Access & Reach

LEWIS-HAMILTON-FORMULA1-GRANDPRIX-CANADA-2016

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.

JAVIER-BARDEM-at-GRAND-PRIX-MONTREAL-2016

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)

DSCF6798-2

Making a living as a freelance photographer means you are going to work with a lot of different kinds of clients. That is actually your goal, and one of the perks of the job when you have them because from a business point of view, you’ve got a diversified portfolio and are never too reliant on one contract. However, variety means not all of your clients will be as easy to work with, as others. In my several years of experience with hundreds of clients, I’ve really only encountered a small minority whom I’d classify as difficult, but the lessons they can teach are worth sharing.

First of all, as it relates to freelance photography. I define as “difficult” any client with particularly onerous demands, specific interfering behaviours on site when the job is being done and/or having highly unrealistic expectations vis-à-vis the budget.

For clarity I would say, it is perfectly acceptable and in fact, preferable, to have a conversation with your photographer about what you are expecting, the kinds of shots you want, when you need them ready by, etc. As a client, you are also fully within your rights to ask your photographer to dress appropriately for the venue, and express how you expect them to behave at your event. After all, whether it is a corporate luncheon, a gala evening or a private affair, it is your event and your photographer is a guest and should be expected to behave accordingly.

DSCF6533

Thorny issues

Difficulties arise when a client takes it upon themselves to get too into the details of the work at hand. As my German father-in-law tells me, “You don’t tell a painter how to paint.” That is, if you hire well and are dealing with a professional, it is not your job to tell the professional what kind of lighting to use, or specify every pose and generally interface between the subject(s) and the photographer. These choices and these interactions are best managed by the person holding the camera and you theoretically have hired that person because they are demonstrably good at it.

Standing very very very close to the photographer, asking to review every shot, pointing out shots to take repeatedly, for example, is not helpful. It is in fact, highly counterproductive as it will likely result in distracting your photographer and probably will yield a much worse result than if you just let him or her shoot the event or portrait as they best see fit.

A good event or portrait photographer is someone who is skilled at working with people. Trust them. As someone whose work entails several interactions with lots of different kinds of people during a regular work week, I am comfortable with a broad range of personality types and can deal with almost any situation that arises. Any difficulty I’ve ever experienced has come, not from the subjects, but rather a micromanaging client whose behaviours indicate both a lack of respect for the professionalism and artistry involved in being a photographer.

IMG_3268

Generally speaking, there are two broad types of clients: those working on behalf of a company, or business to business (B2B), and those hiring you directly and paying for you with their own money, or business to consumer (B2C). The former category includes PR companies, communications and marketing professionals, and event managers. The latter can include entrepreneurs, and of course, the vast majority of wedding photography clients and people seeking a family portrait or some other personal event.

B2B clients are working with budgets and may have demands for rapid turnaround on edited photos etc, but because they generally have experience contracting with photographers, transactions are conducted more quickly and they tend to let you do your work without too much hands on management.

B2C clients tend to be more budget sensitive, less experienced hiring photographers in general (it may well be their first time), and will consume a greater amount of your time before and after the contract is completed. With good communication, friendliness and transparency on both sides, dealing with B2C clients can be rewarding personally and financially.

Advice for photographers:

world-oyster-room

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

  1. Be clear in advance about what you can and cannot do within the time/budget allocated (with yourself as well as your client): this is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned and it really applies to any freelance situation but is very valuable to remember as a freelance photographer, especially if you are just starting out. You may be tempted to take every job that comes along, or to offer to do whatever the client asks for without feeling comfortable charging for it, but in the end, this, more than anything else, will be detrimental to your business and your relationship with the client. If, for example your client asks you to shoot and then edit 150 product shots, that entails using the pen tool to create very detailed clipping paths, and then editing each and every one of their used products to look like factory new — and wants it done overnight, you cannot possibly do it on your own. Saying yes to satisfy your client up front will surely result in unpleasantness afterwards.
  2. Get Zen, fast: ultimately your client is your responsibility. You are, at the end of the day, a service provider and no matter how expert and experienced, you can be replaced. You do have to give the client the benefit of the doubt and you cannot, under any circumstance that I can conceive of, lose your cool no matter how irritating and frustrating an experience you are having.
  3. Be communicative: sometimes all it takes to turn around a frustrating experience is the right words. There is a way to express how you are feeling and to provide feedback to your client that communicates your objective without damaging the relationship. Explaining how you like to work, and proving yourself capable of achieving what they are ultimately after – great shots – can mitigate your client’s anxiety and let you get back to doing what you do best.
  4. Be patient: some people take more time than others, and require more effort. That’s just how people are and you, as the professional, need to adjust to them and not the other way around. If you don’t already, start learning about mindfulness. It goes a long way in dealing with moments where your instinct is to blow your top.

Advice for people hiring photographers on how to be a good client:

IMG_2696

Whether you’ve been tasked with finding a photographer in a different city for an event happening tomorrow night, or you are doing long range planning and booking your wedding photographer for next year, here are a few tips from an insider’s point of view that will ultimately help you find the right photographer for your job and ensure you get the best value from the experience:

  1. Speak with the photographers you’ve found online: Everybody will go to Google to find a photographer before doing anything else. Once there, you’ll look through portfolios, read up on their online reviews and probably make a choice there and then to short list or bypass the shooter. If you’ve decided you’re interested enough to send an email, don’t just ask for a rate and give a brief description of the job unless all you really care about is price.  Making the small bit of extra effort to actually speak with a photographer can save you time and money, as well as instantly provide you with a sense of the person’s personality and demeanour which should factor into your decision as to whether or not to contract with him or her.
  2. Ask for recommendations: a good photographer will have ample reference clients you can refer to, in addition to online reviews (here are some of mine) and other forms of social acceptance like an active presence on social media and a recently updated website. Don’t be shy to ask for client references.
  3. Be clear with your expectations: once you’ve decided to contract, be clear in advance about what you expect as deliverables, when and how you want your photos delivered. Articulating in advance (writing it down) makes sure there are no surprises on either side, and that if you are expecting something that would exceed the amount you are agreeing to pay, the conversation can be had in advance to avoid a more awkward one post-event about what is and is not included in the agreed rate.
  4. Trust your choice: once you’ve vetted your photographer and actually signed a contract, trust yourself. Don’t interfere with how he or she does the work requested. Let them discover the moments to shoot, and set up the shots that they think will look best. If you’ve provided a shot list, then let them have at it. If you’ve chosen wisely initially, you won’t be disappointed at this stage

Everyone has a bad day once in a while and a little patience and understanding goes a long way in resolving most issues if/when they arise. But for photographers and clients who find themselves at odds for whatever reasons, hopefully these few tips gleaned from over a decade’s worth of overwhelmingly good client relationships, can help.

 

 

 

 

How does your profile picture rate?

Using profiles to sort through people is a bit of a dirty word in policing but online we’d all be lost without one. We’re now “seen” hundreds if not thousands more times by people (and bots, and spammers, and other internet undesirables) online than we ever are in real life – but are we paying a proportionate amount of attention to how we -or our avatars– are being perceived?

You probably wouldn’t leave the house without at least a cursory glance in the mirror to check your hair, scan your complexion and make sure you had nothing large and green stuck in your teeth but how long have you had that cropped vacation pic up as a placeholder on LinkedIn that you’ve been meaning to change but just haven’t got anything better to replace it with?

Here’s something fun you can try out. I discovered PhotoFeeler while listening to a great podcast from Terry O’Reilly’s The Art of Persuasion . The site lets you upload a photo of yourself and have it ranked across three metrics (that change depending on whether your purpose is business, social or dating). The “free” test actually requires 10 credits which you can get easily enough by voting on ten other photos of random people the site serves up to you. The results, as this excerpt from an email I got today show, can be quite revealing, showing marked differences in opinions on the same person from photos taken seconds apart:

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 2.56.58 PM

Here are my results (for the first two I selected “Business” and the last one “Social”):

This is my current LinkedIn photo (soon to be old LinkedIn photo as you can see from the results):

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 3.05.24 PM

Not what I expected, but then maybe I should have sprung for the $12 evaluation which gathers more than 10 quick hit votes. Or maybe I need to change my photo. I do think that with half my face hidden behind the camera I may be turning off people as it’s hard to trust someone if you can’t see their eyes and a smile.

Now here are the results from my last LinkedIn photo that I just changed away from (but looks like I’ll be switching it back in!):

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 3.29.05 PM

My personal Facebook photo did alright, though I care a little less about this one. I think the hat is pushing up my grade in the Fun category.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 3.31.18 PM

All in, though this was only the free version and a rough vote, I think it probably correlates well to how these images are perceived. A handy tool for anyone on the job/dating market looking to get a bit of insight in what their profile picture says about them. I’d like to see, in addition to these raw results, a few guidelines on how to improve the photos selected and more detail on what elements people are reacting to in particular, but perhaps that comes with more votes/the paid version.  In any case, a fun way to get a look in the mirror through someone else’s eyes.

 

 

The last time you did anything

GOLDBLOOM.jpg

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:

IMG_4420clean

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

IMG_1100-Edit_pp1e

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

0-312

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

A&M 1

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.

How to communicate brand consistency in event marketing

16339664626_d02e26ed33_z

How to get your goose to keep laying golden eggs

Companies spend a lot of time and money building and developing a recognizable brand. The purpose of a brand is to simplify and render the complex intelligible. With enough repetition, consistency and reliability, a brand can become established in its target customer’s mind as the “go-to” solution to whatever problem the brand solves. Your customers don’t get tangled up in choosing between competitive offerings – they just reach for you and move on. In brand marketing that’s the equivalent of having the goose that lays the golden egg. Again, and again, and again.  You just cash the cheques.

How come some brands get to be in that elite club of “go-to” solutions that render their customers blind adherents to the faith, while others struggle through churn and burn, constantly waging the same battle for heart-, mind- and wallet-share that never seems strong enough to convert tire-kickers into proselytes? So, how do you get that kind of brand loyalty (fanaticism)?

It begins, of course, with having a great product/service that is genuinely of high quality, but that in itself isn’t good enough. It also has to be a smooth and consistent experience for your customers. Although I’ve never owned the Canon’s 85mm L-series lens, I already own a few others with that signature red line and therefore know what to expect. I know that I’ll have one of the best in class lenses when I finally get one, because the brand has consistently delivered a quality product for each and every other of its lenses branded as “L-series”.  I trust that simple red ring and expect the workmanship, clarity, sharpness and handling of the lens to be excellent. I don’t really have to think about it. For a brand, that’s just pure gold. When your customers no longer have to process your product/service through any part of their decision-making brain, you’ve already won.

Do me like you do

One factor in engendering that kind of loyalty is consistency. Brands that can deliver a strong, consistent experience time and time again reap huge benefits, not just from existing, returning customers, but also the amplifying effects of those customers who evangelize for them, sharing stories about their experience that new customers then taste and feel in the same way, and the virtuous sharing circle just keeps getting wider and wider. (Like I’m doing right here for Canon).

But what if you’re not the manufacturer of high-end professional camera equipment, but rather a conference organizer, or a PR firm hosting a series of experiential marketing events around the launch of a new product, or an industry association or club that puts on a few membership driven events a year. How do you develop and replicate success when what you are selling is an experience rather than a physical product? How do you maintain consistency in all channels of communication that you are leveraging on behalf of your brand to connect with its tribe?

Firstly, you do it by creating an experience people want to be a part of. You are seeking to engage them for a time, asking them to forego everything else they could be doing to spend some time with you. Of course that means offering them entertainment, intellectual and visual stimulation, good food, strong drinks, and most importantly situate them in a roomful of people they will feel are sufficiently like them, to be both attractive but still offer an opportunity for making new friends. In effect, you need to target their tribe.

Neotribalism

tribalism-beach

Tribal marketing is about cultivating and offering a consistent story that communicates through words, photos and video what your particular events are all about so that everyone in the tribe – or who wants to be in the tribe – will instantly feel something when they come across news of your event in one of their social feeds, or by browsing online for events like yours.

To everyone not already your client their first interaction with your company will likely be through a third party (i.e. not someone you control) who will share with them a review, their comments and very likely pictures from the event to give their friends/colleagues/prospects a sense of what your event is all about.

In other words, the edge of your market is the people you don’t know that know the people you already sell to. And what they are going to do is share content and their reactions based on how your event made them feel.

Your job is to provide them with enough content to share in chunkable formats that are easy to carve out, and then deliver the same results for the new tribe members as you gave to the ones now spreading the word.

While that seems obvious, it is surprising how rarely companies take consistency in mind when contracting suppliers who will form an integral part of delivering that experience for your audience. These suppliers – the audio visual team, florists, caterers, photographers / videographers, etc are all delivering on your brand’s promise. If membership, attendance, and reputation has an impact on how your events are perceived by your target audience then the role of your suppliers (almost always outsourced) is critical in ensuring the experiences you are marketing are consistent and have the power to reach beyond current attendees through the amplifying effects of social media and word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.

Hiring the same set of suppliers for your events – once you’ve found the ones that “get” your marketing and deliver exactly what you need to make your events successful, makes sense, even if you take your show on the road. It may look like you are being smart with your money when you hire a different suppliers for events in different cities, but the hidden costs are time/effort spent finding the right people, getting them all to work well as a team. There is also a risk to the all-important consistency that once attained pays dividends (I will always buy an “l-series” lens) but once lost is difficult to regain.  Maybe you can accept a degree of variation in the quality and consistency of the images you get from your event. Maybe your customers aren’t that discerning, or they don’t have a choice so they’ll always go with you no matter what kind of variable experience you offer them. If you’re in a business today that has no viable competition, where your customers don’t have any real power and you can blithely serve them up an inconsistent experience without worrying about them coming back, then congratulations. I guess you work for a telecoms company in Canada.

But if not, then consider that the apparent additional cost of using the same team of suppliers in terms of higher travel costs will be more than offset by the value add of customer retention, loyalty and brand consistency you – and your audience – can rely on.

4 tips for managing herd scatter at events

IMG_9697If you organize conferences you are familiar with what I am calling herd scatter: your presenter stands before a too large room with lots of white empty spaces between seats of attendees. Since your goal in hiring a photographer to cover the talk is to make the room look full, the attendees engaged and the presenter interesting, having a lot of empty seats in the images is counter-productive.

Here are four tips that can mitigate against that:

  1. Book a smaller room: if you only have 80 registered attendees and the room the conference centre or hotel has given you sits 400, you’ve got a problem. Often these rooms can be divided in half, or if that’s not possible, ask about any alternative spaces where your guests can still fit but the dead space is cut away.
  2. Block access to the back of the room: if you can’t switch spaces then cut off access to the back of the room where some conference attendees like to sit because it provides easy access to escape. It also virtually guarantees that your room will have big white holes in it where people avoid sitting too close together or up front. If you want a full looking room, you need to limit the seating options to where you want people to sit.
  3. Ask people to sit in the front: just like in school when the teacher tells everyone to sit closer, a very simple thing to do is to ask your attendees to move closer to the front as they are entering the room. Most people are easily persuaded to move as they know that the reason they are there in the first place is to pay attention and participate.
  4. Use engaging presenters: if audience engagement is what you are after, than pay some attention to the ability of the presenter you put in the front of the room to actually engage their audience. Reading long texts, reeling off bullet points and old clip art style graphics do not usually elicit strong reactions from audiences, regardless of subject matter.

Keeping people interested is a challenge when most conference goers hold in their hands a device with infinite capacity to distract. It is impossible to keep everyone’s interest corralled when people get pulled into work emergency emails, but these simple tips can help conference planners manage the way their events look when the pictures get delivered.

Advice for older women getting their photo taken

Let’s talk about age and women. It’s almost always impolite to ask how old someone is, but never more so when the person before you is clearly not your junior. But being a photographer confers a certain access and intimacy between strangers that would not otherwise exist. The curtain gets pulled back, so to speak, and since this blog is all about what goes on on my side of the lens, I’d like to share a few tips for older women being photographed at events.

I think these guidelines would apply to any scenario, but I am specifically talking about women at events having a posed or impromptu photo taken of them in a group shot. Why older women and not older men? Well, as much as I can riff on the much higher levels of vanity / insecurities I’ve observed in men having their picture taken, that is not my focus today.

First of all, even saying “older women” can feel discomfiting if you happen to fall into that category. It is far from a neutral phrase, unfortunately, and I write it with some trepidation. Because it is laden with bias and a set of preconceived connotations, mainly held by the women themselves who objectively would fall into this category. For clarity, I am referring to women in the 50+ range, but depending on your own particular insecurity you may feel it applies to you as well even if you are below that rather arbitrary cutoff. That itself speaks to the point I am trying to make, which is: you look better than you think you do and smiling and confidence go a long way.

Let’s break it down.

The group shot at an event

This could be either one of those posed shots in front of a media wall or backdrop, or it could just be you and a couple of your friends having a drink or grooving on the dance floor. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Your hair looks wonderful:  Just keep your hair out of your eyes. If you have a style that tends to curl in front of your face, a very quick stroke down and slight pull back on either side can help eliminate fly aways or crazy unreal sprigs of hair that shouldn’t be standing up.
  • About smiling: you must smile and even better, smile with your eyes as well. No matter how you are feeling, if you consent to taking the photo or have been dragged in against your will by one of your drunken more narcisstic friends, you have to make the most of the uncomfortable experience. Do not grimace, look deflated, neutral, unhappy or pissed off. The entire experience will only last 45 seconds at most, but a surly expression will never go away once that photo is taken. Smile. Feel happy inside. Fake smiles look fake.
  • Teeth or no teeth?: You can hide your teeth if you want, but when you smile, think about something you actually smile about. How much teeth you show does not really matter. More demure looks work better with closed mouth smiles, but big teeth smiles are inviting, vivacious and look great too. Go with whatever feels natural.
  • Go Chatter-free: People tend to chatter when they are posing in a group. Drinks, old friends, smoothing over awkwardness, nervousness…there are a lot of causes for chit chat but you will have a much better looking photo of yourself if for the brief time you are being photographed, you stop talking. This ensures that your mouth is in a position you control when the photo is taken, and not some weird contorted hole that vocalizations tend to produce. You never notice it in real life, but an image of someone taken mid-word often reveals far more about your dental habits than you would feel comfortable sharing.
  • Take centre stage: Where should you stand? If your arms and shoulders are exposed, then you want to be in the centre of the grouping. Standing on the edges will distort the shape of your body and make your arm look big which is probably the number one thing women hate seeing in pictures of themselves. Of course, somebody has to be on the edges and if it’s you, do not, in any scenario stand sideways, or try to squeeze into the frame by bending in or towards the centre of your group. Taller women should avoid the edges if possible, as should larger women, but if you are there, twist your torso outward toward the edge of the group, never inward toward the centre (see next point for more on this stance).

example1

  • Face the camera, with a slight twist in your torso: you want your face to be straight on looking into the lens, with your shoulders tilted at a slight angle. I’ve noticed a huge trend as a result of selfies, where women in particular do a kind of strange head tilting thing which is I think some kind of attempt to hide their chin. Don’t do that. It may be part of the selfie lexicon but it doesn’t work when you have a real photographer in front of you with a real camera.
  • Better out than in: What to do with your chin? Don’t do that thing with your face where you kind of back up, and tuck your chin down or in towards your neck. Sometimes this is just an unconscious reaction to having a camera in your face. Or you may think that it somehow conceals flabby neck skin, or makes your chin look more chinny. . It does none of these things. What it does is distorts your face, and crumples up your chin line and almost always creates a double chin effect and makes you look awkward and uncomfortable. What you SHOULD do, if you are conscious of your chin at all is very slightly tilt your chin upward and forward. The key is doing it as subtly as possible. You don’t want to look like Robert DeNiro in the Godfather, but a very subtle yet deliberate protrusion of the chin up and towards the lens will have a flattering effect on your face. This is particularly important and relevant to women with slightly rounder, ampler faces.
  • Posture matters: I know we’re not in the 18th century any more and no one goes to finishing school, but posture matters in life and in photos. Whether or not you normally carry yourself well, when the time comes for the photo, you have to buck up. Stand tall, put your shoulders back and think poise. It shouldn’t look uncomfortable or too forced, but don’t slouch, fold yourself into some strange position, lean, or bend, or try to hide. Take a moment to compose yourself if you need to – the photographer will wait. There is no need to feel or be off balance. No matter what shape you are in or think you are in, having good posture will ALWAYS improve how you look in a photo.
poised

Nailed it

  • Arms and hands: What about your arms and hands? No one ever seems to know what to do with their hands. I recommend taking a position that is comfortable but not lazy. Don’t try to hide your hands. You can cross them in front, resting them just across the belly, or you can go for a slightly sassier / more playful pose and rest one arm akimbo on the hip with the other just straight down in front of you. This works particularly well for women wanting to accentuate or boost the curvaceousness of their appearance.
  • Do the leg work: Keep in mind, in many event shots you rarely get the full body. It’s usually just not practical in a crowded setting, but there are times and places specifically where you could have the chance to be photographed in full length and particularly so if you are wearing a long and luxurious evening gown complemented by those very sexy shoes you’ve been dying to show off. A good pose is one where you have one forward facing leg tucked in front of the back one. This works well if your dress has a slit in it and you want that leg to emerge through it. You can also keep them both together, but whatever position you take (and it can vary depending on the number of others in the shot with you), don’t point your toes at the camera. Remember, angles are your friends, so though you want your face to be straight on, the rest of you should be working on an angle (remember the torso twist mentioned above).
  • Don’t fuss too much: your photographer – if she or he is a good one – is not your enemy. When I take a picture at an event – every single time – I check for whether all eyes are open and if the people in the photo look good. Our interests are aligned. A photographer who does not try to make his or her subjects look as good as possible is not doing a good job, and won’t get hired back. So relax, trust the professional and you will look good.

Want more? What to wear, how to wear it etc? I’ll be publishing a few more posts like these over the next few weeks and will be collecting all the tips I have for a free e-book I plan to publish this summer. Sign up on this blog and I’ll email you the free pdf when it’s ready.

signup.png

Total event coverage: virtual reality videos & photos

sapphire-selfie

Just when you thought (hoped) the end of the Selfie age was here…

The newest way to impress your friends, guests and bosses is to offer complete coverage of your next event. And by complete, I mean, showcasing the people and the event in 360º virtual reality videos and photos.

As many of my clients will attest, I am a bit of a gadget freak and I’m constantly looking for ways to add value for my clientele and bring in new tech tools that make them look good. In addition to my standard professional gear (two cameras, multiple lenses) needed to really cover any event, I’ve also starting using drones, time lapse cameras and now, my latest acquisition, a Ricoh Theta S – a 360º camera with built in wifi that shoots and records images and videos for virtual reality applications.

It is really quite fun to play around with new tech and one of the perks of being a photographer is that I get to indulge my neophilia as part of running my business.

And it makes for a brand new view on the traditional family portrait.

As usual when I get a new toy, the first I thing I do is not read the manual. I just take it out of the box and start messing around with it. As an experiential learner I find it’s much easier just to use it and see what it can do than try to read up on everything in advance. I guess I’m also just too lazy and find pressing buttons easier and more fun than reading tech manuals.

So far I’m really excited about the potential with the Ricoh Theta S. While the image quality is still below what I would consider professional grade, the sheer novelty factor and ability for people to view images in full virtual reality more than outweighs the need for ultra sharp imagery. The first time someone sees one of these images there really is significant wow factor. I imagine it’s maybe similar to the first time someone ever saw a photograph in the early 1800s.

Basically, the device (which can be attached to a tripod or even, I’ve discovered, a selfie stick) shoots from both a front and rear facing camera at the same time producing a complete image that allows you to either “move” through it wearing a virtual reality headset (or popping your phone into a Google Cardboard type viewer). Or you can view the image on a regular screen and spin it around with your finger, seeing the image from all different angles.

Using the built in wi-fi, once the image/video is shot you send it to your phone (you have to download the free Theta app) and from there you can view the image, or share it. There is no viewer on the device itself.

The one drawback for now (which I’m sure will change as vr viewers become more commonplace) is the shareabilty of the images is rather limited. I can share photos to my Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr but not directly through email for some reason. And what gets shared is a link to the image sitting on Theta360.com.

Sharing videos seems to work a bit differently. You can email these directly (though I’m still trying to figure out why they can be emailed but don’t appear in my Theta account).  You can also upload videos directly to Youtube.

It’s definitely easy to use, fun to play with and will surely be a conversation starter for your guests and attendees.

Photography never stops evolving and with each new piece of tech that emerges, a new way of telling a story comes along with it. Event coverage is about to get a lot more exciting.

 

 

 

How to take better beach portraits

IMG_3070.JPG

Context counts

Taking pictures on the beach is a great way to extend the pleasure of a vacation. Long after the waves have receded into the ocean and your week in the sun is a distant memory, photos and videos from your lazy days on the beach can cast a warm afterglow on the experience.

But it’s also a pain having anything electronic on the beach because of all the things that make a beach, well, a beach: salty air, salt water, intense heat, sand, sand, and more sand.

fuerte1I can’t do much about the sand except to recommend keeping your gear (which includes your phone) in a ziplock bag before stuffing it into the sandy catch-all beach bag, but here are a few recommendations for making the experience less technically frustrating and for maximizing the images you take home along with the seashells you gather up from the shore:

1) Shoot early or late: depending on where you are in the world, there are optimal times to go to the beach, and unsurprisingly, these also present the best lighting opportunities for photos. Everyone has probably heard the term “the golden hour” that photographers love to gush on about. It’s actually a bit of a misnomer as it pertains to two distinct periods during the day – shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset, and may not even last a full hour, but the idea is simply that these times are when the sun’s light is warmer, characterized by a golden, reddish tone which bathes people in a very flattering light. If you’re looking to get a great family portrait on the beach, grab a few glasses for the bubbly, gather up the kids and get to the beach about an hour before the sunset. Then position yourselves facing the sun, so the light is on your faces, and fire away (you’ll need a tripod-see #2)

Getting ready to surf at the "golden hour"

Getting ready to surf at the “golden hour”

2) Bring a tripod: there are myriad tripods on the market and I’m not going to recommend any specific brand, though I think the GorillaPod style (the original is by JOBY but there are now lots of copycat brands) is best suited for a beach as you can use the flexible grips to wrap around a piece of driftwood, or balance on your bag or even a bottle of water. The only disadvantage is height as the pod legs aren’t extendible nor very long. For that you can go for any number of travel tripods that are lightweight (no heavy SLRs here) but ideal for packing, carrying and using a lightweight camera or your phone beachside.

3) Watch out for overexposure: beaches are some of the brightest light saturated environments your camera will ever deal with. There is light bearing down on you from above, bouncing off the sands below and refracting off the water before you. Be careful when you set up your shot to expose for the faces in your image, and not have them turn into blackened silhouettes by letting the camera choose randomly.

beachportrait1.jpg4. Use a flash: given the excess of light on a beach you may wonder why I’d recommend using flash. If you want really great shots of people standing in front of a gorgeous sunset, a flash is the only way you can get it right. If you don’t either you’ll expose for the sunset behind them and their faces will be too dark, or you’ll expose for the faces and the sunset will disappear.  Use a flash to highlight everyone in the shot and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

With these few tips you’re guaranteed to take better pictures on the beach, and come away with more than just tan lines.

Happy travels!

Leveraging the “experience economy” for your next event

We just met

We just met

You have to love marketers. Every few months a new catch phrase captures their attention and suddenly everyone is seeing the term pop up in their email subject lines like it’s a brand new idea, discrete and different from what’s come before and promising new riches to companies that figure out how best to leverage the trend for their wares. The “experience economy” is one of those terms being mooted as what the next big target – Millennials – is living in and how they are choosing to spend their money.

Waxing poetic in bed...

Waxing poetic in bed…

Because they’ve been saddled with student debt, and are priced out of the housing market in most places where they also stand a reasonable chance of getting a job (though probably not with much security) what this coveted and growing cohort of individuals likes to do is “have experiences”, hence the term. I would add that they also really like to share the experiences – of travel, shopping, going out, eating out or cooking at home with friends -across social media on the myriad platforms they engage with hourly.

If experience is the new black, photographic evidence of your experience is the new way to display your wealth. Despite another (complementary?) trend towards minimalism, judging from what is shared on Instagram there still appears to be a strong appetite for furnishing social proof of a non-materialistic, world travelling, lifestyle replete with lots of friends, good food and pithy moments of communing with nature. In the connected, sharing economy, one of the most liquid commodities is photography.

Let’s take a Selfie together

Selfie in Tuscany anyone?

Selfie in Tuscany anyone?

Experiences today are easier to share than ever before. It doesn’t take much effort to snap a Selfie in front of a made-for-postcards backdrop (much easier than actually sending a postcard!) and post it online. I can’t really share my home with all 778 of my Facebook friends, regardless of how many dinner parties I want to host, but I can easily and quickly share photos of the meals I’m cooking and get almost the same level of neuronal strokes that make me feel good about myself as I would if I had actually invited them all over for dinner.

In fact, the sharing of the experiences seems as important – or more – than the having of it in the first place. Does a tree falling in a forest make any sound if no one is around to hear it? The enigma can now be answered in as much time as it takes you to open up Snapchat with your thumb: NO. For the digital nomads living and working in the experience economy, if you did something and didn’t share it, it didn’t happen.

We love ourselves

We love ourselves

The more images people have of themselves, preferably in exotic locales with lots of different (ideally good-looking and/or famous) people, the greater their apparent wealth. For businesses trying to decode this trend before it transmutes into something else, the trick is weaving your brand or product into these snapshots of shared experiences without it looking like crass product placement. Doing so successfully involves creating a lifestyle around your brand that your prospects – or the people who influence your prospects – accept as authentic and real enough to want to incorporate into their own stories. It also means giving them something fun to photograph.

I’ll add that to My Story

In the experience economy, where social media are the new nation states and the social proof created through photos and videos, the new global currency, creating opportunities for good photos can grab a lot of attention cheaply.

people-in-front-of-giant-wall-graffitti

It’s all about the backdrop

If you’re a brand hosting an event, this can be achieved by paying a lot more attention to lighting and the visual elements of your set up than you might have done previously. It also doesn’t hurt to offer good quality booze, hire local chefs and serve original and satisfying food as well but making sure you help people take, get and share great pictures of themselves is critical.

I’ve covered hundreds of events and I’ve observed that no matter what the theme, all people at events have one thing in common: they want to get past that awkward, initial standing around phase fast. Having something fun to do (and good to drink) – whether that’s an onsite photo booth or some kind of custom prop that ties into your brand – helps loosen up the crowd and gives them a chance to start generating and sharing photos of their experience.

Or we could play spin the bottle?

Or we could play spin the bottle?

Are there fun props you can custom build that tie into your brand and are fun to pose with? Think giant shoes people can climb into, or maybe a couch shaped like a bra if you’re trying raise awareness for breast cancer. What about filling an old cast iron bathtub with your product…Setting up old school amusement park games with a twist? Anything normal turned supersized works, as would anything suspended or hanging from the ceiling. Can you implement a viewing platform somewhere higher up to afford interesting views or angles? Selling a tech-related product? What about setting up old style phone booths – the kind that used to be on every street corner but are now disappearing. Irony is still in (sort of). I can think of countless more ideas for brands with photographable products or services that can benefit from the experience economy – anything from booze to insurance. (I love coming up with ideas like this – just get in touch)

The best stories are still unfolding

The best stories are still unfolding

In the end, having experiences is just shorthand for story, and everyone today is engaged in telling and retelling their story across varied social media channels in the universal language of images. Words are being replaced by icons, emotional responses measured by the size of your emoji and lives measured by the breadth and reach of social followers. 

Giving your audience/market something new, fun, and interesting to do, document and share is a powerful way to connect with and stay connected to the people who matter to your business most. 

If your company is in the business of putting on events of any kind (a product launch, sponsored reception, brand elevating evening, etc) you are now in the business of creating experiences. Get it right and one of those experiences everyone is sharing just might be a photo of them using something you’re selling.

What is social mediagraphy?

julianhaber-snapchatPhotography + social media = social mediagraphy

I love making up neologism and one I’ve recently started using to describe my event photography service offering to clients is social mediagraphy. I used to be able to work exclusively as a photographer, documenting an event or covering a conference then delivering the set of edited images to my client for distribution through their communications channels like newsletters, websites and the like. This is no longer sufficient for today’s market which demands a steady and constant flow of snackable content, in real-time, to keep audiences engaged and re-engaged throughout the course of an event.

No large event today is deemed to have happened if it doesn’t have its own # and generate volumes of Tweetable, and re-tweetable content. And as a photographer, I’ve learned to adapt and actually enjoy the connectivity and heightened appreciation for my work that this behaviour brings.

Where I used to be an invisible service provider, working away in a kind of obscurity producing images that would be used long after my work was done, I am now often thrust in the middle of the action, generating and sending out my own socially-media-friendly Tweets, Instagram posts and LinkedIn content as it relates to what I’ve been covering as a photographer during an event. And clients appreciate it, because it helps them with their goals of generating interest and sparking conversations surrounding the content they’ve pulled together to mount their conference, or to satisfy the needs of their membership, boards or communications teams who work hard to show ROI on the big events they develop.

Social mediagraphy, as I would define it from the point of view of a photographer, is the combination of both traditional event coverage with frequent bursts of social media activity. In my case I will use my phone during events, and then later on post edited and refined images from the day’s coverage. Post-event, I’ll usually follow up with a roundup or a few blog posts relating back to the event, or a particular piece of content that resonated with me that I think bears reporting on for my audience.

If a quote happens at a conference and nobody Tweets it, does it matter at all?

Once the content is created and pushed out there, it can, and often is, picked up by event attendees who sometimes add their own commentary to the posts, or simply retweet or repost the content so that it reaches ever-widening circles of influence.

workingAll of this helps increase the impact from an event and enables event organizers to leverage their attendees to extend their reach into their networks, as the people at one event are usually connected to a bigger number of people outside of the event for whom the event also has appeal. Aside from seeding sales and requests for invitations for future events, this also helps validate the relevancy of the event to its target audiences and provides context for people on the outside who may be curious and become interested in learning more simply by coming across one or more of these social tidbits as they float through their ever-refreshed news feed. It’s also fun and a great way to make new friends.

Change is good

Change is at the heart of all technology. Photography is no longer sufficient on its own to meet the demands of clients who find themselves having to publish content in myriad forms to satisfy the needs of their audiences. Gone are the days when you could shoot an event, deliver your work weeks later and charge a premium for the service. Whether your event is a wedding, a corporate gala, AGM, trade show or a conference, photos are now but one layer of social proof needed to help augment and enhance the experience. Of course this requires new skill sets and familiarity with constantly changing tools (I’m still fairly lame at Snapchat but working on it) but that’s part of the fun of photography and working with technology in general. Rapid change is the constant of our times today and the only way to not drown in it is to embrace it.

Baby it’s cold outside – but  these warm-hearted Montrealers are heating things up

My view this afternoon from Cafe Shaika

My view this afternoon from Cafe Shaika

It’s cold in Montreal today. -10 Celsius and dropping. While it’s bright and sunny outside, it’s more fun to experience cold winter days like this through a window from a cosy café, which is my plan for this afternoon as I put together my roundup of events I covered so far this year. Luckily there are lots of people still braving the cold and getting out there for worthy events in these winter months, keeping me busy. Here are a few highlights worth sharing from goings on around town in Montreal this past January and February.

Here’s the link to the roundup in pictures. Please read on for details on the various events.

ProductTank MTL

ProductTank MTL

Montreal’s got a talented pool of tech entrepreneurs, developers and product managers who’ve now got another monthly  meetup/chance to drink and network with the monthly events hosted by ProductTank MTL. This month’s meet up which I covered at l’Appartement (one of Montreal’s hip resto/bars in Old Montreal), focused on the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Gartner Inc.: “ The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.” 128 people had gathered to hear presentations by Jean-François Martin, Director of Products at mnubo; Yahya El Iraki, CEO at mySeat and Mathieu Lachaine, Founder and CEO at Ubios. All three speakers are involved with connected products and had interesting, behind-the-scenes insights and advice for people interested in the exploding Internet of Things (IoT) space. Gartner forecasts that “6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. Yes, that means that your fridge will be able to order beer for you when you are running out and your toaster will be able to keep track of how much multi-grain toast you’re making.

Interested in learning more and attending the next Meetup? Check out ProductTank MTL here: http://www.meetup.com/ProductTank-Montreal/

Pedal for Kids / Pédalez pour les enfants

pedal-for-kids

Anyone who knows me, knows I love children and that I support child-friendly causes. I’ve been lucky to work with the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation (MCHF) for the past two years which puts me right in the heart of a lot of events aimed at raising funds for much needed equipment and programs the Montreal Children’s Hospital uses to save and improve the lives of sick kids. I rarely cover one of these kinds of events without something making me tear up and hide behind my camera, and the kickoff cocktail for the 25th anniversary of Pedal for Kids was no exception.

The Pedal For Kids / Pédalez pour les enfants event is one of the most fun and exciting fundraisers organized by the MCHF. I had covered it earlier this summer but had not had the opportunity to hear Michael Conway, one of the events co-founders, speak until this month. Sylvie Lalumière and Michael Conway launched Pedal for Kids in 1992 in memory of their daughter, Meagan. By the time he was done I was ready to put on my spandex suit and bike until next summer. If you’re curious or would like to get involved with Pedal for Kids check them out here. You can join an existing team, create a new one or go solo. Sign up here: http://pedalez.com/about-the-event/

30th annual Vision Celebration Fundraiser Gala for the Black Theatre Workshop #OscarsSoWhite

Black Theatre Workshop

Earlier this year I covered the Black Theatre Workshop’s 30th Annual Vision Fundraiser Gala and also marks the launch of Black History Month in Canada. This is my third year covering this party and I am always blown away by the talent in the room, both onstage and off.  The evening was superbly hosted by Nantali Indongo (of Nomadic Massive fame) with performances by Montreal’s Jireh Gospel Choir,  Kim Richardson and Daniel Loyer, and the coolest (and only) reggae version of Adele’s Hello that I’ve ever heard as part of DJ Don Smooth’s soundtrack for the night.

The guest of honour was Jackie Richardson, aka, Canada’s First Lady of gospel, jazz and blues who received the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Also on the roster were: Otis Grant, world championship boxer who received the Dr. Clarence Bayne Community Service Award; Briauna James who received the Victor Phillips Award, and Vladimir Alexis who received the Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award. Artistic Director, Quincy Armorer couldn’t be physically present as he was performing in Twelfth Night in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, but he made an appearance via Facetime.

Here’s a sample of the Jireh Gospel Choir in action (rather poorly filmed on my iPhone)

University Club Arts Event

Logo-UCM-blanc

Though sadly I missed the Beaver Hall Group show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I was lucky to catch a sneak peek at the curation of the event at a arts event held at the University Club of Montreal. I love the old world charm of the club, and events like these are a reminder of Montreal’s historic and ongoing role as a city of the arts.

Confessions of a closet Pinner

 

I can’t help myself. When I come across an article I like, particularly if it’s showcasing some new piece of camera tech, I don’t snip and clip it to Evernote, I don’t copy and save it a Google Doc, I don’t email the link to myself. No, I Pin it. And I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that as a grown man, one of my latest online habits is making interactive pin-up boards. It’s my dirty little online secret, but I think it’s time to come clean.

Pinterest deserves more respect than most people I know give it credit for. My habit started out innocently enough. Like anyone interested in digital marketing and extending the reach of their little brand in a giant universe of noise, I first delved into Pinterest just because it was there, it was free to use and experiment with, and I figured that having one more linkable platform back to my blog/photo portfolio couldn’t hurt.

https://www.pinterest.com/kaleidoscopium/So I started up a few photography related boards, some pretty obviously self-serving, like my Photography-Events board (which I realize is supremely lame with only one pin), but quickly spent more time on others that I thought other people interested in photography and camera gizmos might be interested in (Photography Tech, Tools and Trends). As interests have a way of spreading online, I soon found the need for a board on Drones. Then Robots. Then what I christened, Future Humans as a place to put stuff that wasn’t just purely about robots. And what about staying healthy (The Healthy Living Project)? Or my interest in world-changing organizations that focus on making the world a better place for girls #GIRLPOWER? Or Startups and Tech?

One Pinboard led to another a before I knew it, I’d added the Pin button to my browser to make it easier to feed my addiction, and not long afterward, downloaded the app so I could Pin to my hearts abandon when sitting in airports (happens to be one of my favourite times to Pin) or am otherwise idle.

The habit has now fully taken hold of me. It satisfies my internet-enabled neurosis of losing a piece of information that I might one day find useful, and it’s kind of fun. Even if it’s not that cool. I’ve tried, in vain, to interest my few fishing friends to join my Fishing board to no avail.

But if you are curious, I recommend giving it a spin. Need some help on getting started? Check out my board on Productivity and GTD. And don’t forget to breathe and stay happy (How to Be Happy).

Want to join the fun or are equally addicted? Come find me under my Pinterest user name: kaleidoscopium

 

 

How do I download my photos?

This post is just a simple resource for clients who want to download the images of their event. I am a fan of Photoshelter, the site that hosts my portfolio and have been using them for several years, but their instructions are not always as clear as they could be for delivering images to clients. Hopefully this brief guide will help.

Step 1: Open the email you’ve received. Take note of the password (which is case sensitive) as you may need it to view your photos and will certainly need it to download them. The email you receive will look something like this:

Email with link to photo gallery

Email with link to photo gallery

Note that the images shown are only thumbnails and by default are shown in a square format but your final images will show in their original dimensions.

Step 2: Click on the link in the email.

Step 3: Review the images by scrolling through the page(s). There may be several pages of images so be sure you look through them all. From this screen you can download all or a select batch of your images using the download button shown here:

Downloading your images

Downloading your images

Step 3: Once you click the Download button a window will pop up providing you with the option to select all or some of the images. In almost all cases I would recommend you download the full set of images to ensure you have your own copy of the original files. Click Continue.

Select your images

Select your images

I recommend you download all the images

I recommend you download all the images

Step 4: Choose the resolution you want for the files. Image resolution on my site is determined by fixed ratios indicated in the drop down window. Again, I recommend full resolution / original file, as this gives you the option to use the images for prints. If you know for certain the images will only ever be used in web format you can download the smaller JPEG sizes (600 px). The number shown indicates the long size of the image downloaded.

Choose resolution

Choose resolution

Step 5: The next screen will show you a link. Click on the link and your download will commence immediately.

click on link

Step 6: Wait for the images to download. They will download as a zip file, which is a format used to save size on the download.

Step 7: Locate your downloaded zip file. It will appear in the downloads folder on your computer.

Look for your downloaded zip file

Look for your downloaded zip file

Step 8: Once you have files downloaded, and have located the zip file, double click on it and then move the new folder generated to wherever you want to save the folder. I would recommend you save it in at least two separate hard drives as well as one online cloud based service like a Dropbox or Google Drive.

 

Locate and double click on your zipped folder

Locate and double click on your zipped folder

The zipped folder will now look and act like a regular folder:

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 12.35.44 PM

Step 9: You’re done. Your photos have now been downloaded.

More bang for your buck, eh?

More bang for your buck, eh?
More bang for your buck, eh?

More bang for your buck, eh?

Dear America,

If ever there was a time to gather up your team, hold a meeting and host an event in Montreal, 2016 is it.

I think the screenshot from today’s FX rate pretty much sums it up.

In Canada (Donald Trump’s views notwithstanding) we are not so different from America. Except everything is much cheaper. Venues, staffing, catering, and going out to really world-class restaurants is all almost 50% off for US currency holders right now.  Flights into Montreal are inexpensive and only a short-haul from New York or Chicago.

Winter, too, while perhaps colder than some of you are used to, has its own kind of beauty and is fun to experience.

Fun with snow

Fun with snow

Montreal has it all. Great restaurants, hugely talented professionals to work with, gorgeous venues, old world charm, beautiful people, and a lively night life scene. You can be virtually guaranteed a good experience travelling here, and your guests or event attendees will be grateful for the opportunity you’ve provided for them to visit one of the oldest cities in North America. If you need help finding a venue, or just want to sound out a friendly local, feel free to contact me anytime.

Sincerely,

Canada

 

 

The Paparazzi Wedding Proposal

The start of something...

The start of something…

Over the holidays I was hired to be a stalker. I said yes.

Before you jump to conclusions, allow me to explain the context. I was approached by email from a man living outside of Montreal, who was planning to take his girlfriend to Montreal for a romantic weekend, and propose to her. He wanted me to photograph the proposal without being noticed by his girlfriend. I thought it was a fun idea and accepted the challenge. It was a lot of fun and I think will make for a good story the couple (she said yes) can tell at their wedding and hopefully one day to their children.

I often get asked if I cover weddings and work with couples doing things like engagement shoots. Because I am known primarily as an event and conference photographer, and mainly market those services, I understand why people don’t assume I cover weddings as well. There used to be a stigma attached to covering weddings – as if being a wedding photographer was some how a step down in being a professional photographer. I’ve never felt that way and have covered roughly forty weddings in my career, but keeping a wedding photography business and a more corporate and event photography business separate made sense. Of course, by splitting up the two businesses the effort to promote each is duplicated and in the past few years I’ve skewed much more heavily to working with corporate clients and conference organizers at the expense of my wedding photography business. All that to say, I was thrilled to have the chance to work on this stealth assignment because it’s exactly the kind of work I like to do. It’s creative It’s challenging. It’s fun and romantic. And good old-fashioned romance is fun to see and be a part of.

My client had several ideas to begin with and over a few Skype calls and emails we laid out a plan together. Using Google Maps to scout out locations, we chose a route that would lead the couple out of the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal where they were staying, through Old Montreal along St.Paul street down to the Old Port.

Walking route to view to clock tower from Hotel Nelligan

Walking route to clock tower from Hotel Nelligan

I would be set up in the hotel, start shooting from a distance there and then follow them on their walk down to a designated place at the water’s edge with a view to the clock tower where I was to approach them mid-selfie and offer to take their photo for them, at which point my client would smile and the cat would be out of the bag. With just a few on-the-fly adjustments, it worked out perfectly.

At the Hotel Nelligan, where it began, I realized that there was not one, but three potential lobby areas (one being the restaurant). A special shout out to the Hotel Nelligan staff at Verses who were supremely helpful and on board with the plan once I explained it to them. I asked them to direct the couple to a table by the window while I set up on a table for one, two tables over. Alas, I realized that perhaps the couple wouldn’t come in here at all but might just sit in the lobby which proved to be true after a few frantic texts with my client. Luckily I was able to get out and set up in the lobby in time before their arrival.

Right on schedule, they came down and he made an excuse to return to the room where he had other plans afoot. I grabbed a few shots of his girlfriend, but feeling I was way too exposed, exited the hotel and went across the street into a store from which I could watch the front door without being seen.

Let's take a walk

Let’s take a walk

They emerged a few moments later and we began the dance. Every now and then they’d pause for a couple selfie and I’d snap off a few shots pretending to be a tourist taking pictures of buildings. Luckily Old Montreal is full of camera touting tourists, especially around Christmas time, so I didn’t look that out of place. I tried to keep a safe distance, sometimes dogging them from across the street, other times falling in behind them or running ahead to get in front of them on their side of the street, shooting from whatever angle I could find that didn’t make me stand out too obviously.

The plan unfolded perfectly in the crowded streets but as the path they chose led them closer to the water there were fewer and fewer people on the same route till eventually it was really just me and them.  I hung back and pretended to read the signs and stare out at the action in the port while letting them get ahead to the targeted intervention point.

The caper proved successful and post-selfie assistance shot, I revealed myself as planned and we continued walking together, stopping at picturesque spots along the way, as we came across them.  The final leg brought us back to the hotel where we took a few more shots in the lobby, then headed up to their room where my client had strewn the floor and bed with rose petals where we snapped a final shot and I left them.

As I drove home I was inspired by the idea and felt this is something more couples might want to consider. Montreal deserves its reputation as a romantic city, and there are plenty of interesting streets to wander and suitably romantic backdrops to make for some fun photos that will nicely augment your wedding book.

Click here to see a few more photos from the shoot.

Two lessons I’ve learned observing humans

Girl flying over flowers with fairies or butterflies

Girl flying over flowers with fairies or butterflies

Working as a photographer sometimes feels like having a secret superpower. You get to blend into rooms and become invisible. You stand apart from the crowd, rather than being a part of it. And your work is to look at humans as they interact and go about their lives. You are a professional observer.

big-red-heart-blue

Big Red Heart

In my life, somehow becoming a photographer was the natural thing to do, bringing together my myriad interests in anthropology, art, story telling, culture and languages, and above all else, the human condition. After fifteen years on the job, I am still amazed that I can manage to survive on my trade, and that people will pay me to do what I do. Because really what I am very good at is looking at people and seeing them almost with an X-ray vision. After working at hundreds of events and taken hundreds of thousands of images of people being people, I have an intuitive sense of a person’s nature and can see through them in a way that is wholly a gift of practicing photography for so long. And what I have observed most often, is that almost all people all want to feel a connection to others, and everyone looks better when they smile – and the two are deeply related.

It may be simplistic, but I think that the recognition we feel when another person smiles at us, and shows an interest in who we are, however brief the interaction, is what we all live for. As a photographer, I have observed people from all walks of life, from the super rich to the homeless, hyper-connected successful professionals to intellectually challenged autistic individuals who may never have a “real” job. I’ve witnessed marriages in every major faith of the world, as well as the many variations of love and spirituality that people have today that do not fit categorically into any one religion. CEOs, white collar workers, blue collar workers, parents, children, singletons, newlyweds, doctors, lawyers, students, soldiers, homeless men, investment bankers, and artists. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much money you have or don’t have, where you live, what you wear, what kind of shape you are in, what your hair looks like, or whether you have hair or not. It doesn’t matter if you are overweight or anorexic, tall, short, or in-between. What you really want – what you need – is to connect with another, feel accepted, feel appreciated, and to give the same to others around you.

rain-lightning-rainbowSo for what it is worth, I would say this to anyone who’s still with me this far down the page: in 2016, smile more often, not just because someone is taking your picture. Pay attention to the person you are with. Listen to their answers when you ask a question about them. And know that everyone struggles with something sometime, that no matter the appearances, deep down inside, we’re really not so different from one another. Most of us don’t need more stuff in our lives. What we need is more patience, love, acceptance and peace. And mostly, we need each other.

*Art courtesy of Tessa

Boost ROI on email marketing campaigns with custom photography

perfume-holiday-bottles

Many creative people have ideas but much fewer have the organizational ability to turn their ideas into reality. Successful entrepreneurs do, and working with one is always a rewarding experience.

I’ve recently begun working with Simon Tooley, the founder of a luxury skincare boutique in Montreal, Etiket, with very niche, high-end fragrances, beauty and specialty hair care products. A former VP for Anne Klein and Michael Kors Canada, Simon has a wealth of knowledge about building successful fashion brands, and he also intuitively gets marketing.

Simon Tooley

Simon Tooley

With product names like Penhaligon’s No. 33 (luxury grooming and skin care product for men) and Mona di Orio perfumes, the experience of being inside the Etiket boutique is one of being comfortably ensconced in a discreetly packaged, elegantly placed, vial of opulence. It is as close to shopping on a London High Street as you can get in Montreal. You are courteously attended to upon arrival, and will leave feeling well-pampered.

But how do you reach the customers who crave your high-end goods but aren’t able to make it in to your street-front store?  You bring the boutique online, of course, which is the other side of Etiket’s thriving business. And as any tech entrepreneur knows, the online experience is brought to life by intuitive design, a focus on user experience and strong visuals.

One of the tactics Etiket uses to connect with and reward its customers is a subscriber based email marketing program, featuring a themed monthly emailer focusing on a few targeted products from the shop.  December is all about the Art of Giving, as you might suspect and customized, product photography is an integral part of both the emailer and website.Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 9.03.58 AM

Generic product photography might not get you wild with excitement, but if you are managing any kind of inventory and competing in a very challenged retail environment, customizing your product photography can give you an edge over your less aesthetically minded competitors.  Consider creating use-case presentations of a few of your top sellers, placing the products not simply against a seamless white background, but in contexts that reflect how and where they will be used by your target customer. Like all marketing, it costs more than doing nothing, but the uplift in sales is measurable and should quickly prove the value of developing your own customized imagery to promote your site, store and brand rather than relying on the product photography given to you by your supplier that will look the same on your site as it does on every other retailer’s carrying the same product line.

In a world where everyone is fighting for a minute share of increasingly fragmented attention spans, any touchpoint you can create between your brand and your customers creates a connection that can help you prove your value and ultimately drive sales.  Though now nearly twenty years old as a concept, a targeted email-subscriber list built by creating thoughtful and useful emails that are relevant and visually appealing is still a highly effective way of reaching your customers. Creative, customized photography can significantly raise the engagement rates you are aiming for with each send.

If you decide that 2016 is the year you improve or launch your email marketing plan, be sure to focus on content that tells your unique story to create that meaningful connection with your customers.  Using a thoughtful combination of design, text and curated, hand-crafted imagery will help you get higher open rates, and ultimately, a lift in sales from your efforts.

Using HDR & long exposures for blur effects in your travel shots

Ghostpeople of Berlin's East Side Gallery

Ghostpeople of Berlin’s East Side Gallery

I read an article this morning by Adam Karnacz in Vantage (on Medium), called Removing People with Long Exposure, in which he described the technique he uses to disappear people from photos at sites where it is impossible to otherwise get a clear shot. Places like St. Peters in Rome, Stonehenge or any major tourist attraction. It’s a simple trick which I also discovered myself recently while visiting Berlin. I was at the East Side Gallery, a 1.7 km long section of the Berlin Wall left standing and completely painted over by artists after the wall came down on November 9, 1989. I had wanted to visit it the first time I was in Berlin two years ago, but ran out of time. Even this visit was rushed, arriving by cab at the end of the day just as the sun was setting. In addition to the dim lighting, there was a metal fence up in front of a large portion of the east-facing wall, erected by the city of Berlin just that day for temporary cleaning of the site. But even at this later time of day there were crowds of people milling by, congregating around the most recognizable sections of the gallery.

I did not have a tripod, as I rarely travel with one since the time I almost missed a flight leaving the Canary Islands because my tripod needed to be checked by security. It is cumbersome to travel with one anyway, but I’ve found a makeshift one can be found by using what you find in your surroundings. A pole to lean the body of the camera on one side works well, or the top of a car or nearby mailbox. A garbage can will work in a pinch, depending on how recently it was emptied out.

I set my camera to shoot high dynamic range (HDR) (which means the camera takes three shots in succession at three different exposures, one under, one correct, and one over-exposure, then merges the three images into one). Shooting HDR requires very static subjects, otherwise the merged images don’t match up and you get strange, electric looking outlines. However, an unexpected advantage I discovered was that if you shoot HDR where something is moving in front of your static subject, i.e., people walking, you get a beautiful shot of your subject and the people either blur right out of the picture or add a surreal, ghostlike effect, showing the traces of humans but nothing recognizable. (See some of my photos of Berlin’s East Side Gallery here)

I thought the effect worked particularly well in some of the shots of got of the East Side Gallery.

IMG_1859

As darkness fell, I switched over to using longer exposures, but this time pointed my lens to take in a bit of the road to capture oncoming traffic to create some random light paintings with headlights next to the wall imagery. I liked the effect in these shots as well.

Electric avenueAnd then there was this final image, which had nothing to do with the wall but was in one of the cars parked right in front of it that I was using as my makeshift tripod. Somehow seems to perfectly capture the quirky, captivating, energy that Berlin emanates and is maybe one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken.

Berlin's Hula Girl