Jan 072011
 

© Paul Mozell 2011

Now more than ever, images and photography play a decisive role in defining your company’s image. When SEO (search engine optimization) tools and specialists record and analyze the duration, source, and movement of each site visit, can you really afford NOT to use professionally produced photographs in your marketing? Is the good enough photo made by someone on your in-house team, what you really want on the front page of marketing piece?

Images define your identity

Here are a few examples, ripped from the headlines. (names are changed to protect the innocent)

Product Photography: Jane works in the marketing communications department of a company that supplies pumps used in pharmaceuticals manufacture. The VP of marketing has just assigned her to a team rolling out a new product line. She is tasked with developing sell sheets, web content, and a schedule of press releases. The VP wants the new materials to feature strong graphics and make liberal use of photographs. The company’s new line of electro-stimulo-converter-phase-shifters must be shown installed and working at customer sites.At the first meeting of the planning group, Jane announced that she owns a great, new, Super-Zoom-Near-Pro-Quality-Pocket-Sized-Point & Shoot camera, and can save the company thousands of dollars by doing the photography for the project. Jane recently photographed her mother-in-law’s hand-made bracelets for sale on eBay. (The bracelets didn’t sell). Jane traveled 100 miles round-trip to the customer site, spent one hour photographing the devices, and was confident that she got the shots.

Back at the office, the team gathered around Jane’s monitor for a group edit of the images. They freely offered opinions about the work.

“Say Jane, don’t they seem fuzzy to you?”
“Why do our XW-D123 devices look so small?”
“Excuse me, but why do the cabinets look pink?”
“Can we blow those up to be poster-size for our trade-show booth display?”
“Is the boss really going to like these?”
“Sorry, old friend, I think you should have hired a photographer!”

Exasperated, Jane called the professional photographer who had been writing her for several months requesting an appointment to show his work.

A couple of weeks later, the team gathered again to view the work of the pro. He displayed a mock-up of the annual report on the conference room table. The image of the XW-D123 seemed to jump off the page. His slide show on the 60-inch monitor showcased the device from every conceivable angle. Environmental shots showed clean-room workers in dramatic lighting, adjusting instrumentation. The otherwise flat-looking product had come to life. Jane conceded that this photo project had been beyond her skill level. Nor was her snapshot camera ideal for the job.

Executive Portraits: Harry worked for a startup that wanted to project its hip and cool image to the customer base, and to potential new employees. So, one afternoon, he reached into the top right drawer of his office desk, pushed away the bags of potato chips, ink-jet cartridges, old zip drives, and HR memos, and grabbed his trusty point-and-shoot camera. Harry photographed the partners and key managers. Then, he scheduled a meeting with his boss to select the best images for use in the brochure that would promote the company’s annual 3-day industry conference.

All the headshots were dark and muddy looking, and there was an annoying shadow on the white wall behind each person’s head. A reflection of the pop-up flash on the camera showed in the eyeglasses of half the team members. Those without glasses, had classic flash red-eye in their pupils. The posed team-at-work photos were no better. There was an embarrassing amount of clutter visible the room. Sunlight beaming through the picture windows in the workspace burned out highlights throughout the photos. “Can’t we fix this in Photoshop?” someone asked.

Harry placed a call to a pro photographer. A few days later, the photographer and her assistant set up a plain grey seamless background in an unused conference room, which they would use for the headshots. They also set up strobe lights with white umbrellas on stands. Harry was impressed how quickly and smoothly the photographer and her assistant worked together. Ten staff members sat for their portraits for five or ten minutes each, and several remarked that the photographer was very cordial. “I was pleased how they put me at ease,” remarked one vice president. “I hate having my picture taken,” she continued.

Later, Harry worked with the photographer and her assistant to tidy up the conference room for the group shots. She was very clear about wanting certain window shades open, and others closed. She asked if some of the overhead lights could turned off. The assistant placed some small strobe lights in the corners of the room. Boxes of software showing the company logo were strategically placed in the room. Harry called in the team members, and the photographer directed them to stand or sit, while checking the composition in the viewfinder of her tripod-mounted camera.

A couple of days later, Harry saw the results of the photographer’s work and was very pleased. The headshots were clear and bright. The staff members who complained about having droopy eyelids that day, looked alert and cheerful in their photographs. The group shots had a mix of formality and friendliness — projecting the cool team image.

Architectural Interiors and Exteriors: Hyperclone-Bioclad Ventures was proud of its new office buildings and plant, and wanted photographs to show off the new facilities to overseas investors and customers, in a short-run, press-printed booklet. Marsha C. from Marketing, spent 1 ½ hours one day, taking photos of the building with her iPhone. Unhappy with the results she saw in iPhoto, she borrowed her son’s new Nikon Coolpix and tried again. Reviewing this next batch of photos in her office, Marsha saw greenish and purple shadows on the walls and ceilings, and annoying tilted effect on the shots she took took of the building exteriors. The images also were unpleasantly fuzzy. Marsha thought, “These pictures just won’t cut the mustard. It’s time to call the pro. We must have a budget for this somewhere!”

A photographer, who had been recommended to Marsha by an architect friend, arrived for a site visit a few days later carrying a hand-held light meter, and a notebook. He asked questions about the delivery trucks parked in front of the building, and commented on the shadows on the building and the reflections on the glass wall in the front courtyard. He said that a full day would be required to photograph the building, including making dramatic twilight images at the day’s end.

A few weeks later Marsha saw the results of his work and admitted that the images were stunning. The images of her modest-sized office building seemed grander, and more impressive in the photographs than in real life. She told the photographer, “ I see now that architectural photography requires skills and equipment that I do not have. I wasted a lot of time and money trying to do this myself.”

Event Photography: The Fund for Helpful Helpers is hosting its annual dinner. This past year has been a particularly good one for fundraising, and all the key benefactors and donors will be acknowledged. Management insisted that this year, the organization will spring for the services of professional photographer — “because of what happened last year.” That’s when the marketing assistant missed the photograph of the richest man in New England shaking hands with the President of TFHH. A faulty camera was blamed.

The pro photographer arrived at the event, dressed in a dark suit, towing a black suitcase full of equipment. When someone asked how much gear he had, the photographer explained that he has duplicates and backup for every piece of equipment in his kit. “This is just like a wedding,” he explained. “I only get one chance to get it right, and there cannot be any screw-ups.”

The morning after the event the Development Director received an email from the photographer with a link to the edited photographs from the event. She logged on to a clean-looking website, and browsed through directories of image thumbnails. She sorted the photographs into different “lightboxes” and emailed them to key people in the organization. She was especially pleased to get the photographs the next day. This made it possible to meet the deadlines of some key publications.

Conclusion

Delivery of professional photography services is about the photographer’s ability to understand and interpret a client’s objectives. The equipment he or she uses is not nearly as significant as her skill and experience. It is also about professionalism, timely delivery, and trust. With very few exceptions, each time a business decides to take a short cut on photography, it compromises the value of its message, its product, its service, and its brand. Risking the overuse of an old maxim, I’ll offer that, you only get one chance to make a first impression. This holds true for the photography specialties cited in this article, as well as for the fashion, sports, tabletop, food, and wedding photography fields. If you have any doubts, study the site usage statistics in the Google Analytics report for your company website. The quality of images on your site, display ads, email blasts, newsletters, catalogues, and outdoor advertising should always be assigned to a professional photographer. Can you really afford to take your chances with the low bidder, or the in-house hobby photographer?

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