For exhibit and event professionals  

Flash of Brilliance

February 9, 2010 By Editor

Part 2: Getting the glory shot

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

Flash of Brilliance

In last month's installment, Patrick St. Clair discussed how you can determine which type of photographer and photography are right for you. After you've worked out these issues, the next thing for you to consider is how to get the glory shot, that picture that's supposed to make your booth look its absolute best.

Done right, the tradeshow glory shot is a thing of beauty, but here are just some of the challenges the photographer faces:

  • Scenes have EXTREME contrast, outside of what's recordable without supplemental lighting.
  • Mixed color sources in the lighting (i.e., fluorescent, mercury, tungsten, etc.).
  • Limited time when booths can be photographed.
  • Coordinating union labor, corporate people, staging company and “talent.”
  • Dealing with the inevitable pressure from whichever variable doesn't work out right. Something always goes haywire. It's a rule!

Big tradeshow booths have become high-tech lighting extravaganzas with animated lighting displays, moving plasmas, multiple screens, chaser lights, high-intensity spotlights, smoke and lasers, and whatever else the lighting design company cranks in. They're very exciting and convey that excitement to the tradeshow audience. But the extreme contrast, the mixed lighting and the sheer scale of some tradeshow displays make shooting them very challenging!

Traditional approach

The traditional photographic approach for high-contrast environments is to use shutter speed to control continuous light sources and hilites, and then use supplemental lighting to close up the contrast range by filling in shadow areas. This has been the rule since the inception of photography. And, contrary to popular belief, digital photography has NOT changed the science behind photography. Light is still light, and sensitized materials are still sensitized materials. All the traditional rules and constraints for photographic capture are still in place. (Post-production is another story and a different article.)

MOST photographers still base their workflow on the long-standing rules of photography. Instant preview that digital cameras brought to the scene helps speed up the process, but generally, you'll still see tradeshow photographers after-hours on the show floor with lighting gear to balance the contrast range.

Innovation through photo-imaging

Although the prime rules of photography have not changed with the evolution to digital capture, certain innovations have come into being that enable enterprising photographers to significantly shorten the onsite workflow for high-end tradeshow photography. HDR photography, stitching, virtual lenses, compositing, photo blending, density masking and exposure blending are all terms familiar to this new breed of photographer. There's a range of techniques (primarily software-driven) that enable a knowledgeable and skilled photographer to slash the time taken to skillfully reproduce the complex scenes commonplace on the tradeshow floor today. The classically trained photographer who also understands the full range of photo-imaging techniques and employs them expertly can cut the time onsite by half or more. That means saving on utility bills, union labor, corporate overtime, etc. The term photo-imaging is making the rounds and coming to represent this style of photography.

It used to be the photographer's challenge to faithfully reproduce reality. Now it's becoming the photographer's challenge (through photo-imaging) to create the reality in the client's mind's eye!

Photo-imaging is not at all appropriate in the realm of photojournalism and forensic photography, but on the tradeshow floor, as well as other forms of advertising photography, it can carry the day!

Whether you decide to go with a photographer using the traditional techniques or one working with photo-imaging techniques, taking high-quality documentary photos of your exhibit has several benefits. These photos:

  • Provide reference for displays and graphics for upcoming shows or next year's redesign.
  • Educate booth staff.
  • Document exhibit theme, lighting and furniture.
  • Show positive proof of your efforts for reports and presentations.
  • Can be sent to trade magazines which require high-resolution photos to further extend the message of your exhibit.

Along with the promotional reasons for exhibit photography, consider a shot with all the staff in the booth for a “thank you” later on.

Working with the photographer

Your job doesn't end with hiring the photographer; you also have to support the

photographer onsite to get his or her best work. Here's what you need to do:

  • Maintain strong communications on expectations, deadlines, chain of command (in the event of conflict), etc.
  • Tour the booth with the photographer in advance of the shoot, discussing each shot in detail.
  • Provide contact info and instructions, such as, “Here's my cell number,” “Call at any hour if needed” or some such instruction if the photographer is working alone late at night, as is often the case.
  • Make appropriate introductions to after-hours staff, end clients, union reps, etc.
  • Arrange for any special circumstances or equipment, such as putting in a call for a lift truck for aerial shots, etc.

When preparing for exhibit photography, you should also:

  • Remove trash baskets, as well as any paperwork or other clutter, from sight.
  • Have carpets freshly vacuumed.
  • Have exhibit lighting turned on. Also have show labor turn on projectors, monitors, plasmas, laptops, etc.

Consider whether the photos should be with or without people in the exhibit. If you want to show the architecture, people will be in the way. But if it's about the success of your exhibit, people are essential.

When you prepare budgets, include a line item for photography so you have the leeway to source and hire the right photographer for the job.

Accurate, evocative photography of the architecture of your brand gives you the tools to continue to promote your company's brand message long after the show is over!

Editor's note: Patrick St. Clair's two-part article covered arranging for documentary photography and booth glory shots. But there are other specialties as well, including videography, 360° panoramic photography, 3D photography, show candids taken during show hours, etc. Let us know if you'd like to see an article about any of them!

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. His Web site is www.stclairphoto-imaging.com/.


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