WHISPER IT QUIETLY, but it’s possible that event photography might have turned a corner over the past few months, following a turbulent year and-a-half that has seen a catalogue of upheaval throughout the sector.

The arrival of the pandemic in March 2020 shut down events of all kinds at a stroke, and the effect was longer term than many could possibly have foreseen. Some outdoor events returned throughout the year but at far lower levels, making it uneconomic to cover them. Meanwhile the traditional high spots such as prom season, Christmas festivities, weddings, parties and award events simply didn’t happen.

To add to the uncertainty Mitsubishi announced earlier this year that they were unexpectedly pulling out of the dye sub printer market. As a major player in the event arena, this created a certain amount of alarm, even though the company promised that it would continue customer support and the supply of consumables to service the vast numbers of Mitsubishi printers out there. It was something that existing Mitsubishi printer users could have done without and it massively strengthened the hand of rival printer suppliers such as DNP and Citizen.

Earth shattering this might all have been, but none of this seemed to faze highly experienced event photographer Graham Grieves, who has spent a lifetime in the business and who has pretty much seen and done it all. In his time he’s photographed racing dinghies from his boat, motorcycles, horse racing, royal visits, certificate presentations and weddings, and he’s acquired a keen eye for what sells and an astute sense of how to work with customers to provide a great service but also to extract the maximum sale value.

Over the years he’s seen printer technology advance at a staggering pace, in the process opening up fresh opportunities for event photographers to work in the field and to deliver high quality prints on the spot. A long-time customer of Photomart he’s working with DNP printers, and he’s delighted with the support the supplier has provided over the years and the reliability and quality of the output that his DNP printers are providing him with.

“I’m working with a DNP SnapLab All-in-One portable photo kiosk in combination with two DNP DS620 6in roll-fed dyesublimation printers,” he says, “and these output really high quality colour and black-and-white prints, along with nostalgic sepia and vignette results as well, which are highly saleable. I’ve upgraded the software on my Nikon D5 and folders are sent through to the SnapLab more or less instantly from the CFExpress reader.

“I generally leave the SnapLab and printers running until late at night and will assume that I’m good to produce around 50 10x8in prints in that time. My power is provided by a 100amp Bosch deep discharge battery and, to date, I’ve not needed to use my spare. With regard to  the  printers,   the   DNP   machines  are   easy  to  use,

ABOVE: Graham Grieves can output high quality prints from the boot of his car, using a DNP SnapLab Photo Kiosk and two DS620 printers, all powered by a portable battery.

they’re not affected by whether the conditions are hot or cold and the paper is very straightforward to change, so they’re giving me exactly what I need.”

Having started out on his event photography career working with a traditional darkroom complete with two enlargers – “people live in spaces that are smaller than my darkroom was” – Graham now regularly works his DNP printers out of the boot of his car, and even he finds it hard to believe how things have moved on.

Selling, of course, is what it’s all about for event photographers, and now he’s back hard at work in the run up to Christmas Graham has some tips to pass on. “For a start you should never be afraid of the smartphone,” he says. “It’s not going to offer competition against a high-end DSLR.

Phones die in a few years as the contracts expire and very few people make hard copies of the photos. They don’t look very good on cracked screens in any case, and that’s if you can find the image you want amongst all the rubbish we store.

“When you’re photographing families make sure you photograph them in smaller groups as well, such as siblings or the parents together, since this increases the number of sales you can make. You might change your boyfriend but you can’t change your brother, and you might not have a good picture of the two of you together.

“We’re dealing with a generation of visually aware people who don’t have the security of hard copies of images. If you can offer them a high quality 10x8in print that’s finished and shiny and clear you might get £5 for it, but presented it in a good quality frame then you can charge £25 and people ” on the night will happily pay it.”

Time is money and the quicker you can close the deal the more income you’ll make from an evening’s work. Make sure you can accept plastic, because people aren’t carrying cash these days. Also be ready to compromise because it’s better to salvage something than lose a sale. And don’t give in when someone asks you to email them the file rather than buy a print: “Make something up,” Graham advises. “Tell them that the file is too large or your internet is poor. And don’t let people waste valuable time by looking through everything to choose the picture they want. Just say you’ve already selected the best one, since then they’re more likely to buy it.”

ADJUSTING TO CHANGE

As someone who had been an ambassador for Mitsubishi for 15 years, which involved exclusively using and promoting their printers, Jeremy Nako, who runs Nak Sports Images, found the disappearance from the market of his favoured brand a tough pill to swallow. His answer to the dilemma was swift and positive: he traded in his entire Mitsubishi system and made the move across to Citizen printers.

So why make such a dramatic gesture, particularly when he still recognises that Mitsubishi products remain exceptionally good and reliable? “I just had a number of projects coming up,” he says, “where I needed a few additional printers, so the decision was either to extend my Mitsubishi array or to bite the bullet and change brand.

“It wasn’t an easy decision as it was ‘all or nothing.’ I wasn’t going to mix printer brands and have stock of different media. In the end System Insight offered a fantastic deal to part exchange my printers against new Citizen equivalents and that included swapping-in my large stock of media. It all made the process of switching very easy. Citizen printers have worked flawlessly and the move was seamless, so I’m delighted I made the change.”

Not surprisingly Jeremy has found it a tough past 18 months and, while work is slowly returning, this approaching Christmas period is still going to be a long way from business as usual.

“Lockdown hit like a sledge hammer,” he concedes, “just as I’m sure it did for everyone in the events industry. Fortunately, I’ve always taken the view of being active in a number of different genres, and this has helped a lot.

“We cover a lot of outdoor events and outdoor sport was one of the first genres to open safely. So, whilst it’s been tough, we have been luckier than many. Steadily over the last six months we’ve seen things pick up, but not everything has returned to normal, and I’d say that we’re still only up to around 75% of our expected workload.

“Where I have seen massive demand is in weddings – especially mid-week events. I usually cover two or three weddings a year as it’s not a genre I promote, but the enquiries have been coming in at maybe five times the usual rate.”

What has been something of a disappointment, however, has been the fact that Christmas 2021 doesn’t at the moment look like being much better than last year, when, of course, everything was closing down and a brutal lockdown was on its way. “Usually my diary is full of December bookings with corporate Christmas parties,” Jeremy remarks, “but this year I’m sad to say that none of my regular events are going ahead.

“The reason for this is that most of my corporate clients are large international companies and, whilst the staff seem ready to let their hair down, the corporate view is that it’s too early and too much of a risk. This seems to be a common theme with larger events. All our mini football tournaments, for example, were cancelled this year despite us being out of lockdown. “These events are expensive to put on and require a decent attendance in order to work, but the organisers were not confident of the expected footfall, so didn’t want to take the risk. And, conversely, we were offered a number of football tournaments in the summer which we declined as we also feared for attendance numbers.”

It’s by no means all doom and gloom, however, and there are some really positive signs of a revival and Jeremy is optimistic about the prospects for 2022. “When lockdown finished and events restarted, we saw a massive increase in sales,” he says, “probably most of it driven by pent-up demand. Those levels have gradually slowed since then, but sales are still significantly above the seasonal average for us and, having spoken to several colleagues, they’re all finding the same thing.

“At the moment we’re seeing significantly less events in the diary, but better financial returns. Going forward, the events industry will take time to recover, and we’re already seeing that this sector will be one of the slowest to get back to ‘normal.’ However, I do see light at the end of the tunnel, and expect event life to return or even exceed pre-pandemic levels by spring, assuming no worsening of the
Covid situation. So, roll on 2022!”

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