Coming off a two-week stretch of back-to-back corporate portraits reminded me of the fun — and frustrations — of executive portraits.
On one hand, shooting corporate environmental portraits really gets my creative juices going. I start each assignment questioning the most-important story my client wants to tell. This is the fun part… especially when I can push the envelope or think outside the box.
Frustrations? These can be a lengthy list, topped off with uber-busy business executives who arrive saying “you have five minutes to photograph me… and they began three minutes ago” to skittish security guards who nix location requests because the images might “be used to help advance security threats.” Really?
My recent photo subjects were great to work with, especially those times we had to work in public spaces (it’s never easy to have your portrait made while people are looking at you).
But schedules were tight and we had to work quickly. All told, I easily spent more time hauling in gear from the downtown Charlotte parking garages and setting up lights than actually photographing my subjects. Nonetheless, the frustrations add to the challenge of making photos that support creative corporate communications. And that’s why I love being a corporate photojournalist.
Check out this sampling of my most-recent executive portraits.
Our last post touched on what visual storytelling isn’t. [Find that post here]
Now the much-harder question of what it is. In the 1960s, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to describe his threshold test for obscenity. He said: I can’t describe what it is, “but I know it when it see it.” Perhaps the same thing can be said for storytelling photography.
In many ways, visual storytelling can be defined not for what appears within the photo, but rather for the feelings and emotions the photo evokes. Does the photo make you stop and pause to figure out what’s going on? Or do you quickly click through to get to the other items on your must-do list?
Stories get told when photographers make images that go beyond what’s obvious and expected. Like here, instead of the expected people-at-table-making-announcement photo, this wide-angle shot puts the event in context. Notice all of the corporate branding.
Or this side angle, which carefully includes the stacked-up boxes to make readers wonder what might be inside. (They’re stuffed with donated school supplies).
And who wouldn’t look twice at the employee newsletter to see which of their co-workers dressed up like superheroes to race Red Radio Flyer tricycles for a good cause.
Next blog: What makes one storytelling photo better than another? Hint… think branding.
Lately, every time I turn around, my corporate clients are talking about corporate storytelling. It seems their bosses — and their bosses’ bosses — heard somewhere that storytelling is a great way to engage employees. It’s true, I say. And then we all nod our heads in agreement.
But then the other day, a new-ish corporate communications professional pulled me aside and asked, “But what exactly is corporate storytelling?” Trying to figure out what her peers were talking about, this young internal communications manager had searched the Web for examples and explanations of how to leverage storytelling in the business environment… but she had found very little.
Looks like storytelling is one of those things that everybody secretly thinks they are really good at. Unfortunately, the ability to tell stories is also one of those things that few people are really good at.
So let me take a moment (and maybe a few blog posts) to explain what corporate storytelling is — and what it isn’t. Later, in another blog post, I’ll give my 2 cents on how to find a storytelling writer, photographer, multimedia developer or whatnot and make the most of his/her talents.
First the easy part: What corporate storytelling photography ISN’T. It’s not the:
~ Execution at dawn photo, with team members lined up against a wall and “shot.”
~ Grape leaves photo. Similar to the execution at dawn photo, but here the team members have their hands clasped together in front of their groins in Adam-and-Eve-grape-leaf fashion.
~ Important person with oversized check photo.
~ Employee at work photo, where the obviously posed worker looks self conscious as he/she avoids looking at the camera.
~ Giant-scissor-yielding executive about to cut the giant ribbon photo.
Boring, right? But damaging too. A corporate Webpage, newsletter or annual report with a boring photo is worse than not having a photo at all. Why? Because the reader’s eye is drawn to the photo first. Therefore, a boring photo = boring story = boring event. Yawn.
Now the hard part… defining what a storytelling photo is. I’ll tackle that one in another posting.
P.S.: Are you wondering what’s going on in the image at the top of the post? Excellent! That’s a piece of storytelling photography. A photo should make readers look twice and study what’s going on. In this case, musicians perform among museum statues during the Wells Fargo Community Celebration event held in downtown Charlotte, NC.
You can check out the photos from this and other corporate-sponsored events at http://patrickschneider.photoshelter.com/gallery/Wells-Fargo-Community-Celebration/G0000x2v_e86hR00/C0000sLejZ1oE1sY
Many corporate communicators have shared their struggles with how to create photos that will engage their stakeholders, who might include employees, customers, shareholders and the public. This is especially challenging in today’s digital communications environment, which demands frequent updates.
They ask, “How can we keep our photos fresh and interesting, so people will come back to see what’s new?”
My advice is to throw shadows and silhouettes into your box of tools. You don’t want to do this every time you’re taking photos, but it’s good to be aware of how helpful this technique can be. Now and then, try throwing a shadow or silhouette photo into your corporate communications news cycle and see what reactions come in return.
Some suggestions for creating photos with silhouettes or shadows:
Had this photo exposed for both the juggler and the background buildings, there might have been too much activity for the eye to absorb your message. Placing the street performer in silhouette creates interesting contrast while also quickly showing readers that the performance was taking place in downtown Charlotte.
Notice how including just a bit of the footwear in the image below helps to quickly explain the unusual shape of the shadows. The goal is to make readers pause to study the image… and then jump into your text to learn more.
This next image is a partial silhouette. Notice how well the clean graphic lines of the frame and hammer offset the features of the woman, who is volunteering her time at a Habitat for Humanity build.
Getting low while shooting this silhouette eliminated background clutter (including the bunching up of the other boaters), and created an image with nice graphic elements.
Patrons at the Mint Museum of Art Uptown seem to become part of the artwork because they are captured in silhouette.
The shadow of this barbecue chef against his smoker.
Associate conductor Jacomo Rafael Bairos led the Charlotte Symphony in a free outdoor concert in June at the Duke Energy McGuire Nuclear Station EnergyExplorium on Lake Norman. Many Charlotteans are familiar with the Charlotte Symphony’s Summer Pops series, which takes place at SouthPark mall’s Symphony Park venue. The symphony orchestra’s outdoor concerts in Matthews, Huntersville, Pineville, Kannapolis and Cornelius are equally good.
A rain storm passed through the area about an hour before the outdoor concert began. Fortunately, the rain (and thunder and lightening) was long gone by the time the musicians took the stage.
The McGuire nuclear energy station is packed with visitor-friendly amenities, including walking trails, a nature trail, picnic areas and Duke Energy’s EnergyExplorium, a hands-on science center about electricity generation. During the June concert, boats rocked gently nearby as their passengers listened to the music.
Associate conductor Jacomo Rafael Bairos is known for his passionate dedication to music education and community engagement.
A member of the Charlotte Symphony warms up before the outdoor concert at McGuire energy station on Lake Norman.
Another view of the hundreds (thousands?) of music seekers who turned out for the June 2012 performance at Duke Energy’s McGuire nuclear energy station.
A bit of Charlotte Symphony context (taken from the symphony’s website): Founded in 1932, the Charlotte Symphony is the largest and most active professional performing arts organization in the central Carolinas, giving nearly 100 performances each season and reaching an annual attendance of 200,000 listeners. Now in its 80th season, the orchestra employs 62 musicians on full-time contracts and is led by the acclaimed conductor Christopher Warren-Green, who began his tenure with the CSO in the fall of 2010. Mr. Warren-Green’s nearly four decades of artistic accomplishments most recently included serving as music conductor for April’s royal wedding of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton, an event viewed by more than two billion people worldwide.