Best of 2014, pick #2
This blog post — unknown to me at the time — describes one of the most important new services we rolled out this year.  I had no idea how #hashtag printing — and fake selfies — would grow and morph.  It’s  worth rerunning in this time of “best of”.  Plus, I really stick it to Marriott: an obvious side benefit suiting my snarky nature.
Every once in a while, I wake up on the day of a shoot, and think, “no, my plan sucks.”

Keep in mind THE PLAN usually takes a few months to evolve, tweak, and massage.  By the time THE DAY rolls around?  It has been analyzed, re-analyzed, pinched, prodded and finally wedged into place.

The LAST THING you want to do is decide, with about 8 hours to shoot time (this was an evening reception) “Ehhhh, not so much.  Not feeling it.”

No.  You want to wake up energized, thinking you’ll get a standing ovation on the stage that is event photography.

But on Wednesday, I lay in bed, staring at the pop-corn ceiling of the ugly step sister of the World’s Suckiest Five Star Hotel, The Marriott World/ Orlando, thinking: “I’m missing something.”

My plan was to run a #Hashtag Photo Booth that evening, coupled with selfies.  Let me explain.  Participants can upload any photo to Instagram or Twitter  — either one they’ve already taken, or one from that evening —  #Hashtag it with the client determined #Hashtag, and VIOLA, the photo prints at “the lemonade stand”.

But not everyone is on Twitter or Instagram — or has a smart phone.  So for those participants,  I decided the best thing to do was couple the #Hashtag booth with a selfie station.  Selfies are huge, especially after Ellen’s famous Oscar selfie, followed by Obama’s selfie at the White House.  Everyone gets selfies.  I came up with a smooth work flow, and a month ago, rolled out our first Seflie / #Hashtag booth  with AARP in Washington, DC at Pride 2014.

Huge hit.  About half the participants uploaded their own photos to the #AARPdcPride hashtag, and collected their prints at the “lemonade stand”, while another half did selfies in front of the AARP step and repeat background.  In fact, my fingers where sore from flying across the face of my iPhone, helping participants create the perfect selfie.  But it was a success.  The client, very happy.

Fast forward to this past week.  A different group, this one in Orlando, and no client provided step and repeat background.

I had, however, left my green screen background in place from the previous, traditional green screen execution I’d been running for the last three days.

The lemonade stand now stood in front of the green screen, and I left my LED lights to provide good illumination for the selfie booth.  Though nothing had moved, the ballroom was now the gala party, instead of the convention floor — tables for seating replaced vendor booths, and a band played on a stage off to my left.  My photo execution remained almost dead center against the long wall across from the entrance doors.  Hard to miss, lit up like daytime with the LED’s and the lemonade stand in front proclaiming, “PICK UP YOUR PRINTS HERE”.

In addition, cards with the event  #Hashtag were distributed to all the tables giving instruction on how to upload the photos and receive prints.  PLUS, this group knew me (and green screen), as I’d been with them for 3 days, and have worked their event in prior years.

But this was different.  What I was scheduled to do that evening was nothing they’d seen before.  And I knew I’d have some explainin’ to do.  Especially doing selfies against the green screen, and just using the green fabric as a background….

Yes, that was the main problem.  They wouldn’t get that. That was weak.  They’d become used to sophisticated substitutions.  For the past three days, they’d ride Shamu, golf with Tiger Woods, have a pic with characters from Disney, or lounge on the beach.  They wouldn’t get just doing selfies against a green background.

What to do?

I had the green screen.

I had the lights.

What if… What if I could do selfies that had a substitution?  How would that work?  What if I did “Fake Selfies”?  Well, the selfies were real — they’d take the pic with my iPhone — against the green background — but the background of what they were in front of?  Well, that could be totally fake.

And slowly a plan began to form.  I spent the rest of the day testing, retesting, and tweaking.

Soon it was show time.

The participants entered the gala, spied the green screen, and a small horde ventured over, expectant looks on their faces.

“Do you understand what we are doing?” I asked.

“Not really.”

I explained.  They loved it.  Participant after participant went through the line, family after family, background after background, fingers flew across my iPhone, I uploaded to Twitter, Instagram, either, or — whatever I felt like, zapped in the predefined verbiage, photo printed, I slammed it on the table, while turning to the next group.

Soon I’d done more than 400 in two hours.  I’d changed rolls of paper twice.  Finally, about half way through the third hour, things quieted down and I was able to breathe.

I looked at Instagram.  I’d uploaded over 200 photos to just Instagram.  Plus, other photos from around the event printed — photos participants took at the stage, selfies while they danced, kids with glow lights around their necks, just fun, warm, photos.

All uploaded — and then printed — and picked up.  A mix of fake green screen selfies, real selfies, and party photos participants captured.  That part of this story is over.  It was huge fun.  Client:  happy.  And I’d done something totally new.  That always makes me giddy.  Too bad that warm and fuzzy feeling inside my stomach wouldn’t last.


Meanwhile, before the event started, this photographer sat down to eat a bit of dinner before the gala, at a nice Italian restaurant inside the Marriott World Hotel.  I bit into the scallop, and thought, “hmmmm, could have been cooked longer.”  Ehhh, as someone who gobbles down sushi five times a week, I wasn’t worried.  And the scallop was nicely seared on both sides, delicious.

But undercooked.  And I didn’t recognize that mistake until later.  It would cost me.

The shoot concluded, I barely made it back to my room as my stomach twisted and tied into knots.   I put the key into the electronic door reader.

Flashy red and yellow lights.  I tried again.  And again.  And again.  I tried the other key.  That one did nothing.  Not even flashy red and yellow lights.

Stomach flipped once, twice.


I left the camera bag in the hall outside my door — I couldn’t face hauling the 70 plus pounds the 3/4 of a mile (literally) back to the front desk.  Remember, it was the sister of this hotel — the World’s Suckiest Five Star Hotel — better known as the JW Marriott LA Live — where my cameras had been stolen — right out of the camera bag, in a ball room at the hotel.  It was almost exactly one year ago.  Security had shrugged.  Read that blog post if you want more.  Don’t worry, I’ll re-run it tomorrow. It’s always one of my most popular posts, and it launched this blog.

I digress.  Stolen cameras or no, I didn’t care.  Sweat was starting to break out on my forehead, and I was beginning to recognize the first signs of a long night.

Finally, I reached the front desk.  There was a line of about 40 people to check in.  It was close to midnight.

I spied a manager off to the side.


“I’ll be right with you Sir.”

He didn’t look up.

He went over to a door, opened it, went inside.  A few moments ticked by.  He came back out.

He looked at me.

“Hi,” I said, “I was wondering if you could help me?  My keys seem to have stopped working.”  I plopped my ID on the counter.  This was not my first go around with room keys not working.

“Did you stand in line?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did you stand in line?  Over there.”  He nodded at the line waiting to check in.

“No I didn’t stand in line.  Obviously I’m not checking in, I just need a key that works.”

“Next time, stand in line.  Wait your turn.”

Anger trumped my rolling stomach.  Voice steady, I spat back:

“Really?  No.  Next time, I going to find you again, and ask for room keys that function.”

“Next time stand in line.”  Undaunted.

He flung the room keys at me.

I snatched them, turned and stalked to my room as his eyes bored into my back.  He clearly wanted to continue the stupid discussion. I did not. Could not, without risk of hurling right across his front desk.  I thought that would be tacky, gross, and totally against my fastidious, almost obsessive compulsive respect for cleanliness.  I marched off.  Anger does tend to make you forget, at least, temporarily, that you aren’t feeling … well.

Sweat trickled down my back.

I just don’t have good luck at Marriott.  I will say this, however:  the camera bags were still propped by my door.

The rest of the night, I spent next to the porcelain god, paying homage to undercooked scallops and thinking I probably could survive the rest of my life on a diet of oat meal and water.

The next day, mostly purged,  I dragged myself to the airport, boarded a non-eventful flight, and touched down in Baltimore.

I stood at the luggage belt, half supported by my camera bag’s handle, thinking death was underrated.  A tap on the shoulder.

“You’re the photographer guy.”

“Yes, yes I am.”  Smile.  A little forced.

“I just want you to know:  we had so much fun.  Especially last night.  That was incredible.  Thank you.”

The smile finally reached my eyes.  “You are so welcome, my pleasure.  I hope to see you in Nashville.”

He walked away.

I thought:  I could go for some sushi.  I’m just a little hungry.  Though I think I’ll stick to tuna.

A few afterthoughts.
Perhaps I pick on Marriott.  It’s a huge company, and every multinational corporation has a few employees that are, um, well, in need of more training.  After all, anyone who reads this blog knows I love Southwest.  But, I’ve been on flights where I thought: those flight attendants are imports from Airtran and never quite got the indoctrination.  And, if you read this blog, you know I like Starwood.  I even told the story of how I came to be a Starwood loyalist.  But what I didn’t tell was a story from years ago where a woman at a Sheraton — eyeing my dilapidated car — decided I couldn’t possibly be a guest there, and demanded its removal from the front of the hotel.  This, as I checked in.  And then quickly out.  That was in my college years, and she nearly cost Starwood a lifetime elite SPG member.

Sheraton, however, has consistently improved their level of warmness since my college days, and I don’t hold a grudge.  Now, it’s the rare exception I run into either a Starwood employee — and in fairness to their arch rival, Hilton — or a Hilton employee that makes me want to twist their head backward on their neck.  But with Marriott it’s happened two out of four stays this past 13 months.  Compare that to the 44 nights and 21 stays year to date with Starwood, and the 12 stays and 34 nights year to date with Hilton (I just checked both accounts), where I don’t think, with either chain, I’ve had a single incident of wanting to twist off someone’s head.

Certainly, there can be issues at any hotel.  And in all those nights detailed above with Hilton and Starwood, there have been. In one recent hotel, I had almost no water.  I told the front desk (no line), and it was immediately fixed.  The difference is how challenges are resolved.

Hit our website for more info on green screen photography or #hashtag photo printing

Fake green screen selfies were a total hit.  Tricky to do, worth it.
In addition, real selfies — and other pics — printed at the booth, as long as they were uploaded to Twitter or Instagram and #hashtagged with the client’s verbiage.
After three days of conducting sophisticated, traditional green screen photo executions, I didn’t think the participants would like anything less for selfies.

The “lemonade stand”, where participants pick up their photos.