Business Making Pictures Marketing Philosophy Photography Richard Kelly Experience Uncategorized

The one about the CEO who bought professional digital cameras for his managers… a parable.

I am not a widget photographer, but I am interested in innovative people and how they make things. For a handful of years, I had been photographing a multinational corporation that made widgets. I had made some pictures for them, and we had been discussing a longer-term project to show their “new and improved process and people for shareholders.” Not that long ago, I would have called these annual report photographs, but now I think of them as “core mission stories” – and by the way – organizations should focus more on these to tell their unique story to stakeholders. 

But I digress. For several years the CEO who was brought in to sell a new corporate perspective to their Wall Street investors about how “an old gritty industrial company” was transforming as a “shiny new technology industry leader” and I discussed using photography and video to show these innovative talents and techniques that the company was implementing. He knew Wall Street had yet to grasp this new point of growth, and I was presenting him an opportunity to reframe the story visually before turning the leadership over to a new team. 

The following year, as he and I stepped aside to make his leadership portrait, he excitedly told me, “you know the concept you pitched for telling the stories of our workers and processes? well, I solved that by buying my plant managers D-SLR’s and instructing them to take pictures.” My photographer’s soul shriveled up and went up to my throat. I was planning to convince him to put this project on the calendar finally. Instead, I was learning that an “everyone with a camera” scenario was replacing my idea. I thought quickly on my feet and rebounded by saying, you know, Mr. CEO, I teach workshops, and I can put together a custom program to teach your managers how to use these cameras. He waved his hand and said these cameras are so sophisticated that they pretty much take the pictures themselves. I finished the session, and my assistant knew I was mentally defeated, and she suggested we stop for lunch to talk about the end of commercial photography as we knew it.

The following year I was a bit surprised they scheduled me to make the annual leadership photographs. Figuring that one of the plant managers would stop by and “snap a picture.” The CEO, I learned, was retiring soon – even though the company didn’t have the positive turnaround he desired. He was ready to move out of the day-to-day operations. As we stepped away to make his final CEO portrait, I asked him how the manager’s photography assignments had worked out? He chuckled and said, “would you believe it if I told you that they have never even taken the cameras out of their boxes.”

Although I wasn’t thrilled that the CEO retiring, the story of the cameras still in their boxes reminded me that I still have value as a visual storyteller. 

Everyone might have a camera with technology that makes taking pictures more accessible and of decent quality. The managers didn’t make the photographs because that is not what they do; they manage manufacturing. They didn’t have the intention. Photographers craft compelling visual stories because that is what we do. 

Richard Kelly is the President of The Richard Kelly Experience, Creating visual stories for mission-focused organizations, framing their unique perspectives with compelling imagery for their stakeholders. 


Give your visuals a post-pandemic facelift. 

 Everything is changing fast.

Thanks to the miracle of science, we are emerging from the darkest cloud of the COVID 19 pandemic. The business reboot is this summer of 2021, and visual brands need a refresh too. For the last 16 months, we’ve been distancing, wearing masks, and doing business behind plexiglass – or in front of Zoom. Work fashion changed, our business priorities have even changed, We have all changed. Your customers are ready to see what our “new normal” looks like now. 

From Fortune 500 companies to the boutiques on Main Street for many, marketing visuals (photography and short-form video) have taken a backseat while we kept business running. 

Recently I have been talking with my clients about these four things to consider to refresh your organizations visual brand using photography.

  1. Identify the three things you want to illustrate to show your business is “thriving, not just surviving?” I work with my clients to determine the best way to illustrate these business messages in a series of photographs, well-designed web advertisements, or a short-form Instagram video. 
  2. As public health recommendations continue to evolve to the daily needs of your community, plan more frequent updates to your visual marketing package. You may now choose to spread your messaging and visuals budget over a longer time frame to reflect the recovery evolution over the next several months. Businesses have come to me to produce images for rapidly changing conditions to remain current for any situation. 
  3. Consider how your refreshed messaging will reflect the “new-new times?” Will you address the pandemic head-on? Will you show people wearing masks or no masks? Maybe a view of a busy storefront, a socially engaged campus, an in-person meeting. 
  4. Summer gives us the light and weather to showcase your brand message or products in the real world. Many organizations are still determining the working spaces for their people. This is the time to use all of the location assets your organization has to offer. As they say in real estate – “Location, Location, Location” – I am working with several clients who are doing everything from their headshots to experiential photos/videos on location, whether in their backyards, in the mountains, or on the seashore. 

I look forward to talking with you about your marketing refresh.


Controlling Light

I have been thinking a lot about motivation—Specifically the inspiration to make pictures. I have been a professional most of my life, which means that I am motivated to make pictures when I have an assignment. But that’s not what I am thinking about today; I am thinking about the other images I need to make. I think my need is the perfect description here; my internal voice says to make this picture is like a hunger pain in your gut, or is it your brain? I can only describe it like this full-body feeling to frame and capture something. Most of the time, it’s just a play of light. (hence the name for this blog.)

Often as photographers, we are described by the subject matter. We photograph, you know, people or landscapes its too general to photograph light, but that is what we all do. When I ask photo students what the one thing they need to learn more about is, it is often light, and they usually mean “controlled light” – like in a studio.

I guess I remember that feeling a few decades ago wanting to learn the same things and use those “cool-looking” flash systems to make light.
I remember the overwhelming feeling of learning something exciting and new in my studio lighting class and later working with brilliant lighting photographers like David Vance in Miami and Steven White in New York City, though they came to lighting very differently, their photographs of the people and the fashion was much more than subjective it boiled down to great light. The light was so good that you overlooked the lighting craft. I wanted to “see” and “control light” as they did.

Controlling light is an exciting component of the craft of photography. For the most part, I don’t think the photographer practitioners fully appreciate it. They see it so quickly that they don’t think about it – light- very much. Greg Heisler, arguably the best light controller in the business, described the right light was the appropriate light. What was appropriate for the subject, or for. what the photographer was trying to say in the photograph. And that is not to say Greg’s application was simple or easy. No, Greg tested and practiced to get the light right often days before the subject was in the lens’s view.

In the days of film photography, I remember going to the photo lab late at night with my friend Darren Lew to look at lighting tests, often hundreds of frames, with various filter packs to get the appropriate light effects.

Controlling light comes in many forms; One time when I was an assistant on an assignment with Art Kane; we had traveled across the country for a big-budget advertising job on location – Kane was not one to get up for sunrise easily, and he didn’t on this day either. No, we waited and waited, had a nice lunch, went on an afternoon walk around the little town, and then went back to the hotel to get the Nikons and the Kodachrome 64 film – his film of choice. We ran into the Art Director in the lobby, who wondered where we had been all day?* Art said with a smile, “waiting for the light.”

We packed into the vehicles and went out to the location I had scouted the afternoon before to determine the nest light for the layout and set up the model with the product and shot 1 and 1/2 rolls of film. No polaroid tests to check exposure or for the client to review. I took a quick meter reading and set the camera exposure 1/500 at 5.6, and we bracketed one shutter speed up and one down. Kane moved the set up for different layout options, then we traveled back to the hotel for a beer on the veranda before the moon rise. This is another way to control the light.

I tell photography students that choosing the time of the day may be the most important choice you make in lighting. The very act of choosing is control. It is not getting what you get and don’t get upset. If you have ever made a picture – captured the perfect moment, but the lighting was less than ideal, you understand the importance of choosing the “time of day.” (I know that photojournalists don’t always have a choice. This isn’t about spot news photography; this is about all photography but journalism.)

It wasn’t until I was solidly in my career as a photographer that I understood many of these lessons. And I have probably learned more as a teacher than as a student. The phrase “Follow the Light” is not without navigation or control. It comes from years of practice.