WorkScene interview with Michael Simon
Michael Simon Photography is a commercial photography studio based in Richmond, Virginia specializing in corporate documentary imagery and portraiture. He helps corporations across the US tell stories with pictures while building an image archive of their company culture and people.
WorkScene: Thank you, Michael, for sharing your expertise on using photography to document company culture. For companies that may not be ready to hire a professional photographer, what type of photos might companies already have access to that would be appropriate for telling their story?
MS: I’ve found that a company’s employees are often a fantastic untapped source of images and a great way to quickly get a perspective of the office environment and casual interactions in the office. I had a client that encouraged their people to use a hashtag to identify images both inside and outside the office that they wanted to share. Employees on a corporate retreat were able to broadcast their interactions in this way, and it felt like a very authentic, different kind of picture.
WorkScene: How can companies set themselves up for success for collecting these types of images?
MS: Companies should do their best to get as much imagery as they can together in one place so they can access everything at once. I feel that if you have images all over the place you’re not going to be able to capitalize on the power of that imagery. Having a specific person to send images to or an email address often works. And there’s no harm in asking employees to “please share your pictures with us” and even provide simple incentives like a gift card or something – a step that can be repeated every couple of months.
WorkScene: What kind of photographs should a person who’s collecting photos of company culture try to avoid?
MS: Definitely avoid stale imagery. If something isn’t true for a company anymore then get rid of it. Avoid old branding or people or situations that are no longer relevant to the company. The quality of images also matters – not that they have to be taken professionally, but you want to make sure they look good. Composition is important, and finding images that look bright, clean and airy make a workplace more appealing. I’d recommend that a person assembling company photos be very curatorial with the images. Three mediocre pictures will weigh down one really great picture. If your gut is telling you that a picture is not that great, then kill it – there will always be more pictures.
WorkScene: Can you share a time when you discovered something unique about a company’s culture that caused you to think about them differently?
MS: Going in I thought that one client in the finance space would be very traditional and conservative. I was nervous that it was going to be intensely boring, but it turned out there was a ton of collaboration happening all the time. They had all kinds of nooks and crannies in each of their offices that were new and geared towards working together. All kinds of people were hanging out working on things, and when I came back later I would see a whole different group of people working on something. It just felt very good.
WorkScene: For companies like this one with multiple locations, what would you recommend as the best ways to highlight what might be different from one office or store location to another?
MS: I think a sense of place is important. For this client I would take time to walk around the block of their locations and photograph the building from near and far. When in Boston I might photograph the nearby subway stop and in San Francisco it was MUNI. I try to give some sense of that place to the office location. One client has a location near some incredible street art, so I’ll make pictures of the building in relation to the street art and use that to complete the scene.
WorkScene: Thank you again, Michael. We’ll look forward to learning more from your experience in future interviews.
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Photo Credit: Michael Simon Photography.