When 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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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…)
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
What’s really happening at influencer marketing events
I was recently hired to cover a blogger / influencer meet up in the fashion and beauty market. More and more often I find myself working these kinds of try-vertising, experiential marketing influencer party gigs where a brand (or their ad or public relations firm) sets up some kind of lively cocktail or after work drinks / dinner event for a curated list of local bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers who have a large enough following in both the target city and target audience for the product to hopefully generate some online love.
Influencer marketing 101
Consumer products by and large dominate these kinds of influencer marketing events. I’ve covered lots of events for credit card companies targeting lifestyle & foodie bloggers; various alcoholic beverages; health and wellness; and fashion and beauty. With the immediacy and simplicity of images, Instagram and bloggers still tend to dominate the invitation list.
These categories all tend to have influencers who skew younger (under 30), the vast majority of whom are good looking women showcasing products either by wearing them, applying them or illustrating their use in simple how-to tutorial videos.
Often, but not always, the events are scheduled on or around bigger event weekends in Montreal, like Osheaga (in this case) or Grand Prix. The idea being that the posts, Instagram photos/stories and Snapchats bubble up into streams coalescing with the main event theme, garnering greater lift and impact on a wider audience for an instant in time, in these ephemeral social media. The invitees tend to have followings between 5000-10,000+ and are what would be qualified as micro influencers, or niche players, in line with the nature of these targeted, localized events.
In addition to events, brands increasingly crowdsource images through aggregator sites like Flashstock or Social Native, offering usually no more than $50/post for imagery that either shows the brand in some creative context, or captures a feeling, vibe or look a brand is going for with posts marked up with the designated tags and keywords provided by the brand.
As marketers, the challenge is to leverage these influencers and induce them to effectively tout their brands and products, either in exchange for paid sponsorship deals (rare unless you have a large and engaged following of 100k or more), or simply for a chance to meet other bloggers and influencers, quaff some free booze and sushi and get their ego stroke for being considered important and influential enough to be chosen and invited to one of these events.
A look behind the curtain…
As a documenter of these events, I’m paid to provide the behind-the-scenes look at what’s happening. Increasingly (and somewhat depressingly) my shot list includes taking pictures of people taking pictures of food, products, each other or themselves. My photos are also pumped into the hashtag cloud as I send out batches to my clients mid-way through events, and often to attendees who turn them around in no time and put them out on their streams.
A typical scene in one if these events would be a brief and lively staged moment – posing in front of a banner, for example, or using / applying the product in some way, which will be fully documented by everyone else in the room with their phones and me with my somewhat larger and bulkier pro-gear. These “insta-moments” are then immediately followed by everyone tucking their heads down, staring into their phones, tapping madly away.The entire event is punctuated by these “real life” interactions, followed by immediate dissection, dissemination and distribution through the myriad personal channels of the influencers in the room. It gets even more exciting as they post and repost each other’s work, with the brand itself kicking in and reposting each other’s work. For anyone watching what’s happening online it looks like a wild and crazy party with good looking (mostly women) having the time of their lives. From inside those rooms, however, it’s usually just a lot of stage-managed scenes, photo set ups and heads down staring at phones.
Despite the obvious artificiality of most of the content published as a result of these events, no body seems to mind at all. It seems that most influencers are ready and willing to use a brand’s designated hashtags and effectively create mini-ads for brands and marketers in exchange for what I can only assume is the hope that the brand will in turn push out their posts and create a kind of mutually reinforcing network. The followers of these influencers presumably don’t know or don’t care that the posts are being generated to effectively feed pseudo ads into their feeds bypassing their ad-blockers, and the content tsunami continues.
Does it pay off for Influencers?
Having a rather dismal following on my own Instagram account (@ursomebody) I asked a few invitees to a recent event for a colourful hair chalk aptly named ColorPop, about their experiences on Instagram.
Instagrammer and Spanish and art teacher, Carolina Castillo (@carolina.arts), creates collagist images on Instagram setting herself (often her feet!) up against colourful backdrops – usually painted walls and murals. The effect is often cleverly artistic and sumptuously colourful.
“I started with a blog in Spanish called: Arteando con Carolina, www.arteandoconcarolina.com , then a latin website, Hispano Montreal, contacted me to repost my articles. Since then I have been writing and taking photos around the city. Instagram and Facebook came later and I love postingthough these media channels.”
Colourful images are part of my identity. You will always find an explosion of colours in my feed. My obsession is walls. I hunt all the walls and murals possible. I also notice that people respond more actively when I am in my photos than when I post an image without me.”
Another Instagrammer, Jacqui Pogue, a makeup artist (@jacquibeauty) leverages Instagram stories (which is a blatant grab at Snapchat’s user base) to reach her audience, sharing snippets of her day at work and play, thematically linked to makeup and beauty. She also populates her account with images of herself at events, interspersed with beauty shots of her in vacation like settings.
Both Carolina and Jacqui said that Instagram helps them find clients, or rather, that clients find them through Instagram and then connect directly with them or access their blogs via the links in their profiles.
While it may not be possible (for most) to earn a full time living being – or trying to become – an influencer, it is certainly a good way to explore and develop one’s passion in a public-facing way that can tie you into communities of like-minded people, and bring you into contact with companies and brands producing products that you and your growing cohort of followers might like. And if you get big and influential enough, you at least get invited to a lot of parties, get wined and dine, and usually go home with a bag full of swag.
Think small, think local but dream big
It is especially hard for smaller brands and upstart creators to get their products and stories told to a wide enough audience to make an impact.Leveraging local influencers that you find online by some simple Googling, and conducting Instagram searches around relevant keywords and hashtags to your business can be a way for smaller brands or start ups (or big companies launching new smaller brands) to find and reach an audience somewhat organically. A few hours in a rented room on Breather, a handful of influencers, some sushi and a few bottles of bubbly (+ a professional photographer of course=) are all it takes to get something started.
Waking up before the sun rises is usually worth a photographer’s effort because of the special quality of morning light. If you’re not an early riser naturally (which I am not) it can also be painful, but I have Maud Urbas, founder of Wellness à la Maud, to thank for getting me to Mount Royal early one morning last week to help get her image library started for the new freelance business she is launching. Maud is a Kripalu Yoga Teacher (RYT) with a background in Psychology and Communications, passionate about health and wellness and her goal is “to empower people to reach their full potential through yoga, meditation, nutrition, and creative expression”. Sounds pretty worthwhile to me and we both agreed that a sunrise shoot on Mt. Royal would be a perfect way to showcase her style and provide us with some useful images to populate her website and social media channels (must haves for any freelancer launching any kind business today).
When we got there we were surprised to find the lookout was actually rather busy. I had expected us to have the place to ourselves but not only were there a few healthy looking couples and other photographers out there before us, eagerly awaiting the sun to burn off the early morning mists, but also a few groups of teenagers who looked like they’d spent the night there partying.
Happily, aside from a few photobombs, we found a space to shoot Maud demonstrating various poses with natural backdrops of Montreal and the sun slowly emerging through the early morning fog.
We then took a little walk around, up and down some stairs, encountering more people up for morning runs and another photographer, who smiled and told us that the light was really beautiful just a little further along the trail we were walking on. And he was right of course.
We were after natural looking settings to where Maud could demonstrate simple poses that communicate Maud’s belief that yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, experience, and mobility.
Here are a few more shots from our morning session. If you’re interested in trying out yoga with Maud, you can reach her on Instagram @wellnessalamaud, Facebook, or by email directly.
Marketing through Meetups – leveraging niche communities to broaden your reach
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Is it necessary to hire a photographer to cover your event? When virtually all staff and every attendee is equipped with image capturing devices, social media accounts and motivation to share the experience, in real time, what value lies in hiring a pro who will charge you for coverage that you will already be getting for free from multiple sources?
No, of course it isn’t necessary. If you want to rely on crowd-sourced images and dimly lit, shakily held videos, random tweets and multiple viewpoints for the narrative surrounding your event, then it’s probably not even advisable.
But I’ve encountered few professional organizations – companies, brands, conference organizers and event managers – who are so laissez-faire with their brand image and marketing of their events.Most professional teams choose to work with professional suppliers simply because it is more efficient, more effective and more controllable than any other option.
Everyone enjoys taking pictures at professional events. They do it to show that they are there, to participate in the dialogue and share learning and information gleaned from sessions they attend that appeal to them and their distinct personal and professional networks. They do it for fun. But one thing they don’t do it for is the company putting on the event. While some of the content they generate may well wind up being retweeted or shared across the organizing company’s social channels, it can only ever be the result of good luck and good timing. Unsurprisingly, most of the professional organizers I’ve worked with are reluctant to stake their reputations on good luck and timing.
Professional event coverage is a skilled trade. It requires attention not just to the visual elements transpiring in real time – what slide is shown on stage, the type and quality of the lighting, the instantaneous emotional responses of audience members, etc – but also the content and theme of the event, and the brand of the organizer itself. And the coverage includes everyone and everything. It doesn’t just focus on the big highlight moments or the fun times people have around the bar or at networking cocktails (though that is included). It is comprehensive, including every speaker, every session, and most if not all attendees in some context or another.
Additionally, the coverage is being captured and recorded with professional grade equipment designed to be adaptable to changing light conditions, and multiple scenarios that even the best of phone cameras can’t handle. It’s not too challenging to take a beautiful photograph outdoors in bright natural light in a beautifully laid out setting. It’s not quite as carefree when the subject is a wan looking speaker with thinning hair in a beige-walled, dimly lit conference room who rarely looks at the audience. But he’s part of the event and needs to be included, and not just included, but has to look good too.
As a line item in an overall event budget, photography is going to come in under video and frankly, have much wider applications than videography. While everyone loves video and video marketing continues to rise in influence and reach, the uses of video are still rather limited. You may put a highlights reel from an event on your site advertising similar upcoming events, but once it’s been viewed once (and it’s highly unlikely anyone will watch it through to the end no matter how short it is given that humans now seem to exhibit attention spans shorter than a goldfish), it probably won’t be rewatched, while photos have multiple applications. They can be used throughout a website, in headers, as templates for advertising, as content in blog posts and as a virtually inexhaustible supply of pictures for social media feeds. They can also be printed, used as profile pictures, put into sales decks, emailed out as gallery links to sponsors and generally be shared more easily and widely because they are lighter and require even less of an attention span than a 30 second video.
Having an event covered by a professional matters to other professionals. It translates into higher quality, more reliable, deliberate and usable content that can be leveraged by good marketers to build and maintain momentum for companies whose business models rely on hosting regular, well-attended events. If that’s not you nor aligned with your goals, than no, you don’t need a professional to cover your event. Just task a junior staffer to do it on their phone and hope for the best. You’ll for sure get some fun pictures, and maybe even a tweet or two.
If you’ve managed to not see a #mannequinchallenge yet, you are either one of those people who actively shun social media and modern technology in general, or you’ve just been rescued from a few months at sea in which case, welcome back.
Just to bring you up to speed, a #mannequinchallenge is a video wherein everyone involved remains perfectly still, preferably in an active or dynamic pose, while the videographer wanders through, all done to Rae Sremmond’s now ubiquitous song “Black Beatles” (and if that pairing wasn’t a deliberate act of marketing genius Rae is a very lucky man).
It is the modern day version of the tableau vivant(which means literally, living pictures and was a genre that peaked in popularity between 1830 and 1920. It brought together stage art and theatrical presentations with more static visual art forms like painting and later photography. Though they were popular in the Victorian age appearing as part of Nativity plays, they later took on more risqué nude and semi-nude poses plastiques, enthusiastically explored in the early 19th century in the Ziegfield Follies revues.
Now we have the #mannequinchallenge which combines the living tableau with cell phones and suddenly we’re seeing them popping up everywhere, from marketing conferences like the one I captured at iMedia’s Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona (above) recently, to more exotic locations like the FARC’s #mannequinchallenge reported here.
Like the photobooth craze that swept through events and quickly became a staple at any large gathering of people from parties and weddings, to trade show booths and conference receptions, the mannequin challenge is at the convergence of trends that brings a whole new way of merging photography, videography, selfies and a passion for social sharing into events.
There are lots of ways brands and corporations can work this trend into their events and promos to help further their marketing goals, or just give their employees something to have fun with and share.
It doesn’t require much in the way of tech. You can get it done on a phone (and as a professional photographer I hate saying that). The biggest challenge you’ll face is keeping everyone still. A practice run wouldn’t hurt and reminding people to not move their eyes or drop their arms is a good idea. It also helps to close off the room and not let anyone in once it’s begun if you are doing this in a large conference ballroom or office space.
It’s sooner than you think….no, I’m not talking about Armageddon/the US Presidential Election. I’m talking about the big end of the year holiday party, which happens as early as mid-November for some companies and into the early new year for others.
The venue rental is done, photobooth and event photographer booked, the menu planned, the two-drink-tickets-bar sorted out and the party is set.
Having covered countless of these kinds of events, I have some advice for the party planners to help them get the most from their event. While the idea behind the holiday office party is to give your employees a break and reward them for the hard work they do on behalf of your company throughout the year, it is also an opportunity for creating some useful photographic and video content for your social media throughout the year.
Here are a few ideas to leverage the event that may help generate reusable content for your content marketing needs:
One client of mine stages an annual video-contest in which different departments compete for the year’s funniest video. Curate and then share video snippets to your company Linkedin page to convey a sense of your company culture to prospective employees.
Write a blog post about your company winners and promote across your social media shining a light on their accomplishments and giving your employees some deserved praise they can retweet and repost to their personal networks.
Thank your event suppliers (the event company, caterer, dj, photographer, etc.)on your social media platforms using their handles and company names; they will eagerly re-share the acknowledgement garnering more traffic for your site.
Use the event to announce the grand total of any fundraising you’ve done throughout the year and invite the charity to send a representative to accept a big cheque or make a small speech — and share the news.
While you don’t want to crowd the agenda with too many (or too long) speeches, a few thoughtful words from the president or CEO is usually appreciated: preload a few of the best quotes into your company’s Twitter feed and schedule them for timed release throughout the event.
While the annual office party is traditionally a time for employees to mingle with management and socialize with each other, in our digital age where no good Instagrammable moment goes unpublished, it is also another opportunity to create content. Your in-house marketing and comms team will thank you for it, and you get to start out the new year with some useful content ready to go.
I was recently at a conference focussed on how big brands are using digital marketing to help grow and engage their target markets, and unsurprisingly, photography plays a huge role in helping marketers achieve their goals.
One of the presenters threw up a slide showing a wall of beautiful, on-brand photographs, each one like a unique page in a big story book. The images ran off the huge screen behind the presenter and you don’t need a degree in marketing to see the immediate value these kinds of high-quality images have for a variety of digital campaigns.
The presenter explained how they had gone about creating such an impressive bank of images to help them fill the huge need for continual and creative content that is the new normal in advertising today.
Did they send out a detailed list of requirements to their agency? Did they pore through hundreds of thousands of images on stock photography sites searching for ones that had just the right look and feel? Did they (shudder) run a crowdsourcing campaign directed at photo enthusiasts and amateurs, relying on their user-generated content (UGC) to give them what they needed?
Nope. They did something far simpler, and far more effective (both in terms of time and significantly, cost). They hired a professional, whom they gave a creative brief to, then let loose.
What they needed were a lot of images, rights-free, fast that they could use to fill the image needs of their planned campaigns. The company sells healthy quick meals under one brand in its portfolio of brands. Their analytics on previous campaigns had shown a strong reaction to fresh, authentic photography, so they hired a photographer to do a shoot for them. Importantly, while the creative brief specified the key brand characteristics and personality that the photographs needed to convey, their was no detailed shot list included. Instead, the brand astutely relied on the creativity and artistry of the photographer to come up with the kinds of images they needed.
The result? They got 4000 images, shot over a 3-day span, and delivered with no strings attached. The cost per image was less than half they would have paid had they gone a more traditional route hiring through an agency, or by trying to develop a complicated set of requirements to coordinate and set up a big photoshoot.
This type of contract is trending in popularity and I think it is to the mutual advantage of photographers and their client brands. I’ve always been a proponent of bringing the photographer in on the development of creative, as opposed to having the hired hand execute on someone else’s vision. While it is unquestionably the role of a creative director to make decisions about how a brand message is articulated, creative workers do their best work when they are allowed to engage their creativity independently. It seems obvious that if you are hiring a creative person for their creativity you allow that person to actually use and engage their creativity. Yet surprisingly, there are still many contractual arrangements that view photography as a commodity and consequently diminish the role of the creative photographer.
Not all products or brands lend themselves as readily to this more creative approach to generating images, but I suspect many more could than do, and an increasing number of them will into the future.
The driver is, as ever, simply that this is what the market wants and expects. People are increasingly sensitive to what they perceive as advertising. Ads, in and of themselves, are often viewed negatively and most people would not admit to liking and ad or taking action based on an ad they saw if you asked them – regardless of whether the data says otherwise.
Photography that looks too much like it is controlled by a brand has less of an impact than a more natural, authentic image. This is one of the reason why UGC campaigns are popular and there are growing numbers of UGC platforms developing that allow brands to tap into this pool of content providers.
There is a risk/reward tradeoff of working with UGC vs. professionally generated content that brands need to consider. While crowdsourcing has the allure of being a much cheaper alternative than hiring someone professionally, by definition the quality will vary and the results may not all fit the needs of the campaign. There is a place for both kinds of content sourcing strategies, but in the case of getting high-quality, brand-aware images that meet an immediate need, nothing beats working directly with a professional photographer.
Consumers see hundreds of photographs daily streaming across multiple social platforms, sent in messaging apps between friends, and on the websites they visit.They are sophisticated viewers and most can tell within milliseconds if an image looks real, or if it has been faked somehow. Authenticity and wholesomeness don’t just apply to ingredients ona Chipotle menu, they are what people are searching for.In an age characterized by easy connectivity – making a real connection matters more than ever.
Photographs crafted and designed by real photographers who take their work seriously – professionals in other words – can help brands achieve this. And they can do it on brand, on time, and on budget.
I’ve been covering events – from multi-day, multi-site, city-wide conferences to intimate gatherings – for close to fifteen years and much (everything) has changed since I began.
(Not in the mood for Long Form content? Skip to the checklist here)
Consider: my career predates the iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat to name some of the widest reaching platforms of the modern age that helped usher us all into the socially connected economy. When I was landing my first gigs as a wedding photographer and later a corporate event photographer, digital cameras were still in their early days and Photoshop was in its first iteration.
Fast forward to today: camera technology is ubiquitous and embedded in the daily lives of virtually everyone in some way or form on the planet. We have become blasé about being able to see satellite imagery of anywhere in the world. Seeing – in real time – what someone else is experiencing on the other side of the planet via simple hand held devices hardly registers anymore despite it being really quite amazing.Surveillance technology is pervasive – but not only are we being watched from the skies, on highways as we drive, throughout the corridors of our commutes and inside most venues we frequent, we too are bearing our own – technologically enhanced – witness, recording daily moments, protests in the streets, encounters with each other, and the beauty of the natural world ad infinitum.
What was once novel is now commonplace. We have time-lapse cameras, all manner of image-enhancing filters, virtual reality and flying cameras mounted on drones capable of tracking moving targets. We have lenses that can photograph the surfaces of distant moons and others the finely filamented wings of bees and butterflies. We can see in the dark. We can see through clothes. We can see, virtually anywhere or anything we wish to with no more effort than it takes to swipe your finger across a screen.
With this Cambrian explosion of technology you would expect professional photography to be a dying trade, going the way of blacksmithing and door-to-door Encyclopedia Britannica sales.
But the opposite has occurred, driven – paradoxically – by the same trends that have put a camera into the hands of most of humanity in the developed (and developing) world.
Content, content everywhere but nary a word to read….
One of the main drivers, I’ve seen from my front row seat on the industry, is the massive and constant need for ever replenishing content created by the sharing economy. As human behaviour itself is being altered by the omnipresent integration of the internet in daily life, we’re not just heading into the oft touted Internet of Things (IoT) but really the Internet of Everything. And every search, click, swipe, haptic touch, blink or thought wave generated by a firing neurone, is seeking out a piece of content that is enriched with photos and videos, often to the exclusion of much, if any written text.
We’re spending hours daily looking at pictures, and videos, and animated GIFs, etc, and companies are paying attention. The smart money knows that more, really is more, and feeding the plethora of content distribution platforms everyday people just call Facebook or Instagram, or Snapchat…is where the real money is made. Not, of course, by crassly monetizing the stuffing in the pipe (“I never click on a Facebook ad!”), but rather through the magnetic ability of quality content to draw customers to whatever it is you are trying to sell, when done right. That is, professionally done with enough skill, amplification and repetitive force to ensure it gets seen by as many of the right people as possible.
From mega brands spending billions a year on advertising to micro-brands of one, selling through content is one of the main ways of discovering, reaching, connecting with and engaging new customers. That content feed drip continuously through the funnels of social media platforms we’ve barnacled our minds to, relies on an equally steady stream of mainly imagery that needs to be produced on a continuous basis.
UGC ya later
And while much of it is, and will be, user generated content (UGC), that alone just isn’t enough. Just because everyone in the world holds in their hands tools for taking high quality photos and videos, doesn’t mean they will use them. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it as consistently, and with the same (er) focus, as professional content creators (writers, photographers, videographers) contracted by businesses with a clear intent to generate specific types of images that create a sense of excitement and elicit interest from new (and existing but no longer loyal) customers they need to attract every day to stay profitable.
Events like conferences, or major sporting events, aren’t sold by sharing the selfies and beauty shots taken by past attendees. They’re sold by professionals capturing and curating content that is purposely published and distributed to targeted individuals and communities that matter to those people organizing the event.
While owning the latest fashionable pair of sneakers and wearing jeans ripped just so is still a way of marking oneself as “in”, there are now legions of younger people who prioritize having experiences over owning more stuff (and not just because many of them are priced out of the market). The new rule is that anything that can be shared, will be shared. Transportation is particularly susceptible to this as shown through the rapid growth and expansive reach of ride sharing companies like UBER and Lyft, but everything today that has a hope of getting taken up by a large group of people has sharing embedded in its design.
Product libraries are cropping up where people can share things like lawnmowers and stock pots, and successful brands are paying attention. How do you keep making a profit if you are selling fewer things? You sell something that can’t be held onto….except in memory. You sell experiences. And how do people share experiences? In their story streams, with photos, captions, videos, silly animated filters and really good thumb work on messaging apps.
And this is exactly what is happening. Brands like puravida bracelets aren’t just selling pretty little handmade bracelets that remind you ofyour beach vacation. They are selling you the feeling of your life as a beach vacation. They are selling a lifestyle. They are selling you access to a story of entrepreneurship, of helping local communities, of sunsets on the beach, surfing and living in a timeless way that cares only about the moment. And they are doing it largely through social media and largely with well-curated photography and videography.
While having the experience is core to the success of experiential marketing – selling the experience, enticing people to partake and encouraging the spread of participation is still being done through marketing that shows off the experience in its best light. (I’ve written more on experience marketinghere and here and here.
Plus ça change…
Without an audience, conference attendees or a hand-picked curated list of bloggers you hope to influence so they spread the word about your company, event photography can’t exist. Engaging these people, making the experience they’ve chosen to participate in fun and memorable, is the core function of the event organizer. Part of doing that right is working with the right photographer who recognizes that event photography has changed, even as it has grown in importance.
To help you get the job done, I’ve put together below a short checklist for event coordinators and managers, experiential marketers and conference organizers on some of the new tools and techniques to look for when booking your next event photographer:
Checklist for the new event photographer:
Min. two up-to-date cameras and min. 3 lenses (wide angle, short-mid range, telephoto)
Ability to shoot in 360 (virtual reality ready photo and video)
Ability to shoot from drone (photo and/or video clips)
Rapid turnaround on event images (highlights reel post-event, finished product within 24 hrs)
Demonstrable ability to engage and interact with wide range of people
Active blog / good writing ability
Brand awareness / understanding of the marketing goals behind the event
Can do, team-player attitude
Creative, visual storytelling skills
If the goal is reach and engagement, cutting through the noise of a world buzzing with distractions has made the work of marketers more challenging than ever even as the tantalizing opportunity for engagement and hyper-targeted messaging has never been better. In the panoply of digital tools marketers leverage today to create real and meaningful connections with their communities, strong, fresh and professional developed visual assets are crucial in forming real and lasting connections with the people that matter most to your business.
Using profiles to sort through people is a bit of a dirty word in policing but online we’d all be lost without one. We’re now “seen” hundreds if not thousands more times by people (and bots, and spammers, and other internet undesirables) online than we ever are in real life – but are we paying a proportionate amount of attention to how we -or our avatars– are being perceived?
You probably wouldn’t leave the house without at least a cursory glance in the mirror to check your hair, scan your complexion and make sure you had nothing large and green stuck in your teeth but how long have you had that cropped vacation pic up as a placeholder on LinkedIn that you’ve been meaning to change but just haven’t got anything better to replace it with?
Here’s something fun you can try out. I discovered PhotoFeeler while listening to a great podcast from Terry O’Reilly’s The Art of Persuasion . The site lets you upload a photo of yourself and have it ranked across three metrics (that change depending on whether your purpose is business, social or dating). The “free” test actually requires 10 credits which you can get easily enough by voting on ten other photos of random people the site serves up to you. The results, as this excerpt from an email I got today show, can be quite revealing, showing marked differences in opinions on the same person from photos taken seconds apart:
Here are my results (for the first two I selected “Business” and the last one “Social”):
This is my current LinkedIn photo (soon to be old LinkedIn photo as you can see from the results):
Not what I expected, but then maybe I should have sprung for the $12 evaluation which gathers more than 10 quick hit votes. Or maybe I need to change my photo. I do think that with half my face hidden behind the camera I may be turning off people as it’s hard to trust someone if you can’t see their eyes and a smile.
Now here are the results from my last LinkedIn photo that I just changed away from (but looks like I’ll be switching it back in!):
My personal Facebook photo did alright, though I care a little less about this one. I think the hat is pushing up my grade in the Fun category.
All in, though this was only the free version and a rough vote, I think it probably correlates well to how these images are perceived. A handy tool for anyone on the job/dating market looking to get a bit of insight in what their profile picture says about them. I’d like to see, in addition to these raw results, a few guidelines on how to improve the photos selected and more detail on what elements people are reacting to in particular, but perhaps that comes with more votes/the paid version. In any case, a fun way to get a look in the mirror through someone else’s eyes.
Companies spend a lot of time and money building and developing a recognizable brand. The purpose of a brand is to simplify and render the complex intelligible. With enough repetition, consistency and reliability, a brand can become established in its target customer’s mind as the “go-to” solution to whatever problem the brand solves. Your customers don’t get tangled up in choosing between competitive offerings – they just reach for you and move on. In brand marketing that’s the equivalent of having the goose that lays the golden egg. Again, and again, and again.You just cash the cheques.
How come some brands get to be in that elite club of “go-to” solutions that render their customers blind adherents to the faith, while others struggle through churn and burn, constantly waging the same battle for heart-, mind- and wallet-share that never seems strong enough to convert tire-kickers into proselytes? So, how do you get that kind of brand loyalty (fanaticism)?
It begins, of course, with having a great product/service that is genuinely of high quality, but that in itself isn’t good enough. It also has to be a smooth and consistent experience for your customers. Although I’ve never owned the Canon’s 85mm L-series lens, I already own a few others with that signature red line and therefore know what to expect. I know that I’ll have one of the best in class lenses when I finally get one, because the brand has consistently delivered a quality product for each and every other of its lenses branded as “L-series”.I trust that simple red ring and expect the workmanship, clarity, sharpness and handling of the lens to be excellent. I don’t really have to think about it. For a brand, that’s just pure gold. When your customers no longer have to process your product/service through any part of their decision-making brain, you’ve already won.
Do me like you do
One factor in engendering that kind of loyalty is consistency. Brands that can deliver a strong, consistent experience time and time again reap huge benefits, not just from existing, returning customers, but also the amplifying effects of those customers who evangelize for them, sharing stories about their experience that new customers then taste and feel in the same way, and the virtuous sharing circle just keeps getting wider and wider. (Like I’m doing right here for Canon).
But what if you’re not the manufacturer of high-end professional camera equipment, but rather a conference organizer, or a PR firm hosting a series of experiential marketing events around the launch of a new product, or an industry association or club that puts on a few membership driven events a year. How do you develop and replicate success when what you are selling is an experience rather than a physical product? How do you maintain consistency in all channels of communication that you are leveraging on behalf of your brand to connect with its tribe?
Firstly, you do it by creating an experience people want to be a part of. You are seeking to engage them for a time, asking them to forego everything else they could be doing to spend some time with you. Of course that means offering them entertainment, intellectual and visual stimulation, good food, strong drinks, and most importantly situate them in a roomful of people they will feel are sufficiently like them, to be both attractive but still offer an opportunity for making new friends. In effect, you need to target their tribe.
Tribal marketing is about cultivating and offering a consistent story that communicates through words, photos and video what your particular events are all about so that everyone in the tribe – or who wants to be in the tribe – will instantly feel something when they come across news of your event in one of their social feeds, or by browsing online for events like yours.
To everyone not already your client their first interaction with your company will likely be through a third party (i.e. not someone you control) who will share with them a review, their comments and very likely pictures from the event to give their friends/colleagues/prospects a sense of what your event is all about.
In other words, the edge of your market is the people you don’t know that know the people you already sell to. And what they are going to do is share content and their reactions based on how your event made them feel.
Your job is to provide them with enough content to share in chunkable formats that are easy to carve out, and then deliver the same results for the new tribe members as you gave to the ones now spreading the word.
While that seems obvious, it is surprising how rarely companies take consistency in mind when contracting suppliers who will form an integral part of delivering that experience for your audience. These suppliers – the audio visual team, florists, caterers, photographers / videographers, etc are all delivering on your brand’s promise. If membership, attendance, and reputation has an impact on how your events are perceived by your target audience then the role of your suppliers (almost always outsourced) is critical in ensuring the experiences you are marketing are consistent and have the power to reach beyond current attendees through the amplifying effects of social media and word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.
Hiring the same set of suppliers for your events – once you’ve found the ones that “get” your marketing and deliver exactly what you need to make your events successful, makes sense, even if you take your show on the road. It may look like you are being smart with your money when you hire a different suppliers for events in different cities, but the hidden costs are time/effort spent finding the right people, getting them all to work well as a team. There is also a risk to the all-important consistency that once attained pays dividends (I will always buy an “l-series” lens) but once lost is difficult to regain.Maybe you can accept a degree of variation in the quality and consistency of the images you get from your event. Maybe your customers aren’t that discerning, or they don’t have a choice so they’ll always go with you no matter what kind of variable experience you offer them. If you’re in a business today that has no viable competition, where your customers don’t have any real power and you can blithely serve them up an inconsistent experience without worrying about them coming back, then congratulations. I guess you work for a telecoms company in Canada.
But if not, then consider that the apparent additional cost of using the same team of suppliers in terms of higher travel costs will be more than offset by the value add of customer retention, loyalty and brand consistency you – and your audience – can rely on.
The newest way to impress your friends, guests and bosses is to offer complete coverage of your next event. And by complete, I mean, showcasing the people and the event in 360º virtual reality videos and photos.
As many of my clients will attest, I am a bit of a gadget freak and I’m constantly looking for ways to add value for my clientele and bring in new tech tools that make them look good. In addition to my standard professional gear (two cameras, multiple lenses) needed to really cover any event, I’ve also starting using drones, time lapse cameras and now, my latest acquisition, a Ricoh Theta S – a 360º camera with built in wifi that shoots and records images and videos for virtual reality applications.
It is really quite fun to play around with new tech and one of the perks of being a photographer is that I get to indulge my neophilia as part of running my business.
As usual when I get a new toy, the first I thing I do is not read the manual. I just take it out of the box and start messing around with it. As an experiential learner I find it’s much easier just to use it and see what it can do than try to read up on everything in advance. I guess I’m also just too lazy and find pressing buttons easier and more fun than reading tech manuals.
So far I’m really excited about the potential with the Ricoh Theta S. While the image quality is still below what I would consider professional grade, the sheer novelty factor and ability for people to view images in full virtual reality more than outweighs the need for ultra sharp imagery. The first time someone sees one of these images there really is significant wow factor. I imagine it’s maybe similar to the first time someone ever saw a photograph in the early 1800s.
Basically, the device (which can be attached to a tripod or even, I’ve discovered, a selfie stick) shoots from both a front and rear facing camera at the same time producing a complete image that allows you to either “move” through it wearing a virtual reality headset (or popping your phone into a Google Cardboard type viewer). Or you can view the image on a regular screen and spin it around with your finger, seeing the image from all different angles.
Using the built in wi-fi, once the image/video is shot you send it to your phone (you have to download the free Theta app) and from there you can view the image, or share it. There is no viewer on the device itself.
The one drawback for now (which I’m sure will change as vr viewers become more commonplace) is the shareabilty of the images is rather limited. I can share photos to my Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr but not directly through email for some reason. And what gets shared is a link to the image sitting on Theta360.com.
Sharing videos seems to work a bit differently. You can email these directly (though I’m still trying to figure out why they can be emailed but don’t appear in my Theta account). You can also upload videos directly to Youtube.
It’s definitely easy to use, fun to play with and will surely be a conversation starter for your guests and attendees.
Photography never stops evolving and with each new piece of tech that emerges, a new way of telling a story comes along with it. Event coverage is about to get a lot more exciting.
You have to love marketers. Every few months a new catch phrase captures their attention and suddenly everyone is seeing the term pop up in their email subject lines like it’s a brand new idea, discrete and different from what’s come before and promising new riches to companies that figure out how best to leverage the trend for their wares. The “experience economy” is one of those terms being mooted as what the next big target – Millennials – is living in and how they are choosing to spend their money.
Because they’ve been saddled with student debt, and are priced out of the housing market in most places where they also stand a reasonable chance of getting a job (though probably not with much security) what this coveted and growing cohort of individuals likes to do is “have experiences”, hence the term. I would add that they also really like to share the experiences – of travel, shopping, going out, eating out or cooking at home with friends -across social media on the myriad platforms they engage with hourly.
If experience is the new black, photographic evidence of your experience is the new way to display your wealth. Despite another (complementary?) trend towards minimalism, judging from what is shared on Instagram there still appears to be a strong appetite for furnishing social proof of a non-materialistic, world travelling, lifestyle replete with lots of friends, good food and pithy moments of communing with nature. In the connected, sharing economy, one of the most liquid commodities is photography.
Let’s take a Selfie together
Experiences today are easier to share than ever before. It doesn’t take much effort to snap a Selfie in front of a made-for-postcards backdrop (much easier than actually sending a postcard!) and post it online. I can’t really share my home with all 778 of my Facebook friends, regardless of how many dinner parties I want to host, but I can easily and quickly share photos of the meals I’m cooking and get almost the same level of neuronal strokes that make me feel good about myself as I would if I had actually invited them all over for dinner.
In fact, the sharing of the experiences seems as important – or more – than the having of it in the first place. Does a tree falling in a forest make any sound if no one is around to hear it? The enigma can now be answered in as much time as it takes you to open up Snapchat with your thumb: NO. For the digital nomads living and working in the experience economy, if you did something and didn’t share it, it didn’t happen.
The more images people have of themselves, preferably in exotic locales with lots of different (ideally good-looking and/or famous) people, the greater their apparent wealth. For businesses trying to decode this trend before it transmutes into something else, the trick is weaving your brand or product into these snapshots of shared experiences without it looking like crass product placement. Doing so successfully involves creating a lifestyle around your brand that your prospects – or the people who influence your prospects – accept as authentic and real enough to want to incorporate into their own stories. It also means giving them something fun to photograph.
I’ll add that to My Story
In the experience economy, where social media are the new nation states and the social proof created through photos and videos, the new global currency, creating opportunities for good photos can grab a lot of attention cheaply.
If you’re a brand hosting an event, this can be achieved by paying a lot more attention to lighting and the visual elements of your set up than you might have done previously. It also doesn’t hurt to offer good quality booze, hire local chefs and serve original and satisfying food as well but making sure you help people take, get and share great pictures of themselves is critical.
I’ve covered hundreds of events and I’ve observed that no matter what the theme, all people at events have one thing in common: they want to get past that awkward, initial standing around phase fast. Having something fun to do (and good to drink) – whether that’s an onsite photo booth or some kind of custom prop that ties into your brand – helps loosen up the crowd and gives them a chance to start generating and sharing photos of their experience.
Are there fun props you can custom build that tie into your brand and are fun to pose with? Think giant shoes people can climb into, or maybe a couch shaped like a bra if you’re trying raise awareness for breast cancer. What about filling an old cast iron bathtub with your product…Setting up old school amusement park games with a twist? Anything normal turned supersized works, as would anything suspended or hanging from the ceiling. Can you implement a viewing platform somewhere higher up to afford interesting views or angles? Selling a tech-related product? What about setting up old style phone booths – the kind that used to be on every street corner but are now disappearing. Irony is still in (sort of). I can think of countless more ideas for brands with photographable products or services that can benefit from the experience economy – anything from booze to insurance. (I love coming up with ideas like this – just get in touch)
In the end, having experiences is just shorthand for story, and everyone today is engaged in telling and retelling their story across varied social media channels in the universal language of images. Words are being replaced by icons, emotional responses measured by the size of your emoji and lives measured by the breadth and reach of social followers.
Giving your audience/market something new, fun, and interesting to do, document and share is a powerful way to connect with and stay connected to the people who matter to your business most.
If your company is in the business of putting on events of any kind (a product launch, sponsored reception, brand elevating evening, etc) you are now in the business of creating experiences. Get it right and one of those experiences everyone is sharing just might be a photo of them using something you’re selling.
I love making up neologism and one I’ve recently started using to describe my event photography service offering to clients is social mediagraphy. I used to be able to work exclusively as a photographer, documenting an event or covering a conference then delivering the set of edited images to my client for distribution through their communications channels like newsletters, websites and the like. This is no longer sufficient for today’s market which demands a steady and constant flow of snackable content, in real-time, to keep audiences engaged and re-engaged throughout the course of an event.
No large event today is deemed to have happened if it doesn’t have its own # and generate volumes of Tweetable, and re-tweetable content. And as a photographer, I’ve learned to adapt and actually enjoy the connectivity and heightened appreciation for my work that this behaviour brings.
Where I used to be an invisible service provider, working away in a kind of obscurity producing images that would be used long after my work was done, I am now often thrust in the middle of the action, generating and sending out my own socially-media-friendly Tweets, Instagram posts and LinkedIn content as it relates to what I’ve been covering as a photographer during an event. And clients appreciate it, because it helps them with their goals of generating interest and sparking conversations surrounding the content they’ve pulled together to mount their conference, or to satisfy the needs of their membership, boards or communications teams who work hard to show ROI on the big events they develop.
Social mediagraphy, as I would define it from the point of view of a photographer, is the combination of both traditional event coverage with frequent bursts of social media activity. In my case I will use my phone during events, and then later on post edited and refined images from the day’s coverage. Post-event, I’ll usually follow up with a roundup or a few blog posts relating back to the event, or a particular piece of content that resonated with me that I think bears reporting on for my audience.
If a quote happens at a conference and nobody Tweets it, does it matter at all?
Once the content is created and pushed out there, it can, and often is, picked up by event attendees who sometimes add their own commentary to the posts, or simply retweet or repost the content so that it reaches ever-widening circles of influence.
All of this helps increase the impact from an event and enables event organizers to leverage their attendees to extend their reach into their networks, as the people at one event are usually connected to a bigger number of people outside of the event for whom the event also has appeal. Aside from seeding sales and requests for invitations for future events, this also helps validate the relevancy of the event to its target audiences and provides context for people on the outside who may be curious and become interested in learning more simply by coming across one or more of these social tidbits as they float through their ever-refreshed news feed. It’s also fun and a great way to make new friends.
Change is good
Change is at the heart of all technology. Photography is no longer sufficient on its own to meet the demands of clients who find themselves having to publish content in myriad forms to satisfy the needs of their audiences. Gone are the days when you could shoot an event, deliver your work weeks later and charge a premium for the service. Whether your event is a wedding, a corporate gala, AGM, trade show or a conference, photos are now but one layer of social proof needed to help augment and enhance the experience. Of course this requires new skill sets and familiarity with constantly changing tools (I’m still fairly lame at Snapchat but working on it) but that’s part of the fun of photography and working with technology in general. Rapid change is the constant of our times today and the only way to not drown in it is to embrace it.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Though Maya Angelou wasn’t explicitly talking about what makes a good photograph work, she might as well have been.Context is everything, and in the context of businesses using photography to help create, promote and develop their brands, understanding the secret sauce of what makes a photograph effective can be very useful, and profitable.
Studying the data trail on images across visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest will certainly lead to some actionable insights, but for a quick and simple rule of thumb, thinking about how the image used is intended to make the viewer feel is a big part about getting it right.
Go pro, amateur or UGC? It depends…
Recently at an iMedia conference I was covering, I listened in on a panel discussion led by Matthew Langie, CMO at Curalate, a company that helps consumers discover brands, and helps brands leverage their visual content by, among other things, enriching their photography with relevant metadata that connects back to their commerce sites. It also conducts research into things like what makes an image popular on Pinterest, and one of their findings was that sometimes professional images – those shot by a photographer with professional lighting, expensive kit and under artistic direction, did worse (fewer repins and shares) than images shot by amateurs.
I am not surprised by this finding but I think the real reason why some images resonate better than others is not whether they were shot by a professional or not, but whether there is a match up between the feeling of the image and how the viewer feels in response to it.
In my experience working as a photographer, I’ve observed that there are certain types of contexts where people have an inherent distrust of an image that appears too polished, or looks like it went through too many filters (portraits; over-reliance on HDR in real estate shots; fake family vacation photos from all-inclusive resorts, etc). There is something about the rawness of an image captured in the moment, with minimal adjustments applied afterwards that seems to carry greater weight and authenticity. No matter if the moment is manufactured, which many are, the image – the social proof that gets shared – needs to look and feel real to have an impact. Digitally aware people today, (which includes most Millenials, but also older generations who’ve embraced digital tools and toys as they’ve grown), are very sensitive to any attempt to manipulate them, and an overly edited, “perfect” looking image is often interpreted as some kind of attempt at manipulation.
Does your image have resonance?
A good photograph is one that elicits a strong emotional reaction that is consonant with the imagery shown. It can be taken in a quick moment of inspiration on a phone, or after careful preparation and setup by a pro. The method is immaterial. The photograph is just the medium connecting two synchronized emotional worlds – the viewer’s, and the one shown as felt and experienced by the photographer. When the two match up, there is a connection formed and the image “works”, regardless of who took it, what it was shot with or even what it is about. A poorly taken, blurry image can have more impact than a perfectly shot, tack sharp one of the same subject matter.
I think a lot of product photography fails, for example, because it focuses too much on showing off the product and not enough on creating an emotional resonance with its intended audience. On the other hand, when the product is shown in a context that matters to the intended audience, there is an emotional connection made and the image is successful. Sometimes, the best product photography hardly shows the product at all and still manages to drive people to take action, which in marketing parlance typically means convert and buy.
This is what I would define as emotional resonance: the degree to which an image is synchronized with the emotional reaction it elicits. The greater the synchronicity, the stronger the resonance. The stronger the resonance, the greater the impact and the more likely it is that a viewer will be inspired by the image to take action.
The more overt the attempt to manipulate that response, the more likely it is that the image will fail in the sense that its resonant capacity has been diminished in direct correlation to the amount of effort that appears to have been put into making it provocative in the first place. If it seems too calculating, in other words, it loses emotional impact and will probably not work.
So what makes a photograph work?
I think the key is actually empathy. As the photographer, professional or not, you need empathy with your subject(s) and/or the audience for whom the image is going to be shown. If you are using the photograph for business purposes – whether as advertising, embedded native content or some other brand promoting use, you need to be even more careful about making sure the image is empathetic with your audience. As more and more images are thrust into the faces of people daily, the level of attention paid to any particular one is scant and growing scanter. What will make someone stop, look and care is not the production value or the level of saturation, or any other trick of the trade. It will be whether or not the image speaks to them personally, feels real and makes them feel something in return. No single image will reach everyone, but concentrating on how your viewer will feel and empathizing with him or her will go a long way toward making them connect with your image, and ultimately your business, brand or art.