The Hidden Perils of the Shot List

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When contracting a photographer or videographer to cover an event clients usually provide a shotlist (a list of key images the photographer or videographer needs to deliver after the event). While this practice helps organizers feel they have covered the bases and minimized the risk of not getting images they want, there are some hidden risks to be aware of.

The main issue with asking for a specific set of images….is that you might just get what you asked for. While this may not seem like a problem, if you are also expecting a broad range of images from your event that have not been specified on your shot list, the photographer or videographer you’ve hired may not think to capture them as they will be following the list you’ve provided.

The impetus for creating the shot list may simply be to serve as an aide-memoire for the planner who is thinking through where the eventual content will be used and how it will be distributed. But if that is the case, having a brief conversation with your hired visuals team about the purpose of their work will be more effective. Rather than provide a list of each speaker you want photographed, tell the team that your company gives a package of images to each speaker and sponsor of their contribution to the event which clarifies what the goal is for the shooter and aligns him or her with your company’s objectives.

Creating the list may also add another task to a usually over-burdened event manager. While it is helpful to provide your event photo/video team with a general flow of the day or an agenda from the conference, the most useful information may well be indicating what you DON’T need coverage for rather than try to spell out a long prescriptive list of what you do want. These kinds of instructions are usually easier to remember without a list and often can be given verbally at the venue, removing at least one line from the event planner’s to do list.

Finally, providing prescriptive work orders to creative people can sometimes limit the creativity you’ve hired the talent for in the first place. Again, a broad statement of purpose and alignment call or conversation with the team about what their work will be used for and why it matters can be a far more effective tool for getting the best quality images and video from a supplier than simply asking for a list of items to be checked off. It is also a more engaging way to work with your freelancers and makes them feel a part of your team which usually results in deeper commitment and motivates them to think about ways they can go the extra mile for you.

Running a fundraiser? Ask for a donation-in-kind.

Some of the charitable foundations Julian Haber Photography has supported

Fall is a busy time for fundraisers, though the needs of most organizations are ongoing throughout the year. As a supplier of photo and video coverage for events and conferences we are often hired by organizations to cover their balls, gala events, art auctions, golf tournaments or other events created to attract funds and attention to the cause at hand. In all instances where feasible we offer a donation in kind, allocating a portion of our fees directly back to the hiring organization.

Four ways to give back

There are many ways to give and show support for meaningful causes. At Julian Haber Photography we focus primarily on health and children’s related causes in honour of the life’s work of Dr. Leo Richard Haber who passed away suddenly earlier in 2019. Help can be given in many formats:

  1. Make a direct donation: obviously, the simplest way to give is to reach into your pocket and give money. No amount is too small, and with very minimal requirements you also get a tax deduction for the donation which makes it even easier to give.
  2. Raise awareness: as a photographer and video supplier, our work is often a key instrument in helping raise awareness for the cause at hand. Sharing photos, posting about the event you are attending using designated hashtags helps generate buzz and extends the reach for fundraiser organizers. Make it personal and express how and why the cause you are supporting is particularly meaningful to you to have the biggest impact.
  3. Make a donation in kind: offer time, product or services you can manage that will help the organizers run the event or enhance a silent auction are always appreciated.
  4. Give regularly: one-time events are often the primary tools used by organizers to raise funds, but they eat up a lot of resources, administrative time and still cost the organization money. The best way to give is to pick one or two causes (or more if you can afford it) and make a regular monthly donation. For extra karma points include a portion of your donation to cover the credit card processing fees which eat into the amount donated.

In memoria – a small ask

Dr. Leo Richard Haber (September 29, 1942 – February 7, 2019)

On February 7, 2019 my father died of a sudden heart attack while on vacation. A busy and still practicing pediatric doctor, he never slowed down and gave tirelessly of himself both to his thousands of patients and to the Catholic community he was devoted to as a deacon. He never had a chance to retire, and on September 29 he would have turned 77. In his honour I have set up a Tribute Fund to support the Montreal Children’s Hospital where he worked much of his 40+ year career guiding residents, and caring for sick children. Please consider making a contribution to help extend the reach of his life’s work and continue to help sick children heal.

Here is the link to the Tribute Fund for Dr. Leo Richard Haber: https://fondationduchildren.com/en/fundraising/tribute-fund-for-dr-leo-richard-haber

Family reunions – where every photo tells a story

Baby, you light my fire

“Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together.”– Sam Levenson

Family – whether you love it, hate it or something in between there’s no getting away from it. Even those lost poor souls wandering the earth came from someone and hold in their veins the story of their predecessors. For many others of us, our families – however we choose to define them – are the people nearest to us with whom we share our DNA (usually) but more importantly, our love (as well as most other emotions at one time or another). Covering a family get together as a photographer is challenging if you’re an outsider, but even more challenging if you are a part of the story but want to capture it as if you were an outsider.

Cousins sharing a laugh, a few pints in

I am just back from an annual celebration of family that took place in between broad corn fields and green fields sown with soy bean. “This is cash crop country,” one of my cousins said as we drove down the road in his jeep to pick up glacial quantities of ice for the coming weekend drinking session.

That’s a lot of soy bean

Over a hundred showed up, nearly all of whom I am related to in some fashion. All came with their trailers, tents, husbands, wives, children, dogs and a wide array of bbqs and every kind of portable folding chair ever produced.

Taking it easy in the shade on a hot summer’s day

It was my first time in attendance, having missed several previous years for what I thought were good reasons (but now realized weren’t). After just two brief, sun filled days and fire lit evenings, I reconnected with many of cousins, aunts and uncles whom I hadn’t seen in many years. We were all older, most of us larger around the waist, but otherwise still the same. It feels good to be with your people whoever they are, and I felt at home, sitting on any available chair eating whatever food was offered to me, taking it all in.

Just hangin’ out

The days were filled with wandering from one trailer to another, having a drink here, a bite to eat there, while the children slid down the makeshift slip n’ slide, and played a series of games all involving chasing each other around (“Manhunt”), throwing water bombs and shooting each other with water pistols.

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Filling up at the bucket and water pistol armoury
We always get our man in Manhunt!

There was a fully equipped karaoke station, and of course, a huge bonfire at night, singing, laughing, and a little bit of falling down.

The evening session begins…
Heating up the midnight Mac n’ Cheese
The Sandman preparing the next tune
Cardi B like you’ve never heard it done before…

Yup, that’s an actual camera

While everyone has phones and takes photos and videos constantly, I was only one of two people that I noticed using an actual camera (my trusty Fuji X100T). I always keep it around my neck so that people stop noticing it after a while, and with its silent action, and small format, it is easy to blend in and get shots without anyone really paying any attention at all. These are my favourite kinds of photos – the ones that plant you right in the middle of the action without anyone posing for a photo.

Those lazy days of summer

On the second night we lit lanterns for two fathers, our Uncle Johnny and my father, Rick, both of whom passed away this year. It was a tragicomic success, with the fiery lanterns nearly crashing into one of my cousins, then almost burning down a tent before finally getting lift off out over the neighbour’s corn field, their passage marked by the sounds of people shouting “Lookout!” while others harmonized “Amazing Grace”

We cried, we laughed, we drank, we fell down, we stood up, slept badly if at all, or passed out cold and slept the sleep of the dead, with everyone looking forward to their own bed’s and next year’s gathering.

Getting great photos from presentations in the round

A recent trend in company town halls and employee meetings is presenting in the round, where the stage is set in the middle of the conference room flanked by audience members (usually split into four sections).

In the spirit of lessening the distance between the executive team and rank-and-file employees, the format allows for a more congenial presentation style. As the main stage is centred there is a much broader face of the audience to address and the most distant row is only a few layers back. In presentations, as in any relationship, proximity is power and the closer one stands physically to the audience, the greater the impact.

When photographing this style of meeting, there are some advantages. In most cases, the presenter/s will effectively provide four opportunities for full frontal shots as they rotate around the stage, addressing each section of the audience. This gives the shooter an increased number of openings for shooting not just head on portrait style images, but also some interesting side angles and wider angle views that take in a front-facing section of the audience as well.

There is, of course, the other side of the formula that means that 3/4s of the time your speaker has his or her back turned to you, but if you are nimble and ready to move, you can simply circulate around the stage from the outer periphery and stay facing your subject as she or she moves through the presentation.

Another upside is the greater number of audience engagement shots that clients typically request. As the main purpose of these events is to elicit engagement from employees and to strengthen company culture, images showing the audience rapt with attention, smiling, laughing or otherwise reacting to what is taking place on stage are important to capture. With a presentation-in-the-round style format, there is not one, but four faces to the audience to shoot into, all reasonably well lit from the stage lighting. As well, there will likely be four aisles to move through between each section, affording additional chances for down the aisle type shots and more close ups with a deep background of faces to fill up the image.

If you’re shooting a lot of conferences or corporate meetings, it’s likely you’ll encounter this type of presentation format soon, if you haven’t already. If you’ve shot more standard presentations than you can keep track of (ahem), this format can be a nice change and can be a new stimulus to your creativity. You’ll want to have a few lenses on hand (telephoto, wide, 50mm) to take full advantage of the shooting opportunities but you’ll find that this style of presentation is easier and generally more fun to shoot than a traditional conference style format.

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!

 

A photographer’s highly subjective guide to travelling with kids through Japan: Part 3: Hiroshima, Hakone and Tokyo

(If you want to skip the read and jump to the photos click here)

HIROSHIMA

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Another high speed train brought us directly into the heart of Hiroshima where we splurged on two nights at the Sheraton. We were welcomed by a friend, Carl, who has lived in Hiroshima for over twenty years, and who took us around the town and into nearby Miyajima.

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A visit to Hiroshima, with its heartbreaking history, is a moving experience. We walked through the Peace Park Memorial and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to look at some of the saddest objects in the world: a tricycle buried by a father whose four year old son died in the blast; ragged school uniforms stained with blood; a collection of tiny paper cranes made by a young woman who died of leukaemia resulting from radiation.  Having recently lost my father, this was one of the saddest days of my journey, but also necessary to understand a part of the backdrop to the modern face of Japan.

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One of the artifacts from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

That night we walked along the water’s edge, catching the tail end of a memorial to the victims of the 3/11 quake, and seeing the Atomic Dome lit up at night, poignantly beautiful.

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Miyajima

The next day the sky was cheerfully sunny and blue, though the wind still carried the lingering chill of winter. We took the ferry out to Miyajima, walked around the island, and tasted the local bean paste Japanese Maple leaf cookie.

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Keiten sushi

That afternoon we had fun eating at a keiten sushi restaurant were the bill is tabulated based on the height of the stack of dishes you leave behind and number of empty beer steins.

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HAKONE

On our last leg of the trip we built in a day to experience a Japanese onsen (spa) at Hakone, and spent a captivating few hours walking through the Hakone Open Air Art Museum

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Through a brightly woven web…

More from the Hakone Open Air Museum, because I just couldn’t get enough of this place…

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TOKYO

Finally, and all too quickly, we found ourselves once again in Tokyo. With just a day and half left on our epic journey we crammed in another bit of sight-seeing, visiting the ancient Buddhist temple,  Sensō-ji temple located in Asakusa, before indulging in a brief spate of souvenir shopping.

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A room with a view

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In transit

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Visiting Japan requires a bit more planning and organization than other travels, but the efforts are well worth it. The people, food, views and experiences are unparalleled and I hope to return before too long.

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Missed the beginning? Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

A photographer’s highly subjective guide to travelling with kids through Japan: Part 2: Kyoto, Nara and Osaka

(If you want to skip the read and jump to the photos click here)

KYOTO / NARA / OSAKA

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We left for Kyoto on the mid-morning shinkansen and arrived in time to walk to our Airbnb, drop our bags and visit NIJO-CASTLE, a world heritage site and home of the last shogun.

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Fushimi Inari Taisha

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The next day we were treated to an extraordinary day of hospitality and generosity, led by our host Kenjiro (a professional graphic designer and world-class host), who met us early in the morning at our Airbnb and took us on a whirlwind tour of some of the major sites in and around Kyoto.

We visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha (the head shrine of the god Inari – appearing throughout the grounds as a fox – one of the forms Inari is believed to take) to walk among the orange Torii leading to the outer shrine that reminded me of The Gates installation by the Bulgarian artist Christo Yavacheff and French artist Jeanne-Claude (known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude).

After our walk around the temple grounds, Kenjiro treated us to a sumptuous multi-course meal at the Yudofu Sagano that literally blew our minds and filled our bellies with its delicious signature dish, an Arashiyama Buddhist specialty: yudo (chunks of tofu simmered in broth).

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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Next we took a stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove trying hard to capture shots that conveyed the cathedral-like effect of the bamboo trees towering overhead. The images, despite the use of a wide-angle and studious attempts to shoot in the brief pauses between crowds of walkers, don’t really do the space justice.

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Kinkakuji

Leaving the grove we grabbed a cab and took in views of the famous KINKAKUJI, which photographed well even against the greying, slightly rainy skies.

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Walking beneath a slightly broken umbrella, after another cab ride into town, we walked one of the main shopping streets in Kyoto, capturing a few fleeting images of kimono clad women walking in pairs and groups along the avenues, as we made our way to our sushi dinner destination which ended with even fuller bellies and ample consumption of sake.

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International Manga Museum

The next morning we visited the International Manga Museum which will be of great interest to genuine manga fans, and perhaps a little less to those lacking that particular knowledge. There are some fun activities for kids (getting a manga caricature done) and it’s worth a wander through for no more than an hour. (Alas, another site that restricts photography so the only shots available were from the temporary exhibition space that was on the pictographic language of manga)

Nishiki Market

As always, our footsteps were guided by our stomachs and we found our way to the warren of streets that is the Nishiki Market where we enjoyed snacking on the local speciality: takoyaki (ball-shaped bite-sized snacks made of a wheat flour-based batter and rapidly cooked in a special molded pan, filled with minced octopus and areas much fun to watch being made as they are to eat).

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Tasty takoyaki

Traditional Book-Making

We had booked (pun intended) a traditional book-making, hands-on lesson for the afternoon, which was was another great hit with all of us (adults and kids alike). Our hosts (www.maniman-kyoto.com) were superbly hospitable, knowledgeable and patient and guided us through every step as we made our own journals covered in silk from vintage kimonos.

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Okonomiyaki

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Okonomiy-action

On our last day in Kyoto we made to the famous restaurant floor of Kyoto Station (9 restaurants to choose from) and had our first experience of okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake you cook yourself on an open hot griddle right at your table.

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So much to eat, so little time

NARA

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We visited Nara in the morning, feeding (and being chased by) the local deer, touring the famous Todoji-ji and successfully squirming through “Buddha’s nostril” (a carved hole in the base of a column, said to be the same size as the nostril of the large seated Buddha statue in the Todoji-ji, which, if you are able to fit, you gain enlightenment after passing through).

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We completed our brief visit with a walk through the beautiful Yoshiki-en (a Japanese garden that we were able to visit almost entirely to ourselves as it was towards the end of the day and most other sites had closed access).

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It’s late in the afternoon…

OSAKA

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Us with our hosts Masuru and Nobuko

Osaka, famous for its food and its brightly lit Dotonbori neighbourhood, was another visual and gastronomic treat. Here we were again treated by our generous hosts, Masaru and Nobuko, who planned out a day for us visiting the Osaka Tower (Tsutenkaku), a walk through Dotonbori, sushi lunch and a stroll through Osaka Castle’s blooming plum orchard before a visit to the castle itself.

 

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That night we went local and ate a tempura restaurant using our phones to communicate with our host who made us a series of tempura dishes, translating each one for us with his phone.

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Tempura, Osaka-style at “Sky Turtle”

(Missed Part 1? Read here or skip to next read Part 3 for Hiroshima and Hakone)

A photographer’s highly subjective guide to travelling with kids through Japan: Part 1: Tokyo

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Japan is a gift to photographers and should be at the top of the list for any traveller who enjoys travel photography and experiencing a unique culture.  It is a land that is safe to travel through with expensive gear, offers an abundance of areas to visit and a wide range of photographic genres to immerse yourself in – including landscape photography, street photography, portraiture, nature photography, food and travel photography.

(If you want to skip the read and jump to the photos click here)

Continue reading “A photographer’s highly subjective guide to travelling with kids through Japan: Part 1: Tokyo”

The Five Folder GTD System for Photographers

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Active, Portfolio, Archive, Delete (& Personal)

I’m in the process of exhaustively culling my vast horde of images taken over the many years that I’ve been living and breathing photography as my profession and passion.

I’d much prefer many other ways to spend my time, including root canal surgery.

Not all photographers are created equal. Some, like me, are born to shoot. I love the thrill of the chase, being out in the wild (even if that “wild” is the inside of a conference ballroom), hunting for smiles, netting moments, bagging trophy images of beautifully human connections.

But I hate – with great and abiding passion – the concomitant task that follows every photo gig: sitting down at the computer afterwards and having to process the images.

My hatred of the task is so intense, I think it helps me be a better photographer. I am so careful about what I shoot precisely because I don’t want to have to make that same decision ten times over if I just machine-gun spray a room holding the trigger down hoping one or two images will come of it.

I’m known as the “one and done” guy and almost 99% of the time it’s all I need. In many situations, the first take is the best if you’ve properly prepped the subjects and warmed them up a bit with a disarming comment or a well-aimed smile. And the great upside to me personally is having fewer photos to sort through post-gig.

I’m not good at curating, I’ll be the first to admit. My website is in desperate need of an overhaul and refresh, and is currently showing images that are almost as old as the original iPhone! (Not good!)

But the task always yawns just a little further ahead of where my energy ends and then there’s all that work work to do, like actually getting new gigs and keeping current clients happy.

For years now I’ve let my website and online presence in general lag behind the daily work I keep up on to keep the gigs rolling in and for whatever mystical algorithmic reasons, I’ve been lucky to have work come to me that keeps justifying my procrastination on the great brutal job that I know awaits me.

But no more. I’ve let it slide for too long and I am now ankle deep in it. I have a ways to go to get through it, but one simple technique I’ve developed to help guide me through the woods is this. (And while this will speak directly to any creative freelancer who has to good fortune to have a big enough body of work behind them that needs sorting through, I think it’s a good technique for categorizing any kind of stuff you’ve generated.)

Here are the rules of my Five Folder GTD System for Photographers:

Active: I have created an active folder on drive into which goes new work in its own subfolder. Once the job is done and the work delivered, I select the one or two truly outstanding images (if there are any) to migrate over to my Portfolio folder

Portfolio: The initial cull is still too big but once I have the first cut down in here I will run through again with a ruthless eye and get this down to only the best of the best images worth showing and sharing online.

Archive: I tag a wider selection of images that are good and may be handy for blog posts and drag them into the Archive folder.

Delete: Anything else, gets deleted, except for images of my travels and family which I’m not even thinking about tackling now (but will one day!), which gets dragged into the Personal folder.

Personal: Here’s where all the school photos go, baby videos and family, and travel shots that I will also eventually need to sort through but don’t have the time for now.

That’s it. That’s the plan anyway. If you’ve got a better system I’d love to hear it. Get in touch!

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

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

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

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Here’s what I learned:

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

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Why did I do it?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Happy 2019!

 

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).

What’s in a “day rate”?

0E7A6414.jpgConference planners (and the event companies that often interface for them and manage the local suppliers) often book photo/video teams well in advance of their conference, and usually long before the agenda for the event is finalized.

The upside of this practice for a client is that elimination of last minute panic scrambling to hire a reliable team during a busy conference season (ie autumn) when there are many other events running concurrently. For the photographer/videographer it’s a “bird in the hand”, a blocked booked date in the calendar which means paid time – always something comforting in the gig economy.

There is a downside, however, which I’ve encountered on numerous occasions, which affects both the contracting entity (whether that’s the direct client or an agency acting on their behalf) and the supplier, and it affects both the quality of the bid received/submitted, and the price.

“…as the day is long”

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I’ll start with an example. When an organizer is trying to lock down costs for an event taking place many months in the future (or sometimes just a few weeks ahead), the aim is to get all supplier costs in on fixed price bids.  In order to do so the RFP, or call for estimates usually asks for a day rate on the job.

A day rate is a fixed price, and means the client doesn’t have to worry too much about providing details on the exact schedule for the day. The problem arises when the concept of a “day” gets stretched to include every waking hour from the 7am early-bird registration/buffet breakfast to the 11pm last call after the bar closes at the end of the opening night reception.

When a supplier offers their day rate, they are usually calculating a day to mean 8hrs, give or take 45 mins to an hour. It anticipates a bit of lag time between programs, a meal when photos of open mouthed chewers are eschewed, and maybe the opening round of a cocktail event. Something like 8am to 5pm, or 9 am to 6pm. What people working regular jobs would consider a normal working day.

Alas, for freelance photographers/videographers, the idea of a normal working day doesn’t seem to factor into many client’s thinking.  And should you be so unwise as to have submitted a bid based on an average length day rate, you may find yourself working the equivalent of two days in one, or effectively getting paid 50% of your normal rate, because the goal posts shifted after you submitted and won the bid.

Being the lowest cost bidder will often win you work, but it doesn’t help your career and ultimately encourages the unfair practice of being asked to bid on work for which the scope remains undefined.

From a client perspective, it may seem like a win to lock in a supplier on a price based on terms that subsequently get redefined to the client’s advantage, but the result is likely a souring of the relationship and “you get what you pay for” attitude on site from a supplier who realizes they’ve been conned.

Build flexibility into the bid

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Most clients are not out to screw their suppliers, but this can be an unintended consequence of asking for fixed price contracts without provided full clarity on the scope of work being requested. One practice that I use that helps is to add a clear note in estimates that the day rate is based on an 8-hour day, and hours in excess of that are billed at a standard hourly rate. This keeps the bid submission price reasonable and averts sticker shock, and if, once the agenda gets finalized it is clear that the day is being stretched to include evening events that expand the hours in the day from 8 to 12, you have a fair basis for negotiating a price that better matches the work actually performed vs. what was anticipated when details were scant.

And now for something completely different…

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In case you missed my announcements here, here, or elsewhere on the internet, in between working for clients, working on getting clients, and working on keeping the clients I have happy to continue working with me, I’ve written and just released a book for freelancers who want to learn how to get gigs and keep on getting them. It’s called Gigonomics: A Field Guide for Freelancers in the Gig Economy and you can pick up a copy here on Amazon.

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!

How much coverage do you need?

094A2476.jpgAs a conference and event photographer I am frequently asked to provide estimates for covering day-long meetings or multi-day conferences. It is not uncommon to be asked to provide a detail costing out for services even before the official agenda for the conference is finalized. The challenge here as the photographer – and I would argue for the client as well – is understanding how much coverage is enough and pricing accordingly.

There are some rare clients for whom budget is no object and they would rather have the peace of mind of knowing the photographer they hire will be there to cover whatever is happening, wherever, whenever and they don’t want to waste time parsing out an agenda to reduce the hours (and the bill). They would rather pay full pop and get more than they need and sort it out afterwards. These are great clients to have.

094A2395.jpgBut the vast majority of clients are not so loose with their purse strings and usually are operating on behalf of their client, who has hired them to organize the event. These kinds of clients may still ask for the complete coverage but they are much more sensitive to cost and may wind up tossing the baby with the bathwater if they receive a bid that seems high, without evaluating if what they had asked for a quote on was completely necessary.

For example, I am often asked to arrive onsite up to an hour to an hour and a half before anything actually begins. This is almost always to mitigate a client’s anxiety or worry about not having a photographer be there when they really need them and may speak more to the reliability of some freelancers than to the anxieties of the client, but the net result is either a lot of unpaid time for a photographer, or an increase in cost to a client paying for something they don’t really need. Every professional photographer or videographer I’ve worked with or hired has been able to size up a space, the pacing of an event and digest the order of action for even multi-day, multi-location events in a very short time. It does not usually require more than 15-20 minutes as it is usually very obvious to a professional what is important, and what isn’t.

094A2382.jpgAnother way clients ask for more than they need is if the event they are hosting involves a lot of repeat action in the same setup, with the same lighting, and most if not all the same people, perhaps moving from room to room for workshops or discussions in slightly different formations. Depending on the final use for these images, it may not be necessary to pay for a full day of coverage if you can capture the main look and feel of the event in fewer hours.

On the flipside, it is unreasonable to ask for a photographer or videographer to show up for a gig that won’t last more than an hour, or an hour and half and expect to pay the same hourly rate offered on longer jobs. I know of few (to no) people working regular jobs who would even consider going in to work if their boss said they only need to be there from 2:30-4 so will only get an hour and half’s worth of pay that day. Gig workers (and photographers and videographers have been working in the gig economy since long before it was even called that) also need to make a living wage and can’t afford to take small jobs without applying a minimum rate to cover their time.  In this case the client should be prepared to pay a fee that is higher than a job priced on an hourly basis would be if longer hours were offered for the service provider.

In the end, it makes sense both from a photographer’s point of view and a client’s perspective to consider what the desired end result is from the photos (or videos) produced and structure the work accordingly. Complete coverage, half days, partial or minimum fees are all based on finding that balance between meeting a client’s needs and making the work worth the time and effort a professional will provide. A little time upfront spent thinking through the event and even discussing it with the prospective supplier can save both time and money – and ensure that the client receives a fair and accurate quote they can build out their plan on.

My drone dumped me

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I lost my drone this weekend.

I should have known something was off when my puppy ran off into the dark the night before. A foreshadowing I ignored to my despair the next morning. I was lucky with the puppy. He must have sensed the desperation in my voice when I pleaded with him to come, after chasing him out the door with nothing but my underwear on waving my phone around in the air frantically trying to lure him back to me. He disappeared into the woods, popped back out again down the road, then to my horror slipped through the gate leading out to the darkened country road down which, if he had continued, he would surely have gotten lost, eaten by a bear or hit by a car. He turned and trotted over to me, and I managed to grab him by the collar and lead him back to safety.

Unfortunately, my Mavic Pro drone with whom I’ve shared so many adventures, was not so caring. It just decided, all of a sudden, it was over and left.

It happened so suddenly, I’m still in shock. One minute it was rising up over the Porsche I was photographing, trying to capture that beautiful machine in an as beautiful landscape, the next it slowly began drifting off centre.

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There were warning signs, (aren’t there always?) but I ignored them, as I had so many times before with no consequence. Alas, not this time. Those strong winds really were strong winds. I just I didn’t feel them from where I stood, alone, in that empty parking lot.

When I realized I was losing it, I began trying to nudge it back home. I didn’t panic immediately, but as I watched the distance grow between us, my attempts to bring it back grew more frantic. I began jamming that little joystick as hard as I could to the return position, but it only seemed to drive it further and further away.

That’s when the low battery warning went off. 30%….29%…..Then I really did panic. I tried the Return to Home button which has saved me more than once, but my max height was foolishly left too low and I was high up on a mountain. There were too many obstacles in the way. Try as I might, it just wasn’t turning around.

And the distance grew. Fast. From 20 metres to 200 before I knew it. 300. 500. 800. Once it breached 1000 I was in the grip of fear.

The owner of the Porsche realized I was in distress and suggested we pull up the map and drive to where the drone was heading. Although I knew in my heart it was already too late (battery at 10% and falling) I was desperate and willing to cling to any shred of hope.

We hopped in and the Porsche sprung into action. But the drone was still flying straight out and away….it was over the lake now. Battery dangerously low. 7%…5%…alarm bells ringing, the Porsche racing, the wind buffeting my ears as I hung out the window desperately trying to get a signal.

Then it happened. Aircraft disconnected. The screen went black. It was over. And there I was, in the middle of my life, suddenly droneless.

I put on a brave face for my companion. I pretended to laugh it off. “It was bound to happen,” I said. Things had been a little rocky between us and we’d just narrowly avoided this very thing happening a week earlier in the Saguenay.

But I knew it wasn’t true. Inside I was still standing there at the top of the mountain, screaming into the invisible winds that had just torn my lovely little drone out of my hands and flung it into the cold, dark lake.

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We’d been together for just under two years. Not long, but long enough for the love to grow, while still feeling new and exciting. I took it with me whenever and wherever I travelled – racing over beaches in the Dominican Republic, swirling around the terra cotta roofs and quaint plazas in Lisbon, or simply sailing through the sky around Gatineau at fall shooting the vast and beautiful landscape as it blazes with autumn leaves.

I used to feel a trembly thrill just taking it out of its snug little carrying case and gingerly unfolding its wings. I’d removed the plastic cover that protected its delicate little gimble, set it down carefully on the ground and turn it on. As it whirred into life, I’d feel a surge in my heart.

We didn’t always get along. Just last weekend we had a falling out of sorts as it passed through the magnetic field over an aluminum smelter and skidded out of control until finally we patched things up and it came back for a safe landing. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe I should have been more sensitive. Paid more attention to those screen warnings to calibrate and update the database. Was I too selfish?

All I wanted was for us to be together, flying through the sky, taking in wide, stunning views of the land below. I never meant for it to get hurt. I thought I was doing the right thing, showing it the world, providing it with ample battery power. I even bought it a high speed 32gb micro card so that we could record more of our times together without having to face that dreaded “SD Card Full” warning (like that time in Lunenberg when it was all the way out over the bay ready for a well planned flight home. Sigh.)

It’s still hard to believe. Just a few short weeks ago we were so happy together, chasing after kayakers at Trout Point Lodge. On one sunset flight, mosquitoes swarming around my head, it came down and hovered there just out of reach, blowing all the annoying little bugs away to keep me safe. What we had was real.

But now, nothing. Just a remote controller with nothing to connect with. I still have the batteries. I’ve left them fully charged, in the vain, impossible hope that somehow, someway, it will come back to me.

I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s over just yet.

 

Local art for your Airbnb

 

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As the gig economy continues to colonize an increasing share of the real economy, many more Airbnb hosts are popping up in cities around the world. Many people, myself included, have mixed feelings about Airbnb and similar types of business models. While it creates the opportunity for some people to increase their revenue streams and even make a living off of hosting, it has a social cost that is invariably borne by those less-well off people who still need affordable places to live. Sure they too can benefit from becoming hosts, but not everyone has the flexibility and means to share their space with travellers. And while city regulations and condo building by-laws can also control the spread of room shares, in the end it is a trend that is likely here to stay. So how can the wealth it generates for some help create opportunities for others?

Continue reading “Local art for your Airbnb”

“The whole world is a cactus”

“Le monde entier est un cactus
Il est impossible de s’assoir
Dans la vie, il y a qu’des cactus
Moi je me pique de le savoir
Aïe aïe aïe, ouille, aïe aïe aïe” – Jacques Dutronc, Les Cactus (1967)

Roughly translated the above passage from Jacques Dutronc’s 1967 hit, “Les Cactus” reads:

The whole world is a cactus

It’s impossible to sit down

In life, there are cacti

I prick myself to find out”

Continue reading ““The whole world is a cactus””

Mix a little Wabi-sabi with your photography in 2018

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Memorial to Leonard Cohen on the doorstep of his home in Montreal days after the news of his passing

In the next few weeks many of us will have a little downtime and maybe even a chance to rest and relax (hopefully) with the people we love.  Many too will be receiving, or treating themselves to, new cameras, drones, or phones and will have a chance to start capturing images with them.

Continue reading “Mix a little Wabi-sabi with your photography in 2018”

How to thrive as a freelance photographer

I’ve been working as a freelance photographer for over fifteen years, starting from humble beginnings to having a pretty thriving practice today with a team of photographers and videographers to help me better serve the growing and changing needs of my expanding clientele.

Despite major technological changes in photography putting a camera in everyone’s hands, event photography has only grown. While there are thousands of photographers around today, there is also a huge and consistently growing need for images that tell stories, communicate brand personality and help event managers reach their audiences.

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In the past month alone I and my team have covered fashion shows, balls, multi-day conferences, trade shows, recruitment fairs, graduation ceremonies, business luncheons, unveiling ceremonies, gala events and parties, executive retreats and several fundraiser evenings.  It’s been an exhausting yet still exhilarating fall season and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.

Here are some highlight images from this hectic fall season:

Taking a moment to pause and reflect, I think one of the keys to having a successful thriving freelance photography business is keeping the needs of your clients foremost in your mind at all times.

A “client” may be one person, or a team of people, all of whom you as the event or conference photographer are there to serve. The agenda may change, schedules get moved around. You may need to deliver a quick set of select images in real-time, or show up at an ungodly 6:45 am call time for a cold walk outdoors in sub-zero November weather because your client needs you there. It’s all part of the job.

If I had to summarize the most important traits a successful freelance photographer (or any freelancer really) needs it would be the following (and only one really has to do with technical ability):

  • Adaptability: being prepared and ready to adapt to sometimes (often) very last minute needs and change requests from clients.
  • Client-first attitude: while it’s important to bring your experience to bear on events you are asked to cover (you should be the one choosing where group shots get taken, and paying attention to details that show up in an image that clients are too busy to think of), you are ultimately there to serve the client. If they need you to take a photo of every award recipient that gets up on stage, you do it.
  • Technical prowess: you need to know your gear and how to use it. Galas, conferences, meetings, trade shows – all take place in spaces where lighting is rarely natural. Understanding the best way to show off the room, the people and the space with the available light goes a long way towards delivering images your client will be thrilled to receive and happy to share.
  • Being easy to work with:  this seems like an obvious one, but remarkably, not every photographer seems to recognize where they stand in the pecking order. It’s great to be confident and proud of your work, but there is no place for divas or big egos when you are on a job. You do your work with a smile, or not at all in my opinion. No client needs to deal with you and ultimately everyone is replaceable so while getting the photos right is important, being someone people enjoy working with is even more important.

Getting the gig is of course the most important part of freelancing as a photographer, but once you have it, keeping it going relies more on your personality and how you interact with your client than anything else. Your work has to stand out, but in the end, clients may find you because of your portfolio, but they choose you because of your personality and how you work.

 

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…)