Ode to Ordinary Life: The surprising value of an “every day” creative project

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I took a picture every day with a Fuji Instax Mini 90 camera throughout 2018.

My self-imposed conditions were simple: take only one a day and use it no matter what. I mostly stuck to this, though due to both technical and user failures on some occasions the resulting image was just so bad, I gave myself some slack and took more than one.

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Here’s what I learned:

  • A daily act of creation is its own reward: Doing something creative deliberately every day requires discipline, but also creates its own universe in a way and adds a little drop of meaning into every day.
  • Casual, intimate moments with friends and family mattered most: I sought and found something (almost) every day that stood out as the most important part of that day. While the vast majority of the moments I chose to snap the shot are just mundane, everyday bits of my normal life, I realized that these moments were, in fact, the ones I cared the most about. While I was busier than ever in my professional life photographing CEOs and executive portraits, big splashy events, several conferences (and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau on three separate occasions), on most of these days my photo-of-the-day was a picture of my daughter hugging her new puppy, or hanging out with friends and family having a drink and a laugh.
  • Image quality doesn’t always matter: while I often found myself frustrated by the extreme limitations of the instant print medium, I loved the authenticity of the print in my hand and the nostalgic reminder of what photography started as: a way to steal a moment of time and put it in your pocket as a memory you could keep and return to whenever you wanted to.
  • Polaroid has huge name brand recognition!: No matter how many times I told people I was shooting with a Fuji Instax Mini 90 (and no this was not a sponsored project at all though the product links are Amazon Affiliate links which will pay me a small commission if you buy through them), almost 99% of the time people would reply with a comment about what a cool idea it was to take a Polaroid a day.
  • Puppies are addictive: I finally understand why the internet is drowning in pet photos and videos. (I took A LOT of photos of my new puppy and my daughter!)
  • I am very lucky and have a good life: I spent time with many friends, family and was able to travel a fair bit this year to Paris, Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Quebec’s Saguenay region, Toronto, Brooklyn (a reunion with a good friend and too many martinis-see Aug 24), Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia, Tremblant, Florida and many fun nights with friends here in my favourite city in the world, Montreal. While I don’t keep a gratitude journal, this project was like a photo diary of my life and in retrospect it shows how much I have to be grateful for.

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Why did I do it?

When I started I didn’t really have any real reason other than wanting to have some kind of creative project to work on that was one step removed from my regular life.

Having completed it, I am happy to have it done, but also happy I did it. I think there is value in the daily practice of anything – whether a piece of creative writing, a drawing, a photo like I did, a doodle, an idea, a blog post or whatever you decide matters to you.  If you are stuck creatively or wanting to start a new career as an artist, or writer it can give you the discipline you need to break out of entropy and ultimately it will carry you on its own momentum.

Here’s a fun and inspiring video about the impact a daily project had on an artist who decided to do a drawing a day:

My advice to anyone who’s currently embarking on a 30-day challenge, or an every day project is to stick with it. Cut yourself some slack if you miss a day, but make it up (I admit to plugging in two or three photos in this series that were fill-ins for days I forgot to take a shot). Both the doing-it and the finishing-it parts are important. Share what you learn, and if you’re feeling brave enough, share daily as you do it. I chose not to post daily as frankly, I felt that so many of the photos I took were so bad that it would be boring as a daily stream, but in their entirety they have a kind of raw, genuine quality that I enjoy and hope you do as well.

To see the whole year series click on the image below:

 

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Happy 2019!

 

Ideas for optimizing your event sponsorship investment

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How an event photographer can help optimize your event sponsorship investment.

I cover a lot of large conferences and trade shows that are largely funded by sponsors. Sponsors pay to have their company logo, brand message and business development professionals gain access to the targeted audience attending the event. Sponsorships take the form of brief presentations, banners, swag bag stuffing, mentions on the big screen in the pre-roll before the conference day kicks off, as well as areas like lounges, or massage stops, or juice bars. Sponsors pay for the wi-fi access, and brand the room keys at the hotel where the event is taking place. They cover virtually every meal, reception and sometimes outings for guests. It is not unusual for a sponsor to spend upwards of $50k on sponsorships for an event that may last at the most a few days.

A few busy days where attendees are bombarded with information, exposed to branding and logos from hundreds of companies, gather fistfuls of business cards and all while being slightly jet-lagged, hungover and still trying to keep up on their work email.

As an event sponsor, are you getting the most for your money?

As an event photographer I am used to covering sponsored events and of course take the time to gather a set of images that are for the sponsor. These include the room set up with and without people (if they have sponsored a reception, or a dinner), all branded elements (takeaways, gifts for attendees, bags, sponsored areas like lounges, or interactive stations), as well as the speakers and company representatives if the sponsorship includes a segment of air time at the event.

But I think a creative sponsor could get more leverage by actually sponsoring the event photographer directly. Event organizers could work with the photographer to identify areas where direct sponsorships make sense and either split the fee, or leverage the sponsor to cover the photographer’s fees, saving costs for the organizer.

There are obvious sponsorship opportunities like photo booths, but I would recommend thinking “out of the photobooth” box to the more wide-reaching impact an event photographer can have.

Consider: the event photographer is going to be seen by virtually every guest, and interact with almost every one of them at one point or another during a multi-day event. What other sponsorship opportunity can guarantee face time in front of every single guest?

But who pays attention to the photographer, you might say. He or she is just there to document the event and be as unobtrusive as possible.

If you believe that your event photographer should remain in the background, like a liveried wait staff in a posh restaurant, then yes, perhaps you are better off taking a more conventional approach to event sponsorship.

But if you understand that part of what a good event photographer does is engage and interact with people – as a function of doing the job of getting fun and interesting photos of your event – than you may also recognize that adding a layer of sponsorship to that activity can possibly further your sponsorship goals for the event. And it could be far less expensive than a big branding opportunity but reach as much, if not more, of the same target audience.

A few ideas come to mind that wouldn’t cost more than a thousand dollars (which is small change for event sponsorship budgets):

  • Why not consider asking your event photographer to wear a sponsored blazer or jacket?
  • Or design a sticker or logo to attach to the photographer’s flash body which is always visible?
  • Offer branded instant prints to your guests.
  • Plunk a portable instant printer down in the centre of the conference room tables, “Sponsored by YOUR BRAND” and let guests have fun snapping and printing their own photos with their phones

Branding at events is always a bit of a guessing game and it’s hard to know if the money is having the desired impact or if conference warriors suffer the same kind of banner blindness to event sponsors that most of us do when seeing an ad on our phones. Thinking creatively about new ways to leverage your event sponsorship budget is at least worth considering, given the amount of money at stake and the opportunity for increasing your impact.

Which instant print camera to buy?

I recently ran a team for a big event at Montreal’s New City Gas, hosted by the UAE. The event was extremely well-attended with over 1000 guests shuttled in and passing through the space over the course of a few hours.  One of the photographic services we provided, in addition to droneography, a greenscreen photobooth, a team of event photographers and videographers, was a dedicated instant prints photographer. I armed him with both a Polaroid Z2300W which prints on stickers and what the manufacturer calls ZINK Paper (zero ink) as the client had specifically asked we used Polaroids. As a back-up, I also bought the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo (Classic).  It was an unintentional a/b test and rarely have the results been more divergent.

POLAROID.jpgTo put it mildly, the Polaroid was a complete dud. It’s proprietary battery couldn’t hold a charge long enough to complete one full set of prints (30). It is flimsy and cheaply made and looks like a toy camera. Sadly, even a toy camera would have brought more enjoyment than this and it is a far, far cry from what a Polaroid once was. Loading the paper is easy, but getting the starter sheet (a blue paper that must first eject before the camera can produce prints) required multiple attempts before it would work, wasting time and further depleting the already miserably weak battery. When finally you do manage to load ten sheets into the paper chamber be careful not to brush against the little latch in the back or the door will pop open and out will tumble your sheets. But even if it works, the prints (full frame and not the matted white traditional Polaroid look you would expect) are low quality, grainy and with colours so muted and garbled they come out looking like they were already old and abused, and not in a cool retro way, just in a “ew, yucky” way.

The camera is actually a hybrid digital camera, meaning it has the ability to shoot and save digital jpeg files to an SD card, like a regular digital point and shoot would, and print images you select to print. While on the surface that seems like a nice option to have, the competing demands on the miserly battery exceed any utility gained by the feature.

If one could apply a negative star rating to a product, this one merits a below zero score. Do not waste your money or time fiddling with this poorly conceived, poorly constructed and sorry excuse for a camera from what was once one of photography’s iconic brands.

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And the winner is…Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo by a country mile

Happily, my “back-up” performed beautifully as I’ve grown to appreciate with the few, but growing stable of Fujifilm cameras I am acquiring. The prints are higher quality than the Polaroids (and actually look like Polaroids!), and the battery after one charge and 90 prints is still powering this handy little fun camera. Remarkably, it also sells for about $50CAD less than the Polaroid Z2300W and though its prints are pricier ($19.99 for 20 vs $19.99 for 30 ZINK Paper prints), they feel and look better and I suspect will last much longer too though we’ll have to wait and see for that.

If you’re looking at adding instant prints into your events, or even just to bring along with you on your next family vacation, if you can stomach the ongoing print costs pick up one of these Fujifilms. You won’t be disappointed.

(N.B. In case any of you were wondering if this is a paid post, it isn’t. Everything I write here is written by me, from my own unbiased and unsponsored point of view. I am not shilling for Fuji or going out of my way to trash Polaroid. I am sharing my opinion as a professional photographer about two products I’ve used and seen the results from.)

 

 

Add instant prints to your next event

fuji-instax90_neoEverything old is new again it seems.

Remember the Polaroid camera? Remember how exciting it was to stand there and watch that little print slide out? It came out dark and you shook it until the image slowly appeared, like a ghost taking form. While the age of film cameras has passed, the thrill of the instant print has never really gone out of style. And now it’s back – in the form of instant cameras like the Polaroid Z2300 shown here, or one of Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo.

As someone who makes a living on event photography, I need to keep on top of the latest trends and this one is on the rise. A few years ago I set up a photobooth business (www.lepartybooth.com) seeing the rise in popularity of having a playful place for (mostly drunk) adults to wear silly hats, fake moustaches and pirate eye patches at parties. Regardless of age, there was (and still is) an excitement that comes from making outrageous poses in ridiculous costumes then eagerly picking up your print.

I’m now seeing the same rise in interest in having instant film cameras at events. Think of it as the photobooth gone mobile. And it fits the bill for what I call “fast food photography” which a lot of event photography is. It also offers a new area for forward thinking clients to extend the reach of their branding and sponsorship opportunities.

Few people meet as many event-goers as the hired event photographer. It is just part of the job to roam, interact and engage with as many guests as possible in order to really capture the vibe and emotion of the evening. Doing so with a standard digital camera set-up ensures the client gets a great range of images covering their whole event, but the guests are left hanging having to wait until the images get posted somewhere which may not always happen right away. Putting an instant print into their hands is one way of satisfying the instant gratification itch that our modern digital culture has fomented, and if you tack on a bit of branding to the print you’ve quite literally, left an impression with the attendee.