September 6, 2011
Sorry to bang on about this, but I’m still hearing designers say “our client wants to use stock images for their site because it’s cheap,” and what the client wants, the client gets. And that’s usually where the designer/client conversation regarding photography ends.
The designers tell me they’re frustrated, that they put all this effort into designing a brilliant site only to have to drag the project down by slapping cheesy grins and ever-so-serious-but-utterly-anonymous business faces all over it just to fill the gaps between the boring text. Or how about some pictures of flowers? Or a tree? Or a business man looking at a tree? That’s soooo inspirational.
Hey! Business people! Here’s the news! STOCK SUX! It makes your site look generic. It makes your service/product look exactly as enticing (ie not at all) as all your competitors. Stock has become completely blasé and unconvincing. It may be cheap, but it WILL cost you in sales. So while you’re busy chasing the bottom line, someone else is creaming off what would have been your top line. The less you pay for your photography, the fewer sales your business will make. End of.
I hate all that management-speak about top and bottom lines, but if yours is the kind of business that uses stock imagery for your branding, then you’re the kind of business person that goes to a lot of management and motivational seminars in dull hotel conference suites in Swindon to hear a “guru” tell you lots of buzz words you’ll never quite understand, but which make you think you’re at the “bleeding edge” of your envelope, box, bag of mushrooms or whatever. Yes, go thread the needle of success and let’s make this kite fly, but you’re not convincing anyone, least of all the clients you’re working so hard to win.
So to designers, I suggest turning the conversation around and asking the client if their website is meant to please them or please their clients. If they just want a pretty site to show their mums to make them proud, fine, but if they want to seriously gain market share in an increasingly competitive world, they’re going to have to feature what’s great about THEIR business, not use the same old images that everyone else is using for a million other sites.
If you hide your business behind a wall of fake images of models doing fake stuff, you send out the message that you don’t trust your real business to live up to the expectations of your clients. It also suggests you don’t trust your clients, so your clients won’t trust you. And if that happens, you lose sales.
Or as a business guru might say (if they had a clue about these things), “get real photography to get real business.”
August 9, 2011
I’m a huge fan of Black Adder, and there are many hilariously memorable scenes, but the one which springs to mind as I write this week’s article is in Black Adder II when Percy enters Black Adder’s chamber wearing an outrageously large neck rough. On seeing it Black Adder remarks that Percy “looks like a bird who’s swallowed a plate!”
Why is this relevant to anything I have to say about photography? Well it’s simple really, dear reader; When a business plans its photography in small, manageable chunks throughout the year it can cope with getting what it needs without too much drama, but leave it for a year, two years, five years, and the project becomes rather like a bird swallowing a plate. Trying to ingest the ingestible, and risking some kind of injury in the process.
I’ve said before that photography should be treated as part of the over-all marketing plan, not as part of the web budget, because photos can be used in print as well as web. Try printing a website as a brochure, and you’ll start to understand what I mean – they’re separate budgets within the over all marketing budget.
By keeping your photography fresh and up-to-date you might very well spend a little more over time, but at least you won’t have a colossal expenditure to make in one go if you’re trying to start from scratch, having neglected the photography for some years. And since business people like to say “cash is king,” doesn’t it make sense to make smaller investments that add up to a solid image library than to trying to buy your entire photo library in one huge gulp?
So keep headshots up to date regularly, don’t wait until there’s a week’s worth to be shot unless you’re prepared for the cost. Keep on top of product, site, process and PR images. Consider planning a shoot every three months (or whatever suits best, so long as it’s regular). Or at the very least, review what you have and what you need on a quarterly basis.
To extend the subject a little, think more carefully about the image rights you need. Consider restricting your requirements to (for example) a three-year time limit. Certainly avoid all-rights or full copyright buyouts as it’s extremely rare for a business to actually require these rights, and most sensible photographers will charge more if you demand full copyright because they’ll assume you wish to allow other businesses use of your images, when the photographer might reasonably expect to be able to re-licence the images to those third-parties (with your permission, of course).
Certainly it’s normal for editorial images to be bought on licences that are limited by print run, territory/language and duration of use. Commercial images tend to be sold on wider licences, but limits can help in the negotiation process and you can always top-up the licence later.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here, or have a favourite Black Adder scene, feel free to comment below.
August 2, 2011
If I spent too much time listening to business people and their opinions on the importance (or lack) of photography to their success, I’d probably jack it all in and go into a career with higher public opinion ratings. Perhaps become an estate agent or politician. Maybe a tabloid journalist.
Luckily, I don’t worry about the businesses that don’t understand how essential good imagery is because that way lies madness.
Instead I concentrate on helping those who understand the difference, and who can see what good imagery can do for their chances of success. One such example is entrepreneurial maker of ice cream, Charlie Francis of Lick Me I’m Delicious in Bristol.
Now Charlie didn’t choose me. He wasn’t the one setting up the shoot, which came about as part of Barclays’ Take One Small Step competition which was set up to offer a £50,000 prize to entrepreneurs in different regions of the UK, but I’m glad I got to do the shoot because it turns out Charlie actually understands that image is vital to business. For him, it was critical to his competition chances because to win he had to garner more votes than the other contestants within his region.
Before I visited to do the shoot, Charlie and I spoke on the phone about what would and would not work, and he immediately struck me as someone who understood the fun element of his product and was willing to be very much the “personality” of his business.
It was Charlie’s idea to have a sort of Willie Wonka persona for the shoot, and I think it worked brilliantly, especially given that his ice cream is made before your very eyes using your favourite ingredients and using liquid nitrogen!
The pictures done and delivered to the PR agency, the competition got under way and Charlie started working hard to get his votes in. The press release went all over the region, and an unusually high number of publications included the photo – precisely because it was fun, colourful, and shot to a newspaper style.
Then last week, Charlie discovered he had won the £50,000 prize for the South West region!
Now I’m not going to say this was ALL down to the pictures. I know Charlie worked hard to get the word out and drum up support for his entry, and who doesn’t like ice cream? But the pictures were clearly eye-catching and formed an important part of the vote-winning exercise.
Of course it’s all very self-congratulatory me saying this, so instead here’s what Charlie had to say, “Tim created a set of fantastic eye catching shots which captured the magic of nitro ice cream making. I used them on my marketing materials to pull people in and they did a tremendous job, a great piece of photographic work.”
Congratulations Charlie, and good luck with the venture. Lend us a tenner
June 20, 2011
Here’s a slightly unusual scenario; A client requires one set of pictures for their website, and a couple more for press release. They only have one slot in which to get everything done, so who they gonna call?
Hilton Vending is a local business owned by Martin and Sarah Killian, set up in 1992 installing drinks and snacks machines. They recently ventured onto the internet and got their first website built, but they needed a few images to personalise it. After all, their clients know them and they’ve got a friendly approach so hiding behind stock images of anonymous people was leaving their website looking a little sterile.
At the same time, they needed images to go with a press release regarding the change that is coming to, er, change. To be precise, 5p and 10p coins will be changed to coins with a different alloy content and makeup (you can find out more here) and this will result in a cost implication for any business operating coin-based services – drink and snack machines, auto tolls like the new Severn Bridge crossing, parking machines. All these systems will need to be re-calibrated. Martin wanted to publicise this change with a press release, so needed a photo to go out with the story.
Luckily for Martin and Sarah, I was able not only to create a set of studio pictures for the website, but also illustrate the PR story with a suitable shot.
We spent a couple of hours trying different set-ups for the web photos, and in the end we got them some options which were suitable for use on various pages of the site. Originally Martin and Sarah thought they only needed a home page photo, but having got them to try various ideas we ended up with pictures they could use to spruce up the whole site.
Having got the studio shots done, I took Martin outside and worked on the idea of money being poured away as a result of the forthcoming coin change. I came up with the idea of Martin pouring coins out of a coffee cup to illustrate the waste, and the kind of industry that would be affected all in one shot. Oh, and I may have snuck the company name in the background too.
By combining the two shoots, Hilton Vending saved time and money, and got a few extra shots they hadn’t realised they needed. We were all ready for a coffee by the end.
May 17, 2011
Another trip down memory lane this week, and this time I risk accusations of blatantly fishing for blog hits by featuring this photo of former Page 3 model Leilani Dowding. She’s modeling a bikini which Swatch wanted to promote at the time (no pun intended) as there was a watch incorporated into the design.
There is a reason for this picture being here though, because it’s been fascinating to see that although my website is dedicated to corporate, press, PR and commercial photography, this is the photo which has had the most views out of all the pictures on my site.
I don’t mind revealing that it’s had 138 views to date. That isn’t all the people that have seen it, since you can see it without clicking on the website thumbnail. That’s how many people in about 18 months have gone to the trouble of clicking on the thumbnail image to see it larger.
Bearing this statistic in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Marilyn Monroe comes in second with 103 views, but then my Skinheads picture scores 89 to achieve 3rd place. A slightly worrying top three, but of course the hits aren’t necessarily related.
Now I should be pleased that some of my pictures are so popular, but this rather odd bag of stats highlights that just having a picture seen a lot isn’t going to bring in business. Indeed, I think I can categorically say that none of those three images has ever pulled in a genuine client. My examples of corporate portraits and the like, with much more modest hits in the range of 30-50 have done a better job of bringing in work.
It just goes to show that pretty photos don’t always bring in work. A popular picture isn’t always going to bring in business. For businesses using photography, if it’s shot well and is relevant to your business it’ll have a much bigger impact on income than something which is just “very nice to look at.” This thought should guide how you present your business.
In the meantime, I can’t bring myself to take the Leilani photo down. It’s obviously bringing pleasure to some people, and she certainly adds a splash of glamour to the gallery.
As for Leilani herself, she was lovely to work with. Utterly without pretense, and of course, thoroughly professional. We’d previously done a shoot together to promote a gardening kit giveaway for the News of the World, but that picture isn’t half as glamorous!
I understand she now lives and works in Los Angeles. I doubt she remembers me
May 10, 2011
For this week I thought I’d dig out something from the archive; a portrait photo taken with press use in mind to help illustrate the difference between this and a straight headshot.
In fact the photo here was commissioned by the News of the World for a business page article back in 2001. Nothing dodgy (for once), just a straight-up business story about Fulton Umbrellas‘ founder Arnold Fulton.
He was utterly charming, patient and engaging. He told me it’s ok to open an umbrella indoors provided you don’t lift it over your head, so putting my superstitions to one side I got on with opening a selection of umbrellas in the factory’s demonstration/sales room ready for the shot while Mr Fulton was being interviewed.
When you’re thinking about having pictures taken with a view to press coverage, you might be lucky and find that a newspaper wants to cover your story and they might send their own photographer to take pictures to go with the article. However, if you’re putting an article together and need pictures to send out to press, it’s worth keeping in mind that a straight headshot of the CEO (or whoever is quoted in the article) may not be enough.
Think about using elements of your business in the photo, even if you’re not dealing with physical goods. Sometimes a physical prop can be a metaphor for the service you offer, so don’t think that just because you sell pensions or insurance that there isn’t something to illustrate this.
My point being, think around your business and the story to see what might suit what you’re writing about. I’m happy (as any decent photographer should be) to discuss ideas with you. Don’t just dig out a portrait taken with the company logo in the background and assume it’ll get used. And even if it does get used, most people will ignore it as “just another headshot.” Far better to have a shot which helps illustrate the story. It will reinforce the point of the article, and most importantly of all, more people will read it.
As for Arnold Fulton, he insisted every visitor to his factory takes home an umbrella, so I chose a storm-proof golfing model which is still going strong today, which might explain why I’ve enjoyed the return of the rain even more than most people.
January 17, 2011
Can brilliant corporate photography save a failing business? No. BUT it will be part of what makes success easier to achieve. Conversely if a business is using snaps or stock imagery, this can be, as an American business guru might put it, a drag coefficient on your success rocket. *blech!*
I don’t pretend that the photos I take will turn you into an overnight sensation and put you in contention for The Sunday Times Rich List, but it’s fair to say that when marketing departments go to the trouble of getting a lively, engaging web design together with compelling text and a user-friendly interface, what often lets the whole project down is the lazy or cheap approach to the accompanying imagery.
Head shots of key staff needn’t be cheesy, and they certainly mustn’t be low quality just because they’re going to be used small. You never know when you might need to reproduce one to a larger scale and in print, and that’s when poor lighting and composition as well as poor resolution really start to show up. The purple gargoyle look doesn’t suit anyone. Neither is it helpful if an over-compressed file leaves you looking like you have some kind of skin disease.
Photographs of products and processes, people, places (and all the stuff not starting with p) all require a level of quality. After all, shot once you can use these images over and over again and they’ll pay for themselves in time, whereas low-grade, badly taken images will simply remind potential clients how little you care for quality every time one of these photos shows up.
Equally, if you get great imagery but either don’t use it at all or don’t use it properly, you’ll be wasting your money and you’ll think it wasn’t good value. This comes back to using a quality photographer who can give good after care, and a marketing specialist who knows how to use pictures for maximum impact.
Where’s all this going? Well I believe it’s possible to overstate the importance of photography in business, but what’s happened since the mass-accessibility of digital is that things have swung too much in the other direction. General opinion is often that photography has no, or very little importance. Often I’ve seen web designers refer to the photos in their designs as “eye-candy”. If the photos are just eye-candy, why bother with any imagery at all? And why do I have so many clients if what I do has no impact on their business?
If your business uses photography it should be as a way of communicating something to existing and potential clients. Not just showing that which is in front of the camera, but the quality, composition and presentation of the photo will all be shorthand for the kind of business you are.
Now, that’s not going to save a business which is already circling the drain, but dismissing photography on your website and in your literature as “so much fluff” won’t help you to the top of your market either. As Goldilocks might have said, you need to get the balance just right.
July 22, 2010
Many businesses are understandably looking to cut costs in these tricky times. Since the start of the credit crikey* one area where businesses have sought to cut those costs is in the photography they commission. They have looked to achieve this either through using more stock imagery (though that often ends up costing more than commissioned work) or by shooting the photos in-house, using whichever member of staff might be available and have a suitably “professional”-looking camera.
Of course I’ve watched as some of my own clients have gone through these motions, though I’m glad to say that for the most part they come back to me once they realise it’s not so easy to get the photos that help their business do better.
For many marketing managers though, the quest continues. The camera manufacturers keep putting out the hype about how their camera will help you shoot like a pro (didn’t the last camera they made promise that? and the one before it, and the one before that, and the one…) and off they go to the camera shop, or Amazon, with the company credit card in hand ready to splurge on the latest piece of Japanese jewelry, to the tune of a sum not dissimilar to a day’s fee for a properly-equipped professional who will have some things the Nikanon Powercool 1,000Ti won’t have; training, experience, an eye for what works and what doesn’t and a view of the design brief for the brochure or website into which the pictures need to sit.
So when I saw this headline “The iPhone Fashion Shoot” I thought “here we go again.” Or something along those lines. Because many will see such titles and think, well if the iPhone is good enough to shoot fashion photos then it’s good enough for the company headhots! To those people, I suggest reading the article first. It’s certainly interesting to see what is possible with a humble iPhone, several thousand pounds’ worth of lighting in a studio, with hair and makeup artists primping models to perfection, and after the shoot having all the shortcomings of the original shots taken out by a lab of Photoshop professionals.
The point is, it wouldn’t matter if the iPhone had the most incredible built-in camera in the world. The camera doesn’t take the picture, the photographer does, and the camera can’t even conceive a photo before it’s taken – again, that’s what the photographer does.
To the credit of the author of the iPhone piece, they admit the phone itself is just a tiny part of the process. In effect, they were just looking to see what was possible, regardless of the other requirements of the shoot, and to that extent it was an interesting experiment.
But if you have a company and an iPhone, or even a camera bag full of all sorts of expensive toys, I would suggest you think about the one piece missing from your Billingham bag of shiny things. The professional.
*A phrase I first saw used by the World’s greatest living wedding photographer.
June 16, 2010
Now that camera manufacturers build video capability into their professional camera bodies, the question many photographers are asking themselves is, “why am I so hung over?” Shortly after that they ask themselves if they should be getting into this video malarkey by getting an SLR with a HD video doohickey built in.
It might be helpful to look at why camera makers did this in the first place. Or it might not, but it’s what I’m going to do anyway.
I have heard that the driving force for HD-capable stills cameras was originally the press agencies who wanted their staff to be able to shoot short video clips at news events to offer in addition to stills. I’m not entirely convinced by this, since shooting stills and video simultaneously is rather like juggling turds. It’s all going to get rather messy at some point.
My gut feeling is that the manufacturers decided they needed a new selling point for their equipment, which in every other regard has become about as sophisticated as it’s possible to get short of including a particle accelerator.
Hadron colliders being rather bulky (for now), video was the obvious choice, but they needed a valid reason to go to all the trouble, so suggested it might be a “good thing” to the picture agencies who probably said something along the lines of “knock yourselves out” – a ringing endorsement indeed.
And so it came to pass that Canon, Nikon, and probably some others which nobody bothers to buy much, built video into their pro cameras and said “Lo! for we have given the world of photojournalism the ability to multitask.” Marvellous.
But, this wasn’t the real reason for glueing a cine camera to a box brownie. The reality is camera manufacturers want these technologies to trickle down from the higher-end cameras to the consumer range in order that consumers, faced with the annoying fact that newer cameras can do something their poxy stills-only brick can’t, will upgrade to the newest, video-enabled model and consign their ancient, 9-month-old camera to Ebay or landfill.
Going back to the original question for professionals though, should you jump or be pushed into video, my advice is this: Bear in mind that within a few short months, every SLR will have HD video capability to some degree, and what might seem like a business advantage now (shooting high quality, cheap videos for smaller business clients) will quickly evaporate as the World and his spotty nephew equip themselves to do video just like the pro’s. Just like stills, the results will be mostly horrid and useless, but it’ll impress the boss that he can get video for “free” even if it costs him sales (he won’t notice that unless people start telling him how horrid his nephew’s efforts are, but nobody will tell him so he’ll never know).
In the meantime, being professional and understanding what’s required to achieve pro quality, you will spend thousands of Pounds on hardware and software to make video viable; you will spend weeks learning about panning, focus, lighting and sound, then converting, editing and encoding it all, only to find the prize is always just out of reach, and that clients will always want it much cheaper than it costs to produce. All this at the same time as discovering that in the commercial and weddings world, there’s already an army of well-equipped experts already doing what you hope to do. You’ll be trapped between Uncle Arthur with his video-capable Canon 60D (or whatever) shooting for free, and the seasoned video expert who has the technique, workflow and pricing honed to perfection.
Personally, I’d rather wait for the built-in CERN feature.