On The Road

Today marks day 23 of a project that I'm working on with the fine folks over at mcgarrybowen. Of course the details are a bit under wraps, but what I can say is that we're working on a set of images that will take me and an super talented and dedicated production/creative crew to 17 cities over the course of 6 weeks to make images for a mobile app. I can't wait for the project to launch in the fall so I can share more. This blog will be back to it's regularly scheduled programming after I've wrapped, but in the meantime you can catch up with the latest from the road on Instagram, or Tumblr.

Design Inspiration from Exposure.co

I’m always on the lookout for examples of brands who are doing a great job of publishing images in social media and on digital platforms, and I certainly feel like I’ve found a variety of examples (some of which I’ve already written about in this blog). One item that I’m at usually at a loss for, though, are examples of brands who are setting high standards for great design and presentation of images.

Of course on social media, there are pretty tight boundaries to how images are presented (though JWT Canada did have an interesting approach for this Mazda campaign). But what I’m talking about in this case is great design on a brands own websites.

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Yes, I’m a photographer, so perhaps I’m more of a sucker than most for beautiful, well displayed photography. However, when my friend, Jake Lodwick, launched exposure.co, (created by  Luke Beard and Kyle Bragger) it really made me think that this is a sort of design approach that brands—particularly those in fashion or other style related areas—should really be looking at.

I started thinking about this more when my friend Tanveer Badal sent along the series that he posted from Everest Base Camp. I quickly took a spin through the Staff Picks, and it wasn’t hard to find some other excellent examples of how great, minimalist design can interact with pictures in a way that we seldom see brands take advantage of.

I’m not an expert in the process that most brands follow to build websites, but from my understanding, the typical approach is to start with a wireframe of the site long before any content has been introduced. I suspect that this might be part of the problem. Imagine an art director trying to sell a client on a screen design consisting of a bunch of simple large boxes representing full bleed horizontal images. Part of the solution might be a re-think on the start-to-finish process of making a website.

I think there’s an opportunity here. Pairing great photography with minimal, yet well thought out design shouldn't seem like a novel idea.... Yet it's surprisingly rare (in my opinion) to see a brand doing this. Brands looking to stand out with their work, or agencies looking to offer something unique could definitely take some inspiration from exposure.co

Instagram Playing it Safe with Paid Content

This questionnaire recently popped up in my Instagram feed, and it’s a reminder that the social network is being very careful as it works out a strategy for allowing paid content.

From a personal perspective, I saw a flurry of ads on the platform in November of last year. I didn’t block any of the advertising, but it’s been several months since I’ve seen a sponsored post. An informal survey of friends on Instagram confirms that users haven’t really been seeing sponsored posts lately. A deal was announced between Instagram and Omnicom worth $40 to$100 million at the beginning of March, which has me scratching my head in terms of when the deluge of advertising is going to start.

We can only speculate on when the sponsored post will become a regular occurrence on Instagram, or what doors might open down the line for advertisers. However, the current structure means that success is less about paid placement, and more about great content. The best solutions for getting a brands message out right now is by collaborating with Instagram users who already have a strong following (like Mercedes Benz did in their campaign last year) or to create genuinely compelling work that users will organically want to follow.

Either way, the current winners on Instagram aren’t necessarily the ones with the money, they’re the ones with the vision. That’s an opportunity for smart marketers, ad agencies, and image makers.

 

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Herman Miller creates an editorial platform with Dwell alumni

Herman Miller’s Why is a fantastic example of a brand bypassing magazines and creating great editorial content on their own. The project launched in July of last year, stating that their aim was to answer the question "Why has Herman Miller thrived for 108 years?" They are creating content and hosting it on their site, very much up the alley of what I described last year when I wrote about what Mr. Porter is doing. The formula is pretty simple: Make content that the people you want to engage with will want to consume.

The project is overseen by Sam Grawe, who is the former editor in chief of Dwell Magazine, and edited by Amber Bravo, a former editor at the magazine. For some recent shots, they hired Dwell freelancer Jake Stangel. In other words, the people making content for Herman Miller were all doing the same thing for Dwell magazine just a few years ago.

A couple of recent articles about Mexico city are great indicators of how the Dwell team approaches content marketing. One reads as a travel piece, with just a few references to Herman Miller’s new Latin America headquarters. The other talks more explicitly about a Mexico city based organization that was the recipient of an award from Herman Miller. The stories were written by Bravo and photographed by Stangel.

I suspect that smart brands will continue to borrow from the editorial world, both in terms of their approach to making work, and talent itself. Brands who do this right will be able to grow a loyal, engaged audience that they can speak with on their own terms.

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Why-screenshot-2

Everlane's Stand Out use of Photography in Social Media

I've been keeping an eye on the online fashion retailer Everlane for some time. This company is doing it right in a lot of ways, particularly in terms of still photography and social media. Their campaign can be an inspiration for any brand looking to develop a more refined voice in their imagery. Here's what I like about what they're doing:

Optimizing their shoots and knowing their platforms:

Everlane has done a great job of getting the most out of their photoshoots. As an online fashion retailer, their bread and butter is in catalogue style photography. These pictures have to be clean and straightforward to show a potential buyer what the product looks like. Everlane makes the most of these shoots by creating additional content that can be used elsewhere. The way they edit and use the pictures reflects a deep understanding of these platforms. A clean lookbook shoot turns into a Facebook cover page when the photographer captures an image with more personality and more of an editorial approach. That same shoot turns into Instagram material when the model is shot away from the seamless backdrop with less refined light and more of a snapshot feel.

Campaigns Encouraging User Generated Content:

On Instagram, Everlane ran a campaign based on the #WhereITravel hashtag last year that was remarkably successful and culminated in a gallery show at Milk Studios here in NYC. More recently, they started a campaign based on the #myeverlane hashtag. They kicked that it off by asking contributors to take pictures of their travel gear including Everlane product. Both of these campaigns were successful because they played off ways that users are already using Instagram.

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Everlane-customer-engagement

Balancing User Generated Content with Original Content:

Everlane has lots of great user generated content to choose from. This stems in part from campaigns like those described above, and also because of the elegant design of their packaging which is effective in getting customers to post their own unboxing photos. They understand the value of this sort of content, and curate user generated pictures on both Facebook (in this album) and Instagram accounts.

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Everlane-From-The-People

However, they're smart to not depend too heavily on user generated content for their owned platforms. They still lead with well produced original photography.

Where Everlane could improve:

A large part of Everlane's marketing message is about working with factories operating at the highest standards across the world. They've commissioned documentary style photography of these factories, but unfortunately, these images fall short compared to the rest of their media. For example, take a look at images from their China factory in this Facebook gallery. While I can imagine that Everlane was weary of not wanting to sugarcoat the factory conditions, they ended up too far in the opposite direction. The bleak color treatment and lack of engagement with the workers works against Everlane's message in this case.

Despite a few quibbles with specific elements of their media, for me Everlane still represents a company that is breaking ground with well executed photography that is  true to the various digital platforms it lives on. Companies and agencies looking to refine what they do in this area should take note.

Tinker Street Mobile

NYC based agent Jesse Miller has been representing Instagram photographers for some time, with Tinker Street Mobile. Collaborating with Instagramers with a large fan base has been one of the most effective ways for a brand to work on the platform, and Miller was quick to recognize the opportunity here. I'll be interested to see how things change now that there are more ways for brands to work with Instagram.

Either way, for agencies looking to engage some great Instagram photographers, their roster is a great place to start. And for creatives looking for inspiration, their commissions page shows off some beautifully executed work that really rings true for the platform.

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tinkerstreet

An ACDs Thoughts on Photography for Social

“The thing that I’m finding is that it’s always better to engage any sort of visual thinker very early on in the creative process, when all the strategists are sitting around and you’re figuring out what the brand needs to exist like in the physical realm.”

There's a really fantastic interview on Photo District News with Maury Postal, ACD at Social@Ogilvy. Postal has some great insight into what's happening right now in terms of content for social media. Check it out here.

Red Bull's Content Marketing Strategy

Digital has been a game changer in terms of media production for most big brands. As the number of platforms and opportunities to publish increase online, I see a lot of scrambling to keep up. While some brands are still struggling to find a cohesive strategy for publishing on their own websites and in the major social media channels, Red Bull has taken it to another level, with Red Bull Content Pool.

The site essentially serves as a free stock agency. There are more than 50,000 photos on the site, all of which can be downloaded and re-purposed for uses ranging from a blog post to print publications. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the images have a well placed Red Bull logo somewhere within the frame.

The Red Bull Content pool is a compelling and unique marketing strategy. A brand looking to make a serious investment in brand awareness could consider doing something similar. While the Content Pool also provides videos, the still images seem more compelling to me as a type of media that can easily be leveraged by third party publishers

There certainly is no lack of media outlets--from hobbyist bloggers to large media companies--that would jump at the chance to have access to high quality images that relate to their subject area and can illustrate their stories. I'll be interested to see if any other brands follow suit with their own branded stock sites in the coming few years.

The Value of Original Content

I recently had a great chat with the folks at Percolate. They offer a unique product. In a nutshell, it's an all-in-one platform that streamlines content production for social media. We both work with clients with similar goals, so I was genuinely interested to learn more about what they do and how their system might be used to improve what we're currently doing. I got the full rundown on how their system works, but naturally what interested me most is how their platform works with still photography. I discovered that customers with Percolate have streamlined access to a broad library of images via 1) Getty and other extensive royalty free libraries, 2) an iPhone app that allows anyone in the organization to take photos on their phone and acquire a signed model release and 3) a pretty slick system to request and acquire releases for found amateur images on social media platforms.

From there, the platform has a built in system to retouch, crop, add Instagram style filters, logos and copy.

Percolate

While my initial interest in Percolate was trying to see how we might integrate their system into an ad agency, I walked away from the conversation realizing that Percolate is a platform that is really well poised to replace ad agencies.

A forward looking agency looking to win more social business is well served to keep a close eye out on solutions like this. Agencies have to ask themselves: what is our unique selling proposition? From a photography perspective, if you're relying on using stock or found imagery, can you really demonstrate the value you're bringing to the table? For agencies who aren't focusing on creating original content, a solution like Percolate could start to look like a very viable alternative.

Shooting Live Events

I recently shot CMJ for Verizon social. In addition to allowing me to relive my college days shooting shows for the school newspaper, it was an opportunity to let our photographic style breathe a bit. After a couple days shooting at CMJ I've been thinking more about how this sort of photography can fit into the bigger picture of a social media strategy. Here are some things to consider if you're thinking of integrating live event coverage into your social content.

Give insider access.

One way a brand can set itself apart from fan generated content is by sharing images shot from a unique vantage point. In this case, having backstage access allowed us to offer something original and worthy of a comment, like or share.

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Streamline your approvals process.

We're accustomed to seeing fan images post live on social media. For a brand, the structure for getting images up might require a number of agency or client approvals. Make a game plan before the event on how images will be delivered and approved by stakeholders. This will go a long way toward getting the content posted while it's still fresh, and the engagement with the fanbase feels more authentic.

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Arrange for model releases ahead of time.

Having model releases buttoned up is something that can make or break a shoot like this. In this scenario, the musicians had made model release arrangements in advance as part of Verizon's sponsorship of the event.

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See it through the lens of the brand.

Shooting in a documentary style means that there's less opportunity to explicitly insert a brand message into the work. However, the DNA of the brand can still inform the approach. While there were plenty of opportunities for gratuitous shots of the collateral advertising materials around the venue, we settled on a more nuanced approach.

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Tell a story.

 Event and documentary coverage is a great opportunity to engage your fanbase with more than just a single image. If a gallery or series of images is your goal, think how the images will work in terms of pacing and as a narrative. In this scenario, we wanted to be able to add some visual diversity and shoot more than just bands on stage, so we enlisted a couple people from the creative team to make some images with a lifestyle perspective.

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Creating Content for Promoted Pins

Pinterest just announced that they will be bringing paid content into the fold with "promoted pins". This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. Generating revenue of some sort has to be in the books for any social media service to stick around for a long time. And ever since dropping their skimlinks partnership in 2012, Pinterest has not been generating revenue. From my perspective, what's interesting about his is how the production of pictures for social media will evolve for Pinterest. I've worked with clients to produce content for Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram. One of the biggest conversations has been about how we can create content that feels right for the platform. What's different about Pinterest is that much of the content is NOT user generated. Rather, it's pinned from other websites, which means it's common to see content that was professionally produced. To put this another way: your average Tumblr, Facebook or Instagram user isn't going to post 20 professionally produced studio shots in a row. But it's not uncommon at all for a Pinterest board to look like this:

 Producing good commercial content that works on Pinterest is going to be less of a paradigm shift for most advertisers. Having said that, every social media platform comes with it's built in personality and quirks, and I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for the agencies and brands who can create images that really takes advantage of the platform.

Instagram for Business

Instagram is curating an excellent Tumblr (the irony I know!) highlighting businesses who are doing a standout job using the platform. While there is currently no paid advertising on Instagram, brands are already on it creating their own content. The future of paid advertising on Instagram is unclear. Founder Kevin Systrom just spoke at London Fashion week, and when asked about advertising plans he had very little to reveal.

It's smart for social media platforms to be concerned not only in having paying advertisers, but also for those advertisers to be creating great content. It's a way to ensure that brands will see a good return on investment, and that the audience will continue to be engaged with the platform. Whatever may lie ahead, Instagram has created a sort of primer for businesses on how to do the platform properly.

As it is, the site is a great resource for agencies and brands looking for inspiration, examples of great content, and unique ways that brands are using the platform. This is definitely a feed that anyone interested in the future of social media and pictures should keep an eye on.

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G-Star Raw Tumblr

The G-STar Raw Tumblr is a great example of a brand using the platform well. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Current and topical posts: Right now they're posting streetstyle images from New York Fashion Week on the same day they're shot.
  • True to the platform: In particular I think their occasional use of an animated GIF works well for them without being overwhelming or gimmicky. Most of the images have more of the documentary vibe that fits in well on Tumblr and less of a glossed over perfect vibe that most people write off as advertising. They are dropping in the occasional image from a print campaign, but in this case it blends in well and doesn't feel out of place.
  • Invitation to collaborate: The tumblr page suggests that others tag their looks with the #GStarRAW hashtag, and they'll re-blog their faves. That's a great way to organically drive attention towards the brand, and I can imagine that a true fan of the brand would be thrilled to have their look featured among the well curated page.

G-Star Raw produces their content internally. They're definitely going to be one to watch for inspiration in terms of fashion brands doing a great job on social media.

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Sentiment Towards Tumblr's Sponsored Posts

Interested in what actual user sentiment is towards sponsored posts on Tumblr? Take a look at posts tagged with "sponsored posts" on Tumblr.

While there are a lot of negative comments out there, you do have to take it with a grain of salt. Any platform that's being adjusted to let advertising in on the conversation is bound to feel some growing pains.

I believe that Tumblr is in a critical place right now where they're really going to have to cultivate and work with the brands sponsoring posts so that the posts stay true to the platform and relevant to the audience.

Piggybacking on TV Shoots

Across the board there's been a trend towards combining commercial/motion shoots with still photography. (Here's what Art Buyers are People Too has to say about that). I've worked on a few projects for Verizon shooting still images during a commercial shoot. These shoots can definitely be interesting to navigate, but I also think that they can pay great dividends in terms of creating social media content.

Brands may have limited access to talent, particularly if they are athletes or culture personalities. So a huge advantage of approaching a shoot like this is that it might be the only opportunity to work with particular talent. My first shoot was of IndyCar drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves. It would definitely be hard to imagine a scenario where we were able to arrange for a day of their time for me to focus solely on shooting them for social media. But the time that Verizon had them scheduled to create the TV commercial seemed like a great opportunity to make the most of their commitment and to create some content in parallel with the larger production.

Something to be aware of for anyone who wants to create these sorts of images is that a commercial shoot can be a delicate place to navigate. This was a high pressure situation for the director and crew involved. They were shooting at an expensive location (renting an entire racetrack), with expensive talent, complicated tracking shots with car mounted steadicams, and a whole slew of extras standing by for some of the shots. Every minute of shooting counted. To throw in an unknown variable like a me - a photographer with my own set of goals  - definitely had the potential to add to the stress. I was very fortunate that the production crew was amazing and very open to having me on set. In turn I walked very lightly and made sure that I was always aware of the next moves for the production, and that I was never in a place that would slow it down.

This was an early shoot for Verizon. We didn't enter it with a ton of direction, and all of the photography I created was with a behind-the-scenes approach. It was all documentary, and I didn't try to create specific shots or manipulate anything. At a more recent shoot that I did on an NFL set (which I'll be sharing as soon as I'm able to!), I worked with our creative team to think up specific shots, and we worked collaboratively in very brief chunks of time to create some setup shots with the talent.

Take a look at the Verizon Facebook page, and you'll see that we really got the most out of the images that I shot during this shoot. As the IndyCar season continues, we're able to continue to draw from a library of images. They're consistent with the overall photography style, and give a unique perspective on the two Verizon sponsored athletes.

Mr. Porter's Journal

For those interested in new models in media and advertising, Mr Porter's The Journal is a project to keep your eye on in. The brand seems to be spending the bulk of it's marketing focus on creating it's own content rather than the old school pay-for-an-ad-next-to-someone-elses-editorial-content approach. While the outlook for the print publishing industry is fairly dismal, people are consuming content more than ever. I believe that smart companies are going to move more and more to creating content in-house, and curating an audience on their own site. For a savvy fashion brand, that $150K per month you were going to spend on the media buy for a single page ad in Vogue can go a long ways towards producing some beautiful custom tailored content. There are other reasons why I can really see this being a great promotional strategy, particularly for the fashion industry. Mr Porter is able to hire industry heavyweights like Derek Blasberg to write content. Having someone like Blasberg write for you goes a lot farther to build the brand than running a paid ad opposite that same article in a glossy magazine. Also, thanks to what we've been conditioned to see in fashion magazines, pairing editorial content with sales comes off quite naturally. It's doesn't feel obtrusive at all for the article titled "How to Dance (well)" to be followed by a widget suggesting you buy a Dolce and Gabbana tux or a Brooks Brothers bowtie from them. I believe that Mr Porter is leading the way with their Journal, and I expect that we'll be seeing other fashion retailers follow suit in the near future.