The gig economy is a hot topic these days and much of what is being said and written about it is negative and casts gig workers as people who’d rather be doing something else and making more money. That couldn’t be further from the truth – or at least my truth – and I’ve written about how freelancing can actually be a joyful, fulfilling, purposeful career choice. If you’re at all interested please check out my book. You can download a free sample section on my book site, www.gigonomicsbook.com and/or read a preview on the Kindle version. Reviews welcome!
As a conference and event photographer I am frequently asked to provide estimates for covering day-long meetings or multi-day conferences. It is not uncommon to be asked to provide a detail costing out for services even before the official agenda for the conference is finalized. The challenge here as the photographer – and I would argue for the client as well – is understanding how much coverage is enough and pricing accordingly.
There are some rare clients for whom budget is no object and they would rather have the peace of mind of knowing the photographer they hire will be there to cover whatever is happening, wherever, whenever and they don’t want to waste time parsing out an agenda to reduce the hours (and the bill). They would rather pay full pop and get more than they need and sort it out afterwards. These are great clients to have.
But the vast majority of clients are not so loose with their purse strings and usually are operating on behalf of their client, who has hired them to organize the event. These kinds of clients may still ask for the complete coverage but they are much more sensitive to cost and may wind up tossing the baby with the bathwater if they receive a bid that seems high, without evaluating if what they had asked for a quote on was completely necessary.
For example, I am often asked to arrive onsite up to an hour to an hour and a half before anything actually begins. This is almost always to mitigate a client’s anxiety or worry about not having a photographer be there when they really need them and may speak more to the reliability of some freelancers than to the anxieties of the client, but the net result is either a lot of unpaid time for a photographer, or an increase in cost to a client paying for something they don’t really need. Every professional photographer or videographer I’ve worked with or hired has been able to size up a space, the pacing of an event and digest the order of action for even multi-day, multi-location events in a very short time. It does not usually require more than 15-20 minutes as it is usually very obvious to a professional what is important, and what isn’t.
Another way clients ask for more than they need is if the event they are hosting involves a lot of repeat action in the same setup, with the same lighting, and most if not all the same people, perhaps moving from room to room for workshops or discussions in slightly different formations. Depending on the final use for these images, it may not be necessary to pay for a full day of coverage if you can capture the main look and feel of the event in fewer hours.
On the flipside, it is unreasonable to ask for a photographer or videographer to show up for a gig that won’t last more than an hour, or an hour and half and expect to pay the same hourly rate offered on longer jobs. I know of few (to no) people working regular jobs who would even consider going in to work if their boss said they only need to be there from 2:30-4 so will only get an hour and half’s worth of pay that day. Gig workers (and photographers and videographers have been working in the gig economy since long before it was even called that) also need to make a living wage and can’t afford to take small jobs without applying a minimum rate to cover their time. In this case the client should be prepared to pay a fee that is higher than a job priced on an hourly basis would be if longer hours were offered for the service provider.
In the end, it makes sense both from a photographer’s point of view and a client’s perspective to consider what the desired end result is from the photos (or videos) produced and structure the work accordingly. Complete coverage, half days, partial or minimum fees are all based on finding that balance between meeting a client’s needs and making the work worth the time and effort a professional will provide. A little time upfront spent thinking through the event and even discussing it with the prospective supplier can save both time and money – and ensure that the client receives a fair and accurate quote they can build out their plan on.
I should have known something was off when my puppy ran off into the dark the night before. A foreshadowing I ignored to my despair the next morning. I was lucky with the puppy. He must have sensed the desperation in my voice when I pleaded with him to come, after chasing him out the door with nothing but my underwear on waving my phone around in the air frantically trying to lure him back to me. He disappeared into the woods, popped back out again down the road, then to my horror slipped through the gate leading out to the darkened country road down which, if he had continued, he would surely have gotten lost, eaten by a bear or hit by a car. He turned and trotted over to me, and I managed to grab him by the collar and lead him back to safety.
Unfortunately, my Mavic Pro drone with whom I’ve shared so many adventures, was not so caring. It just decided, all of a sudden, it was over and left.
It happened so suddenly, I’m still in shock. One minute it was rising up over the Porsche I was photographing, trying to capture that beautiful machine in an as beautiful landscape, the next it slowly began drifting off centre.
There were warning signs, (aren’t there always?) but I ignored them, as I had so many times before with no consequence. Alas, not this time. Those strong winds really were strong winds. I just I didn’t feel them from where I stood, alone, in that empty parking lot.
When I realized I was losing it, I began trying to nudge it back home. I didn’t panic immediately, but as I watched the distance grow between us, my attempts to bring it back grew more frantic. I began jamming that little joystick as hard as I could to the return position, but it only seemed to drive it further and further away.
That’s when the low battery warning went off. 30%….29%…..Then I really did panic. I tried the Return to Home button which has saved me more than once, but my max height was foolishly left too low and I was high up on a mountain. There were too many obstacles in the way. Try as I might, it just wasn’t turning around.
And the distance grew. Fast. From 20 metres to 200 before I knew it. 300. 500. 800. Once it breached 1000 I was in the grip of fear.
The owner of the Porsche realized I was in distress and suggested we pull up the map and drive to where the drone was heading. Although I knew in my heart it was already too late (battery at 10% and falling) I was desperate and willing to cling to any shred of hope.
We hopped in and the Porsche sprung into action. But the drone was still flying straight out and away….it was over the lake now. Battery dangerously low. 7%…5%…alarm bells ringing, the Porsche racing, the wind buffeting my ears as I hung out the window desperately trying to get a signal.
Then it happened. Aircraft disconnected. The screen went black. It was over. And there I was, in the middle of my life, suddenly droneless.
I put on a brave face for my companion. I pretended to laugh it off. “It was bound to happen,” I said. Things had been a little rocky between us and we’d just narrowly avoided this very thing happening a week earlier in the Saguenay.
But I knew it wasn’t true. Inside I was still standing there at the top of the mountain, screaming into the invisible winds that had just torn my lovely little drone out of my hands and flung it into the cold, dark lake.
We’d been together for just under two years. Not long, but long enough for the love to grow, while still feeling new and exciting. I took it with me whenever and wherever I travelled – racing over beaches in the Dominican Republic, swirling around the terra cotta roofs and quaint plazas in Lisbon, or simply sailing through the sky around Gatineau at fall shooting the vast and beautiful landscape as it blazes with autumn leaves.
I used to feel a trembly thrill just taking it out of its snug little carrying case and gingerly unfolding its wings. I’d removed the plastic cover that protected its delicate little gimble, set it down carefully on the ground and turn it on. As it whirred into life, I’d feel a surge in my heart.
We didn’t always get along. Just last weekend we had a falling out of sorts as it passed through the magnetic field over an aluminum smelter and skidded out of control until finally we patched things up and it came back for a safe landing. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe I should have been more sensitive. Paid more attention to those screen warnings to calibrate and update the database. Was I too selfish?
All I wanted was for us to be together, flying through the sky, taking in wide, stunning views of the land below. I never meant for it to get hurt. I thought I was doing the right thing, showing it the world, providing it with ample battery power. I even bought it a high speed 32gb micro card so that we could record more of our times together without having to face that dreaded “SD Card Full” warning (like that time in Lunenberg when it was all the way out over the bay ready for a well planned flight home. Sigh.)
It’s still hard to believe. Just a few short weeks ago we were so happy together, chasing after kayakers at Trout Point Lodge. On one sunset flight, mosquitoes swarming around my head, it came down and hovered there just out of reach, blowing all the annoying little bugs away to keep me safe. What we had was real.
But now, nothing. Just a remote controller with nothing to connect with. I still have the batteries. I’ve left them fully charged, in the vain, impossible hope that somehow, someway, it will come back to me.
I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s over just yet.
Fundraising teams face a continuous battle against apathy. Each year they are faced with the challenge of raising millions of dollars using the same tried and true methods, often from the same individuals and organizations. Fashion shows, art auctions, casino nights, gala soirées, silent auctions and the perennial golf tournament are the mainstay of fundraising organizations everywhere. They are in competition with one another from other teams using the same tactics, and playing from the same playbook (sometimes even the same person who’s moved from one team to another), and having photographed all of these kinds of events, I can see how much of a challenge it is to keep it fun and to differentiate yourself from the others.
I was recently covering a hospital foundation golf tournament fundraiser and tasked with, amongst other things, capturing the fearsome foursome shots. Foursome shots are to golf tournaments what table shots are to big gala evenings. A necessary, but rather dull, posed photograph documenting attendance. They are often top of a client’s shot list, as they serve the useful function of identifying who actually showed up for the event and they can be given as gifts to attendees by way of onsite prints, or post-event photo with a thank you note from the organizers.
However, like their table shot cousins, having a group of four stand, clubs crossed, facing the camera for a standard shot gets a little boring for both guests (and photographers!). As most of the attendees are on every fundraiser’s list, they may attend two or three of these tournaments a year and I suspect they have a collection of these nearly identical shots. From a branding point of view, it doesn’t strike me as a good way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
This year, in collaboration with my client, we decided to shake things up a little and play around with the idea of the foursome shot. Instead of just posing each one in the same way, we asked them to do something creative (and offered a prize for the formation judged the most creative). Not only did the teams embrace the idea, we ended up with some fun photos that are unlike any other from any other golf tournament they’ve ever attended.
Why not try out some of these poses (or better yet, come up with new ones) at your next golf tournament?
(If the embed video doesn’t work which often happens go here: https://youtu.be/Iwuy4hHO3YQ)
Hey presenters – stop using video to open for you!
A lot of presenters now use videos as a kind of mental cocaine to stimulate their audience and fire up their emotions. The room darkens, a presenter pops out on stage and mumbles a kind of apologetic introduction then scurries to the side to let the video do the heavy lifting. The intention – I presume – is to focus the audience on to the topic at hand, using the emotive force of moving images and stock music tracks to engage them. As the photographer observing that same crowd, I think exactly the opposite actually happens.
Here it comes. You down the last cold bit of coffee left in your cup, wipe the crumbs from the slightly stale danish off your tiny little foldable keyboard and look up to the big screen to see what room you’re headed off to for the first breakout session. You have your choice of a, b or c. Each one of them promises another form of minor torture under the guise of getting more content crammed into your head. It’s the panel discussion part of the agenda and while conference organizers around the world have planned and thought this conversation through carefully, perhaps it’s time to try something else.
I get why panel discussions happen and why they are a great idea in theory. As an organizer you get to include a lot more speaker names on the roster and can cover a much wider range of material, which theoretically adds value to attendees and provides your conference material with some depth in specific focus areas.
Why wouldn’t you want more content from more speakers who are experts in their field and ready to have a big, deep, fact-filled conversation in front of you with other experts just like them. How could you not walk away from a session like that feeling energized and more informed than when you walked in?
The problem begins with the format. Everyone sitting up there at what is effectively the head table, is almost always an invited guest. They are usually sitting with their peers and colleagues, or people whom they’d like to network with. Despite having their own insights and individual voices, they will invariably all agree with one another because no one wants to make anyone else look like they said something they shouldn’t have said, or worse, said something that could be seen as disagreeable.
So everyone on the panel will share the same point of view, adding their own personal nuance to it so that by the time the audience has heard from each one they will effectively have heard the same thing told in three or four or five different ways.
The dynamic is one directional as well. Attendees, who may be brimming with ideas they want to share, are basically back at school. And since they can’t really participate usually until the very end, they do what a lot of bored students do these days – and look down at their phones, scribble in their notebooks or work on their laptops while the panel talks to itself up front. And that’s when the room is moderately full providing some modicum of camouflage for the attendees.
In the worst case scenario, the room has marginally more seated attendees than there are panellists, and the conference organizer is sweating trying to draw in more bodies to fulfill their promise to the speakers to provide an audience.
Then there is the room itself. Small, windowless, either too hot or too cold, and usually poorly lit so the speakers are sitting up front under burning pot lights or slightly in shadow. It can be actually visually painful to watch and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrutinized the faces of zoned out looking panellists not currently speaking who seem to have completely forgotten that they are sitting in front of a roomful of people who’ve come to watch them and listen to what they have to say.
Ultimately, it just seems like most people are bored. Not because they all aren’t smart and dynamic individuals, with curiosity and interest and the energy and drive to go to and participate in conferences – but because the format of the panel discussion seems to preclude their involvement entirely. Instead of feeling like a conversation you’re a part of, it feels like you’re watching a tv show you can’t change the channel on.
Of course there are exceptions. I’ve seen great panel discussions and heard brilliant people speaking from their big white armchairs on stages around the world. But the vast majority of panel discussions I’ve witnessed, and been hired to photograph and make look highly engaging, just don’t seem to ever get much lift off.
I think it’s time for conference organizers to re-think the panel discussion parts of their agendas. There must be other ways to achieve the desired result of delivering a lot of high value content to a wide mix of professionals without boring them to death in dimly lit rooms.
Why not try a walking tour of the area, or pull everyone around in a circle or a few circles providing content moderators leading conversations on specific topics? Or give attendees some tools and toys to play with and get them doing something physical related to the topics, led by some energetic professional meeting moderators. Maybe the answer is simply to not try to cram so much into the time, but leave a bit more open, loose space with some inspired, thought leaders capable of leading people through some potent ideas related to the conference theme that can be developed over the two or three days the conference group is together.
Or put up a series of thought provoking posters, images, videos or virtual reality stories at stations and make the break out session like a visit to a room in an art gallery with each station providing some insight into the relevant theme of the conference. It would be a little more work to organize, of course, but if even one series of panel discussions could be replaced by a more active, more engaging, more dynamic activity that attendees really could participate in, I think the overall experience would be improved for everyone involved.
At the very least, the photos would be more fun to look at afterwards.
Most event planners do not put lighting very high on their priority list, if at all, but it can make a difference in how the photos and videos from their event will look. While not every event can afford a lighting designer, just considering simple things like whether the room you’ve selected has natural light or not will make a difference in the kind of imagery your event will yield.
This week I covered a talk given by an Olympian gold medal winner, Bruny Surin, hosted by Rio Tinto’s Health & Wellbeing Committee. Amongst the many positive takeaways from the session (which ended with a pounding dance beat and a push up contest), what he had to say about achieving your life’s goals was something that really caught my attention.
So what is life like as a freelance event photographer in Montreal? Well, after surviving February (the most feared month of the year for any freelancer), March has kicked off with a roar. It’s never easy to predict workflow or plan for last minute assignments, but sometimes they can happen fast and furious and the job of a freelancer is to answer the call.
I often receive solicitations by email to work for foreign clients coming into town for an event they are hosting. The type of events range from a few hours of a global sales meeting to full multi-day conferences, and every kind of networking / cocktail / gala / awards reception you can think of in between. I’ve noticed that many of these out-of-country clients work with very specific mandates and shot lists, sensibly, since they are typically the same kind of organizations that mount events worldwide and need to ensure a consistent quality across their global portfolio of events.
Here are some tips to make the process smoother and easier for event planners looking for creative contacts in a city they are unfamiliar with:
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.
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.
A question I get asked a lot by people I meet at conferences and events I am covering is “What are the photos for?”Sometimes it’s phrased as “ where do the photos end up?” or “Who are you working for” but the intent is always to understand why I am attending every session, popping up at the front of the room during the keynote and constantly scanning crowds for emotions and reactions, like a security guard on high alert.
Millions of photos get taken every day only to flicker briefly across a small screen then roll down out of sight forever. What makes the images produced by an event photographer any different?
It’s a fair question and deserves a brief response. In person I invariably say I am hired by the organizer to cover the event and leave it at that, but if you are the organizer, it is worthwhile considering exactly what you intend to do with the images.
We need it now
These days there is a demand for very quick turnaround on photos to populate Twitter feeds, Facebook page posts and generate Instagrammable moments. This rapid turnaround on photos requires a quick selection and in-phone edit to get highlights out to a designated contact onsite who then flips the images into targeted posts. Conferences, in particular, benefit from this kind of speedy service. Generating a steady stream of content linked to the presentations and discussions taking place at the conference provides the organizer with a rich social media stream throughout the conference, and leaves behind a trail of moments that can be used, post-conference, to get a broad summary view of the entire event for those unable to attend.This extends the reach of the event, helps promote the next one, and drives traffic to the organizer’s site while it’s happening.
Always online marketing
Another related use of event and conference photography is simply tohave a bank of owned, edited, usable images crafted exclusively with your n annual gathering of family physicians or an international host of 5G engineers, your organization will be communicating with attendees – and prospective attendees – throughout the year. Email blasts, blog posts, press releases, Tweets, LinkedIn stories, etc will always need a few good photos to illustrate the content. Regardless of how meaningful or well written your piece is, without images your engagement levels will sink. Being able to draw from a well of images you’ve specifically had shot for you, at your own events, with your own needs in mind means when you are under the gun to get a press release out you have ample images to choose from to help augment your pitch.
Selling the story
Similarly, as over-used as it has become, people respond to stories first. No one really appreciated being sold to, or marketed at – but that same prospect eagerly absorbs a story if it comes with a relevant emotional hook and appeals to something greater than a desperate plea to “Click Here” for the next dopamine hit. Photos that show a real moment shared between attendees at an event tell the story of what to expect clearly and intuitively. Going to conferences or coming out to an industry event has huge potential benefits for a person’s career, professional network and reputation. But the price tag to attend can sometimes be daunting, or more significantly, making the time in a busy schedule can be challenging. A prospective attendee has to feel that it’s going to be worth it and getting him or her to read through any length of text or preview an agenda isn’t going to cut it. They want to speed through a reel of photos from your last event, watch 20-30 seconds of a highlight reel and decide if the location and theme of your upcoming conference is worth their time.
And that’s all just the external facing uses of event photos. Internally images are shared during employee only / team building events. They can be used for documentary purposes just to remember how the room was laid out, or the exact number and placement of screens set up. They are helpful for on boarding new staff who may suddenly find themselves responsible for wrangling crowds of several hundred or even thousands of people. And of course, they can be used in targeted sends to past speakers, sponsors and other key financial contributors to an event to extend and share the same benefits to them.
Photography has become more important than ever in a media-saturated age, and having images that really stand out and make your event look its best are key to the success of future events. In the end, the images become a part of your brand’s story and one of several tools event organizers need to continually develop their market and maintain relevance in an increasingly crowded space.
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.
Event photographers are a different breed of photographer than most. Where the product photographer revels in the stillness and controlled quiet of the studio, the event photographer thrives on the noise, the throngs of people, the loud music and dazzling lights. Where the conference photographer studiously captures speakers at their podiums and attendees participating animatedly in workshop and breakout rooms, the event photographer roves, looking for that single instant when a look is shared, a comment made that elicits laughter, a dancer is lost in a moment.
From a client perspective the ideal event photographer captures the full sweep of the event – beauty shots of the spaces, sponsorship elements, ambience, crowd, and importantly intimate candid portraits of individuals.
It is this detail – the event portrait – that truly captures client attention and makes one set of event photos stand out from another.And more and more often, clients are making explicit requests for these kinds of shots because they have an authenticity about them that makes the event look worth attending.
While the event standards are still requirements (speakers or hosts on stage, awards handed out, posed shots holding big cheques, etc.), what clients really love seeing is non-posed images of their guests interacting with each other, having a laugh and sharing an experience.
Without event portraiture, event coverage is merely a documentation of what happened and could easily be done using a phone and an admin level junior staffer tasked with capturing a few highlights.Such an approach would provide a set of images that document the timeline of an event – but it would lack any sense of the people in attendance and the stories they bring with them.
Faces, expressions, the way the light falls in a certain way upon a group of people, the cut of a dress, the head tossed back in laughter – these are the details and moments that define the event as it is experienced by those who attend.
Although the stage action matters, and the sponsorship signs are important to email back to the sponsors, most event goers pay scant attention to these elements. Rather they are looking at each other – at what people are wearing, who is with who, who is in the room they want to meet (or avoid) and how well the layout and design of the space (and schedule) allows for mingling and networking.
Event portraits drive engagement and really make the images captured useful to clients.Many times I’ve seen candid images of people I’ve noticed at events used as headshots or profile pictures – rather than a traditional headshot. The reason I think is obvious: people like the way they look when they are not paying attention to a camera and having fun with other people. Their natural expressions come out and their eyes, and smiles show real emotion and genuine interest that is hard to turn on on-demand when it’s picture day in the office.
When the event is all packed up and the glitter dust swept from the floor, what people are most likely to remember – and react to by sharing or buying a ticket for next year’s event – are photos of themselves, looking good and having a good time. How many table shots do you see people sharing on Facebook? Not too many I’d bet. But a well-shot images of someone captured in a moment when they were genuinely engaged in conversation with someone they found interesting is often a picture people like seeing of themselves.
And isn’t that the goal of having event photos in the first place? To engage your audience, and through them, reach into ever wider and expanding networks of like-minded people to grow the impact of your events? Event portraits are one way to help you achieve that.