One stock photo and some bad judgement add up to a PR disaster with this 9/11 ad

Truth be told, he was NOT there.
Truth be told, he was NOT there.

The ad shown here suddenly turned into one huge PR disaster for New York ad agency Barker/DZP and it all could have been avoided had they just ponied up to hire a professional photographer to create an original image for the ad.

Released last week, the ad depicts a New York City Firefighter holding a photo from the 9/11 disaster along with a statement, “I WAS THERE”. Nevermind the fact that the ad itself was in poor taste from the start using 9/11 visuals to promote the commercial interests of a New York City law firm. The ad agency chose to buy stock photography to illustrate the ad and that is where the campaign blew up in their faces.

The model in the stock photo they chose turned out to be an actual New York City Firefighter however, he wasn’t on the force at the time of 9/11 not having joined the FDNY until 2004. Further, in the original photo the model had been holding a Firefighter’s helmet which the ad agency replaced with a photo of the 9/11 tragedy. More poor judgement aimed at tugging the heartstrings and leveraging the 9/11 disaster.

After outrage from many who saw the ad and a threatened lawsuit from the model in the photo Barker/DZP pulled the ad and has voluntarily withdrawn from the assignment. That is one huge price to pay in bad PR, lost future business, damaged reputation and just plain old public embarrassment not only for the ad agency but for the client as well.

The sad thing is that the entire expensive PR bungle could have been avoided if only they had hired a professional photographer to create an original and authentic image for the ad.

If the ad agency had expended a bit more energy and budget on finding an actual 9/11 responder for their model (maybe one of the law firms clients?) then hired a photographer to create the photo the ad might have succeeded for their client. At the very least it would not have created this quagmire of public embarrassment and the damage that will certainly linger as a result.

In the end the little bit of money (and effort) saved by the ad agency through purchasing stock photography instead of creating original art is probably looking mighty expensive to them about now. Sometimes, you get what you pay for…

Why that fabulous $1 microstock photo you just bought isn't such a great deal after all…

Stock image of business peopleSo how easy was that? You found just the right photo to put the finishing touch on your current project, but was it really a wise choice? Who can resist the allure of $1 stock photos you can buy from the comfort of your office? Well maybe you should. Maybe you really, really should because with that pocket change price and royalty free agreement comes some other costs you may not be thinking of.

Here is a list of some things the hired professional photographer brings to the table but you toss out the door when purchasing microstock.

  • Exclusivity
  • Community recognition
  • Photo quality
  • Campaign building
  • Unique style
  • Branding opportunity

Over used photo, example #1Over used photo, example #2Over used photo, example #3Over used photo, example #4Over used photo, example #5Over used photo, example #6Over used photo, example #7Over used photo, example #8Over used photo, example #9Each of these concessions from using stock photography could easily be a discussion on their own but here I want to focus on the most obvious from that list, exclusivity. Say goodbye to your campaign or promotion carrying any feel of exclusivity. Let me give you an example.

The image shown at the top of this post is a microstock photo. Yes, I bought it and have legal right to use it as I see fit. It is a nice image that could have many uses. The subjects are young, warm, friendly, professional, attractive etc. It might be just perfect for the ad or website you are working on and just a buck to boot! However…

Using an online image search tool I was able to find that this exact image is in use on nearly 300 websites right NOW! These aren’t little sidebar thumbnails either but featured visuals. Not so special now is it? All of a sudden your project is headed towards the ordinary, looking like everyone elses.

The screen shots shown running down the right side of this post are all real and currently live websites using this photo. They are not mock-ups or fakes for the sake of this post. They only took a few minutes to find.

Add to this the fact that in large part stock photography is general. By that I mean, the less specific an image is the more potential it has for sales. So, the most successful stock images are frequently those which are most ordinary. The location could be anywhere. The people could be anyone. The industry could be anything. In the end, the image you convey just isn’t all that special. Will that speak to your target audience? Will it instill confidence when they see the same photo in another place for something completely different? Maybe even something you would NOT want to be associated with even by accident?

All too often I feel as though the viewing (buying) public is not given the credit they are due. I believe that most people have a innate sense of when something is genuine or not. It doesn’t matter if they’ve seen the stock image repeated in other places or not they simply know it isn’t original or organic if you will. Beyond the question of exclusivity, it sends a message that just might not be the message you really want them to get.

As a commercial photographer you might assume it is natural for me to condemn microstock (unless I am participating, which is another discussion all together). But you might be surprised to hear that I actually have purchased microstock photography. It is a valuable and strong industry that can not be ignored. The product it offers does have a place.

What I hope to help you see here is that there is more to consider than simply the fact that you saved a few bucks on the photo. With that savings come a variety of things you are giving up and maybe, just maybe, that is NOT the best choice for your business or that of your clients.

Shooting from 50' above, no medical professionals were hurt in the making of these photos!

UHS_Circles_for_blogThe call from my client asked if I could help photograph a large group of people from a high angle. It wasn’t until a deeper conversation that I understood the high angle was to be from directly overhead and the group was to be 30 people!

As you can see from the resulting image here, when all was said and done we wound up with 26 people and we did indeed photograph them from directly overhead. Considering my stomach generally turns back-flips when faced with heights it turned out to be a project with interesting challenges to overcome.
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How you can make better photographs of snowy scenes!

It is mid-February and it seems there is one snow storm after another in the news lately. So it seemed a good time to offer some tips that might help you to get better photos in snowy scenes.

Don’t trust your camera’s exposure meter!

The one thing that can help your snowy scene photos more than anything else is to override your camera’s exposure setting. It might help to understand that your camera’s exposure meter is programmed to do one thing, determine the proper exposure settings to give your image a medium tone result. Specifically, exposure meters attempt to make everything neutral 18% grey. When you are photographing a snowy scene, you do not want that! So, what do you do?

Camera automatic setting results in underexposure.

Camera automatic setting results in underexposure.

Here is an example which shows the result you would get by letting your camera simply choose the exposure settings for you (auto exposure). As you can see, the photo looks dark and grey. Sort of “murky”. This is because the camera meter analyzes the scene and sets an exposure to make everything the average medium tone I referred to earlier. In a scene full of bright white snow, the camera makes the image darker than it should be. The meter is fooled by the scene and mistakenly underexposes the image. So how do we go about fixing this?
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Are you a "Megaphone" or "Hearing Aid" Twitter user?

TwitterLately I have had the opportunity to observe two competing organizations, both of which use Twitter as a tool in their business communications but who do so in very different ways. For me this has been a living example of two opposing approaches to using Twitter, one good and the other really NOT. Here is one way their approaches differ which helps illustrate my point.

Megaphone or Hearing Aid?
With one of the users in my informal case study the organization is using Twitter as a Megaphone. They speak but do not listen. It is easy to recognize a Megaphone Twitter user by simply looking at their totals for “Followers” vs. “Following”. Read more

Answer Your Questions Instantly with Google SMS

If you are anything like me you are a heavy SMS text message user. Sending a message limited to no more than 160 characters may at first seem a bit senseless, but you soon find it to be very useful and even a bit addicting. It is the perfect solution for those moments when you need to share some information, a thought or idea, but it really doesn’t require a conversation.

Here is a great little tip to a tool you can use to get information in return. Google offers their Google SMS service which is like having almost any information search right there in the palm of your hand. All you need to remember is the Google SMS texting number which is “GOOGLE” (“466453″ on most mobile devices). What could be easier?

Here is how it works. Just send your inquiry to Google SMS at “466453″ and in barely a minute or less Google will send you a response, usually an accurate answer to your question. To make this work even better Google has optimized the system to easily handle certain types of inquiries. Try these for example.

Current movie listings – text “Movies 54321″ (using your zip code)
Latest sports scores – text “Score Yankees” (name your favorite team)
Current weather conditions – text “Weather Chicago” (name your preferred city or zip code)

For a more detailed list of the optimized Google SMS inquiry options go to the Google Mobile SMS web page and text away. Google will answer virtually any of your questions instantly as simple as that! Best of all, this service is a free product from Google (your standard text messaging rates still apply as they say…)

What is a Favicon, Why Would I Want One?

favicon exampleA favicon is sometimes referred to as a bookmark icon, shortcut icon, favorite icon or website icon. In most modern web browsers you will see the favicon displayed in the browser’s address bar next to the url of the Web site you are visiting. On this blog site you should see a red “ST” logo in the address bar of your browser window, similar to what you see highlighted in the graphic above.

Most browsers that support the display of favicons will also show the icon next to entries in your bookmarks or favorites lists. If you are using a browser which offers tabbed browsing, you will typically also see the favicon shown in each tab next to the web page title.

There are two very good reasons to be sure your Web site includes a favicon.

  1. It makes your Web site user friendly
    If your browser supports the display of favicons then you already know this to be true. The favicon makes it much easier to recognize a particular Web site you may be looking for in your tabs, bookmarks or favorites lists.
  2. Establishing and reinforcing brand/organization identity
    Statistics vary but most agree that it takes some repetition before people will remember your company or organizations visual identity. Use of the favicon is an effective means of building on that recognition.

Those seem like two compelling reasons to be sure that your Web site offers a favicon to its visitors. Your Web site developer should be able to install a favicon for you. If you need help you can of also look to SteadmanTech for help with this and any other web development needs.

Photoshop Tip: Reset Your Dialog Boxes Quick and Easy!

Photoshop logoHere is a quick Photoshop tip that might save you a bit of time. Some of Photoshops dialog boxes can get a bit busy and before you know it you are thinking you want to go back and start again from square one. It is simple enough to just dismiss the dialog box using the Cancel button then start over. But you can get there quicker and easier. Here’s how.

From almost any active Photoshop dialog box which presents you with the OK and Cancel buttons you have another option. The option that I speak of is the Option key (Alt on the PC) on your keyboard. No kidding, bad play on words I know. Reset-buttonWith your dialog box active just press-and-hold the Option key (Alt on the PC) and Photoshop will instantly change the Cancel button to read “Reset”. While still holding the Option key, click on the Reset button. You are now reset back to where you began when first opening up this dialog box and you never had to leave the dialog box to get there! Now you start over changing your settings and adjustments as needed.

Does Your Business Legitimize Your Web Site, or Vice Versa?

Times have changed. A recent conversation with a colleague and friend brought to the surface this concept that has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite some time now. Does your business legitimize your Web presence? Or is it actually the other way around?

There was a time (which todays youth would not recall) in which you might have heard about a new Web site or online service and the natural question to follow was, “Do they have an actual ‘bricks and mortar’ location?” That is to say, does this online entity actually have a real life storefront/office location? Or is it just an online presence. The implication was clearly understood to be that if there was not a physical location associated with the online business, they were not to be trusted. Or at the very least, caution should be exercised.

But moving forward now to today’s business environment, I contend that the core of this question has reversed itself.
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Why Your "We Were Here" Travel Photos Fall Short

We all have the best of intentions in taking photos as we travel the country or even our own neighborhood. You just want to grab a photo of family or friends in front of a significant landmark, something we want to remember fondly in the coming years. Unfortunately, in a great majority of these situations the photos people take could very easily be much better and with very little effort to do so.

Here is a great example I created while on a recent family vacation to the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Atlantic coast. One highlight of our visit to the Space Center was seeing the Apollo/Saturn V rocket up close. It was natural to want to get a few photos to remember the visit and to share with friends. All too often I see people taking photos of this type and making some unfortunate mistakes as they do so.

Mistake #1This photo is an example of the most common error I see people make time and time again. This is a picture of my son standing in front of the Saturn V rocket’s Service Module, or is it? You can see the Service Module of course, but can you actually see my son? He’s there with a beaming smile on his face, but you cannot really tell that from this photo.

The mistake we’ve made here is that he is standing too close to the landmark element of the photo and gets lost in the photo. You would find yourself explaining this photo to your family or friends. I’m sure it would go something like, “Here is my son when we visited the Saturn V rocket. That small blob is him. He was very excited, trust me.”

Mistake #2Here is a photo which does make some improvement, but still misses the mark by quite a bit in my opinion. Some might actually argue that this picture is even worse depending on what you would rather see in the photo, my son or the rocket. Here you can certainly see the enthusiasm on my son’s face, but can you tell that is part of a Saturn V rocket behind him? Not really, it could be almost anything to be honest.

So this picture like the first, still does not tell the story very well. Now you would be explaining this photo by swearing that it really was a Saturn V rocket in the background, really. On the plus side for this photo, I’ve come in close enough that you can see my son in the photo and actually recognize him. On the minus side, the background could be anything at all.

Now let’s make a much improved photo. It is really very simple and requires only a wee bit of thought and a slight change of camera angle to create a vastly superior photo. Below is the photo as I would much rather see it done. I think you can see that this is a great improvement.

Nice camera angle and result

I made two simple changes to get this greatly improved photo and it took only a few seconds to do so. First, I had my son step away from the background subject. It only required moving 20 feet, that’s all. This is a mistake that I see people make probably 90% of the time when making photos of this type. I don’t really know why, but as soon as someone decides to get a picture taken in front of some notable subject, they walk right up to it where they will be dwarfed in the resulting photo.

Get away from the background subject! The larger your “landmark” background element is, the farther away from it you should be to get a great photo. If this were a picture of my son in front of the Lincoln Memorial for example, we probably would have been a good 50-100 yards away from the steps of the memorial.

Second, I moved the camera closer to my son which brings his happy face more into the foreground of the photo. Again a very simple adjustment to make when setting up the photograph and it takes but a few seconds. Bringing the person in the photo closer to camera really forces them into the foreground of the picture and separates them from the background behind them.

So next time you are out and about and setting up a photo to show family or friends in front of some notable background subject, remember two things.

  • Move the person in your photo away from the background subject
  • Bring the camera closer to the person in your photo

With these two things in mind you can come home with some really great travel photos. Photos you will be proud to show off to family and friends, and you’ll have a lot less s’plainin’ to do!