Trends in the Industry: Part 7

Part 7?  Really? Who knew?

In the last post, I talked about our green screen photo execution at the Long Beach Indycar race for Honda.  We were one of about six experiential photo marketing booths: the others utilized iPads or iPhones to capture images, and one a more traditional setup like ours.

I showed a pic of that traditional setup — complete with messy floor drape, wrinkled back drop, and no photographic lighting.

“AH HA!” You say, “You’ve really stepped in it this time, you little egomaniac twerp!  They didn’t have ROOM for your fancy pants lighting, not every photo execution can be such a PRODUCTION.  With today’s ISO’s, you’ve said yourself there are ways around external lighting!”

True.  I suppose you could pump up the ISO to about 5,000, color correct for the metal halide lights, shoot and call it a day.  In fact, you may be thinking, by not adding external lighting, wouldn’t you have LESS problems with harsh shadows?

It is true you need to tailor your setup to the client’s needs — and that means fitting into the space provided.  It’s also true that a pop of flash can provide all the lighting you need for a successful green screen photo execution.  But — to provide NO lighting?  I was horrified!  With those big metal lights glaring down, shadows pool under the eyes.  I just can’t think how it would be flattering to the participant — they would look like zombies riding the motorcycle.  Maybe that was the idea?

But, does the average participant — or client — even know?  Do they realize the photos captured suck?  And, do they really care?

That’s where I’m stumped.  I think there are clients who only want one thing:  to capture the participant data so they can use that data after the event.  If the photo was a big, black square I’m not sure they’d care.  As for the participants: they are USED to looking at cell phone images.  Anything slightly better and they are happy. I think those clients are out there: but I’ve never been hired by one.

My clients all are VERY concerned with how the image looks, obsessed even.  If I handed them a big black square, I’d be dead.  Southwest would page me the next day:  “Michael Gatty, you have 10 minutes to get down to your flight or your seat will be given away to a stand by passenger!  Michael Gatty, ten minute rule!  Michael Gatty!  Are you dead?  Did the client kill you?  Did you not produce great photos?  Michael Gatty!  Michael Gatty….!”

And chief among those standing over my cold and mutilated corpse?  Matthew.  “I told you (I won’t say her name, she hates my blog, but she knows who I’m thinking of…) she would notice if you skimped on lighting,” he’d say, “now look at you.  Serves you right.”  My mom would chime in: “He always thought he was royalty.  See what happens when you cut corners…?”  And Melanie!  Melanie would spit out:  “Skin tone is off!  Skin tone is off!  Get it right or pay the piper!  Skin tone is off….!”

No.  Skimping on quality isn’t a possibility for me.  I just broke out in a cold sweat.

Remember the photo booths from last year?  I’d say there were as many photo booths — and by this I mean a camera, “booth technician”, green screen, and  iPad upload to social networking system — in Long Beach last year.  Some of the booths were open, and some exactly like you see at the mall.  None (that I could see) employed photographers, all relied on automated systems, “photo technicians” and most provided little or no off camera lighting.  Those that did, the lights were all wrong — direct, harsh — because of the confines of the booth.  I was really upset when I saw these booths last year, and even considered how I might roll out a photo booth to compete.  In the end, I decided I hated “vending machine” photos, and that I just wouldn’t follow the tide.

Fast forward to this year.  Those booths were replaced with iPhone – aplication green screen executions, iPad photos, and one traditional booth — the motorcycle booth.  Not one of the photo booths I saw last year reappeared.

Why?  Did the clients decide they simply wanted something different?  Did they guess that the photo booths were fairly expensive for what they achieved?  Did the technology fail, causing them to run?  Or, did they look at the photos and think, “why, I can do that with a cell phone”?

Whatever the reason, none of those booths returned.  Let’s do some math, ’cause we all know I’m sooooo good at math.

Long Beach is a three day race — meaning, the convention floor is open for three days, including race day.  Let’s take a MINIMUM gross cost of $2,000 / day for these photo booths.  I think that’s fair: with supplies, shipping, photo technician, setup, breakdown, I can’t see how these companies could charge much less than that.  So, $2,000 a day by three days is $6,000.  Multiply that by the six photo executions I counted last year, and you have $36,000 in photography services.


Replaced by iPhones and iPads.

Where are those booths?  Collecting dust in a storage unit, perhaps?

Here’s my point:  if the client thought they’d received a great value from that $6,000 they spent on those photo booths last year, wouldn’t the booths be back?  Maybe not all of them — there are always clients who decide to do some other form of marketing — but at least one of them?  Two, even?

My suspicion is the client knew the photos were one step above cell phone images, and so decided to save that money, and use cell phones and iPads, instead.  True, they still hired people to run those things — and in a few cases, those people were hired by a competitor of mine — but where will they be next year?  Now that they are actually USING iPads to take the photos, how long before the client wonders, “what exactly do I need that experiential photography company for?”

The trend in experiential event photography is away from traditional photo sets, and, even more dramatic, away from what replaced them last year: the photo booth.  Clients are running to iPad and iPhone applications to replace the professional photographer.  Unless you can clearly differentiate yourself from an iPhone application, you might as well hang it up.

The rant will continue.

And here is one of those photos captured by and created with an iPhone application.  Please tell me I don’t look like this.  It’s not even in focus and have greenish yellow hair.  Not to mention the shadow over my chest, making it look like I have a man boob.  Which I do not. Must. Go. To. Gym.
And here’s a test photo from the same morning using our booth.  
Which would you rather Facebook?