Sunday, September 15, 2013

Getty Images: Visual Trends and Innovations event

A few weeks ago I got a random email from Getty Images about an event they were holding in my area (you can check out the event info by clicking here). It was local and it was free so, despite never having been to a Getty Images event (and despite my suspicion that, like many free events, it would pretty much be one big commercial) I decided to go.

Here's a quick summary of the three sessions I went to:

Session 1: What's in your content? - Canadian content for Canadians, by Canadians
Speaker: Beau Lark, Hero Images

I'm not quite sure what the deal was with this title. Lark briefly touched on the idea of "Is there a particular Canadian aesthetic that's visible in Canadian-produced stock photos?" and then promptly dropped it minutes later.

The rest of the talk focused on how his company, Hero Images, produces stock images. It was interesting to find out how some of the imagery I use on a regular basis comes into existence. This company makes substantially better than average standard stock images, and it's clear that the additional thought, planning, and spontaneity that Lark discussed his company using is a large part of why this is the case.

We shoot people holding arrows, of course!

That said, it was hard not to feel like much of this presentation was more a subtle commercial for their stock images rather than a session with content I could do something with afterwards. Great... I now know what image themes Getty Images has asked their photography partners to create. That's interesting from a general curiosity perspective. However, it doesn't actually contribute much to helping me do my job better, which makes it less than an ideal topic for a workshop.

Snarkiness aside, this is a really good image.

I have to wonder if Hero Images and Getty got more out of the experience from the admittedly excellent audience questions that followed the session than the actual audience got from the talk?

Session 2: Trends in video - How our video is driving engagement
Speaker: Andrew Delaney, Getty Images

This one was at least decently-related to the session description. Delaney opened the session by talking about statistics that showed how video can increase customer engagement (and showed his sources at the end of the session! Speakers: remember to do this if you use statistics). At this point, though, it became clear that this session would be looking at videos through the lens of advertising/marketing. That's a valid lens, but one that only relates to my work indirectly. Not to say that us L&D folks don't have a lot to learn from marketing, but in this case it took a bit of heavy lifting to translate what was being said about video into something that would impact learning.

Long story short (too late), video generally increases people's interest in interacting with your content. Okay, sure. I'll buy that (as long the video content is good, at least). Then Delaney showed this slide the outlined the 5 types of videos he felt every site needed:

Good advice for people selling a product/service at least

Obviously this is coming from an "advertising a product or service" spin, but the gist of it could apply to other situations as well, I suspect. Depending on what you're doing, I think some of those video types matter more than others though. For instance, I develop leadership training right now. Out of all those options, I think #3 (expert video) would matter the most to my audience.

Delaney didn't spend a ton of time going into these 5 types of videos (Shame, really. I would have loved an entire session on how to make effective versions of each video type.), and instead shifted into sales mode. Once again, this is pretty much what I expected considering the event, and at the very least his sales slides were informative and attractive to boot.

It's a bad photo (with a person's head in the way) but you get the drift.

Getty Images basically has a huge library of videos. No surprise to me, but apparently a bit of a surprise to some people in the room. They currently seem to be trying to brand their particular images/videos as "authentic", which is probably a good business model considering the most common complaint about stock photos is their phoniness. They then showed off a few demo reels which were, as expected, pretty decent.

The session continued by very briefly exploring three innovations in stock video: Hyper-lapse photography, using flying drones to take shots at interesting angles, and the use of amateur YouTube style videos. Of all of these, I think it's the amateur videos that impact us most in L&D. I'm glad to see more acceptance for amateur video, since it's both easier to produce and fantastic for quickly capturing in-the-moment insights and reflections that in the past have been too difficult to capture with professional video shoots. That said, I think it's important to point out something that I mentioned on Twitter during this session: professionally created faux amateur videos practically reek of inauthenticity. You're better off having no video than a fake YouTube-style video that comes across as phony. There's something deeply off-putting about companies that try and appropriate something authentic. It has severe reputational risk, which is why I find it a bit curious that it's a direction Getty Images is taking. I'll be curious to see if they're able to strike a good balance between decent production values and authenticity. I'll also be curious to see how our industry manages this balance as well.

As much as I left this presentation feeling like I wasn't actually its intended audience, there were two good takeaways for me. 

First was the confirmation that Getty Images uses the analytics data from what people search for on their site (in particular, popular searches that result in little to no results) to drive the themes they ask their partners to create. During the break between the first and second sessions I chatted with a friend about this and we theorized this was likely the case. It was deeply amusing to have it confirmed under an hour later. It's always interesting to have a bit of a look underneath the hood of services I use regularly.

Second, and this may be the best bit of content I learned at this event, I found out that Getty Images shares some of their image trends research via a site called The Curve. I suspect I'll be visiting this site often for ideas.

Session 3: Access to all areas - How the red carpet has evolved, a look at our archives and how photography has evolved with celebrity.
Speaker: Robert Ahern, Getty Images

I walked into this session having very little idea of what to expect. The full session description didn't really match the title, and all of it was rather vague (seriously... Getty could use a bit of help with their session and audience descriptions). What I got, thankfully, was the most interesting session of the day.

I wish I had gotten more photos of the images shown in this session. They were all stunning like this.

Ahern works in the Getty Images archives and, with a nod to the Toronto International Film Festival that was going on at the same time as this event, used his experience to weave together a fascinating retrospective on the history of celebrity photography. He began by discussing the early days of celebrity photography, in particular how Hollywood used high-end photography to create and frame the idea of what a Hollywood star actually was in the minds of the public. These highly staged photos eventually gave way to more casual images in the 50s and 60s. This change came about as photographers moved themselves out of the studio and into the actual lives of their subjects. When imbedded in a celebrity's entourage for a long period of time, they were able to capture intimate, real moments in that person's life, leading to stunning and authentic imagery (look, it's the "A" word again!). Of course, this trend towards photography of celebrity lives has moved to an extreme end with paparazzi photographers: people who capture the intimacy of a celebrity's life without the level of consent seen previously. It's amazing how the images from this type of photography manage to read as drastically more intrusive and off-putting when compared to their predecessors.

So it was a interesting session made all the better by the fact that Ahern was clearly passionate about the subject matter. That kind of excitement from a presenter is infectious. While I didn't learn a lot that directly relates to the work I do, I did at least get to see numerous examples of what high-end photography should be, which I suppose is helpful for inspiring me to strive to use the best images I can find/afford for my projects.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people have asked me if this event was worth my time. It's a hard question to answer. On one hand, the Getty Images research website is something I can see myself using on a regular basis and it's not something I was likely to find out about otherwise. I also just loved the final session, even if it won't directly impact my work. But were those two things worth taking almost a day's worth of my time? I'm not sure.

By the end of the session there were two questions I was surprised I still couldn't answer:

  1. What did Getty Images hope its audience would get out of this day?
  2. What did Getty Images themselves expect to gain from this experience?
I wonder if this lack of event direction is why I still feel a bit uncertain about what I should have gotten out of the day. I mean, if the event sponsor didn't seem to have a clear vision for what this event should have accomplished, then how could I?

The other question I've been asked is would I go to an event like this again? My answer: possibly. I like the idea of creative events to help shake up my mindset a bit, but clearly intention and execution don't always match as well as everyone would like. So yes, I'd attend an event like this again, but I'd be a lot pickier about which events specifically and would look for ones with a clear vision for what the event should accomplish.

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