In my freelance content creator role I regularly find myself shooting social media content photography for high street stores. This wonderful occupation takes me into hundreds of high street shops for a few days each month, where I meet the staff, talk about current promotions and shoot in-store social media content for Instagram and Twitter.
My task is to provide the Community Managers with a selection of edited and retouched images of specific stores, products and promotions the same day. Typically I will collect wide shots of the store from various angles to show context, before turning my attention to individual items or collections of products. Much of what I do in this arena is clothing and product photography. I use a high-end full frame DSLR so that I can isolate products against a blurred background and an extreme wide-angle lens for interiors.
On any given day I can be photographing fashion in RIXO, gift sets in NARS, latest releases in Taschen, men's style in Slowear, shoes in Miista, eyewear in Moscot, or gift bags in Aesop. I can usually move things around to create attractive arrangements or to control the backgrounds and I try to make images that are as scroll-stopping as possible.
The staff are usually highly accommodating because they understand the relationship between physical retail and the opportunities for blending paid and crowdsourced advertising on social media.
Stores pride themselves on making sure everything is neat and tidy, and on the rare occasions I'm unable to shoot it's usually because the staff aren't happy with the presentation of the store—they've just had a huge rush or a delivery for example.
Some stores and restaurants purposely extend the social media opportunities outdoors. On the Kings Road we have The Ivy Garden, the front of which is decked out with flowers and Instagrammable background pieces all year round. Similarly Peggy Porschen is a popular photo destination with numerous bloggers, influencers and Instagrammers posing for photos outside the pink painted and decorated storefront.
But these are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of stores still adhere to the old way of doing things—keep the windows clean and an occasional lick of paint on the outside when it really needs it (and sometimes long after it really needs it). They focus the talents of the staff on window and store dressing inside only.
Which brings me to the crux of this post. As well as interior shots I am almost always required to provide exteriors as well. Two or three angles from each side and front-on shots. In the process of capturing these images there are a few things I've noticed:
For some reason take-away coffee cups gravitate towards convenient corners at pavement level outside shops. If I leave one in an image it will be rejected, these must be removed by hand or Photoshopped out later.
Fairly ubiquitous especially outside restaurants and bars. Sometimes actual smokers too. I do what I can about the butts but I leave the smokers alone.
Often piled outside stores, a pile of rubbish however neatly bundled is still a pile of rubbish as far as Instagram is concerned, and as such isn't going to work for the purpose I intend. Often rubbish is collected next to lamp posts, trees or telephone exchanges. Therefore shops with these outside them often suffer from the problem of the rubbish pile being reflected in the shop window, making photography impossible from certain angles or time-consuming to retouch.
There's no two ways about it, the less chewing gum on the pavement, the more attractive the image. Inevitably chewing gum is impossible to do anything about until the edit. I spend a disproportionate amount of time digitally removing chewing gum spots from the pavement outside stores in the shots I provide. Particularly when it's raining because that's when they really show up. I'm not trying to completely sanitise the images I produce, but I feel the need to strike a balance between the distractions of reality and the need for an aesthetically attractive image.
I'm going to add traffic cones to this list because they do seem to be everywhere. There are probably good enough reasons for them but they do get into otherwise presentable shots and have to be removed.
In my role as a freelance content photographer I try to control problems like these as much as I can. I will clear away coffee cups and other litter if possible. I will move large bin bags if I can easily hide them behind something. (Bear in mind that I might have 25 locations to shoot interior and exterior in a day—plus editing—so time is precious). Cigarette butts I mostly have to deal with in retouching, and smokers themselves are a matter of politely waiting or coming back later. I could ask them to move but really, It's very rare that I'm tempted to impose my agenda as a photographer on someone enjoying a five minute break. But there's only so much I can do physically and so much I have time to achieve digitally, so I do what I can, as any decent photographer would.
There are moves taking place across London and no doubt further afield to make high street shopping areas more visually attractive. Sloane's Street's proposed tree-lined and shrubbery enhanced proposal is a good example. Or the social media share-fest that is Chelsea In Bloom. These moves are driven in large part by the new need for 'shareability'. Forward thinking landlords recognise the reality that the more aesthetically pleasing a destination is, the more likely it is to land on social media. The benefit of this approach is obvious.
We live in an age where retailers can take great advantage of the paid and organic social media marketing mix, but this means it's incumbent on them to to level-up their presentation approach with social media in mind. It is no longer enough to focus on the interior of a store and rely on retouching for rare exterior press shots. With a proper Destination Marketing strategy a store may find itself being photographed for social media on a weekly if not a daily basis. Therefore it makes sense to be equally fastidious about the storefront, pavement and litter situation as the glass, window dressing and interior.
The bottom line is this; if retailers take daily care, not only of their storefronts but of litter and pavement as well—all the way to the roadway—it will benefit their social media shareability. I applaud the few that already do, but as a content creator, working to produce fresh, high quality, sharable imagery to deadline, I would love to see more stores embrace this small change and incorporate it into their presentation culture. A little attention to random coffee cups, butts, gum, litter and piles of rubbish will surely go a long way.