I was hired by Mercedes-Benz to shoot for their social media campaign, posting directly to their Instagram account, along with a crew of other photographers, in New York and Los Angeles.
Basically, we got paid to drive some really hot cars all over NY and LA, shoot them, and post to the @MercedesBenz Instagram account over the course of a week. I know what you're thinking… but somebody has to do it!
Our assignment was to post a dozen images a day, once per hour starting at 9am local time. That's not as easy as it sounds, especially given NY traffic! We met up early every morning for breakfast, planned a basic strategy for the day, and headed out. No one stopped shooting or editing until they went to bed, usually well after midnight. We kept in touch over a group WhatsApp conversation to coordinate who was posting next. As you might expect, there were times where one person wasn't ready, or another had extras ready to go, or someone had technical issues… however working as a distributed team we were able to always ensure that we posted as needed. We also tried to post in a sensible order, grouping day and night shots. We'd usually start with one or two night shots (keeping in mind the audience is global), transition to day with hopefully a morning-light photo, then eventually go to sunset and into night.
Olympus OM-D E-M5
Every photographer shot the way that they wanted to. I think being a social media project like this, we weren't tasked with following any particular style guidelines, but were each hired because of our unique approaches to photography. For me, since the ultimate destination of each shot was Instagram and Facebook, I decided to shoot the entire project on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 micro four-thirds system (with the Fuji X100 as backup, which I never needed). I saw lots of advantages to shooting with this system, including the ability to fly completely carry-on from home to NY to LA and back home… a small camera is easier and safer to mount on the hood of a car… you can set the OM-D to shoot square, and even those non-standard RAW files are readable by Aperture (since we were posting to Instagram, I decided to shoot for the platform, and shot square the entire time)… and to be honest, I just love shooting with these things. I still shoot with the dSLR in the studio, but I can see a future where for me, the dSLR is replaced by medium format on the high end and by CSC (compact system cameras) for "normal" work.
The Eye-Fi card
Once again since this was all about social media, I went all the way with this concept, and set a personal goal to not only shoot with the OM-D, but to wirelessly transfer all photos to my iOS device, and edit and post from there — no computer involved. I didn't know if I'd pull it off so I brought my laptop to be safe, but I didn't use it once. I had the new Eye-Fi Mobi card in the OMD, and an older Eye-Fi card in the Fuji. Both worked great, although when driving through downtown Manhattan, where there are about 1,000 wifi hotspots per square block, getting the connection to work reliably in a moving car was a challenge. But it did work.
iPad mini with Retina display
The timing of the release of the iPad mini with Retina display couldn't have been better. For those who tried to buy one the first week, you know how hard they were to come by. Fortunately I was able to pre-order one for pickup at an Apple store in Yonkers, and tied that into a trip upstate to get some photos out of the city. Once I had that, I started capturing from the Eye-Fi to the iPad instead of my iPhone, giving me a bigger screen to edit on, and since I bought the cellular version, I was easily able to post directly from the iPad. No, Instagram doesn't have an iPad client, but you can still run the iPhone version on it, which is fine to post from.
Eye-Fi has their own (free) software for iOS to capture photos from the Eye-Fi card, and it works fine, but it doesn't do anything more than receive photos and dump them into your Camera Roll. This is fine when you're out shooting casually, or shooting the kind of work where you want every photo saved to your Camera Roll (and therefore to Photo Stream), but in a shoot like this, I really didn't want that. Shuttersnitch is a fantastic iOS app for capturing photos from nearly any wireless camera device, and among other great features, keeps the captures separate from your Camera Roll. You can choose the one out of 100 that you want to work with, save that one to the Camera roll, and discard the rest (personally I left them all on the iPad until the cards were offloaded to a hard drive, which in this case didn't happen until I returned home).
There's a great article about Shuttersnitch on ApertureExpert which you should check out if you use an Eye-Fi or any other wireless card and an iPad.
Manfrotto Pump Cup
One purchase I made just for this trip was the Manfrotto "Pump Cup", an extremely secure suction mount for attaching a camera on glass, or any smooth surface—like the hood or side of your car! Needless to say I tested this out at home before sticking it to the side of an $80,000 Mercedes, and it worked like a champ. Shooting this way is a lot harder than I thought, and unfortunately I was on my own when I tried it, making it more difficult to manage. But I got some good shots and learned a lot, and am very anxious to try it out again.
Mattebox for iOS
Since I was doing all the editing on the iPad, obviously I needed some great editing tools. I use iPhoto for iOS for all kinds of basic things like straightening and cropping, white balance adjustment, retouching (i.e. object removal, like telephone wires), and pretty much any "corrective" treatments you might need. For "looks" however, I use Snapseed extensively. Just before this trip however, an app I'd used in the past but hadn't been enamored called Mattebox was updated to version 2. A mutual friend of the developer encouraged me to check it out, and boy was I impressed. I'll do an extensive write up on the app later, but I'll say here that one of the best features in it is curves. Real, multi-point, Luma-R-G-B curves. Fan-tastic.
We noticed early on that the @MercedesBenz Instagram account had something like 492,000 followers. We thought, "wouldn't it be great if we could get the account to over half a million while on our watch?". That became our personal goal, and on the friday of that week, towards the end, were were still a couple thousand shy of that. I was speaking to my dear friend @XeniJardin of BoingBoing.net, and she offered to tweet what we were doing. Xeni has over 80,000 followers on Twitter, so, you know… I said "hell yes, please!".
Within 48 hours we broke 500,000.
Within a few more days, the account was at 505,000.
Today, less than two weeks after our assignment was complete, the Mercedes-Benz account has over 515,000 followers.
Social media rocks.