When it comes to out-of-home (OOH) photography, the real world is your studio. As a photographer, this means you have to work with the elements around you. Cars, people and natural light constantly change, so capturing the perfect shot can be a real challenge. But don’t let that discourage you from picking up that OOH gig.
FotoFetch Chief Evangelist Steve Lind spent more than 30 years in the OOH industry and understands what clients are looking for: quality, well-made photos of their OOH ads. But that’s not always been the norm for the industry.
“In the past, when a billboard or some type of asset went up, they’d have an installer take a picture of it,” he says. “You can vaguely tell it’s an ad … They just take it and move on.”
Essentially, it’s a proof-of-placement photo. But today’s OOH clients want more. “They want what we in the industry call a glamor shot,” says Lind.
As glamour shots become more of an expectation, the need for skilled photographers increases as well. We asked Lind, who is a photographer himself, to serve up his best tips and tricks for capturing stunning OOH images.
1. Context Is Everything
When it comes to OOH photography, advertisers want to see their ad — whether a billboard, street furniture or digital sign — in its real-world setting. The goal is to capture it in a way that accurately represents its surroundings and as passersby would see it.
“Contextual elements are extremely important for outdoor advertising,” says Lind. “If it’s a billboard, the contextual elements are cars going toward the structure. If it’s a bus shelter or street furniture, it is people or cars going by. If it’s just a picture of a billboard with the sky, you don’t know where it is.”
Steve’s Pro Photo Tip: Think of the image you’re making as if it were a Broadway play. The billboard, structure or ad is the star of the show. The supporting cast is the elements — cars, people and surroundings. The supporting cast is crucial, but the star should always be in focus.
2. Time of Day Matters
“When you’re buying outdoor, you’re buying impressions,” says Lind.
In OOH, impressions are an estimate of the number of times an advertisement is seen by potential customers. Advertisers choose a spot for their OOH ad with the understanding that a certain number of people will see it.
As a photographer, think about how to represent those impressions best. That may mean photographing a billboard during rush hour traffic so the client can see cars (impressions) in action.
“You’re selling the idea that there are 125,000 people — which is 1.39 people per car — that go by that structure. If you go out on a Sunday morning and take pictures, there are no cars on the road. A picture of a billboard on an interstate with no cars does not help my cause because I just sold them that 125,000 people go by there every day, and I just gave them an example of nobody.”
In addition to finding the ideal traffic time, photographers should think about things like lighting and weather. For example, Lind notes that digital billboards often photograph poorly in bright direct sunlight.
Steve’s Pro Photo Tip: Photographers know that the “golden hour” is just before sunset or just after sunrise, when the light is soft and warm, creating a golden glow. It’s an ideal time for taking outdoor shots. Use the golden hour when you can — but the most important thing is to capture those impressions. A UV filter or lens on your camera can help you get rich, soft colors even during peak daylight hours.
3. Know Your Equipment
While the average smartphone camera takes excellent quality photos, some OOH applications are still better with a professional-grade camera. For digital billboards in particular, it’s useful to know how to use the manual settings on your DSLR camera.
“If it’s a digital billboard, you do have to slow down the shutter speed to make the photo work,” says Lind. “That requires a little different level of expertise as opposed to someone going out and using an automatic setting, which most people use.”
Distance is also a consideration. A billboard could be hundreds of feet away from where you’re shooting. In that case, you need to have the proper lens to capture a quality photograph at that distance.
But take heart, Lind says: There are plenty of OOH opportunities for amateur shooters, even those whose camera of choice also doubles as a phone. “Bus shelters and street furniture, transit buses. Those can all be taken with a cell phone because you’re in close proximity and at eye level with those types of things.”
Steve’s Pro Photo Tip: In the old days, we’d say to make sure you have film in the camera. The equivalent today is to charge your battery, have a backup, and of course, make sure your lens and sensor are clean! You don’t want to have to go back for a reshoot because there’s schmutz on the photo.
4. Make Safety the Ultimate Priority
By its nature, OOH photography takes place in the elements. If it’s a billboard, that often means photographers will have to navigate traffic while trying to get the best shot. Same with bus benches and street furniture. If you’re shooting subway signage, you’ll have to negotiate the platform and speeding trains.
“Safety has to be a priority,” says Lind. “Photographers always need to be aware of where they are. For in-lane photos, we require a driver to be in the car so the photographer can take the picture through the windshield as they approach.”
Other safety tips include:
- Look for a safe location to set up your camera, such as a nearby parking lot or on the sidewalk away from traffic.
- Wear reflective clothing and use caution when crossing the street.
- Work with a driver if you’re shooting in the car or ask a friend to stand lookout when you’re shooting on the side of the road and alert you if any vehicles are coming.
- Always follow traffic laws and regulations.
Steve’s Pro Photo Tip: Know the regulations in the city and state in which you’re shooting. Rules will vary by state but may include restrictions on where and when photographers can take pictures.
For example, there may be restrictions on photography in public areas that interfere with others’ enjoyment or use of the area, and photography in high-traffic areas such as subway systems, train stations, urban bridges and roadways; also, protected or historical sites may require a permit.
5. Meet the Brief
As a photographer, it is crucial to understand the specific needs of your clients. FotoFetch makes it easy. Each assignment comes with a detailed brief outlining exactly the shot the client wants. Taking the time to read and then meet the brief means your photo will be accepted quickly, you’ll get paid fast and gain a reputation as a reliable photographer.
“Artistry is good, but it’s not the overlying theme of what we want to do,” says Lind. “These are industrial photos.”
Above all, OOH photos need to meet the requirements of each client. They have to show the ad clearly and in focus. By all means, bring your professionalism and artistic eye to the shoot — but always keep the star in focus.
Steve’s Pro Photo Tip: One thing that has prompted clients to request a reshoot is if the OOH photographer stands on the wrong side of the road. Placement is key. Make sure you’re positioning yourself to shoot the ad as you’d naturally see it driving or walking by.
OOH is a unique kind of photography. It can be a fun challenge for amateurs and pros alike. With these tips and tricks, you can capture stunning images that accurately represent a client’s ad and the surrounding areas. Now, go out and get shooting!