From photo ops to photo oops

Photography skills were not listed under the qualifications for staff writer when I applied for a job at Computer Dealer News eight years ago, and thank goodness for that. Some people were destined to take great pictures, but I am a word man through and through. None of us, however, escapes camera duties


We once used a Kodak DC-120 digital camera, which we then thought state of the art, to snap photos at press conferences and trade shows. There’s nothing like elbowing your way to the front of a crowd with your zoom lens to make you feel like a real journalist (though it helps to don a fedora with a card reading “PRESS” shoved in the band). Eventually, though, we outsourced most of this activity to professional photographers. It’s not just that we needed the help: it soon became apparent that, creative as they might be with press releases and events, most of the IT industry’s marketing talent just can’t think visually.

As with any other print publication, our titles need more than artists’ illustrations to break up the white space. For years, we relied on head shots and box shots. As a result, some pages looked like high school yearbooks, while others had a catalogue feel. At times, depending on the publicity stunt du jour, we tried out some other contributed artwork that had some novelty value. This strategy reached its nadir with an issue of Computing Canada circa 1998, which featured, for reasons I think had something to do with data warehousing, a photograph of someone dressed as McDonald’s Hamburgler. (Our publisher at the time, however, wasn’t lovin’ it.)

We thought hiring better shutterbugs would be the answer, but our subjects don’t always give them a lot to work with. Press conferences are often held in the same series of about six different downtown Toronto hotels, some of which have policies that prohibit photos in certain areas. Other venues, like the former News Theatre, were almost impenetrably dark, and few of the corporate headquarters in Mississauga or Markham have anything other than a corporate logo to serve as a backdrop.

When we try to pose the men – and it’s almost always men – who grace our covers and front pages, they tend to fall back on what I like to call the Triumph of the Will look: arms crossed, chin high, smug smile and looking down, if possible, at the camera. This applies not only to CEOs but to the many ladder-climbers who confuse a magazine shoot with the kind of portraits commissioned for Renaissance courtiers. Sometimes you can get them to hold a box of their software, which makes them look a little like Barker’s Beauties from The Price is Right. Best of all are wireless handheld launches, where executives are encouraged to shove the device as close to the lens as possible. This is in-your-face marketing at its best.

No one is expecting executives to turn themselves into clowns, but the marketing opportunities presented by press events demand more thought towards visual elements. What about a mobile computing launch that took place on a TTC streetcar? How about an RFID press conference in a customer’s warehouse? IT is only interesting if it has a tangible impact on the world around us. If we want to convey that to readers, we’re going to have to show them the world.

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Shane Schick is the editor of IT Business Pipeline.

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