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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.35.06 PM

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.


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.

Finding an Audience Outside of Other Photographers

"There are lots of examples where photographers attract other photographers by talking about the business or their process for making pictures, but the real potential lies in attracting consumers outside this industry."


Great point Rob. In addition to The Sartorialist, The Selby, Me in My Place and Cobra Snake, I'm keeping my eye on fashion bloggers like Jamie and Kevin Burg, and Garance Dore.



I just turned 30 years old. To celebrate I went with some of my best friends down to Nicaragua and a little beachside town that I knew from my days in college. Happy to report that the old surf shop is still standing and the Flor de Caña is still well stocked.

Eric Ogden Interview

"Because of the new age of digital media we’re almost back into a period where it’s a bit of the Wild West out there."


I recently interviewed Eric Ogden for the F Stop Mag. Our discussion covered a lot of ground. It was interesting to get Eric's perspective on how technology is making it easier to create things. I absolutely agree with his assertion that we're in a period of flux in the photography world, and I think we're just now starting to see the careers emerging of the photographers and storytellers who will be making the most of the new order.

AT&T's Summer Break Campaign

BBDO, AT&T  and the Chernin group are working on an interesting digital campaign dubbed The Summer Break. This campaign is notable because of how well they've nailed speaking in voice on their Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. These days its common for brands to simply take a print campaign, crop the images for whatever digital platform they're trying to populate and call it a day. The images in these campaigns are remarkable because they are true to the platforms that they live on.

The content on the Tumblr page, for instance, is a blend of original photography and graphic design (I'm guessing this was made by creatives at BBDO), regrams of other Tumblr content, and content created by the shows protaganists. All of the work blends seamlessly on the Tumblr page, and surely it will appear quite natural on your typical Tumblr users dashboard.

While I found the package to be less successful in the "unscripted mobile series" that it all drives too, this campaign does represent an exceptional step forward in terms of still images matching their social media platforms. As things heat up with sites like Tumblr and Instagram as advertising platforms, we should expect to see the most forward thinking brands and ad agencies producing a lot more work up this alley.


New York Times calls out a paradigm shift in photography

"Photos, once slices of a moment in the past — sunsets, meetings with friends, the family vacation — are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue."


Great article in the New York Times suggesting a paradigm shift for photography from something we do to remember past moments to something that we do to communicate. The idea can easily be extrapolated to how pictures work in advertising. Traditionally a campaign consists of a series of epic, heavily produced images that are displayed over and over again in media. Nimble advertisers are already starting to move to original photography produced on a daily basis as a conversation with their fan base. Starbucks, occasionally Oreo and the Verizon campaign that I'm working on are  the big brands that I know of producing original photography for social media, and others are sure to be entering into this space soon.

Tumblr does a 180 on it's stance towards advertisers.

"You guys are more talented than anyone in the Tumblr office or in Palo Alto or Sunnyvale"


At Cannes, David Karp did some massive backpedaling on the tune he was singing to advertisers. Just a couple years ago he was telling people that the thought of advertising on Tumblr "turned our stomachs".

Surely Karp will catch some flack from his colleagues on the way he presented this. Putting that aside, this is great news for people interested in still photography and advertising. Photographers producing work at a higher volume but lower production value than traditional advertising is a great match for Tumblr (take JCrew for example). AdAge reported that Karp and crew were ferrying ad execs to private sales meetings in St. Tropez. Here's hoping that something clicked and we start seeing more great work produced for the platform.

Check out the whole article on AdAge (tiered subscription)