As the gig economy continues to colonize an increasing share of the real economy, many more Airbnb hosts are popping up in cities around the world. Many people, myself included, have mixed feelings about Airbnb and similar types of business models. While it creates the opportunity for some people to increase their revenue streams and even make a living off of hosting, it has a social cost that is invariably borne by those less-well off people who still need affordable places to live. Sure they too can benefit from becoming hosts, but not everyone has the flexibility and means to share their space with travellers. And while city regulations and condo building by-laws can also control the spread of room shares, in the end it is a trend that is likely here to stay. So how can the wealth it generates for some help create opportunities for others?
A question I get asked frequently is if I still have a copy of the photos I shot for a client a year or more ago. While sometimes I do, more often than not I’ve deleted all but the few I chose to keep for my portfolio. If you / your company struggles with keeping track of visual assets, you’ll want to read on.
I see a lot of really bad headshots used in corporate presentations, awards ceremonies and on team pages on websites. They are bad in different ways, and range from embarrassing to unintentionally humourous. Some of them are just clearly cropped from a photo the subject submitted themselves, probably in a mad rush to get something in place for an impending deadline.Some are selfies, some are vacation photos (you may look great in a bathing suit but that may not be your best office look) and some just an obviously out of date image.
Do you need to have a professional photo taken? Not all the time, but you should consider where your photo will be shown and what it will be used for before submitting that selfie you snapped on a hike in Iceland. It may be a beautiful photo but does it send a message that’s consistent with what you do professionally? Your headshot doesn’t have to be staid and boring, but it is just a marketing tool after all and should be viewed through a marketing lens and be as consistent with your personal or company brand as you can make it.
Hanging on to an old photo, whether it was professionally shot or not is understandable and commonplace because it’s the default position and the easiest thing to do. Everyone is busy, no one really enjoys having their headshot taken and most people feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable in front of a big portrait lens.Much easier to just keep using that photo you had done years ago and hope nobody notices that your hair is maybe a little thinner or a different colour, or that your face isn’t quite the same shape.We all want to stay forever young. A new headshot is one tiny acknowledgement that we’re getting older and no one likes to admit that.
Of course, there is another way to think about it. A new headshot means you’ve been successful and are still working at a career that you are hopefully still excited and motived by. It’s more honest and authentic which are attributes that are respected and valued now more than ever. A good portrait sends a message of confidence too. It tells the world you are right here, now and ready to go.
Consider too that today the trend is for a photographer to come to you to take your corporate shot. Few professionals have the time or inclination to leave work and add an appointment to an already busy schedule at a photo studio. It’s much easier to simply walk down the hall at your appointed time slot and be in and out of your shoot in under ten minutes.
If you’re convinced it’s time for an update, you’ll want to learn about what’s changed in corporate portrait photography since your last one was taken a decade ago.Aside from probably not accurately reflecting how you look today, they were likely shot in a more formal, stiffer style than what is current now. Camera technology has improved as well. Truly remarkable detail and control are now more easily attainable, and the editing suite can add a very professional look to your image without looking like a bad Photoshop job from the nineties.
As someone who regularly shoots corporate portraits, here’s a few ideas to consider for your new headshot:
Portraits today tend to show people looking friendly and approachable. This is achieved not simply by smiling naturally and easily, but also by your choice of background. Whereas in the past a very plain white or grey background was the standard, these days I am shooting a lot more portraits against cityscapes, building façades or natural environments. While you may still choose to have one traditional shot taken against a seamless paper background if your company requires it, I would recommend looking for something a little more interesting by way of background, preferably something that represents the milieu you work in.
Ditto for your choice of wardrobe and hairstyle. Nothing dates a photo quite so badly as an out of fashion hairstyle or clothes (e.g. wide collars, fat ties) nobody wears anymore.Society is more open today and people are more comfortable and used to a more natural look. Relaxed, business-casual is the norm. For men you can try a few shots with a collar shirt and jacket, and then a few without the jacket. Women have a few more choices both with hair and clothes, but the same rule applies. Aim for something that is classic but comfortable and that you genuinely enjoy wearing.
Try a few different crops.There is a much wider playing field today for what would be considered acceptable in a corporate portrait than even a few years ago. While there is definitely a standard head and shoulders type crop, you could try out a few slightly different angles or crops that bring you closer to the camera. You don’t have to look like everyone else, especially if you are running your own business or working as a solopreneur. Explore a few creative options and see what comes up. This can mean a few wardrobe changes and different backgrounds (I sometimes go for a walk around the office with my clients to get shots of them in a variety of settings). Most photographers will charge a session fee that would offer you time to explore a broader range of images if you’ve got the time to spare.
It’s 2018. If the photo you are using was taken with you wearing clothes you no longer own, or no longer really reflect how you look today, then maybe it’s time for a new one. Think of it as just one part of your digital hygiene – you don’t keep using the same email signature for a decade so why are you still using the same photo?
It’s also a time when a lot of freelancers are chasing down unpaid invoices from last year, and looking at ways to revitalize their marketing efforts for the coming year to start filling that funnel.
One thing I like to do as a photographer is start at least one creative project in January. While I’m still putting the finishing touches on my book for freelancers (Gigonomics) coming out early this year, I’ve also begun a fun experiment with my Fuji Instax Neo Classic which produces instant prints. I’ve committed to taking one a day for 2018. It’s quite a change from shooting digital as the prints cost over $1/each and so there is a subtle constraint to really think about the photo I’m taking. I’m also trying to take a photo that captures the main event or feeling of that day. It’s kind of like what Instagram used to be before it got colonized by Influencers living off sponsored posts and marketers showcasing all the amazing experiences you’ll have when you buy in.At least that’s my take on it.
It’s also a bit of a re-learning journey for me using a fairly basic camera after growing used to all the whiz bang tools and high end kit I’ve got. It forces me to go back to the basics in photography and to rely on my own creativity.And it’s a lot of fun.
I know a lot of people take on some kind of challenge or new year’s resolutions. Some are really really dumb (like the Tide Pod eating challenge I read about today) and some are healthy (quitting drinking, eating more kale) and some are just for fun.I think building in some kind of creative daily act is a worthwhile one to try. It’s a great way for older brains to stay fit and once you start stirring up your creative juices, who knows what will come out if it.
The beginning of a year is a good time to think about making changes, and tackling those creative projects you’ve been thinking of doing for a long time. Start writing that book (a sentence a day is better than a blank page); get the gym body you’ve always wanted (start now and by July you’ll be ripped), or just finally launch your freelance career. You only need to take a first step before changes get set in motion.
This year I plan to reach more customers by extending the services I’ve got to offer. I’ve built up a team of vetted, talented freelancers over the past few years (videographers, writers, web designers and digital marketers) and am excited about the bigger projects we can tackle together. (Stay tuned for a new website!) From major conferences, gala parties, international events, corporate portraits or unique weddings, we’ve been able to take on bigger and more ambitious projects in 2017 and 2018 will be even bigger.
So if you’re back at your desk after your jaunt in the sun (or your hibernation from the extreme cold) and looking at your events calendar for the year, take five minutes and let your mind ponder some creative projects to keep you engaged and happy. Need some ideas? Let’s talk.
“Le monde entier est un cactus
Il est impossible de s’assoir
Dans la vie, il y a qu’des cactus
Moi je me pique de le savoir
Aïe aïe aïe, ouille, aïe aïe aïe” – Jacques Dutronc, Les Cactus (1967)
Roughly translated the above passage from Jacques Dutronc’s 1967 hit, “Les Cactus” reads:
The whole world is a cactus
It’s impossible to sit down
In life, there are cacti
I prick myself to find out”
It’s an oddly appropriate song for how I feel about 2017.
While I have much to be thankful for, there seems to be much still left to do, and it’s not time to settle down and get too comfortable.
I’ve had wonderful clients throughout the year who have given me interesting projects to work on, and through whom I’ve been able to travel to New York, Songdoo (South Korea), LA, and Toronto. I’ve worked with a growing team of talented videographers, other photographers, and creative designers. I have benefitted from being at a stage in my career when I am able to leverage a wide network of contacts to continue to do the work I enjoy doing and hopefully continue to contribute something positive to the world. As an independent freelance photographer, I am in a very privileged position and I am extremely grateful to my clients and supporters who have helped me get here. Thank you.
But I also recognize just how fortunate and lucky I have been and that much of what I have been able to achieve is due to circumstances I had nothing to do with: I was born into a large loving family, in a country that embraces liberalism and is truly, I believe, one of the best countries in the world to live in. I have had the support of friends, and family, and been exposed to other cultures, people and ideas through my education and my travels. I am fully cognizant of the fact that much of what I consider normal is the dream of people who – through no fault of their own – live under oppressive regimes, in countries torn by conflict and war, ravished by famine and subject to the myriad cruelties that arise when law and order are absent or corrupted.
I don’t really know what to make of it, or how to balance things out. One of my goals in 2018 will be to work towards giving back more and trying to contribute more towards the kind of world I want to live in, and want my child to grow up in.
The full lyrics for the song, “Les Cactus” by French Singer, Jacques Dutronc, are worth running through Google Translate for those not familiar with the French version.
“Le monde entier est un cactus
Il est impossible de s’assoir
Dans la vie, il y a qu’des cactus
Moi je me pique de le savoir
Aïe aïe aïe, ouille, aïe aïe aïe
Dans leurs coeurs, il y a des cactus
Dans leurs porte-feuilles, il y a des cactus
Sous leurs pieds, il y a des cactus
Dans leurs gilets, il y a des cactus
Aïe aïe aïe, ouille ouille ouille, aïe
Pour me défendre de leurs cactus
A mon tour j’ai mis des cactus
Dans mon lit, j’ai mis des cactus
Dans mon slip, j’ai mis des cactus
Aïe aïe aïe, ouille, aïe aïe aïe
Dans leurs sourires, il y a des cactus
Dans leurs ventres, il y a des cactus
Dans leurs bonjours, il y a des cactus
Dans leurs cactus, il y a des cactus
Aïe aïe aïe, ouille, aïe
I think as we wrap ourselves up in technology, on the inside we’re in a cocoon, but to those around us, we’re becoming more like cacti. We’re spending more time online than ever before, burying our faces in our phones and creating parallel, idealized versions of our life story in little curated snippets posted on Instagram that make everything look oh so wonderful. Much of it is fiction. And to the millions without access to the many beautiful glittering places and toys we in the rich world have, I can’t help but feel like it’s a slap in the face. There are a lot of people, young and old, who face much greater challenges in their daily life than dealing with a rapidly depleting iPhone battery.
My hope in writing this is merely that we take a few moments to consider how we can do something for other people that takes a bit of sting out of their day. Can we be a little more compassionate? Spend a little more time with someone who needs our help and a little less time on ourselves?
The world isn’t really a cactus. It’s a rich planet full of billions of people who all want the same things you and I want: to love and be loved, to be valued, and to do the work we want to do in life that provides for our needs and those we care for.
Can we do more in our individual lives to make things better for someone else?
Can we take the cacti out of our hearts and make things a little more comfortable for someone else, even if it means giving up a bit of comfort for ourselves?
In the next few weeks many of us will have a little downtime and maybe even a chance to rest and relax (hopefully) with the people we love.Many too will be receiving, or treating themselves to, new cameras, drones, or phones and will have a chance to start capturing images with them.
The new year, just around the corner now, often brings with it a renewed sense of purpose – or at least the desire for one. One common method for instilling a new habit or establishing a new kind of creative discipline in one’s life is to commit to a 30-day challenge of some kind. I’ve done a few of them to varying degrees of success. I did 30 days of only black and white photos on my somewhat neglected Instagram account @ursomebody back at the beginning of the year; and in past years I’ve gone completely dry for Janudreary, swearing off all alcohol (and accompanying social engagements) for that first coldest and most heartless of winter months in Montreal. Happily, I’m over that now and will be relishing my freshly brewed stock of home brew (affectionately called Habrew around here).
If your ambition is to shoot more this year, whether as a professional photographer or just someone who loves taking pictures and wants to fill out an Instagram account, my suggestion would be to consider the value of imperfection.
We live in a highly technologically enhanced world that gets increasingly more so by the day.We often forget that we are creatures, living on a living planet, where imperfection and unevenness is the norm and not the exception.
The Japanese have a wonderful term for it: wabi-sabi. To quote liberally from Wikipedia it is defined as follows:
“In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), suffering (苦 ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū).
Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.” Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi
My clients and friends often comment on the specific quality of the images I capture at events I cover. They say that I have a knack for capturing those key moments, that instant when a look takes over an expression and says more than words ever could. One of the ways I do that is to look for, as the late great Leonard Cohen famously remarked, “the crack in everything.”
It is often the slightly off detail, the nose just a touch too large, the place settings just ever so askew, that convey a richer, fuller and more interesting sense of a person or a place, than the perfectly manicured and put-together image whose artifice is palpable.
As this tumultuous year winds down (it seems it’s always been a tumultuous year) I’d like to leave you with the thought that there is much beauty and interest to be found in the imperfect, incomplete parts of the world we inhabit. As photographers, professional or passionate amateurs, I encourage you to look for it. You will see it all around you and it may lift your spirit and teach you something about art, and life, as you travel down whatever road you are on right now.
I’ve been working as a freelance photographer for over fifteen years, starting from humble beginnings to having a pretty thriving practice today with a team of photographers and videographers to help me better serve the growing and changing needs of my expanding clientele.
Despite major technological changes in photography putting a camera in everyone’s hands, event photography has only grown. While there are thousands of photographers around today, there is also a huge and consistently growing need for images that tell stories, communicate brand personality and help event managers reach their audiences.
In the past month alone I and my team have covered fashion shows, balls, multi-day conferences, trade shows, recruitment fairs, graduation ceremonies, business luncheons, unveiling ceremonies, gala events and parties, executive retreats and several fundraiser evenings. It’s been an exhausting yet still exhilarating fall season and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.
Here are some highlight images from this hectic fall season:
Taking a moment to pause and reflect, I think one of the keys to having a successful thriving freelance photography business is keeping the needs of your clients foremost in your mind at all times.
A “client” may be one person, or a team of people, all of whom you as the event or conference photographer are there to serve. The agenda may change, schedules get moved around. You may need to deliver a quick set of select images in real-time, or show up at an ungodly 6:45 am call time for a cold walk outdoors in sub-zero November weather because your client needs you there. It’s all part of the job.
If I had to summarize the most important traits a successful freelance photographer (or any freelancer really) needs it would be the following (and only one really has to do with technical ability):
Adaptability: being prepared and ready to adapt to sometimes (often) very last minute needs and change requests from clients.
Client-first attitude: while it’s important to bring your experience to bear on events you are asked to cover (you should be the one choosing where group shots get taken, and paying attention to details that show up in an image that clients are too busy to think of), you are ultimately there to serve the client. If they need you to take a photo of every award recipient that gets up on stage, you do it.
Technical prowess: you need to know your gear and how to use it. Galas, conferences, meetings, trade shows – all take place in spaces where lighting is rarely natural. Understanding the best way to show off the room, the people and the space with the available light goes a long way towards delivering images your client will be thrilled to receive and happy to share.
Being easy to work with: this seems like an obvious one, but remarkably, not every photographer seems to recognize where they stand in the pecking order. It’s great to be confident and proud of your work, but there is no place for divas or big egos when you are on a job. You do your work with a smile, or not at all in my opinion. No client needs to deal with you and ultimately everyone is replaceable so while getting the photos right is important, being someone people enjoy working with is even more important.
Getting the gig is of course the most important part of freelancing as a photographer, but once you have it, keeping it going relies more on your personality and how you interact with your client than anything else. Your work has to stand out, but in the end, clients may find you because of your portfolio, but they choose you because of your personality and how you work.
I love this time of year.Montreal is blessed with four very distinct seasons, if not of equal length (think 3 months of summer, 6 months of winter, 2 months and three weeks of fall, 1 week of spring). The weather turns cool very quickly, and overnight fall has arrived bringing with it, strangely as it heralds the advent of winter, a bustling, busy sense of growth and renewal as people go back to work after the summer holidays, and students of all ages head back to school.
Even if your work life is not that different from summer to fall, there is still a strong feeling of change in the air that has an effect on your psychology.
In photography, the autumn is a busy time. It is when many professional services firms do their recruitment campaigns, grooming their selected graduates for roles as accountants or lawyers, and the start of many companies year end events. As well, given the high number of universities in Montreal and related services and companies, there are many networking events, product launches and mixers aimed at helping people make new connections and build their networks.
As the leaves soon begin to change, the fall foliage provides abundant and gorgeous backdrops for outdoor portrait sessions, whether you are getting engaged, starting a new job and looking for a modern non-conventional headshot, or gathering with your extended family for Thanksgiving.
What’s really happening at influencer marketing events
I was recently hired to cover a blogger / influencer meet up in the fashion and beauty market. More and more often I find myself working these kinds of try-vertising, experiential marketing influencer party gigs where a brand (or their ad or public relations firm) sets up some kind of lively cocktail or after work drinks / dinner event for a curated list of local bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers who have a large enough following in both the target city and target audience for the product to hopefully generate some online love.
Influencer marketing 101
Consumer products by and large dominate these kinds of influencer marketing events. I’ve covered lots of events for credit card companies targeting lifestyle & foodie bloggers; various alcoholic beverages; health and wellness; and fashion and beauty. With the immediacy and simplicity of images, Instagram and bloggers still tend to dominate the invitation list.
These categories all tend to have influencers who skew younger (under 30), the vast majority of whom are good looking women showcasing products either by wearing them, applying them or illustrating their use in simple how-to tutorial videos.
Often, but not always, the events are scheduled on or around bigger event weekends in Montreal, like Osheaga (in this case) or Grand Prix. The idea being that the posts, Instagram photos/stories and Snapchats bubble up into streams coalescing with the main event theme, garnering greater lift and impact on a wider audience for an instant in time, in these ephemeral social media. The invitees tend to have followings between 5000-10,000+ and are what would be qualified as micro influencers, or niche players, in line with the nature of these targeted, localized events.
In addition to events, brands increasingly crowdsource images through aggregator sites like Flashstock or Social Native, offering usually no more than $50/post for imagery that either shows the brand in some creative context, or captures a feeling, vibe or look a brand is going for with posts marked up with the designated tags and keywords provided by the brand.
As marketers, the challenge is to leverage these influencers and induce them to effectively tout their brands and products, either in exchange for paid sponsorship deals (rare unless you have a large and engaged following of 100k or more), or simply for a chance to meet other bloggers and influencers, quaff some free booze and sushi and get their ego stroke for being considered important and influential enough to be chosen and invited to one of these events.
A look behind the curtain…
As a documenter of these events, I’m paid to provide the behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening. Increasingly (and somewhat depressingly) my shot list includes taking pictures of people taking pictures of food, products, each other or themselves. My photos are also pumped into the hashtag cloud as I send out batches to my clients mid-way through events, and often to attendees who turn them around in no time and put them out on their streams.
A typical scene in one if these events would be a brief and lively staged moment – posing in front of a banner, for example, or using / applying the product in some way, which will be fully documented by everyone else in the room with their phones and me with my somewhat larger and bulkier pro-gear. These “insta-moments” are then immediately followed by everyone tucking their heads down, staring into their phones, tapping madly away.The entire event is punctuated by these “real life” interactions, followed by immediate dissection, dissemination and distribution through the myriad personal channels of the influencers in the room. It gets even more exciting as they post and repost each other’s work, with the brand itself kicking in and reposting each other’s work. For anyone watching what’s happening online it looks like a wild and crazy party with good looking (mostly women) having the time of their lives. From inside those rooms, however, it’s usually just a lot of stage-managed scenes, photo set ups and heads down staring at phones.
Despite the obvious artificiality of most of the content published as a result of these events, no body seems to mind at all. It seems that most influencers are ready and willing to use a brand’s designated hashtags and effectively create mini-ads for brands and marketers in exchange for what I can only assume is the hope that the brand will in turn push out their posts and create a kind of mutually reinforcing network. The followers of these influencers presumably don’t know or don’t care that the posts are being generated to effectively feed pseudo ads into their feeds bypassing their ad-blockers, and the content tsunami continues.
Does it pay off for Influencers?
Having a rather dismal following on my own Instagram account (@ursomebody) I asked a few invitees to a recent event for a colourful hair chalk aptly named ColorPop, about their experiences on Instagram.
Instagrammer and Spanish and art teacher, Carolina Castillo (@carolina.arts), creates collagist images on Instagram setting herself (often her feet!) up against colourful backdrops – usually painted walls and murals. The effect is often cleverly artistic and sumptuously colourful.
“I started with a blog in Spanish called: Arteando con Carolina, www.arteandoconcarolina.com , then a latin website, Hispano Montreal, contacted me to repost my articles. Since then I have been writing and taking photos around the city. Instagram and Facebook came later and I love postingthough these media channels.”
Colourful images are part of my identity. You will always find an explosion of colours in my feed. My obsession is walls. I hunt all the walls and murals possible. I also notice that people respond more actively when I am in my photos than when I post an image without me.”
Another Instagrammer, Jacqui Pogue, a makeup artist (@jacquibeauty) leverages Instagram stories (which is a blatant grab at Snapchat’s user base) to reach her audience, sharing snippets of her day at work and play, thematically linked to makeup and beauty. She also populates her account with images of herself at events, interspersed with beauty shots of her in vacation like settings.
Both Carolina and Jacqui said that Instagram helps them find clients, or rather, that clients find them through Instagram and then connect directly with them or access their blogs via the links in their profiles.
While it may not be possible (for most) to earn a full time living being – or trying to become – an influencer, it is certainly a good way to explore and develop one’s passion in a public-facing way that can tie you into communities of like-minded people, and bring you into contact with companies and brands producing products that you and your growing cohort of followers might like. And if you get big and influential enough, you at least get invited to a lot of parties, get wined and dine, and usually go home with a bag full of swag.
Think small, think local but dream big
It is especially hard for smaller brands and upstart creators to get their products and stories told to a wide enough audience to make an impact.Leveraging local influencers that you find online by some simple Googling, and conducting Instagram searches around relevant keywords and hashtags to your business can be a way for smaller brands or start ups (or big companies launching new smaller brands) to find and reach an audience somewhat organically. A few hours in a rented room on Breather, a handful of influencers, some sushi and a few bottles of bubbly (+ a professional photographer of course=) are all it takes to get something started.
Waking up before the sun rises is usually worth a photographer’s effort because of the special quality of morning light. If you’re not an early riser naturally (which I am not) it can also be painful, but I have Maud Urbas, founder of Wellness à la Maud, to thank for getting me to Mount Royal early one morning last week to help get her image library started for the new freelance business she is launching. Maud is a Kripalu Yoga Teacher (RYT) with a background in Psychology and Communications, passionate about health and wellness and her goal is “to empower people to reach their full potential through yoga, meditation, nutrition, and creative expression”. Sounds pretty worthwhile to me and we both agreed that a sunrise shoot on Mt. Royal would be a perfect way to showcase her style and provide us with some useful images to populate her website and social media channels (must haves for any freelancer launching any kind business today).
When we got there we were surprised to find the lookout was actually rather busy. I had expected us to have the place to ourselves but not only were there a few healthy looking couples and other photographers out there before us, eagerly awaiting the sun to burn off the early morning mists, but also a few groups of teenagers who looked like they’d spent the night there partying.
Happily, aside from a few photobombs, we found a space to shoot Maud demonstrating various poses with natural backdrops of Montreal and the sun slowly emerging through the early morning fog.
We then took a little walk around, up and down some stairs, encountering more people up for morning runs and another photographer, who smiled and told us that the light was really beautiful just a little further along the trail we were walking on. And he was right of course.
We were after natural looking settings to where Maud could demonstrate simple poses that communicate Maud’s belief that yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, experience, and mobility.
Here are a few more shots from our morning session. If you’re interested in trying out yoga with Maud, you can reach her on Instagram @wellnessalamaud, Facebook, or by email directly.