Last-minute portraits?

Here’s a fact that surprises people all the time when I tell it to them: more the 50% of the corporate headshots I take are last-minute rush jobs.

How is it possible, they ask, that someone could ever urgently need a photograph, let alone a headshot? Believe me, I used to wonder the same thing, until I started paying attention to the triggers. People use the same professional headshot for several years. Just do a quick scan through your contacts on LinkedIn and see how many have updated their photos in the past year. People kind of forget about their profile pics after a while, until a need arises for a new one.

Here are some of the reasons why all of a sudden, a headshot is needed, like NOW! All of the examples below are taken from real contracts I’ve had.

  • “Looking for new challenges”: People don’t change their headshots unless there is a change in their employment status. When that happens, there may be a lead up to the decision if the change is self-driven, but there are many reasons why a person’s employment status can change beyond their control. This unexpected change often triggers a need for a new look.
  • “You’re published!”: People get articles published on schedules they don’t control, and get asked to submit a bio picture along with their submission.
  • “You won!” : People win industry awards and accolades, or are selected for internal company awards they weren’t expecting and they need a picture to accompany the announcement.
  • “You’re being promoted!”: Good things happen to hard working people. They get promotions and despite company’s best efforts, HR doesn’t always keep internal comms informed of the latest personnel changes, nor provide a lot lead time before the announcement has to go out, particularly in public companies where the change in senior level appointments is material information that must be made public.
  • “You’re invited to speak at our upcoming…”: People get asked at the last minute to speak at an event, a gala dinner, or a conference they hadn’t planned on going to. Suddenly they are facing a roomful of their peers and colleagues with a 10-year old bio picture that looks like it was cut out of their high school year book. Awkward.

As with all rush-jobs, there are usually fees associated that raise the price of the product or service being purchased. As well, the last-minute pressure also usually indicates a lack of preparation and limits the number of other people in the office or on site who may also be in need of a new headshot but just aren’t given enough notice to get there for the appointed day because they are out of the office, in a client meeting or just having a bad hair day. All of these factors increase the cost to the buyer.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…

Forward-thinking planners, event and conference organizers can score big savings by taking advantage of organizing an onsite headshot session when they are assembling people who may only get together once or twice a year. Annual meetings, board meetings, seminars, training sessions, workshops and conferences are just a few places where people are brought together. This allows the organizer to save on per/head costs as the set up fee for an onsite portrait session can be spread out over a number of individuals rather than just the one.

To those paying for the service, there may be the perception that bringing in a photographer to conduct a portrait session is just an unnecessary extra expense tacked on the event, but if viewed from a slightly longer-term perspective, the savings can be significant to the organization.

  • Per head costs / portraits can be reduced by 50% or more
  • Leverage the investment already made in bringing important people together (food, hotel, travel)
  • Raise staff morale – everyone loves having a little extra attention paid to them, and a professional headshot is a nice perk that saves your staff money. Happy workers are more productive ones.

Leaving anything to the last-minute creates more stress, cost and hassle. It’s great for my business, but do yours a favour and plan ahead. You will need a new headshot someday. Don’t wait till that day happens to be tomorrow.

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

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Too many chefs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking the holiday e-card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to think on over the holidays

What did I learn this year?

What am I grateful for?

What would I like to change?

What would I like to stay the same?

What relationships did I strengthen?

Which ones did I let go or lose touch with?

What did I create that I am proud of?

How many people did I help?

Did I love well enough?

Did I ignore opportunities for kindness?

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

What became of them?

What projects did I begin?

Which ones did I complete?

What am I excited about?

What change do I want to see in the world?

How will I make it happen?

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

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

The #MannequinChallenge Phenomenon

 

If you’ve managed to not see a #mannequinchallenge yet, you are either one of those people who actively shun social media and modern technology in general, or you’ve just been rescued from a few months at sea in which case, welcome back.

Just to bring you up to speed, a #mannequinchallenge is a video wherein everyone involved remains perfectly still, preferably in an active or dynamic pose, while the videographer wanders through, all done to Rae Sremmond’s now ubiquitous song “Black Beatles” (and if that pairing wasn’t a deliberate act of marketing genius Rae is a very lucky man).

It is the modern day version of the tableau vivant (which means literally, living pictures and was a genre that peaked in popularity between 1830 and 1920. It brought together stage art and theatrical presentations with more static visual art forms like painting and later photography. Though they were popular in the Victorian age appearing as part of Nativity plays, they later took on more risqué nude and semi-nude poses plastiques, enthusiastically explored in the early 19th century in the Ziegfield Follies revues.

Now we have the #mannequinchallenge which combines the living tableau with cell phones and suddenly we’re seeing them popping up everywhere, from marketing conferences like the one I captured at iMedia’s Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona (above) recently, to more exotic locations like the FARC’s #mannequinchallenge reported here.

Like the photobooth craze that swept through events and quickly became a staple at any large gathering of people from parties and weddings, to trade show booths and conference receptions, the mannequin challenge is at the convergence of trends that brings a whole new way of merging photography, videography, selfies and a passion for social sharing into events.

It’s as much fun at home as it is out, though you may want to keep your pets out of the frame.

There are lots of ways brands and corporations can work this trend into their events and promos to help further their marketing goals, or just give their employees something to have fun with and share.

It doesn’t require much in the way of tech. You can get it done on a phone (and as a professional photographer I hate saying that). The biggest challenge you’ll face is keeping everyone still. A practice run wouldn’t hurt and reminding people to not move their eyes or drop their arms is a good idea. It also helps to close off the room and not let anyone in once it’s begun if you are doing this in a large conference ballroom or office space.

Of course, it may not always be a good idea to put one on (gunfight anyone?), but I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of these over the holidays as that other staple of the season – frequent parties and heavy drinking – brings renewed strength to the trend.

The art of the engagement shoot

0e7a4183Yesterday I went out for an engagement shoot with a couple who’d bought the package I’d donated for a charity I support (Room to Read). Our loose plan was to work the late afternoon sun to capture images of the two of them in natural settings around Montreal where we could still find some abundant fall foliage.   

0e7a3984Our first stop was a little park next to the St. Lawrence river where surfers love to go as there is a standing wave just off the shore they can play in. This was our warmup area. It’s hard to start shooting genuine, intimate photos of a couple – even one you know well – right off the bat. Everyone – including the photographer – needs some time to warm up, figure out the best angles and understand the dynamics of the subjects. For every really great shot it takes a lot of almost-there, not-quite-nailing-it shots to reach.

As you progress through the shoot, the winners tend to flow out in little streams, interspersed with lead-up shots that build up into the winning sequences.

On engagement shoots I really like to move around, and go different places with the couple. It helps keep the vibe fun and friendly, and provides a lot of opportunity both for some planned set-up shots where the background is selected by design, as well as impromptu quick sessions when the light is just perfect and we discover a spot together that can work.

0e7a4181While some shooters may like to plan these shoots down to every last detail, I’ve never liked working that way and have always found that leaving some things up to chance makes for better photos. Part of what makes photographing an engagement shoot different from other kinds of portrait photography is the chemistry between the two people in front of the lens. These few hours we spend together are emblematic of their future together as a couple. At least that is what I am trying to capture with the images I take, as if putting together in real time a kind of collage of memories that will continue to ripen into the future.

My goals for the shoot are to capture real moments of happiness, intimacy, and genuine feeling for each other – without making that obvious or creating artificial moments that tend to make the grooms feel really uncomfortable and awkward especially.

Like all photography involving regular people – there is a necessary element of creativity, collaboration and serendipity involved in getting the best shots.

0e7a4232Good lighting helps and having an idea of where you’ll go for the shoot of course saves time and is an efficient use of the time you spend together, but nothing you do in advance can really create the images that in the end will define the shoot. Together you create the conditions for the photos to happen, and then, with luck and some well-time laughter, you find the gems.

0e7a4187eTheir story is just beginning. The photos from their engagement shoot should reflect that, and feel like a warm introduction to a story still unfolding.

The last minute…

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Photo: Marcus Grossalber

Were it not for the last minute, I’d be a lot poorer. As the owner/operator of a busy photo and video business I receive a lot of last minute requests from clients who just realized that they need someone to cover their event—tomorrow.

Some decisions do take longer than others and sometimes an event doesn’t get confirmed with a lot of advance notice, but I am always a little bit surprised at how often I get asked to cover something with very short notice.

If you are in the business of planning, or helping to coordinate, an event, here’s how to get the most value out of your last minute requests and make sure you still get the best service you can get.

1) Have a budget or know the market value you are asking for very well – with the clock running down you don’t have time for any protracted negotiations. Either state your budget up front with your request, or have it ready to vet against the price quoted to make sure you are within an acceptable range so you can book immediately.

2) Don’t waste time with a shot list – it is almost always unnecessary if you are dealing with a professional as the shots you’ll spend time spelling out are the ones your shooter is going to go after anyway. All events, regardless of the specifics, have a certain similarity and flow to them and the key moments, important people, and physical characteristics of the room and set up are going to be captured.

3) Respond quickly! While you may end up reaching out to a number of potential suppliers, please take a moment to notify the ones you don’t choose that the gig is off. A lot of professionals who live on gigs will hold a date for you if you’ve asked them to. Just because there is short notice time, doesn’t mean someone else might not come up with an even shorter notice – if you’re not going to use the supplier you’ve contacted on this occasion, let them know so they can jump on the next opportunity.

Harvesting content marketing opportunities from the annual office party

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Marie-Josée Gariépy  receiving a donation from the Déjean’aide event Thomas Sinclair helped organize in Montreal (November 4, 2016)

It’s sooner than you think….no, I’m not talking about Armageddon/the US Presidential Election. I’m talking about the big end of the year holiday party, which happens as early as mid-November for some companies and into the early new year for others.

The venue rental is done, photobooth and event photographer booked, the menu planned, the two-drink-tickets-bar sorted out and the party is set.

Having covered countless of these kinds of events, I have some advice for the party planners to help them get the most from their event. While the idea behind the holiday office party is to give your employees a break and reward them for the hard work they do on behalf of your company throughout the year, it is also an opportunity for creating some useful photographic and video content for your social media throughout the year.

Here are a few ideas to leverage the event that may help generate reusable content for your content marketing needs:

  • One client of mine stages an annual video-contest in which different departments compete for the year’s funniest video. Curate and then share video snippets to your company Linkedin page to convey a sense of your company culture to prospective employees.
  • Write a blog post about your company winners and promote across your social media shining a light on their accomplishments and giving your employees some deserved praise they can retweet and repost to their personal networks.
  • Thank your event suppliers (the event company, caterer, dj, photographer, etc.)  on your social media platforms using their handles and company names; they will eagerly re-share the acknowledgement garnering more traffic for your site.
  • Use the event to announce the grand total of any fundraising you’ve done throughout the year and invite the charity to send a representative to accept a big cheque or make a small speech — and share the news.
  • While you don’t want to crowd the agenda with too many (or too long) speeches, a few thoughtful words from the president or CEO is usually appreciated: preload a few of the best quotes into your company’s Twitter feed and schedule them for timed release throughout the event.

While the annual office party is traditionally a time for employees to mingle with management and socialize with each other, in our digital age where no good Instagrammable moment goes unpublished, it is also another opportunity to create content. Your in-house marketing and comms team will thank you for it, and you get to start out the new year with some useful content ready to go.

Ideas for optimizing your event sponsorship investment

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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.

Which instant print camera to buy?

I recently ran a team for a big event at Montreal’s New City Gas, hosted by the UAE. The event was extremely well-attended with over 1000 guests shuttled in and passing through the space over the course of a few hours.  One of the photographic services we provided, in addition to droneography, a greenscreen photobooth, a team of event photographers and videographers, was a dedicated instant prints photographer. I armed him with both a Polaroid Z2300W which prints on stickers and what the manufacturer calls ZINK Paper (zero ink) as the client had specifically asked we used Polaroids. As a back-up, I also bought the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo (Classic).  It was an unintentional a/b test and rarely have the results been more divergent.

POLAROID.jpgTo put it mildly, the Polaroid was a complete dud. It’s proprietary battery couldn’t hold a charge long enough to complete one full set of prints (30). It is flimsy and cheaply made and looks like a toy camera. Sadly, even a toy camera would have brought more enjoyment than this and it is a far, far cry from what a Polaroid once was. Loading the paper is easy, but getting the starter sheet (a blue paper that must first eject before the camera can produce prints) required multiple attempts before it would work, wasting time and further depleting the already miserably weak battery. When finally you do manage to load ten sheets into the paper chamber be careful not to brush against the little latch in the back or the door will pop open and out will tumble your sheets. But even if it works, the prints (full frame and not the matted white traditional Polaroid look you would expect) are low quality, grainy and with colours so muted and garbled they come out looking like they were already old and abused, and not in a cool retro way, just in a “ew, yucky” way.

The camera is actually a hybrid digital camera, meaning it has the ability to shoot and save digital jpeg files to an SD card, like a regular digital point and shoot would, and print images you select to print. While on the surface that seems like a nice option to have, the competing demands on the miserly battery exceed any utility gained by the feature.

If one could apply a negative star rating to a product, this one merits a below zero score. Do not waste your money or time fiddling with this poorly conceived, poorly constructed and sorry excuse for a camera from what was once one of photography’s iconic brands.

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And the winner is…Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo by a country mile

Happily, my “back-up” performed beautifully as I’ve grown to appreciate with the few, but growing stable of Fujifilm cameras I am acquiring. The prints are higher quality than the Polaroids (and actually look like Polaroids!), and the battery after one charge and 90 prints is still powering this handy little fun camera. Remarkably, it also sells for about $50CAD less than the Polaroid Z2300W and though its prints are pricier ($19.99 for 20 vs $19.99 for 30 ZINK Paper prints), they feel and look better and I suspect will last much longer too though we’ll have to wait and see for that.

If you’re looking at adding instant prints into your events, or even just to bring along with you on your next family vacation, if you can stomach the ongoing print costs pick up one of these Fujifilms. You won’t be disappointed.

(N.B. In case any of you were wondering if this is a paid post, it isn’t. Everything I write here is written by me, from my own unbiased and unsponsored point of view. I am not shilling for Fuji or going out of my way to trash Polaroid. I am sharing my opinion as a professional photographer about two products I’ve used and seen the results from.)

 

 

Add instant prints to your next event

fuji-instax90_neoEverything old is new again it seems.

Remember the Polaroid camera? Remember how exciting it was to stand there and watch that little print slide out? It came out dark and you shook it until the image slowly appeared, like a ghost taking form. While the age of film cameras has passed, the thrill of the instant print has never really gone out of style. And now it’s back – in the form of instant cameras like the Polaroid Z2300 shown here, or one of Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo.

As someone who makes a living on event photography, I need to keep on top of the latest trends and this one is on the rise. A few years ago I set up a photobooth business (www.lepartybooth.com) seeing the rise in popularity of having a playful place for (mostly drunk) adults to wear silly hats, fake moustaches and pirate eye patches at parties. Regardless of age, there was (and still is) an excitement that comes from making outrageous poses in ridiculous costumes then eagerly picking up your print.

I’m now seeing the same rise in interest in having instant film cameras at events. Think of it as the photobooth gone mobile. And it fits the bill for what I call “fast food photography” which a lot of event photography is. It also offers a new area for forward thinking clients to extend the reach of their branding and sponsorship opportunities.

Few people meet as many event-goers as the hired event photographer. It is just part of the job to roam, interact and engage with as many guests as possible in order to really capture the vibe and emotion of the evening. Doing so with a standard digital camera set-up ensures the client gets a great range of images covering their whole event, but the guests are left hanging having to wait until the images get posted somewhere which may not always happen right away. Putting an instant print into their hands is one way of satisfying the instant gratification itch that our modern digital culture has fomented, and if you tack on a bit of branding to the print you’ve quite literally, left an impression with the attendee.

 

 

 

 

What happens when you ditch the shotlist?

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What creative can look like

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 on  a 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.

How 360 cameras are revolutionizing photography

Sailing on the open sea....

Sailing on the open sea….

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of a photograph has always been how it is framed. Not the actual frame you hang it on (though that too plays a role) but exactly what the photographer chose to capture with his or her camera. Framing a shot, its composition, has always been the most important part of what makes a photograph work, or not.

The technological constraint of a lens, until very recently, required photographers to make choices.

I, photographer, am somewhere where something is happening. I can look around and see everything that’s going on, but when I put the camera to my eye, I am immediately (and quite literally) putting on blinders. I am looking through a kind of keyhole, and almost like a symphony conductor calling out the lead violinist during a performance, am visually selecting the element(s) of the scene that I wish to focus on and draw attention to.

The resulting image, stilled into permanence, has a beginning, middle and end, just like a story. It has edges. You can’t see what’s happening outside the frame, and often that which is not shown reveals something as well and can add poignancy and another layer of meaning to the image.

All of that, of course, is completely upended (if a sphere can be said to have an up or a down) when you use a 360 camera like the Ricoh Theta S, for example as I have begun to do at the events I cover. Suddenly, the image the photographer has chosen to take, is no longer fully within his or her control. Once it’s created, anyone who chooses to view it, can also chose to spin it around, and transform the view from whatever was in the photographer’s mind, to their own.

While these devices are still in their early days, and their use still largely treated as a novelty I wonder where it will take us. As brand marketers and other message-makers are pondering – how do you tell a story when you no longer can restrict the narration to a controlled point of view?

How does a photographer focus on a visual element that resonates with some emotional quality or narrative thrust when the image is no longer bound by a frame?

Virtual reality is another way forward on photography’s perpetual technological evolution and expansion. Photography has always been driven by technological change and will continue to be. With each new development, photography has expanded its reach and moved deeper and deeper into a wider audience of both consumers and practitioners.

The distance between photographer and subject is foreshortening. We are all both photographer and subjects now. And with 360 images, the compression is complete, as in every 360 taken (by hand), there appears not just the photographer’s subjects but the photographer him or herself.

I am certain, as with every techno-driven change in photo equipment, we are on the cusp of a whole new way of experiencing photography, and of course even more so with video. I don’t think VR will replace traditional photography, just as cell phones haven’t killed the DSLR, or the DSLR the SLR for that matter, to wax technogeekily for a moment).

We’re just now entering a new and thrilling phase where professional photographers can now use multiple points of view to document and create a record of what has happened. The images produced – with or without edges – can convey an even deeper and more resonant sense of the experience. And that’s very exciting.

Three arguments for hiring an event photographer you can use to impress your boss

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The table is set

I’ve recently set up a series of business development meetings with potential clients whom I expected to be regular users of photographers for their events. I was surprised to learn that some of them had never hired a photographer to cover an event. This made me stop and think about the value a photographer brings to event organizers. Here are three reasons why hiring a photographer for your event might be a good idea, especially if you or your organization has never hired one before:

Documentation: One aspect of what I do when covering an event is capture the room set-up, before guests arrive. Known as “beauty shots” I always find taking these images a little tedious but I recognize they are an important part of documenting the event, and not simply to show off how beautiful the space looks. Having these types of set-up shots are incredibly useful to new staff members who may not have been at any previous events but find themselves being responsible for setting up the next one. Images of how the room is laid out, the food served, (even napkins showing the caterer’s name) can be very useful for the newbie whose responsibility it is to make this year’s event as impressive (or more) than last year’s.

Exposure to new technology: With phones and inexpensive small point and shoots, budget wary clients may be tempted to skip on adding an extra line item to the event bill, but in so doing, they risk missing out on the latest trends in camera technology that an active event photographer is likely to be using. Virtual reality (360), and time lapses cameras, for example, are not likely to be found in the office cupboard but they do add interesting and engaging visual elements in the aftermath of the event that can be leveraged for marketing or social media by the organizer. If there is an outdoor activity, or excursion such as a river cruise or guided city-walk, a drone might be used to capture some unique views of the guests. While it likely doesn’t make sense for most organizations to own this kind of expensive kit, having them available for an event can make a huge difference in generating exciting, even spectacular images that can used for any number of purposes afterwards.

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John Chambers (CEO, Cisco Systems Inc) speaking to partners

It makes your guests feel important: event photography, like any form of interactive art, is part theatre. A great event photographer brings not just the right kit, but the right attitude that actually improves the general ambience and vibe of an event. A professional photographer in attendance also sends the message to your guests that they matter and that they are worth spending a little extra on. If part of the reason for hosting an event in the first place is to impress the people in attendance, professional photography pays dividends far in above its costs.

The new event photography

Dancing at the Children's Ball 2016 #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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.

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How do I check Facebook on this thing?

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.

Look up!

Look up!

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

We're connected

We’re connected

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.

Materializing experiences

As the next large cohort of consumers grows in influence, (yes, I’m talking about millennials again despite that being an omni-term covering a slew of micro-communities), we’re witnessing the ascendance of experiences over materialism.

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 of  your 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 marketing here 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.

The new event photography is more than just great photography. It has to be fun too. Interactive. Exciting. A mix of images from candid closeups to well composed groups is just table stakes now. Covering events now includes offering a blend of image types – from drone photos and videography to virtual reality 360 photos and videos – to simply stay in the game.  Having this kind of kit and knowing how to use it helps keep the professional event photographer one step ahead of the curve. But most importantly, it makes participating in event photography more fun for the increasingly  hard to please people who go to events and make an event what it is. And don’t forget social mediagraphy: live tweeting, Instagramming, Snapchatting and sharing links on LinkedIn is also part of the event photographer’s bag today.

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)
  • Time-lapse cameras
  • Rapid turnaround on event images (highlights reel post-event, finished product within 24 hrs)
  • Digital delivery from secure, online gallery
  • Visible social media presences across multiple platforms (I.e. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest and yes, even Google+)
  • 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.

Urban innovation and smile tech

I was covering a conference the other week in Montreal for the New Cities Foundation Summit 2016 which offered an illuminating tour of the latest trends in urban technology and visions of cities in the future. The New Cities Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 2010, focused on bringing people together around the central theme of urban technology and innovations that are shaping cities around the world as we enter an increasingly urban age.  It is estimated that by 2050, 6.5 billion people will live in cities, up from 4 billion today. Sustainable solutions to our transport, energy, waste management and housing needs are essential and core to living healthier, safer lives on a healthy planet. It was a real pleasure to be in attendance, and have the upfront opportunities to experience some of the inspirational speakers and provocative presentations at the conference — one of the perks of being a conference photographer.

Some of the highlights for me were the series of presentations from Global Urban Innovators (GUIs), a group of international startups building companies around urban innovations to address the needs of people today and into the future:

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Chummy Agarwal, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer presented his company Jugnoo, an on-demand auto-rickshaw app based in India.

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Niamh Kirwin, Marketing and Communications Manager, shared her exciting startup, Foodcloud, that focuses on reducing food waste in cities by bringing surplus food to those who need it.

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Steven Ramage, Strategy Director, What3Words, really blew my mind explaining how his company has developed a new address system for the world given every 3 square meters on the planet a three-word name such as “Banana Car Giraffe” to give everyone everywhere a usable address.

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Raphaël Gindrat, CEO and Co-Fuonder, Bestmile, taking a truly forward looking view is building an ecosystem to manage autonomous vehicle fleets: a fleet management software, a smartphone application, a system for traveler information and solutions for the control of smart infrastructure, creating a platform that works like a “brain”,  enabling the control of many autonomous vehicles at the same time.

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Geert Houben, Founder and CEO, Cubigo, addressing the problem of an ageing population, social isolation and loneliness, has developed “one app to rule them all” that integrates a suite of apps that helps older people with restricted access and mobility live more independent lives.

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Chris Gourlay, Founder and CEO, Spacehive, talked about the platform he and his team have developed to help engaged citizens access funding for their civic projects so they can transform unused urban spaces (anything from parking lots to empty mall space)

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Aaron Lander, Co-Founder and CEO, Popupsters, shared his passion for the platform he and his team are building to connect artisans, vendors and makers with events.

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Arielle Guedes, Founder & CEO, Urban3D is aiming to do nothing less than radically transform the construction industry, creating a new process of building and developing new materials using 3D printers to create natural materials, that do not require metal reinforcement or cement.

CK4A2910.jpgChong-Wey Lin, Founder, OurCityLove, a Taiwanese based social enterprise seeking to increase and improve accessibility in the urban environment for mobility challenged people.

“I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”

While later mingling with the audience as they were engaged in networking and exchanging ideas and business cards, I was approached by one of the attendees who asked me to send through some of the photos I had taken of her with her fellow attendees. I am often asked by guests for access to their photos and I try to accommodate people who ask me as best I can, with my clients consent. Part of what I love about my job are these opportunities to meet interesting people from around the world. In this case, when I asked what she did I was told that she works for an organization that uses technology to help bring more peace to the world. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be involved with and when I was asked about my work, I responded, “I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”

It was a quick and playful response, of course, but on reflection, it is actually an accurate description of what it means to be a photographer of people. Photographers at events can be seen as a nuisance, or an interruption but in my many years experience what I’ve learned is that we also provide a very valuable service beyond mere documentation and the images we deliver to our clients. When I see a group of people talking slightly awkwardly together in that business networking conference attendee way before the second cocktail round, I approach and ask them to stand together and smile. It only takes a few seconds, and I usually proffer some kind of light banter to make them laugh a bit. It works beautifully for getting a nice photograph, but I’ve notice the effect lingers and the smiling usually persists after I’ve buzzed away. It’s just human nature to feel more open and accepting of another person who is smiling at you and though I don’t take much credit for it, I do believe that the thousands of such small interactions I’ve instigated have, over time, produced many more smiles than might otherwise have happened.

Call it the butterfly shutterfly effect, a photographer’s contribution to making the world a better place.

The hidden cost of free

Way, way back when I first began working as a freelance photographer, I was sometimes tempted (and asked) to work for free to gain experience, or because the client pitched their event as a “great chance to market yourself.”  I sometimes accepted, reluctantly, and almost always found myself regretting the decision.

The experience gained was usually not as it was presented by the client, and invariably, the “great marketing opportunity” translated into more offers to work for free from the client’s guest list, if any at all.

The concept of how you can give stuff away and still make money was written up in a book by Chris Anderson called “Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing“, (notably not for free on Amazon), which commented on and helped fuel the whole Freemium model startups love, in which a basic service is given away for free (like Google does with Gmail) and then a small percentage of users are charged for the more advanced features of a premium account, usually on a monthly subscription. 

As much as I’d like the idea of selling subscriptions to my services as a photographer (a day in the life, once a month for a year anyone?), on the few occasions where I did actually work for nothing, the results never paid off.

It shouldn’t really seem all that surprising. People who expect something for nothing aren’t usually the kind of people who turn into great clients. And as amplifiers and marketers on your behalf, the only message that usually gets communicated is that you work for free.

In creative fields like photography, writing, videography, graphic design, etc. where a large number of freelancers are competing for contracts, there is still pressure to “sell” your services for free in the hopes of winning a paying contract down the line.

When it’s a bad idea to work for free

Here’s why it doesn’t work for service providers the same way it might work out for a startup whose only cost is server space.

  1. You want to develop a customer relationship: Alas, customer loyalty just ain’t what it used to be. Because of the pernicious effect of freebies spawned by internet startups and the mass disintermediation the internet has enabled (allowing rich market businesses to buy services from poorer market labourers), loyalty is an increasingly rare resource. As a freelancer, odds are, your clients won’t come around as often as you’d like them to. Even with a regular working relationship, you may only get two or three contracts a year. For most freelancers, that’s not sufficient revenue to survive, let alone thrive.
  2. Free is expensive: If your free client does ever come back to you, you’ve set the bar very low for when you do eventually need to charge them real money to cover your operating costs and keep putting things into your body like food. At that point you’ll realize that negotiating for a fee compared to free. vs. a lower fee compared to a higher fee leaves you with less green in your jeans.
  3. Free gets ignored: People don’t respect what they don’t pay for. It’s as simple as that. Even if you charge a very low cost that just barely covers your operating costs, you are sending the message that you respect yourself and are confident in your ability. Any client not willing to pay even a low fee is not ever going to turn into a client that values you for what you can provide and you are better off putting that time and effort into finding clients who will.

When it’s okay to work for free

There are some times, however, when it’s okay to give your services away. (In fact, I was recently sent a bunch of free custom usb drives from someone I didn’t know, and unusually, I accepted the offer. I don’t know if I’ll buy more, but I liked the way I was approached by the company and the fact that they were willing to offer me something of value just because. I also like the way the drives looked -ego stroke!):

  1. It’s for a cause you care about: If you are drawn to a particular charity, or cause, and want to help them with their fundraising efforts, then you could consider offering your services to the organizers as a gift-in-kind donation. I do this for charitable causes related to children’s health, girls education and cancer research because I care about these issues and like the feeling I get lending my talent towards a worthy cause. It feels good to give, and we should all do more of it, but it should be clear both to you and the recipient that it is a deliberate choice that you are making because you care. It is completely justifiable and fair to ask for a charitable receipt for the fair market value of your services, in this scenario.
  2. You need content for your portfolio: when you are just starting out as a creative professional, your most important asset is your work, your book, your portfolio. It’s the first thing prospective clients want to see once you’ve established contact and if yours is too lean or weak to impress them you’ll never break into the field you’re trying to get into. If this is your case, then it’s okay to do free work, but be very careful about how you do it and it is still worth putting a contract in place that specifies that you own the work, and get to promote it and include it in your portfolio.
  3. You want to learn: in photography and many other creative fields, you start out knowing enough to get going but you are far from expert at anything. It is an art form that takes years to get really good at. And that’s great because one of the things that inspires lifelong passion is the chance to always be learning something new. If you are looking to master a technique, or just gain exposure to a line of work you are researching, then again, offering your services for free can be worthwhile. It isn’t really free because you are getting educated and making contacts in your industry. If you choose this path, research the person you want to work alongside and always keep the focus on your learning while trying to offer something of value to the person or organization you’ve joined up with so that when the time comes for you to strike out on your own for real, you’ll have someone who will feel comfortable referring work to you and or maybe even hire you first.

Working at something you love is a reward in itself and it pays dividends throughout your life in terms of happiness, self-actualization, self-confidence and just being free to live and work on your own terms. Autonomy and independence are enormously empowering emotions and should factor into anyone’s decision to go it alone and become an entrepreneur, whether as a freelancer or business owner. But giving yourself away for free for too long ultimately slows down your growth and potentially undermines it completely.

Access & Reach

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Lewis Hamilton, winner, Grand Prix Formula 1, in Montreal, June 12, 2016

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.

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Javier Bardem arriving at the Grand Prix Formula 1, smiling despite the cold rainy weather

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.

Penelope Cruz posing with La Robe de Victoire in support of breast cancer research

Penelope Cruz posing with La Robe de Victoire in support of breast cancer research

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.

LA-ROBE-DE-LA-VICTORIEIn 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, than your access and reach is a waste. Both are on loan to you, and both are ultimately a privilege not a right.

Devon Windsor, "Angel" Victoria Secrets model posing with La Robe de la Victoire

Devon Windsor, “Angel” Victoria Secrets model posing with La Robe de la Victoire

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

 

 

 

 

The last time you did anything

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Anytime you do something, it’s the last time you do it. Even if you are working on a manufacturing line, repeating the same process day in and day out, the sameness of your experience is an illusion you can recognize and discard so that you can grow past it.  Just as you can never step in the same river twice, you can never truly repeat anything. You are always on the first and last attempt.

This to me translates into making every moment count. Everything matters when you realize that you won’t have a second chance at it.

When I am taking photos at the events I cover, I am pressing my shutter button hundreds of times a night. In a given week I may shoot upwards of 3,000 images.  Do I really believe that every shot matters?

Yes, I do. Because that instant I am observing, when a face breaks into a smile, or a pair of eyes light up with intelligence and interest, matters to me and in another millisecond it will pass. The light in the room will change, sometimes within minutes. The “vibe” and feeling in the room will flow and alter course as the night progresses. Nothing remains constant. Each shot is another opportunity to capture something that won’t ever happen just the same way again.

You might think that this is exaggeration and hyperbole. Philosophically you may cede the point, but really, does it matter that much whether you get a shot of that woman smiling over at table 68, or that man in deep conversation standing by the projection screen? Maybe it doesn’t to you. But when I’m working, I think it does. And if you are that person on the other end of the shot, it may matter to you.

I’ve had the experience now of having taken the last photo of a few people who I later learned died not long afterwards. I can’t be certain mine was the very last photo taken, but I think it’s probable. Once it was a young caregiver at my daughter’s daycare, another time a much loved and respected philanthropist. When I look at these photos I think to myself what if I had just not bothered that one time. If I had turned my attention inward or off a little, been a little blasé about what I was doing. After all, I’m just an event photographer. I’m not saving lives in an emergency room or devoting myself to teaching literacy to poor underprivileged children in the developing world.

If I had done that of course, these photos wouldn’t exist. And I like to think that whatever comfort they may have provided to the loved ones they left behind, would have been a little less. Maybe that doesn’t matter to everyone, but it matters to me.

I also recognize, when reflecting on these rare occasions, that you never know when you are living your last day. It always amazes me that we live our lives and then one day they just stop. Lurking in every breath we take is the thought, perhaps the fear, that one day we will take our last. Will I be ready? Will I have done enough? Will I have mattered?

Thinking that way pushes me right back into the present moment. If this could be my last day, time with my child, meal, walk in a park…I want it to matter. I want it to count. I want to take it all in and absorb everything possible from the experience.

This also transforms the natural fear of death, into a powerful joyful fuel. You will end. So while you are here, make everything matter. This moment now won’t come back. So be in it. And the next one to. For as long as you have.

This kind of thinking infuses not just my work, but all of my life. How I spend my time with friends and family. The things I like to do. The way I recover when I mess up and break the trust with myself or another. When I am losing my temper over some kind of momentary situation, I always return to the awareness that the moment is passing and if this were to be my last, I would not want it to end this way.

It doesn’t matter what you do. Whether you drive a truck for a living or trade financial derivatives that no one understands but are making you filthy rich. The moments matter. Being conscious of them can enhance your time infinitely and bring richness to every encounter such that the everyday becomes almost miraculous in its power to give and teach you something new.

Don’t wait.

When does pricing per image make sense?

When should a client and photographer opt for a per image pricing contract?

Pricing in photography has always been a challenge and will continue to be so as the demand for creative images increases in tandem with the abundance of suppliers.  While quality can vary considerably between photographers, the bottom end of the range has risen in line with technology so an average shooter ten years ago is now able to deliver reasonably good images with some basic kit that may meet the needs of some clients. On the upper end, the possibilities of what can be done with images in post-production, as well as the quality of images that can be captured and created now with top-line professional gear that can include virtual reality cameras like the Ricoh Theta S, drones and a range of pro lenses, is even more impressive and can satisfy even the most demanding of clients.

The struggle remains however, for the independent photographer, in determining the right price for their work when a request comes in from a new client. Given the paucity of full time jobs for photographers and the oversaturation of people in the field all calling themselves professionals, pricing for any given type of photographic assignment is really widely distributed. The range begins at free and rises up through the thousands for the same kind of assignment.

I recently read a very good and thorough article on PetaPixel by Rosh Sillars that explores the idea of pricing photography in 2016 in great detail. I recommend reading it for anyone – producer or buyer – who is in the market of hiring photographers, buying photographs or producing images. I want to focus on just one aspect of the article, regarding per image pricing as it is a concept I am beginning to explore with my clients and feel that in certain contexts it makes the most sense from both the photographer’s and buyer’s point of view.

Specifically, I want to explore types of assignments I am experienced in where it would and would not make sense to offer per-image pricing. I look at four types of photography: event, portrait, editorial/website and wedding.

EVENT PHOTOGRAPHY:

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Per image pricing? Not for most situations

One of the challenges an event photographer encounters with every gig is how to gauge what balance of images a client actually needs and will use vs coverage provided. In most events for which a photographer is contracted, there is a planned agenda which is followed with more or less adhesion depending on the client, type of event etc. While not every event has speakers or centre-stage activity, there will be a timeline and detailed plan for the night that an event manager has hashed out, often down to the minute. This holds true whether you are covering an international conference or a local wedding.  As the person responsible for providing visual coverage of the event, one of your tasks is to capture everything that happens – which includes both scheduled agenda items, as well as candid moments, beauty shots of rooms, important items, and often signage and evidence of sponsorship activity.  The result is a tendency to err on the side of over-shooting such that at the end of even a brief 2 or 3 hour event you may well have a few hundred images to subsequently sort through, curate, edit and then deliver to the client.

How would per-image pricing work in that scenario? I have never met a client who wants to pay more to do more work, which is exactly what would happen were a per-image pricing model enlisted in this context. Furthermore, some of the most beautiful and engaging images I have captured as an event photographer happen in those unscripted moments where people experience some kind of emotional uplift or response to each other. These images are often my signature pieces but would they make the cut if a client is suddenly sensitized to the idea of having to pay for each and every image?

I suppose the model exacts a discipline on both the photographer and the client to really focus in on the essentials, and this kind of a constraint can have a positive impact on creativity, but I believe it would have a greater negative effect on the overall workflow of the shooter and result in a less attentive, less responsive style of shooting that would skew towards the main event, ignoring or overlooking the often much more interesting, fun and engaging, off-stage type moments where the magic tends to happen when people gather.

PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY

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Per image pricing? Yes, almost always

Portrait photography much more easily lends itself to per image pricing. Often a client is booking for a number of employees, the shoots take place on site in the client’s office and there are invariably last minute additions when random employees wander past and see a photoshoot going on and beg to have a shot “so I can update my LinkedIn profile”.  A day rate or per hour contract in this scenario can be costly for the photographer as the workload is effectively uncontrollable. When shooting portraits in the client’s office, there is a lot of pre and post work involved, not the least of which may be physically accessing sometimes inconveniently located office spaces, navigating a labyrinth of loading dock, freight elevators and shipping doors lugging around the unwieldy collection of light stands, gear, etc., required to make everyone look beautiful. Then there is the set up-almost always in an office that is cramped and small-before the shoot happens. While each subject may not require more than 10 or 15 minutes, post-shoot there is the added work of sorting, and editing final versions of images that are highly scrutinized by their likenesses. It is not for the faint of heart and all in, a per image pricing model makes a lot of sense. How much per image is a completely different story of course, as the end result needs to still align with client expectations and counter the misperception that all you’re doing is pressing a button.

I normally calculate portraits on a per image fee, starting from a fixed base for the onsite studio set-up than a per head fee that can be adjusted based on discussions with clients vis-a-vis budgets, as well as the type of client being served.  I consider it fair to offer lower, more flexible rates to smaller businesses and charge full pop for corporate users. My pricing is based on a fairly elaborate calculation that takes into account not just all the work required to perform the specific task, but the overhead involved in marketing a corporate portrait business, and aftermarket support to clients.

EDITORIAL/WEBSITE PHOTOGRAPHY

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Per image pricing? Yes, almost always

Thanks to the convergence of social media sites and formerly corporate websites, there is an ever-growing demand for fresh photography to populate an array of digital properties most companies have to manage today to ensure their brands stay relevant and they are engaging their customers where and how they like to be engaged. This generates, in turn, an  insatiable desire for imagery which is heavily skewed to photography. While video is a rising star in the digital marketing world, use-cases for video are still more restricted than photography. While it’s quite possible to envision a website with no video on it, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the same with no photography. And as most stock imagery these days is recognizable as such, clients with even a little budget are thinking creatively about their needs and hiring photographers to generate their own library of custom stock photography. It can be done affordably and may often be less expensive than the ostensible cheaper option of using stock images. But in either case, a per image fee makes a lot of sense here. Clients who hire photographers to come in and document a day in the life of their office space usually have a set of images in mind that they’d like to see at the end of the day. A talented photographer can work through that kind of list and add value by shooting the shot list with their own brand of creativity that can excited clients when they see the final results. As well, this can be a very low-risk type of contract for a client to enter into as there are no fees paid other than for the images they themselves select and place a value on.

For these kinds of contracts, whether the images are ultimately destined for internal client use, a public facing website or publication or media, the pricing per image should reflect both the effort and skill required to take them, as well as the post-production necessary. While some photographers will share unedited proofs, I believe this to be a terrible idea that is highly disfavourable to the photographer. A movie producer does not release a trailer of the unedited cuts. Most clients, regardless of their sophistication and experience purchasing photography, do not have the time and skill required to parse an image, as it were, and see it for its potential from an unedited proof. More than likely they will deem the work subpar, and judge the photographer accordingly.  While there is a risk to the photographer of editing a batch of images that may not, in the end, be purchased, this can be mitigated against by making a judicious selection of images to edit and share with the client initially. Once the client’s appetite has been whetted, more images can be processed and shown should the client express interest.

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

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Per image pricing? No.

Wedding photography (which I run through a separate weddings focused business here), is in my opinion, the mother of all excess and the source of the most widely varied pricing in the industry. This is due to a conflux of factors including: first time buyers, people spending other people’s money, vast gaps between expectation and reality when it comes to desired outcomes vs real budgets, and good old fashioned price gouging, exaggerated markups and unscrupulous vendors taking advantage of misinformed or unsaavvy buyers to charge huge, unwarranted premiums.

Now before all you wedding photographers get your corsages all tied up in a knot, I’ll say that some wedding photographers are truly gifted artists and power to them for charging as much as they can and finding receptive clients happy to pay. These comments are not for you. But for the wedding factory type photography outfits, the fly-by-nighters, and the countless hacks who claim to offer some kind of premium service when all they are really doing is grabbing at extra margin because they’ve inserted the word “wedding” into their portfolio, I believe the balance of power is shifting to consumers and your days of overcharging are numbered.

Brides and grooms, while subject to a vast array of marketing machines aiming for their wedding dollars, are becoming savvier and more prudent with who and how they hire. Paying a fixed package price that takes into account all the extras and additional work of a wedding is fair, but spending over $10,000 on wedding photography, no matter how jaw-droopingly beautiful you may be, is just a silly waste of money. Yes, weddings are a lot of work and they are rightfully a little more expensive than your average event photography contract. While the same skill set is required, given the intimate nature of the event, the vast number of guests who are all in their own way important, and the richness of opportunity for touching moments to happen and be captured by a sensitive photographer, there is necessarily an increase in effort that needs to correlate to price. Within reason.

I would not see a per-image pricing model as any way satisfactory for clients for their wedding. In a typical wedding photography contract a photographer works anywhere from eight to fourteen hours on the wedding day. There is often more than one location, multiple lighting situations to accommodate for, and a parade of necessary if rather formulaic images the clients will expect to receive. The photographer is also considered the expert and will have a leading role to play in organizing groupings, and managing the “formal” parts of the shoot. All of this is best covered under a blanket fee based on a blended rate that covers both time on the ground, as well as the significant post-production work that will be done on the images.

In reviewing these four types of photography assignments, it is clear that in all cases, the best pricing model for both client and photographer is aligned. Much noise is made in photographer circles about the costs of maintaining a photography business (expensive gear, high upgrade costs, time to market, etc) but I don’t think that is at all relevant to clients nor should it be. No one forces a photographer to go into business. If you are a photographer, you’ve chosen a career with variable income, and high operating costs. Complaining about that to your clients doesn’t get you better pricing and won’t make you more money. Choosing the right kind of pricing structure for the job that places the client’s interests above your own, on the other hand, will.