time...
For a good time…

The act of observing something inherently changes that which is being observed. This is one of the mind-bending results of a thought experiment known as  Schrödinger’s cat by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in trying to describe the way two different quantum states can co-exist, or be in “superposition” until observed in which instant the superposition collapses into one or another of possible definite states.

While I don’t suggest taking photographs of two strangers kissing on a park bench in Paris is the equivalent of conducting one’s own quantum physics experiment, it is true that the kiss would be changed or possibly not transpire at all if the photographer gently nudged into their embrace and asked if it would be okay to snap a shot of them.

Ultimately, as is the case I hope every time you press the button on a camera, use your judgement. Take only photos you would be proud to share and show the world, and that enhance or elevate your street photography subjects, or that expose a story or place that brings a higher level of awareness and sensitivity to a wider audience for a subject you actually care about and are trying to make a difference in. In the end, there are no strangers in photography. Under the gaze of your lens, everyone is a somebody if you accord each individual with the respect – and compassion – each and every one of us deserves.

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Here’s looking at you kid

Candid photography lies at the very heart of why people love photographs in the first place. By all means you should pursue it as an art, a hobby or a professional practice. I believe the best photos are the ones where the photographer has gained an implicit trust from his or her subjects. This is gained through the sheer force of personality, the proof of the work you have already undertaken, and the evidence you demonstrate of having integrity whenever and whereever you and your camera are.

A sunrise photoshoot with Wellness à la Maud

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Waking up before the sun rises is usually worth a photographer’s effort because of the special quality of morning light. If you’re not an early riser naturally (which I am not) it can also be painful, but I have Maud Urbas, founder of Wellness à la Maud, to thank for getting me to Mount Royal early one morning last week to help get her image library started for the new freelance business she is launching. Maud is a Kripalu Yoga Teacher (RYT) with a background in Psychology and Communications, passionate about health and wellness and her goal is “to empower people to reach their full potential through yoga, meditation, nutrition, and creative expression”. Sounds pretty worthwhile to me and we both agreed that a sunrise shoot on Mt. Royal would be a perfect way to showcase her style and provide us with some useful images to populate her website and social media channels (must haves for any freelancer launching any kind business today).

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When we got there we were surprised to find the lookout was actually rather busy. I had expected us to have the place to ourselves but not only were there a few healthy looking couples and other photographers out there before us, eagerly awaiting the sun to burn off the early morning mists, but also a few groups of teenagers who looked like they’d spent the night there partying.

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Happily, aside from a few photobombs, we found a space to shoot Maud demonstrating various poses with natural backdrops of Montreal and the sun slowly emerging through the early morning fog.

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We then took a little walk around, up and down some stairs, encountering more people up for morning runs and another photographer, who smiled and told us that the light was really beautiful just a little further along the trail we were walking on. And he was right of course.

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We were after natural looking settings to where Maud could demonstrate simple poses that communicate Maud’s belief that yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, experience, and mobility.

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Here are a few more shots from our morning session. If you’re interested in trying out yoga with Maud, you can reach her on Instagram @wellnessalamaud, Facebook, or by email directly.

 

 

Why do videographers charge more than photographers?

CK4A3860In the events and conference business, organizers are often looking for both photographic and video coverage. Both are best provided by a professional, despite the ubiquity of a device in everyone’s pockets capable of shooting stills and capturing video. However, pricing for professional event photography and video coverage can sometimes result in sticker-shock, particularly for new event and conference managers or coordinators who’ve never hired a pro before. As these roles are often staffed by younger,  newer entrants to the workforce who’ve grown up with Instagram, and now Snapchat, they may wonder what goes into the price of photography and videography (and why does it cost so much???) As a long-time professional photographer and someone often subcontracting professional videographers, I’d like to offer some insights into what goes into the pricing of each and what makes video more expensive to produce than photography.

Why hire pros?

First of all, why hire professionals at all when everyone on staff has a phone that can shoot fantastic photos in varying light conditions and capture great video clips? The main reason is simply that only someone hired specifically to capture images and moments at an event will have the focus and stamina needed to ensure complete coverage.  Any event or conference organizer putting on a big successful event has more than enough to do during the event to keep them busy without adding the extra task of “getting a few snaps from the sessions”. While there is a demand for immediate image delivery in many scenarios to feed Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds, these can be furnished on the fly by the pros working for you at higher quality than what can be captured with a phone by a distracted junior staffer who also has seven other jobs to do at the same time.

Why not get one person to shoot both?

0E7A7269Another question that sometimes pops up is why a photographer can’t also capture “a few video clips” along the way. It is a fair question as the pro-grade camera equipment professional photographers use are capable of shooting 4k video and are often the same base models used by videographers. But the tasks are ultimately very different and while it’s possible to squeeze a two-for-one deal out of some photographers, the end results are generally of lower quality and usually will still require the hiring or fees related to video editing in order to have a usable video.  This kind of contract would work best if the purpose of the video is simply to showcase some highlights of the event and the sound track will be added later in the form of some kind of sourced audio file or narrative overall, as the sound capture is rarely clean enough for video without an external microphone (which a photographer is not going to have mounted on his or her rig).

Breaking down the price differential between a photographer and videographer

Both types of professionals have a few things in common: expensive equipment and image processing software, and a significant investment in time and passion for their craft to gain enough experience to know how to use it all for producing marketable images and video that clients need for their marketing and sponsorship programs.

Obviously, a photographer has just one dimension – the image – that requires attention. While this can entail using a variety of different lenses and devices (ranging from the Ricoh Theta S for shooting 360 virtual reality images, to drones or time lapses), in the end, a professional event photographer is focussed on finding and creating images that tell the story of an event or part of an event, through effective use of composition, lighting, and skillful post-production work on images.

A videographer, by contrast, has the same task but has also to pay attention to sound capture, which comes both from their own work as well as integrating feeds captured by AV teams who are shooting all sessions and main stage events.

Furthermore, while both photographers and videographers will spend similar amounts of time at the event providing coverage, the post-production requirements of video is far greater than what is needed to produce quality photos.

It’s all about editing

As a photographer, I’ll typically shoot about 100 images per hour, and spend roughly one hour on editing and post-production for every three to four hours spent shooting.  A videographer may spend an equal, if not greater amount of time on editing and producing a video as he or she spends shooting because their task includes not just processing their own work, but slicing and dicing up individual clips into a coherent narrative, titling, often incorporating work from other videographers, logos and special effects, as well as ensuring a consistent audio quality, sourcing appropriate music tracks and dealing with many more client comments and change requests than a photographer ever has to address.

Extroverts vs introverts

Photographers and videographers are also often quite different in personality and style. While a good event photographer will be able to mingle fluidly with guests, interacting often and engaging people in ways that elicit happy, natural expressions, a videographer is more likely to stay a little further back, capturing events without him or herself being a part of them. Of course on screen interviews require an engagement with subjects that is often handled by the videographer, but generally, a good photographer is more extroverted than his or her equally talented videographer whose job also includes long hours staring at footage on screen weaving moments together into a compelling narrative structure.

Technical integration

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Both types of professionals are storytellers and should have a demonstrable ability to see and capture key elements of any event, but videographers will also have to deal with more technical details than photographers usually have to contend with. A videographer will generate much larger files (which requires longer machine processing time, storage and delivery capabilities), have to produce and organized different media sourced from multiple cameras and audio feeds, and source and integrate additional materials like stock footage, clips, audio files and special effects.

Is it worth it?

CK4A4588A final question to consider is whether the investment in photographic coverage and videography is worth the not insignificant expense.  There is no one answer to this question as it depends on the marketing aims on ongoing publications needs of the organizer, but here are just a few uses of event photos and videos that clients typically have need for:

  • Content for social media platforms: one event can generate a large volume of content that can be snipped and parsed into multiple posts both during and after an event extending the marketing impact of the event.
  • Content for annual reports, newsletters, blogs and other in-house publications: there is a constant and ever growing need for content regardless of the type of business you are in. A full set of images or video clips from an event or conference will produce usable portraits, group shots, wide-angled overviews and other graphic elements that designers will use as backdrops, splash pages, details etc. Having a well-organized, trove of owner, rights-cleared images and videos that can be delved into at any time by internal or external designers or content marketers creates huge long-term value for an organization.
  • Thank you” packages for sponsors and speakers: many large events fund all or some of their costs through sponsored elements featured in the event. A significant part of the value created from these sponsorships hails from the images generated that can afterwards be shared and distributed with sponsors who will then disseminate them through their own content marketing channels.

So if you’re next job is to “find me someone to cover our event” or you’ve just realized that “Holy s*&! we still need a photographer and videographer for our event next week!” keep these points in mind:

  1. Do I have enough budget to hire a professional photographer and videographer? If not consider just a photographer as the results have a longer shelf life than video and the cost of acquisition will be lower.
  2. Do I know what the images and videos are going to be used for? Providing a sense of where the final images and videos go (and ideally matched with examples from previous events) ensures the people you contract with are aligned with your needs and focused on delivering exactly what you require.
  3. If I am asking for a video do I know how long I want it, what it should include and the kinds of interviews I want conducted? An effective video today is best kept short but structured in such a way to make a point and tell a story. That is easier said than done and often requires at least some kind of script or blocked out sense of what the final video should look like. If you have never done one before ask your videographer for ideas and suggestions.

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Hiring freelanced outsourced labour is increasingly how businesses work in the gig economy. Photography and videography are almost exclusively provided for by independent freelance professionals, working alone or in teams, and their services are usually contracted through a direct interaction between themselves and the client. While platforms exist for sourcing photographers and videographers, you are always better off just Googling “event or conference photographer/videographer ______CITY WHERE YOUR EVENT IS BEING HELD_____” and dealing with them directly. You’ll get better service, and usually better pricing.  The best approach that yields not just a positive result for the first contract but often leads to developing a lasting business relationship is to be informed about what you need, be honest about how much budget you have and be clear about what you expect to get out of the arrangement.

 

What photo gear to bring on your travels

What gear to bring with you when you travel

Glad I brought my spray paint with me

If you enjoy photographing the sights you see and the moments you experience while travelling, you have probably done some research into what gear to bring along with you on your summer vacation. As airlines get increasingly cheap with the amount of space they allocate to “cattle class” economy seats – the ones most people use – each piece of additional gear means added weight, and size, to your bag. With space at a premium, how do you choose the optimal travel kit to ensure you get the full enjoyment of your hard-earned vacation and bring home your trophy images that let you relive the experience over and over again when you are back home?

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Carrousel near The London Eye

Now if you are one of those people for whom a phone is going to be all you need, feel free to stop reading here. While the phone is often a great addition to the kit (and some new types of gear like the DJI Osmo+ Sports Kit, DJI Mavic Pro or the Ricoh Theta S require a phone interface), it doesn’t match up to any kind of pro lens. I know many would disagree, but the real photographers out there know exactly what I mean.

51Q9fK+1utL._SS40_Whether you are a professional photographer or an enthusiastic beginner, or just someone for whom photography is a part of the travel experience, your first and most essential piece of kit has to be the primary camera you are most likely to use and carry around with you. For me it has to be the Fujifilm X100T. (You may prefer the newer version, The Fuji XT2 but since I haven’t used it yet I can’t recommend it though I suspect it is as good or better than the one I use).

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This versatile and compact little beauty of a camera is my favourite travel camera. It hangs around your neck discreetly, looking as good in its case as out, and takes beautiful snapshots wherever you are. Great in low light, and with a few little tweaks you can make to adjust the shooting style to match your own, nothing compares to it in its price range. I would highly recommend it, or one of the similar cameras Fuji puts out for someone looking for a professional quality camera at a reasonable price that they can use in a wide range of settings. Whether you are visiting bars, taking family portraits or artfully composed images of the girl/boy you are trying hard to impress, in cathedrals, on beaches, traversing jungles or all of the above, this camera does the trick and if you only bring one piece of gear this should be it.

For a bit of extra weight it is worth considering a small GorillaPod tripod (useful for attaching camera to trees or rocks of you want to be in any of your own photos).

If you love drone photography (which once you’ve tried it is hard not to) than nothing beats the compact, travel-friendly DJI Mavic Pro. It is the smallest most portable professional drone on the market today and performs admirably in a wide variety of conditions. While I use it sparingly, I love being able to capture broad vistas, shorelines and other natural landscapes with its high definition 4k camera. Just the sheer thrill of flying it is worth bringing it onboard.

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View of Central Park in Songdo, South Korea (June 2017)

As I like to have options when I travel, I am willing to put up with the extra hassle of committing one bag of carry-on purely to camera equipment. Here’s what mine looks like for a two week tour of three European countries (the DJO Osmo+ kit not shown).

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Inside my Thinktank Airport International V2.0 I have:

1 Canon 24-105mm L series lens

1 Canon 16-35mm L series lens

1 Canon Mark IV body

1 DJI Mavic Pro drone with 3 additional batteries

1 Fujifilm X100T

3 extra Canon batteries

1 pair of Bushnells binoculars

1 full outdoor kit for the DJI Osmo+ (tripod, extension, car and bike attachment) *DJI Osmo+ packed separately

Chargers for DJI Mavic Pro, Osmo+ and Canon batteries

1 sling style BlackRapid strap for camera

1 Canon 600EX-RT flash head (batteries inside)

1 Ricoh Theta S camera with a GorillaPod tripod

2 Brinno Timelapse cameras (with one exterior weather proof casing)

This is excessive I know but as I plan to attend a wedding in London, tour Hamburg and then spend a week touring around Portugal with my family and some friends I wanted to have the fullest possible range of options for shooting the many varied settings I will find myself in, both urban and rural. With this kit I can shoot handheld video, panoramic photos, time-lapse videos, aerial photography and videos, landscapes, portraits and family sized groups of people. I’ll be equipped for virtually any type of lighting, and can be guaranteed to bring home a set of images and video clips that will satisfy my appetite for complete coverage.

When traveling by air, remember to keep all your batteries (at 50% charge or less) inside your carry-on as you are not allowed to pack batteries in your checked luggage. Given the way most checked luggage gets treated I keep all my gear with me at all times. The Thinktank Airport International V2.0 (though pricey) has a truly solid, well-made bag that theoretically fits inside most carry-on spaces. On smaller regional jets (the ones you are most likely to find yourself on if you are flying between cities in North America), as the overhead bins are designed for fitting a child’s lunch pail and perhaps a rolled up newspaper, you will have trouble with this bag. However, I always manage to bring it in and get it under the seat in front of me, even though a portion does overlap into your seat mate’s leg room. With a little understanding and friendly banter this can usually be smoothed over.  Do not, under any circumstances, allow the airline to gate-check your bag which is airline speak for handing over your precious cargo to unhappy workers who treat passenger luggage with the contempt and disdain of cruel prison wardens for prisoners. I suffered through one agonizing flight from Washington to Montreal watching my bag full of $20k worth of equipment be first picked up and tossed down the slide from the bridge to the ground, then get slammed onto a baggage rack, tottering on the edge, half falling off, as the cart was manhandled out of my site to the baggage loading area. Were it not for the sturdiness of the Thinktank Airport V2.0 construction I am sure my gear would have suffered. Nonetheless, I vowed to never let that happen again.

What to shoot?

Girl with flowers
Girl with flowers

Everyone has their own fun choosing what to focus on when travelling, so what follows is nothing more than a view into my own idiosyncratic way of interpreting my travels through my lens. Aside from the obligatory (and still treasured) shots of family and friends, I love shooting the kinds of things you see but quickly stop thinking about when travelling for a few days in a foreign country:

  • shots in the airport/train station on arrival/departure
  • street signs
  • graffiti
  • book covers in stores
  • postcards / souvenirs
  • art and displays in museums
  • market stalls of produce
  • street posters for upcoming shows
  • bus, train or plane ticket stubs
  • the different kinds of foliage you find in gardens
  • doors, store fronts, building façades
  • products on display in grocery stores
  • and random, quick snapshots of parks, skylines, views and anything else that tells the story of the place you are in without worrying all that much about compositions, lighting or even focus sometimes (a blurry shot through a train window moving at high speed sometimes is exactly the right expression of that moment in time).

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When I get back home I love looking through the images and putting together a mosaic of my time away.

I also love shooting a video (with my phone), of me speeding through all the images on my Fuji X100T to give a high speed tour of my travels. Stay tuned for June (coming soon)

My particular gear and shooting preferences aside, in the end, the best camera for travelling is the one you have with you at the time and the best things to shoot are what you see that strikes you as new, interesting, unusual or representative of the place/season/mood/experience you are in at the moment you experience it. Rather than make a production out of hauling out your big gear, use the simplest, most versatile camera you can reach readily when something – anything – twigs your curiosity. Whether that’s just your phone, or something as lightweight but also a full-fledged camera, having a camera in your hand when you see something that excites you matters more than having the absolute perfect camera and lens for the shot that’s packed away in your bag.  When you travel, you are ultimately a visitor – a tourist. You can dress and act however you want to to fit in, but ultimately, your time is limited in your destination of choice so if you care about taking home visual souvenirs, do yourself a favour and keep your camera around your neck or in your pocket, with a spare, fully charged battery and a card with ample space to hold your images in RAW or the highest JPEG you can shoot in so that you have the option to do prints or make a photobook when you get home and don’t have to deal with the frustration of having a great shot in resolution too low to do anything with but post online,

Happy travels!

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.

Continue reading “How photographers benefit from the gig economy”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.