The Human Search Engine

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At a recent conference I was covering, during a break between sessions one of the organizers stood up and introduced The Human Search Engine to the audience: an opportunity for anyone in attendance to take the mic and give a one minute pitch on what they are working on and who they are looking to connect with at the conference.  It struck me as a convenient way to add value to attendees and create another opportunity for network connections to happen which is always one of the main goals of conference organizers.

The process is simple, an could easily be introduced in any sized conference on any topic. After a brief introduction explaining the concept, guests are offered a chance to take to the podium and tell the audience what they are looking for.

hse-2.jpgWithin moments a lineup is likely to form and then attendees can follow up with each other on networking breaks to develop the connection.

Most people who go to conferences are there primarily for the contacts and connections they make, and secondarily to absorb the content, stay current in their industry and learn a thing or two.

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The Human Search Engine increases connections between attendees and provides a good break in programming, changing up the format and bringing out a higher level of engagement. Give it a thought if you’re planning out your next conference.

What’s in a “day rate”?

0E7A6414.jpgConference planners (and the event companies that often interface for them and manage the local suppliers) often book photo/video teams well in advance of their conference, and usually long before the agenda for the event is finalized.

The upside of this practice for a client is that elimination of last minute panic scrambling to hire a reliable team during a busy conference season (ie autumn) when there are many other events running concurrently. For the photographer/videographer it’s a “bird in the hand”, a blocked booked date in the calendar which means paid time – always something comforting in the gig economy.

There is a downside, however, which I’ve encountered on numerous occasions, which affects both the contracting entity (whether that’s the direct client or an agency acting on their behalf) and the supplier, and it affects both the quality of the bid received/submitted, and the price.

“…as the day is long”

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I’ll start with an example. When an organizer is trying to lock down costs for an event taking place many months in the future (or sometimes just a few weeks ahead), the aim is to get all supplier costs in on fixed price bids.  In order to do so the RFP, or call for estimates usually asks for a day rate on the job.

A day rate is a fixed price, and means the client doesn’t have to worry too much about providing details on the exact schedule for the day. The problem arises when the concept of a “day” gets stretched to include every waking hour from the 7am early-bird registration/buffet breakfast to the 11pm last call after the bar closes at the end of the opening night reception.

When a supplier offers their day rate, they are usually calculating a day to mean 8hrs, give or take 45 mins to an hour. It anticipates a bit of lag time between programs, a meal when photos of open mouthed chewers are eschewed, and maybe the opening round of a cocktail event. Something like 8am to 5pm, or 9 am to 6pm. What people working regular jobs would consider a normal working day.

Alas, for freelance photographers/videographers, the idea of a normal working day doesn’t seem to factor into many client’s thinking.  And should you be so unwise as to have submitted a bid based on an average length day rate, you may find yourself working the equivalent of two days in one, or effectively getting paid 50% of your normal rate, because the goal posts shifted after you submitted and won the bid.

Being the lowest cost bidder will often win you work, but it doesn’t help your career and ultimately encourages the unfair practice of being asked to bid on work for which the scope remains undefined.

From a client perspective, it may seem like a win to lock in a supplier on a price based on terms that subsequently get redefined to the client’s advantage, but the result is likely a souring of the relationship and “you get what you pay for” attitude on site from a supplier who realizes they’ve been conned.

Build flexibility into the bid

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Most clients are not out to screw their suppliers, but this can be an unintended consequence of asking for fixed price contracts without provided full clarity on the scope of work being requested. One practice that I use that helps is to add a clear note in estimates that the day rate is based on an 8-hour day, and hours in excess of that are billed at a standard hourly rate. This keeps the bid submission price reasonable and averts sticker shock, and if, once the agenda gets finalized it is clear that the day is being stretched to include evening events that expand the hours in the day from 8 to 12, you have a fair basis for negotiating a price that better matches the work actually performed vs. what was anticipated when details were scant.

“I want it now”: leveraging real time photo delivery for event marketing

 

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The Big Picture

Everything happens faster now.

Event photography has always been a bit like the fast food business with a need to deliver fresh photos quickly, but today it is more like Netflix where clients expect to have a steady stream of images on demand, delivered almost as fast as you can take them.

One reason for this, of course, is to meet the expectations of event attendees who will be snapping and posting photos of the event on their personal social media feeds. Event managers want to tap into that same excitement but keep eyes trained on their social channels and leverage the content and media generated to support the event. This is usually managed by assigning and communicating to all an event specific #hashtag which helps pull in photos and videos posted by everyone who uses it, not just the paid professionals hired to cover the event.

Another reason clients like to have a hot dish of freshly baked images delivered on site is to take advantage of venues that offer big screen experiences, like we recently experienced at Taverne 1909 here in Montreal, for the after party of the Shriner’s Hospital Wonder Race event.

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Life’s more fun in real time

Not only does the instant show provide an added element of fun for attendees (who are all waiting to catch a glimpse of themselves in the shots selected) but it is also fun for the event photographer who usually sends off his or her images to a client’s email without ever really seeing how people use or react to the images that have been generated, curated and crafted into a storyline.

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I want to be a star on the big screen

As a professional event shooter today, if you’re not using tools that allow you to turn around a set of images onsite, quickly, you are becoming obsolete. And for clients, if you’re not taking advantage of the extra oomph you can pack into your events by sharing images (and brief video reels or event highlights for a grand finale) you are missing out on an additional touch point with your guests and a chance to add yet one more layer of connectivity between you and them — which today is what’s needed to capture loyalty and keep your event top of mind for attendees, who have a plethora of events, conferences and meetings to choose from.

And now for something completely different…

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In case you missed my announcements here, here, or elsewhere on the internet, in between working for clients, working on getting clients, and working on keeping the clients I have happy to continue working with me, I’ve written and just released a book for freelancers who want to learn how to get gigs and keep on getting them. It’s called Gigonomics: A Field Guide for Freelancers in the Gig Economy and you can pick up a copy here on Amazon.

The gig economy is a hot topic these days and much of what is being said and written about it is negative and casts gig workers as people who’d rather be doing something else and making more money. That couldn’t be further from the truth – or at least my truth – and I’ve written about how freelancing can actually be a joyful, fulfilling, purposeful career choice. If you’re at all interested please check out my book. You can download a free sample section on my book site, www.gigonomicsbook.com and/or read a preview on the Kindle version.  Reviews welcome!

How much coverage do you need?

094A2476.jpgAs a conference and event photographer I am frequently asked to provide estimates for covering day-long meetings or multi-day conferences. It is not uncommon to be asked to provide a detail costing out for services even before the official agenda for the conference is finalized. The challenge here as the photographer – and I would argue for the client as well – is understanding how much coverage is enough and pricing accordingly.

There are some rare clients for whom budget is no object and they would rather have the peace of mind of knowing the photographer they hire will be there to cover whatever is happening, wherever, whenever and they don’t want to waste time parsing out an agenda to reduce the hours (and the bill). They would rather pay full pop and get more than they need and sort it out afterwards. These are great clients to have.

094A2395.jpgBut the vast majority of clients are not so loose with their purse strings and usually are operating on behalf of their client, who has hired them to organize the event. These kinds of clients may still ask for the complete coverage but they are much more sensitive to cost and may wind up tossing the baby with the bathwater if they receive a bid that seems high, without evaluating if what they had asked for a quote on was completely necessary.

For example, I am often asked to arrive onsite up to an hour to an hour and a half before anything actually begins. This is almost always to mitigate a client’s anxiety or worry about not having a photographer be there when they really need them and may speak more to the reliability of some freelancers than to the anxieties of the client, but the net result is either a lot of unpaid time for a photographer, or an increase in cost to a client paying for something they don’t really need. Every professional photographer or videographer I’ve worked with or hired has been able to size up a space, the pacing of an event and digest the order of action for even multi-day, multi-location events in a very short time. It does not usually require more than 15-20 minutes as it is usually very obvious to a professional what is important, and what isn’t.

094A2382.jpgAnother way clients ask for more than they need is if the event they are hosting involves a lot of repeat action in the same setup, with the same lighting, and most if not all the same people, perhaps moving from room to room for workshops or discussions in slightly different formations. Depending on the final use for these images, it may not be necessary to pay for a full day of coverage if you can capture the main look and feel of the event in fewer hours.

On the flipside, it is unreasonable to ask for a photographer or videographer to show up for a gig that won’t last more than an hour, or an hour and half and expect to pay the same hourly rate offered on longer jobs. I know of few (to no) people working regular jobs who would even consider going in to work if their boss said they only need to be there from 2:30-4 so will only get an hour and half’s worth of pay that day. Gig workers (and photographers and videographers have been working in the gig economy since long before it was even called that) also need to make a living wage and can’t afford to take small jobs without applying a minimum rate to cover their time.  In this case the client should be prepared to pay a fee that is higher than a job priced on an hourly basis would be if longer hours were offered for the service provider.

In the end, it makes sense both from a photographer’s point of view and a client’s perspective to consider what the desired end result is from the photos (or videos) produced and structure the work accordingly. Complete coverage, half days, partial or minimum fees are all based on finding that balance between meeting a client’s needs and making the work worth the time and effort a professional will provide. A little time upfront spent thinking through the event and even discussing it with the prospective supplier can save both time and money – and ensure that the client receives a fair and accurate quote they can build out their plan on.

My drone dumped me

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I lost my drone this weekend.

I should have known something was off when my puppy ran off into the dark the night before. A foreshadowing I ignored to my despair the next morning. I was lucky with the puppy. He must have sensed the desperation in my voice when I pleaded with him to come, after chasing him out the door with nothing but my underwear on waving my phone around in the air frantically trying to lure him back to me. He disappeared into the woods, popped back out again down the road, then to my horror slipped through the gate leading out to the darkened country road down which, if he had continued, he would surely have gotten lost, eaten by a bear or hit by a car. He turned and trotted over to me, and I managed to grab him by the collar and lead him back to safety.

Unfortunately, my Mavic Pro drone with whom I’ve shared so many adventures, was not so caring. It just decided, all of a sudden, it was over and left.

It happened so suddenly, I’m still in shock. One minute it was rising up over the Porsche I was photographing, trying to capture that beautiful machine in an as beautiful landscape, the next it slowly began drifting off centre.

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There were warning signs, (aren’t there always?) but I ignored them, as I had so many times before with no consequence. Alas, not this time. Those strong winds really were strong winds. I just I didn’t feel them from where I stood, alone, in that empty parking lot.

When I realized I was losing it, I began trying to nudge it back home. I didn’t panic immediately, but as I watched the distance grow between us, my attempts to bring it back grew more frantic. I began jamming that little joystick as hard as I could to the return position, but it only seemed to drive it further and further away.

That’s when the low battery warning went off. 30%….29%…..Then I really did panic. I tried the Return to Home button which has saved me more than once, but my max height was foolishly left too low and I was high up on a mountain. There were too many obstacles in the way. Try as I might, it just wasn’t turning around.

And the distance grew. Fast. From 20 metres to 200 before I knew it. 300. 500. 800. Once it breached 1000 I was in the grip of fear.

The owner of the Porsche realized I was in distress and suggested we pull up the map and drive to where the drone was heading. Although I knew in my heart it was already too late (battery at 10% and falling) I was desperate and willing to cling to any shred of hope.

We hopped in and the Porsche sprung into action. But the drone was still flying straight out and away….it was over the lake now. Battery dangerously low. 7%…5%…alarm bells ringing, the Porsche racing, the wind buffeting my ears as I hung out the window desperately trying to get a signal.

Then it happened. Aircraft disconnected. The screen went black. It was over. And there I was, in the middle of my life, suddenly droneless.

I put on a brave face for my companion. I pretended to laugh it off. “It was bound to happen,” I said. Things had been a little rocky between us and we’d just narrowly avoided this very thing happening a week earlier in the Saguenay.

But I knew it wasn’t true. Inside I was still standing there at the top of the mountain, screaming into the invisible winds that had just torn my lovely little drone out of my hands and flung it into the cold, dark lake.

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We’d been together for just under two years. Not long, but long enough for the love to grow, while still feeling new and exciting. I took it with me whenever and wherever I travelled – racing over beaches in the Dominican Republic, swirling around the terra cotta roofs and quaint plazas in Lisbon, or simply sailing through the sky around Gatineau at fall shooting the vast and beautiful landscape as it blazes with autumn leaves.

I used to feel a trembly thrill just taking it out of its snug little carrying case and gingerly unfolding its wings. I’d removed the plastic cover that protected its delicate little gimble, set it down carefully on the ground and turn it on. As it whirred into life, I’d feel a surge in my heart.

We didn’t always get along. Just last weekend we had a falling out of sorts as it passed through the magnetic field over an aluminum smelter and skidded out of control until finally we patched things up and it came back for a safe landing. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe I should have been more sensitive. Paid more attention to those screen warnings to calibrate and update the database. Was I too selfish?

All I wanted was for us to be together, flying through the sky, taking in wide, stunning views of the land below. I never meant for it to get hurt. I thought I was doing the right thing, showing it the world, providing it with ample battery power. I even bought it a high speed 32gb micro card so that we could record more of our times together without having to face that dreaded “SD Card Full” warning (like that time in Lunenberg when it was all the way out over the bay ready for a well planned flight home. Sigh.)

It’s still hard to believe. Just a few short weeks ago we were so happy together, chasing after kayakers at Trout Point Lodge. On one sunset flight, mosquitoes swarming around my head, it came down and hovered there just out of reach, blowing all the annoying little bugs away to keep me safe. What we had was real.

But now, nothing. Just a remote controller with nothing to connect with. I still have the batteries. I’ve left them fully charged, in the vain, impossible hope that somehow, someway, it will come back to me.

I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s over just yet.

 

The Un-Golf Tournament

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Fundraising teams face a continuous battle against apathy. Each year they are faced with the challenge of raising millions of dollars using the same tried and true methods, often from the same individuals and organizations. Fashion shows, art auctions, casino nights, gala soirées, silent auctions and the perennial golf tournament are the mainstay of fundraising organizations everywhere.  They are in competition with one another from other teams using the same tactics, and playing from the same playbook (sometimes even the same person who’s moved from one team to another), and having photographed all of these kinds of events, I can see how much of a challenge it is to keep it fun and to differentiate yourself from the others.

I was recently covering a hospital foundation golf tournament fundraiser and tasked with, amongst other things, capturing the fearsome foursome shots.  Foursome shots are to golf tournaments what table shots are to big gala evenings. A necessary, but rather dull, posed photograph documenting attendance. They are often top of a client’s shot list, as they serve the useful function of identifying who actually showed up for the event and they can be given as gifts to attendees by way of onsite prints, or post-event photo with a thank you note from the organizers.

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However, like their table shot cousins, having a group of four stand, clubs crossed, facing the camera for a standard shot gets a little boring for both guests (and photographers!). As most of the attendees are on every fundraiser’s list, they may attend two or three of these tournaments a year and I suspect they have a collection of these nearly identical shots.  From a branding point of view, it doesn’t strike me as a good way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

This year, in collaboration with my client, we decided to shake things up a little and play around with the idea of the foursome shot. Instead of just posing each one in the same way, we asked them to do something creative (and offered a prize for the formation judged the most creative). Not only did the teams embrace the idea, we ended up with some fun photos that are unlike any other from any other golf tournament they’ve ever attended.

Why not try out some of these poses (or better yet, come up with new ones) at your next golf tournament?

Video killed the presenter star

(If the embed video doesn’t work which often happens go here: https://youtu.be/Iwuy4hHO3YQ)

Hey presenters – stop using video to open for you!

A lot of presenters now use videos as a kind of mental cocaine to stimulate their audience and fire up their emotions. The room darkens, a presenter pops out on stage and mumbles a kind of apologetic introduction then scurries to the side to let the video do the heavy lifting. The intention – I presume – is to focus the audience on to the topic at hand, using the emotive force of moving images and stock music tracks to engage them.  As the photographer observing that same crowd, I think exactly the opposite actually happens.

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Conference planners – please spare us from death by panel discussion

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Here it comes. You down the last cold bit of coffee left in your cup, wipe the crumbs from the slightly stale danish off your tiny little foldable keyboard and look up to the big screen to see what room you’re headed off to for the first breakout session. You have your choice of a, b or c. Each one of them promises another form of minor torture under the guise of getting more content crammed into your head. It’s the panel discussion part of the agenda and while conference organizers around the world have planned and thought this conversation through carefully, perhaps it’s time to try something else.

I get why panel discussions happen and why they are a great idea in theory. As an organizer you get to include a lot more speaker names on the roster and can cover a much wider range of material, which theoretically adds value to attendees and provides your conference material with some depth in specific focus areas.

Why wouldn’t you want more content from more speakers who are experts in their field and ready to have a big, deep, fact-filled conversation in front of you with other experts just like them. How could you not walk away from a session like that feeling energized and more informed than when you walked in?

Here’s how.

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Time to catch up on some email

The problem begins with the format. Everyone sitting up there at what is effectively the head table, is almost always an invited guest. They are usually sitting with their peers and colleagues, or people whom they’d like to network with. Despite having their own insights and individual voices, they will invariably all agree with one another because no one wants to make anyone else look like they said something they shouldn’t have said, or worse, said something that could be seen as disagreeable.

So everyone on the panel will share the same point of view, adding their own personal nuance to it so that by the time the audience has heard from each one they will effectively have heard the same thing told in three or four or five different ways.

The dynamic is one directional as well. Attendees, who may be brimming with ideas they want to share, are basically back at school. And since they can’t really participate usually until the very end, they do what a lot of bored students do these days – and look down at their phones, scribble in their notebooks or work on their laptops while the panel talks to itself up front. And that’s when the room is moderately full providing some modicum of camouflage for the attendees.

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Just one more game and then I’ll start paying attention…

In the worst case scenario, the room has marginally more seated attendees than there are panellists, and the conference organizer is sweating trying to draw in more bodies to fulfill their promise to the speakers to provide an audience.

Then there is the room itself. Small, windowless, either too hot or too cold, and usually poorly lit so the speakers are sitting up front under burning pot lights or slightly in shadow. It can be actually visually painful to watch and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrutinized the faces of zoned out looking panellists not currently speaking who seem to have completely forgotten that they are sitting in front of a roomful of people who’ve come to watch them and listen to what they have to say.

Ultimately, it just seems like most people are bored. Not because they all aren’t smart and dynamic individuals, with curiosity and interest and the energy and drive to go to and participate in conferences – but because the format of the panel discussion seems to preclude their involvement entirely. Instead of feeling like a conversation you’re a part of, it feels like you’re watching a tv show you can’t change the channel on.

Of course there are exceptions. I’ve seen great panel discussions and heard brilliant people speaking from their big white armchairs on stages around the world. But the vast majority of panel discussions I’ve witnessed, and been hired to photograph and make look highly engaging, just don’t seem to ever get much lift off.

I think it’s time for conference organizers to re-think the panel discussion parts of their agendas. There must be other ways to achieve the desired result of delivering a lot of high value content to a wide mix of professionals without boring them to death in dimly lit rooms.

Why not try a walking tour of the area, or pull everyone around in a circle or a few circles providing content moderators leading conversations on specific topics? Or give attendees some tools and toys to play with and get them doing something physical related to the topics, led by some energetic professional meeting moderators. Maybe the answer is simply to not try to cram so much into the time, but leave a bit more open, loose space with some inspired, thought leaders capable of leading people through some potent ideas related to the conference theme that can be developed over the two or three days the conference group is together.

Or put up a series of thought provoking posters, images, videos or virtual reality stories at stations and make the break out session like a visit to a room in an art gallery with each station providing some insight into the relevant theme of the conference. It would be a little more work to organize, of course, but if even one series of panel discussions could be replaced by a more active, more engaging, more dynamic activity that attendees really could participate in, I think the overall experience would be improved for everyone involved.

At the very least, the photos would be more fun to look at afterwards.

What event organizers should think about when they think about lighting

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One big window is all it takes to light up these smiles

Most event planners do not put lighting very high on their priority list, if at all, but it can make a difference in how the photos and videos from their event will look. While not every event can afford a lighting designer, just considering simple things like whether the room you’ve selected has natural light or not will make a difference in the kind of imagery your event will yield.

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Last minute bookings – par for the course in the gig economy

So what is life like as a freelance event photographer in Montreal? Well, after surviving February (the most feared month of the year for any freelancer), March has kicked off with a roar. It’s never easy to predict workflow or plan for last minute assignments, but sometimes they can happen fast and furious and the job of a freelancer is to answer the call.

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Hiring a local photographer from abroad

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I often receive solicitations by email to work for foreign clients coming into town for an event they are hosting. The type of events range from a few hours of a global sales meeting to full multi-day conferences, and every kind of networking / cocktail / gala / awards reception you can think of in between. I’ve noticed that many of these out-of-country clients work with very specific mandates and shot lists, sensibly, since they are typically the same kind of organizations that mount events worldwide and need to ensure a consistent quality across their global portfolio of events.

Here are some tips to make the process smoother and easier for event planners looking for creative contacts in a city they are unfamiliar with:

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Local art for your Airbnb

 

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As the gig economy continues to colonize an increasing share of the real economy, many more Airbnb hosts are popping up in cities around the world. Many people, myself included, have mixed feelings about Airbnb and similar types of business models. While it creates the opportunity for some people to increase their revenue streams and even make a living off of hosting, it has a social cost that is invariably borne by those less-well off people who still need affordable places to live. Sure they too can benefit from becoming hosts, but not everyone has the flexibility and means to share their space with travellers. And while city regulations and condo building by-laws can also control the spread of room shares, in the end it is a trend that is likely here to stay. So how can the wealth it generates for some help create opportunities for others?

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It’s been 10 years since you last updated your headshot. Here’s what’s changed.

 

I see a lot of really bad headshots used in corporate presentations, awards ceremonies and on team pages on websites. They are bad in different ways, and range from embarrassing to unintentionally humourous. Some of them are just clearly cropped from a photo the subject submitted themselves, probably in a mad rush to get something in place for an impending deadline.  Some are selfies, some are vacation photos (you may look great in a bathing suit but that may not be your best office look) and some just an obviously out of date image.

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#365days2018 – what’s your creative project this year?

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Snow Woman – Jan 5, 2018 #365days2018

Apparently, yesterday was the most depressing day of the year (at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere).  Now that that’s done, we can move on and get on with 2018. In a photographer’s world, January is a bit of a funny month. The search for a wedding photographer begins in earnest for 2018 weddings, and event managers start thinking about booking for their upcoming events.  A lot of people also may be hitting that 10 year expiration on their headshots and might be thinking it’s time for a new one. (If that’s you btw, you’re in luck – click here to send an email to get early bird notifications for when the Feb 2018 flash sale super-discounted $45/head headshots is taking place. This sale only happens once a year so don’t miss out!).

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“The whole world is a cactus”

“Le monde entier est un cactus
Il est impossible de s’assoir
Dans la vie, il y a qu’des cactus
Moi je me pique de le savoir
Aïe aïe aïe, ouille, aïe aïe aïe” – Jacques Dutronc, Les Cactus (1967)

Roughly translated the above passage from Jacques Dutronc’s 1967 hit, “Les Cactus” reads:

The whole world is a cactus

It’s impossible to sit down

In life, there are cacti

I prick myself to find out”

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Mix a little Wabi-sabi with your photography in 2018

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

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

Continue reading “Mix a little Wabi-sabi with your photography in 2018”