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.

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

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Too many chefs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to feel good about how you look in photos

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Seeing the world through Snap-coloured glasses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three tips for liking the way you look in photos:

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

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

Number #1 Rule for Looking Good In Photos

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

How to properly plan a product shoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all bottles are created equally

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

Improve your visual diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faun – Pablo Picasso (1937)

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

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

A wintry honeymoon photo tour of Montreal

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

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

Baby it’s cold outside

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

Honeymoon in Montreal

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

Paradise found

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

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

Face to face

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

Make hay while the sun shines

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

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

A pot of gold at the end of every rainbow

Rethinking the holiday e-card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to think on over the holidays

What did I learn this year?

What am I grateful for?

What would I like to change?

What would I like to stay the same?

What relationships did I strengthen?

Which ones did I let go or lose touch with?

What did I create that I am proud of?

How many people did I help?

Did I love well enough?

Did I ignore opportunities for kindness?

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

What became of them?

What projects did I begin?

Which ones did I complete?

What am I excited about?

What change do I want to see in the world?

How will I make it happen?

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

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