Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Annual Report Photography - Three Styles

Columbus Life Art Director wanted powerful outdoor portraits
Change is a part of life, and keeping up with the changes in our industry requires studying recent work by our peers and competitors. Although changes in taste in annual report photography is slower than say, fashion or food, there are still trends. Compare the shots for Columbus Life made last month with those of Hewlett Packard and Quantas made 5 years ago.

Columbus Life

In April 2011, I shot portraits for an annual report for Columbus Life, a dba for the Western and Southern Life Insurance Company. The setting was a Japanese Garden at California State University Long Beach. A featured employee was Asian, and the Art Director wanted to speak to his culture without being overpowering. The first suggestion was to shoot in an Asian market or shopping area, but I think the garden shots turned out much better than that idea would have. Note the use of wide angle lenses on both shots, this indoor image shot in March 2012, also for Columbus Life.

Many books on portraits teach photographers to use telephoto (long) lenses for portraits, and never use wide angle lenses due to the distortion they can cause to the subjects. However, I like this look, and find it interesting and unusual. Note how different the Columbus Life portraits look from the Hewlett Packard portraits shown next - do you spot a trend?

Hewlett Packard 

In March 2006 I photographed Hewlett Packard's annual stockholder's meeting in Los Angeles. What would normally have been a straight-forward corporate event photo shoot was made much more challenging by the request that the photographs be taken without flash. I knew that I would be shooting at a high ISO and was concerned about grain in my digital images. However, I shot most of the meeting at 800 ISO, and my Canon 5D sensor performed amazingly well, with no noticeable noise.

The V.P. of Communications at HP wanted to get the images out on the wire with AP within minutes of completing the meeting, so I had to give my compact flash cards to a graphic designer during the meeting. The stage was lit with tungsten spotlights, half were gelled blue, and half were the basic 3200 Kelvin color spots.Everything was shot on-tripod, and shutter speeds ranged from 1/30 to 1/90 of a second at f4-f8. With a few of the slower shutter speed shots I got some hand movement blur, but overall the images were sharp and crisp with no problems. Hewlett Packard's V.P. of Communications told me that the images were much better than he expected, and better than those most of those taken without flash at previous events.

Patricia Dunn, chairman of the board of directors at HP, and Mark Hurd, chief executive officer and president, are the speakers shown, and I was able to speak to them after the meeting. On October 4, 2006 Bill Lockyer, the California attorney general, charged Dunn with four felonies for her role in the in the HP spying scandal. On March 14, 2007, California Superior Court judge Ray Cunningham dropped criminal charges against her in the "interest of justice." It was interesting to watch someone I had photographed go through this process.


One month after shooting Hewlett Packard's annual stockholder's meeting, I was hired to shoot images for the travel division of Quantas' Annual Report in April 2006. The Art Director was looking for “classic, but fun corporate portraits”. We shot in the conference room, in offices, and at cubes. She wanted to include subtle hints about the travel business, so we included model airplanes, travel brochures and posters, and stuffed kangaroos and koala bears in some of the images. I find it interesting how each different Art Director took a unique approach to planning the portraits, and how very different they look. The trend I spotted in comparing these images from those made 5 years ago is the art director showed a willingness to take more risks and be more daring with composition.

You can learn something about the culture and feel of each company by looking at their approach towards Annual Report Photography.

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