An (Instagram) Moment In Time: How to Navigate In a World Gone Social, Viral, and Otherwise.

As many of you know, Sheri Radel Rosenberg is a powerhouse.  She is a freelance art producer, a trend setter, a blogger and a contributing author to Notes From a Rep’s Journal.  She is full of life and energy and inspiration and friendship and fun.  It is no wonder that she is a freelance art producer.  A perfect combination of all of those things!

Recently, Sheri and I were talking about projects that exist where clients are looking specifically for photographers who have a multitude of followers on Instagram.  This is very different than clients looking for a specific photographer for a specific project.  One main difference is that for a non Instagram project, the client isn’t asking how many followers a photographers has when determining their fit for the project. A tell tale sign that the partnership will be a very different one indeed.

Sheri was very intrigued by this and decided to share her thoughts with us.  Here is what she had to say.

An (Instagram) moment in time: how to navigate in a world gone social, viral, and otherwise.
Contributed by Sheri Radel Rosenberg

There’s been much talk of late about creativity as the new currency in work/life. Being creative is a commodity, a necessity, and the new normal in water cooler conversations about innovation and forward thinking.

And with the advent of social media, creativity has also become much more democratic. By now we are used to fashion bloggers, not J school grads by any stretch, sitting front row at Fashion Week next to seasoned vets like Anna Wintour. And though Anna has a very strong personal brand, fashion bloggers like Garance Dore are taking it one step further- cashing in on their creativity to collaborate with big brands and put their own stamp on everything from stationary to clothing design.

As members of the commercial photography community, talk of social media (particularly Instagram) is met with both curiosity and alarm. Many photographers are enjoying an extra brand boost by incorporating social into their marketing strategies, while others are suspicious of its powers to elevate armchair photographers into megastars. We have all heard that familiar creative brief that asks for images that “look like Instagram”. But now agencies and brands are going straight to the source to further their quest for something authentic and real, even if we all could argue that much of the imagery there is manufactured and constructed to appeal to today’s audience who are seasoned and require a more curatorial perspective.

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But besides well plated bowls of kale and designer duds, today’s Instagram stars have something a lot of professional photographers don’t have. And that is, the media is truly the message. I mean that if someone has millions of followers on Instagram, not only are they the photographer, but they are the media, and often, they are also the talent (thinking of Murad Osmann’s Follow Me campaign– which showcases his hand being led into a scene by his wife, all to the tune of over 3 million followers). Incidentally, they also are a huge part of the concept, particularly if you are working with someone like Mr. Osmann to shoot a campaign incorporating his particular point of view.

And when it comes to fees and usage for today’s social stars, it’s a whole new world. Because these photographers and bloggers and illustrators don’t think of themselves as executors of a brand’s vision-they think of themselves as artists and creative collaborators vs. hired guns. In that respect, they command a high fee, because they are giving brands an opportunity to be seen by millions of eyes they might not have been seen by before, and collaboration is key to that endeavor being a success.

On the flip side, it’s no easy road working with the stars of social.

Often, they are not versed in the nuance of commercial production and have a hard time being flexible, which in our world of advertising, is hugely important. What I love about some of my favorite photographers out there is that although they don’t compromise their vision, they are willing to think of solutions that will suit the needs of clients that feel unsure, unsafe, and nervous about trying new things in an often shaky consumer landscape.

It can also be said that some social standouts have got to be super protective of their “thing”- in that way, they are very mindful of what they create on behalf of brands. If it feels unnatural or counter to what they feel their own personal brand stands for, they will most likely not do it. More traditional commercial photographers may be mindful of what projects they take, but realize there is opportunity in trying something new or outside of their comfort zone. In many ways, the partnership between agency and photographer is an exploration and give and take, and that’s what I love about production in general. We all have to work together to make something amazing, often leaving egos at the door and embracing something for the greater good.

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It’s occurred to me that Andy Warhol was even more a genius than originally realized. When I think of the celebrities social has created, I think about his notion of fifteen minutes of fame. If an artist sticks to the same thing over and over again without reinvention, how will he or she survive? The challenge of work in general is staying a step ahead and always striving for something new, or at least perfecting the very best of what we do. I can’t help but wonder how some of these new celebrities will evolve and adapt? Many are savvy enough to do so, but I also feel many will fall to the side of the road.

Regardless, it’s a brave new world out there. The blur of media and message is more myopic than ever, and brands are reaching out to new partners to gain some equity in a space they may not have had entré before. Social media has made creativity a true democracy, where the unseasoned are demanding huge fees to get a piece of their audience.

Further, it’s not just photographers or “creatives” that need to think about what all of this means. I remember some time ago hearing that ad agencies were looking for producers that were generalists, or those smart men and women who could produce, write, craft, you name it. With social media putting the spotlight on a hyper specialized few, is it worth rethinking our offer to the world when it comes to work? Think about Brooklyn the brand and all of its offshoots- there are people running around my neighborhood in specialize in artisanal pickles, while my local farmers market has a line around the corner for the “turkey man” or the guy who has a turkey farm upstate and sells only that and nothing else. It’s true we need to expand our toolboxes to include more ways to provide value, but is it worth looking at the one thing that sets us apart from the pack and enhances our own personal brand? It may very well be, and if you are a photographer starting your career, it’s worth thinking about, because the tendency is to feel the need to be able to be everything to everybody, and at this very moment something very bespoke and custom is happening, and it’s something else to obsess about when wondering how to market yourself.

In sum, today and tomorrow’s commercial photographers, a healthy mix of curiosity and caution is needed to navigate the relationship with brands. It’s true that brands will always want to incorporate the newest technology/meme/celebrity to speak more directly to new audiences, but it’s also true that brands need partners that understand their vision and are willing to stretch and flex to create fabulous imagery. Because at the end of the day, it’s still all about creating great images, regardless of your numbers on Instagram. That said, it’s worth thinking about developing a base there to stay relevant, fresh, and share your vision with an audience who always wants to see more.

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And, thank you David Martinez for your wonderful Instagram photos.  See more of them please link here.

4 thoughts on “An (Instagram) Moment In Time: How to Navigate In a World Gone Social, Viral, and Otherwise.

  1. Thank you Heather for sharing this great post by great eloquent writer Sheri Radel Rosenberg, she really covered all sides of the story and helped me gain more current knowledge in the social media world, GREAT Read!!

  2. Thanks for prodding Sheri to dig into one of the many new challenges for us. This is a terrific, insightful post from one of my favorite producers and should be required reading for producers and photographers alike. As in so many things of concern in our evolving industry, Sheri points out that we have to embrace and expand on the new paradigm to stay relevant and competitive. Thanks for prodding her to dig into yet another of the new challenges for us…she really articulates the state of flux we are swimming in and gives it a smart,seasoned perspective. I love how she points out that if one can bring a career’s worth of production to an “Instagram” shoot, the brand, the agency AND the photographer can benefit.

    As a steady exercise and a way to free up my thinking and response time, all the images I post to Instagram are shot with my iPhone. With the quality of the camera and the maturing of the controls built into the app, finessing images has gotten more sophisticated and with the ubiquity of smartphones, shooting with my iPhone lets me blend into the crowd almost effortlessly. And being followed by art producers and creatives has shown how this simple visual marketing tool is sometimes more effective than more traditional avenues.

    However, unless one uses a wi-fi enabled DSLR, a work-around has to be activated to upload desktop images to Instagram. Who knows if one of the big camera companies won’t go ahead and add an Instagram button. Then truly (like Chase Jarvis says) the best camera IS the one you have with you.

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