Photographing events in Wellington since 2011

So Big Mark Photography is starting a new journey.

But I thought it would be fun to take a quick look back.

I made the decision to become a “professional photographer” in 2009, and I started Big Mark Photography in 2011.  While Big Mark Photography did a wide range of different things, what we did most often, and what we did best, was conference and events photography.

I haven’t really had the chance to talk about what we do.  So going into 2018 I thought it would be a good chance to look back on my relationship with the conference and events industry, why the business developed the way it did, and what our plans are for the future.

How I stumbled into the conference and events industry.

Before I became a photographer, I used to work in the hospitality industry.

I started when I was young.  I had dropped out of university (I went to study geology!  I soon realized I had no interest in rocks) and was looking for something to do.  And my parents got me a job at Wellington Hospital in the hospital kitchen delivering meal trolly’s and washing dishes.

I soon developed a love of food. 🙂  But I also developed a love for the hospitality industry.  It was the hustle and bustle, the behind the scenes magic that I loved.  I decided that I wanted to own my own restaurant.

After a string of jobs both here in Wellington and down in Mt Cook I saw an open advertisement for hospitality jobs at the soon-to-open “Harrahs Skycity Casino” in Auckland.  I travelled up to Auckland for my first ever “group interview” and I was fortunate to get a pre-opening job working in the Staff Cafeteria.

I don’t think that the New Zealand hospitality industry will ever experience anything like what I experienced during my first two years at the Casino.  Harrahs (the original gaming operator) were a huge American based company, and they bought over an American management team and that management team introduced us to the American service culture.  There were inevitable clashes between the American culture and NZ culture.  But I had the opportunity to learn from the best of both worlds: and the “service culture” I adopted from those early days at the casino have become the “bedrock” of the customer service ethos here at Big Mark Photography.

Imagine this: in the first week on the job we had a “pep rally” at the Auckland Showgrounds, where the management team had giant photos of them projected on the walls, and they all walked out to  thunderous applause from the staff to the tune of “Call out the Instigator” by Thunderclap Newman.  

It was freaking awesome, it was unique, it was “very American” and something I will never experience again.

I only worked a few weeks during the graveyard shift in the Staff Cafe before I was selected to be part of the banqueting team by one the Conference Manager Craig.  Craig taught me to get tougher: Craig taught me the value of loyalty, Craig taught me how to lead.  I met two of my best friends there, Kelly and Andrea.  And I realized that I didn’t want to own my restaurant any more…I wanted to work in the conference and events industry.

So I went to work in the conference and events industry.  Over the course of fifteen years I worked at venues all over Auckland and Wellington: the Centra, the Park Regency, the Bruce Mason Centre, Michael Fowler Centre, TSB Arena, WestpacTrust Stadium, Te Papa Tongarewa, and a few other venues that I’ve either forgotten.  I even had my own catering company for a short while.  The highlight of my career was in 2002 when I was Functions Manager at Bellamy’s Parliamentary Caterers who managed the State Dinner for HM the Queen.  I was in charge of 30 floor staff, a top table team of 5, we had spent over a year planning for it.

A new beginning.

It was 2009.  I had returned to Wellington after a role in Auckland to find myself a bit burned out.  (That’s a story for another day.)  I loved working in events…but it was time for a change.

I had bought a digital SLR camera.  And I found myself taking photos.

And I had found a new love.  🙂  I wanted to be a photographer.  I went back to school: Mel Phillip’s Photoschool out on the Kapiti Coast to be precise, where I got my basic photography training, where I learnt how to really understand and control my camera.

But I still loved the conference and events industry.  I couldn’t let that go.

So as I was preparing my business plan, I realised I was going to be able to put the two together.

A short pictorial interlude.

Making the job of the professional conference organiser easier.

If you’ve ever organised an event or a conference before you know how stressful that can be.

You need to have a complete grasp of the big picture.  Some events take years to plan.  Some events are put together at the last minute.  Your event might be spread over multiple venues, with multiple streams happening at the same time.  You might have keynote speakers arriving from Invercargill, or Auckland, or from Oklahoma.  You’ve got accomodation to organise for over a hundred guests.

But you also have to have a complete grasp of the little things.  The details.  You arrive at the venue and the pads don’t have pens.  The room is set up classroom style and not u-shape.  There is no water for the speaker.  The laptop is not “talking” to the data-projector.

Professional Conference Organisers are some of the most efficient people in the world.  They are constantly juggling between the big picture and the small picture, wearing multiple hats, playing negotiator between their client or boss, the venue, and multiple independent vendors.  An event or conference is a chaotic storm of many different inputs, and at the heart of it all is the organization team which often by sheer force of will stops the whole thing from falling over.

The event or conference organiser has to be extremely careful about the vendors that they work with.  If they work with a vendor but the vendor “screws things up” that will ultimately reflect on the organization of the event.  So they look to work with people and vendors they can build a relationship with.  That they can trust.  And they don’t give second chances because they simply can’t afford to do so.

If you haven’t worked in the industry it becomes very easy to underestimate how much work goes into making a conference or an event a success.  But I’ve been there.  I’ve watched successful conferences go off “without a hitch.”  I’ve also sat with a conference organiser who did absolutely everything right: but they selected a vendor that decided that this was the day they were going to “drop the ball.”  The organiser managed to “right the ship”: but there was a lot of needless heartache that didn’t have to happen.

When I started Big Mark Photography I decided to “stick with what I knew.”  Nobody knows conferences like I do.  I had a unique insight into the level of service that event professionals expect.  I had a chat to some of my old friends in the conference industry to really knuckle down on the business plan.  My goal was to make the job of the professional conference organiser easier.

Another short pictorial interlude

How Big Mark Photography can contribute to the success of your event

While we have structured Big Mark Photography around the needs of the professional conference organiser, the reality is what what we offer can be used by anyone who organises events.  We’ve covered almost every sort of event you could imagine, from conferences to birthday parties, trade shows to graduations, bar mitzvahs to the circus.  There are plenty of photographers our there that you could use to cover your event.  But this is how we are different.

We understand “how events work”

Things don’t run to time.  They run early, they run late.

Events are organised chaos, and its an environment where we thrive.  Our team don’t get flustered, even when things don’t go to plan.

We get a wide range of images on the day because we know that ultimately the images will get used by different people.  Marketing might need wider images with plenty of “space” for graphics and text.  Attendees might need images to prove to their bosses that they actually went to the conference.  The social media team might need images of happy attendees to show how successful the event has been.  Sponsors will need plenty of photos of their branding showcasing the event, of them interacting with the attendees.  So we shoot it all.

Outstanding customer service at every step of the way

My career in hospitality taught me both what outstanding customer service is, and how it can make a difference to the success of an event.

So I’ve made customer service one of the “bedrocks” of Big Mark Photography.  We start by picking the right people.  You can own the best-most-expensive camera equipment, can take great photos but if people have the wrong attitude then they can’t work with us.

We look to work with people with a diverse range of life experiences, who are genuine, nice people, who have had experience in customer service roles.

Outstanding customer service isn’t inherent.  Its something that is learned, both through training and experience.  So when photographers start to work with us we make sure they are partnered with more experienced members of the team who help train and mentor them in the way that we do things.

Prior preparation and planning prevents…

‘Hardison: Going to plan B?

Nate: Technically, that would be plan G.

Hardison: How many plans do we have? Is there, like, a plan M?

Nate: Yeah. Hardison dies in plan M.

Eliot: I like plan M.

(From the pilot episode of the TV series Leverage)”

We prepare for when things go wrong.

Most of the time things go right.

But we are ready just in case.

The television show Leverage was about a team of people who always had to have contingency plans “just in case.”  Just like the team from Leverage the Big Mark Photography team have a Plan B, a Plan C, and sometimes even a Plan M.  (But Hardison doesn’t die in our Plan M).  We leave nothing to chance.

We have back-up equipment onsite for every job, so if a camera stops working or if a lens breaks we can keep on shooting without missing a beat.

We understand photography and our gear

When I photograph an event I’m constantly thinking about my camera settings.  I can “sense” when the room has gotten brighter or darker.  Pulling the curtains might change the dominant colour temperature.  Do I need to to turn on my camera flash, or can I tweak the settings on my camera to get the shot?  And which of the two options would produce a better image, and if I turn on the flash will it disrupt the event?

This might surprise some people: but photography is actually a hard thing to do right.  Composition is the bit that comes naturally to most people, and our photography team all are skilled at composing images.  But our photographers all have a solid technical understanding of their cameras and of photography fundamentals.  This means that when environmental conditions change (and during an  event those conditions change often and quickly) our team can quickly adapt.  We know our stuff and we know our equipment.

We make it easy for you

About a week before your event we will contact you with a list of questions about your event.  “Can you tell us more about your event?”  “Are there any key moments that you absolutely must get captured?”  We get all the important briefing notes out of the way well before the event so that on the day we can hit the ground running.

On the day of the event we will be onsite at the very least 20 minutes early so that we have time to catch up, compare our schedules, and make any last minute changes.  From there our photographers work independently and diligently to document your event.

We don’t just capture the shot list.  We capture it all.

And we deliver it all quickly as well.  We can turn event images around within 48 hours.  We can have a small selection of images available very shortly after the end of the event.  And in 2018 we will be launching a new range of services that will allow us to shoot-edit-and deliver images in close-to-real time.  Our onsite “social media manager” quickly collates and edits the images and can either get them to you directly, or we can post to your facebook/twitter/instagram on your behalf.

We upload the images to a password protected gallery on our archive site.  Images are “print ready” at 5600 pixels on the long side, at 300dpi, all with exposure/contrast/colour corrections.  If you need to get images to your commercial printer or the person who handles your social media you can simply send them the password.

Easy to understand licencing

I’m a strong believer in the intellectual property rights of the digital creator.  So I’ve made sure that the photographers that cover your event retain individual copyright of the images they capture.  But we grant a very open licence to our clients that pretty much allow you to use the images as you wish, with no geographical restrictions, and with no time limits.  (Subject to our standard terms and conditions.)

Most importantly, we take great photos! (Yet another pictorial interlude)

Whats new in 2018

I talk a bit about my health in this blog post.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been shooting less and less as the primary photographer.  And in 2018 I’m going to be stepping back just a little bit more.

I’m proud of the crew we are building.  Masanori, Abbie D, Taylor, Kathryn, Eden, a mix of experience and youthful exuberance, all dedicated to the craft of photography and delivering outstanding customer service.  This year they step up.

I’ll still be your primary point of contact, I’m not going anywhere.  🙂  My role is to make sure I get all of the right information, that the photographers get fully briefed, and after the event I back-up the photos, edit, and upload them all a timely manner.

But I’m not going to be the primary photographer.  Not any more.  I’ve worked really closely with our crew.  They are excellent photographers, outstanding individuals, and people that I trust implicitly.  The crew aren’t me.  But they’ve been trained by me personally, they represent me, they’ve been drilled to shoot with “my eye.”  The crew deliver to the same standards as I always have, so even though as we move forward things are just a little bit different, the standards of service and the standard of photography remains exactly the same.

We have a photobooth now!

Late last year we built and tested our own photobooth and it is now available for hire.  We will have a page for it on the website in the next week with all the details, but send me an email mark@bigmark.co.nz if you need some information now about it.  So with the addition of the photobooth we now offer 3 core services:

The Rovers

The Rovers are who you are most likely to see if we are covering your event.  Multi-skilled, friendly and customer focused, our mobile, roving photographers never feel out-of-place.

From photographing the intensity of the keynote speaker, to a candid moment between sponsor and delegate, to the celebrations at the end of a wonderful event, our rovers will be on-hand to capture it all.

Mobile Studio

With our mobile lighting kit we can turn any location into a studio.

An ideal set-up for parties and balls to photograph couples and groups, but also ideal as an incentive for conference groups. In the past we have set up mobile studios to take photos of couples arriving to a university ball,  and we’ve set up to photograph families at a graduation.  Once we even set up a headshot booth to give free headshots as an incentive during the lunch breaks to delegates at a conference.

The Photobooth

Our purpose-built photo-booth “the big blue box” will provide instant photos of your guests to be able to share and keep memories of your amazing night.

  • Friendly photo-booth attendant
  • Unlimited instant 2 x 6 prints
  • Digital copies available online
  • Design your own photostrip

So that’s how we got here, and this is where we are going, thank you for taking the time to follow along!

In Part 2 (yes, there is going to be a Part 2!) I’m going to get down to business.  I’m going to talk more about our core services, our pricing, and the different packages we will have available.

(Images by Big Mark, Masanori Udagawa, Abbie Dorrington, Kathryn Armitage, Taylor Darroch, Kate Griffith.  Montage of old photos credit to the original photographer)