12.2015 Photo District News PhotoServe
Art Producer Amy Yvonne Yu Looks at How the Internet Changed Imagery

My brother Ted asked me, “Why aren’t there more photos of kittens on the Internet?” Obviously, it would break the Internet. Seeing that there is as much content created now in 2 days as the beginning of time to 2003, I am not entirely sure we need more photos of kittens on the Internet. Or rather, I am not that interested in them unless they are extremely well shot or exceptionally funny. And if it’s neither of those, then it would have to be Chris Buck taking a selfie with Tardar Sauce.

Chris Buck’s selfie with Tardar Sauce AKA Grumpy Cat.

The Internet changed how we interact with the world drastically, and with it, different types of content that we interact with. My brothers and I used the Internet as a way to get video game codes for Mortal Kombat in the mid 90s with Prodigy on our dial up fax modem. Now I use it to communicate with people both privately (emails and chats) and not so privately (website, blog, social media) a majority of my day while my brothers can broadcast their Mortal Kombat gameplay on Twitch. With this ever-changing landscape of the Internet, we now have different types of content that is created for mass consumption. I saw that producing still imagery was not going to be a sustainable long term career path for me in the early 2000s when I was still working at ATTIK, so I forced myself to be involved in learning about broadcast, interactive, and experiential content immediately. That is why I was one of the early adaptors of integrated content production.

Brands had to adapt to “interactive” media in order to stay relevant. Gone were the days of TV commercials, radio, print ads, direct mail and out of home. Now there were web banners, microsites, guerilla marketing and experiential. In the early days, people just repurposed what they shot for TV commercials and print ads to web and called that interactive advertising and wondered why people were not interacting with them. Then people slowly realized that in order for there to be consumer engagement, you have to understand the behavior of each medium and create content specific to that medium for it to be successful. This remains true today. There is not a lot of value add you provide when you post the same image across all your different platforms. Why would I possibly want to see the same image you did 2-5 times across different platforms? Furthermore, why would a busy art buyer & producer like myself have enough time in the day for that across the thousands of people I deal with both professionally and personally? There are only 24 hours in a day and I am only supposed to work 8 out of those 24 hours. The math just does not add up, and I’d really like to go to the bathroom without my phone.

Given the limited opportunity you have to gain the attention of someone like me so I can hire you for a campaign, how could you get my undivided attention? Given the volume of content out there that I have to dig through and the millions of people that think they are all “photographers,” how would you stand out in this abyss? The one trend I saw in the recent years is that everyone is trying to be everything to everyone to get the most amount of work. This is a mistake. Unless you are extremely good at shooting still life, lifestyle, conceptual, cars, liquids, food, fashion, animals, kids, and everything out there equally well and have a strong voice across your work, it would probably not grab my attention. There is a reason why I can spot a Martin Schoeller, Jill Greenberg, Mitchell Feinberg, etc. the same way I can spot an Apple product. They all have a very distinctive look and there is no mistake in it when I see it. When you try to diversify too much without a strong voice in your work, you will get lost in the abyss. Why be a mediocre anything when you can be the best at being you and stand out from the crowd? If you don’t know who you are and what you are about, I will not know either. And I certainly will not see it.

Left – right: Martin Schoeller, Jill Greenberg, Mitchell Feinberg.

Social media is one area that people contact me about often as I was the Senior Integrated Content Producer at AKQA and worked on many campaigns specific for online and social. The most common question is if it is mandatory to have a large following on social media to be considered for this work. Sometimes it is a requirement as the campaign requires an “influencer” with a large social following (30K+ minimum, and often MUCH more than that) for the campaign, and other times, it does not matter as long as the aesthetic of your work fits in with the campaign. However, since the entire idea of social media is for people to be social about it, it certainly does not hurt for you to have a huge following as you can potentially act as a media buy in addition to the content creator. I find that social media works best when you are creating work specific to that platform. For instance, Instagram is a phone app. You are supposed to share out what you shoot on your phone where you are so people can see it. It is much more photojournalistic by default because of the nature of the app and that is what appeals to most people. I do see people using this as another portfolio page, but really, if I am looking at your site to check out your portfolio, why would I also follow you on Instagram if you are just pushing out the same content? And if you decide that you are also going to be a “director” now, please make sure that you are a great one and that you are not just pressing the record button on your DSLR and calling it a movie you directed just because you now have 24 frames a second for a few seconds.

Amy’s unamused cat.

Along with social media came a demand for a large quantity of content for it. After all, if you are shooting just print ads and TV commercials, that doesn’t exactly cut it for all your social needs for the next 9 months for a campaign. I was doing a shoot for a pet food brand once. It was a one day shoot (10 hours) with 9 cats and 9 back up cats. The social media person at the agency I was working at at the time gave me 10 poses for each cat to shoot.

“So you want me to shoot all 18 cats in all 10 poses each for a total of 180 shots in my 10 hour day inclusive of load in, lighting, lunch and load out?”

“Yes, Amy. That’s perfect.”

“It’s not like I can give all these cats a double shot of espresso at 6PM and go ‘Hey little buddies, we are going to go into overtime right now, you guys think you can go for a bit more?’ It’s a cat. When it’s done, it’s done.”

Suffice to say, that certainly drove my point across for having bringing that up several times previously. It’s easy for people to want many things; whether or not these wants are realistic is yet another question. For people that does not truly understand production, it is easy for them to request many unreasonable things. It is up to those of us that are experts to set up boundaries of what is feasible, be it you at the agency side or the production side. It is all of our responsibilities. If you do not educate, people will continue to not know. By you not educating your client (agency or client directly) and just complaining about it does not solve anything. In fact you are just being passive aggressive and perpetuating this cycle of ignorance. Be polite but firm about making your point across, as they are your clients. Whether or not they understand is a completely different issue. You can only control what you can.

Amy with “Justin Timberlake” behind the scenes.

When we are on set, we are excited and would like to share with the world what we are working on. Three words should always come to mind before you do this: Non-disclosure agreement. Images behind the scenes should never be available to the public before the campaign is live. In doing so you are violating your non-disclosure agreement for the project. This is almost always one of the first things I brief the entire crew on before any shoot. There are very rare occasion where the client may be ok with this if you were an influencer and they want you to push the work out to tease it before it’s live, but this is extremely rare. If you are going to put any behind the scenes images on a campaign up, please do so after the campaign is live unless you have written permission from the client to do so. Or if you are going to put up any behind the scenes imagery at all, please be sure that non of it implies as to what you are working on in any way. People got really excited when I posted my image with Justin Timberlake on set. If I were shooting Justin Timberlake on set, rest assured that I will not be posting it that day, as that would be extremely unprofessional. Besides, it was a cardboard cut out prop that we did not use at a shoot.

On the whole, all of this, like life, is really just common sense. The Internet has a many great and not so great things on it. Just because you are on the Internet doesn’t mean I am going to find you. It would make it easier for me to find you if you were doing great things. Time is the greatest gift you can ever bestow upon someone as you never get it back. I value my time immensely. I would urge you all to use and spend it wisely. First by watching this amazing animated gif:

Amy Yvonne Yu’s Bio

Having worked alongside Albert Watson, Cass Bird, Jill Greenberg, The Selby, etc. in the photography industry since 2002, Amy has experience agency, production and client side across different mediums: stills, video and experiential. Amy has given many talks and interviews regarding the ever changing trends in image creation across different platforms. She likes to ponder life when she is not busy art buying, producing or consulting for brands on their social media and advertising campaigns. You can find out more about Amy through her website and her blog.