Storytelling in photography with John Laurie
John Laurie may call Melbourne, Australia his base, but it's on the road he feels most at home. Adventure is like an addiction to him. An addiction we are happy to support and share. It's his passion for far-flung places that deliver some stunning photography from around the globe.
We caught up with John in his Melbourne studio to ask him about storytelling in photography and how important is for a small hotel or travel business to have a basic understanding.
The hotels and travel businesses we see doing well are always the ones who have established a deep connection with their customer. How can photography play a part in attracting the right guest or customer?
Photography is the end-game - the final quarter if you like. They should be well executed and strongly appeal to the market. They need to be evocative, atmospheric and filled with a strong sense of “I want to go there”. They need to be simple in execution and immediately attention grabbing.
People are time poor these days and consume such a large amount of imagery, so the photos need to have immediate impact. If they don’t, the images will fall short and the customers will seek to find a brand whom they identify with on a stronger level. It’s all about brand association these days.
Not every hotel or travel business have budgets big enough to spend on top quality photography. Is it possible to get decent quality shots with a small budget?
Hmmmm, tricky question! Quality and low budget are never two words that go so well together. However, contra is often something I personally consider if the hotel or destination is a place I want to visit and is good for my portfolio. Failing that, get a reasonable camera and try to do it yourself. Photography is an art form which is often overlooked in this day and age. When its done on the cheap unfortunately the results often reflect this. That old saying “ You get what you pay for” seems apt here.
There’s so many digital tools, apps and filters out there to take a photo on a personal mobile device. When can this work and where can this fail?
I really don’t use any so it’s not really for me to say. At the most, I use the contrast and brightness settings on my phone to make the photo look a bit snappier. However, most photo apps work pretty well though when used in moderation. They help to create a tone and a brand identity in keeping with a creative direction that may or may not have been discussed with a photographer who is doing the main shoot.
Fresh, natural light, high key with contrast is what appeals to me when I'm searching for accommodation imagery. I’m not a fan of Instagram filters as they date quickly. Nowadays, it’s more about a striking, well executed shot rather than an average shot hidden behind a filter. Social media has thankfully evolved a bit since those early days of laying filters over bad images.
When should an accommodation business invest in professional photography? Are there times they can get away with some simple understanding and techniques to save time and money?
Always! It sets a strong tone and message to the target market that you value what you have done and want to appeal strongly to them. You can get away with a low-fi approach for such things as events, latest offerings and social posts. These channels can be captured quickly and simply and people often expect them to be not as slick or professional.
If you brief and organise a job properly, a good photographer can actually create a strong body of work for a reasonable price. If you plan correctly your photographer will be able to cover a range of different subjects and categories with a strong, consistent tone and visual language - allowing you to rollout the shots over a number of months/ years.
Invest in photography that works across a number of areas for a reasonable duration of time and you can’t go wrong. Don't make photography an after thought to the marketing spend of the business. Its an incredibly important asset in the 'visual world' we all live. The images need to be able to stand up strong and compete in the vast array of media and stimuli we are exposed to every day.
You use natural lighting a lot in your photography. Is it as simple as grabbing a phone or digital camera and taking a great photo - as long as the sun is out?
To a degree yes. It really makes a big difference turning off a light switch and seeing how the natural light filters into a space. I don’t think anyone really loves looking at photos taken on an iPhone with average lighting. Still, its a simplified response. Taking good photos isnt as easy as just having natural light. Its about choice of angle, composition, subject matter, exposure. But for your best chance and to take a “better” photo of a space - yes flick off the lights and open the blinds and go from there.
What can an independent photographer such as yourself add to a hotel or travel and leisure business?
A photographer such as myself can work out the requirements of the client and work towards a budget. For an accommodation business it is imperative that the images are bold, modern and fresh and slip easily into the realm of social medias.
A photography session at a hotel for example can create a strong suite of images that the hotel can roll out on a number of different mediums such as web, brochure and social over a period of time. Being more of an all-round photographer and not just an interiors or architecture photographer, I am able to provide more lifestyle photographs as well as food heroes and drink shots that create a strong sense of place and atmosphere that often lacks in just architectural photos.
These images are paramount to creating buzz about a brand, to give potential guests the opportunity to identify with the place and visualise themselves there. Ultimately an independent photographer can work to a brief, discuss and provide input and recommendations as to what they think is worth capturing and provide a package deal to the company.
Finally, are there any secrets you’re willing to giveaway?
Invest in good photography! Concentrate on your strengths and weaknesses of running and operating your business and invest in a photographer that can assist in creating a strong and successful brand and has the type of personality that you can work with and establish a long term relationship with.
Be prepared to do something a little bit different. By all means get a reasonable pro-summer camera and tripod and start experimenting with natural light and exposure. A lot of good photography also comes down to editing and post production these days also unfortunately so that is another thing to learn!
Look at images online that you like and that the social media world likes and create a mood board (Pinterest page) of images to work towards.