How to plan a headshot session for your employees

Several different portrait styles to choose from – try one or a few depending on your needs

September is a good month to plan for a headshot renewal session for your employees. As the weather turns ever so slightly colder and the summer season fades into Instagram memories, the return to regular routines brings a new kind of energy planners can leverage for engaging employees.

Key advantages of headshot sessions

We are often approached to conduct profile portrait sessions for staff on-site during a normal work day. The advantages are obvious:

  • Time savings – employees just have to wander over at their appointed time slot and check in for a quick headshot.
  • Cost savings – booking a session for multiple employees (anywhere from six to 100+) brings cost savings as the contract will benefit from volume discounts
  • Better uptake – more than just scheduling efficiency, having a session conducted onsite means more of your staff are likely to avail themselves of the opportunity

If you are going to make the effort to set up a day where your executives and rank and file workers can get a new headshot, you want to maximise the number of people who get it done on the chosen day. This confers not just the advantages listed above, but also ensures a consistent look and feel to the portraits should you be planning to use them on corporate websites, or even just as ID photos or intranet profiles for use on in-company social networks like Yammer.

Active pose or staged shots can be useful for web or editorial purposes

FAQs on planning a portrait session

When planning out the day a few commonly asked questions are:

  1. How much time do I need to allocate per person?
  2. We’d also like to do a few group shots – when should we schedule these?
  3. What size room do we need?
  4. What kind of lighting should we use?
  5. What should people wear (men, women)?
  6. Should we also book a makeup artist?
  7. What kind of backdrop should we use?
If time permits, consider including a few hours of day-in-the-life type portraits as well

1. Time requirements

Set-up time takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on room chosen for the session. The set up may entail bringing in a backdrop stand and backdrop, setting up lights and test shots to ensure everything is running smoothly. Once the studio is in place, the session is ready to begin. Very high-quality portraits can be taken in surprisingly brief encounters. In fact, in our experience, speedy portraits often capture more natural expressions as subjects don’t have time to really get worked up or nervous about having their picture taken. A good rule of thumb for planners is to book 10 people per hour. For executive and leadership teams, aim for 6 people per hour.

2. Group shots

Team photo taken after individual sessions completed

Group and team shots should be scheduled after all the individual portraits are taken. Depending on the size of the group (company wide or a specific team) the group photo may need to be taken in a different area within the company or even outdoors or in a lobby space so plan for a buffer of at least 30-40 minutes after the headshots are done to allow for a new set-up (if needed). A good idea is to schedule all the individuals of a given team together so they are all done and ready for their group shot later that same day.

3. Room

99% of the headshot sessions conducted onsite are taken in a large conference or boardroom. While it is not absolutely necessary, the additional space found in these areas is used to provide some breathing room between the subject and backdrop and the subject and light dispositions.

4. Lighting

Lighting is the photographer’s concern not yours. Lights on stands are often used. Sometimes on camera flash is more appropriate (especially in cases where offices are too small to properly set up lights), and natural window light can also be used. Keep in mind that if you are aiming for consistently lit, more professional looking images shot on a white or grey seamless paper background, the photographer will likely want to control the lighting which means having the ability to close blinds and block out other light sources as deemed necessary.

5. What to wear

There is no hard and fast rule for wardrobe. Just as norms for what people wear at work has changed with only a few more conservative industry still requiring men to wear suit and ties to work, there are no fixed rules for how to dress for a portrait.

That being said, in our long experience, for a professionally useful headshot, men tend to look better with a collar shirt and suit jacket (with or without tie). The colour of the shirt matters with respect to the backdrop against which the photo will be taken (so white collar on white backdrop not good). As well busy patterns can be distracting or send the wrong message so unless it’s a retirement party maybe leave the Hawaiian shirt at home.

For women, in photos as in life, wardrobe choices are much broader. Keeping in mind that unless a group or full length portrait has been added to the bill this is just a headshot, so shoes, skirts and anything below the mid-riff will not appear in the photo. In a professional context, the kind of blouses and jackets worn at work on a normal day are usually good for photo days as well. Scarves, dangly or looped earrings and busy necklaces should be avoided (this is sometimes just to help with the editing after if needed on a given photo), and classic, simple, solid colours will give the image a longer term life.

6. Makeup artist

Working with a makeup artist always enhances and improves a photo session. Subjects enjoy the extra attention and the skillful touches and insights a makeup artist provides make subtle but noticeable differences in the final image. (For more on this check out an earlier post here.) That said, a makeup artist is not essential and booking one will add cost to the session. If budget and time allows (women will need at least an additional 20-30 minutes pre-shoot, and men at least 15-20 minutes), then definitely ask for one. Otherwise, don’t worry about it as you will still get very good images from your session.

7. Backdrop

Example of portrait being taken against a grey seamless backdrop at an event

A backdrop is what stands behind your subject and fills the frame around the edges. By definition it is in the background and while extremely valuable and important as an element in the image, keep in mind that the main focus of the photo will be the person being photographed. Backdrop considerations should be taken in light of the intended use of the final image. If you are posting all the images on your company website which has a branded colour or uses simply a clean white background on-screen then a seamless white paper backdrop is best. If you are more interested in showing your people in natural environments or your branding guidelines allow for more creativity and flexibility in how profile pictures can look, than you can look to use interesting walls if available (green walls, bricks, large art, etc) or opt for an in-context shot within the work environment or in front of a window with a good view.

Ultimately, there are many things to consider when setting up your company headshot session but nothing that can’t be easily sorted out in a quick call with your provider. Sessions can be planned for working hours, in-office, or at company events, town halls, board meetings or conferences. Hopefully this post helps as well. Feel free to share with your team when planning your session or reach out to us for help.

How to get the portrait you want

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One of the challenges of shooting headshots and portraits is communicating how you want to be seen in your portrait. This is especially difficult because, as in many made-to-order bespoke creative services, clients don’t always know what the want, but they know what they like when the see it. And the reverse is also true, where a client thinks he or she know what he or she wants, but then doesn’t like the way it turns out and wants something different.

Headshots and in-office corporate portraits are particularly subject to this conundrum because, understandably, people are very particular about the way they look – and perhaps more importantly – how they perceive themselves in images.

Not everyone enjoys having their picture taken and when asked why the answer is usually, “I hate the way I look in pictures.” A professional portrait photographer needs a thick skin because hearing this often enough can make you feel like what you do for a living is causing pain and discomfort.

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Some of these challenges can be mitigated by taking extra time during the shoot to discuss the kind of look your subject is going for, presenting ideas when asked, and sharing the out of camera images on the spot to let your subject see how the shoot is progressing.

Many people hold their heads at certain angles or pose in habitual ways that doesn’t help them look their best in images. They may be adopting the “selfie” pose when it is not necessary as the photographer is shooting with a vastly superior lens at a different focal length and angle.

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Alternatively, they may have some sensitivities about their body image, or really just not like the way they look which is invariably related to deeper issues. Sadly, though I as a photographer can genuinely see a beautiful side to just about every face I train my lens on, few people really believe that about themselves. (I think this is partly an effect of investing too much faith in the glossy, oh-so-perfect lives socialmedialites project in their relentless quest for Influencer status, but I digress…)

In any case, to make the most of your investment in hiring a professional photographer, open up the communication channels.

Don’t be afraid to tell your photographer what you love and what you hate about the images he or she shows you of yourself.

Ask for more or less photoshop. Images can be brightened up, toned down, shadows accentuated or removed….much is possible both during the shoot and afterwards in the editing suite so feel at ease when asking and talking about it.

Part of the cost of a portrait session includes time for dialogue and for making adjustments and tweaks if you wish to have them made.

Even more helpful, take some time before your shoot to come up with a few sample portraits of people you like and share them with your photographer.

A caveat is necessary here, however: while your comments and feedback and express wishes for an outcome are welcome, there is a dash of realism needed to make the recipe complete.  If you haven’t slept, your face and hair’s a mess and you’re wearing something you slapped together last minute because you forgot it was picture day in the office, you’re not going look like you just stepped onto the red carpet.

Similarly, while many subjects feel that it is the photographer’s job to get them looking their best – it is necessarily a collaborative effort. No matter how experienced or skilled your shooter is, if you are not willing to participate in the creation of what is ultimately your portrait, you are missing out on an opportunity to influence the outcome of something you have a direct stake in.

Finally, try to enjoy the process! Taking photos does not have to feel like having a tooth pulled without anesthetics. You can laugh, be playful, indulge in a little fantasy and ideation and come up with some creative ideas for what you want to achieve.

Most photographers enjoy having time to spend with their subject and get to know them a little. It helps open up the pathways to communication and ultimately helps bring about a better portrait. So open a little, let your guard down, share and trust that your photographer has your best interests in mind always – and get the headshot you want and deserve!

 

Keeping clients happy in the collaborative economy

multi-tool.jpgWhen I started out as a freelance photographer, that’s all I was thinking of doing, and clients didn’t expect me to offer more. I was a sole practitioner, offering a specific, in-demand service and that worked well for me and my clients.

But much as I love the art and craft of photographing people at events, or observing and documenting groups learning and networking at conferences or creating thoughtful portraits of professionals, clients today need – and expect – more.

Much – maybe everything – has changed about how companies communicate over the past fifteen years. The technology is different, the channels for publishing and sharing content are different, the ways in which content is created and shared is different, the speed and frequency at which content is expected to be produced and distributed has accelerated, and clients today need their creative suppliers to be able to respond to all of these changes, quickly.

The average product marketer, comms director, event manager or conference planner today has to feed content to a dozen different channels from social media to micro-sites, advertising, social media and emailer campaigns all while maintaining and developing a brand their target audiences can recognize and love.

The band’s back together again

Perhaps the biggest change has been the explosive growth in the collaborative economy, in which independent gig workers and freelancers come together for projects and share and grow each other’s business through a web of interrelated referrals and service offerings – and there is more work than ever thanks to the never-ending maw of the internet that creates a constant demand for images, video, graphic design, graphic notation for illustrating ideas produced in a workshop or at a conference, written content and more.

This demand for more services has been a stimulus for growth for my way of doing business, and over the years, I grew and expanded on my main offering to satisfy the needs of my clients as a way of rewarding and maintaining their loyalty.

And it’s provided me with a chance to learn new skills, and stay relevant in a competitive space where there is always a new up and comer, right behind me willing to do what I do for close to nothing.

Photography, videography, podcast production, & more

Today I am happy to be able to offer videography through curated collaborations with skilled directors and videographers I regularly work with; photobooths for events and parties through my side hustle at LePartybooth.com; design and podcast production in collaboration with Media Mercantile; as well as copywriting and content creation.  (I even wrote a book about freelancing based on everything I’ve learned living it over the past fifteen years, Gigonomics: A Field Guide for Freelancers in the Gig Economy ).

By offering a wider range of services, my clients are able to find what they need for the event and conference needs, and I am able to grow and develop new client relationships.

While some event managers and communications coordinators may prefer to work with different teams of vendors, I’ve found that most find it more efficient and satisfying to have one main supplier who can handle the full range of their content creation and coverage needs. This keeps things simpler from a project management perspective, and it is more efficient, as my team and I are able to leverage our learning and understanding of a client’s brand, company, culture and industry across related projects.

Adapting to rapid technological and cultural change is a necessary skillset for freelance content creators in today’s gig economy. Luckily, it’s also a fun way to keep learning and stay on top of your field. Developing and building a professional team of talented freelancers who fill out your offering to provide clients with the full suite of services they need to help them complete their mandate is increasingly becoming the new normal for the kind of work I am doing these day. The projects are bigger and more  complex with more moving parts to coordinate, but the end results are often even more satisfying than just sending out a link to an online gallery. Creative services like the ones I manage and offer are an integral part of what many clients need to deliver on to satisfy their own internal and external clients. Having the support of a curated collection of people who’ve worked together, who can be trusted to deliver quality service on time and within budget is a precious commodity and one I’m proud to be able to provide my clients.

Got a project you’re working on now you need some creative support on? Let’s connect.

The benefits of working with a makeup artist (MUA)

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Working with a makeup artist (or as it is called in the industry by its wonderfully onomatopoeic acronym MUA) makes shooting corporate portraits a breeze. Clients get extra attention and care and the resulting work invariably makes them look better in their photos and requires less editing in post. It’s a pity more portrait clients don’t request one.

While I do my best to introduce the idea, this past year I shot roughly four hundred corporate portraits in and around Montreal, but only used a makeup artist on a handful of them.

Here are some of the main benefits I see as the photographer on site leading the portrait session (and guys, don’t think makeup is only for women – men can and do benefit as well).

Advantages of using a MUA for your next corporate portrait session

  • Anti-glare: everybody shines. While a shining intellect, and an inner shine are positive attributes, a shiny nose or forehead is less desirable. Photographic lights tend to bring out shine that isn’t visible in normal light. A small bit of attention to those areas prone to reflect light will make the tones of your skin look more even and result in you showing up in photos as you look in real life.
  • R&R: having someone attend to you before a shoot helps quell nerves and can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. It’s a small bit of pampering in your day and you can just sit back and appreciate it. The relaxation carries over into the shoot and helps you achieve a more natural look quicker.
  • Education: professional makeup artists (I work with a few, but recently have been working with Caroline Mégélas Pro Makeup) really care about what they are doing and the products they use on your skin. They have a professional yet intimate connection to you because they are literally working on your skin and so they are extra-careful to only use high-quality, hypo-allergenic products that you may not know about and can learn about and experience first-hand.

Of course there is an added cost for the service, but it is quite reasonable and if your session involves more than one person, the fee can be allocated across a few people to increase its value at a lower per/head cost.

If you are planning to update your company website, shoot the new team photos, or get a batch of new headshots done for your executives in 2019, consider including a makeup artist with the session. Most professional photographers will know a few they’ve worked with before and the small increase in cost will be a huge investment in making the experience a pleasure for the people you are planning the shoot for.

 

 

How to run a rapid, company-wide portrait session

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I was recently booked by a large corporation to shoot over 200 employee portraits in just two days. With such a high volume of clients there is no time for fussing around with fancy light setups, make up artists or even much time for banter with the subjects.

Key to success is having an onsite ally within the client who can organize the schedule and keep employees to it. These kinds of mega-portrait sessions are a way for large corporations to give a real benefit to their employees in a highly cost-effective way. (Read on or skip to the end for how to price a large portrait session).

Year-end is a good time to start thinking about planning one of these sessions for your employees. A new year is just around the corner, and with it comes the new energy of a fresh start that many people like to use to level-up their online game, update the profiles across their various social media personae, and refresh their headshot.

When booking your photographer, a few questions that can be addressed ahead of time are:

What to wear?
How long will each portrait take?
Where will the shoot take place?
How to pose?
How will the photos be tracked and delivered?
How much will it cost?

What to wear?

Classic styles and simple solid colours tend to work best in my opinion. While you can wear whatever you want, especially if you are ultimately receiving a cropped 8×10 headshot, you still want to make the focus be on you and not your clothes. For men, a solid-coloured, collared shirt (with or without tie depending on your company culture/intended use) with a jacket closed at the top button does the trick. Women have more options but necklaces, large earrings or other adornments can seem out of place for professional use. If wearing a necklace, make sure it hangs straight down the centre so it doesn’t look off kilter. While it’s not necessary to stick to the collared shirt and suit jacket (though it’s fine if you do), too much of a plunging neckline can look a tad out of place on LinkedIn or your in-house network. Think of where the final image is likely to get the most use and dress for that audience.

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How long does each portrait take?

On these big days, you’ll have no more than five minutes in front of the photographer. That will be enough time to shoot two shots of each side. Only rarely will you need more than four images for the photographer to select from. The lighting will be the same on all faces, and though the background can change (if you are shooting in front of a window, for example, you’ll have changing lighting in the background throughout the day), so the poses should all also be consistent.

Where will the shoot take place?

Typically these large sessions are done onsite at the client’s offices or workspace, wherever that may be. The conference room or board room is best, or if the site is equipped with warehouse space, set up in there. Pay attention to wire placement of your lights (the last thing you want is someone tripping and injuring themselves) and if shooting before a window as is often done these days, place your lights wide enough apart so that they don’t reflect in the glass sparing you hours of tedious photoshopping later.

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How to pose?

You will get asked this by everyone who walks in the room, two hundred times in my case recently. While I enjoy taking my time in one-on-one portrait sessions and really working different looks and angles, this luxury is not available to you, humble corporate portrait photographer. You need to get your people in, shot and out on a very tight schedule. While you can vary the height you shoot from a little (I use a step ladder), you want everyone to give you two angles, and do your best to make those who need a little thinning look thin, and those who need a little happiness boost, look happier. The real art of the portrait photographer is in these brief interstitial moments when you must connect with your subject and quickly put them at ease and make them trust you. If it helps, let them look at the shots you’ve taken of them and for the ones who seem particularly fussy, let them choose the shot you’ll edit afterwards.

How will the photos be tracked and delivered?

If you’re lucky enough to have a well-organized client, you’ll start the day with a printout of all the scheduled people each with their assigned time slot (more or less). Jot down one file number from the range you shoot for each person so that afterwards you can either rename the files, or at least have a common language with your client so that the inevitable requests to tweak this, or edit that can be done smoothly and efficiently. For delivery, while I use Photoshelter, you can use WeSendit, Dropbox or whatever large file transfer service you prefer. (Be careful with Dropbox as many clients either can’t access the site from behind their firewalls, or don’t have professional accounts and you will quickly burst through the default 2 gb limit on free accounts).

How much will it cost?

Pricing for portraits requires a political approach. The answer really is, it depends…The reason, of course, is that you, as photographer must balance out the effort with the huge volume of work you are receiving while your client is looking to leverage the volume to get a discount. Personally, I always charge a set up fee for going into an office to cover the cost of equipment usage and transport, and start from there. As I work with minimums (and you should too if you want to stay in business), the cost per head on a portrait session decreases as the number of portraits taken increases. While each portrait in post will require the same amount of work, once you are up and running in a shooting session, your time onsite will go quickly. How much of a volume discount you offer is for you to determine vis-a-vis your client’s budget but keep in mind how the portraits are being used and for whom on the client side when you are pricing it out. A CEO portrait with his or her executive team that will be shared around the world, used in media, annual reports and company wide web diffusion is worth a lot more than the cropped headshot of the first year intern who is only using the headshot for a company intranet (effectively a digital id photo).

The Un-Golf Tournament

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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.

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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?

What event organizers should think about when they think about lighting

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One big window is all it takes to light up these smiles

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.

Continue reading “What event organizers should think about when they think about lighting”

Hiring a local photographer from abroad

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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:

Continue reading “Hiring a local photographer from abroad”

It’s been 10 years since you last updated your headshot. Here’s what’s changed.

 

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.

Continue reading “It’s been 10 years since you last updated your headshot. Here’s what’s changed.”

Using Pinterest to share ideas with your photographer / client

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Secret boards are only viewed by people you invite to see the board. You can invite them to view or participate in image curation by giving them edit rights. Photographers can start boards and invite clients to contribute, or vice-versa. Clients can also share in-house with staff and management who will be involved in the upcoming shoot.

When you are meeting with a photographer to discuss an upcoming photoshoot at your office or one of your facilities, using Pinterest boards can quickly bring you and your photographer’s vision for the shoot into alignment.

When I meet with a client to discuss an in-office corporate portrait session, or plan out a day-in-the life type shoot where the aim is to build up a bank of customized (client owned) stock photos, I often find creating and sharing a “Secret Board” on Pinterest is a useful tool.

 

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Creating a Secret Board is easy, Just like creating any other Pinterest board. Just toggle the Secret switch and then invite collaborators/viewers.

From a photographer’s point of view the method helps stimulate ideas and allows you to show both your experience and skills in collaborating with your client. From a client perspective, the method can help generate concepts and be an easy way to share the vision for the shoot with everyone else in the company who needs to get on board.

Why not just use your own portfolio? Of course you can add some of your own images to the mix, but by the time you are having a client meeting, odds are your client has already viewed your portfolio or you’ve been recommended to them and they assume you have the skills to do the work you are being asked to do. Using images from your body of work that are relevant to the kind of photoshoot you are planning won’t hurt – but by sharing a “Secret Board” with your client and inviting them to collaborate on it you help ensure stronger engagement from your client and give him or her the opportunity to collaborate creatively in the planning sessions – which is actually a fun part of the project. You can also include a broad range of images – some of which may just be there as a means of showing what is possible, or to get people’s creative juices flowing.

The success of an in-office photo shoot relies in good communication.

As a photographer, your job is to walk your client through a typical shoot: How long will you need for set up? Where are the best places in the office to do the shoot? What should people wear? When will they receive their photos and what’s included in delivery? And of course, how much will it cost?

Your client, meanwhile, has the double task of meeting and coordinating with you but also communicating to the employees being photographed everything you’ve explained about the shoot and more. They will need to coordinate schedules (no small feat), and send reminder-“Tomorrow is photo day!”-type emails to employees much like the notes parents get on the eve of school photo day. (This is surprisingly important: you’d be surprised at how many professionals I’ve had to photograph in morning shifts who show up unshaven, unrested and with a look of dazed confusion claiming they forgot it was photo day).

 

 

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One very useful way for the client responsible for coordinating the shoot to communicate with the staff being photographed is to share with them a set of images setting the vision for what they are trying to achieve. If you create a board in Pinterest, then (ideally) gather up the employees for a brief meeting with the board projected on the wall you can quickly bring everyone onto the same page (literally).  Again, this becomes another opportunity for engagement and collaboration and can be done with or without the photographer being present. It can also help mitigate nervousness about the upcoming shoot and provide context for why it is important.

In portraits especially when dealing with non-professional models (ie most of us), people actually appreciate being told what to do, how to stand, where to look and what to wear. All people think in terms of narratives. If you can show your employees where the photos being taken will fit into a story – “we’re using this photo for the header image on our careers page to show people what it’s like working here”, it helps them understand their role and also alleviates their self-consciousness.

In corporate photography you have to think about what the photo will be used for, and how well it communicates the firms’ brand and culture. A conservative lawyer’s office is not likely to have their team stand out in the street in front of a graffiti covered brick wall for their team photo (which an ad agency may well consider as a great backdrop). You can be creative with the looks you try to achieve but in the end, what matters most is whether or not the photos help – or distract – from their core purpose.

Using Pinterest boards to discover, curate and share visual ideas with everyone involved in an upcoming photoshoot helps make photo day a success. The people in the photographs are likely to enjoy the process more, and the marketing or communications team is more likely to end up with images they expect and will be able to use for their intended purpose.

Give it a try. Create a free account on Pinterest and start pinning. When you’re done you can just delete the board or keep it if you think it will be helpful again. (Just be forewarned – Pinterest can be slightly addictive and you may wind up like me creating boards to match all your interests like reading, cooking, travelling, freelancing, etc, etc…)

 

 

Invest in building a company image bank

0E7A4801.jpgWhether you are redoing your website to give it a new look and feel, or launching a new one, you will need photos.  You’ll probably need lots of other things too, like video, and good strong copy, forms and quick action buttons to let your customers reach you directly or submit their briefs to you, but it is extremely unlikely you’ll even have customers if your website is not engaging and attractive enough to draw them to you in the first place.

Building up a library of your own stock images is a useful project that should be done at least once a year, if not seasonally depending on the kind of business you are in.

094A4652.jpgBooking a photographer for a day makes a lot of economic sense too. You usually benefit from a better rate than straight hourly, and you may be surprised at how much photography output one well-planned day can result in.

I receive mandates to produce in-house stock photography frequently. Sometimes from brands wishing to generate a huge volume of imagery that they can then drip out over a number of marketing campaigns, and more often directly from businesses themselves, who book me to shoot mock meetings, beauty shots of their factories or venues, product and people at work (day in the life) type photos. Once onsite I may also get asked to grab a few headshots or team photos as well. In a single day of shooting you can conceivably get your entire staff photographed, in their respective teams as well as individually, and generate a few hundred around the office or shop floor shots that can be used for any number of things beyond your own website.

094A4830.jpgSocial media channels, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook being the main ones, all have ferocious appetites for constantly refreshed content. A good photo with a caption can tell a piece of your story, one image at a time, and keep the content pipeline full.

Your company may also be featured in a trade magazine, or be asked to present at an industry event. You’ll need updated fresh images for that too.

Or you may be going through an internal transformation, with a lot of new hires who need to be added to the team section on your site.

While photo stock libraries can help in a pinch, what you wind up with is a website or other marketing product that looks a lot like everyone else’s who went to look for the same kinds of stock photos you were searching for:

  • Young people meeting and discussing something…
  • A group of professionals in a board room…
  • Corporate woman/man looking confident and happy in office setting…
  • Techie guy working on computer screen…

Whatever your particular need, I can assure you there are hundreds, if not thousands of other companies looking for more or less the same kinds of images. The result, of course, is that you end up with the same (or very similar images) and wind up with a very generic looking website that tells nothing about the uniqueness of your company.

094A4888.jpgHiring your own photographer and working with him or her to develop a creative shot list of your own people, products, office space/manufacturing environment is not only far more useful and adaptable to your needs — it is probably cheaper too.

Stock images come with costs for licensing and the better ones can be fairly restrictive.

Of course you can choose to go for free versions from sites like Unsplash or Creative Commons platforms where photographers give away some of their images in the hopes of growing their fame or getting recognized (good luck with that). But even these sites suffer from the same generic images that are not really specific to your company, your brand, your people, your story. In the end, you may have a gorgeous full screen image that says nothing at all about what your company does, makes, sells or offers and in a second your visitor is already bouncing off to look at more pretty pictures without having clicked through to you.

The fall is a very good time to start planning for your next calendar year. Look ahead and start thinking about booking a photographer for January or February (often slow business months which translates into fewer on-site work disruptions). Alternatively, mid-June or July can be good months to capture images inside and outside your office and your staff tends to look a little healthier around that time of year too.

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Building up an image library is an investment in a digital asset that all companies need – regardless of industry. I can think of very few firms who do not have need of some kind of professional photography for their websites, marketing materials, social channels and trade publications.  Make it part of the annual marketing calendar of activities and you’ll never have to scramble again for a usable headshot of your new VP who’s just been asked to speak at a conference.

How cost effective is it using an in-house “photographer”?

Anyone can take a very good photo today, whether it’s to update a headshot for a new LinkedIn profile, or capture some snaps for a company event. If you are running any kind of event for your company one of the ways planners look to contain costs or reduce the budget is to use a (usually junior) staffer to document the event rather than hire out to a professional. Depending on the size of the event and the ultimate purpose for the photos, this can certainly save costs and is worth doing, especially if your internal resource is interested in photography and really wants the added responsibility.

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But…there a few things to consider before asking your graphic artist or comms coordinator to cover an event you are hosting or a conference you’re running.

  1.  What is the opportunity cost? While at first glance it looks like a cost savings to use a resource you’ve already got on salary to do an additional job, at what cost in the use of their time and skill set does it come with? Does your content marketer (whose job it is primarily to write) or your graphic artist (whose job is to work on design, layout and production of materials for web or print) have extra time available to process the images for you? If not, what project are they taking themselves away from to manage, edit, post and deliver your images?
  2. How good are they? Notwithstanding high quality cameras on everyone’s phones, taking good, usable photos at an event requires more than just technology. Does your employee have the character, personality, vim and vigour necessary to get out there and mix it up with the attendees? Will he or she be willing to get up close for speakers and panellists, or group senior managers and executives for portraits? Interaction with guests and attendees is a critical part of getting lively, useful photos from events that will have consistent marketing value afterwards. Is your junior staffer up to the task?
  3. Do they want to do it? If they are asked to “grab some shots” while attending the event, is the request something that is viewed as an opportunity to do something fun (and show off their skills), or is it seen as yet another additional task added to their already large and growing to do list? If the latter they may not be inclined to do more than the minimum which could mean the difference between receiving 10 to 15 images (max) from an event vs 150-200 or more (depending on the length of the event) from which the person receiving the photos has to choose.

DIY photographers are a part of the industry and no professional ever got to where they are today without having started somewhere. If you have budding photographers on your team (and want to encourage their hobby which may result in them eventually leaving your employ) then there is no problem letting them loose at your next company event.

But if you are serving a specific market, and the images from your company events are part of what your clients uses to evaluate your business, think twice. All content produced today scores higher in engagement and ultimately is more effective when paired with strong visuals. Whether you sell access to events or simply want to present your company and its culture to prospective recruits, having a solid bank of quality photos to choose from for your next recruitment or ad campaign, trade show attendance, blog/Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn post, newsletter, etc will have an impact. Nothing kills a piece of good content like a dud photo or an ineffective image.

Don’t let short-sighted thinking limit your ability to deliver on what your company needs to achieve to ostensibly save a few bucks. In the end, it may wind up costing you a lot more than you anticipated.

 

 

Capturing employee engagement in photos

0E7A1414Most companies these days are looking for ways to keep their employees happy and engaged. Summertime is a good time for hosting company bbqs, or in the case of a recent event I covered, an internal company olympics (like this one recently hosted by Brother Canada and put on with the help of a local Montreal company Événements Caméléon).

Getting employees outdoors, providing them with ways to interact and have some fun with each other in the spirit of friendly competition is a great way to bring employees together.

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Conveniently, it also makes for a wide range of fun, lighthearted photos that can be pulled into future company blog posts about company culture, team work, collaboration – and reworked to use as stock images to support future posts on a company’s various social media channels.

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Photos that show real employees having a good time with each other at a company event help communicate to potential future employees about what to expect about a company’s culture and the people who work there.

0E7A1311In just a few hours of a busy company event you can wind up with a few hundred usable images to support various communications efforts throughout the year. If you’re looking for ideas on what to do for your next company party, give the in-house olympics a shot.

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How photographers benefit from the gig economy

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Say “CHEESE!”

The gig economy, alternatively known as the connected economy, the sharing economy, or the on-demand economy, is a growing and still not very well documented trend that is changing the way many different kinds of people work.  Characterized by short-term contracts, a high degree of autonomy and payment by task or assignment, working a gig is how many people today earn part or all of their income.

A recent report by the McKinsey & Company estimates up to 162 million working-age people in the EU and the USA are working in the gig economy, with as many as 33% (or 54 million) Americans working as a freelancer. In Canada, 2.7 million working age people are either self-employed, or running micro-enterprises (fewer than four employees). 

For professional photographers, who have been in the gig economy long before it ever had a name, this trend is hugely beneficial and they are poised to be big winners in a future where there will still be a lot of work, but a lot fewer permanent jobs.

In the gig economy there are three main categories of work, all of which benefit professional photographers (and videographers too).

  1. Freelancers – people who sell their labour or offer services either directly to clients, or via a digital platform like Upwork, or Uber, or Taskrabbit.
  2. People who sell goods (artists, artisans, up cyclers, makers, etc) directly through their own blogs or websites, or via a digital platform like Etsy or eBay.
  3. People who lease our assets (a couch, a spare room, a condo, a stock pot) mainly through digital platforms like AirBnB.

For all three main groups photographers are either major players (freelance photographers) or creating the gorgeous images necessary to enable people to sell their goods and services or lease out their condos to travellers.

Photography, as a craft, is also open to anyone with enough drive and passion to develop their talent and build up a portfolio of good work. It is a perfect second career for a retiree (people age 55-64) who doesn’t necessarily need to earn his or her primary income from the trade (which actually represents one of the largest slices of the gig economy workforce), and it is often a profitable sideline for people working other main jobs, or, in true gig economy fashion, living a portfolio lifestyle. (Also known as “slashers” as in, I am a photographer/writer/podcaster).

As with the rise of any hobbyist-turned-worker trade, their can be a negative knock off effect on professionals whose work is undercut by others willing to do the same work for less pay (think Uber drivers vs professional taxi drivers) but this kind of change is unavoidable and must be faced head on by the working professional.

While anyone in theory can take a photograph and call themselves a photographer – only the truly committed will invest the time – and money – needed to learned the craft inside and out, stay up to date with the latest software, equipment, trends and techniques all while doing the hard work of building up a client list and keeping them all happy.

Continue reading “How photographers benefit from the gig economy”

Marketing through Meetups – reach the niche

Marketing through Meetups – leveraging niche communities to broaden your reach

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Meetups were one of the pioneering groups when people still referred to the internet as the world wide web and there was no such thing as Facebook or iPhones. As an organizing principle they are beautifully simple and targeted: form a group around a common interest or passion, and literally meet up regularly in a local neighbourhood venue to share ideas, talk, network and form relationships.

ProductTank MTL runs a series of themed monthly Meetups in Montreal, featuring three speakers from local businesses sharing their ideas, strategies and insights working as product managers or founders in technology companies.

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The most recent event (it’s 14th edition!), held at Groove Nation in the Plateau, centred on EdTech and featured Roberto Cipriani, CTO of GradeSlam, Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co, and Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.

CK4A0056.jpgThe evenings are a nice mix of learning and networking with peers, and there are often job openings advertised, from the presenting companies and an open mic for anyone else in the audience looking for new talent. If I were looking for a new gig in tech, I’d be attending these and other Meetups like these regularly.

There are hundreds of Meetups in Montreal alone, whether you’re interested in Ecommerce, Learning, Food & Drink, or simply trying to meet other people if you are new to the city. There’s even one for Digital Nomads.

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Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.com

Meetups are a fantastic way to bring people together but their use could also be an easily accessible business development tool for instigators and marketers looking to grow their influence. Just a few groups that come to mind for which the benefits of a Meetup seem obvious are:

  • Brands / Companies looking to make connections within niche communities
  • Venue owners (bars, restaurants, spaces) that are underutilizes at night or looking to get known in their communities)
  • Professional associations looking for new members or to share knowledge and create networking and development opportunities for their members.

As an event photographer, I’m surprised by how few Meetup organizers are leveraging photography to bring more people to their events and broaden their reach and impact.

Through sponsorships from companies seeking connections with the people your Meetup group represents you can easily cover the cost of a few hours of photographic or video coverage for your event.

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Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co

Nothing sells an event better than professional looking photos of real people in real venues having a good time and interacting with each other. Conference planners and professional meeting organizers know this and always budget for coverage as it provides fresh new images to furnish blog posts, advertisements, website copy, and media and freelance journalist who come to the event, thus extending the group’s reach even further.

ProductTank MTL is a well organized chapter of an international group, with a very targeted niche for an in-demand professional skill set. It is an obvious opportunity for a sponsor looking to connect with that same pool of talent. For a few thousand dollars a year a sponsor could sponsor the photography portion of a Meetup for a year, providing a minimum of 12 regular posts on the group’s own Facebook and Meetup page, as well as access to images for the company’s own use.  It seems like a no-brainer from a marketing spend point of view.

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Roberto Cipriani, CTO at GradeSlam.org

If you are either a Meetup organizer, or in a company looking to make connections to talent and the communities your company operates in, spend an hour looking through all the available Meetup groups organized in your city – or start your own.

Where to put your photobooth at your event

Over the weekend I covered a large event at a beautiful historic location in Montreal (the Théatre St. James) which used to be an opulent and ornate old bank.

Théatre St. James in Montreal
Théatre St. James in Montreal

It is a spectacular place for an event – commodious main event space and a secondary space in the basement with access to the old bank vault, which can be converted into a lounge as was done at this event.

Inside the vault
Inside the vault

The engagement included both continuous event coverage and a photobooth from my company, lePartybooth.com. Photobooths never seem to get old and they add an easy and fun activity for guests of all ages at an event. They also provide branding opportunities for sponsors and the event organizers through the use of branded imagery, green screened images and take away, instant prints.

However, to get the full value of your photobooth, consider where in the event you ask for it to be set up. While set-ups vary between open air mobile studios and premium standalone kiosks, most photobooths require about 15 x 15 feet, and ideally even a bit more space for the props table and prints.

Not every event space has optimal locations for photobooths, but your provider should be able to counsel you on where would be ideal. From the client point of view you want the booth somewhere in plain site to the main event and easily accessible by your guests. If they have to go up or down a flight of stairs, or leave the party to go to a secondary room, your participation will drop off a cliff and you will not be getting the best value for your money.

Encourage your guests to share their photos on social media with your event #hashtag

If you are planning to include a photobooth at your next event, keep these simple tips in mind:

  • Include the photobooth somewhere in the main event space
  • Remind your guests a few times throughout the evening that the photobooth is available for their use and they don’t have to pay to use it (*unless you are using the booth as a fundraising tool)
  • Ask your provider if they can furnish you with a few images from the booth to show on the main screen during the event
  • Encourage your guests to share their photobooth images online via the sharing functions built-in to the booth using your event hashtag

And a bonus idea:

If you really want to leverage the photobooth, consider running an in-event contest, offering a prize (voted on by applause or some other crowd-engagement measurement) for the wackiest or most outrageous photobooth pose of the evening.

Photobooths are always popular and including one in your event budget creates another sponsorship vehicle or place to extend the reach of your marketing. Having decided to spend the money, make sure you get the best use from it by making it a prominent and well-situated element in the layout of your floor plan for the event.

How to be a better presenter (and look better doing it)

0E7A2014.jpgI recently covered a seminar for medical professionals in an charming Old Montreal hotel. The conference brought together experienced practitioners and researchers with their younger associates for an exchange of ideas and learning but one particularly interesting segment to me was about how to present which inspired me to put together my own thoughts and observations on the subject, culled from my many years experience observing presenters in all kinds of different fora, from meet ups at bars, to large international congresses, shared below:

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  • You are the presenter, not your slides: if your slides are full of lots of text and your presentation comprises you staring down at your laptop reading out the points with very occasional asides or additional points, than your presentation will put people to sleep. Your objective in giving a presentation is to actually engage your audience, hold their attention, and have them learn something. To do that you need to be the one delivering the message, not your screen which is there to back you up and provide impact but not be a replacement for you.
  • When presenting, never stand in front of the projector: while this seems obvious, it still happens with some frequency, particularly in these smaller, single-room set-ups.  Although I sometimes enjoy the almost performance-art type images that can occur serendipitously, the intended audience may be more interested in actually being able to see the content of your screen. (I think it would be interesting if a presenter could wear some kind of device that would trigger a silent alarm if the presenter unwittingly stands in front of the projector, but I digress.)
  • Use simple, readable fonts: arial and calibri, though a little boring, are easy to see and read, which is important if you are actually using your slides to present information as would be the case for most researchers, scientists or medical professionals who get asked to present at a conference.
  • Don’t over-animate: excessive use (almost any use IMHO) of animations are distracting, and almost always look like you just discovered them and thought they were really cool. Restrain yourself and limit the use of them, if you must use them at all.
  • Mind your body language: In theatre it’s called “blocking” and it means you’re showing your back to the audience. You don’t ever want to do that, so pay attention to where the audience is and position yourself on the stage (or in the room) where you are not blocking anyone’s view of your screen nor showing anyone your back. And when you speak and need to refer to the screen, use the arm closest to the screen, regardless of whether you are right or left-handed. Stand straight, pay attention to your posture. If you happen to be presenting in a group and you are waiting for your turn, don’t forget that you are in front of the audience and on-stage. Try not to look excessively bored, or tuned out.
  • Be careful with using videos: videos can be great entertainment but I’ve seen them used too often as a supplement to giving a thoughtful discourse. They are also impossible to connect with so they end up bringing your audience’s attention away from you and into the screen where they get lost for the duration of your video. Ask yourself how the video is making your point better than you could without it. And if it’s really an integral part of your message, limit the use and maintain your presence and commentary so that you still “own” the room when the video ends.
  • Be yourself: it’s wonderful when a presenter has natural charisma, makes people smile and laugh through their sheer presence and can keep the audience chuckling with well-placed witticisms and seemingly off-the-cuff jokes. But that’s not everybody. That’s not even most people. Rather than try to be overly entertaining or extroverted if it is not in your nature, just be yourself.
  • Know your stuff: double down on learning your material and be so comfortable with it that you’re able to talk naturally to your audience without relying heavily on notes. Practice in front of a mirror, record yourself and improve on what you notice doesn’t work when you see yourself.
  • Speak calmly, clearly and be conscious of “filler” sounds: um, if you are, um, trying to make, uh, the, uh point, about the uh, graph over on the uh, left, uh, side of the screen, um there…You get the picture. Record yourself, practice and listen to your speech patterns. If you are prone to sounding like that, then rehearse more until you’re not.
  • Be on time: I’ve never seen a conference planner who wanted their speakers to go overtime. If you’ve been given a 20-minute slot, make sure you end on 20 minutes and no more. And if you get a 2-minute warning, but have 10 minutes left of material, don’t rush. Pick the key point and finish there. No one wants to see you fly through 20 slides in two minutes and no one will retain anything from it.
  • Use eye contact: look up from your notes/the screen often and for more than a flickering second. Look at the whole room, not just the few front rows that you can actually see well.
  • If there is a podium, don’t grip it and hold on for dear life: podiums are terrible for photographers. They crop your body in half and if you are not tall, they leave just a bit of space to capture a good shot of you. They also distance you from your audience. If you are at a podium feel free to stand beside it, or to step away from it now and then to break up the monotony of the lectern and to give your audience – and grateful photographer – a few opportunities to see more of you than what shows up behind the microphone.
  • Use hand gestures, but don’t gesticulate wildly: hand gestures add dynamism and can create some great mid-action shots. Just don’t over do it, especially if you are using gestures that don’t come naturally to you.
  • Laser pointers: Ugh…(1995 called and wants its laser pointer back…) If you must use them, be sparing. You don’t want your audience to feel like you’re playing that game with your cat where you make it jump around all over the place chasing after that dot of light because it’s just so funny.

  • Be flexible: technical issues arise far more often than you’d think warranted given how little audo-visual presentation technology has changed in the past 10 years. We’ve got devices in our pockets that can let us video chat with someone around the world, but getting a microphone to work in a small room can still be a challenge. Prepare a Plan B, just in case the slides don’t show, or the sound fails. Being familiar with your material means being able to talk it through even if you have to abandon your slides altogether.
  • Smile: smile often, and naturally. Particularly if there is a photographer in the room. When you pause, smile. It only takes a second for a pro to get that great shot of you. And your audience will instantly feel more connected to you.
  • Stick around after the gig: if you’ve been invited to a conference to speak, if possible, don’t just jet in, do your thing, and whisk your rolly bag offstage to your waiting UBER to the airport. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but if you’ve got a bit of time, it’s courteous to your hosts and beneficial to your audience members to make yourself accessible after your presentation to meet with people one-on-one and be available to answer their questions.
  • Taking questions: keep the conversation moving, repeat the question of the questioner (if there is no audience microphone) so that everyone understands and hears it. If you don’t know the answer, say so. There’s nothing wrong with saying you will find out and have them connect with you after ward so you can let them know. Don’t skate around the topic and try to fake an answer. And if you’ve got a bully in the room who’s trying to throw you off or asking deliberately obtuse or aggressive questions, take back control and simply say (with a smile) that rather than waste the audience’s time with too much inside baseball you’d be happy to meet and discuss this after your talk.

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It looks like a lot to think about, but the best advice is to remember that you are there to deliver a message. Keep the message simple, stay on point, and remember that communication is not just about the language you use, but how you use it, your tone of voice, and how you make your audience feel. Engage with them, connect with them and be approachable and friendly. Know your material and practice.

And don’t forget to smile a lot and often. Your audience, and photographer, will thank you for it.

Last-minute portraits?

Here’s a fact that surprises people all the time when I tell it to them: more the 50% of the corporate headshots I take are last-minute rush jobs.

How is it possible, they ask, that someone could ever urgently need a photograph, let alone a headshot? Believe me, I used to wonder the same thing, until I started paying attention to the triggers. People use the same professional headshot for several years. Just do a quick scan through your contacts on LinkedIn and see how many have updated their photos in the past year. People kind of forget about their profile pics after a while, until a need arises for a new one.

Here are some of the reasons why all of a sudden, a headshot is needed, like NOW! All of the examples below are taken from real contracts I’ve had.

  • “Looking for new challenges”: People don’t change their headshots unless there is a change in their employment status. When that happens, there may be a lead up to the decision if the change is self-driven, but there are many reasons why a person’s employment status can change beyond their control. This unexpected change often triggers a need for a new look.
  • “You’re published!”: People get articles published on schedules they don’t control, and get asked to submit a bio picture along with their submission.
  • “You won!” : People win industry awards and accolades, or are selected for internal company awards they weren’t expecting and they need a picture to accompany the announcement.
  • “You’re being promoted!”: Good things happen to hard working people. They get promotions and despite company’s best efforts, HR doesn’t always keep internal comms informed of the latest personnel changes, nor provide a lot lead time before the announcement has to go out, particularly in public companies where the change in senior level appointments is material information that must be made public.
  • “You’re invited to speak at our upcoming…”: People get asked at the last minute to speak at an event, a gala dinner, or a conference they hadn’t planned on going to. Suddenly they are facing a roomful of their peers and colleagues with a 10-year old bio picture that looks like it was cut out of their high school year book. Awkward.

As with all rush-jobs, there are usually fees associated that raise the price of the product or service being purchased. As well, the last-minute pressure also usually indicates a lack of preparation and limits the number of other people in the office or on site who may also be in need of a new headshot but just aren’t given enough notice to get there for the appointed day because they are out of the office, in a client meeting or just having a bad hair day. All of these factors increase the cost to the buyer.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…

Forward-thinking planners, event and conference organizers can score big savings by taking advantage of organizing an onsite headshot session when they are assembling people who may only get together once or twice a year. Annual meetings, board meetings, seminars, training sessions, workshops and conferences are just a few places where people are brought together. This allows the organizer to save on per/head costs as the set up fee for an onsite portrait session can be spread out over a number of individuals rather than just the one.

To those paying for the service, there may be the perception that bringing in a photographer to conduct a portrait session is just an unnecessary extra expense tacked on the event, but if viewed from a slightly longer-term perspective, the savings can be significant to the organization.

  • Per head costs / portraits can be reduced by 50% or more
  • Leverage the investment already made in bringing important people together (food, hotel, travel)
  • Raise staff morale – everyone loves having a little extra attention paid to them, and a professional headshot is a nice perk that saves your staff money. Happy workers are more productive ones.

Leaving anything to the last-minute creates more stress, cost and hassle. It’s great for my business, but do yours a favour and plan ahead. You will need a new headshot someday. Don’t wait till that day happens to be tomorrow.