Lessons learned providing citywide conference photo & video coverage

 (Julian Haber)

Be Bold – Cisco Partner Summit 2015 theme image

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).

General Session at Palais de Congres (Julian Haber)

General Session at Palais de Congres

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.

There are often social events that feature as adjuncts to the conference. These may or may not be organized directly by the conference organizer. Typically they are cocktail receptions, followed by dinners and occasionally parties and even after-parties. They may take place in the conference venue, or offsite at a preselected restaurant or club. In Montreal most of these kinds of events take place in restaurants or event spaces like Centre Phi, The Montreal Science Centre, The Belvedere, and Windsor Station and tend to be within walking distance of the main conference centre. But trendy restaurants/bars like Joe Beef, Newtown, the Burgundy Lion, Drinkerie,  Verses Restaurant, Time Supper Club, Scena, Le Pois Penché, Café Ferreira, l’Autre Version, Auberge St Gabriel, Galerie MX, Cirque Eloize, le Windsor, New City Gas, Dominion Tavern, Loft Hotel, le Plateau (W Hotel) ,the Rialto TheatreCabaret le Lion d’Or, are also popular venues for post-conference parties, too.

A typical shot list will include:

  • Images of the venue(s) with and without people
  • 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.

 Seth Godin, speaking at Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal (Photo: Julian Haber)

Seth Godin, speaking at Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal

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:

  1. There is the ultimate client, Cisco, within which there may be 10 or more individuals with photography or videography needs that must be met.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

  1. 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

  2. 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!).

  3. 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.

  4. Providing visual examples of the types of images needed to your photographers helps guide their inherent creativity towards the client’s specific needs.
  5. Online collaboration tools like Box and Dropbox are necessary to ensure wide distribution of images to all clients.
  6. 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.

Check the images below for a sampling of Cisco Partner Summit 2015.

Essential shotlist for conference & tradeshow photography

One of the most important things to keep in mind when hiring a shooter to provide conference or trade show photography is to think about the value the photos create and how you will get the best use out of the images.

There are multiple audiences for good conference and trade show coverage. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Past and present attendees
  • Prospective and future attendees
  • Speakers & presenters
  • Corporate communications teams
  • Marketing and sales teams
  • Event planners and event management companies
  • Experiential marketers
  • Venue owners

What is the value of these types of images?
Depending on who the end client/user/viewer of the images is intended for, the value can be:

  • Showcase a successful event – large filled rooms, happy smiling people looking engaged, looking like they are having a good time, connecting with each other, doing business
  • Highlight successful positioning of branded signage and collateral
  • Highlight the breadth and scope of an event to attract future attendees
  • Show off quality of speakers and content
  • Boost employee morale and drive engagement
  • Sell tickets / drive attendance rates for future events
  • Builds content for your social media channels and web properties

So which types of shots are the most useful and critical to get right?

le Windsor room set up

le Windsor room set up

1. Set-up and room décor
Ideally rooms should be shot from multiple angles, but preferably with a wide enough lens to capture the breadth and feel of the space. The best time to capture the room set up is just before it will be opened up to the public, when the lighting is set up and the room is like a present waiting to be opened up.

2. People networking
This is an easy one to get done but requires attention and fast reflexes. You must anticipate handshakes, smiles and friendly greetings and capture the exchanges without interfering. Every conference has built in networking sessions even if they don’t call them that. More festive social events will also leverage the socially enlivening effects of alcohol. Depending on the industry, the drinks and bars themselves will have branded sponsors. Embedding into this environment requires a special blend of sociability and detachment so you know when to step back and capture images of people as they begin to loosen up.

We mix business with pleasure

We mix business with pleasure

Size matters

Size matters

3. Speakers on stage – front and side views
Getting good images of people on stage is trickier than it looks as the stage lighting can often cast unwanted colours or distortions on your subject. As well, not all speakers are to the podium born and some spend more than ninety percent of the time looking down at their notes. The best shots will come from both telephoto and shorter lenses, shot from the front of house and close to the sides. I usually aim to capture a few images of speakers with fun or illustrative slides behind them if they are in the midst of a slide show, but also make sure to get a few clean and clear ones just them, eyes open, faces smiling and mouths preferably not mid-word. It can be a bit of trial and error but the end goal is really just to get a handful of great shots of each speaker.

4. Views of room from speakers p.o.v
This is really a hybrid categories as it touches on both speakers and rooms, but it is worth having a few of these shots usually angled from the side or sometimes above the speaker, showing both the speaker on stage and the audience to whom he or she is speaking. This is a fun photo for the speaker themselves to have later one and helps promote a sense of attending an interesting, worthwhile event.

Life's a stage

Life’s a stage

5. Big and wide shots of filled rooms
All event planners, conference organizers and companies hosting events want to see their event as a success – and nothing says success better than showing a room full of people. There will be different kinds of such rooms: some will be general sessions with people sitting in their seats, others will show the room in states of transition before or after an event. Sometimes the big room is where an opening night reception is being held. Other times it’s just a general overview shot to show the look and feel of the full space. These images should be taken with big, wide angles, but can also be augmented with candid portraits drawn from the crowd shot on telephoto lenses so the subjects are truly at ease and may not even realize they are in the photos.

I'm paying close attention

I’m paying close attention

6. Engaged audiences in sessions
Diving a little deeper into the idea of showing full rooms, these shots pertain primarily to smaller breakout sessions common at many conferences. Here the rooms are smaller, the speakers usually just standing at a the front of the room, sometimes with but often without podiums, and the aim, as always is to capture images of people paying attention, eyes forward, smiling and asking questions. Depending on the nature of the conference and industry, it may be helpful to have a few shots of people taking notes or texting on their phones, but the majority of images should show people doing what they are supposed to be doing in the room – learning something.

7. People smiling, having fun and making connections
The social side of business confabs is in some industries the most important part of the event. In businesses where making connections and doing deals is important (and when isn’t it) conferences can provide ideal locations for meeting a large number of high quality prospects/partners/future employers. This is the value to the people attending. The value to the people organizing these events is showing that their event is where business gets done and connections are formed. I love these kinds of events and have a lot of fun weaving in and out of the crowd soliciting, eliciting and noticing great photo ops. Selfies, photobombs, generic groupings of twosomes and foursomes (or more) will all happen in here so working with a short and flexible lens is key, but I also carry around a long lens to take sniper type shots of people across the room, trying to avoid detection so that I can capture real emotional exchanges and genuine reactions.

Deal!

Deal!

Seeing the forest for the trees

Seeing the forest for the trees

8. Interesting details, close ups of on-site marketing collateral, giveaways, promos
Finally, throughout the conference you’ll want to make sure you have images showing any promotional item provided by a sponsor, as well as just a set of fun, creative, interesting, artistic even, shots of details that emerge as salient to the event. Judgement and skill is required here but over time it becomes clear what these elements are. No-brainers include shots of program covers, branded spaces, signage, banners and products (in the case of trade shows).

9. People interacting with displays/products
This one pertains mainly to trade shows but can be relevant to conferences that host vendors in common areas as well. The main goal here is to showcase the brand, the product or service on offer, and lots of images of people engaging with the display or items. Interaction, engagement and as always, smiling faces are key here. Closeups on pertinent details and any interesting visual elements available should also be captured.

The laser pointers were a hit

The laser pointers were a hit

Is your event photographer too shy?

CIENA 377

Popup, shoot, pop down

If you have the right personality for it, being an event photographer can be one of the best jobs in the world. I’ve covered hundreds of events and still get excited about going to work. You get invited to attend all the best parties, go backstage, have complete VIP access to anywhere in the venue, and you get to meet hundreds of people weekly during the busier times of the year. If you are, like me, a hyper-extrovert, the thought of this is thrilling.

Covering large conferences or tradeshows can also be intellectually stimulating as you get to be a fly on the wall at all the sessions, see world-class speakers deliver keynote addresses and learn about all kinds of new and interesting things while doing your job. One day it’s how beacons are revolutionizing retail bringing the physical and digital worlds together (phygital), and the next its a deep dive into diagnostic imaging, or an international food show, or a trade show on plastic injection moulding and 3D printing.

However, covering events is not something every photographer can do equally well. Many photographers are by nature a little shy and introverted. Some chose photography as a career specifically because it allows them to be behind the camera and not in front of it. This can serve them exceedingly well with some forms of photography (landscapes, street photography, fine art) but is deadly for an event photographer.

Smile!I see it as part of my job to “embed” myself in an event. I like to engage with the guests, chat with people, make friends and generally put people at ease before I ask to take their picture. This doesn’t mean I forget my place or the task at hand. On the contrary, it allows me to do my job better. I’ve found that once people like you, their guard drops and that’s when you see real smiles, real sparkles in people’s eyes, and real expressions of people enjoying themselves. These are the kinds of looks you want to see when looking at the photos of your event, particularly if your job is to sell more seats or tickets to future events. People who come to a given conference, for example, will choose yours over a competitor’s in part by looking through the photos from past events on your website. They want to see people like themselves, having a good time, making connections and looking engaged and interested in the content. To get those kinds of shots, your event photographer has to be in the heart of the action and can’t be off hiding somewhere snapping photos from afar or timidly interrupting social pods to ask for a photo. A truly great event photographer plays with the crowd, enjoys their company and vice-versa. Some of the best photos I’ve ever taken have happened at the end of the evening when the group I’ve been shepherding around through my lens finally lets loose and starts to mingle and have fun.

EVENTS 107

Get down, get down!

I think the key qualities to look for in the next event photographer you hire are these:

  • Extrovertism: taking pictures of large gatherings of people in any kind of social setting has to excite your shooter. If the thought of meeting 20, 50, 100 people in one busy night doesn’t get their blood pumping than they are not going to be happy doing their job.
  • Curiosity: is your shooter curious about the people at the event? Is he or she interested in the subject matter being covered at the tradeshow or conference? Does your shooter seem interested in your business and what it takes to make your events happen? Curiosity about people is fundamental. Only a curious person is interested in looking at people all day and night and never tires of it.
  • Engagement: is your shooter engaging in conversation? Can he or she start conversations quickly? Is he or she socially well adjusted and not awkward? Being in the crowd and moving through it relatively smoothly and quickly in order to cover the entire scope of the event takes skill. A shy person will not want to plunge into the thickest part of a crowd, nor interrupt their conversations politely to get their photos, though that is precisely where they will need to get to if they are to get the required shots.
  • Unobtrusiveness: ultimately your shooter has to be everywhere and nowhere. No one of your guests should be annoyed at his or her presence, and in the case of a wedding or podium shots, the shooter has to get in and out quickly so as not to be blocking the view to the audience behind them. Knowing one’s place is important in events and a good photographer’s place is to see everything, but not be seen to be in the way.
  • “Know when to walk away”: knowing when and how to “disappear” is also important. Your event photos should include a range of shots that also show the room(s), set ups, views of the crowd from a distance and if possible different angles (from a balcony). While it’s important for the event photographer to be inside the crowd for all the up close and personal shots, it’s also necessary to step away from time to time and observe from a distance to capture the feeling of the space and the event.

    A room with a view

    A room with a view

How not to look awkward when having your photo taken

IMG_1011

This wind is ruining my hair!

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

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

Lapointe_CEO_KATIMAVIK2011 100

A smile by any other name

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

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

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

Here’s how:

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

We’re sexy and we know it

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

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

catamaraned

Good lighting helps too

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

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

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

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

 

 

Using context, collaboration and communication to create great portraits

classics 3

Classical Studies Summer Students

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

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

    Cuban born artist, Alexander Poll

    Cuban born artist, Alexander Poll

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

    Let’s get married! On skates???

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

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

Using features of the landscape for a good portrait

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

Feedback welcome – on your own terms

JHP on Yelp

Yelp me out if you want to!

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.

Here’s the link: Julian Haber Photography on Yelp

Thank you!

Creative conference coverage

Chris Malone, Author of "The Human Brand", speaking at the iMedia Canada Summit, April 6-8, 2014, Montreal

Chris Malone, Author of “The Human Brand”, speaking at the iMedia Canada Summit, April 6-8, 2014, Montreal

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.

 (Julian Haber | 514.757.7657 | events@julianhaber.com, Julian Haber | 514.757.7657 | events@julianhaber.com)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.

You can check out some of the shots I took recently for the Imedia Canada Summit, here.

iMedia Canada, Day 1

iMedia Canada, Day 2

iMedia Canada, Day 3

What happens after my photos are taken?

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:

help1. 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.choiceweb

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.

 

Taking pictures of people

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:

3P5A3005

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.

CP9JUL 1-hr

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.

3P5A0547 - Version 23. 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.

Don’t let Photoshopped images deny you the pleasure of a good meal this holiday season

IMG_2371

Here’s a quick 5 Minutes Of What The Media Actually Does To Women video,  I discovered on Upworthy, a great site I’ve recently stumbled upon that shares news worth sharing. As a photographer I often spend more time than I want to toiling away in Photoshop making people look like the enhanced versions of themselves. I’m usually working on images of regular working people for their corporate portraits, family portraits or LinkedIn headshots. These are not models with body images but even still, there is the latent desire to see oneself perfected, to have a few lines removed here, a slight restructuring of the jaw there. I admit my guilt in doing these digital cosmetic surgeries, but share the opinion voiced in this video that unrealistic images, particularly of women, are damaging to women themselves, promote self-loathing and create a space where violence against women can happen by dehumanizing and objectifying women. I’m a father of a young girl and I feel a personal responsibility in making sure she grows up with a healthy self-image. She sometimes sits with me as I work in Photoshop where I show her how images are created and hopefully she learns a little bit about the difference between images and reality. She may still love Princesses and Hello Kitty, but when it comes time to eat, she’s fed a good wholesome meal which she devours with pleasure. So this holiday season my wish is that the women of the world reject the notion of false beauty projected through dehumanized, over-Photoshopped images of women, and dig in to their holiday meals with gusto!

 

 

Best sizes for your online profile pictures in all social media

Thanks to my friend Ray Hiltz, who sent me a link to this article on How to Optimize Your Profile Photos Across Social Media, the highlights of which I’ve summarized here below. Worth checking out the full article if you are a professional photographer and/or just looking to have your profile photo looks its best on the most popular social media platforms.

One big happy family

One big happy family

Facebook:

  • Profile pics are displayed at 160 x 160 pixels, but the image you upload must have minimum measurements of 180 x 180 pixels.
  • Cover photos should be 851 pixels wide, 315 pixels tall and less than 100KB

Twitter:

  • Maximum file size for a Twitter avatar is 2MB, though it will show only as 73 x 73 pixels on your profile page and a very small 48 x 48 pixels in tweets
  • Header photos can be up to 5MB in size; the recommended dimensions for these images are 1252 x 626 pixels

Google+:

  • consider what kind of image will work in a round format as the default form in Google+ circles is well, a circle
  • avatar displays 120 x 120 pixels on your profile, but not all of that will show up due to the round crop
  • Post images will be as small as 48 x 48 pixels and just 28 x 28 in comments

You Tube:

  • Since Google owns You Tube, the same image requirements for Google+ apply, however unique to the You Tube platform is cover photo You Tube calls “channel art” for which the recommendation is to upload a 2560 x 1440 pixel image

LinkedIn:

  • Max file size of 4MB
  • Upload a square JPG, GIF or PNG (default size for a LinkedIn avatar on your profile page is 200 x 200 pixels, but users can click to enlarge the image up to 450 x 450 pixels).
  • Company logos on company pages display on LinkedIn pages at 100 x 60 pixels, and the square logo is 50 by 50 pixels. You can also upload a homepage cover photo-style image to a company page. The minimum recommended size is 646 x 220 pixels.

As mentioned above, this summary is taken from an article on Mashable, worth checking out for more ample detail on the content quoted above.

The art of smiling for the camera

childsmiles Children smile on average 400 times a day. I just learned this while watching a great short TED talk by Ron Gutman called The hidden power of smiling (and if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the eight minutes it takes to watch when you have time)

I was researching the subject of smiling for this blog post, trying to find tips I can share with my corporate portrait clients, many of whom seem to have difficulty smiling easily for the camera. As a corporate portrait photographer, I encounter this challenge often. Almost everyone can produce a kind of smile on demand – the public kind of smile they brandish when giving presentations or meeting strangers, but rare is the individual who can smile with genuine ease, grinning widely and happily for the camera.

smilecycle

One of my other projects is an experiment in happiness, and I think the dis-ease most working people have with smiling today is symptomatic of a larger and deeper malaise. How did so many of us forget how to smile? You don’t need to see Ron Gutman’s TED talk to know that nearly all children everywhere can smile at the drop of a hat. It’s one of the reasons children are so much fun to be around. They smile a lot. And maybe even in spite of ourselves, because smiling is contagious, we smile more when we are around them too. And all this smiling just makes us feel good. While children may not always choose to smile for photographers (there are a few tricks for that), they really do spend much of their waking (and sleeping) time laughing, smiling and playing. For a child not to smile, there must be something serious going on. But when we become adults, our smile rates drop off dramatically. 14% of people smile fewer than 5 times a day. It seems many of us adults live in an upside down world where unsmiling is normal and almost seen as a kind of virtue. As if the ability to retain a stern, serious look is tantamount to actually being a supra-human invested with above average power and strength.

It is in fact, the opposite. People who smile are generally considered more competent. And better liked. And a few other things too as this graph shows (again thanks to Ron Gutman’s TED Talk video). Smiling creates a kind of virtuous cycle whereby the act of smiling makes you feel good, makes the people who see you smile feel good and smile too, which reinforces your smile and pretty soon everyone is smiling all over the place.

So why don’t we smile more often? And why is it so hard?

Some people greet each day with a smile. Literally. They wake up and smile. And this apparently helps set the tone for the day in a much more positive light. A smile truly lights up a face. It is the sign we look for in strangers when we want to evaluate their trustworthiness (there is a reason salespeople everywhere are skilled in the art of smiling). It makes people like us. A smile turns a grey day a little bluer. It gives us attractive wrinkling patterns on our faces as we age. And because smiles are contagious it is almost impossible not to smile back at someone who smiles at you. Imagine your next metro ride where everyone looks up from their handheld screens, unplugs their earphones and just smile at each other. What a difference that would make in anyone’s day. So to get you started and prepared for your next portrait session, here are a few tips I’ve collected on how to re-learn the art of smiling.

smiles-flat2

  1. Think of something funny: while I often do manage to elicit at least a faint chuckle from even the sternest of subjects, if you are posing for a self-portrait or for someone with whom you just aren’t feeling the humour vibe, make yourself laugh. Think of something -anything- you find really funny. While you don’t need to (or even want to) break out into a gale of laughter when you’re posing for your portrait, if you can use your powers of imagination (another lost art) to conjure up in your mind something you find genuinely funny, give in to your natural impulse and you will naturally start to smile
  2. Ignore the camera between shots: It’s okay, you won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to look at the camera all the time. In fact it’s better and easier to smile naturally if you take breaks between the shots so you can relax. Chat a bit with your photographer or a colleague or assistant who may be in the room with you. While most corporate portrait sessions are relatively quick, you don’t need to run through it so quickly your face gets tired from holding a smile.
  3. Wait to the last minute: as in so many things in life, you can get great results from the last minute (teachers don’t hate me please). Smiles get stale fast, particularly ones pasted onto your face. You don’t need to have a constant smile for your photo session, just one timed for the shutter which will be less than a second. Wait for it, then go! That first flash of a smile is usually the one that is most genuine.
  4. “Fake it to make it”: Of course, if you can’t make it real, then fake it. You don’t have to feel happy to smile. In fact, smiling can help make you feel happy. So fake it at first and if possible, do it a few times in front of a mirror before or during your shoot to practice and get used to how it feels. Pull a few silly looking faces first and you’ll end up laughing at yourself.
  5. Lean towards the lens: Try to tuck your chin down but don’t back away from the camera as people tend to do. Leaning into the camera has the same effect as it does on someone whom you are talking to and listening to. It encourages them to continue and makes you look like you are interested in them – which makes you more interesting.
  6. Smile as widely as you can: you may find some photography sites arguing against wide smiles for reasons like “it bunches up your eyes” but if your aim is to have a real, beautiful smile and feel good doing it, then don’t worry about it and let that grin rip!
  7. Aim your eyes on the rim of the lens, not dead on into it: This will take the pressure off you and the camera will still register you as looking right out of your photo.

If you have any other tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section below. Now take two minutes, go somewhere private and practice smiling like an insane person in front of a mirror. You’ll end up laughing, you’ll feel better and you’ll have begun your mastery of the art of the smile.

 

Instant gratification is key to successful event photography

You looking at me?

You looking at me?

Being in the business of event photography is like being in the business of making bread, in that the most highly valued component of an event photo is its freshness. Whether the shots are a series of candids taken throughout the night, or derived from a more party focused photobooth experience, the appetite for seeing the resulting images is highest immediately after the event. Let a few days go by, or even a week, and the photos are already stale.

This craving for immediacy, aside from being one of the underpinning pillars of modern society (for better, or worse) can be satisfied in a number of ways by an event photographer. The top methods I’ve adopted and offer to clients are:

  1. Onsite prints: while everyone has a camera in their pockets these days built into their phones, and there are petabytes ( unit of information equal to 1000 terabytes or 10^15 bytes) of digital images out there, people still love to get a fresh print in their hands the night of the event. I’ve written more about this subject here and here, and expect to see more people asking for immediate onsite prints in 2013.
  2. Immediate posting of select key photos to password protected website for media use and instant client access. Many events are hosted by PR consultants and agencies using the event to draw attention to a product launch, store/restaurant/club opening or to generate excitement around a brand in association with some larger event, like Subaru did with its new BRZ launch during Grand Prix week in Montreal. These pictures have their greatest impact and are most valued by clients if they can be placed in the hands of media outlets that will be able to use them right away, ideally published immediately on the web and no later than in the next morning’s news. Having a system to capture, edit and deliver these professional quality, high-res and media-ready photos for clients is critical when dealing with some PR agencies and highly valued by most event photography clients.
  3. Live streaming images to overhead projection screen: most event spaces, particularly company hosted parties for employees or award ceremonies, come equipped with at least one or several screens where slideshows are projected. These screens can be accessed and used to show photos from the evening right back at the guests who are featured in them. (We do this often with our sister company lePartybooth). This kind of instant use of imagery is highly popular at events where event planners are concerned with showing guests the best time possible. Employee oriented events aimed at boosting morale, celebrating company victories or simply acknowledging the value and importance of what employees contribute to a company’s bottom line are all great candidates for providing this kind of added value service.

 

Staying safe when shooting on site in industrial locations

Earlier this summer I went on a fun shoot for a stevedoring company (the guys who load and unload ships) and I had a chance to get a shot of one of Montreal’s iconic buildings from an angle rarely seen.

Shooting in the shipping yards was hectic and felt a bit like being in a war zone. Actually it felt like being an ant in a land of giants as mega-forklifts whizzed past hoisting up containers and stacking them one on top of the other in a life-sized game of Tetris.

I was wearing safety gear – a reflective vest and helmet and had to pass through strict security on the way in, accompanied by my client.  Once on the ground, I realized how important it was to follow all the safety regulations and literally stay within the lines. My client is the only company in the Port of Montreal with a huge loading crane that looked to me like one of the spaceships in Tron. I was able to climb up to the main walkway, a few hundred feet above the ground and take aerial shots of all the activitiy in the facility, as well as grab this unique shot of the Five Roses building from an angle most Montreal photographers will never have a chance to get.

I like shooting onsite for clients with big industrial facilities. One of the advantages of being a professional freelance photographer in a great port city like Montreal is the chance to visit factories, plants and places where the GDP is actually being made. I’ve been lucky to have many such opportunities and having been in many industrial locations as a facilities photographer, I never take any chances with safety.  I always keep safety foremost in mind when shooting on location and know that it is especially important in industrial sites where there is a lot of activity and you are an out of the ordinary appearance.

 

 

It’s okay to fail

I recently attended a lighting workshop with Joe McNally (The Joe McNally One Light, Two Light seminar tour) which I cannot recommend more highly. Joe was affable, informative and gave an excellent full day overview of using small and big flash equipment in a way that made the experience fun and educational. He also wove into his tales of lighting, anecdotes from his storied career working as a photo journalist and National Geographic photographer.

Improvised spit for roasting chicken...three minutes before it collapsed on the rocks

Aside from the great technical advice he gave, one of the more human messages he shared that I think is worth retelling, was this: it’s okay to fail. All photographers will experience that sinking feeling when a shoot isn’t going well, and while few will want to talk about it, just hearing a world class top photographer share his own stories of times things went wrong was a great relief. He also then used the problems to teach how you can avoid them and/or work around them.

I think the message is a good one for anyone who suffers from the feeling that every time they do every single thing they do they have to get it right.  He reminded me, and us, that learning is part of the process and that failure can sometimes be your greatest teacher.

Thanks Joe.

Street Fawker

With hot summer days fully arrived in Montreal, the streets are stages for all kinds of photographically interesting parades. I spent the weekend at the St. Laurent street sale, and had fun photographing an impromptu dance troupe that set up shop across the street from an event I was covering. This performer wearing a Guy Fawkes mask caught my eye.

You can see more shots on my photo portfolio site.

Tips on taking portraits of young children

You want me to sit still? Seriously?

Photographers will often be invited to take portraits of families with young children, as this tends to be the time when most people are interested in having a portrait done of their family.  Most of the time, I prefer to shoot family portraits in Montreal in the family’s home, backyard or a nearby park because the natural settings are both more interesting than studio backdrops and allow for more natural interaction with the subjects. However, from time to tome, I am asked to take studio portraits of families with young children and here’s a few shots and tips I can share on the experience.

  1. Keep it quick: while the time you spend setting up your lighting and gear can be unhurried, when your subject(s) have arrived, as quickly as possible you want to start shooting. The younger the child, the shorter the attention span will be and the more difficult it will be to get good shots with the child looking into the camera’s lens.

    Ta da!

  2. Keep parents on cue: that means, while the temptation is incredibly strong and very natural for one or both parents to be looking at the child (who will be invariably not looking where you want he or she to look) you need to be ready for that split second when the child’s flitting gaze crosses your lens so you can get the shot. If the parents are at that instant looking sternly at their misbehaving child, the opportunity is lost. Tell the parents to look at you and keep smiling, and let you worry about the child. Eventually no matter how hyperactive the child, curiosity will get the best of him or her and he or she will want to look at the camera. If the parents are ready, you’ll get the shot.
  3. Take breaks: young children (1.5 yrs to 3 yrs old) will want to move around. A lot. It’s important to give them a little break between poses so they can burn off a little energy. Use a break to shoot just the parents, together (if you have someone else in studio to take care of the child) and then add the child back in. Sometimes seeing the parents get photographed will interest the child in doing the same and he or she will want to be back in the shot. You can also use a break to get some unposed impromptu shots of the child who just may cooperate by playing around right where you want them too (as happened this weekend for my recent photo shoot).

    Happy to be here!

Tricks for a great group photo

Whether you are a professional portrait or event photographer, or managing a public relations or communications project, you will at some point require a good group photo. Having worked for more than a decade taking hundreds of group photos of corporate management teams, wedding parties, graduating classes and countless ad hoc groupings of people having a good time at an event, I’ve learned a few tricks on how to make sure the group photos come out well.

  1. Take control: whether it’s a grouping of just two starry eyed newlyeds, or a mass of 75 recent graduates, the moment when you are setting up to take that photo is when you need to step up and take control. Make sure everyone in that photo is listening to your instructions and doing what you tell them to do. If there are other cameras getting in on your set up, that’s fine, but be clear to your subjects that they need to look into your lens at all times until you are done. Most of the time, the people in group photos want to get the photo over with as soon as possible and they will value your leadership and professionalism in helping that happen while still getting the best possible shot.
  2. Use common sense & stay cool: Putting tall people in the back and shorter people up front seems like an obvious suggestion but if the group is large enough to need two rows, it can also be large enough to be difficult to manage and in the heat of the moment a photographer may be tempted to just snap away at any configuration. Resist that temptation and make sure everyone is organized as well as you can according to height so that no one is blocking the view of anyone else. In many groups there is someone or some smaller grouping that is more important – place them centrally.
  3. Keep all eyes on you: make sure you can see everyone’s face in your lens and tell everyone in the shot to make sure they can look straight into your lens. If they are looking at the back of someone’s head, you need to reposition people until everyone has as clear a view of you as needed to make sure they get their smiling faces in the shot.
  4. Take more than one shot: while this is true for nearly all important photos, it is especially true for the group photo. No matter how charming, organized and clear you are in communicating what’s required to get the perfect group photo, inevitably someone will blink, or turn their head or otherwise be the person who ruins the shot. It’s your job to catch it when it happens, take another shot, and then another to be sure that your final deliverable is what everyone is expecting. A great group photo with everyone in focus, looking happy and with their eyes wide open (see images 1 and 2 below).

I’m sure there are other tricks of the trade out there and I’d be happy to hear about them from anyone else working as a Montreal portrait or event photographer. Add your comments or send me an email with your tips on getting the best group photo you can get.

Musical chairs

Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the winning shot. When I was invited to photograph Jonathan Crow and fellow musicians, the New Orford String Quartet, as they rehearsed at the Chapelle du Bon-Pasteur for an upcoming performance in Montreal, I was thrilled. I’d photographed Jonathan a few years ago (the images from that shoot had been published) and I was confident I would be able to produce something even better this time around. Maybe it was just an off day, but it took a lot of maneuvering and repositioning both of myself, the lights and the quartet until I found a few shots I was happy with. 

Jonathan Crow, a world renowned violinist, is currently Assistant Professor of Violin at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University where he has been teaching since 2005 and past Concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) (the youngest Concertmaster to lead a major North American orchestra) a position he held from 2002 until 2006.

It was a rare pleasure to do what I love (photographing people in action) while my subjects were doing what they love (making gorgeous music) in an historic and beautiful theatre with great acoustics. This shoot, however, was not without its challenges as the goal was to produce photos that looked spontaneous but were also usable, promotional images. Trying for spontaneity, I took a ream of shots of the musicians playing.  I captured great action and their passion as players, but there was often one of the four players who moved out of focus as the shutter snapped shot, or whose facial expression morphed into something unpredictable in response to the emotions triggered by the music they were creating.  I had to ask them to take up different positions and I fiddled (no pun intended) with my lighting, camera settings and my own position (on a chair, off the chair, on one side of the room, then the other – even lying flat on the ground at one point) until finally I had everyone set up in front of the velvet black curtain at the back of the stage for some unplanned posed photos. While this was something none of them really wanted to do, ultimately, the single shot everyone agreed on came from the posed series.

The lesson for me on this shoot was that even if your subjects think they know what they want, it is up to you as the professional photographer, to provide guidance on posing and positioning, and if one type of shot isn’t working, keep trying until you find one that is.

Why hire an event photographer?

What are some of the reasons why people hire an event photographer? As an active Montreal event photographer I’ve had many opportunities to consider this question as I am photographing events for different clients. I think people hire event photographers for at least the following three (+ one) reasons:

  1. To document the event for a client (i.e. if you are running the event as a brand marketing, communications, or PR firm and are providing photographs as part of your contract)
  2. To generate visual content for a range of media (internal newsletters and websites, external publications, annual reports, etc.)
  3. To provide photos as gifts to your guests (usually this entails a meet-and-greet set-up where the guests enter and are photographed in singles, couples or groups in front of a branded backdrop)
  4. I would add a fourth, perhaps less explicit reason as well: an event photograph adds excitement to your event and if done well by a professional event photographer, can serve to create moments and not simply document those that naturally arise in the heady mix of well dressed beautiful people, alcohol, luxurious settings in high-end restaurants or boutique hotel event spaces and music.

If you are running an event for a client you are very likely considering at least these reasons as you plan out your event schedule (please feel free to suggest more).  This also means, that you are very likely most interested in getting great shots quickly when the event is complete. In addition to talent and experience, you will want to query your prospective event photographers on their process and how they will get the images of the event to you (and how quickly). If you are not leaving the night with a DVD of your high-resolution images in hand (or won’t be downloading them the following day from a password protected website) then you may not be dealing with a professional event photographer.  

As an experienced event photographer, I shoot an average of 100 shots per hour, and factor in time at the end of the evening to transfer these images to a DVD which I burn and leave with my client before the night is over. This provides the client with the assurance that should they get any media requests for images they can respond immediately with visuals, and allows the client to begin using the images for their intended purposes right away rather than waiting a week or two for a series of images to be released by the photographer, at which point much of the punch and usefulness of these transient event photos may have evaporated. 

It is for this same reason – to quickly provide clients with images as the event transpires – that I do not edit my images unless requested. This saves an enormous amount of time for the event photographer and gives the client complete control of the images they have purchased by hiring an event photographer in the first place. I always include with every event photography contract I am hired for a reasonable number of edited images. I use the word “reasonable” because it is hard to predict exactly how many images a client may or may not want edited in post-production for very specific purposes, but my experience as an event photographer has taught me that 99.9% of all clients are reasonable. Most people do not want a deluge of images edited. They may come back and ask for a few to be edited for lighting here, a detail there, but by and large, the output of a professional event photographer direct from the camera to DVD meets the needs and expectations of clients who hire event photographers. This also ensures maximum convenience to the client who knows that once their event is done, they will have all the images they paid for in their hands before the lights go on and the clean up begins.

If you are an event planner, a public relations professional, wedding planner, event space manager, branding or communications professional and have been tasked with hiring an event photographer for an upcoming event (particularly in a city not your own, i.e. a Toronto-based firm looking for a good event photographer in Montreal), consider the reasons why you are hiring your event photographer and put into your requirements what you expect from the contract. A professional event photographer should have no problem providing you with full coverage and all your images delivered to you within (latest) 24 hrs of your event.  You’re paying for the service, so make sure you get what you need and want. In event photography, the client is ALWAYS right.