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I work regularly as a conference, event, corporate, wedding and portrait photographer in Montreal. You can see more of my work at www.julianhaberphotography.com and my wedding portfolio at: www.jhpweddings.com
If you’ve managed to not see a #mannequinchallenge yet, you are either one of those people who actively shun social media and modern technology in general, or you’ve just been rescued from a few months at sea in which case, welcome back.
Just to bring you up to speed, a #mannequinchallenge is a video wherein everyone involved remains perfectly still, preferably in an active or dynamic pose, while the videographer wanders through, all done to Rae Sremmond’s now ubiquitous song “Black Beatles” (and if that pairing wasn’t a deliberate act of marketing genius Rae is a very lucky man).
It is the modern day version of the tableau vivant(which means literally, living pictures and was a genre that peaked in popularity between 1830 and 1920. It brought together stage art and theatrical presentations with more static visual art forms like painting and later photography. Though they were popular in the Victorian age appearing as part of Nativity plays, they later took on more risqué nude and semi-nude poses plastiques, enthusiastically explored in the early 19th century in the Ziegfield Follies revues.
Now we have the #mannequinchallenge which combines the living tableau with cell phones and suddenly we’re seeing them popping up everywhere, from marketing conferences like the one I captured at iMedia’s Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona (above) recently, to more exotic locations like the FARC’s #mannequinchallenge reported here.
Like the photobooth craze that swept through events and quickly became a staple at any large gathering of people from parties and weddings, to trade show booths and conference receptions, the mannequin challenge is at the convergence of trends that brings a whole new way of merging photography, videography, selfies and a passion for social sharing into events.
There are lots of ways brands and corporations can work this trend into their events and promos to help further their marketing goals, or just give their employees something to have fun with and share.
It doesn’t require much in the way of tech. You can get it done on a phone (and as a professional photographer I hate saying that). The biggest challenge you’ll face is keeping everyone still. A practice run wouldn’t hurt and reminding people to not move their eyes or drop their arms is a good idea. It also helps to close off the room and not let anyone in once it’s begun if you are doing this in a large conference ballroom or office space.
Yesterday I went out for an engagement shoot with a couple who’d bought the package I’d donated for a charity I support (Room to Read). Our loose plan was to work the late afternoon sun to capture images of the two of them in natural settings around Montreal where we could still find some abundant fall foliage.
Our first stop was a little park next to the St. Lawrence river where surfers love to go as there is a standing wave just off the shore they can play in. This was our warmup area. It’s hard to start shooting genuine, intimate photos of a couple – even one you know well – right off the bat. Everyone – including the photographer – needs some time to warm up, figure out the best angles and understand the dynamics of the subjects. For every really great shot it takes a lot of almost-there, not-quite-nailing-it shots to reach.
As you progress through the shoot, the winners tend to flow out in little streams, interspersed with lead-up shots that build up into the winning sequences.
On engagement shoots I really like to move around, and go different places with the couple. It helps keep the vibe fun and friendly, and provides a lot of opportunity both for some planned set-up shots where the background is selected by design, as well as impromptu quick sessions when the light is just perfect and we discover a spot together that can work.
While some shooters may like to plan these shoots down to every last detail, I’ve never liked working that way and have always found that leaving some things up to chance makes for better photos. Part of what makes photographing an engagement shoot different from other kinds of portrait photography is the chemistry between the two people in front of the lens. These few hours we spend together are emblematic of their future together as a couple. At least that is what I am trying to capture with the images I take, as if putting together in real time a kind of collage of memories that will continue to ripen into the future.
My goals for the shoot are to capture real moments of happiness, intimacy, and genuine feeling for each other – without making that obvious or creating artificial moments that tend to make the grooms feel really uncomfortable and awkward especially.
Like all photography involving regular people – there is a necessary element of creativity, collaboration and serendipity involved in getting the best shots.
Good lighting helps and having an idea of where you’ll go for the shoot of course saves time and is an efficient use of the time you spend together, but nothing you do in advance can really create the images that in the end will define the shoot. Together you create the conditions for the photos to happen, and then, with luck and some well-time laughter, you find the gems.
Their story is just beginning. The photos from their engagement shoot should reflect that, and feel like a warm introduction to a story still unfolding.
Were it not for the last minute, I’d be a lot poorer. As the owner/operator of a busy photo and video business I receive a lot of last minute requests from clients who just realized that they need someone to cover their event—tomorrow.
Some decisions do take longer than others and sometimes an event doesn’t get confirmed with a lot of advance notice, but I am always a little bit surprised at how often I get asked to cover something with very short notice.
If you are in the business of planning, or helping to coordinate, an event, here’s how to get the most value out of your last minute requests and make sure you still get the best service you can get.
1) Have a budget or know the market value you are asking for very well – with the clock running down you don’t have time for any protracted negotiations. Either state your budget up front with your request, or have it ready to vet against the price quoted to make sure you are within an acceptable range so you can book immediately.
2) Don’t waste time with a shot list – it is almost always unnecessary if you are dealing with a professional as the shots you’ll spend time spelling out are the ones your shooter is going to go after anyway. All events, regardless of the specifics, have a certain similarity and flow to them and the key moments, important people, and physical characteristics of the room and set up are going to be captured.
3) Respond quickly! While you may end up reaching out to a number of potential suppliers, please take a moment to notify the ones you don’t choose that the gig is off. A lot of professionals who live on gigs will hold a date for you if you’ve asked them to. Just because there is short notice time, doesn’t mean someone else might not come up with an even shorter notice – if you’re not going to use the supplier you’ve contacted on this occasion, let them know so they can jump on the next opportunity.
It’s sooner than you think….no, I’m not talking about Armageddon/the US Presidential Election. I’m talking about the big end of the year holiday party, which happens as early as mid-November for some companies and into the early new year for others.
The venue rental is done, photobooth and event photographer booked, the menu planned, the two-drink-tickets-bar sorted out and the party is set.
Having covered countless of these kinds of events, I have some advice for the party planners to help them get the most from their event. While the idea behind the holiday office party is to give your employees a break and reward them for the hard work they do on behalf of your company throughout the year, it is also an opportunity for creating some useful photographic and video content for your social media throughout the year.
Here are a few ideas to leverage the event that may help generate reusable content for your content marketing needs:
One client of mine stages an annual video-contest in which different departments compete for the year’s funniest video. Curate and then share video snippets to your company Linkedin page to convey a sense of your company culture to prospective employees.
Write a blog post about your company winners and promote across your social media shining a light on their accomplishments and giving your employees some deserved praise they can retweet and repost to their personal networks.
Thank your event suppliers (the event company, caterer, dj, photographer, etc.)on your social media platforms using their handles and company names; they will eagerly re-share the acknowledgement garnering more traffic for your site.
Use the event to announce the grand total of any fundraising you’ve done throughout the year and invite the charity to send a representative to accept a big cheque or make a small speech — and share the news.
While you don’t want to crowd the agenda with too many (or too long) speeches, a few thoughtful words from the president or CEO is usually appreciated: preload a few of the best quotes into your company’s Twitter feed and schedule them for timed release throughout the event.
While the annual office party is traditionally a time for employees to mingle with management and socialize with each other, in our digital age where no good Instagrammable moment goes unpublished, it is also another opportunity to create content. Your in-house marketing and comms team will thank you for it, and you get to start out the new year with some useful content ready to go.
As a professional photographer based in Montreal, there are surprisingly few retail options for buying camera equipment and studio accessories. Over the many years that I’ve lived and worked in Montreal, I have shopped at all of them and I’d like to share my thoughts on the experience, with the hope of seeing some improvement overall.
Now of course there are online options but the biggest and best of these are US-based which means as Canadians we get hit by both a our weaker currency and duties. The gold standard for online (and actually retail too if you ever get the chance to visit the super store in New York City) has to be B&H Photo Video a long time favourite of mine. I have ordered countless items over the years through their online store and on the one occasion where I experienced an issue I was ultimately offered a full refund, though not without a bit of wrangling initially. However, notwithstanding that one blemish, the customer service offered by both the online and telephone support staff is unparalleled.
Another online (US-based) site is Adorama.com. And there are Canadian sites like Vistek.ca, but I haven’t used either.
I have, however, spent time in the three main camera stores in Montreal where most professionals shop (all of which also offer online stores though I have not used any). These are:
Camtec Photo (26 Rue Notre-Dame Est, Montréal, QC H2Y 1B9)
Photoservice (222 Rue Notre-Dame O, Montréal, QC H2Y 1T3)
Lozeau (6229 Rue St-Hubert, Montréal, QC H2S 2L9)
Since there is such a low-level of competition, pricing is roughly equivalent in all three stores. Availability of product varies, as the stores are not all of equivalent size, but I’ve never personally had any issues with finding what I was looking for.The only real point of differentiation that matters to me is customer service, and here there is a clear loser, with two others close but ultimately one winner.
I’ll start with the winner: Camtec. I’ve shopped at Camtec several times over the years and have always found the service top-notch. I am usually greeted when I walk in, and though the store is very small, it allows for more conversation and whoever is behind the counter is always knowledgeable about the products and friendly, and fluent in both English and French. While it’s location in Old Montreal means parking can sometimes be a hassle, I’ve usually found street parking nearby with little effort.
Just down the road on Notre Dame there is Photoservice, and it is my second choice. I have had mixed experiences there though largely positive. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable there as well, but my one main point of contention is the checkout process which is just not streamlined enough. If you are behind a few people in line you could easily wait 10 or 15 minutes because of the antiquated manner with which reciepts are generated. I don’t know exactly why but there are always multiple copies printed and the products often need to be looked up by product code number manually. And while the service person is usually pleasant and polite, standing around waiting for the process to hurry up (while worrying about the metre running down where the car is parked) is annoying and really needs improvement.
And then there is Lozeau. By far the largest (in terms of square footage and product offering), Lozeau should by all counts be the best. But it is a very distant third for me and a store I personally won’t ever shop in again because their customer service is not just bad, it is offensive.
Here’s why: as a professionals who has to spend a lot of money on expensive equipment to do my job, I expect that when I return to a store where I’ve shopped many times over the years, I should be treated with a certain amount of respect. Because I try out and purchase new items frequently, I sometimes encounter products that don’t live up to expectations (see my earlier post on the dud performance of a recent instant print camera I tried out). This of course means that the product in question needs to be returned.
And here is where Lozeau fails miserably. Because rather than treat a product return as another touch point with a valuable customer and a chance to turn something negative into a positive, store policy seems to be to treat the returning customer as a kind of scammer who is returning the item to somehow rip off the store.
On my most recent-and final-visit to the store (which is an hours drive for anyone living in the West of Montreal), I had to speak with four different individuals, explaining my story to each one over again, to return a non-performing product and this was AFTER I’d taken the time to pre-clear the return with a manager over the phone because I was anticipating exactly this kind of insecure, lowest-common denominator service. Not only did I have to fight for a refund for a product that failed utterly to perform as advertised, but I was forced to do so without any evidence that anyone at the store really cared at all.
More than one staff member tried to make the particularly galling point that “Final Sale” was printed on my receipt next to items distinctly non-perishable, such as camera bodies. While I understand that you may not want to accept returns of film that can be damaged by exposure to heat, it’s not clear to me (and was never explained when I asked) why a camera purchased less than a week earlier could be considered a “perishable item”. But having printed “Final sale” on my bill, the store acted as if those magic wordsrecused them of any further responsibility.
It is just not acceptable to sell crappy products, then tell your customers that they’re stuck with them and treat them like juvenile delinquents when they ask for you to honour your side of the bargain as a retailer serving professionals.
In a world of abundant choice enabled by online retailers, customer service is perhaps the single most important aspect every business should aim to compete on. Sadly, my experience at Lozeau was neither the first nor all that rare, given the amount of feedback I’ve had from other photographers who’ve had their own versions of the customer showdown at the store.
So if you’re shopping for camera gear in Montreal, I recommend Camtec as your first stop and Photoservice as a good second choice and somewhere with a wider variety of products than you’ll find at Camtec. And if you still choose Lozeau, well, brush up on your latin: Caveat emptor!
How an event photographer can help optimize your event sponsorship investment.
I cover a lot of large conferences and trade shows that are largely funded by sponsors. Sponsors pay to have their company logo, brand message and business development professionals gain access to the targeted audience attending the event. Sponsorships take the form of brief presentations, banners, swag bag stuffing, mentions on the big screen in the pre-roll before the conference day kicks off, as well as areas like lounges, or massage stops, or juice bars. Sponsors pay for the wi-fi access, and brand the room keys at the hotel where the event is taking place. They cover virtually every meal, reception and sometimes outings for guests. It is not unusual for a sponsor to spend upwards of $50k on sponsorships for an event that may last at the most a few days.
A few busy days where attendees are bombarded with information, exposed to branding and logos from hundreds of companies, gather fistfuls of business cards and all while being slightly jet-lagged, hungover and still trying to keep up on their work email.
As an event sponsor, are you getting the most for your money?
As an event photographer I am used to covering sponsored events and of course take the time to gather a set of images that are for the sponsor. These include the room set up with and without people (if they have sponsored a reception, or a dinner), all branded elements (takeaways, gifts for attendees, bags, sponsored areas like lounges, or interactive stations), as well as the speakers and company representatives if the sponsorship includes a segment of air time at the event.
But I think a creative sponsor could get more leverage by actually sponsoring the event photographer directly. Event organizers could work with the photographer to identify areas where direct sponsorships make sense and either split the fee, or leverage the sponsor to cover the photographer’s fees, saving costs for the organizer.
There are obvious sponsorship opportunities like photo booths, but I would recommend thinking “out of the photobooth” box to the more wide-reaching impact an event photographer can have.
Consider: the event photographer is going to be seen by virtually every guest, and interact with almost every one of them at one point or another during a multi-day event. What other sponsorship opportunity can guarantee face time in front of every single guest?
But who pays attention to the photographer, you might say. He or she is just there to document the event and be as unobtrusive as possible.
If you believe that your event photographer should remain in the background, like a liveried wait staff in a posh restaurant, then yes, perhaps you are better off taking a more conventional approach to event sponsorship.
But if you understand that part of what a good event photographer does is engage and interact with people – as a function of doing the job of getting fun and interesting photos of your event – than you may also recognize that adding a layer of sponsorship to that activity can possibly further your sponsorship goals for the event. And it could be far less expensive than a big branding opportunity but reach as much, if not more, of the same target audience.
A few ideas come to mind that wouldn’t cost more than a thousand dollars (which is small change for event sponsorship budgets):
Why not consider asking your event photographer to wear a sponsored blazer or jacket?
Or design a sticker or logo to attach to the photographer’s flash body which is always visible?
Offer branded instant prints to your guests.
Plunk a portable instant printer down in the centre of the conference room tables, “Sponsored by YOUR BRAND” and let guests have fun snapping and printing their own photos with their phones
Branding at events is always a bit of a guessing game and it’s hard to know if the money is having the desired impact or if conference warriors suffer the same kind of banner blindness to event sponsors that most of us do when seeing an ad on our phones. Thinking creatively about new ways to leverage your event sponsorship budget is at least worth considering, given the amount of money at stake and the opportunity for increasing your impact.
I recently ran a team for a big event at Montreal’s New City Gas, hosted by the UAE. The event was extremely well-attended with over 1000 guests shuttled in and passing through the space over the course of a few hours. One of the photographic services we provided, in addition to droneography, a greenscreen photobooth, a team of event photographers and videographers, was a dedicated instant prints photographer. I armed him with both a Polaroid Z2300W which prints on stickers and what the manufacturer calls ZINK Paper (zero ink) as the client had specifically asked we used Polaroids. As a back-up, I also bought the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo (Classic). It was an unintentional a/b test and rarely have the results been more divergent.
To put it mildly, the Polaroid was a complete dud. It’s proprietary battery couldn’t hold a charge long enough to complete one full set of prints (30). It is flimsy and cheaply made and looks like a toy camera. Sadly, even a toy camera would have brought more enjoyment than this and it is a far, far cry from what a Polaroid once was. Loading the paper is easy, but getting the starter sheet (a blue paper that must first eject before the camera can produce prints) required multiple attempts before it would work, wasting time and further depleting the already miserably weak battery. When finally you do manage to load ten sheets into the paper chamber be careful not to brush against the little latch in the back or the door will pop open and out will tumble your sheets. But even if it works, the prints (full frame and not the matted white traditional Polaroid look you would expect) are low quality, grainy and with colours so muted and garbled they come out looking like they were already old and abused, and not in a cool retro way, just in a “ew, yucky” way.
The camera is actually a hybrid digital camera, meaning it has the ability to shoot and save digital jpeg files to an SD card, like a regular digital point and shoot would, and print images you select to print. While on the surface that seems like a nice option to have, the competing demands on the miserly battery exceed any utility gained by the feature.
If one could apply a negative star rating to a product, this one merits a below zero score. Do not waste your money or time fiddling with this poorly conceived, poorly constructed and sorry excuse for a camera from what was once one of photography’s iconic brands.
Happily, my “back-up” performed beautifully as I’ve grown to appreciate with the few, but growing stable of Fujifilm cameras I am acquiring. The prints are higher quality than the Polaroids (and actually look like Polaroids!), and the battery after one charge and 90 prints is still powering this handy little fun camera. Remarkably, it also sells for about $50CAD less than the Polaroid Z2300W and though its prints are pricier ($19.99 for 20 vs $19.99 for 30 ZINK Paper prints), they feel and look better and I suspect will last much longer too though we’ll have to wait and see for that.
If you’re looking at adding instant prints into your events, or even just to bring along with you on your next family vacation, if you can stomach the ongoing print costs pick up one of these Fujifilms. You won’t be disappointed.
(N.B. In case any of you were wondering if this is a paid post, it isn’t. Everything I write here is written by me, from my own unbiased and unsponsored point of view. I am not shilling for Fuji or going out of my way to trash Polaroid. I am sharing my opinion as a professional photographer about two products I’ve used and seen the results from.)
Let’s talk about the wedding industry. It’s rife with rip off pricing and bad ideas designed to extract as much money as possible from naive, often first-time buyers for things like venue rentals, florists, photo and video suppliers, caterers, graphic designers, and professional organizers/wedding planners to list just the obvious ones.Making a detailed plan for the day – your day – can become an obsession for some and paying attention to every detail from the room design to the angle the napkins are placed at can take what can be an emotionally charged day and turn it into a kind of perfect storm of stress. And that’s before getting that really awkward speech from the brother of a friend (don’t be this guy), or your weird out of towner uncle who’s tanked before the ceremony begins.
It’s enough to make a sane person wonder why they bother with it in the first place. Why not just run off and elope somewhere? Or just cohabitate without ever bothering with some kind of ceremony to mark the occasion of your love for each other?
Because despite the statistics on divorce rates your single friends are always handy with, and the surprising cost of flower arrangements, couples still want to call their loves ones to them and make a public announcement that they have found someone – and been found by someone – that they love and they want you to know it.
When that happens, and it does with remarkable regularity every spring, summer, fall and winter – the wedding industry descends, heart-handled knives drawn. Suddenly what is really simply about two people publicly sharing the end of the first chapter of a love story, becomes a production. You’re meeting with suppliers, comparing your choices to the countless others presented to you in look books and across zillions of Pinterest boards, and it’s all beginning to add up. By the time the date comes around, you’re easily spending $10k for an average wedding and far, far more for anything with the whiff of luxury to it. Excess, by definition, knows no bounds, but even the modest wedding can quickly blow its budget just for what seems necessary like a nice venue, good food, ample alcohol and decorations.
It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. And while there is a cost of having any kind of party, a wedding party winds up costing more because it’s not just any old party. As a photographer who’s photographed dozens of weddings, I’ve run through the gamut of weddings, from tiny little closed ceremonies in restaurants to full blown, multi-venue affairs with hundreds of guests.What I’ve noticed, from a photographic point of view, is that what really matters – where I’ve done my best work and felt the strongest connection to the couple I’m working for – is not the room, and not the décor, and not the bar, and not the food, and not the kind of ceremony they choose, and not anything really that causes so much stress when you begin planning for your wedding. What really makes a difference is if the couple seem to really love each other, and are marrying each other because there is no one else they’d rather be with than that one right before them. That’s what lights up a face and floods a room with something that everyone there can sense and feel.
You can choose to have any kind of wedding you want that you can afford. Fly all your guests to a private island in Santorini (including your photographer;) or set up a few chairs around an old willow tree by a river. Do it your way, and spend as much or as little as you want to spend, but however you do it, remember that what matters is not how the day will unfold, but why you are doing it in the first place.
Remember the Polaroid camera? Remember how exciting it was to stand there and watch that little print slide out? It came out dark and you shook it until the image slowly appeared, like a ghost taking form. While the age of film cameras has passed, the thrill of the instant print has never really gone out of style. And now it’s back – in the form of instant cameras like the Polaroid Z2300 shown here, or one of Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo.
As someone who makes a living on event photography, I need to keep on top of the latest trends and this one is on the rise. A few years ago I set up a photobooth business (www.lepartybooth.com) seeing the rise in popularity of having a playful place for (mostly drunk) adults to wear silly hats, fake moustaches and pirate eye patches at parties. Regardless of age, there was (and still is) an excitement that comes from making outrageous poses in ridiculous costumes then eagerly picking up your print.
I’m now seeing the same rise in interest in having instant film cameras at events. Think of it as the photobooth gone mobile. And it fits the bill for what I call “fast food photography” which a lot of event photography is. It also offers a new area for forward thinking clients to extend the reach of their branding and sponsorship opportunities.
Few people meet as many event-goers as the hired event photographer. It is just part of the job to roam, interact and engage with as many guests as possible in order to really capture the vibe and emotion of the evening. Doing so with a standard digital camera set-up ensures the client gets a great range of images covering their whole event, but the guests are left hanging having to wait until the images get posted somewhere which may not always happen right away. Putting an instant print into their hands is one way of satisfying the instant gratification itch that our modern digital culture has fomented, and if you tack on a bit of branding to the print you’ve quite literally, left an impression with the attendee.
I was recently at a conference focussed on how big brands are using digital marketing to help grow and engage their target markets, and unsurprisingly, photography plays a huge role in helping marketers achieve their goals.
One of the presenters threw up a slide showing a wall of beautiful, on-brand photographs, each one like a unique page in a big story book. The images ran off the huge screen behind the presenter and you don’t need a degree in marketing to see the immediate value these kinds of high-quality images have for a variety of digital campaigns.
The presenter explained how they had gone about creating such an impressive bank of images to help them fill the huge need for continual and creative content that is the new normal in advertising today.
Did they send out a detailed list of requirements to their agency? Did they pore through hundreds of thousands of images on stock photography sites searching for ones that had just the right look and feel? Did they (shudder) run a crowdsourcing campaign directed at photo enthusiasts and amateurs, relying on their user-generated content (UGC) to give them what they needed?
Nope. They did something far simpler, and far more effective (both in terms of time and significantly, cost). They hired a professional, whom they gave a creative brief to, then let loose.
What they needed were a lot of images, rights-free, fast that they could use to fill the image needs of their planned campaigns. The company sells healthy quick meals under one brand in its portfolio of brands. Their analytics on previous campaigns had shown a strong reaction to fresh, authentic photography, so they hired a photographer to do a shoot for them. Importantly, while the creative brief specified the key brand characteristics and personality that the photographs needed to convey, their was no detailed shot list included. Instead, the brand astutely relied on the creativity and artistry of the photographer to come up with the kinds of images they needed.
The result? They got 4000 images, shot over a 3-day span, and delivered with no strings attached. The cost per image was less than half they would have paid had they gone a more traditional route hiring through an agency, or by trying to develop a complicated set of requirements to coordinate and set up a big photoshoot.
This type of contract is trending in popularity and I think it is to the mutual advantage of photographers and their client brands. I’ve always been a proponent of bringing the photographer in on the development of creative, as opposed to having the hired hand execute on someone else’s vision. While it is unquestionably the role of a creative director to make decisions about how a brand message is articulated, creative workers do their best work when they are allowed to engage their creativity independently. It seems obvious that if you are hiring a creative person for their creativity you allow that person to actually use and engage their creativity. Yet surprisingly, there are still many contractual arrangements that view photography as a commodity and consequently diminish the role of the creative photographer.
Not all products or brands lend themselves as readily to this more creative approach to generating images, but I suspect many more could than do, and an increasing number of them will into the future.
The driver is, as ever, simply that this is what the market wants and expects. People are increasingly sensitive to what they perceive as advertising. Ads, in and of themselves, are often viewed negatively and most people would not admit to liking and ad or taking action based on an ad they saw if you asked them – regardless of whether the data says otherwise.
Photography that looks too much like it is controlled by a brand has less of an impact than a more natural, authentic image. This is one of the reason why UGC campaigns are popular and there are growing numbers of UGC platforms developing that allow brands to tap into this pool of content providers.
There is a risk/reward tradeoff of working with UGC vs. professionally generated content that brands need to consider. While crowdsourcing has the allure of being a much cheaper alternative than hiring someone professionally, by definition the quality will vary and the results may not all fit the needs of the campaign. There is a place for both kinds of content sourcing strategies, but in the case of getting high-quality, brand-aware images that meet an immediate need, nothing beats working directly with a professional photographer.
Consumers see hundreds of photographs daily streaming across multiple social platforms, sent in messaging apps between friends, and on the websites they visit.They are sophisticated viewers and most can tell within milliseconds if an image looks real, or if it has been faked somehow. Authenticity and wholesomeness don’t just apply to ingredients ona Chipotle menu, they are what people are searching for.In an age characterized by easy connectivity – making a real connection matters more than ever.
Photographs crafted and designed by real photographers who take their work seriously – professionals in other words – can help brands achieve this. And they can do it on brand, on time, and on budget.
Your current employees are your company’s best brand ambassadors. Central to effective talent acquisition and recruitment today is having an effective employee referral program plugged into your hiring practices. LinkedIn is probably the most important tool in this arsenal and it has a wealth of content available for companies looking to fire up their recruitment drives and engage employees. And yet, how many of your current employees don’t have an updated LinkedIn profile?
Alas, gone are the days when it was enough to just pay your employees a decent salary and they’d be grateful to have a job. As an employer you’re now also on the hook for making your workplace a fun place to be, that respects and provides for work life balance, as well as all kinds of other perks to keep your employees engaged in a world of distraction. Sorry, but free coffee isn’t going to cut it in a world where talent is always on the move.
Social media (where half your workforce right now is “investing” a bit of company time), is unavoidably where you have to be if you want to attract, retain and engage the best talent out there for your workforce.
An updated profile picture is a necessary tool in today’s workforce. It’s a simple thing to get wrong and if you or your staff still isn’t using one, you’re losing up to 40% of your views and you look a bit creepy.
Giving your employees the tools and assets to up their own game on social media sites is a value-add benefit that will pay back dividends to the company, especially if it’s tied to a smart in-house referral program. Remember, there’s a lot more “me” in social media than you’d think.
Plan a morning or half session where you gather your social media specialists (either in-house or bringing in a consultant) and offer a short presentation on how to leverage LinkedIn for career development and to promote your own company.
A headshot session in this context is about as cost-effective as it gets. That doesn’t mean you cheap out and do it in-house. Hire a pro, but leverage the volume to get a low cost/head or negotiate a fixed rate. It’s way cheaper to get all your staff done at once than to bring in a corporate photographer on an urgent basis when you realize your executive that’s just been nominated for an industry award is still using his vacation pic from Cancun in his profile.
Perhaps the most defining characteristic of a photograph has always been how it is framed. Not the actual frame you hang it on (though that too plays a role) but exactly what the photographer chose to capture with his or her camera. Framing a shot, its composition, has always been the most important part of what makes a photograph work, or not.
The technological constraint of a lens, until very recently, required photographers to make choices.
I, photographer, am somewhere where something is happening. I can look around and see everything that’s going on, but when I put the camera to my eye, I am immediately (and quite literally) putting on blinders. I am looking through a kind of keyhole, and almost like a symphony conductor calling out the lead violinist during a performance, am visually selecting the element(s) of the scene that I wish to focus on and draw attention to.
The resulting image, stilled into permanence, has a beginning, middle and end, just like a story. It has edges. You can’t see what’s happening outside the frame, and often that which is not shown reveals something as well and can add poignancy and another layer of meaning to the image.
All of that, of course, is completely upended (if a sphere can be said to have an up or a down) when you use a 360 camera like the Ricoh Theta S, for example as I have begun to do at the events I cover. Suddenly, the image the photographer has chosen to take, is no longer fully within his or her control. Once it’s created, anyone who chooses to view it, can also chose to spin it around, and transform the view from whatever was in the photographer’s mind, to their own.
While these devices are still in their early days, and their use still largely treated as a novelty I wonder where it will take us. As brand marketers and other message-makers are pondering – how do you tell a story when you no longer can restrict the narration to a controlled point of view?
How does a photographer focus on a visual element that resonates with some emotional quality or narrative thrust when the image is no longer bound by a frame?
Virtual reality is another way forward on photography’s perpetual technological evolution and expansion. Photography has always been driven by technological change and will continue to be. With each new development, photography has expanded its reach and moved deeper and deeper into a wider audience of both consumers and practitioners.
The distance between photographer and subject is foreshortening. We are all both photographer and subjects now. And with 360 images, the compression is complete, as in every 360 taken (by hand), there appears not just the photographer’s subjects but the photographer him or herself.
I am certain, as with every techno-driven change in photo equipment, we are on the cusp of a whole new way of experiencing photography, and of course even more so with video. I don’t think VR will replace traditional photography, just as cell phones haven’t killed the DSLR, or the DSLR the SLR for that matter, to wax technogeekily for a moment).
We’re just now entering a new and thrilling phase where professional photographers can now use multiple points of view to document and create a record of what has happened. The images produced – with or without edges – can convey an even deeper and more resonant sense of the experience. And that’s very exciting.
I’ve recently set up a series of business development meetings with potential clients whom I expected to be regular users of photographers for their events. I was surprised to learn that some of them had never hired a photographer to cover an event. This made me stop and think about the value a photographer brings to event organizers. Here are three reasons why hiring a photographer for your event might be a good idea, especially if you or your organization has never hired one before:
Documentation: One aspect of what I do when covering an event is capture the room set-up, before guests arrive. Known as “beauty shots” I always find taking these images a little tedious but I recognize they are an important part of documenting the event, and not simply to show off how beautiful the space looks. Having these types of set-up shots are incredibly useful to new staff members who may not have been at any previous events but find themselves being responsible for setting up the next one. Images of how the room is laid out, the food served, (even napkins showing the caterer’s name) can be very useful for the newbie whose responsibility it is to make this year’s event as impressive (or more) than last year’s.
Exposure to new technology: With phones and inexpensive small point and shoots, budget wary clients may be tempted to skip on adding an extra line item to the event bill, but in so doing, they risk missing out on the latest trends in camera technology that an active event photographer is likely to be using. Virtual reality (360), and time lapses cameras, for example, are not likely to be found in the office cupboard but they do add interesting and engaging visual elements in the aftermath of the event that can be leveraged for marketing or social media by the organizer. If there is an outdoor activity, or excursion such as a river cruise or guided city-walk, a drone might be used to capture some unique views of the guests. While it likely doesn’t make sense for most organizations to own this kind of expensive kit, having them available for an event can make a huge difference in generating exciting, even spectacular images that can used for any number of purposes afterwards.
It makes your guests feel important: event photography, like any form of interactive art, is part theatre. A great event photographer brings not just the right kit, but the right attitude that actually improves the general ambience and vibe of an event. A professional photographer in attendance also sends the message to your guests that they matter and that they are worth spending a little extra on. If part of the reason for hosting an event in the first place is to impress the people in attendance, professional photography pays dividends far in above its costs.
I’ve been covering events – from multi-day, multi-site, city-wide conferences to intimate gatherings – for close to fifteen years and much (everything) has changed since I began.
(Not in the mood for Long Form content? Skip to the checklist here)
Consider: my career predates the iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat to name some of the widest reaching platforms of the modern age that helped usher us all into the socially connected economy. When I was landing my first gigs as a wedding photographer and later a corporate event photographer, digital cameras were still in their early days and Photoshop was in its first iteration.
Fast forward to today: camera technology is ubiquitous and embedded in the daily lives of virtually everyone in some way or form on the planet. We have become blasé about being able to see satellite imagery of anywhere in the world. Seeing – in real time – what someone else is experiencing on the other side of the planet via simple hand held devices hardly registers anymore despite it being really quite amazing.Surveillance technology is pervasive – but not only are we being watched from the skies, on highways as we drive, throughout the corridors of our commutes and inside most venues we frequent, we too are bearing our own – technologically enhanced – witness, recording daily moments, protests in the streets, encounters with each other, and the beauty of the natural world ad infinitum.
What was once novel is now commonplace. We have time-lapse cameras, all manner of image-enhancing filters, virtual reality and flying cameras mounted on drones capable of tracking moving targets. We have lenses that can photograph the surfaces of distant moons and others the finely filamented wings of bees and butterflies. We can see in the dark. We can see through clothes. We can see, virtually anywhere or anything we wish to with no more effort than it takes to swipe your finger across a screen.
With this Cambrian explosion of technology you would expect professional photography to be a dying trade, going the way of blacksmithing and door-to-door Encyclopedia Britannica sales.
But the opposite has occurred, driven – paradoxically – by the same trends that have put a camera into the hands of most of humanity in the developed (and developing) world.
Content, content everywhere but nary a word to read….
One of the main drivers, I’ve seen from my front row seat on the industry, is the massive and constant need for ever replenishing content created by the sharing economy. As human behaviour itself is being altered by the omnipresent integration of the internet in daily life, we’re not just heading into the oft touted Internet of Things (IoT) but really the Internet of Everything. And every search, click, swipe, haptic touch, blink or thought wave generated by a firing neurone, is seeking out a piece of content that is enriched with photos and videos, often to the exclusion of much, if any written text.
We’re spending hours daily looking at pictures, and videos, and animated GIFs, etc, and companies are paying attention. The smart money knows that more, really is more, and feeding the plethora of content distribution platforms everyday people just call Facebook or Instagram, or Snapchat…is where the real money is made. Not, of course, by crassly monetizing the stuffing in the pipe (“I never click on a Facebook ad!”), but rather through the magnetic ability of quality content to draw customers to whatever it is you are trying to sell, when done right. That is, professionally done with enough skill, amplification and repetitive force to ensure it gets seen by as many of the right people as possible.
From mega brands spending billions a year on advertising to micro-brands of one, selling through content is one of the main ways of discovering, reaching, connecting with and engaging new customers. That content feed drip continuously through the funnels of social media platforms we’ve barnacled our minds to, relies on an equally steady stream of mainly imagery that needs to be produced on a continuous basis.
UGC ya later
And while much of it is, and will be, user generated content (UGC), that alone just isn’t enough. Just because everyone in the world holds in their hands tools for taking high quality photos and videos, doesn’t mean they will use them. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it as consistently, and with the same (er) focus, as professional content creators (writers, photographers, videographers) contracted by businesses with a clear intent to generate specific types of images that create a sense of excitement and elicit interest from new (and existing but no longer loyal) customers they need to attract every day to stay profitable.
Events like conferences, or major sporting events, aren’t sold by sharing the selfies and beauty shots taken by past attendees. They’re sold by professionals capturing and curating content that is purposely published and distributed to targeted individuals and communities that matter to those people organizing the event.
While owning the latest fashionable pair of sneakers and wearing jeans ripped just so is still a way of marking oneself as “in”, there are now legions of younger people who prioritize having experiences over owning more stuff (and not just because many of them are priced out of the market). The new rule is that anything that can be shared, will be shared. Transportation is particularly susceptible to this as shown through the rapid growth and expansive reach of ride sharing companies like UBER and Lyft, but everything today that has a hope of getting taken up by a large group of people has sharing embedded in its design.
Product libraries are cropping up where people can share things like lawnmowers and stock pots, and successful brands are paying attention. How do you keep making a profit if you are selling fewer things? You sell something that can’t be held onto….except in memory. You sell experiences. And how do people share experiences? In their story streams, with photos, captions, videos, silly animated filters and really good thumb work on messaging apps.
And this is exactly what is happening. Brands like puravida bracelets aren’t just selling pretty little handmade bracelets that remind you ofyour beach vacation. They are selling you the feeling of your life as a beach vacation. They are selling a lifestyle. They are selling you access to a story of entrepreneurship, of helping local communities, of sunsets on the beach, surfing and living in a timeless way that cares only about the moment. And they are doing it largely through social media and largely with well-curated photography and videography.
While having the experience is core to the success of experiential marketing – selling the experience, enticing people to partake and encouraging the spread of participation is still being done through marketing that shows off the experience in its best light. (I’ve written more on experience marketinghere and here and here.
Plus ça change…
Without an audience, conference attendees or a hand-picked curated list of bloggers you hope to influence so they spread the word about your company, event photography can’t exist. Engaging these people, making the experience they’ve chosen to participate in fun and memorable, is the core function of the event organizer. Part of doing that right is working with the right photographer who recognizes that event photography has changed, even as it has grown in importance.
To help you get the job done, I’ve put together below a short checklist for event coordinators and managers, experiential marketers and conference organizers on some of the new tools and techniques to look for when booking your next event photographer:
Checklist for the new event photographer:
Min. two up-to-date cameras and min. 3 lenses (wide angle, short-mid range, telephoto)
Ability to shoot in 360 (virtual reality ready photo and video)
Ability to shoot from drone (photo and/or video clips)
Rapid turnaround on event images (highlights reel post-event, finished product within 24 hrs)
Demonstrable ability to engage and interact with wide range of people
Active blog / good writing ability
Brand awareness / understanding of the marketing goals behind the event
Can do, team-player attitude
Creative, visual storytelling skills
If the goal is reach and engagement, cutting through the noise of a world buzzing with distractions has made the work of marketers more challenging than ever even as the tantalizing opportunity for engagement and hyper-targeted messaging has never been better. In the panoply of digital tools marketers leverage today to create real and meaningful connections with their communities, strong, fresh and professional developed visual assets are crucial in forming real and lasting connections with the people that matter most to your business.
If you notice what sounds like a swarm of bees flying overhead this summer, think twice before you reach for your Epipen and look up. It may well be a drone passing. I know as I am now a full convert to playing/filming/using drones in my work to enhance events I cover, and just for the sheer thrilling fun of having a flying camera.
As it’s summer time here in Montreal, and many people are on or about to go on vacation to visit one of the thousands of lakes Canada is so lucky to have, I’ve put together a little video on lake swimming (music credit: Patrick Watson, “Swimming Pools”).
I’ve just come back from a week in Iceland with a feeling of unfinished business and hundreds of photographs untaken, or that could have been taken better. It is a bit of a photographer’s curse to be so drawn to a landscape that it is hard to peel away from it and I never feel like I’ve really captured the image I was after. It is also what makes me love photography.
Taking photos while travelling is something that brings me far more pleasure than merely travelling without my camera. There are people that say that you are not in the moment, that your lens separates you from the experience and that you are never fully present because you are preoccupied with image taking. I couldn’t disagree more.
My camera (and it doesn’t matter what you are using – your phone, a small handheld or a full bag of gear), is a tool for connection, not the opposite. Because of it, I am always looking at things, taking in sights and paying attention to details I would not otherwise even notice. I am watching for light and how it changes and how it plays across the surface of a landscape. How the shadows of clouds slowly glide down a mountainside, like caresses. How the wind ruffles the mane of a horse grazing in a green field….
The bliss of travel is to experience a place as a newborn but with the mind of an adult so that you can appreciate all that you are taking in. You see, smell, taste, feel a new place in a way that is difficult to do when you are at home in familiar environments. Your senses become more acute.
Iceland is perhaps one of the best places I’ve experienced yet in my travels for awakening the senses. The sweep of the landscape will often force you to simply stop and stare. (It is so magnetic that one of the leading causes of road accidents in Iceland is people driving off the road, the drivers transfixed on some feature of the landscape they are driving through).
I would be wasting my breath trying to put into words the impression the countryside leaves on the observer. It is a landscape made for poetry. And, happily, photography. There was not another traveller we encountered who was not holding some form of camera in their hands at all times, and though this may bother some people I completely understood the sentiment being one of the worst offenders. I usually had two cameras around my neck, in addition to my phone, as well as periodic stops to fly my Phantom DJI4 over landscapes that were impossible to resist.
There is such an abundance of raw natural beauty wherever you look in Iceland that I can only feel regret for the few hours each night I had to close my eyes to sleep. Luckily, I was there during a period of complete, all-encompassing sunshine, so “night” was but an idea as there was never any darkness.A more perfect experience for a photographer I cannot imagine and I am only sorry I could not linger longer than the brief week I had to explore.
There are some places we travel to that leave us feeling opened up and reconfigured. As if the land itself leaves an emotional impression inside of you. Iceland is one of those places. And I know that I will return.
A word to the wise: bring a wide-angle lens and plan to stay as long as you possibly can.
Below is a link to my Iceland Highlights (with a video to follow):
The under appreciated habit of saying thank you speaks volumes about a person’s character, motivations and genuineness. It is such a simple thing to do yet it is often overlooked.
People who take the time to feel and express their gratitude are not only likely to be happier people in general, they encourage others to help them more often and more readily than those who don’t make the effort to show thanks.
I am always touched by those people who do make the effort to send a thank you note, or leave a kind review online, or simply send a quick email thanking me for sharing photos I’ve taken of them. And conversely, I am always amazed at how few people take the time to show their appreciation and gratitude for a kindness showed to them.
As a conference photographer I may easily encounter hundreds of people over a 2 or 3 day conference, some of whom will approach me to ask for a copy of any photos I may have taken of them during the event. I really don’t mind sharing the photos (provided my client has given consent) because it’s an opportunity for me to make a new connection and I genuinely like giving my photos to people who appreciate them.
But I am always a little surprised by what happens after I’ve sent the link with the photos. By surprised I mean I am sometimes a little disappointed at how few people actually even acknowledge receipt of the link and bother to send a thank you message.Despite appearances, it takes time and a bit of effort to scroll through a few thousand images and pull out the ones of someone who’s given me their card. I never have any trouble remembering who’s who, as I have a strong visual memory and never forget a face, but I do take (unpaid) time after delivering my client’s images to put together galleries or pull out images of individuals who’ve asked for copies.
I usually give these images away and with my email ask for their feedback on my Google+ Business page, if they are happy with what they get. Only a few ever send a thank you reply email and fewer still take the extra step to leave a review.
But then there are the people who go above and beyond. I’ve had people send me expensive bottles of whisky and champagne, comfy travel pillows, handwritten cards, and leave glowing reviews on my Google+ page for whom I did nothing more than snap a few photos or some minimal photo retouching.
To these people who’ve made the effort to say thank you, I want you to know how much I appreciate it. As an independent, freelance photographer, I do not have performance reviews or get an annual bonus for doing a good job. I don’t have colleagues coming around to chat with on a daily basis and don’t get a pat on the back for delivering great photos. I get paid, and if I am fortunate, get re-hired or a referral from my happy clients, but when I do receive the unexpected thank you note, or the email telling me how much someone enjoyed my work, I am truly touched. I feel like I contributed something positive and that my work has an impact.
I save all the thank you notes I’ve ever received and am as proud of them as I am of the work I did to get them.
Saying thank you isn’t hard to do. But that doesn’t diminish the positive energy it releases by doing it. It is probably the best return on effort you can get in life. And it is something we could all stand to do more often. It’s easy to underestimate its impact or think that a “thank you” is unnecessary if you’ve paid the bill or left a tip on the table. You don’t have to say ‘thank you’, of course, especially if you are a client. You can just move on to the next project and never think twice about the suppliers you used or the people who contributed to the work you’ve completed. And that’s what makes it all the more special when you do say “thank you”. You don’t thank someone because you have to. You say thank you because you feel gratitude and you want to acknowledge the person – the human being – who provided you with something that you are grateful for.
And that is always worth the few extra minutes it takes to accomplish.
I was covering a conference the other week in Montreal for the New Cities Foundation Summit 2016 which offered an illuminating tour of the latest trends in urban technology and visions of cities in the future. The New Cities Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 2010, focused on bringing people together around the central theme of urban technology and innovations that are shaping cities around the world as we enter an increasingly urban age.It is estimated that by 2050, 6.5 billion people will live in cities, up from 4 billion today. Sustainable solutions to our transport, energy, waste management and housing needs are essential and core to living healthier, safer lives on a healthy planet. It was a real pleasure to be in attendance, and have the upfront opportunities to experience some of the inspirational speakers and provocative presentations at the conference — one of the perks of being a conference photographer.
Some of the highlights for me were the series of presentations from Global Urban Innovators (GUIs), a group of international startups building companies around urban innovations to address the needs of people today and into the future:
Chummy Agarwal, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer presented his company Jugnoo, an on-demand auto-rickshaw app based in India.
Niamh Kirwin, Marketing and Communications Manager, shared her exciting startup, Foodcloud, that focuses on reducing food waste in cities by bringing surplus food to those who need it.
Steven Ramage, Strategy Director, What3Words, really blew my mind explaining how his company has developed a new address system for the world given every 3 square meters on the planet a three-word name such as “Banana Car Giraffe” to give everyone everywhere a usable address.
Raphaël Gindrat, CEO and Co-Fuonder, Bestmile, taking a truly forward looking view is building an ecosystem to manage autonomous vehicle fleets: a fleet management software, a smartphone application, a system for traveler information and solutions for the control of smart infrastructure, creating a platform that works like a “brain”,enabling the control of many autonomous vehicles at the same time.
Geert Houben, Founder and CEO, Cubigo, addressing the problem of an ageing population, social isolation and loneliness, has developed “one app to rule them all” that integrates a suite of apps that helps older people with restricted access and mobility live more independent lives.
Chris Gourlay, Founder and CEO, Spacehive, talked about the platform he and his team have developed to help engaged citizens access funding for their civic projects so they can transform unused urban spaces (anything from parking lots to empty mall space)
Aaron Lander, Co-Founder and CEO, Popupsters, shared his passion for the platform he and his team are building to connect artisans, vendors and makers with events.
Arielle Guedes, Founder & CEO, Urban3D is aiming to do nothing less than radically transform the construction industry, creating a new process of building and developing new materials using 3D printers to create natural materials, that do not require metal reinforcement or cement.
Chong-Wey Lin, Founder, OurCityLove, a Taiwanese based social enterprise seeking to increase and improve accessibility in the urban environment for mobility challenged people.
“I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”
While later mingling with the audience as they were engaged in networking and exchanging ideas and business cards, I was approached by one of the attendees who asked me to send through some of the photos I had taken of her with her fellow attendees. I am often asked by guests for access to their photos and I try to accommodate people who ask me as best I can, with my clients consent. Part of what I love about my job are these opportunities to meet interesting people from around the world. In this case, when I asked what she did I was told that she works for an organization that uses technology to help bring more peace to the world. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be involved with and when I was asked about my work, I responded, “I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”
It was a quick and playful response, of course, but on reflection, it is actually an accurate description of what it means to be a photographer of people. Photographers at events can be seen as a nuisance, or an interruption but in my many years experience what I’ve learned is that we also provide a very valuable service beyond mere documentation and the images we deliver to our clients. When I see a group of people talking slightly awkwardly together in that business networking conference attendee way before the second cocktail round, I approach and ask them to stand together and smile. It only takes a few seconds, and I usually proffer some kind of light banter to make them laugh a bit. It works beautifully for getting a nice photograph, but I’ve notice the effect lingers and the smiling usually persists after I’ve buzzed away. It’s just human nature to feel more open and accepting of another person who is smiling at you and though I don’t take much credit for it, I do believe that the thousands of such small interactions I’ve instigated have, over time, produced many more smiles than might otherwise have happened.
Call it the butterfly shutterfly effect, a photographer’s contribution to making the world a better place.
Way, way back when I first began working as a freelance photographer, I was sometimes tempted (and asked) to work for free to gain experience, or because the client pitched their event as a “great chance to market yourself.” I sometimes accepted, reluctantly, and almost always found myself regretting the decision.
The experience gained was usually not as it was presented by the client, and invariably, the “great marketing opportunity” translated into more offers to work for free from the client’s guest list, if any at all.
The concept of how you can give stuff away and still make money was written up in a book by Chris Anderson called “Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing“, (notably not for free on Amazon), which commented on and helped fuel the whole Freemium model startups love, in which a basic service is given away for free (like Google does with Gmail) and then a small percentage of users are charged for the more advanced features of a premium account, usually on a monthly subscription.
As much as I’d like the idea of selling subscriptions to my services as a photographer (a day in the life, once a month for a year anyone?), on the few occasions where I did actually work for nothing, the results never paid off.
It shouldn’t really seem all that surprising. People who expect something for nothing aren’t usually the kind of people who turn into great clients. And as amplifiers and marketers on your behalf, the only message that usually gets communicated is that you work for free.
In creative fields like photography, writing, videography, graphic design, etc. where a large number of freelancers are competing for contracts, there is still pressure to “sell” your services for free in the hopes of winning a paying contract down the line.
When it’s a bad idea to work for free
Here’s why it doesn’t work for service providers the same way it might work out for a startup whose only cost is server space.
You want to develop a customer relationship: Alas, customer loyalty just ain’t what it used to be. Because of the pernicious effect of freebies spawned by internet startups and the mass disintermediation the internet has enabled (allowing rich market businesses to buy services from poorer market labourers), loyalty is an increasingly rare resource. As a freelancer, odds are, your clients won’t come around as often as you’d like them to. Even with a regular working relationship, you may only get two or three contracts a year. For most freelancers, that’s not sufficient revenue to survive, let alone thrive.
Free is expensive: If your free client does ever come back to you, you’ve set the bar very low for when you do eventually need to charge them real money to cover your operating costs and keep putting things into your body like food. At that point you’ll realize that negotiating for a fee compared to free. vs. a lower fee compared to a higher fee leaves you with less green in your jeans.
Free gets ignored: People don’t respect what they don’t pay for. It’s as simple as that. Even if you charge a very low cost that just barely covers your operating costs, you are sending the message that you respect yourself and are confident in your ability. Any client not willing to pay even a low fee is not ever going to turn into a client that values you for what you can provide and you are better off putting that time and effort into finding clients who will.
When it’s okay to work for free
There are some times, however, when it’s okay to give your services away. (In fact, I was recently sent a bunch of free custom usb drives from someone I didn’t know, and unusually, I accepted the offer. I don’t know if I’ll buy more, but I liked the way I was approached by the company and the fact that they were willing to offer me something of value just because. I also like the way the drives looked -ego stroke!):
It’s for a cause you care about: If you are drawn to a particular charity, or cause, and want to help them with their fundraising efforts, then you could consider offering your services to the organizers as a gift-in-kind donation. I do this for charitable causes related to children’s health, girls education and cancer research because I care about these issues and like the feeling I get lending my talent towards a worthy cause. It feels good to give, and we should all do more of it, but it should be clear both to you and the recipient that it is a deliberate choice that you are making because you care. It is completely justifiable and fair to ask for a charitable receipt for the fair market value of your services, in this scenario.
You need content for your portfolio: when you are just starting out as a creative professional, your most important asset is your work, your book, your portfolio. It’s the first thing prospective clients want to see once you’ve established contact and if yours is too lean or weak to impress them you’ll never break into the field you’re trying to get into. If this is your case, then it’s okay to do free work, but be very careful about how you do it and it is still worth putting a contract in place that specifies that you own the work, and get to promote it and include it in your portfolio.
You want to learn: in photography and many other creative fields, you start out knowing enough to get going but you are far from expert at anything. It is an art form that takes years to get really good at. And that’s great because one of the things that inspires lifelong passion is the chance to always be learning something new. If you are looking to master a technique, or just gain exposure to a line of work you are researching, then again, offering your services for free can be worthwhile. It isn’t really free because you are getting educated and making contacts in your industry. If you choose this path, research the person you want to work alongside and always keep the focus on your learning while trying to offer something of value to the person or organization you’ve joined up with so that when the time comes for you to strike out on your own for real, you’ll have someone who will feel comfortable referring work to you and or maybe even hire you first.
Working at something you love is a reward in itself and it pays dividends throughout your life in terms of happiness, self-actualization, self-confidence and just being free to live and work on your own terms. Autonomy and independence are enormously empowering emotions and should factor into anyone’s decision to go it alone and become an entrepreneur, whether as a freelancer or business owner. But giving yourself away for free for too long ultimately slows down your growth and potentially undermines it completely.
After a weekend shooting Formula 1 Grand Prix races in Montreal, I came away with slightly damaged eardrums and new insights into what access and reach really mean for a photographer. While getting those “money shots” of car closeups in action is all about track access and high quality long range lenses (which I happily got to use courtesy of the Canon support desk – thank you Canon), getting good candids of famous people requires more than just a press pass.
At mega events like the Grand Prix, there are multiple layers of access. I was walking around with four different sets of credentials around my neck, not counting the track access vest, to cover the VIP areas I’d been hired to shoot. Having credentials and being granted access, however, is not the only requisite for capturing the ambience and vibe of a prestigious event. Being able to embed yourself and flow through environments and being recognized as a friend, rather than paparazzi, makes a world of difference in the types of photos you will be able to get, and the guests’ experience of you as their photographer.
I was made acutely aware of this when Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem arrived on the scene. As lovely in person as they are on the screen, with their level of star power they have a lot of experience with photographers, and understandably evince an attitude that hovers somewhere between recognizing we are a necessary evil, and wanting us to go away. While it was my job to photograph them taking in the race, it was also important to respect them as guests and not intrude. Despite having both access, and reach via suitably powerful telephotos, it was still very challenging to get what I would consider good shots of either of them, as the moments they seemed most natural were precisely those in which it wasn’t appropriate for me to be snapping photos. They had come to the race with their family and had asked that none other than the two of them appear in any photos. I respected their wishes of course, but had to leave the best photographs (to my eye) untaken as a result. I am a photographer, not a paparazzo.
In other ways, access also provides an opportunity to help others reach their goals. Photographs can tell stories and help spread ideas and messages more efficiently than many other kinds of media. They are particularly useful for non-profits who want to draw attention to their cause. Having both star power and a good cause with a made-for-photos prop presents a golden opportunity.I was happy to oblige when I was asked to shoot portraits of the VIPs standing with “La Robe de Victoire” (The Victory Robe), comprised of 153 bras donated by breast cancer survivors.
In my work, everybody is a somebody (my IG handle is @ursomebody for this reason) and I always keep that belief in focus whenever I am photographing anyone. I don’t differentiate between famous and not famous, recognizable or unknown. Every person whose face I take into my lens is someone whose image I have a small bit of responsibility for. I don’t get the right to modify the photo too much, or use that image in a way that person would not want to be used. If you don’t also believe that as a photographer or anyone whose “content” is derived from other people, then your access and reach is a waste. Both are on loan to you, and both are ultimately a privilege not a right.