Taking the long view.


austrian mountains

Gratuitous pretty photo as metaphor for taking the long view.


It’s all a bit doom and gloom in light of the latest government spending review (aka GSR, or gun shot residue since someone will have to pull the trigger), so I thought I’d offer an opinion from my own perspective as well as show you a pretty photo that might help calm the raggedy nerves.

I know I’m “only” a commercial photographer, but the benefit of what I do is that I get to see inside a variety of businesses, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and difficulties to face as we all find ourselves caught between the axe man and the tax man. Of course, what is common amongst the businesses I get to visit is that they all want to update their marketing with fresh designs and imagery because not to do so is to risk becoming invisible amongst the welter of competing businesses on the web.

Now I don’t want this to be yet another article extolling the virtues of online marketing. There are enough web, e-marketing and search engine optimisation gurus out there to fill the Titanic many times over, and many are about as useful as a busted lifeboat as the economy lists hard to starboard and the icy waters of recession fill the steerage class quarters and… enough of that analogy, you get the picture.

The problem for businesses that need a decent website or brochure and don’t yet have them is that as we face massive public sector cuts AND the hike in VAT, the company budget will never be there to turn a poor or non-existent website or brochure into a useful marketing tool. Those businesses that have delayed too long may have to fare this storm with nothing but whatever they have right now, which might be no more than a poorly designed flyer which does nothing but demonstrate the startling array of text fonts and colours available on the MD’s nephew’s computer.

Alternatively, companies can start to spend not less, but more wisely. Taking the time and effort to find the real experts in whatever needs doing. Of course I mean finding the right commercial photographer (not a mate’s wedding photographer), as well as the professional web designer, graphic designer, copy writer and marketing expert so that the resulting website, brochure or leaflet, all work much harder and have a much longer shelf life.

I know this all sounds dull and isn’t producing belly laughs, but however ghastly this recession is or continues to be, one thing is certain; it will end one day, and businesses that have invested carefully in whatever areas of marketing work for them will find themselves stronger on the other side, and without Leonardo Dicaprio’s frozen, lifeless fingers still gripping whatever piece of driftwood has kept them afloat while they await rescue or the receivers.

Face Up to Portrait Fears

Recently I’ve been asked to shoot a lot, and I mean A LOT, of corporate portraits for many different clients. It tends to go like this; slightly nervous office staff shuffle into the broom cupboard I’ve been assigned to as my portable studio for the day, and I have to stop them hyperventilating with fear at least until I can get a nice photo of their smiling face, preferably with eyes open and a minimum of sweat shine on their noses.

I understand the fear. I too am not delighted when someone points a camera at me, so I feel their pain. That’s why I try to settle the sitter, crack some bad jokes, and be as quick as possible.

However, there is another way. Not to say that the standard portrait isn’t important and useful, but if you’re trying to arrange a photo shoot for a collection of colleagues who break out in hives at the thought of looking into my dead, glassy eye, perhaps the candid portrait would be a better option.

In this scenario you can gather a selection of people around a table and get them chatting while I work around the group, capturing smiling, positive expressions. Lay on some coffee, biscuits (cookies for our American friends), or water and let people chat, relax and forget that I’m there. They might use the time to discuss some project that they’re planning, or just have a bit of a social. Within minutes they’ll forget I’m there, and it’ll show in the photos.

relaxed corporate portrait

Chatting to a colleague takes the mind off being photographed.

Another option is to have colleagues come to me in pairs. One of the pair will be photographed while the other chats to them, tells jokes and makes them laugh and interact. They won’t be looking into camera, but as with the round-table discussion shots it’s a way of relaxing people into the photo session. It creates more dynamic images which can be useful for more than just the About Us section of the website, and you’ll have a broader choice of angles and expressions so pictures on the website can be periodically refreshed, and pictures in a brochure can be different from those on the website.

In any event, I can always finish off with a final shot to camera, by which time the sitter should be relaxed enough to give a more natural smile.

I’ve blogged before about why decent portraits are important, but at the risk of repeating myself, these photos are generally used on business websites in the About Us section, or in corporate literature. They are the World’s window on the people that make up the business and those photos are the first impression anyone gets of the business. The photos will be used repeatedly and different contexts, each time making a first impression on someone new. So if you’re going to spend good time, money and fear on corporate portraits, consider the options I’ve set out. It really doesn’t need to be as painful as route canal work. At least not always.