Sitting here on a plane returning from Spain and Portugal. No personal vacation – it was a shoot. Friends, guests of the events we capture, and most anyone unfamiliar with the ‘events industry’ are often shocked to find out we are paid for these trips… almost as shocked as I am that they would think a 40 year old man with a wife + kids + a pro photographer as a profession would do it non-stop for six days for free?
Usually the conversation goes something like this:
Them: Been anywhere cool with your photography lately??
Me: Yup. We have had some travel lately – was in Nevis/Cali/Portugal/Paris/London last week. (pick one you like – I have captured events in all of those amazing places.)
Them: WOW! Cool. So, does your client pay for you to go?
[I like to roll my eyes for effect]
Them: Wait, like they pay for your hotel?
Them: What about air?
Me: Yup. And I also get paid for my bags to travel, meals, expenses, and my regular hourly shooting rate. IF it is somewhere far away and exotic I will also ask for a travel fee.
Them: A what?
Me: A travel fee to cover my time – because that is time I can’t shoot elsewhere.
Usually wide eyes are looking at me with an open mouth at this point.
And it always makes me ponder – why do they react this way? Only logical answer is because so few people understand what we photographers do, SO I am writing this to help you understand a little more about what happens behind the scenes… and the value of our corporate event photography business in general.
First, some background. We specialize in corporate events of all kinds and my studio’s going rate is around $200/hr. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. On average we book 100 hours of shooting per month with a two or three hour minimum per event. Our average shoot length is 4 hours and I am personally the first to be booked. As I get older [coughs "bullsh*t!"], I am getting less and less interested in leaving the studio for less than a four hour shoot. I have a list of awesome photographers on the ready whom can usually cover events of any length when I am already booked or just feeling a little pressure not to leave my in-office workload. If I do the shorter event, it is usually for a handful of clients whom have been with me for a while, or it is for the promise of some amazing decor… which, BTW, I LOVE shooting. Could care less if I never see another award winner cross a stage, but give me a high creativity/design visually stunning event and I am a kid in a candy store!
So, back to the point – why do people pay for photographers at their events – seems kinda expensive and pointless, right??
Here are a few reasons:
1. Guest Experience
People think it cool to have their “picture made” professionally at events. (My great grandmother, Gran, always used that term, BTW- was a big deal to get your “picture made” by a real pro – like having a painting made… just quicker). Sometimes the guests look pretty – the only time they do between folks dying and getting hitched! Maybe it is people doing something unusual, or meeting someone unusual. The photo depicts the experience and translates to positive memories which supports the overall spend on the event.
People work hard and get things done. Whether they have sold the most on the team, closed the big deal of the decade, or finished a merit-worthy project, a photographer is almost always invited to catch the moment they are recognized so their recognition can go beyond the eyes in the room.
3. Documentation of People
Guess what happens when the leaders of Coca Cola’s business units from all over the globe are having a meeting? All of those fine folks in one place at one time for the only time this year usually means a group photo will be made. Guess who takes that photo?
4. Documentation of Branding
When big money is spent to brand an event (think custom EVERYTHING, from branded drinking cups to 20′ wall treatments and structures), we spend time making sure it is documented. “Decor, production, and details” are key when the home office five states away needs to see where the money went, or when the venue wants to show the brands with whom they have worked. “Interaction” shots are requested when the production company wants to prove to their client that people were actively engaged with the brand.
5. Documentation for Portfolio
You show what you want to sell and many planners need images to understand what can be done with a space, a type of light, or food set-ups. My industry hires us to capture WOW! shots of WOW! set-ups so those set-ups can be sold again, used for promotion when the mags/blogs want to feature an event, images for award entries, or when any of the vendors might want to have catalog or ‘portfolio’ images of what they can do.
4. Luxury Service
I have toted a camera in some amazing places just so guests of the event didn’t have to lift a finger to do it themselves. Don’t carry that heavy old 4oz whiz bang point and shoot you just spent $1000 on – that is what I am here to do for you!! We will capture that bird, that boat, and anything else you want – just ask! We have provided those images on a USB, an online gallery, or even in print form DURING and after the event. Usually these experiences are for high-rollers, and that is what the Spain + Portugal trip was. While in Portugal and Spain, my team of three captured thousands of images, led private photo tours, cleaned the cameras of the guests, and provided everyone prints at the end of each day to include in their branded photo albums provided by the host.
Now, you may think that a photographer is a photographer and anyone with a camera, lens, and a flash can do it – so why spend the potentially thousands of dollars we demand when you have 10 friends willing to do it for FREE? First off, despite the fact your photog friend can take an amazing photo of his daughter in the garden out back and has a great camera and lens – photography ‘on demand’ in ever-changing indoor/outdoor environments would likely blow their mind. It is NOT easy. I could spend the rest of my life shooting and never know it all! Photography on the fly is, well, a great way to make most shooters cry; the shot/weather/moment happens whether you are ready or not. On this trip we captured people dancing in a dark theater, touring a cave, on a kayak tour, posed on a cliff, backlit over the ocean at noon, backlit at sunset, in a big group photo assembled in the ruins of an ancient theater, and we had a fun group captured in pitch black at midnight – none of it came with more than a moment’s notice. We dealt with more reflective brass and mirrored walls than I would EVER like to see again!! The technical aspect is crucial – we are paid because we are expected to get the shot… every time without exception.
And on that ‘on the fly’ topic – let’s talk the correlation between pressure and value. Often we are dealing with executives, leaders, political figures, celebs, and their handlers…. no pressure when the person standing in front of you makes more in the tick of a second on the clock than you do in a day!! No pressure to get multiple good shots the first time because waiting around for you to fiddle with settings and cuss your batteries WILL be a big deal! We are trusted to get the shot in ANY environment, and get it QUICKLY.
Events are like fireflies – they pop up, shine bright, and then stop shining to fly out of sight. My images drive revenue for my industry because I capture events and guests during that split second they are shining bright!
It is what we do.