Culture Crush

Since the dawn of mass-market photography, camera manufacturers have held out the promise that if you just buy their latest and greatest camera gear, you will be able to take the same pictures as a professional.

This narrative got ramped up with the birth of digital, which allowed you to see, review and (if necessary) retake a photo without having to wait for your film to be developed.

Camera adverts now routinely proclaim the ability to take your photography to “the next level” or capture incredible detail with greater ease than ever before; it turns out that the previous camera they launched with exactly the same claim was a pile of junk – get rid of it and buy this new one instead! 18 months later, they’ll have superseded the camera you never quite got to grips with, with something they claim takes your photography to the next level. And so it goes on.

Perhaps what is most disappointing is when camera manufacturers try to claim that if only you owned their latest model, you could do the work of a professional. It sends out the message that it’s the gear, not the human behind it, that creates work with purpose or impact. Which is odd, because I have cameras which I only use once every few months, yet all the time they sit on the shelf, they never produce a damn thing. I’ve checked and it hasn’t happened yet.

This sales tactic feeds a nascent belief that professional photographers are not really needed, which in turn makes us look over-priced. Clients then decide that perhaps they’ll have a go themselves (usually with risible results), or they try to hammer their budgets down to almost nothing, because why pay someone if it’s the camera that’s doing all the work?

Until now, these manufacturers have been relatively subtle in this messaging, but hats off to Apple and Adobe for taking this narrative to an entirely new level. In their adverts and promotional posts, they’re basically telling us that creative professionals are an obstacle to creativity.

Apple’s “crush the creative” ad for the iPad was eye-popping on multiple levels, but it’s earned a well-deserved backlash from the creative community. What Apple wants us (you) to believe is that all creative arts and creativity and humanity can be crushed into a 5.1mm thick slab of aluminium. Just think what YOU could do with this – no pesky creative individuals with their annoying invoices necessary.

Adobe, meanwhile, is exhorting people to “skip the photoshoot” as they (Adobe) push their generative AI image making tool to a wider market. So the photographers (designers, illustrators too) who have doggedly supported Adobe for the past 25 years or more are now thrown under the bus of so-called progress.

Perhaps what is even more galling here is that Adobe’s image-generation tool has been trained on the work of photographers who have paid to use Adobe’s products. This isn’t payback for a service we’ve used for free all these years, this is a kick in the nuts.

Ai is obviously not going away, but corporations need to be careful which direction they push it in. There’s a genuine risk that creatives will simply start creating less. The bottom line of the bottom line is that if creatives can find no reward for their work, they’ll stop creating the work. That’s when culture starts to whither at everyones’ expense, though mostly at the expense of those not rich enough to insulate themselves from this onslaught.

It’s easy (actually it’s lazy) to say “that’s progress, get with it or be left behind” except it isn’t progress. It is simply large corporations not having a clue how real creativity works, what it needs to thrive and above all, why real, tangible, physical, sometimes messy culture is so important to the wellbeing of individuals and society and yes, the economy.

By all means embrace the crushing and sidelining of creative endeavour, but don’t complain when life ends up feeling a bit shitter as a result.

How Much Should Photography Cost?

One question which ties up too much time, energy and headspace for most businesses is, “How much should we be paying for photography?”

In the modern business landscape, we have to extend that to videography too, of course. While this article focuses mainly on stills, read to the end for my thoughts on video as well.

The shortest answer I can give is that the corporate communications photography you commission shouldn’t cost you anything. “What?! Free photography?! Where can I get some of that!!” I hear you wail, but of course that notion is ridiculous. Free stuff, as we all know, is often worth exactly what we’ve paid for it.

What I mean is, the photography and videography you commission for your business should, either fairly immediately, or over time, generate more income for your business than it cost to get done. If your photography/videography isn’t winning new clients or gaining fresh business, then you need to look at why it’s not working before deciding you’re paying too much. It could be how you’re deploying the work, it could also be that you’re not paying enough to get the quality you need.

A useful exercise is to start from the other end of the process. Ask what it is you want to achieve with your images, then work backwards to find the solution. That is to say, the photographer you choose is more important than what they charge. Ask yourself if the photographer’s style fits your brand and whether their quality adds a perception of high value to that brand. What they charge should reflect the outcome you’re aiming for. It needs to reflect the quality of their work, the uses to which that work will be put (the Licence to Use) as well as the standard of service they offer.

Just to explain the Licence to Use a little more deeply, a set of photos destined for a one-off press release for a small business won’t command the same fees as a high-production single image used in a national advertising campaign for a global brand.

There are many scenarios between these usage examples, but if you’re open with the photographer about who and what they’re shooting for, they can give far better guidance on the likely fees. And when it comes to the shoot itself, they can plan their own approach and deploy their resources far more effectively for a more successful outcome.

Oh and on that last point, be VERY wary of any photographer who doesn’t ask how the images are to be used. This should be an alarm-bell-moment. If they don’t care what you do with their work, it means they don’t care about your goals. This will be reflected in the results and that’s when photography becomes really expensive, regardless of how cheap it was to acquire.

Much the same approach applies to commissioning video, albeit the costs associated with that tend to focus more on post-production time than on aspects such as licensing. However, if you’re going to commission video, you still need to think carefully about your goals.

Identifying who you’re trying to reach, what their expectations are and how you’re going to win their business should be considered long before commissioning a videographer (ie me!) to press the record button.

If I’m shooting video for a client, of course I want to understand my client’s aims, but I also want to know who they’re trying to win over. If they’re aiming at people who might do business with them, the content, message and production values all need to be of a high quality. There’s no point spending money on a video which is aimless and poor quality. That’s just a waste of money and a drag on valuable resources. It might grab audience attention for a brief moment, but will soon be forgotten in the constant stream of online content marketing. Poor quality production will also harm your brand and cost you sales.

The main message of this post is to think quality first, then work out your budget based on the value you’re likely to gain from the results. Setting out with an unrealistic budget plucked from thin air isn’t going to get you where you need to be, which is why I’m happy to spend time working through these questions with clients before they commit to working with me.

I would be delighted to discuss your stills and video needs, so drop me a line and let’s get your photography and videography making money, not costing it.

If You Want To Get Ahead, Get A Headshot

We all know how important it is to have a professionally-taken business portrait, so how come mine is so old?!

Yes, it’s time for the cobbler to mend his shoes and for the physician to heal himself. The photographer needs to take his own portrait. I’ve been putting it off because like most of you, I don’t like having my photo taken.

But that’s no excuse. Time has pretty much the same effect on everyone – it ages us, and I have no immunity against the ravages of time.

For a start, I have fewer grey hairs now; that is to say, I have fewer hairs. Apart from that, it’s just good practice to update your profile photo every three years (five at a stretch).

The issue is that while a simple selfie is easy enough to do, taking a selfie that looks like a professional portrait is a bit of a circus act. Modern cameras make it easier than it used to be, especially now that the camera can be operated via a phone app, but it’s still quite a feat of organisation and coordination. Maybe I should hire a photographer?

That would be fine by me, except I also take the opportunity of using myself as a model to really work on new ways of setting up, new approaches to getting the correct angle and perhaps more particularly, finding interesting tweaks to my current style. So making my new portrait will also be a chance to adjust and refine my portrait style.

In all likelihood the development will be more incremental than revolutionary, but it’s still a good exercise to go through.

And what could possibly go wrong? Artists and photographers have been making self portraits since the dawn of time. Vincent van Gogh famously did a few, and he turned out fine *googles the life of van Gogh and… “OH MY GOD! WHAT THE ACTUAL…?!!* Ok, maybe I’ll delay making my self portrait for a while longer…

Except there is always an excuse, from “I need to get my hair done” to “I’ve cut off my ear and presented it as a gift to my favourite prostitute”; I’ve heard them all and I can no longer wriggle out of it myself.

Now that I’ve said it, I need to go and do it. And I want you to nag me if I haven’t updated my profile photo in a week’s time. For the record, here’s my current one. Gosh, I looked so young!

And if you’re now realising it’s been six years (or more!) since your business profile portrait was updated for your website or LinkedIn profile, drop me a line and we’ll organise a nice relaxed photo session. No excuses, let’s do it.