How to deal with the difficult clients (and how not to be one)

DSCF6798-2

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.

DSCF6533
Thorny issues
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.

IMG_3268

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:

world-oyster-room

If you run into trouble with a client onsite, my recommendations are the following:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

IMG_2696

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

 

 

 

How to survive as a freelance photographer

How do you survive as a freelance photographer?

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

stick-309861_960_720
Mr. Stickwithitness

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.

What is social mediagraphy?

julianhaber-snapchatPhotography + social media = social mediagraphy

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.

workingAll 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.

What you should — and shouldn’t — expect from your conference photographer

Speaker on stage
Seth Godin presenting at the Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal
Seth Godin presenting at the Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal

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
ciscops15-general-session_0099
Conference attendees

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!

Behind every photo is an idea

Men at work

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.

 

Decommissioned manufacturing site near Montreal
Decommissioned manufacturing site near Montreal

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.

Time lapsed in-office corporate portrait session

My Brinno in action waiting for squirrels

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!

 

 

You are somebody – so smile

RTRMTL 12
I am somebody

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.

We are somebodies
We are somebodies

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.

We are somebodies
We are somebodies too

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.

You are somebody.

 

Yes, people judge you based on how your profile pic looks

Professional headshot

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Essential shotlist for conference & tradeshow photography

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
  • Experiential marketers
  • Venue owners

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?

le Windsor room set up
le Windsor room set up

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.

We mix business with pleasure
We mix business with pleasure
Size matters
Size matters

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.

Life's a stage
Life’s a stage

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.

I'm paying close attention
I’m paying close attention

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.

Deal!
Deal!
Seeing the forest for the trees
Seeing the forest for the trees

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.

The laser pointers were a hit
The laser pointers were a hit

Capturing company culture in a corporate portrait

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.

Next in line
Next in line

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.

A man with an Empire
A man with an Empire

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.

Celebrate your winners with a photo book

Full length portrait shot on white seamless backdrop of Lloyd Cooper, a top-performer with Cushman & Wakefield
Shine the spotlight on your top employees

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
  • Improves morale
  • Enhances loyalty
  • 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.

Is your event photographer too shy?

CIENA 377
Popup, shoot, pop down

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.

Smile!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.

EVENTS 107
Get down, get down!

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.

    A room with a view
    A room with a view

What are catchlights and why do you need them in your portrait?

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.”

Catch me if you can
Catch me if you can

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)?

5853eA 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.

How much space do you need to take a good portrait?

I'm touching the walls on either side of me;)
If I open my arms I’d be touching two walls

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.

I took this in my living room
I took this in my living room

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).

 

Adventures with flying drones

DCIM100MEDIA
Drone selfies!

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.

3P5A0168 - Version 2
It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s a drone!

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.

 

How not to look awkward when having your photo taken

IMG_1011
This wind is ruining my hair!

I could have also called this, “What do I do with my hands?” but wanted to cover more than just hand placement as getting your picture taken is probably something everyone reading this has had done several times over, but may still be feeling uncomfortable and awkward while doing it. As a people photographer covering events and doing portraits, I have looked through my lens at thousands of faces and bodies and over time, have accumulated a few insights worth sharing to help ease the discomfort many people experience when a lens is thrust into their space and they are asked to “act naturally”.

First of all, I’m a photographer but I totally understand why someone would not like having their picture taken, and by extension may not even like having a photographer around. Photography can be intrusive, annoying, disruptive and greedy. When you’re at an event as a guest, you may not want your conversation bubbles to be regularly pricked by an event photographer coming round and positioning you into huddles with people you may be meeting for the very first time. You may be feeling annoyed at what the humidity is doing to your hair. Or more than likely, you are like most people (particularly, and sadly, if you are a woman) who just doesn’t like the way they look and doesn’t want to show up in any pictures. In short, you may be a rockstar on the outside, world’s best salesman, marketer, CEO or super star brainiac, but in that instant when the camera’s in front of your face, you feel small, insecure and want it to be over quickly. So what you can do about it?

Lapointe_CEO_KATIMAVIK2011 100
A smile by any other name

To begin – take a real look at yourself in front a full length mirror. Do it with clothes on and off. Do it when you are alone. And really take yourself in. What is it you don’t like about yourself (don’t love about yourself, hate about yourself)? Too tall, too short? Too skinny, too fat? Too top heavy, too flat? Don’t like the colour of your hair, the shape of your nose, the way your ears stick out? Think your mouth looks crooked when you smile? Do you think your eyes are too beady, too deep-set, too wide apart? Hate your teeth? Whatever your specific, highly personal concern/insecurity about how you look, I want you to realize right now that almost EVERYONE feels the same way about themselves as you do, and furthermore, nearly NO ONE sees the things that bother you so much the way you see them.

Stop for a moment and say that to yourself again: ” EVERYONE feels the same way, and NO ONE sees me the way I see me.”

Now let’s move on. Here’s what you’re likely to do when the event photographer bobs up near you at your next event. If you’re tall, you will slouch or bend sideways trying to cram yourself into the frame you are imagining. If you have chubby cheeks, you’ll probably try to look away from the camera a little bit, or sink into your neck and slightly back away. If you don’t like the way you smile or the shape, spacing or colour of your teeth you may keep your lips tightly closed, or hold your hand to your mouth. Whatever trick or evasive technique you’ve learned either consciously or more likely, unconsciously, as your photographer I want you to realize you are not hiding – you are highlighting – what you are trying to obscure. You need to stop doing it.

Here’s how:

  • If you’re tall, stand tall. Shoulders back, spine straight. You’re tall and that’s fantastic and you are proud of it. If you’re short, do the same thing.
  • If you think you have chubby cheeks, rather than pull away or sink, face the camera directly, protruding your chin ever so slightly. Come towards the lens, rather than away from it. Ask the photographer to show you the before and after and you will grasp immediately how big a difference this little trick can make on the way you look in a photo and how pleased you will be with the results.
  • No matter what shape, height, colour or gender you are. You need to start believing something very important right now. You are beautiful. Yes, you are. You may not feel like it, you may not believe it, you may have a list as long as your arm of all the people you believe are much more beautiful than you are, but none of that matters because it isn’t true. You really are beautiful.
3P5A9073
We’re sexy and we know it

My professional life comprises many many hours of looking at many, many people from all walks of life, at work, at play, in their homes, alone, or in groups. Just by looking at them, and trying to see them for what they really are so that I can take best advantage of their look I learned something very important.  I’ve discovered that when you look at someone and want to see them look good, you do. It’s just that simple. When you look at someone with compassion and feeling, they look better. Simple as that. And when you try to look at everyone like that, amazingly, everyone around you starts to look good. Because the truth is, what you look like is not what you think you look like. What you look like is really, what you feel like. That’s what shows. If you are feeling down, you look sad. If you are feeling awkward, you look uncomfortable. If you are feeling nervous, you look tense. Your emotional state overrides any physical condition you are focussing on. Change the way you feel about yourself, and you will change the way you look. And you will be happier with the results.

Smiling, as I’ve written about elsewhere, and observed throughout my career as a photographer, is oddly something that many people find hard to do. So here’s how to fix that: Start smiling. Right now. Do it! Smile. Think of something that makes you smile, and smile. If you can’t think of something that makes you smile, stop doing whatever you are doing and go find something, somebody, some place that makes you smile and don’t do anything else until you do. Smiling naturally is something every human can do. You are no different, regardless of how much wearable technology you have on right now, you are still a human like me, like the person sitting next to you on the bus, or looking at you across the desk/dancefloor/hallway/room/dinner table/pillow/field of sunflowers. You can smile naturally and your natural smile is the most beautiful smile you have. So learn how to recognize what that smile feels like and practice it until you feel totally comfortable doing it everywhere at anytime no matter the circumstances.

catamaraned
Good lighting helps too

Wonderful things will happen. Smiling makes you feel better. Smiling actually makes you happier. Smiling is contagious (like yawning it triggers neuronal mirroring behaviour) and makes people around you smile. Smiling literally lights up your face. Smiling shows up in your eyes. Smiling is how you become the most beautiful you you can be. And it is free and easy to do. So start doing it now and do it as much as you can. The more you smile, the better you and those around you feel.  Once you’ve practiced a little alone, take it out into the world and do it in public. Smile at strangers, smile at friends, co-workers, bus drivers, cabbies, homeless people, children, pets. By the time the photographer gets around to you after you’ve been smiling like this for a few weeks, your smile will be natural, real and warm and show the world that yes, you are beautiful. And you know it.

And when you finally learn to value yourself and really believe the truth that your unique way of looking and being in the world is the most beautiful way to be, you will suddenly find having a photographer around won’t make you feel so awkward and may even be kind of fun.

Oh yeah, and what to do with your hands? You can cross them for a professional looking, let’s-get-down-to-business look (both men and women), rest one on your hip with the other hanging loose for a ever so slightly provocative, confident pose (for women); put one hand in the suit pocket and let the other hang loose (for men); or if you are in a group, either put them around your neighbours, or stand at an angle facing the camera, in close enough together so that one arm is tucked in behind the body of the person next to you.

Or just throw them up in the air and photo bomb someone – you know who you are.

 

 

Taking the corporate portrait to the streets

7187LinkedIn1
Smiling in the City
Stand out from the crowd
Stand out from the crowd

There are many ways to shoot a good corporate portrait, and over the past decade I’ve taken many hundreds of them in a variety of contexts but one style I find particularly interesting is taking onsite portraits in urban settings outdoors. Working with my client/subject, it is both fun and effective to use the local environment as backdrops to take candid, natural, posed but not posey photos that can be used for profile pictures, LinkedIn or any of the myriad sites that require a photograph for an account.  I recently worked with a client who had strong – and good – ideas about how he wanted his portrait done and the kinds of backgrounds he was looking for. Living and working close to downtown Montreal it was not hard to satisfy his preference for shots with an urban feel, capturing the feel of the city and providing an appropriate context for a career-oriented professional.

We met up downtown and did what I call a “creative walkabout”; we each had a few ideas about where we wanted to go but took advantage of different views and angles along the way to capture some interesting shots. While most people who work in downtown office towers spend their time shuttling from work to home to work again, rarely pausing to take in the scenery in between, there is actually a lot of great looking buildings in Montreal and wonderful settings for portraits. We wandered around the downtown core, using local landmarks and finding the kinds of backdrops we were looking for simply by paying attention to our surroundings. Call it a mindful approach to corporate portraits.

Brighten up the cityscape
Brightening up the cityscape

Both my client and I were pleased with the results. This kind of session can be useful for anyone who works independently or in a shared office space where the usual in-office portrait set-up might not be feasible or desirable. It is also good for people who require frequent image updates to refresh their profile. With autumn just around the corner there is a great opportunity for creative and colorful portraits taking advantage of fall foliage and cooler weather (no sweaty foreheads!). Consider having your next portrait taken on a mindful, creative walkabout in a setting rich outdoor environment and you may find yourself with a whole new set of great profile pictures – and a new appreciation for the area you live and work in.

Helping clients maximize event marketing budgets with video & photo coverage

Showcasing your brand
3P5A6779 - Version 2
He picked a winner

Many clients putting on branding or sponsorship events would like to have along with photos a handful of short video clips they can use to feed the social media beasts (You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, etc). As all high-end cameras used by professional event photographers have built in capacity to shoot high definition video, it is easy to provide a 2-for-1 service to help reduce the overall cost of event coverage.

3P5A6683
Everyone loves free giveaways

This type of service is really aimed at the client (or PR firm working on behalf of a corporate account) who will be able to take advantage of the video provided and edit according to their own needs. Often just a brief 10 or 20 second clip is all that’s really need to help provide texture and context for a lively event where the goal is brand promotion. I was recently hired to cover a marketing activation hosted by KIA at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2014 (Germany won this one too!) in Montreal in our city’s much maligned Olympic Stadium. In addition to the standard set of images requested (see below for a sample shot list), I was also asked to include short video clips. Including video with my normal event photography helped me give my client everything they wanted, and saved them the added cost of hiring a videographer.

Most organizers staging a promotional event have invested a lot of money, time and effort in getting the event ready for the launch. Money is spent on promotional items like tents, giveaways, t-shirts, temporary tattoos, etc as well as a raft of (usually) locally engaged staff to man and animate the booth, interact with visitors and provide the key branding messages along with a smile and good time for people drawn to the event site. Adding video into the requested images from an event photographer makes sense in the context of the overall marketing spend. There may not be enough budget for both, and while a good photographer can provide both, the same is not necessarily true in the reverse where a videographer is using a purposely designed video camera.

The role of the combined event photographer + videographer is to capture images of all of these elements in place, as well as in action. Many times the corporate end client has outsourced the event to PR firms that specialize in promotional events, and it is part of the PR firm’s mandate to show the client just how their marketing dollars were spent and on the level of visibility they achieved through the branded elements onsite. A part of nearly every event photo shot list in these kinds of set ups include a set of images showing all the branded pieces in place and in use, as below:

  • Overall activation space
  • Consumer interactions – people smiling, participating in the kicking cage, getting their faces painted/tattoos applied, receiving a towel, sitting in the display vehicle ==> combination of staged (e.g. Consumers facing the camera and smiling at you) and candid shots (e.g. Consumers not looking directly at you)
  • Specific branding pictures: Staged photo of entire staff team – full body length as well as cropped at the waist
    • Tent
    • Tent walls (inside and outside)
    • Table skirt
    • Flags
    • Bean bag chairs
    • Kicking cage
    • Tattoos (preferably on people’s faces/arms)
    • Towels – people holding them up as well as on the table
    • Staff uniforms

These kinds of images are key to fulfilling the mandate, and are enhanced by subsequent video clips during the event of the articles being used. In the best case, a combination of video and photos will provide not only an accurate document of the event, but also impart the general feeling and a level of excitement that all marketers like to see being generated around their brands.

3P5A6661 - Version 2 3P5A6633 IMG_9609 3P5A6634

It is important to note that a professional videographer may well be worth the investment, particularly for weddings and other personal milestone events that require a polished professionally edited video. One of the main differences in quality between shooting brief event clips on a camera essentially designed for stills and a professional video camera is the sound quality, with vastly superior sound quality available in the higher end professional gear built for that purpose. However, for many clients, an intensively edited, polished product is not necessarily needed. In this age of distraction where attention spans are shorter than the lifecycles of fruit flies, a quick flash of video showing the key branded elements of a sponsored marketing activation (in KIA’s case we had a fun kicking cage where visitors could kick a ball into a cage and have the speed of their shot measured and played back for them) may be all that is needed to help convey the fun, excitement and vibe of an event.

 

 

Staying on top of your corporate – and personal – photo library

3P5A9222
Build it right the first time

As professional cameras get more complex and phones now do what most point-and-shoots used to do, one thing remains constant: the deluge of photographs these devices create gets steadily stronger. Depending on the business you are in, your corporate image library may rely on rights managed photos purchased from stock photo sites, or in-house generated images, or a blend of both. No matter what sector your firm operates in, from mining natural resources, to data mining, to dating sites – good quality images you own and have the rights to are an important piece of your communications arsenal. Images on company websites need to be updated and refreshed, teams change, executives move on or out. Companies enter new lines of business, or operate in multiple countries, requiring new images adapted to the new markets. And then there is the plethora of image-hungry social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and now even LinkedIn with its expanded platform for enhancing personal profiles that allows users to add photos, videos and slideshows showcasing their work. With such a great demand, companies – and usually the poor communications junior staffer tasked with it – have to have a way of searching, finding and storing all their images that allows them to get the images they need, when they need them in a timely fashion.  Here are a few tips for organizing your photo library and storing your images that I use as a professional photographer:

  1. Throw out the duds: probably the most important thing you can do to start your photo organizing project is invest in some kind of photo viewer like Adobe Bridge, Aperture or Lightroom, that allows you to view many files at once and attack them ruthlessly. Discard all images you know you don’t need and be very selective in choosing the best image from sets of similar looking images. Just because you can store every digital image you or your hired photographer has created for you, doesn’t mean you have to. Reducing the overall size of the pile you need to sort through will greatly free up your energy and allow you to focus in on the essential. If you are terrified of throwing something away that you think you might need again later (you know who you are clutterbugs), than create three folders: (1) Keep (2) Delete and (3) Maybe and dump all the ones you are undecided about in the Maybe folder.
  2. Triple back up your images – 2 hard drives and a cloud-based service: owning a hard drive that hasn’t failed yet is like riding a motorcycle before the accident you inevitably will have. There is no hard drive on the planet that is indestructible and if you haven’t had one konk out on you yet – run, don’t walk, to the nearest cloud service provider to start backing up your files because you will at some point experience the excruciating frustration of suddenly finding your hard drive inaccessible. I speak from experience. The golden rule is to have one set of images completely backed up on a hard drive you own and keep on the premises, a replica copy on a hard drive you keep off the premises and a third replica set in the cloud. There are a number of services online to choose from, the most popular being Dropbox, Google Drive and now iCloud. I personally have used all three, but favour Google Drive for it’s cost effectiveness (1 terabyte of storage for $9.99/month vs Dropbox 100 gigabytes for the same monthly cost). Do your research and select the provider that offers you what you need at the time you sign up – it is easy to add storage as you grow so no need in paying for more than you will be using.
  3. Categorize your images: there are many ways to sort through images (by year, location, subject matter, etc). Think about and establish categories that make sense for your business. If you are real estate firm this may be a price range (homes $1m and up), or a mining business with global operations you may need to a box for “people and communities” or product group. Be critical and try to keep the categories to a minimum. If you are working through your personal photo library, you might choose “family”, or sort by year.
  4. Use keywords: once you’ve created all the right bins to put your images in, add a few relevant keywords to every image. Adding keywords can be done in batches with software like Aperture or Lightroom, or even Photoshop. If, for example, a set of images all pertain to a specific event you can add the event title (gala dinner, or keynote speech, etc) to all the files at once by accessing the Batch Change function. Adding keywords is time consuming no matter how you do it, but once done it saves years of time later and makes it easy to search and find what you are looking for. Be your own Google
  5. Automate as much of your workflow as possible: use technology to your advantage. All image management software have many ways to help you sort and organize your image library. It takes some time to learn the ins and outs of a given program, but that up front investment in learning will pay off down the road as your image library grows.

Do it right the first time.  The best time to organize your images is right after they are taken. Sort, delete duds, categorize, add keyword tags and store in triplicate your files when they are fresh. Get into the habit of doing this and, just like flossing your teeth regularly, eventually you won’t remember how you ever lived without doing it. Automate as much of your workflow as possible and if all else fails, outsource the work to a photographer to do it for you.

Using context, collaboration and communication to create great portraits

classics 3
Classical Studies Summer Students

School may be out for most classes, but the hard-working students at the McGill School for Continuing Education are in session right through the hot summer months, and yesterday posed for their class photos on campus. The weather was hot and sunny  but this Montrealer is not complaining as winter is always just around the corner in this city.  After this brief  portrait session was done, I reflected a while on what it takes to create a great portrait whether you are just snapping a few shots of your family on vacation, or looking online to gather a few guidelines to inform your next corporate portrait photo shoot.

  1. Draw out the connections between subject(s) and their relevant subject matter or theme: whether your subject is someone famous, or just one of the millions of hard-working corporate workers out there in the world today, or a group of young summer students taking a course in a Classical Studies program, your job as photographer is to come up with ideas that can be translated into images that represent visually what is relevant to your subject. For example, if your subject is a Math Professor you could set up your shot in a classroom posing your subject in front of a blackboard covered in formulas and equations. Or if your subject is an author, you could set the subject in a contemplative space, perhaps the one where they write, or surround the writer with books. In the case of the McGill Classical Studies students, we (why we? see next point) sought out “classical” looking backgrounds to imbue the young group with a bit of the weight and substance of what they had gathered to study. In brief, contextualize your subject within the essential context of what makes your subject portrait-worthy in the time frame of your photograph.

    Cuban born artist, Alexander Poll
    Cuban born artist, Alexander Poll
  2. Collaborate with your subject(s): In my many years of experience photographing all types of people alone or in groups, from CEOs to
    Let's get married! On skates???
    Let’s get married! On skates???

    toddlers in diapers in a family living room, I’ve found that the single most important element of creating an excellent portrait is having a rapport with the subject. This rapport or relationship is created by including the subject in the creation of their own image. Even world-famous executives with a private jet waiting to whisk them away can and do enjoy a brief moment to create a photograph in which their likeness features that says something about who they are as a person. All portraits have an element of playfulness about them, even the serious ones, and the best ones happen when you as photographer can encourage that innate sense of play in your subject.

  3. Communicate with your subject: this is really just another aspect of collaboration, but it merits its own point as it is really so important when trying to capture an image of someone as they really are, which is the true call of a portrait artist. Talk to your client/subject throughout the creative process. Explain to them what you are thinking or wanting to do. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen my initial ideas improved upon by sharing them with my clients who gamely take up the challenge and often contribute new ideas and have even better backgrounds in mind than I come up with on my own. While I don’t think it’s important, or at all interesting, to tell the client the technical aspects of what’s happening (I’m not sure how many clients I have had who would care what aperture I am shooting at or what lens I am using) I do think it is critical to engage your subject in a dialogue about what you are doing and give them the space and opportunity to contribute their ideas to how they will be portrayed. At the very least, it gains their confidence, and more often than not leads to a better portrait.
Using features of the landscape for a good portrait
Using features of the landscape for a good portrait

A good portrait, whether of an individual or a group, should aim to capture some of the context of the subject, both physically and conceptually. Using both setting and features of the context of the subject will help to strengthen the portrait. After all, what is a portrait but a window into the heart and soul of a subject. The best ones, particularly photographs like Yousouf Karsh‘s epic shot of Winston Churchill reveal the essence of a person’s character – at least as they are in that moment. Portrait photography is the short story of people-oriented photography and the artistry involved is not something that can be easily reproduced. However, the core concepts connected to creating a great portrait are accessible to anyone who takes the time to learn and implement them. Central to all great portraits is establishing a rapport with your subject by collaborating and communicating during the session. And finally, as always, cultivate a sense of play and playfulness throughout your session so that the experience reveals not just who the subject is, but the best version of themselves.