Not that long ago a “business portrait” meant placing the subject in front of a roll of Thunder Gray studio background paper.
Times change, and so do styles. Although we still do many, perhaps the majority, of our business portraits in front of a studio background, today it’s not unusual for a client (or a client’s designer or brand manager) to prefer an environmental setting instead of a solid tone studio background.
Sometimes an “environmental setting” is inside the client’s office with a softly focussed suggestion of a nicely appointed corporate setting in the background.
More often though, an “environmental setting” puts the subject in front of a large window with something interesting in the background. In Boston’s urban setting, that something is often adjoining office towers, suggesting the upscale, urban setting the client inhabits.
Whatever the business term is for a business that’s smaller than a small business, that’s what FayFoto Boston is. We have a full-time staff of three. However, even three is a lot more complicated than one when it comes to saving, retrieving, and sharing information each of us know individually. We have many of the same needs as any of our larger small business colleagues. We just don’t have the resources for enterprise-level solutions. Consequently, to keep chaos at bay we have developed numerous DIY solutions.
We operate in the B2B sector. We don’t offer packages as a wedding or family portrait studio might. Every one of our clients has a slightly different preference, either for background, or file size, or both. It’s not uncommon for a client to ask for two, four, or even more variations for each selected portrait image. Web, print, LinkedIn, color, grayscale… Each with specific pixel dimensions, and often at different aspect ratios. And each variation has to have a consistent file name to indicate unambiguously what it is. (“lastname-firstname_web.jpg” or “Firstname-Lastname_print.jpg” for example.)
In other words… instead of telling our clients what they can have, our clients tell us what they need. And it’s on us to deliver that repeatedly and consistently.
FayFoto has been involved with Boston’s business, political, advertising and public relations communities for… well… we’re not entirely sure of the year of origin but we’re going with 80+ years.
We covered many assignments and produced many many images over the course of those decades (estimated at over 7.5 million negatives!). Our collection of negatives from the late 60’s until about the early 2000’s (when we transitioned to digital) is essentially unbroken. We also had several metal file cabinets filled with much older negatives that aren’t catalogued in any coherent manner.
We’re not hoarders exactly, but neither are we librarians or curators. Our collection hadn’t been maintained for posterity – photographers are pragmatic and we kept them mainly because someday maybe someone would buy a reprint from an image captured back when.
It is a unique time capsule…
Because we aren’t trained to be information specialists and because we don’t have resources to become that, this collection was effectively useless. Our logs maintained a good record of when an assignment took place and who our client was, but very little else in the way of metadata about the images. In other words, locating and retrieving a negative based on its content rather than an internal reference number stamped on the back of a print was next to impossible. Our logs from that era were hand written, so they couldn’t be quickly or easily searched. The cardboard boxes we kept them in weren’t in any way archival, and they consumed significant space.
What to do?
This is where Northeastern University comes in. Giordana Mecagni, a conservator in the Special Collections division of Northeastern University’s Snell Library reached out to us thanks to a timely referral from a contact at the Boston Public Library who was aware of our situation. As soon as we learned of the breadth and scope of the Library’s collection (which includes the Boston Globe’s archive!) we knew our collection would be in the best of all possible hands.
Archivist Daniel Lavoie made several exploratory site visits to our office and on June 5, 2018 the collection rolled off in a moving van to a new home and a productive future.
FayFoto Boston is grateful almost beyond words for the Library’s willingness to undertake the daunting process of sifting, sorting, organizing, and ultimately making these images available to historians and researchers. We anticipate that one day someone out there will discover just exactly the image he or she is looking for to tell a story about some aspect of Boston’s history during this era.
A new beginning, not an end
This isn’t the end of the story for FayFoto Boston! We continue to produce new work for businesses and organizations in the Boston area – digitally. It does, however, feel like the beginning of a new story for our older images.
Blog posts by their nature get pushed down as new articles are added. While we would like to think that everything we write has value and is useful, we do have some foundational articles aimed at professionals who work with photographers. We want to ensure that this “evergreen” content remains visible and accessible.
A Brief Index to Helpful Content
Here’s a short list of articles we feel are of particular value to people like you.
We have been working at clearing out old and unnecessary stuff recently. After more than 25 years in our current office, you might well imagine there’s quite a lot of that. Recently Wayne unearthed the very first digital camera FayFoto purchased. That got me curious, so I started sifting through old assignment log books for the first evidence of actually capturing assignments digitally.
They started showing up in the Fall of 1999. Given that we’re into the second quarter of 2018 as I write this, that feels like quite a long time.
We weren’t the earliest of adopters, but our market moved us into providing digital services before a lot of other photographers made the leap (or else said “to heck with this” and moved into some other endeavor). Pro-level digital cameras at that time were beyond our means. We eased into the inevitable by scanning negatives and transparencies for years before investing in digital capture equipment. Our first cautious investment in a digital camera was at the upper end of what was then the consumer level. (It was a Kodak DC265, purchased in the Fall of 1999 at the CompUSA around the corner from our office. You can still read the camera’s review in DPReview’s archive!)
This is one of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to business head shot portraits. The subject has already wrestled with what to wear by the time he or she arrives to face our camera. Concerns about expression, however, don’t generally surface until the last minute. That concern is, specifically, whether it's okay to smile.
Some subjects come into the set smiling, and it’s clear we couldn’t ask this person not to smile. But not everybody wants to smile. Some subjects are self-conscious about teeth, or dimples, or eyes that close up when they smile. Some feel it’s fine for Facebook but undignified for work. Some are self-conscious because they have been told by friends or loved ones that they look goofy when they smile “for the camera.”
On occasion, a subject will arrive announcing that he or she wants to look fierce. As in "I want to look like a tough and intimidating lawyer."
I tell subjects “Yes, most of your colleagues do smile, but I haven’t been told it’s mandatory. Consider who is going to be looking at these images. Most of the time it will be a potential client or customer, not your business or courtroom adversary. You want to look like someone I’d consider spending a day in a conference room with.”
I’ve seen plenty of photographer websites containing many hundreds of images.
I’m guessing you have, too.
So here’s my response to your reasonable question.
FayFoto Boston has been around for a very long time, and we hope to be around for a long time to come. We work primarily with Corporate clients. We have some internal limitations regarding what we can show. These aren’t “industry standards;” they mirror our own ethical position which has evolved over time and over many business interactions.1
I’ll begin this article with a few words about the word retouching. We understand that this is the word everyone uses and understands, so we use it, too.
Frankly, most of the connotations about that word are negative. At best it implies fakery. At worst it suggests repair work on a flawed subject. We don’t want our work to suggest either of those! We are much more comfortable using the term polishing, which suggests making something good even better. So we’ll continue to honor the term which is used by most of the world but, between you and us, polishing comes closer to what we do.
These days, just about every head shot portrait image we release to our clients has been looked at carefully by an experienced digital technician. 1
You don’t have to specify or explicitly request the basics of retouching – you can count on that being done as part of our service. It’s built into our pricing.
At a recent networking group meeting, customer service became a topic of discussion.
As part of the conversation a smaller, local hardware store was contrasted with the "big box" store across the street. How does the smaller shop survive in the shadow of the larger?
The consensus was that the customer experience at the local store was far and away better than the customer experience at the Big Box store.
I don’t know that FayFoto has a "big box store" parallel, but I can say that, because our market is saturated with competent photographers, we work very hard to make customer support our distinguishing attribute; our brand; how we want to be remembered and described.
I really enjoy knowing our customers. I love knowing their kids' names. I love knowing their dog's name or their favorite soccer team. I love picking up a conversation a month later. I love starting an email reply with "It's good to hear from you again!" I love walking up to a client’s reception desk and greeting the receptionist by name.
Recognizing your team by giving awards is an important way of expressing the value your company places on achievements or other contributions. Sharing these moments on the company website or newsletter or press release is an important way of sharing. With just a little bit of foresight you can improve the odds of getting great photos of your award presentation.
You might be the presenter. Your might be the event coordinator, needing to “coach” the presenter. Whatever your situation, you probably want usable photographs of the award presentations or you wouldn’t be reading this article. We have witnessed great award presentations and hopeless ones (from the point of view of the photographer), so here are a few tips.
With that out of the way, with a mutual understanding that bad things can happen to good data, you can be assured that to the best of our ability we archive all the work we produce.
In the days of film we saved negatives. When we made the transition to digital we saw no reason (or justification) for discarding images.
In the specific case of portraits, we also archive the additional images in addition to the selected images.
The images we produce for you are still yours – we don’t release them to outside parties or stock agencies.
However, it does now and then happen that months or years after a picture is taken, a need arises for a different size or crop. It does occasionally happen that a subject wants to review his or her options later, after the portrait sitting. It does sometimes happen that a client will accidentally delete, misplace, or overwrite a file.
For those reasons and others, we do our best to maintain copies of the images we produce for you.
We don’t charge extra for this service. We feel it’s a professional courtesy. We don’t have to reach into our archive every day, or even every week. But when we do it’s usually in response to a distress call, and the party on the other end of the phone or email is grateful and relieved when we can produce the missing or damaged resource.
This is one important advantage to having and maintaining a long term relationship with a vendor such as FayFoto Boston. We want the best for you and your marketing/communication efforts.