Zero Waste Photography

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Your client has booked you for a full day conference, say beginning at 7am to capture registration all the way through to 11 pm to close out the evening gala. Everything is happening in a few similarly drab conference rooms. Sometimes, just one, where you’ll be spending your entire day and most of the night, training your lens in on the same faces over and over and over again. As creative as you get with angles, bounce flash, focal lengths, at some point (usually around 2pm) you will reach the limits of your creative energy. When you catch yourself repositioning branded napkins, or shooting the conference centre decor, you know you’ve gone too far.

Because of how most events and conferences are organized, there are key moments, scheduled presentations and other agenda items happening throughout the day and night that need to be covered. But there is also a lot of in-between time where you’re effectively standing around in the room, looking for interesting shots to take because you’ve got all you need from the speaker and there’s still 45 minutes left in the keynote…

As every professional events or conference photographer knows, these hours can be long on gigs when you’ve shot everything there is to be shot and you’re still booked for several more hours onsite.

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Ideally you would settle on a fixed rate for the work, then simply use the in-between time to start processing your images onsite, getting a head start on tomorrow’s burden of image edits that await you, but unfortunately, fixed rates don’t usually cover the time spent on the site. For some strange reason, clients seem to believe that a “day rate” should be cheaper than the sum of the total hours on the job, and that a working day for a freelance photographer is 12 hours long.

Alas, since the hourly rate is still the most accurate way to match effort to compensation, it is what usually gets used for setting a price. And that leaves you, the photographer, bound by that schedule with all those hours to fill.

This invariably creates the temptation to produce waste. You are there anyway, so you might as well keep shooting.  But neither you, nor ultimately your client, needs or even wants ten photos of the same faces in the same room taken under the same lighting conditions during the same presentation.

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And don’t get me started on the “shots from the dancefloor” which, like cut flowers on the counter, rapidly deteriorate as the party continues. The fun may be ramping up, but the photos start capturing more and more of what most guests would prefer to not put on record (shiny sweaty red faces, wardrobe malfunctions, male pursy lip dance faces, etc).

My solution is a developing aesthetic towards photographic minimalism. My goal is to shoot only what I will use. No more, no less. Capture exactly what the client needs, but resist the temptation to spray the room with shots simply because I can and I have time to fill.

A very good practice is to align with the client on how the images will be used. If, as is usually the case, the objective is to generate a bank of images to market the event online, use in ads, websites, newsletters and a curated photo gallery for attendees, then the needs are clear.

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What this means in practice is, shoot better and shoot less. Take your time to actually envision the shot you want to create, then wait for the right moment to take it.

Making speakers and presenters look awesome:

  • Piling on shot after shot of the same speaker taken from microscopically altered focal lengths or slightly different crops is not necessary. Five great, varied shots of anyone at a podium is more valuable than 25 ok shots of the same subject.

Capturing conference audience engagement:

  • Organizers always want audience reactions shots. And by audience reaction, they don’t mean heads down looking at their phones. Because the audience is sitting there in front of you, you may be tempted to shoot either indiscriminately by simply pointing the camera in its direction and hitting the button, or you may over shoot them, by continuously scanning the crowd and shooting every half-cocked head, smiling face or look of rapt attention. What do you really need? Perhaps thirty or forty really excellent images of audience engagement taken over the course of the full day. Fifty is probably too many, and twenty too few.

Documenting attendee interactions at trade shows:

  • Walk the floor once just to take in the views and get a sense of the vendors, spaces and exhibits, then walk it again and start shooting. Get the interactions between vendors/participants every client wants, maybe a booth shot of the exhibitors and move on. Unless you’re working a massive, multi-chambered German style trade show, even this more intensive coverage can be accomplished within two hours max.

Showcasing the ambience and VIPs at gala parties:

  • Take in a few wide, ambience shots; a handful of decorative elements, and then simply – and only – shoot when you can get the right lighting effect on your subject. I’ve covered countless huge gala events where organizers are very wowed by their events company and want you to capture the same look and feel in your images, without really understanding that how something looks to the naked eye does not always translate well through a lens. Some lighting (red!) is very difficult to make anyone not look sort of horror showy in, and other kinds of strong pot light effects create harsh contrasts that are nearly impossible to shoot well without making some compromise either on exposure or focus. Far better to take fewer, well composed and captured images of people when those moments do arise when the conditions present themselves, then to fill your cards with images you ultimately won’t be able to use.

When you’ve finally packed it in for the night, what you have sitting on your SD cards is all there is to re-vision, re-package and re-market the event. An immediate filter is applied called time, that means that from the hundreds of images you might have taken, only the really great ones will ever get shown or used. The vast majority of images delivered to clients wind up buried alive on hard drives never to resurface.

As the person charged with documenting the evening, your ultimately job is to deliver a set of images that tell the story of the night, the day, the speech, the award ceremony etc, without any of the unnecessary filler that actually took up most of the time during the gig.

Rare indeed is the client who wants more to do more work – save them, and yourself, the trouble by training yourself to shoot less, paying more attention to capturing the meaningfully and visually gorgeous images that people will want to share, ignoring everything else.

The Human Search Engine

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in a “day rate”?

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

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

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

“…as the day is long”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build flexibility into the bid

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

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

 

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The Big Picture

Everything happens faster now.

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

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

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

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Life’s more fun in real time

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

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I want to be a star on the big screen

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

How much coverage do you need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Un-Golf Tournament

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

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

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

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

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

Video killed the presenter star

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

Hey presenters – stop using video to open for you!

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

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What event organizers should think about when they think about lighting

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

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

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

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

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Hiring a local photographer from abroad

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

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

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

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Snow Woman – Jan 5, 2018 #365days2018

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

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Mix a little Wabi-sabi with your photography in 2018

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

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

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What do you use the photos for?

 

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(Julian Haber Photography) An attendee taking a break in some temporary furniture at LACoMotion in the Los Angeles Arts District earlier this month

What do you use the photos for?

A question I get asked a lot by people I meet at conferences and events I am covering is “What are the photos for?”  Sometimes it’s phrased as “ where do the photos end up?” or “Who are you working for” but the intent is always to understand why I am attending every session, popping up at the front of the room during the keynote and constantly scanning crowds for emotions and reactions, like a security guard on high alert.

Millions of photos get taken every day only to flicker briefly across a small screen then roll down out of sight forever. What makes the images produced by an event photographer any different?

It’s a fair question and deserves a brief response. In person I invariably say I am hired by the organizer to cover the event and leave it at that, but if you are the organizer, it is worthwhile considering exactly what you intend to do with the images.

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(Julian Haber Photography) An early morning walk for health-minded attendees at a recent family medicine conference in Montreal

We need it now

These days there is a demand for very quick turnaround on photos to populate Twitter feeds, Facebook page posts and generate Instagrammable moments. This rapid turnaround on photos requires a quick selection and in-phone edit to get highlights out to a designated contact onsite who then flips the images into targeted posts. Conferences, in particular, benefit from this kind of speedy service. Generating a steady stream of content linked to the presentations and discussions taking place at the conference provides the organizer with a rich social media stream throughout the conference, and leaves behind a trail of moments that can be used, post-conference, to get a broad summary view of the entire event for those unable to attend.  This extends the reach of the event, helps promote the next one, and drives traffic to the organizer’s site while it’s happening.

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(Julian Haber Photography) An audience paying attention to the speaker with no one looking at their phone!

Always online marketing

Another related use of event and conference photography is simply to  have a bank of owned, edited, usable images crafted exclusively with your n annual gathering of family physicians or an international host of 5G engineers, your organization will be communicating with attendees – and prospective attendees – throughout the year. Email blasts, blog posts, press releases, Tweets, LinkedIn stories, etc will always need a few good photos to illustrate the content. Regardless of how meaningful or well written your piece is, without images your engagement levels will sink. Being able to draw from a well of images you’ve specifically had shot for you, at your own events, with your own needs in mind means when you are under the gun to get a press release out you have ample images to choose from to help augment your pitch.

Selling the story

Similarly, as over-used as it has become, people respond to stories first. No one really appreciated being sold to, or marketed at – but that same prospect eagerly absorbs a story if it comes with a relevant emotional hook and appeals to something greater than a desperate plea to “Click Here” for the next dopamine hit. Photos that show a real moment shared between attendees at an event tell the story of what to expect clearly and intuitively. Going to conferences or coming out to an industry event has huge potential benefits for a person’s career, professional network and reputation. But the price tag to attend can sometimes be daunting, or more significantly, making the time in a busy schedule can be challenging. A prospective attendee has to feel that it’s going to be worth it and getting him or her to read through any length of text or preview an agenda isn’t going to cut it. They want to speed through a reel of photos from your last event, watch 20-30 seconds of a highlight reel and decide if the location and theme of your upcoming conference is worth their time.

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(Julian Haber Photography) We did it! Organizers happily enjoying well-run evening event

And that’s all just the external facing uses of event photos. Internally images are shared during employee only / team building events. They can be used for documentary purposes just to remember how the room was laid out, or the exact number and placement of screens set up. They are helpful for on boarding new staff who may suddenly find themselves responsible for wrangling crowds of several hundred or even thousands of people. And of course, they can be used in targeted sends to past speakers, sponsors and other key financial contributors to an event to extend and share the same benefits to them.

Photography has become more important than ever in a media-saturated age, and having images that really stand out and make your event look its best are key to the success of future events. In the end, the images become a part of your brand’s story and one of several tools event organizers need to continually develop their market and maintain relevance in an increasingly crowded space.

How to thrive as a freelance photographer

I’ve been working as a freelance photographer for over fifteen years, starting from humble beginnings to having a pretty thriving practice today with a team of photographers and videographers to help me better serve the growing and changing needs of my expanding clientele.

Despite major technological changes in photography putting a camera in everyone’s hands, event photography has only grown. While there are thousands of photographers around today, there is also a huge and consistently growing need for images that tell stories, communicate brand personality and help event managers reach their audiences.

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In the past month alone I and my team have covered fashion shows, balls, multi-day conferences, trade shows, recruitment fairs, graduation ceremonies, business luncheons, unveiling ceremonies, gala events and parties, executive retreats and several fundraiser evenings.  It’s been an exhausting yet still exhilarating fall season and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.

Here are some highlight images from this hectic fall season:

Taking a moment to pause and reflect, I think one of the keys to having a successful thriving freelance photography business is keeping the needs of your clients foremost in your mind at all times.

A “client” may be one person, or a team of people, all of whom you as the event or conference photographer are there to serve. The agenda may change, schedules get moved around. You may need to deliver a quick set of select images in real-time, or show up at an ungodly 6:45 am call time for a cold walk outdoors in sub-zero November weather because your client needs you there. It’s all part of the job.

If I had to summarize the most important traits a successful freelance photographer (or any freelancer really) needs it would be the following (and only one really has to do with technical ability):

  • Adaptability: being prepared and ready to adapt to sometimes (often) very last minute needs and change requests from clients.
  • Client-first attitude: while it’s important to bring your experience to bear on events you are asked to cover (you should be the one choosing where group shots get taken, and paying attention to details that show up in an image that clients are too busy to think of), you are ultimately there to serve the client. If they need you to take a photo of every award recipient that gets up on stage, you do it.
  • Technical prowess: you need to know your gear and how to use it. Galas, conferences, meetings, trade shows – all take place in spaces where lighting is rarely natural. Understanding the best way to show off the room, the people and the space with the available light goes a long way towards delivering images your client will be thrilled to receive and happy to share.
  • Being easy to work with:  this seems like an obvious one, but remarkably, not every photographer seems to recognize where they stand in the pecking order. It’s great to be confident and proud of your work, but there is no place for divas or big egos when you are on a job. You do your work with a smile, or not at all in my opinion. No client needs to deal with you and ultimately everyone is replaceable so while getting the photos right is important, being someone people enjoy working with is even more important.

Getting the gig is of course the most important part of freelancing as a photographer, but once you have it, keeping it going relies more on your personality and how you interact with your client than anything else. Your work has to stand out, but in the end, clients may find you because of your portfolio, but they choose you because of your personality and how you work.

 

The art of event portraiture

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Event photographers are a different breed of photographer than most. Where the product photographer revels in the stillness and controlled quiet of the studio, the event photographer thrives on the noise, the throngs of people, the loud music and dazzling lights. Where the conference photographer studiously captures speakers at their podiums and attendees participating animatedly in workshop and breakout rooms, the event photographer roves, looking for that single instant when a look is shared, a comment made that elicits laughter, a dancer is lost in a moment.

From a client perspective the ideal event photographer captures the full sweep of the event – beauty shots of the spaces, sponsorship elements, ambience, crowd, and importantly intimate candid portraits of individuals.

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It is this detail – the event portrait – that truly captures client attention and makes one set of event photos stand out from another.  And more and more often, clients are making explicit requests for these kinds of shots because they have an authenticity about them that makes the event look worth attending.

While the event standards are still requirements (speakers or hosts on stage, awards handed out, posed shots holding big cheques, etc.), what clients really love seeing is non-posed images of their guests interacting with each other, having a laugh and sharing an experience.

Without event portraiture, event coverage is merely a documentation of what happened and could easily be done using a phone and an admin level junior staffer tasked with capturing a few highlights.  Such an approach would provide a set of images that document the timeline of an event – but it would lack any sense of the people in attendance and the stories they bring with them.

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Faces, expressions, the way the light falls in a certain way upon a group of people, the cut of a dress, the head tossed back in laughter – these are the details and moments that define the event as it is experienced by those who attend.

Although the stage action matters, and the sponsorship signs are important to email back to the sponsors, most event goers pay scant attention to these elements. Rather they are looking at each other – at what people are wearing, who is with who, who is in the room they want to meet (or avoid) and how well the layout and design of the space (and schedule) allows for mingling and networking.

Event portraits drive engagement and really make the images captured useful to clients.  Many times I’ve seen candid images of people I’ve noticed at events used as headshots or profile pictures – rather than a traditional headshot. The reason I think is obvious: people like the way they look when they are not paying attention to a camera and having fun with other people. Their natural expressions come out and their eyes, and smiles show real emotion and genuine interest that is hard to turn on on-demand when it’s picture day in the office.

When the event is all packed up and the glitter dust swept from the floor, what people are most likely to remember – and react to by sharing or buying a ticket for next year’s event – are photos of themselves, looking good and having a good time. How many table shots do you see people sharing on Facebook? Not too many I’d bet. But a well-shot images of someone captured in a moment when they were genuinely engaged in conversation with someone they found interesting is often a picture people like seeing of themselves.

And isn’t that the goal of having event photos in the first place? To engage your audience, and through them, reach into ever wider and expanding networks of like-minded people to grow the impact of your events? Event portraits are one way to help you achieve that.

How cost effective is it using an in-house “photographer”?

Anyone can take a very good photo today, whether it’s to update a headshot for a new LinkedIn profile, or capture some snaps for a company event. If you are running any kind of event for your company one of the ways planners look to contain costs or reduce the budget is to use a (usually junior) staffer to document the event rather than hire out to a professional. Depending on the size of the event and the ultimate purpose for the photos, this can certainly save costs and is worth doing, especially if your internal resource is interested in photography and really wants the added responsibility.

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But…there a few things to consider before asking your graphic artist or comms coordinator to cover an event you are hosting or a conference you’re running.

  1.  What is the opportunity cost? While at first glance it looks like a cost savings to use a resource you’ve already got on salary to do an additional job, at what cost in the use of their time and skill set does it come with? Does your content marketer (whose job it is primarily to write) or your graphic artist (whose job is to work on design, layout and production of materials for web or print) have extra time available to process the images for you? If not, what project are they taking themselves away from to manage, edit, post and deliver your images?
  2. How good are they? Notwithstanding high quality cameras on everyone’s phones, taking good, usable photos at an event requires more than just technology. Does your employee have the character, personality, vim and vigour necessary to get out there and mix it up with the attendees? Will he or she be willing to get up close for speakers and panellists, or group senior managers and executives for portraits? Interaction with guests and attendees is a critical part of getting lively, useful photos from events that will have consistent marketing value afterwards. Is your junior staffer up to the task?
  3. Do they want to do it? If they are asked to “grab some shots” while attending the event, is the request something that is viewed as an opportunity to do something fun (and show off their skills), or is it seen as yet another additional task added to their already large and growing to do list? If the latter they may not be inclined to do more than the minimum which could mean the difference between receiving 10 to 15 images (max) from an event vs 150-200 or more (depending on the length of the event) from which the person receiving the photos has to choose.

DIY photographers are a part of the industry and no professional ever got to where they are today without having started somewhere. If you have budding photographers on your team (and want to encourage their hobby which may result in them eventually leaving your employ) then there is no problem letting them loose at your next company event.

But if you are serving a specific market, and the images from your company events are part of what your clients uses to evaluate your business, think twice. All content produced today scores higher in engagement and ultimately is more effective when paired with strong visuals. Whether you sell access to events or simply want to present your company and its culture to prospective recruits, having a solid bank of quality photos to choose from for your next recruitment or ad campaign, trade show attendance, blog/Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn post, newsletter, etc will have an impact. Nothing kills a piece of good content like a dud photo or an ineffective image.

Don’t let short-sighted thinking limit your ability to deliver on what your company needs to achieve to ostensibly save a few bucks. In the end, it may wind up costing you a lot more than you anticipated.

 

 

Can small brands leverage influencers?

What’s really happening at influencer marketing events

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Okay let’s Boomerang this one

I was recently hired to cover a blogger / influencer meet up in the fashion and beauty market. More and more often I find myself working these kinds of try-vertising, experiential marketing influencer party gigs where a brand (or their ad or public relations firm) sets up some kind of lively cocktail or after work drinks / dinner event for a curated list of local bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers who have a large enough following in both the target city and target audience for the product to hopefully generate some online love.

Influencer marketing 101

Consumer products by and large dominate these kinds of influencer marketing events. I’ve covered lots of events for credit card companies targeting lifestyle & foodie bloggers; various alcoholic beverages; health and wellness; and fashion and beauty. With the immediacy and simplicity of images, Instagram and bloggers still tend to dominate the invitation list.

These categories all tend to have influencers who skew younger (under 30), the vast majority of whom are good looking women showcasing products either by wearing them, applying them or illustrating their use in simple how-to tutorial videos.

Often, but not always, the events are scheduled on or around bigger event weekends in Montreal, like Osheaga (in this case) or Grand Prix. The idea being that the posts, Instagram photos/stories and Snapchats bubble up into streams coalescing with the main event theme, garnering greater lift and impact on a wider audience for an instant in time, in these ephemeral social media. The invitees tend to have followings between 5000-10,000+ and are what would be qualified as micro influencers, or niche players, in line with the nature of these targeted, localized events.

In addition to events, brands increasingly crowdsource images through aggregator sites like Flashstock or Social Native, offering usually no more than $50/post for imagery that either shows the brand in some creative context, or captures a feeling, vibe or look a brand is going for with posts marked up with the designated tags and keywords provided by the brand.

As marketers, the challenge is to leverage these influencers and induce them to effectively tout their brands and products, either in exchange for paid sponsorship deals (rare unless you have a large and engaged following of 100k or more), or simply for a chance to meet other bloggers and influencers, quaff some free booze and sushi and get their ego stroke for being considered important and influential enough to be chosen and invited to one of these events.

A look behind the curtain…

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Smile for the cameras

As a documenter of these events, I’m paid to provide the behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening. Increasingly (and somewhat depressingly) my shot list includes taking pictures of people taking pictures of food, products, each other or themselves. My photos are also pumped into the hashtag cloud as I send out batches to my clients mid-way through events, and often to attendees who turn them around in no time and put them out on their streams.

A typical scene in one if these events would be a brief and lively staged moment – posing in front of a banner, for example, or using / applying the product in some way, which will be fully documented by everyone else in the room with their phones and me with my somewhat larger and bulkier pro-gear. These “insta-moments” are then immediately followed by everyone tucking their heads down, staring into their phones, tapping madly away.  The entire event is punctuated by these “real life” interactions, followed by immediate dissection, dissemination and distribution through the myriad personal channels of the influencers in the room. It gets even more exciting as they post and repost each other’s work, with the brand itself kicking in and reposting each other’s work. For anyone watching what’s happening online it looks like a wild and crazy party with good looking (mostly women) having the time of their lives. From inside those rooms, however, it’s usually just a lot of stage-managed scenes, photo set ups and heads down staring at phones.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 12.27.43 PMDespite the obvious artificiality of most of the content published as a result of these events, no body seems to mind at all. It seems that most influencers are ready and willing to use a brand’s designated hashtags and effectively create mini-ads for brands and marketers in exchange for what I can only assume is the hope that the brand will in turn push out their posts and create a kind of mutually reinforcing network. The followers of these influencers presumably don’t know or don’t care that the posts are being generated to effectively feed pseudo ads into their feeds bypassing their ad-blockers, and the content tsunami continues.

Does it pay off for Influencers?

Having a rather dismal following on my own Instagram account (@ursomebody) I asked a few invitees to a recent event for a colourful hair chalk aptly named ColorPop, about their experiences on Instagram.

Instagrammer and Spanish and art teacher, Carolina Castillo (@carolina.arts), creates collagist images on Instagram setting herself (often her feet!) up against colourful backdrops – usually painted walls and murals. The effect is often cleverly artistic and sumptuously colourful.

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“I started with a blog in Spanish called: Arteando con Carolina, www.arteandoconcarolina.com , then a latin website, Hispano Montreal, contacted me to repost my articles. Since then I have been writing and taking photos around the city. Instagram and Facebook came later and I love posting  though these media channels.”

Colourful images are part of my identity. You will always find an explosion of colours in my feed. My obsession is walls. I hunt all the walls and murals possible. I also notice that people respond more actively when I am in my photos than when I post an image without me.”

Another Instagrammer, Jacqui Pogue, a makeup artist (@jacquibeauty) leverages Instagram stories (which is a blatant grab at Snapchat’s user base) to reach her audience, sharing snippets of her day at work and play, thematically linked to makeup and beauty. She also populates her account with images of herself at events, interspersed with beauty shots of her in vacation like settings.

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Both Carolina and Jacqui said that Instagram helps them find clients, or rather, that clients find them through Instagram and then connect directly with them or access their blogs via the links in their profiles.

While it may not be possible (for most) to earn a full time living being – or trying to become – an influencer, it is certainly a good way to explore and develop one’s passion in a public-facing way that can tie you into communities of like-minded people, and bring you into contact with companies and brands producing products that you and your growing cohort of followers might like. And if you get big and influential enough, you at least get invited to a lot of parties, get wined and dine, and usually go home with a bag full of swag.

Think small, think local but dream big

It is especially hard for smaller brands and upstart creators to get their products and stories told to a wide enough audience to make an impact.  Leveraging local influencers that you find online by some simple Googling, and conducting Instagram searches around relevant keywords and hashtags to your business can be a way for smaller brands or start ups (or big companies launching new smaller brands) to find and reach an audience somewhat organically. A few hours in a rented room on Breather, a handful of influencers, some sushi and a few bottles of bubbly (+ a professional photographer of course=) are all it takes to get something started.

Capturing employee engagement in photos

0E7A1414Most companies these days are looking for ways to keep their employees happy and engaged. Summertime is a good time for hosting company bbqs, or in the case of a recent event I covered, an internal company olympics (like this one recently hosted by Brother Canada and put on with the help of a local Montreal company Événements Caméléon).

Getting employees outdoors, providing them with ways to interact and have some fun with each other in the spirit of friendly competition is a great way to bring employees together.

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Conveniently, it also makes for a wide range of fun, lighthearted photos that can be pulled into future company blog posts about company culture, team work, collaboration – and reworked to use as stock images to support future posts on a company’s various social media channels.

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Photos that show real employees having a good time with each other at a company event help communicate to potential future employees about what to expect about a company’s culture and the people who work there.

0E7A1311In just a few hours of a busy company event you can wind up with a few hundred usable images to support various communications efforts throughout the year. If you’re looking for ideas on what to do for your next company party, give the in-house olympics a shot.

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Taking pictures of strangers – to ask or not to ask?

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It’s a dog’s life

Candids, or photos taken of people who are unaware they are being photographed, often result in the most interesting and emotive images a photographer can produce. These images are valued primarily for the emotions they convey and the stories they tell. However, by definition such images are an invasion of privacy and require an intimacy with the subjects that is essentially taken without consent.  But if you first ask someone if it is okay to take a photo, the essence of the moment you are observing is fundamentally altered and many photographers would argue, gone forever. What to do?

Though there are two scenarios where candid photography is essential – event photography and street photography – the challenge of whether to ask or not is one mainly faced by street photographers.

Taking candids in event photography vs street photography

In event photography, the photographer is a professional hired by their clients who often explicitly request a selection of good candids of attendees interacting with one another. Attendees are aware that they are going to be photographed – often through the placement of a sign at the entrance to the event or through explicit consent forms signed ahead of time – so the event photographer generally faces no dilemma and in fact, is encouraged to take as many strong candids as possible as these are the kinds of photos both clients, and subjects alike prefer when reviewing the final set of deliverables post-event.

Street view of main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace

In street photography, a passtime widely enjoyed by both professionals and amateurs alike, the question of whether to ask or not to ask is more acutely relevant. With some very clear exceptions, my feeling is that the best images come from patient observation and that asking for them in advance can, and often does, ruin them. I believe if you always operate with a respect for other people and you abide by the photographer’s version of the Hippocratic oath physicians take, “to do no harm”, you are in the clear:

  • Don’t take photographs that could in any way embarrass, endanger or otherwise inflict any kind of harm on your subjects.
  • Don’t take any photographs of people in cultures where taking photographs is feared or frowned upon, for whatever reason without getting clear consent first.
  • Photographs of other people’s children is also off the list unless the parents or guardians expressly allow it – and then I make a point of sharing those images with them
  • No paparazzi photos of any kind

There is something inherently opportunistic with taking photos surreptitiously. The very word “snap-shot” implies a quick, reflexive response to something noticed that will quickly disappear. That precise combination of  composition, lighting, and subject matter that makes for a perfect photograph is often ephemeral.

This is both the thrill and the challenge of taking candid images, of course. Getting it all right in just an instant is where the skill lies. A photographer whose aims are to capture meaningful candid images must practice almost daily to develop the reflexes and familiarity with his or her equipment in order to be there when things are happening, and be able to get the shot when they do.

For the same reason, it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to ask for consent to take a photograph in the same moment that the image presents itself to your eye.

Tips for taking better street photos

Dumplings for lunch

You get the best results in street photography when you are discreet both in your manner and the gear you are using. Whether you are at home or travelling your street photography can benefit from taking an anthropological approach.  Having knowledge of an area (often gained by having walked around it extensively), understanding they kinds of people who frequent it, what they are doing there and how the lighting and ambience of the place will change over the course of a day and into night, all contribute towards your ability to capture stunning street portraits and capture powerful images that tell stories and convey a sense of place.

Embed yourself in an a “target rich” environment until you effectively meld into the background, then wait before taking any photographs. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed the practice of street photography will develop a sense of where good photos are likely to come from. Even though the moments that occur are randomly generated by the multifactorial interactions of strangers, time, the position of the sun in the sky and countless other factors, a photographer with a good eye will sense a place rich in potential and spend more time there.

There is no question, from an aesthetic point of view, that candid images are generally more appealing and more potent than posed images of the same subjects, or images in which the subjects know they are being observed.

For a good time...
For a good time…

The act of observing something inherently changes that which is being observed. This is one of the mind-bending results of a thought experiment known as  Schrödinger’s cat by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in trying to describe the way two different quantum states can co-exist, or be in “superposition” until observed in which instant the superposition collapses into one or another of possible definite states.

While I don’t suggest taking photographs of two strangers kissing on a park bench in Paris is the equivalent of conducting one’s own quantum physics experiment, it is true that the kiss would be changed or possibly not transpire at all if the photographer gently nudged into their embrace and asked if it would be okay to snap a shot of them.

Ultimately, as is the case I hope every time you press the button on a camera, use your judgement. Take only photos you would be proud to share and show the world, and that enhance or elevate your street photography subjects, or that expose a story or place that brings a higher level of awareness and sensitivity to a wider audience for a subject you actually care about and are trying to make a difference in. In the end, there are no strangers in photography. Under the gaze of your lens, everyone is a somebody if you accord each individual with the respect – and compassion – each and every one of us deserves.

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Here’s looking at you kid

Candid photography lies at the very heart of why people love photographs in the first place. By all means you should pursue it as an art, a hobby or a professional practice. I believe the best photos are the ones where the photographer has gained an implicit trust from his or her subjects. This is gained through the sheer force of personality, the proof of the work you have already undertaken, and the evidence you demonstrate of having integrity whenever and whereever you and your camera are.