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 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.
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.
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.
Making a living as a freelance photographer means you are going to work with a lot of different kinds of clients. That is actually your goal, and one of the perks of the job when you have them because from a business point of view, you’ve got a diversified portfolio and are never too reliant on one contract. However, variety means not all of your clients will be as easy to work with, as others. In my several years of experience with hundreds of clients, I’ve really only encountered a small minority whom I’d classify as difficult, but the lessons they can teach are worth sharing.
First of all, as it relates to freelance photography. I define as “difficult” any client with particularly onerous demands, specific interfering behaviours on site when the job is being done and/or having highly unrealistic expectations vis-à-vis the budget.
For clarity I would say, it is perfectly acceptable and in fact, preferable, to have a conversation with your photographer about what you are expecting, the kinds of shots you want, when you need them ready by, etc. As a client, you are also fully within your rights to ask your photographer to dress appropriately for the venue, and express how you expect them to behave at your event. After all, whether it is a corporate luncheon, a gala evening or a private affair, it is your event and your photographer is a guest and should be expected to behave accordingly.
Difficulties arise when a client takes it upon themselves to get too into the details of the work at hand. As my German father-in-law tells me, “You don’t tell a painter how to paint.” That is, if you hire well and are dealing with a professional, it is not your job to tell the professional what kind of lighting to use, or specify every pose and generally interface between the subject(s) and the photographer. These choices and these interactions are best managed by the person holding the camera and you theoretically have hired that person because they are demonstrably good at it.
Standing very very very close to the photographer, asking to review every shot, pointing out shots to take repeatedly, for example, is not helpful. It is in fact, highly counterproductive as it will likely result in distracting your photographer and probably will yield a much worse result than if you just let him or her shoot the event or portrait as they best see fit.
A good event or portrait photographer is someone who is skilled at working with people. Trust them. As someone whose work entails several interactions with lots of different kinds of people during a regular work week, I am comfortable with a broad range of personality types and can deal with almost any situation that arises. Any difficulty I’ve ever experienced has come, not from the subjects, but rather a micromanaging client whose behaviours indicate both a lack of respect for the professionalism and artistry involved in being a photographer.
Generally speaking, there are two broad types of clients: those working on behalf of a company, or business to business (B2B), and those hiring you directly and paying for you with their own money, or business to consumer (B2C). The former category includes PR companies, communications and marketing professionals, and event managers. The latter can include entrepreneurs, and of course, the vast majority of wedding photography clients and people seeking a family portrait or some other personal event.
B2B clients are working with budgets and may have demands for rapid turnaround on edited photos etc, but because they generally have experience contracting with photographers, transactions are conducted more quickly and they tend to let you do your work without too much hands on management.
B2C clients tend to be more budget sensitive, less experienced hiring photographers in general (it may well be their first time), and will consume a greater amount of your time before and after the contract is completed. With good communication, friendliness and transparency on both sides, dealing with B2C clients can be rewarding personally and financially.
Advice for photographers:
If you run into trouble with a client onsite, my recommendations are the following:
Be clear in advance about what you can and cannot do within the time/budget allocated (with yourself as well as your client): this is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned and it really applies to any freelance situation but is very valuable to remember as a freelance photographer, especially if you are just starting out. You may be tempted to take every job that comes along, or to offer to do whatever the client asks for without feeling comfortable charging for it, but in the end, this, more than anything else, will be detrimental to your business and your relationship with the client. If, for example your client asks you to shoot and then edit 150 product shots, that entails using the pen tool to create very detailed clipping paths, and then editing each and every one of their used products to look like factory new — and wants it done overnight, you cannot possibly do it on your own. Saying yes to satisfy your client up front will surely result in unpleasantness afterwards.
Get Zen, fast: ultimately your client is your responsibility. You are, at the end of the day, a service provider and no matter how expert and experienced, you can be replaced. You do have to give the client the benefit of the doubt and you cannot, under any circumstance that I can conceive of, lose your cool no matter how irritating and frustrating an experience you are having.
Be communicative: sometimes all it takes to turn around a frustrating experience is the right words. There is a way to express how you are feeling and to provide feedback to your client that communicates your objective without damaging the relationship. Explaining how you like to work, and proving yourself capable of achieving what they are ultimately after – great shots – can mitigate your client’s anxiety and let you get back to doing what you do best.
Be patient: some people take more time than others, and require more effort. That’s just how people are and you, as the professional, need to adjust to them and not the other way around. If you don’t already, start learning about mindfulness. It goes a long way in dealing with moments where your instinct is to blow your top.
Advice for people hiring photographers on how to be a good client:
Whether you’ve been tasked with finding a photographer in a different city for an event happening tomorrow night, or you are doing long range planning and booking your wedding photographer for next year, here are a few tips from an insider’s point of view that will ultimately help you find the right photographer for your job and ensure you get the best value from the experience:
Speak with the photographers you’ve found online: Everybody will go to Google to find a photographer before doing anything else. Once there, you’ll look through portfolios, read up on their online reviews and probably make a choice there and then to short list or bypass the shooter. If you’ve decided you’re interested enough to send an email, don’t just ask for a rate and give a brief description of the job unless all you really care about is price. Making the small bit of extra effort to actually speak with a photographer can save you time and money, as well as instantly provide you with a sense of the person’s personality and demeanour which should factor into your decision as to whether or not to contract with him or her.
Ask for recommendations: a good photographer will have ample reference clients you can refer to, in addition to online reviews (here are some of mine) and other forms of social acceptance like an active presence on social media and a recently updated website. Don’t be shy to ask for client references.
Be clear with your expectations: once you’ve decided to contract, be clear in advance about what you expect as deliverables, when and how you want your photos delivered. Articulating in advance (writing it down) makes sure there are no surprises on either side, and that if you are expecting something that would exceed the amount you are agreeing to pay, the conversation can be had in advance to avoid a more awkward one post-event about what is and is not included in the agreed rate.
Trust your choice: once you’ve vetted your photographer and actually signed a contract, trust yourself. Don’t interfere with how he or she does the work requested. Let them discover the moments to shoot, and set up the shots that they think will look best. If you’ve provided a shot list, then let them have at it. If you’ve chosen wisely initially, you won’t be disappointed at this stage
Everyone has a bad day once in a while and a little patience and understanding goes a long way in resolving most issues if/when they arise. But for photographers and clients who find themselves at odds for whatever reasons, hopefully these few tips gleaned from over a decade’s worth of overwhelmingly good client relationships, can help.
I encounter a lot of people who are curious about what it’s like making a living as a freelance photographer. Because I often go into offices during the work day to shoot an executive or pickups of office life for company websites, I am in contact with lots of people doing a lot of different jobs.
And I see the look of incredulity on people’s faces when I tell them what I do for a living. They can’t quite seem to fathom that in this digital age where everyone is armed with a camera in their pocket, and people are uploading hundreds of millions of photographs daily to Instagram and Snapchat, that anyone could possibly earn enough to survive by just being a photographer.
And while I am not “just a photographer” (I do a lot of freelance writing as well), photography is my main occupation and what I fill out on customs cards when I travel.
Do it for love, not money
I am the first to admit that photography as a career choice is not one made with an eye to getting rich. Indeed there are very wealthy photographers out there, those who shoot celebrity portraits on exotic beaches, for example, but I am not one of them, and the vast majority of working photographers are not either. Gigs come and go, clients come and go, and you are never guaranteed anything. It is not a surefooted, clearly marked career path and there is no security. So if you are looking for anything of the sort, it may not be the best choice for you.
It is, however, one of the best jobs in the world if you enjoy meeting a lot of people in a wide range of contexts, and engaging with each one of them on a human level. One of my first ambitions in life was to become a journalist, and though I never realized it, photography affords much of the same exposure to different situations, different groups of people and an array of ideas (if you keep your ears open as you do your work) that is very exciting. It is totally unscripted – one day you may be doing a CEO portrait in an office tower, the next you’re covering a tree-planting team building event in a city park, but the opportunities are truly endless for encountering new, interesting people and getting a snapshot of who they are by being a fly on the wall in their every day lives.
So if you love meeting lots of different people and having many interactions throughout the day (if you are covering a large event like a conference or tradeshow), than it is a very fulfilling job.
Get your hustle on
How do you get business? In that sense it’s no different than any other freelancer gigness out there. Whether you are a writer, a designer, graphic artist, videographer or the guy who sets up window displays for shops on High Street, getting gigs is about showing up, doing your best work every time, listening and understanding what your client really needs, delivering everything you promise (and more), and then doing it all over again for the next client. And the next. And on and on until one day you get a call from someone who says they heard about you from someone else.
While you can never stop hunting for new clients – and that can mean making cold calls, running e-mail marketing campaigns, maintaining a blog with regular, useful content, and good old-fashioned networking both on and off-line – holding on to the clients you have is also part of the job. If you develop a good relationship with your client – mainly by doing good work consistently for them – you earn the benefit of their repeat business. Having a few regular clients can help smooth out some of the variability in your income and provide a degree of security, though nothing ever lasts forever.
Developing your hustle muscle is also critical. I never go to any gig without a pocket full of business cards, and my spiel ready to deliver at the right moment if I meet a prospective future client. While the main focus is always on the paid gig at hand, part of photographing people necessarily entails talking and connecting with them. Not doing so makes you that awkward shooter lurking on the sidelines and yields a crop of photos showing people with slightly annoyed looks on their faces at your interruptions. You have to interact, and mingle, professionally. Sometimes, in so doing, you’ll meet someone who might need what you’ve got to offer and you follow up. I’ve landed a lot of new business this way.
Don’t let your love go cold
Finally, staying at it and always looking for ways to up your game or improve your skills, tools and technique is all part of the job. You are only ever as good as your last job, and no body cares how expensive your gear is. They just want great photos and it’s your job to get them done.I read up on photo news, stoke my perpetual gear lust with Pinboards full of the latest gadgets, and experiment constantly with new approaches to my work.
It’s very important not to let your passion ebb away by letting your work go stale. After the 100th portrait of the old guy in a suit against a grey seamless backdrop in a cramped little fluorescent lit office downtown, you may be tempted to just mail it in. But that would be the beginning of the end of your career, I believe, because to that man, this portrait means something. It’s a sign his company is investing in him, a chance for him to show who he is to his clients or to accompany a news article about his recent accomplishments. Having your portrait taken is something to be proud of, and it’s important to always keep your emotional IQ running high to ensure you never lose sight of what a photo is really about.
Taking good pictures, and being the kind of photographer people like and want to hire is ultimately not about the tech you are using, or any tricks you’ve learned along the way. Yes, you need to understand your gear, have mastery over the tools you have, and not flub the shots technically. But the most important aspect of the work is making sure your heart is in it, and keeping it there.
Stick with it
Being a freelance photographer is really an amazing life. I’ve been able to travel, meet interesting, friendly and wonderful people and see places and things I never would have were it not for the work. That’s imparted a very deep sense of gratitude in me and a respect for my work. I truly believe that it’s a privilege to be hired by every client, and every client deserves my best work. If I let that slip, even a little, it’s the beginning of the end for me.
The work is important. The gigs will vary. You’ll have to nail your pricing and be flexible and able to talk frankly about cost vs. value, and you’ll need stamina. All entrepreneurs will tell you that it takes twice as long as you think it will to be successful, and will cost twice as much as you expect it will to get there.
How you define “success” of course, is up to you. I consider the option to wake up every day, direct my efforts towards my goals and do important work for great clients a success. And as my economics professor once told me, I’ve got “stickwithitness” which is probably the single most important thing you need if you want to make it as freelance anything.
I love making up neologism and one I’ve recently started using to describe my event photography service offering to clients is social mediagraphy. I used to be able to work exclusively as a photographer, documenting an event or covering a conference then delivering the set of edited images to my client for distribution through their communications channels like newsletters, websites and the like. This is no longer sufficient for today’s market which demands a steady and constant flow of snackable content, in real-time, to keep audiences engaged and re-engaged throughout the course of an event.
No large event today is deemed to have happened if it doesn’t have its own # and generate volumes of Tweetable, and re-tweetable content. And as a photographer, I’ve learned to adapt and actually enjoy the connectivity and heightened appreciation for my work that this behaviour brings.
Where I used to be an invisible service provider, working away in a kind of obscurity producing images that would be used long after my work was done, I am now often thrust in the middle of the action, generating and sending out my own socially-media-friendly Tweets, Instagram posts and LinkedIn content as it relates to what I’ve been covering as a photographer during an event. And clients appreciate it, because it helps them with their goals of generating interest and sparking conversations surrounding the content they’ve pulled together to mount their conference, or to satisfy the needs of their membership, boards or communications teams who work hard to show ROI on the big events they develop.
Social mediagraphy, as I would define it from the point of view of a photographer, is the combination of both traditional event coverage with frequent bursts of social media activity. In my case I will use my phone during events, and then later on post edited and refined images from the day’s coverage. Post-event, I’ll usually follow up with a roundup or a few blog posts relating back to the event, or a particular piece of content that resonated with me that I think bears reporting on for my audience.
If a quote happens at a conference and nobody Tweets it, does it matter at all?
Once the content is created and pushed out there, it can, and often is, picked up by event attendees who sometimes add their own commentary to the posts, or simply retweet or repost the content so that it reaches ever-widening circles of influence.
All of this helps increase the impact from an event and enables event organizers to leverage their attendees to extend their reach into their networks, as the people at one event are usually connected to a bigger number of people outside of the event for whom the event also has appeal. Aside from seeding sales and requests for invitations for future events, this also helps validate the relevancy of the event to its target audiences and provides context for people on the outside who may be curious and become interested in learning more simply by coming across one or more of these social tidbits as they float through their ever-refreshed news feed. It’s also fun and a great way to make new friends.
Change is good
Change is at the heart of all technology. Photography is no longer sufficient on its own to meet the demands of clients who find themselves having to publish content in myriad forms to satisfy the needs of their audiences. Gone are the days when you could shoot an event, deliver your work weeks later and charge a premium for the service. Whether your event is a wedding, a corporate gala, AGM, trade show or a conference, photos are now but one layer of social proof needed to help augment and enhance the experience. Of course this requires new skill sets and familiarity with constantly changing tools (I’m still fairly lame at Snapchat but working on it) but that’s part of the fun of photography and working with technology in general. Rapid change is the constant of our times today and the only way to not drown in it is to embrace it.
Conference and trade-show photography covers a wide spectrum of photographic specialities and serves a few different purposes.
A conference and trade-show photographer can reasonably be expected to:
Cover all onstage action from a few different angles. Good lighting is important as speakers can often get washed out or take on a yellow or orangey cast from the stage lights if not adjusted for. As well you should expect to get shots from the back of the room, as well as both sides, wide and close shots, and a few from the speakers point of view showing the room, preferably filled with a rapt audience.
A couple of posed shots of speakers at podiums or in front of their branded presentation on-screen
Candid, “pick-up” shots of attendees doing what they came there to do: meeting people, shaking hands, networking and socializing
At trade-shows or scientific congresses where your exhibitors are presenting products or academic posters at least one shot of the booth with attendants, and one without for reference
Room and set-up “beauty” shots, particularly for any gala or VIP event
Signage, interior and exterior, for reference purposes and to provide proof and lift to any sponsoring entities involved
Provide all images with a standard usage licence that allows the client to use the images for their intended purposes (websites, promotions, emailers etc)
Add-ons that can be accommodated on special request would include:
Provision of a photobooth for any cocktail or evening activity
Drone flyover videos of your outdoor party or gatherings
A mobile studio set-up with seamless white or grey paper backdrops for headshots of attendees or key executives
Time-lapse images of rooms or in the case of trade shows, the set up, action and tear down of the booths
Shoutouts, Tweets, Instagrams, etc. using your conference provided hashtags and social media handles
Immediate turnaround on images – making at least highlight reels available for the next day to post during the conference and feed voracious social media channels
In terms of scheduling and availabilities:
Full day coverage, starting out before the conference opens straight through to the end of the last event. 12 hour days are not uncommon and since conference attendees tend to work hard during the day and socialize at night, your photographer should be there to capture all the action wherever and whenever it happens
What shouldn’t be expected is:
Free headshots for guests – if your photographer agrees to do it, that’s fine, but a lot of “Hey buddy, I need a new LinkedIn profile shot” requests to just grab a quick headshots isn’t really appropriate
Accommodation to unbudgeted big scope change requests or bringing in a mobile studio after the contract is concluded
Supernatural knowledge of schedule changes – if your main event is shifted to another room or there are key aspects of a particular presentation (like the handing out of awards) that you want shots of, be sure to communicate what you need clearly with your shooter before the event happens
Photo and video coverage of the same event at the same time without budgeting for the necessary resources
The best thing to do when looking for a conference or trade show photographer is be up -front with your requirements, have a fair budget available for the hours you need coverage for and communicate the schedule clearly. Hourly and daily rates can vary considerably depending on the city your event takes place in. Familiarize yourself with the going rates in your destination before setting expectations based on other markets and once you’ve agreed to a contract, expect to pay a deposit or at least be on the hook for one should you be required to cancel for whatever reason before the event takes place. As in any skilled trade, you will find a range of providers with a range of pricing. Caveat emptor!
I was recently hired to create the photos for a company website relaunch project. The creative briefing involved meeting with the marketing director and general manager, reviewing the look book provided by their web designers and brainstorming on what we could do to make the portraits and products look interesting, authentic and fresh in line with the new look planned for the site.
The look we were trying to achieve was industrial, showing real people in contexts related to the nature of the work they do (manufacturing and refurbishing various barrels, pails, buckets, oil drums and related myriad accessories). We immediately discussed shooting the portraits in a second factory location currently in the process of being dismantled. As the decommissioning of our shooting location was active, we needed to move quickly from planning to shooting to ensure there would still be machinery and interesting materials to work with to create our setups.
I visited the factory location a day before shooting day to scope out some locations. I wandered through the furnace where once steel oil drums were burnished and formed, along rails they used to roll along that passed in front of a paint room with walls Jackson Pollack would envy, letting visual ideas come to me as I wandered. In the central area workers were cutting through large machines to be hauled off for scrap, their arc welders casting off sprays of sparks like oversized sparklers on a birthday cake. The floor was covered in dust and tracks from various vehicles and dollies had criss-crossed it leaving patterns like you’d see on a road of recently fallen snow.
On shooting day, I arrived early and created three set-ups: one by a stack of wonderfully aged and multi-coloured palettes; another in a room with a vast collection of black standing oil drums waiting for their final delivery; and a third in the furnace room before a gnarly, beast of a machine with pipes and vents protruding from it like a patient on life support.
The subjects, real people, not models, some of whom clearly had not had much, if any, experience with a professional photographer, arrived in time slots, 5 at a time. I decided to try to shoot each in a slight different spot, giving each a unique portrait that would all be thematically linked and visually consistent, but different enough to convey a sense of the uniqueness of each individual.
It went exceedingly well, and both my client and I was pleased with the results. I realized that a big part of the success of this shoot was having the leeway from the client to be creative and have fun with the shoot, within the framework agreed to ahead of time. As well, the subjects themselves, initially a little nervous and awkward soon found themselves enjoying the experience and contributing ideas for setups and locations that improved the final images.
And all of it was done within a few productive days. No long lead up or series of creativity-sapping meetings, no layers of approvals or complicated lighting setups. We worked with what we had, in an authentic environment marked by time and delivered a set of unique portraits that will breathe new life into the forthcoming website, a far cry above the standard, dull, headshot-against-seamless-white background that everyone has seen thousands of time.
The difference really, was this shoot started with an idea we collaborated on – photographer, client and subjects – to create something together.
I recently purchased a Brinno TLC200 f/1.2 Time Lapse Camera to play around with to incorporate into my conference and tradeshow coverage photography gigs. There is a child-like fascination with watching time speed up, like the thrill you used to get pressing fast forward and play at the same time when watching an old VHS tape (if you’re old enough to remember what a VHS is, if not check here).
Here’s my first attempt, shot recently at one of my client’s offices while we were doing a corporate portrait session.
While I haven’t quite mastered it, I can see how this will be a useful tool to showcase construction projects, or intermittent flows of people moving to and from convention halls, or the setting up and tearing down of trade show booths. The cameras are quite inexpensive relative to most photography gear and I suspect I’ll be getting a few more to play around with.
I also serendipitously came across this article on Springwise (one of my sources for finding out about new products and innovations and really really good for slacking off a bit on a Friday afternoon) about a company using a time lapse camera kit to teach kids about wild life: Camera kit teaches kids about tech in nature which inspired this afternoon’s project, where I’ve set up my Brinno out on the deck to try to capture shots of the squirrels ravaging my garden.
I think it’s a fun camera to have in your kit as a pro, and equally fun for anyone who enjoys messing around with cameras. You could bring one on your next camping trip to document setting up your campsite, and finally have proof that in fact the bear beside your tent was really just your friend snoring. Happy trails!
I chose the handle @ursomebody for my Instagram account after realizing that julianhaberphotography was too long. But that’s not the only reason – I also chose it because I believe that everyone is a somebody but not everyone believes that about themselves and I find that kind of sad.
I realized that the core of what I do – photograph people at work and at play – provides me with a unique position from which to observe humans in their sometimes unnatural habitats of gala parties and conferences, work parties, and social gatherings. From years of peering through my lenses at thousands of faces, I’ve honed my intuition and feel sometimes like I can see right into who someone is, just by the way they look when they don’t think anyone else is watching, or how they present themselves when they do. I feel this is one of the privileges of being a photographer and I am very grateful for the experience.
What I have observed countless times is the amount of discomfort and social anxiety many people feel that they do their best to hide. Reflecting on that, I came to the conclusion that main reason people feel awkward in social situations is because they harbour a sense of insecurity about themselves. They feel judged. They don’t think they are pretty. They think their clothes don’t fit them well. They think they are fat. They think they are too short. Too tall. Too skinny. Too ugly.
So they develop ways of hiding. They lean away from the photographer. They smirk rather than smile. They slouch, they turn their bodies defensively away from the lens. These gestures and subtle adjustments to posture and pose when facing a lens are not always conscious or deliberate. I believe, in fact, that most are unconscious. But to me it says that the person before me feels a kind of pain and I’ve learned that a big part of my job as a photographer of people at social and professional events is to make that pain disappear – however briefly. One easy way to do it is just by being kind and by recognizing that not everyone who is beautiful believes it about themselves, so I try to make them feel that they are. I think this is a valuable thing to learn to do for oneself as well.
A few helpful things you can do if you are one of those people who doesn’t like the way they look or feels uncomfortable in front of a camera – and there are many others who feel just like you do – is to smile. Just the act of smiling opens up positive energy inside of you and actually improves your state of mind. And you instantly look much better, I can guarantee you that.
Deeper down, my wish is also for you to stop being so hard on yourself. I was once chastised (in a friendly way) by someone whose portrait I had taken for having slightly blended out a few small wrinkles in her face. I hadn’t really thought much about it as I try not to edit portraits very heavily and only allow myself slight interventions to enhance the natural beauty of the person I am photographing. But in this case, the woman – a mother of four – told me she was proud of her wrinkles and didn’t want them brushed away and I realized that she was absolutely right.
You’ve earned the face you have now. Be proud of who you are, how you look and what you can still give to the world.
It’s not fair. It’s not even nice, but it seems that people really do make decisions about who you are based on their gut reactions to how you look in your profile picture. As a headshot photographer, I’ve always thought that it was my job to make people feel good and look good when I take their picture (it’s hard to have the latter without the former anyway), but I never gave much thought to why. Then I read this article, “Modeling first impressions from highly variable facial images” – or more accurately, stumbled across it while exploring Pinterest pages on headshots and realized that my work can have a tangible and direct impact on whether someone gets a job, finds a match on a dating site, or gets Friended, Retweeted or LinkedIn. It’s kind of sad, but the truth is, appearances really do matter so you might as well just accept it and try to get the best – and most appropriate – profile photo you can. What works on Facebook (and no, it’s not a good idea to use a photo of your kid as your profile picture there either) doesn’t work on LinkedIn and vice-versa. I’ve written about this before in my post on how to prepare for a photoshoot, and in my post on how your online photo is your avatar, but here are a few thoughts and tips to keep in mind when you realize that it’s time to take your online image as seriously as you do your real world one and update your set of profile photos:
Your online photo is a marketing tool. Perhaps the most important one you’ve got as a shockingly high number of people may not even bother to scroll past your photo if they don’t like what they see.
You can optimize the way you look online. While excessive and heavy-handed use of Photoshop doesn’t really look good (plastic fantastic may work for Barbie but is not recommended for your portrait), that doesn’t mean you can’t have your photo professionally taken, with flattering lighting and lightly retouched to take away distracting elements that take away from your natural good looks.
Choose wisely. Before uploading any photo of yourself, whether it’s for a profile or not, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable with this being on the front page of the New York Times. If not, don’t do it.
Be appropriate: Different online identities call for different looks. While it’s all “you” in the aggregate, a picture you put on Facebook for your friends and family is not necessarily (probably isn’t) appropriate for LinkedIn. Your image should reflect your personal brand in a professional setting, and your personality on more social networks. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but a cropped photo of you from your vacation in Italy is not a good image to lead in with at the head of your LinkedIn profile page.
Don’t do it yourself: while I am a fan of the Maker Movement and respect entrepreneurs and DIYers in general, a good photograph of yourself is harder to get than it looks. I’ve been a professional photographer for over a decade and I wouldn’t take my own photo. In fact, I probably take the worst selfies on the planet. Whether you hire a pro (recommended, of course) or get a friend who knows what they are doing, try to get the best quality image you can get. If you think of your headshot like an online ad for yourself, the cost of paying a professional to take it is negligible compared to the amount of space and views it will garner as you push it out through your various online personae.
As cutting as it sounds, we are quick to judge people on how they look and long to remember our facile first impressions. Make yours count.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when hiring a shooter to provide conference or trade show photography is to think about the value the photos create and how you will get the best use out of the images.
There are multiple audiences for good conference and trade show coverage. Here are a few that come to mind:
Past and present attendees
Prospective and future attendees
Speakers & presenters
Corporate communications teams
Marketing and sales teams
Event planners and event management companies
What is the value of these types of images?
Depending on who the end client/user/viewer of the images is intended for, the value can be:
Showcase a successful event – large filled rooms, happy smiling people looking engaged, looking like they are having a good time, connecting with each other, doing business
Highlight successful positioning of branded signage and collateral
Highlight the breadth and scope of an event to attract future attendees
Show off quality of speakers and content
Boost employee morale and drive engagement
Sell tickets / drive attendance rates for future events
Builds content for your social media channels and web properties
So which types of shots are the most useful and critical to get right?
1. Set-up and room décor
Ideally rooms should be shot from multiple angles, but preferably with a wide enough lens to capture the breadth and feel of the space. The best time to capture the room set up is just before it will be opened up to the public, when the lighting is set up and the room is like a present waiting to be opened up.
2. People networking
This is an easy one to get done but requires attention and fast reflexes. You must anticipate handshakes, smiles and friendly greetings and capture the exchanges without interfering. Every conference has built in networking sessions even if they don’t call them that. More festive social events will also leverage the socially enlivening effects of alcohol. Depending on the industry, the drinks and bars themselves will have branded sponsors. Embedding into this environment requires a special blend of sociability and detachment so you know when to step back and capture images of people as they begin to loosen up.
3. Speakers on stage – front and side views
Getting good images of people on stage is trickier than it looks as the stage lighting can often cast unwanted colours or distortions on your subject. As well, not all speakers are to the podium born and some spend more than ninety percent of the time looking down at their notes. The best shots will come from both telephoto and shorter lenses, shot from the front of house and close to the sides. I usually aim to capture a few images of speakers with fun or illustrative slides behind them if they are in the midst of a slide show, but also make sure to get a few clean and clear ones just them, eyes open, faces smiling and mouths preferably not mid-word. It can be a bit of trial and error but the end goal is really just to get a handful of great shots of each speaker.
4. Views of room from speakers p.o.v
This is really a hybrid categories as it touches on both speakers and rooms, but it is worth having a few of these shots usually angled from the side or sometimes above the speaker, showing both the speaker on stage and the audience to whom he or she is speaking. This is a fun photo for the speaker themselves to have later one and helps promote a sense of attending an interesting, worthwhile event.
5. Big and wide shots of filled rooms
All event planners, conference organizers and companies hosting events want to see their event as a success – and nothing says success better than showing a room full of people. There will be different kinds of such rooms: some will be general sessions with people sitting in their seats, others will show the room in states of transition before or after an event. Sometimes the big room is where an opening night reception is being held. Other times it’s just a general overview shot to show the look and feel of the full space. These images should be taken with big, wide angles, but can also be augmented with candid portraits drawn from the crowd shot on telephoto lenses so the subjects are truly at ease and may not even realize they are in the photos.
6. Engaged audiences in sessions
Diving a little deeper into the idea of showing full rooms, these shots pertain primarily to smaller breakout sessions common at many conferences. Here the rooms are smaller, the speakers usually just standing at a the front of the room, sometimes with but often without podiums, and the aim, as always is to capture images of people paying attention, eyes forward, smiling and asking questions. Depending on the nature of the conference and industry, it may be helpful to have a few shots of people taking notes or texting on their phones, but the majority of images should show people doing what they are supposed to be doing in the room – learning something.
7. People smiling, having fun and making connections
The social side of business confabs is in some industries the most important part of the event. In businesses where making connections and doing deals is important (and when isn’t it) conferences can provide ideal locations for meeting a large number of high quality prospects/partners/future employers. This is the value to the people attending. The value to the people organizing these events is showing that their event is where business gets done and connections are formed. I love these kinds of events and have a lot of fun weaving in and out of the crowd soliciting, eliciting and noticing great photo ops. Selfies, photobombs, generic groupings of twosomes and foursomes (or more) will all happen in here so working with a short and flexible lens is key, but I also carry around a long lens to take sniper type shots of people across the room, trying to avoid detection so that I can capture real emotional exchanges and genuine reactions.
8. Interesting details, close ups of on-site marketing collateral, giveaways, promos
Finally, throughout the conference you’ll want to make sure you have images showing any promotional item provided by a sponsor, as well as just a set of fun, creative, interesting, artistic even, shots of details that emerge as salient to the event. Judgement and skill is required here but over time it becomes clear what these elements are. No-brainers include shots of program covers, branded spaces, signage, banners and products (in the case of trade shows).
9. People interacting with displays/products
This one pertains mainly to trade shows but can be relevant to conferences that host vendors in common areas as well. The main goal here is to showcase the brand, the product or service on offer, and lots of images of people engaging with the display or items. Interaction, engagement and as always, smiling faces are key here. Closeups on pertinent details and any interesting visual elements available should also be captured.
One of the aims (and challenges) of portraiture is to tell a person’s story in just one image. Those that do it well, like Yousef Karsh‘s image of Churchill, are memorable because you see more than a representation of what someone looks like – you see something of who they are.
I was once on a portrait assignment in Old Montreal and asked to capture in a few portraits the main executives of a company with a long and interesting history.
The client, a family operation, has an extensive shipping network and is one of the leading shipping companies in Montreal. The current CEO is following in the footsteps of his father, and his father before him. The corporate portrait needed to capture a sense of the current CEO’s personality and show a continuity and link to the company’s important and valuable heritage.
I set up this shot in the board room, using two soft-boxes and positioning the CEO and VP beside earlier portraits of their father and former CEO. My intention was to give the impression of people who are in charge but know their place in history.
I took the next few portraits with the company’s business in mind. I wanted to include a view of the St. Lawrence Seaway visible down below, while highlighting the person in the portrait. Lighting a subject in front of a window is a bit tricky, but with the help of an assistant holding up a baffle to block unwanted glare, and a willing subject, we were able to capture an image that highlights both the main subject and allows in elements of the background that I felt were important, if subtle, accents to the portrait itself.
Taking good corporate portraits often involves thinking not just about the subject and the technical requirements of the shoot, but also about your client’s business. I believe a good corporate portrait shows a subject in the context of the actual business. While in many cases, a client only needs or wants a straight portrait shot against a seamless grey or white background, in those cases where more can be done, a good way of capturing a corporate portrait is to situate the subject within a framework of visual elements that speak to the culture and brand of the company itself.
Organizations that celebrate the achievements of their top-performing employees are the kinds of companies people like to work for. One of my regular corporate clients in Montreal celebrates their winners with an annual publication of a photo book showcasing their people who really shone and stood out in the past year. A full double page spread is used to highlight this year’s heroes, usually shot against a simple white backdrop to make a group composite image that brings together in one image, employees from offices across Canada.
Why bother with extra recognition? Aren’t employees rewarded enough with pay and or proportionate commissions on their sales?
According to the HR Council, employee recognition is important because:
Lets employees know that their work is valued and appreciated
Gives employees a sense of ownership and belonging in their place of work
Helps build a supportive work environment
Increases employee motivation
Improves employee retention
There are many ways to do it and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Giving your employees a brand new profile photo or featuring them in an article on your website is an inexpensive way to share their success and help them boost their own personal brands. A lot of companies talk about how important their people are, but how many really walk the walk?
Have you got hidden gems in your organization that deserve better recognition and some praise? Are you doing enough to make your team feel appreciated? Recognition can be as simple as a friendly hello in the morning but shouldn’t stop there. While money and material things will add to an employee’s short-term happiness, in the long run, people who are truly happy and satisfied with their employers are those who feel recognized, appreciated and that their contributions are a part of the company’s overall success.
If you haven’t done it yet, make 2015 the year you prove to your employees that they really are key to your company’s success. Let them know how proud you are of them, and they’ll show you their appreciation by staying with you.
If you have the right personality for it, being an event photographer can be one of the best jobs in the world. I’ve covered hundreds of events and still get excited about going to work. You get invited to attend all the best parties, go backstage, have complete VIP access to anywhere in the venue, and you get to meet hundreds of people weekly during the busier times of the year. If you are, like me, a hyper-extrovert, the thought of this is thrilling.
Covering large conferences or tradeshows can also be intellectually stimulating as you get to be a fly on the wall at all the sessions, see world-class speakers deliver keynote addresses and learn about all kinds of new and interesting things while doing your job. One day it’s how beacons are revolutionizing retail bringing the physical and digital worlds together (phygital), and the next its a deep dive into diagnostic imaging, or an international food show, or a trade show on plastic injection moulding and 3D printing.
However, covering events is not something every photographer can do equally well. Many photographers are by nature a little shy and introverted. Some chose photography as a career specifically because it allows them to be behind the camera and not in front of it. This can serve them exceedingly well with some forms of photography (landscapes, street photography, fine art) but is deadly for an event photographer.
I see it as part of my job to “embed” myself in an event. I like to engage with the guests, chat with people, make friends and generally put people at ease before I ask to take their picture. This doesn’t mean I forget my place or the task at hand. On the contrary, it allows me to do my job better. I’ve found that once people like you, their guard drops and that’s when you see real smiles, real sparkles in people’s eyes, and real expressions of people enjoying themselves. These are the kinds of looks you want to see when looking at the photos of your event, particularly if your job is to sell more seats or tickets to future events. People who come to a given conference, for example, will choose yours over a competitor’s in part by looking through the photos from past events on your website. They want to see people like themselves, having a good time, making connections and looking engaged and interested in the content. To get those kinds of shots, your event photographer has to be in the heart of the action and can’t be off hiding somewhere snapping photos from afar or timidly interrupting social pods to ask for a photo. A truly great event photographer plays with the crowd, enjoys their company and vice-versa. Some of the best photos I’ve ever taken have happened at the end of the evening when the group I’ve been shepherding around through my lens finally lets loose and starts to mingle and have fun.
I think the key qualities to look for in the next event photographer you hire are these:
Extrovertism: taking pictures of large gatherings of people in any kind of social setting has to excite your shooter. If the thought of meeting 20, 50, 100 people in one busy night doesn’t get their blood pumping than they are not going to be happy doing their job.
Curiosity: is your shooter curious about the people at the event? Is he or she interested in the subject matter being covered at the tradeshow or conference? Does your shooter seem interested in your business and what it takes to make your events happen? Curiosity about people is fundamental. Only a curious person is interested in looking at people all day and night and never tires of it.
Engagement: is your shooter engaging in conversation? Can he or she start conversations quickly? Is he or she socially well adjusted and not awkward? Being in the crowd and moving through it relatively smoothly and quickly in order to cover the entire scope of the event takes skill. A shy person will not want to plunge into the thickest part of a crowd, nor interrupt their conversations politely to get their photos, though that is precisely where they will need to get to if they are to get the required shots.
Unobtrusiveness: ultimately your shooter has to be everywhere and nowhere. No one of your guests should be annoyed at his or her presence, and in the case of a wedding or podium shots, the shooter has to get in and out quickly so as not to be blocking the view to the audience behind them. Knowing one’s place is important in events and a good photographer’s place is to see everything, but not be seen to be in the way.
“Know when to walk away”: knowing when and how to “disappear” is also important. Your event photos should include a range of shots that also show the room(s), set ups, views of the crowd from a distance and if possible different angles (from a balcony). While it’s important for the event photographer to be inside the crowd for all the up close and personal shots, it’s also necessary to step away from time to time and observe from a distance to capture the feeling of the space and the event.
One of my client recently asked me why there were lights in his eyes from the proofs gallery I’d sent him to select his headshot from.
“They are called catchlights,” I told him. “Without them you look dead.”
As you can see, the photo on the right has had the catchlights removed. The resulting image is somehow unsettling, as if my subject had suddenly been turned into an android with a drained battery.
So what is a “catchlight anyway, and why do photographers want them in their subject’s eyes (aside from wanting their subjects to look alive)?
A catchlight is the light reflected in a subject’s eyes, sometimes called eye lights, that give a sense of life to a portrait. Look into someone’s face the next time you are talking to someone outdoors and you’ll see the reflected light from the sky in their eyes. It is this single source of light – the sun, in other words – that the catchlight mimics. Typically you’ll see the catchlight in the upper portion of the eye, as the placement of studio lights are generally done at an angle above the subject’s head.
We expect to see eyes sparkling when we see someone, even if we are not aware of it. Dull eyes that don’t reflect light appear lifeless. Look for how the next villain or evil character is lit in any film or television show you watch. Now you won’t be surprised if you see the eyes lack catchlights, enhancing the character’s “dark side”, literally.
There are no specific rules to how catchlights should be used, but I like them best when they are not too large, and situated a little off-centre in both irises. Sometimes you will see two lights (reflecting the two umbrellas most portrait set ups require), though some photographers will edit out one so that only a single gleam remains in keeping with the tradition of mimicking the look of the sun reflected in the eye.
Catchlights can come in different shapes and sizes, according to the light source casting them. If the photographer is using a soft box, the catchlights will be square or rectangular. Or if the photographer is using a ring light (preferred flash technique for fashion shoots) the light will be a round circle, like a tiny little LED donut shape in the eye.
I also really like the word catchlight, and the idea that our eyes do actually “catch” light through themselves, allowing those of us fortunate to have good vision see the world.
The answer is, not much. While all photographers would love a beautiful, white walled studio with a full cyclorama, mounted studio lighting for every occasion, a view of a lovely European city below, most work out of rented studios or their homes. For photographers, like many of their corporate clients, the real working spaces they inhabit are often small, sometimes a little cramped, or shared so they are elbow to elbow with their colleagues. Most likely there is a boardroom available for meetings, but the day-to-day worker spends a lot of time in a little space and is concerned about whether such a space is adequate for having an in-office portrait done.
The truth is, a good corporate portrait photographer has to be highly adaptable and adjust to client spaces, not the other way around. While nearly all people working today require not just one but a few different profile pictures, this increased online presence has cut into one valuable resource that can’t be bought: time. The time-strapped professional doesn’t want to travel out of their office for a quick portrait to update their headshot, when the same service is available to them in their offices, at a lower cost and in a fraction of the time.
The space required for a corporate portrait is much less than you would think. I’ve worked in offices large and small, in downtown Montreal, industrial parks, hotel rooms, lobbies, boardrooms and people’s homes. The most space I’ve ever had to work with has been maybe 12 by 12 feet, and the least has been much tighter. I’ve been in closets bigger than some of the offices where I took portraits – but the thing is, regardless of the available space, the shots always come out and the subjects look as good.
Without getting into unnecessary detail on the positioning of lights, and the finagling of backdrops, the point is that a good corporate portrait a client will be able to use for at least a few years, can be taken in any sized office, and the process from start-to-finish can be done in no more than 45 minutes (with most of that time allocated to set up and take down).
Lately I’ve been feeling that my event photography could use a bit of a lift….so I invested in a drone. After covering hundreds of events I’ve learned that one of the most exciting angles is a shot from above showing the full contingent of guests, or the beautiful setting a wedding is taking place in, for example. I’ve climbed up trees, clambered up rickety fire escapes and balanced on roof tops to get shots from above, but now I think I’ve found a (somewhat) safer solution: a flying drone equipped with a high res camera that shoots high definition video and stills.
While I’m still mastering flying techniques, I’m extremely excited about the potential. It’s new, a lot of fun, and I’m betting there are many people who will find having their portrait taken from above to be as exciting as it sounds. I plan on offering drone services for weddings (imagine your full wedding party outdoors, smiling up at the sky as the drone hovers over you!), as well as for real estate developments, and other large-scale events.
Flying the drone is not without its challenges and weather conditions need to be virtually perfect (windless, clear skies with no trees or wires hanging nearby), but I’ve no doubt that adding a drone into the mix will bring a little something extra to any event.