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Patrick St. Clair Photo Flash of Brilliance - Part 1: Finding the photographer who'll make you
-- and your booth -- look great

by Patrick St. Clair, St. Clair Photo-Imaging

January 2010

Recommend this article
More Articles by Patrick St. Clair

You're the new guy in the corporate communications department, and you've been assigned the task of documenting your company's splash at the annual tradeshow. You've never had to do this before, so you're not sure where to even begin.

OR ... you've been doing this for years, but the world of photography is evolving so fast, you're not sure if your favorite vendor is keeping up with the times. Or maybe you aren't up with the times ... maybe it's time to take stock of what you know about the state of the art.

Whether you're new at this or highly experienced, read on ... you're sure to find useful information in this brief primer on hiring and working with a tradeshow photographer!

Assessing your needs

Examining your company's overall mission as well as its objective, for the photography you're being asked to commission will give you a good start in assessing your level of need. Here are some questions that might help you organize your thoughts:

  • Is the nature of your industry highly visual?
  • Is your company a leader in its field?
  • Is your company introducing a new product at the show?
  • Does the competition make strong use of photography?
  • Does your target market respond to visual stimuli?
  • Does your annual advertising budget include high-end photography?
  • Does your company place ads in national magazines?

An answer of yes to any or all of these questions would push your decision toward an advanced level of photography at the big show. On the other hand, maybe your product is not very unique or sexy, or it is not usually marketed with expensive visual media. Maybe your product is more a commodity, and your target market needs only to keep up with the current pricing structure for your marketing efforts to succeed. In this case, extensive photography would be an unnecessary expenditure.

Either way, your goal for tradeshow photography should be to buy the right level of photography for you. Coordinate your buying decision with marketing ... this is, after all a marketing decision, whether your company has viewed it that way in the past or not. Instead of simply pulling out a copy of last year's invoice, and doing the same thing again this year, maybe it's time to give it some more thought. Maybe your show photography can echo and lend strength to a current advertising campaign?

Types of Tradeshow Photographers

Now that you've familiarized yourself with your company's uses of photography and currently marketing strategies, what are your choices for photography on the tradeshow floor?

Do It Yourself

You've got a digital camera, right? Why not do it yourself? OR ... have your own photo department do it ... why not?

Although doing it yourself might be a tempting choice (if your needs are simple), it's usually an unwise decision for a simple reason: Most people working the show floor are incredibly overworked as it is. Assigning them the extra task of taking some show stills puts an extra burden on them. And, it's not as easy as you might think. Timing the shot, having the booth properly prepped for the shot, directing the staging crew and dealing with union labor are only a few of many considerations in getting a shot that looks easy.

As to bringing someone from your own photo department, it's expensive to bring people to an out-of-town show ... transportation, hotels, meals, etc. Can you afford it? And once again, this is not the kind of photography this person does day in and day out. Again, usually not a good choice.

Not to say it's never been done successfully, but as a rule, doing your own photography is not the best way to go.

Official Tradeshow Photographer

Every tradeshow has an official photographer. The convention services people provide access to this valuable service as part of the initial agreement when renting your company's space at the show. Booth photography can also be contracted after arriving at the show if it was omitted by mistake in the initial process.

The show photographer typically takes a documentary approach. Show photographers pretty much take record shots of your booth ... "x" number of views, according to the agreement. They'll use a tripod and will spend 15 minutes to a half hour. Typically, supplemental lighting gear beyond an on-camera flash is not employed (and possibly one other flash held by an assistant). It's a "run and gun" style of photography, albeit well executed.

If your need is for straightforward record shots, this is an efficient level of service for you. Look to the convention services group that's supporting the particular show where you're exhibiting.

Independent Photographer

With an independent photographer, you have the potential of getting exactly what you want. The cost will be significantly higher, so you have to take care to hire the right person for the job and to properly manage that relationship so the end result is as expected and as paid for ... you don't need surprises. Where to find this person???

If you've never hired an independent show photographer, don't leave it to the last minute; this is not a generic service ... it's a very demanding specialty. Getting the right show photographer is akin to getting just the right wedding photographer ... you owe it to yourself to shop around, interview several, get testimonials from previous clients, etc., etc. and etc.!

And know that every professional photographer does not make a good tradeshow photographer. The photographer who does wonderful product shots for you is most likely not experienced at show photography.

Here are some places you can search for the right photographer:

  • Use this website directory, to search for tradeshow photographers.
  • Skim through magazines that cater to the tradeshow and exhibit industries, the booth- building industry, the professional meeting planners industry, etc. These will all have examples of good tradeshow and exhibit photography. Find shots you particularly like and contact that photographer for an interview.
  • Search the Web sites of show production houses ... there are dozens of them. Their stock and trade is designing exciting show space, and the photography on their sites is usually the best. Again, find out who the photographer was and arrange an interview.
  • Visit a local booth builder and a local exhibition house and ask who photographs their booths at exhibits.

With all of these places to look, making lists of potential photographers is only the starting point; not all of the people on your list will be ideal for you. Think of the wedding photographer comparison, and work through the list carefully. Each photographer has his or her own style and way of working. Some are highly collaborative; some do their best work when left to their own devices. Some are faster than others without sacrificing quality. Some are great under pressure, and some fold under pressure. Don't stop the search until you find a photographer with the right skills, temperament and track record.

(Next month, Part 2)



Patrick St. Clair has a bachelor's degree in marketing from Miami University and a bachelor's degree in professional photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has been photographing commercially for 30 years. St. Clair serves agencies of all sizes as well as corporate clients such as Palm, Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Eastman Kodak Company and ExxonMobil. He was an early adopter of digital photography and interactive photography. He has worked with QuickTime VR since 1994 and was a speaker at the first four International VR Summits.

Company Profile: St. Clair Photo-Imaging
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