How We Do What We Do: Part 2 READY, SET, ENGAGE (Or, Uno, Dos, Quince!)
How We Do What We Do: Part 2 READY, SET, ENGAGE (Or, Uno, Dos, Quince!)
In the last blog post, I talked about how US Event Photos grew from a local, journalism-based photography firm to a national experiential photo marketing business. In this post, I want to share one of the most important ingredients in our secret sauce.
I warn you, this is highly classified stuff. Like Barbara Waters, I’m going to keep this just between you and me. No one else. After all, if I go telling everyone our little secrets, what’s to prevent the competition from stealing the formula?
Given competitors have taken my name (Michael Gatty) and used it as a registered web site (www.MichaelGatty.com) and then pointed it to their shameless site (which shall remain nameless) in hopes, obviously, of confusing people into thinking they’ve hired US Event Photos and not this nameless desperate competitor, you’d think I’d be shy about sharing secrets. Now, smarty pants, if you are madly typing “MichaelGatty.com” into your browser and not seeing this competitor’s web site, that is because my attorney sent a cease and desist letter forcing the weasel to abandon this tactic.
(My favorite part? At the bottom of the web page, in tiny print, he wrote “Shameless Website is not affiliated with US Event Photos or Michael Gatty”. At first, I was mad. Then blinding rage ebbed to amusement. It’s just so SAD!)
Anyway, my mom has an artist friend, who is famous in the American folk-art industry. She creates modern interpretations of traditional work, which sell for high dollar in boutique galleries. One year, when she went to the New York Gift Show to display her latest art, she noticed cheap Chinese knock-offs of her previous work being hawked all over the gift show. (“I LOVE CHINA!”)
“Doesn’t that make you MAD?” My mom asked.
“No,” Pat said, “I have more ideas. As they copy my old stuff, I’ve already created eight new concepts and am bored with the past. So, let them copy. It’s really kind of flattering.”
With that said, here is one of our biggest secret ingredients that drives the success of US Event Photos:
From the first client email and phone call, to the last participant at an experiential photo marketing event, we engage. We connect with the client. We grab the participant. We are over the top, effusive, interested, excited to be there, happy to meet you, glad to be a part of this event, photographers.
When asked how things are going, we say, “Fantastic!” (Because, of course, they are.)
When asked how the photos are going, we say, “Amazing!” (Because, of course, they are.)
When asked if we think the predicted tornadoes will affect the shoot, we say, “Well, we’re ready if they show up!” (Because, of course, we are.)
When a client calls, we think about their brand. What does it mean to people? How does it connect into the lives of their consumers? How can we leverage the existing product buzz to drive emotional connection during a green screen photo booth event?
With some clients – like HBO – it’s easy. Game of Thrones sells itself. Participants want to connect and be a part of the show. They can’t wait to sit on the Iron Throne. Photos fly to social media.
But what would happen if a participant reaches the Iron Throne and is promptly greeted by a bored and irritated photographer? (And let’s face it: when you look up and see a line without end, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. And participants don’t necessarily walk up and be nice. Some might be – inebriated. This ain’t The Waltons. People are people. Suck it up, butter cup, you’re there to create a brand story.) If you are nasty and people don’t like you, the resulting photo will be a wooden, transparent representation of the brand. The participant’s discomfort at the event will transmit through the imaging, and instead of connecting with the brand, everything would fall short. (SAD! Mr. Photographer, tear down this wall!)
Speaking of walls. A while ago, Matthew and I were hired by Pemex, the national Oil and Gas Company of Mexico, to do a series of photo marketing events throughout the country. (This was before the invasion caravan, obviously!) We set up the green screen at events in tiny villages, and almost no one spoke English.
Um, mi Espanol no es Bueno. Este es mi Espanol cerdo. (I call it “my pig Spanish.”)
Language was a wall. And participants being participants, if I asked someone how to say something, they often would – with a straight face – substitute in a word that was, let’s just say, not a direct translation. Who knew “punta” didn’t mean SMILE! (I’ll have to work on that!)
To be safe, I decided to do my count, “One! Two! Seven! but in Spanish. I’m rather infamous for this, and it irritates Matthew – a notable side benefit. Even though every participant has seen me count my arbitrary numbers as they wait in line, when I shout out their unique combination, they laugh. When they giggle, I take the photo. Instant warm image.
About the Writer
Mike Gatty is owner of US Event Photos, a national experiential photo marketing event photography firm. He is son to Mary Ann Gatty, who started the original business when Mike was in middle school, and Bob Gatty, who writes his own Blog and is a former editor and publisher of various magazines and industry publications. He lives with his partner in life and business, Matthew Frey, near Orlando, Florida.
The US Event Photos Blog is a forum for Mike’s random thoughts and should not be held against anyone – especially his parents or his partner, Matthew. After all, they’ve been shushing him for years.
Photographer and writer Mike Gatty faking it in the world’s most expensive selfie.
This participant had something in mind when he entered the photo area, and we weren’t sure until he actually posed what it was. Listening to an engaged participant – following their lead – and capturing the image is marketing gold. By the way, he was one of the last participants in a 10 hour day.
In Spanish, it proved a hit. One evening as I was walking down the corridor toward my hotel room, dragging my 1,000-pound camera bag behind me, stomach churning from too much – we’ll call it Mole — I heard:
“UNO! DOS! QUINCE!” And a loud, uncontrollable giggle.
I turned. It was a very high up PEMEX executive teasing me. But at that moment I knew we’d won over the client. They were engaged.
From the first shutter click to the last participant, every photo must be warm and intimate. Event photographers have a few seconds to spend with each guest. In those short moments, we will make or break the final image.
The most important skill to capture a great photo isn’t technical. It’s not lighting, or keying of green screen photos, or software, or cameras, or lenses or even lighting. The single biggest thing to create great photos is having an “instant intimacy” with the participant.
Instant Intimacy: the ability to immediately connect and be liked by those you’re photographing. The skill to put people at ease in front of the camera within seconds. (Not being a nasty prick to participants because you’d rather be photographing genuine ART. Like Ansel Adams stuff. REAL ART. LOSER! SAD! You take a lot of STUPID photos! LOCK HIM UP! LOCK HIM UP!)
If the participant is engaged with the photographer, the resulting final image will jump off the screen. A genuine energy will flow from the photo, and what would be a typical (disposable) marketing pic will become extraordinary.
Engagement with everyone associated with the photo event is crucial. Clients need to love you. Trust you. Listen to your advice. Participants must understand what you’re doing: creating a great photo they will adore, not a snapshot to be forgotten a few seconds after the experience.
Instant intimacy is a skill anyone can develop. (Except perhaps those who are genuinely dislikeable losers. Sorry about that. But we’re doing so much winning here, we are sick of winning. Aren’t we?) It means you must step out from behind the camera and be a force. You can’t hide behind the technical or the equipment. You can’t sit. You must be active. Fixing participant’s hair. Laughing. Adjusting props. Helping them pose. You know, WORKING.
It doesn’t matter how you engage. I have my own technique, Matthew’s different. What’s important is you break down the wall between the photographer and the photographed – immediately – you only have seconds – and catch a genuine moment. If you can do that, again and again and again and again and again you will capture a collection of photos that are extraordinary. If you don’t, you’ll do nothing but create cheap knock offs.
Helping a participant understand how they will blend into a final image is important. Having everything right — her hat, her boa, the tilt of her head, the placement of her chin – all will help her relax and feel part of the photo. When she acts out a role, she becomes a believable part of the image. That’s when the line between what’s “real” and what’s “green screen” starts to fade, and great images are born. Of course, you have about 20 seconds to achieve that.