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:
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):
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!):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, aninsatiable 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.
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.
People Magazine just released their pick for the most beautiful woman in 2016: Jennifer Aniston.
I have nothing at all against Jennifer Aniston. I think she is a great actress with lots of comedic talent and yes, she is quite pretty. But I do have something against beauty contests in general, and something about this headline really bothers me.
First of all, it celebrates celebrity which I think is a vacuous and thoughtless focus on a small percentage of humans who through luck, genetic windfalls and of course skill and hard work too, find themselves splashed across the covers of things like People magazine and movie screens. Yes, they are often nice to look at and they entertain us and move us emotionally, but they receive a disproportionate amount of attention to the value they add to society, and distract attention from other important issues that are harder to think about (like climate change, or corruption, or systemic racism, etc…) that actually have much greater impacts on real people’s lives.
Celebrity culture, the nadir of which would be someone like Kim Kardashian showing off her shapely buttocks and expensive bathroom, demeans everyone who engages in it. It locks us into an inherently superficial relationship with ourselves and each other, that actually dehumanizes both the star-struck fan and the celebrity whose personality and true self lies buried beneath the persona.
It also makes regular people, regular looking people with regular lives, feel badly about themselves. It idealizes specific looks, body types, hairstyles, skin tones, accessories and lifestyles that aren’t a part of most of our lives.
As a photographer of course, I stand accused. My work is to photograph people and I know that the more recognizable my subject, the more attention my work gets and the more “important” by association, I become.
But the worst thing about the epithet of “The most beautiful X…” is it implies a judgement and sets up the entity making the announcement as some kind of authority on beauty when such a thing is purely fiction. A fantasy. False.
There is no one most beautiful anything. We are all capable of being beautiful and carry within ourselves the real source of beauty, in how we behave towards one another and what we can contribute to the communities we share.
I know it’s just a marketing ploy (I used the same tactic for my headline), but it isn’t harmless. I’ve seen so many people through my lens who fret about how they look, and how they are perceived – particularly younger women – and their misperception about the way they look affects their self-esteem and sense of self-worth and that’s what really bothers me.
If we spent more effort seeking out and seeing the real beauty in the people around us, and less time and energy on the images of famous people, perhaps we’d make the world a kinder place for all of us.
I encounter a lot of people who are curious about what it’s like making a living as a freelance photographer. Because I often go into offices during the work day to shoot an executive or pickups of office life for company websites, I am in contact with lots of people doing a lot of different jobs.
And I see the look of incredulity on people’s faces when I tell them what I do for a living. They can’t quite seem to fathom that in this digital age where everyone is armed with a camera in their pocket, and people are uploading hundreds of millions of photographs daily to Instagram and Snapchat, that anyone could possibly earn enough to survive by just being a photographer.
And while I am not “just a photographer” (I do a lot of freelance writing as well), photography is my main occupation and what I fill out on customs cards when I travel.
Do it for love, not money
I am the first to admit that photography as a career choice is not one made with an eye to getting rich. Indeed there are very wealthy photographers out there, those who shoot celebrity portraits on exotic beaches, for example, but I am not one of them, and the vast majority of working photographers are not either. Gigs come and go, clients come and go, and you are never guaranteed anything. It is not a surefooted, clearly marked career path and there is no security. So if you are looking for anything of the sort, it may not be the best choice for you.
It is, however, one of the best jobs in the world if you enjoy meeting a lot of people in a wide range of contexts, and engaging with each one of them on a human level. One of my first ambitions in life was to become a journalist, and though I never realized it, photography affords much of the same exposure to different situations, different groups of people and an array of ideas (if you keep your ears open as you do your work) that is very exciting. It is totally unscripted – one day you may be doing a CEO portrait in an office tower, the next you’re covering a tree-planting team building event in a city park, but the opportunities are truly endless for encountering new, interesting people and getting a snapshot of who they are by being a fly on the wall in their every day lives.
So if you love meeting lots of different people and having many interactions throughout the day (if you are covering a large event like a conference or tradeshow), than it is a very fulfilling job.
Get your hustle on
How do you get business? In that sense it’s no different than any other freelancer gigness out there. Whether you are a writer, a designer, graphic artist, videographer or the guy who sets up window displays for shops on High Street, getting gigs is about showing up, doing your best work every time, listening and understanding what your client really needs, delivering everything you promise (and more), and then doing it all over again for the next client. And the next. And on and on until one day you get a call from someone who says they heard about you from someone else.
While you can never stop hunting for new clients – and that can mean making cold calls, running e-mail marketing campaigns, maintaining a blog with regular, useful content, and good old-fashioned networking both on and off-line – holding on to the clients you have is also part of the job. If you develop a good relationship with your client – mainly by doing good work consistently for them – you earn the benefit of their repeat business. Having a few regular clients can help smooth out some of the variability in your income and provide a degree of security, though nothing ever lasts forever.
Developing your hustle muscle is also critical. I never go to any gig without a pocket full of business cards, and my spiel ready to deliver at the right moment if I meet a prospective future client. While the main focus is always on the paid gig at hand, part of photographing people necessarily entails talking and connecting with them. Not doing so makes you that awkward shooter lurking on the sidelines and yields a crop of photos showing people with slightly annoyed looks on their faces at your interruptions. You have to interact, and mingle, professionally. Sometimes, in so doing, you’ll meet someone who might need what you’ve got to offer and you follow up. I’ve landed a lot of new business this way.
Don’t let your love go cold
Finally, staying at it and always looking for ways to up your game or improve your skills, tools and technique is all part of the job. You are only ever as good as your last job, and no body cares how expensive your gear is. They just want great photos and it’s your job to get them done.I read up on photo news, stoke my perpetual gear lust with Pinboards full of the latest gadgets, and experiment constantly with new approaches to my work.
It’s very important not to let your passion ebb away by letting your work go stale. After the 100th portrait of the old guy in a suit against a grey seamless backdrop in a cramped little fluorescent lit office downtown, you may be tempted to just mail it in. But that would be the beginning of the end of your career, I believe, because to that man, this portrait means something. It’s a sign his company is investing in him, a chance for him to show who he is to his clients or to accompany a news article about his recent accomplishments. Having your portrait taken is something to be proud of, and it’s important to always keep your emotional IQ running high to ensure you never lose sight of what a photo is really about.
Taking good pictures, and being the kind of photographer people like and want to hire is ultimately not about the tech you are using, or any tricks you’ve learned along the way. Yes, you need to understand your gear, have mastery over the tools you have, and not flub the shots technically. But the most important aspect of the work is making sure your heart is in it, and keeping it there.
Stick with it
Being a freelance photographer is really an amazing life. I’ve been able to travel, meet interesting, friendly and wonderful people and see places and things I never would have were it not for the work. That’s imparted a very deep sense of gratitude in me and a respect for my work. I truly believe that it’s a privilege to be hired by every client, and every client deserves my best work. If I let that slip, even a little, it’s the beginning of the end for me.
The work is important. The gigs will vary. You’ll have to nail your pricing and be flexible and able to talk frankly about cost vs. value, and you’ll need stamina. All entrepreneurs will tell you that it takes twice as long as you think it will to be successful, and will cost twice as much as you expect it will to get there.
How you define “success” of course, is up to you. I consider the option to wake up every day, direct my efforts towards my goals and do important work for great clients a success. And as my economics professor once told me, I’ve got “stickwithitness” which is probably the single most important thing you need if you want to make it as freelance anything.
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.
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.
So 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.
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.
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.
And 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.
Like most people I know, I learn things the hard way. Although I should have known better, a few years ago I lost a hard drive that just died on me for no reason, taking with it to its cold cybery grave, a passel of unbacked up images that no one will ever see again. It was a heavy blow at the time, as it contained some of my best work as a wedding photographer, and a huge collection of creative work I’d done over the years prior. But it had one positive result: it taught me the vital importance of backing up my work.
Since then, I’ve adopted the habit of backing up everything I do in triplicate (two separate hard drives, and one on the cloud). I don’t do it with every single image I produce, but once I’ve curated the set, I do it for the ones I want to keep. With the exception of my personal family photos and videos which I indiscriminately keep all of, around this time of year I do a big purge. As a busy conference and event photographer, I accumulate a lot of digital detritus just doing my job. While my clients want to see the full set of images I shot for them, once the event has come and gone, there is no reason for me to keep the majority of the images I’ve shot. There are only so many photos of an engaged audience looking up at a speaker that I need in my portfolio to prove I can capture the energy and excitement in a room. After the 30th conference of the year, I have to admit that the rooms all start to look the same, and the faces tend to blur into one another. Hence the need for the purge.
It’s hard going at first, but once I get into the flow of it, it starts to feel really good, as most decluttering sessions do. I’m currently still using Aperture (though plan to switch over to Lightroom in 2016 now that Apple has abandoned its pro software in favour of its new Photos), but what I find particularly useful for purge sessions – or curation sessions if you want to use a prettier word – is an old version of Adobe’s Bridge that I have. I like the way you can copy, move or trash a lot of files at once, and visually assess their quality from a grid perspective with ease. But regardless of the tool you use, the key to an effective photo library cleansing session is to not get too attached to any one image and really be brutal in selecting only the very best. There is just no need to save everything. The world is awash in images, (an estimated 80 million photos are posted on Instagram alone – daily!)
If you are facing a mountain of unsorted image across multiple devices, the digital equivalent of an office with folders strewn across the floor you have to thread your way through to reach the door, I understand your reticence in dealing with this task. It is easier to just buy more space, add a new hard drive, dump everything in there and move on. But it’s not what I would recommend. For one thing, doing so just kicks the problem down the road. No matter how much digital storage space you acquire, you will still be at risk of one or more of the drives failing (and if they contain disorganized files, you won’t even know what you’ve lost). But even more importantly, if you don’t take the time to review what you already have – whether you are a professional photographer, amateur or just camera happy mom and dad clicking away at every second of your child’s life, you won’t ever really get any enjoyment from the images. And what’s the point of a picture locked away on a hard drive that no one ever looks at?
As with any big task, my suggestion is to break it down into bite-sized chunks. If you work on multiple devices, start with the one you use most often. Put all the images in one place. Then break that down further, either folder by folder, or by date, or some other logical system that you can start and stop at, picking up the next time where you left off. Getting started is the hardest part. Once you move past your current state of inertia, you’ll get more efficient at doing it, and the mountain will chip away, one gigabyte at a time until you’ve got a neat little set of images, properly ordered, that you can then save on at least two hard drives, and pump up a copy to whatever cloud storage service you use (I like Dropbox, but there are several to choose from like Google Drive, or even your own hosted server).
2016 is around the corner, and it will be full of new events, new people and places to photograph and another 500+ gigabytes of image files (if you’re a professional photographer). Don’t wait until you lose a year or more’s worth of images before getting organized and backing up your work.
I was shooting an event in Toronto last week of an award dinner / fundraiser at a ritzy hotel with several very high-profile attendees. It was a fairly typical event, the kind I’ve covered hundreds of times before, with a pre-dinner cocktail hour in the lobby area of the reception hall where guest agglomerated over drinks and canapés, chit chatting and catching up with each other as they waited for the main doors to open up. The lighting was subdued, the bars mirrored. The men wore suits and ties, the women elegant evening gowns. 450 guests were there, each having paid a handsome price for the ticket with over 20 fully sponsored tables of ten. It was an important event for the organizer, with an important group of patrons and having covered events for this client in the past in Montreal, I was happy to have been invited to cover this one in Toronto as well. Clearly they liked my work I thought, and realized that having an experienced hand at working these kind of high-society events yields the right kind of images for their purposes.
That’s why I was quite taken aback when I was chatting with one of the client team members (albeit not the one who hired me) when she asked, quite genuinely, “Is there really that much of a difference between event photographers?”. We were standing in the main hall looking out through the doors at the thickening crowd of mostly dark suited men gnoshing on smoked salmon and quaffing glasses of white wine when she asked. “Well, yes, I think so.” I responded, trying not to sound defensive or overly surprised at the query.
And the truth is, I shouldn’t be because though I don’t often hear it, I do experience the effects of that sort of thinking often. When you work, as I do, in a highly competitive field where the barrier to entry is low, and the perceived value of your service, under appreciated, this attitude translates into many behaviours clients and prospective clients exhibit such as:
Brief (one or two liner) email queries asking for a price based on loosely defined schedules for upcoming events, usually in the very near or immediate future
Requests for detailed quotes based on unspecific requirements
Refusals to acknowledge or present a realistic budget
Assumptions that your price is always negotiable
Discussions focused on price rather than value
Focus on detailed shot requirements rather than discussion on what the purpose and end use of the images will be
Assumptions that all photographers also provide video coverage at the same time for the same price
Part of this is due to the ubiquity of photography today and the near infinite demand for constant content feeds through a warren of social media networks. This ubiquity is both a blessing and a curse, as it proves that there is a near constant need for photography, but there is also a decreasing respect afforded to professional practitioners and a widespread belief, exemplified by the leading question of this post, that the service is a commodity, photographers by and large undifferentiated from one another and consequently, price takers in the economic relationship between client and provider.
But then, what is the mark of a good professional photographer worth the fee being asked and one who will work for any budget (or none) and claim to offer the same service?
The answer I think comes down to a blend of factors that some clients get instantly, and others will never really get.
A good photographer covering an event will do so in a manner that does not cause guests to feel uncomfortable or hold awkward smiles or poses for long. The images will be well-lit, attention given to background, colours and flattering angles for all manner of the shapes and sizes that humans come in. He or she will take the time to understand the event, the importance of key attendees, and if working with a brand, the brand values and personality, to ensure not only their images, but also their behaviour is consonant with the client’s. The photos delivered will also be well-organized, easily accessible, rapidly turned around, and the transactional details of the contract conducted professionally and with respect to the client’s needs and internal processes. And the photographer will still be there after the event is over and the bill paid, to respond to any additional needs that may come up and of course, to serve again on future events having now established him or herself as a known quantity which eliminates at least one element of potential concern in the many moving parts that comprise event coordination, planning and execution.
Hiring experienced professionals may appear to cost more than hiring newbies, but is the same value being provided by both? If you think that indeed, there really is no difference, than the cheapest option makes the most sense. More experienced providers who are able to offer premium level service cost more. Many clients may be satisfied with less, and that’s perfectly okay.
Some, however, realize that talent is worth paying for.
Something about the way a photograph seems to mimic the way we see the world burdens it with the weight of expectations. While we would never assume a painter produces anything but a work of art when painting a picture – no matter how realistic – the opposite is true of photographers. The prevailing assumption is that the work produced is without artistry, a mere “mechanical” process of pointing a lens and pressing a button positioning the photographer as a documentarian, a human tripod supporting the image capture system that is a camera which today can be anything from a phone to a flying drone in the sky.
I was out with a few teenagers the other day who took some amazing photos with their phones. They were completely nonchalant about it. “Anyone can take a picture. It’s nothing. It’s soooooo easy.” And it’s true. Anyone really can do it and it is really easy to do. This democratization of photography has always been feared a little by professionals who feel their world shrinking as it grows exponentially for others who can now do what was once reserved for someone with expensive and specialized equipment and a knowledge of chemicals and light.
But to fear the progress of technology in any field is to cease trying to adapt to it, and imagine new uses for it. I think those photographers who bemoan the ubiquity of cameras today in all their myriad forms and pronounce on the demise of photographers maybe really were just mechanics, pressing buttons and not deploying any creativity in their image making. Their prognostication on the death of photography is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you can’t embrace technological disruption in your industry and have the flexibility and adaptability to learn how you can repurpose what you do in the changed context that disruption has created, then you are on the way out.
If, on the other hand, you look at this digital age as an age of wonder then the future is truly boundless and limitless. Yes in some ways it is more expensive and time consuming – there are new tools to learn and gain expertise with, new skills and languages to master. But what profession today is immune from the same forces? Does a doctor dread the discovery of a new drug or surgical technique that renders the old one obsolete because the new one offers a much higher survival rate? Does the architect bemoan the use of building imaging technology that lets them see in three dimensions where the pipes and electrical will flow because it diminishes the value of a hand drawn blue print?
Anyone who is uncomfortable adjusting to the change technological innovations wreak on their profession is accepting a path towards obsolescence as their future instead of one of continual growth, learning and discovery. Perhaps this is more common in photographers because, unlike many professions, they are a tribe of loners, independent practitioners. Maybe it is a function of having only one lens to look through, though perhaps in future even that will change (actually it already is), offering devices with multiple viewpoints capable of being operated by more than one photographer at once. This will draw in different personality types to the trade, and I think this is partly what is going on today.
New technology attracts different kinds of people. The teenage girl in love with taking selfies of herself may not ever have been interested in landscape photography, but now she’s got a handy tool to explore her passion for her own image. The drone operators creating stunning aerial views of their worlds may not be the same kind of personality as the event photographer smiling and blending into a crowded room of people gnoshing on hors d’oevres and quaffing red wine, and that’s the point. The new technologies in photography today are creating new breeds of photographers who probably don’t identify themselves strictly as photographers.A modern photographer is no longer one thing. And this, I think, is what some photographers recoil frombut also what makes photography great.It is a tool for creativity and the more creativity we can unleash in the world, the better.
Photography is constantly changing. New technology brings new adopters of that technology and scares away those who resist change or can’t adapt as quickly, but whatever your particular stance towards change, the future of photography is bright and full of limitless possibilities for those who embrace everything it is – and will be – capable of doing.
I chose the handle @ursomebody for my Instagram account after realizing that julianhaberphotography was too long. But that’s not the only reason – I also chose it because I believe that everyone is a somebody but not everyone believes that about themselves and I find that kind of sad.
I realized that the core of what I do – photograph people at work and at play – provides me with a unique position from which to observe humans in their sometimes unnatural habitats of gala parties and conferences, work parties, and social gatherings. From years of peering through my lenses at thousands of faces, I’ve honed my intuition and feel sometimes like I can see right into who someone is, just by the way they look when they don’t think anyone else is watching, or how they present themselves when they do. I feel this is one of the privileges of being a photographer and I am very grateful for the experience.
What I have observed countless times is the amount of discomfort and social anxiety many people feel that they do their best to hide. Reflecting on that, I came to the conclusion that main reason people feel awkward in social situations is because they harbour a sense of insecurity about themselves. They feel judged. They don’t think they are pretty. They think their clothes don’t fit them well. They think they are fat. They think they are too short. Too tall. Too skinny. Too ugly.
So they develop ways of hiding. They lean away from the photographer. They smirk rather than smile. They slouch, they turn their bodies defensively away from the lens. These gestures and subtle adjustments to posture and pose when facing a lens are not always conscious or deliberate. I believe, in fact, that most are unconscious. But to me it says that the person before me feels a kind of pain and I’ve learned that a big part of my job as a photographer of people at social and professional events is to make that pain disappear – however briefly. One easy way to do it is just by being kind and by recognizing that not everyone who is beautiful believes it about themselves, so I try to make them feel that they are. I think this is a valuable thing to learn to do for oneself as well.
A few helpful things you can do if you are one of those people who doesn’t like the way they look or feels uncomfortable in front of a camera – and there are many others who feel just like you do – is to smile. Just the act of smiling opens up positive energy inside of you and actually improves your state of mind. And you instantly look much better, I can guarantee you that.
Deeper down, my wish is also for you to stop being so hard on yourself. I was once chastised (in a friendly way) by someone whose portrait I had taken for having slightly blended out a few small wrinkles in her face. I hadn’t really thought much about it as I try not to edit portraits very heavily and only allow myself slight interventions to enhance the natural beauty of the person I am photographing. But in this case, the woman – a mother of four – told me she was proud of her wrinkles and didn’t want them brushed away and I realized that she was absolutely right.
You’ve earned the face you have now. Be proud of who you are, how you look and what you can still give to the world.
I’ll preface this by saying I’m an experienced conference photographer and know the difference between a breakout session, general session and collaboration lounge but working on a citywide convention across multiple venues with a fleet of photographers is an order of magnitude more complex when it comes to conference photography. How is it different and what did I learn?
Let’s start with a baseline (or just skip down to the end of you want the 6 key takeaways)
What’s needed to provide standard conference coverage?
A normal conference may require one to three photographers. The conference will take place in one of the designated conference centres of your city (in Montreal’s case, that’s usually the Palais de congrès, though sometimes a commodious hotel like the downtown Sheraton, the Delta on University or the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth).
A regular conference has a general program with a few designated speakers, a keynote welcome address and wrap-up remarks, panel discussions, Q&As, and smaller breakout sessions. Depending on whether the conference is academic or business oriented, there may be more or less focus placed on networking and meeting sessions, though all conferences comprise scheduled blocks of time for formal networking, along with looser time and space for informal meetings and networking. Presentation areas with booths, posters and product displays of participating members or sponsors will also be included.
As a photographer, the general mandate is to cover all scheduled events on the program. This kind of coverage should include “beauty shots” taken of the various venues before attendees are in the room, shots of the speakers on stage from all angles, high quality images of rooms full of attendees looking interested and engaged, and any particular activity that takes place on stage such as award ceremonies.
On the topic of “beauty shots,” clients enjoy seeing photos of the spaces they’ve created, before and after attendees fill them up. This would include general meeting areas, as well as designated lounges, eating areas, registration desk and any sponsored booth or presentation area.
Attendees mingling, networking, attending sessions, making contacts, doing business and having fun
Speakers at podium (shot from front, side, near and far)
Award ceremonies including individual recipients being granted their trophies and group shots of award-winning teams
Executive group shots
All sponsored and branded items, including booths and posters (if the conference is academic or scientific)
Cocktail receptions / VIP events
How does a citywide convention differ from a regular conference?
The difference between a regular conference and a citywide convention, to state the obvious, is scale.
Where a regular conference may take place over one to three days, a citywide convention may span a week, with pre-conference activities starting well ahead of the general sessions.
As well, there is a much higher order of project management and coordination skill required as many events will be taking place simultaneously across multiple venues.
While providing complete coverage for the recent Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal, at one point I had over 10 different photographers/videographers fanned out across the city covering awards ceremonies, cocktail parties, and a slew of various auxiliary events for clients from around the world.
Managing and creating the schedules for the photographers and ensuring each on-site client had all the information necessary as well as providing the same to the photographer alone takes a few days of coordination. Communication is critical, particularly when there are (which there always are) last-minute changes to the schedule and additional requests.
One particularity of working for a global enterprise like Cisco is the level of professionalism required. There is no room for error when covering an event that comprises over 50 different events needing coverage and a traffic flow of over 4,000 attendees. Execution must be customer-centric, flawless, and timely, and that’s precisely what my team and I delivered.
We set up an on-site office, staffed with technical support, just to manage the intake and processing of the over 35,000 images generated from the coverage. All of these images needed to be edited, sorted, categorized and uploaded to shared drives with a variety of clients requiring access to the images within 12-24 hrs of them having been shot. This always-on, near-instant turnaround on such a heavy volume of images is one of the key distinctions between this kind of massive convention and a smaller scale conference. Things like connectivity, upload speeds, etc. become critical.
World class client service is also paramount. For an event at this scale, there is not just one client – there are numerous clients, all requiring the same level of service and attention to detail:
There is the ultimate client, Cisco, within which there may be 10 or more individuals with photography or videography needs that must be met.
Cascading down there is the event management company that creates and manages all the logistics of the event, who may be the direct client, within which there are also a number of event specific clients.
Then there is the AV team, responsible for the screens, sound and lighting; managers responsible for the interior and exterior signage; food and bev directors, caterers, decorators all of whom may need specific images for their own purposes which may all fall under the responsibility of the core photography team.
I personally dealt with more than 20 different clients, all of whom are equally important even if only a few are actually paying for the service.
With the management, coordination, pre-show preparations and post-show post-production on images, and after-market service, one citywide convention like this can require a month’s worth of work, compared to a week or less for a scaled down single focus conference.
It can be exhausting, with days stretching from 5 am to well past midnight, and stressful, but it is also hugely satisfying to complete. Because of the high level of organization and the size and scale of the client, everyone working this kind of event is at the top of their game. Professional, organized, supremely competent and almost invariably a pleasure to work with.
So what did I learn?
As the old adage goes, the client is ALWAYS right. Courtesy, respect, delivering on time and within budget goes a long way towards ensuring the experience is positive for everyone involved. So does being responsive to last-minute changes and providing the same level of highly customized service before, throughout and after the event
Keeping the team of photographers in the loop and informed of all client needs and requirements is equally important. While photographers tend to be independent self-starters, they benefit from and appreciate being made aware of the bigger picture (no pun intended!).
Establishing and maintaining clear and open communication with clients is essential at all times. The way I do this is through active listening, identifying the client’s needs, and proposing innovative solutions to potential challenges before they even materialize.
Providing visual examples of the types of images needed to your photographers helps guide their inherent creativity towards the client’s specific needs.
Online collaboration tools like Box and Dropbox are necessary to ensure wide distribution of images to all clients.
Keeping focused on the end purposes of the images helps navigate the editing process to ensure timely delivery —this is especially true in the case of the Cisco summit where, as mentioned, we needed to process thousands of images in a very short time period.
Taking on a citywide conference mandate is not for everyone. Many photographers are excellent at what they do but lack the interest or the skills required to manage an operation of this scale. But getting to play in the big leagues means you have to step up and move outside of your comfort zone, no matter what business you are in, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when hiring a shooter to provide conference or trade show photography is to think about the value the photos create and how you will get the best use out of the images.
There are multiple audiences for good conference and trade show coverage. Here are a few that come to mind:
Past and present attendees
Prospective and future attendees
Speakers & presenters
Corporate communications teams
Marketing and sales teams
Event planners and event management companies
What is the value of these types of images?
Depending on who the end client/user/viewer of the images is intended for, the value can be:
Showcase a successful event – large filled rooms, happy smiling people looking engaged, looking like they are having a good time, connecting with each other, doing business
Highlight successful positioning of branded signage and collateral
Highlight the breadth and scope of an event to attract future attendees
Show off quality of speakers and content
Boost employee morale and drive engagement
Sell tickets / drive attendance rates for future events
Builds content for your social media channels and web properties
So which types of shots are the most useful and critical to get right?
1. Set-up and room décor
Ideally rooms should be shot from multiple angles, but preferably with a wide enough lens to capture the breadth and feel of the space. The best time to capture the room set up is just before it will be opened up to the public, when the lighting is set up and the room is like a present waiting to be opened up.
2. People networking
This is an easy one to get done but requires attention and fast reflexes. You must anticipate handshakes, smiles and friendly greetings and capture the exchanges without interfering. Every conference has built in networking sessions even if they don’t call them that. More festive social events will also leverage the socially enlivening effects of alcohol. Depending on the industry, the drinks and bars themselves will have branded sponsors. Embedding into this environment requires a special blend of sociability and detachment so you know when to step back and capture images of people as they begin to loosen up.
3. Speakers on stage – front and side views
Getting good images of people on stage is trickier than it looks as the stage lighting can often cast unwanted colours or distortions on your subject. As well, not all speakers are to the podium born and some spend more than ninety percent of the time looking down at their notes. The best shots will come from both telephoto and shorter lenses, shot from the front of house and close to the sides. I usually aim to capture a few images of speakers with fun or illustrative slides behind them if they are in the midst of a slide show, but also make sure to get a few clean and clear ones just them, eyes open, faces smiling and mouths preferably not mid-word. It can be a bit of trial and error but the end goal is really just to get a handful of great shots of each speaker.
4. Views of room from speakers p.o.v
This is really a hybrid categories as it touches on both speakers and rooms, but it is worth having a few of these shots usually angled from the side or sometimes above the speaker, showing both the speaker on stage and the audience to whom he or she is speaking. This is a fun photo for the speaker themselves to have later one and helps promote a sense of attending an interesting, worthwhile event.
5. Big and wide shots of filled rooms
All event planners, conference organizers and companies hosting events want to see their event as a success – and nothing says success better than showing a room full of people. There will be different kinds of such rooms: some will be general sessions with people sitting in their seats, others will show the room in states of transition before or after an event. Sometimes the big room is where an opening night reception is being held. Other times it’s just a general overview shot to show the look and feel of the full space. These images should be taken with big, wide angles, but can also be augmented with candid portraits drawn from the crowd shot on telephoto lenses so the subjects are truly at ease and may not even realize they are in the photos.
6. Engaged audiences in sessions
Diving a little deeper into the idea of showing full rooms, these shots pertain primarily to smaller breakout sessions common at many conferences. Here the rooms are smaller, the speakers usually just standing at a the front of the room, sometimes with but often without podiums, and the aim, as always is to capture images of people paying attention, eyes forward, smiling and asking questions. Depending on the nature of the conference and industry, it may be helpful to have a few shots of people taking notes or texting on their phones, but the majority of images should show people doing what they are supposed to be doing in the room – learning something.
7. People smiling, having fun and making connections
The social side of business confabs is in some industries the most important part of the event. In businesses where making connections and doing deals is important (and when isn’t it) conferences can provide ideal locations for meeting a large number of high quality prospects/partners/future employers. This is the value to the people attending. The value to the people organizing these events is showing that their event is where business gets done and connections are formed. I love these kinds of events and have a lot of fun weaving in and out of the crowd soliciting, eliciting and noticing great photo ops. Selfies, photobombs, generic groupings of twosomes and foursomes (or more) will all happen in here so working with a short and flexible lens is key, but I also carry around a long lens to take sniper type shots of people across the room, trying to avoid detection so that I can capture real emotional exchanges and genuine reactions.
8. Interesting details, close ups of on-site marketing collateral, giveaways, promos
Finally, throughout the conference you’ll want to make sure you have images showing any promotional item provided by a sponsor, as well as just a set of fun, creative, interesting, artistic even, shots of details that emerge as salient to the event. Judgement and skill is required here but over time it becomes clear what these elements are. No-brainers include shots of program covers, branded spaces, signage, banners and products (in the case of trade shows).
9. People interacting with displays/products
This one pertains mainly to trade shows but can be relevant to conferences that host vendors in common areas as well. The main goal here is to showcase the brand, the product or service on offer, and lots of images of people engaging with the display or items. Interaction, engagement and as always, smiling faces are key here. Closeups on pertinent details and any interesting visual elements available should also be captured.
If you have the right personality for it, being an event photographer can be one of the best jobs in the world. I’ve covered hundreds of events and still get excited about going to work. You get invited to attend all the best parties, go backstage, have complete VIP access to anywhere in the venue, and you get to meet hundreds of people weekly during the busier times of the year. If you are, like me, a hyper-extrovert, the thought of this is thrilling.
Covering large conferences or tradeshows can also be intellectually stimulating as you get to be a fly on the wall at all the sessions, see world-class speakers deliver keynote addresses and learn about all kinds of new and interesting things while doing your job. One day it’s how beacons are revolutionizing retail bringing the physical and digital worlds together (phygital), and the next its a deep dive into diagnostic imaging, or an international food show, or a trade show on plastic injection moulding and 3D printing.
However, covering events is not something every photographer can do equally well. Many photographers are by nature a little shy and introverted. Some chose photography as a career specifically because it allows them to be behind the camera and not in front of it. This can serve them exceedingly well with some forms of photography (landscapes, street photography, fine art) but is deadly for an event photographer.
I see it as part of my job to “embed” myself in an event. I like to engage with the guests, chat with people, make friends and generally put people at ease before I ask to take their picture. This doesn’t mean I forget my place or the task at hand. On the contrary, it allows me to do my job better. I’ve found that once people like you, their guard drops and that’s when you see real smiles, real sparkles in people’s eyes, and real expressions of people enjoying themselves. These are the kinds of looks you want to see when looking at the photos of your event, particularly if your job is to sell more seats or tickets to future events. People who come to a given conference, for example, will choose yours over a competitor’s in part by looking through the photos from past events on your website. They want to see people like themselves, having a good time, making connections and looking engaged and interested in the content. To get those kinds of shots, your event photographer has to be in the heart of the action and can’t be off hiding somewhere snapping photos from afar or timidly interrupting social pods to ask for a photo. A truly great event photographer plays with the crowd, enjoys their company and vice-versa. Some of the best photos I’ve ever taken have happened at the end of the evening when the group I’ve been shepherding around through my lens finally lets loose and starts to mingle and have fun.
I think the key qualities to look for in the next event photographer you hire are these:
Extrovertism: taking pictures of large gatherings of people in any kind of social setting has to excite your shooter. If the thought of meeting 20, 50, 100 people in one busy night doesn’t get their blood pumping than they are not going to be happy doing their job.
Curiosity: is your shooter curious about the people at the event? Is he or she interested in the subject matter being covered at the tradeshow or conference? Does your shooter seem interested in your business and what it takes to make your events happen? Curiosity about people is fundamental. Only a curious person is interested in looking at people all day and night and never tires of it.
Engagement: is your shooter engaging in conversation? Can he or she start conversations quickly? Is he or she socially well adjusted and not awkward? Being in the crowd and moving through it relatively smoothly and quickly in order to cover the entire scope of the event takes skill. A shy person will not want to plunge into the thickest part of a crowd, nor interrupt their conversations politely to get their photos, though that is precisely where they will need to get to if they are to get the required shots.
Unobtrusiveness: ultimately your shooter has to be everywhere and nowhere. No one of your guests should be annoyed at his or her presence, and in the case of a wedding or podium shots, the shooter has to get in and out quickly so as not to be blocking the view to the audience behind them. Knowing one’s place is important in events and a good photographer’s place is to see everything, but not be seen to be in the way.
“Know when to walk away”: knowing when and how to “disappear” is also important. Your event photos should include a range of shots that also show the room(s), set ups, views of the crowd from a distance and if possible different angles (from a balcony). While it’s important for the event photographer to be inside the crowd for all the up close and personal shots, it’s also necessary to step away from time to time and observe from a distance to capture the feeling of the space and the event.
I could have also called this, “What do I do with my hands?” but wanted to cover more than just hand placement as getting your picture taken is probably something everyone reading this has had done several times over, but may still be feeling uncomfortable and awkward while doing it. As a people photographer covering events and doing portraits, I have looked through my lens at thousands of faces and bodies and over time, have accumulated a few insights worth sharing to help ease the discomfort many people experience when a lens is thrust into their space and they are asked to “act naturally”.
First of all, I’m a photographer but I totally understand why someone would not like having their picture taken, and by extension may not even like having a photographer around. Photography can be intrusive, annoying, disruptive and greedy. When you’re at an event as a guest, you may not want your conversation bubbles to be regularly pricked by an event photographer coming round and positioning you into huddles with people you may be meeting for the very first time. You may be feeling annoyed at what the humidity is doing to your hair. Or more than likely, you are like most people (particularly, and sadly, if you are a woman) who just doesn’t like the way they look and doesn’t want to show up in any pictures. In short, you may be a rockstar on the outside, world’s best salesman, marketer, CEO or super star brainiac, but in that instant when the camera’s in front of your face, you feel small, insecure and want it to be over quickly. So what you can do about it?
To begin – take a real look at yourself in front a full length mirror. Do it with clothes on and off. Do it when you are alone. And really take yourself in. What is it you don’t like about yourself (don’t love about yourself, hate about yourself)? Too tall, too short? Too skinny, too fat? Too top heavy, too flat? Don’t like the colour of your hair, the shape of your nose, the way your ears stick out? Think your mouth looks crooked when you smile? Do you think your eyes are too beady, too deep-set, too wide apart? Hate your teeth? Whatever your specific, highly personal concern/insecurity about how you look, I want you to realize right now that almost EVERYONE feels the same way about themselves as you do, and furthermore, nearly NO ONE sees the things that bother you so much the way you see them.
Stop for a moment and say that to yourself again: ” EVERYONE feels the same way, and NO ONE sees me the way I see me.”
Now let’s move on. Here’s what you’re likely to do when the event photographer bobs up near you at your next event. If you’re tall, you will slouch or bend sideways trying to cram yourself into the frame you are imagining. If you have chubby cheeks, you’ll probably try to look away from the camera a little bit, or sink into your neck and slightly back away. If you don’t like the way you smile or the shape, spacing or colour of your teeth you may keep your lips tightly closed, or hold your hand to your mouth. Whatever trick or evasive technique you’ve learned either consciously or more likely, unconsciously, as your photographer I want you to realize you are not hiding – you are highlighting – what you are trying to obscure. You need to stop doing it.
If you’re tall, stand tall. Shoulders back, spine straight. You’re tall and that’s fantastic and you are proud of it. If you’re short, do the same thing.
If you think you have chubby cheeks, rather than pull away or sink, face the camera directly, protruding your chin ever so slightly. Come towards the lens, rather than away from it. Ask the photographer to show you the before and after and you will grasp immediately how big a difference this little trick can make on the way you look in a photo and how pleased you will be with the results.
No matter what shape, height, colour or gender you are. You need to start believing something very important right now. You are beautiful. Yes, you are. You may not feel like it, you may not believe it, you may have a list as long as your arm of all the people you believe are much more beautiful than you are, but none of that matters because it isn’t true. You really are beautiful.
My professional life comprises many many hours of looking at many, many people from all walks of life, at work, at play, in their homes, alone, or in groups. Just by looking at them, and trying to see them for what they really are so that I can take best advantage of their look I learned something very important. I’ve discovered that when you look at someone and want to see them look good, you do. It’s just that simple. When you look at someone with compassion and feeling, they look better. Simple as that. And when you try to look at everyone like that, amazingly, everyone around you starts to look good. Because the truth is, what you look like is not what you think you look like. What you look like is really, what you feel like. That’s what shows. If you are feeling down, you look sad. If you are feeling awkward, you look uncomfortable. If you are feeling nervous, you look tense. Your emotional state overrides any physical condition you are focussing on. Change the way you feel about yourself, and you will change the way you look. And you will be happier with the results.
Smiling, as I’ve written about elsewhere, and observed throughout my career as a photographer, is oddly something that many people find hard to do. So here’s how to fix that: Start smiling. Right now. Do it! Smile. Think of something that makes you smile, and smile. If you can’t think of something that makes you smile, stop doing whatever you are doing and go find something, somebody, some place that makes you smile and don’t do anything else until you do. Smiling naturally is something every human can do. You are no different, regardless of how much wearable technology you have on right now, you are still a human like me, like the person sitting next to you on the bus, or looking at you across the desk/dancefloor/hallway/room/dinner table/pillow/field of sunflowers. You can smile naturally and your natural smile is the most beautiful smile you have. So learn how to recognize what that smile feels like and practice it until you feel totally comfortable doing it everywhere at anytime no matter the circumstances.
Wonderful things will happen. Smiling makes you feel better. Smiling actually makes you happier. Smiling is contagious (like yawning it triggers neuronal mirroring behaviour) and makes people around you smile. Smiling literally lights up your face. Smiling shows up in your eyes. Smiling is how you become the most beautiful you you can be. And it is free and easy to do. So start doing it now and do it as much as you can. The more you smile, the better you and those around you feel. Once you’ve practiced a little alone, take it out into the world and do it in public. Smile at strangers, smile at friends, co-workers, bus drivers, cabbies, homeless people, children, pets. By the time the photographer gets around to you after you’ve been smiling like this for a few weeks, your smile will be natural, real and warm and show the world that yes, you are beautiful. And you know it.
And when you finally learn to value yourself and really believe the truth that your unique way of looking and being in the world is the most beautiful way to be, you will suddenly find having a photographer around won’t make you feel so awkward and may even be kind of fun.
Oh yeah, and what to do with your hands? You can cross them for a professional looking, let’s-get-down-to-business look (both men and women), rest one on your hip with the other hanging loose for a ever so slightly provocative, confident pose (for women); put one hand in the suit pocket and let the other hang loose (for men); or if you are in a group, either put them around your neighbours, or stand at an angle facing the camera, in close enough together so that one arm is tucked in behind the body of the person next to you.
Or just throw them up in the air and photo bomb someone – you know who you are.
School may be out for most classes, but the hard-working students at the McGill School for Continuing Education are in session right through the hot summer months, and yesterday posed for their class photos on campus. The weather was hot and sunny but this Montrealer is not complaining as winter is always just around the corner in this city. After this brief portrait session was done, I reflected a while on what it takes to create a great portrait whether you are just snapping a few shots of your family on vacation, or looking online to gather a few guidelines to inform your next corporate portrait photo shoot.
Draw out the connections between subject(s) and their relevant subject matter or theme: whether your subject is someone famous, or just one of the millions of hard-working corporate workers out there in the world today, or a group of young summer students taking a course in a Classical Studies program, your job as photographer is to come up with ideas that can be translated into images that represent visually what is relevant to your subject. For example, if your subject is a Math Professor you could set up your shot in a classroom posing your subject in front of a blackboard covered in formulas and equations. Or if your subject is an author, you could set the subject in a contemplative space, perhaps the one where they write, or surround the writer with books. In the case of the McGill Classical Studies students, we (why we? see next point) sought out “classical” looking backgrounds to imbue the young group with a bit of the weight and substance of what they had gathered to study. In brief, contextualize your subject within the essential context of what makes your subject portrait-worthy in the time frame of your photograph.
Collaborate with your subject(s): In my many years of experience photographing all types of people alone or in groups, from CEOs to
toddlers in diapers in a family living room, I’ve found that the single most important element of creating an excellent portrait is having a rapport with the subject. This rapport or relationship is created by including the subject in the creation of their own image. Even world-famous executives with a private jet waiting to whisk them away can and do enjoy a brief moment to create a photograph in which their likeness features that says something about who they are as a person. All portraits have an element of playfulness about them, even the serious ones, and the best ones happen when you as photographer can encourage that innate sense of play in your subject.
Communicate with your subject: this is really just another aspect of collaboration, but it merits its own point as it is really so important when trying to capture an image of someone as they really are, which is the true call of a portrait artist. Talk to your client/subject throughout the creative process. Explain to them what you are thinking or wanting to do. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen my initial ideas improved upon by sharing them with my clients who gamely take up the challenge and often contribute new ideas and have even better backgrounds in mind than I come up with on my own. While I don’t think it’s important, or at all interesting, to tell the client the technical aspects of what’s happening (I’m not sure how many clients I have had who would care what aperture I am shooting at or what lens I am using) I do think it is critical to engage your subject in a dialogue about what you are doing and give them the space and opportunity to contribute their ideas to how they will be portrayed. At the very least, it gains their confidence, and more often than not leads to a better portrait.
A good portrait, whether of an individual or a group, should aim to capture some of the context of the subject, both physically and conceptually. Using both setting and features of the context of the subject will help to strengthen the portrait. After all, what is a portrait but a window into the heart and soul of a subject. The best ones, particularly photographs like Yousouf Karsh‘s epic shot of Winston Churchill reveal the essence of a person’s character – at least as they are in that moment. Portrait photography is the short story of people-oriented photography and the artistry involved is not something that can be easily reproduced. However, the core concepts connected to creating a great portrait are accessible to anyone who takes the time to learn and implement them. Central to all great portraits is establishing a rapport with your subject by collaborating and communicating during the session. And finally, as always, cultivate a sense of play and playfulness throughout your session so that the experience reveals not just who the subject is, but the best version of themselves.
If you are like me you get feedback requests from nearly every online service you use. I get texts from my cell phone company asking me to fill in surveys after every call I make to them, emails from news sites I subscribe to asking for my opinion, and then there are all those annoying little slidey-up, pop-up windows that appear when you’ve visited a site asking for your opinion. Not to mention apps that periodically request a review – even ones you’ve already paid for. I get it – businesses large and small (especially small) often thrive on positive reviews and sink on negative ones. Word of mouth marketing can be the Midas Touch or the Kiss of Death, depending on how well you perform as a business in satisfying your customer needs. For an independent freelance photographer, providing superior client service is just table stakes. Nonetheless, I’ve always believed that if a client is really happy with your work, they will make the time to say so. If you’ve really done a great job, telling their friends and network about you will reflect well on them as you can then provide the same great service to their social circles. Everybody wins.
But I respect my clients and people’s time above everything and since I find requests for feedback increasingly annoying, I assume others do as well.
Which is my round-about way of saying, that I’ve created a separate page on a the pretty popular recommendations service, Yelp, where reviews from my past, present and perhaps future clients are welcome. Good or not, your honest, real feelings and thoughts on the work I’ve done for and with you are welcome and if you feel so inclined, and have the time, please stop by and let me – and the world – know what you think.
Covering a conference or trade show is not as easy it would seem. While it may look like all you have to do is wander around, point your camera and shoot, the process of getting really good conference photos is a little more complex than that. As a photographer, it is critical that your images capture both the feel of the event but also convey the organizer’s messages and help them to achieve their marketing goals. When covering a conference, then, not only do you need to contend with variable lighting, from hot stage lights to fluorescent breakout session rooms, but importantly your professional mandate as discussed with your client.
Typically, a conference organizer wants to show their event off in its best light possible. While this is almost a truism in event photography, the conference (or trade show) is a little different than your regular corporate gala or fundraiser event, as the images generated from this year’s show are going to be used to help sell attendance in next year’s. So it is important to show future attendees the benefits they will get from attending in addition to all the well-curated content and knowledge they will gain. Photos should show people smiling, of course, as much as possible, but also doing the things they will be expecting to do, like shaking hands, exchanging business cards, listening to engaging speakers etc.
With corporate travel budgets constantly under pressure, the investment in sending one or a handful of employees to a conference must be clear. The images captured should also show the full range of activities at the event. All conferences follow a fairly predictable formula: large general sessions with keynote speakers, a few panel discussions, smaller breakout sessions and a lots of networking and socializing time in between the set menu to allow the attendees to make or renew contacts and actually enjoy themselves. Photos, shot from a few different angles of all these experiences are absolutely critical and will be key to delivering a set of images that will make your client happy.
Other shots required for a conference photographer should also include:
Good headshots of all the speakers: I often try to get a few before the speaker actually goes on stage by hanging around when they are setting up. This helps ensure you have at least one good image where the speaker is smiling and looking right at your lens as once they get going, you may have to snap many shots to make sure you have enough of the speaker talking with eyes open and mouth not that the conference organizers will be able to use in their promotional materials.
Posed groupings of attendees smiling and looking at the camera: these shots can be a little challenging if you are a shy or fly-on-the wall type photographer. As the professional, your work here is to interact and engage with the guests in a way that makes them feel good and willing to work with you to get a good photo, but to be quick and efficient at the same time. Ultimately, no one is at the conference for the photographs – they are there to learn, make contacts and hopefully do some business. As professionals they also want to look good in any images you make of them so you have a responsibility as the official event photographer to ensure that they do, without wasting their time when shooting,
A limited number of scenic shots shot from interesting angles: It is important to showcase the venue, usually a hotel, and give a sense of the rooms and ambience of the space selected by the organizers for the event. You don’t need a tonne of these kinds of shots, but a handful of representative images will help complete your set of deliverables to your client. These shots can usually be taken in between other events on any downtime you have during the conference.
Full rooms, engaged audiences: when covering any general sessions or breakout rooms, only shoot seats with smiling, engaged looking people in them. No one, not your client and not future attendees, wants to look at a conference with a bunch of empty seats. Abundance sells, so make sure your room shots look full and people look interested. Quality over quantity counts here as a few winning shots are all it will take to make the event look like a success – and bring smiles to your clients and hopefully repeat business when the conference becomes an annual event!
A final word on working as a conference photographer: Timeliness matters. Many organizers post the images from their conferences on a daily basis. This is great because once the first batch of images is up, attendees start to perk up and really make an effort with you to look good for the shot, knowing they too might end up featured on the conference organizer’s website. Take advantage of this almost real time streaming to be diligent in your shooting. Edit out dud images before the upload to save time and be ready for an end of day upload to make sure the client has good images to work with for the next day.
Many of my clients have questions about what happens next once the photos they’ve hired me to take are taken. I’ve put this short post together to answer the main questions and help anyone hiring me as a photographer understand how they can access their photos once the shooting part of the contract is complete:
1. Client review of proofs: Within a brief delay of usually no more than 48 hrs, your web-resolution photos will be online in a password protected gallery. I will share these images with you by sending you a link to invite you to what is called a “lightbox” (which in the old days of photography was actually a box illuminated from below with bright even white light, allow the photographer to select images from negatives for development). You will be able to review your images online, rate the ones you like and / or remove the ones you don’t like. Once you are done, send me an email and I will simply log into your lightbox and be able to see your selections.
2. How many photos can I choose? As a rule of thumb, I normally request clients aim for a 10-1 ratio. So for every 100 shots, choose 10 that really stand out. This is not a hard and fast rule as some clients ask for fewer images to be edited and others ask for many more. It is really just a guideline but it helps speed up the process of you receiving your final, reviewed and edited as necessary images.
3. How many photos do you take during an event? The volume of images generated varies per contract, but on average you will receive approximately 100-115 images per hour of shooting service. So for a typical corporate event you can expect to have submitted to you about 300-500 images. A wedding normally runs for many more hours in which case you can expect to receive approximately 1200 to 2000 images, depending on the length of the service contract.
4. What does editing a photo involve? In all cases, a client selected image will be reviewed by your photographer. A light edit would involve adjustments to the levels in the image (making it brighter or darker), perhaps some white and colour balancing, applying a black and white, sepia or antique filter, and cropping. This process may take just a few moments. A more intensive edit involving detailed work on skin smoothing, colour adjustments, editing out unwanted elements of an image will take longer, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on what is required.
5. How long will it take before I get my final edited images back? You can expect a delay of at least one week and up to 1 month, depending on the volume of edits required and the time of year (summer and fall are very busy). Again, you can help speed up the process by being selective in your choices of images you wanted edited. Quicker turnarounds are always possible for time-dependent images (i.e. events needing media-ready files at the end of the event).
6. How will I receive my final edited images? Your photographer will upload your edited files to a new gallery and you will be sent a link with a password that will give you access to the images and using the “Batch Download” link found in the top menu, you will be able to download all your images as a zip file to your computer. The time needed to download a full gallery depends on the number of images involved and your internet connection speed.
7. What is the difference between web resolution and high resolution files? Web resolution images are optimized for the web. In other words, they are light (usually no more than a few hundred kilobytes) with a resolution of 72 dpi (dots per inch). This is all the web can “see” so more than that is overkill and will greatly slow down viewing online. High resolution images, by contrast, are usually much heavier (anywhere from 7 to 25 or more megabytes) and are set to 300 dpi (dots per inch) which conforms or exceeds the higher resolution needs of printers, allowing you to print your images. Images can be further sized to specific dimensions (for example 8 x 12 inches).
8. What if I want my images on a disk or flashdrive? Most modern computers no longer come with a disk drive, and even USB ports are steadily evolving into newer and faster connections. By far the most convenient and affordable method for image file transfers is via a download as described in this post. It is also the ecological choice as it saves time, expense and waste of materials, and it is the default delivery method for your images. If, however, you require for whatever reason, your images to be delivered on a physical disk or a flash card (portable USB stick) it is optional and for an additional fee, available to you.
9. What happens if I need help? Don’t worry – Just call or email and your photographer will gladly walk you through any trouble you may be having.
It still often puzzles and amazes me that what I do for a job is take pictures of people. And after taking probably hundreds of thousands of photos of people getting married, people in love, new parents, old friends, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, best friends, new friends, strangers in crowds, models, actors, performers, artists and my own beloved family in over fifteen years of living and working as a photographer, I think I have finally learned a few simple things about what makes a good picture that are worth sharing:
1. Care about your subject: yes, you can. You may not have the same rapport with each and every one of your subjects, but the best photographs, like the best meals, are made with love in your heart. You need to have a genuine, unaffected, real care of the person or people you are photographing. This is not to say you need to know them very well (I often meet and shoot my clients on the same day, sometimes within minutes of our first encounter). But you need to put yourself into their minds, try to feel what they are feeling with you there sticking a camera in their face, try to empathize with how they may feel insecure about how they look and accommodate them. Help them. Guide them to their best showing. They will appreciate you for your thoughtfulness and leadership. And you will have a better photograph as a result.
2. Pay attention to details: this is true for anyone trying to master a craft. Assuming you know how your camera works, and have a familiarity with the technical aspects of what you are doing, your mental energy should be focused on details in the shot your subjects are not necessarily aware of. This includes the obvious, like backdrop and setting, but also the little details like a stray button undone, or a misplaced lock of hair. If you have the luxury of time during your shoot, pause before pressing the button and scan the scene for details you may have missed. Of course you can do all kinds of repair work in Photoshop, but I think you take better photos and are a better photographer if you actually try to get it right in real life instead of relying on software skills.
3. See the beauty in others: let’s face it, not everyone is a supermodel. Even supermodels aren’t always supermodels (see this post) and even Cindy Crawford has famously said she wishes she looked like Cindy Crawford. I believe that everyone has inner beauty that can be revealed through an insightful and thoughtful portrait. It may sound like a cliché, and perhaps it even is, but it doesn’t matter. Look for and find what makes the person you are photographing beautiful. If you can’t see it, you can’t show it.
Thank you to all my readers and clients this past year and all the best for 2014.